12 04 2020

Here in Nashville, our county-wide governance body has district representatives, whose main job is to be the intermediary between the citizens of their district and the city, and “At-Large” council members, whose serve more of an oversight function, kind of like deputy mayors. In 2015, I ran for  that office, largely on a platform that the city was acting like the good times were just going to keep on rolling, but that was not really the case, and we had better do everything we could to prepare for the collapse that was coming. Two of my suggestions were  that we ought to foster local food production and create co-operatively run local industries that would produce a great many of the essentials of life that now come from far away, like shoes, clothing, and tools. I’ll talk about the relevance of those planks of my platform a little later.

I confess that I didn’t campaign very hard. I showed up at the candidate forums, figuring that I was unlikely to win, but it was important for the winning candidates to hear what I had to say, and figured I would get my message out to the general public in an interview with The Nashville Scene. The Scene, unfortunately, chose to belittle my candidacy and mostly dwelt on what a peculiar guy I am, rather than on what I had to say.

I chose not to run in the most recent Metro Council election. I had thought about this a good deal in the years since the previous election, and realized that, given the genuine technical legal complexities of writing legislation, if I were going to run again, part of my platform ought to be that I would spend much of my salary to hire a lawyer to assist me in framing my proposals appropriately. But I don’t know any such lawyer, and, even if I did, it seemed to make more sense to cut out the middle man–me–and just help the lawyer run for office. So, I contented myself with expressing my concerns to all the candidates, and got fairly sympathetic responses back from several of them, as I detailed at the time. I figured it was preferable to have council members in office who are at least aware of our long-term possibilities, and was gratified that most of those who won the multi-seat election were candidates who had responded somewhat sympathetically to my concerns.

Let’s fast-forward to our current situation. Although I have mostly been staying home (which is what I usually do anyway), last Monday afternoon at around five o’clock I found myself driving on some of Nashville’s major commuting routes, which are usually jam-packed with cars at that time of day. There was hardly anybody on the road. I stopped by “The Produce Place,” a locally-owned store that specializes in selling local produce. It was closed, because the store has cut the hours it’s open due to the pandemic. I picked up a very skinny copy of “The Nashville Scene,” no longer fat from entertainment and restaurant ads, and read that the free paper is on the ropes financially and was hoping its readers would form a financial support group so it could stay in business. The Scene, which once prided itself on tweaking the sensibilities of “the bizpigs,” as the editors called the city’s elite, is now owned by one of the wealthiest people in town, and caters to “the bizpigs,” a phrase that has not appeared in The Scene since long before they dissed my Metro Council run. I’m not sure whether I should be sympathetic to their plight or not.

But, I digress….From our home, we can often hear the roar of rush hour traffic on another major thoroughfare. Not lately. We live a couple of miles from the private-plane airport in Davidson County, and are used to having frequent low-flying small planes in our soundscape. They have grown rare. Of course, another factor there is that a tornado blew through the airport a few weeks ago and did millions of dollars worth of damage, destroying hangars and the airplanes parked in them. The upshot is, private air travel, like automobile travel, is way down. I’m glad. I’ve often wondered why it’s OK for one person in a private airplane to destroy the peace and quiet of the thousands of people who have no choice but to hear the noise.

I certainly didn’t foresee that the economic shutdown of Nashville would be due to a pandemic, but here we are, right where I ‘ve been saying we’re going. Such an unforeseeable, catastrophic event, is called “a black swan.” One definition of “black swan” that I read says that “they are obvious in hindsight.” It’s true that worldwide flu epidemics have become an accepted part of modern life, although they have never been this severe before, so yes, we should have seen this coming. In fact, disaster planners in our government did see it coming, but were ignored for the same reason the concerns I raised in my Metro Council candidacy were brushed aside:  anybody who suggests that there’s anything dangerous in our future, whether it’s a pandemic, an economic collapse (which might be set off by a pandemic),nuclear war, or climate disaster, gets short shrift from those who run our society, who are engrossed with making money and exercising power nowWe are a species that is wired to deal with immediate threats and gratification, not the long-term results of our short-sighted actions. We are going to have to change that to survive as a species. In the interest of raising human consciousness, this post is going to examine the effects of this particular “black swan,” and also note a couple more that seem to be circling and getting ready to come home to roost. Read the rest of this entry »


8 07 2016


The mainstream media are full of stories about the “angry white people” involved in Brexit and the Trump campaign. I think it’s important to understand what is making them angry. That’s a step on the road to transforming their anger into intelligent action.

Anger is often a reaction to having one’s boundaries violated, and that is very much the case with Brexit and Trump’s supporters. People are angry because the economic security they once had has been taken from them in the name of “austerity,” in the name of “free trade,”by outsourcing and automation of manufacturing and the jobs it once offered, and, ultimately, by the demand for higher corporate profits.

Another thing that angers Britons and Trump supporters is that, in the midst of their own fall, their communities are being swamped with immigrants and refugees. These refugee/immigrant streams were created by the actions of politicians–so-called “free trade agreements,” or any one of a growing number of wars, insurgencies, and failed or failing states. The politicians have been paying no price for creating these disasters, even building careers on the benefits that have accrued to the corporate class as a result of their actions, but the middle class correctly perceives that they are the ones paying the price–being underbid on jobs/wages, competing for a diminishing stock of affordable housing, and, at least in their perception, having their tax dollars funneled into services for the newcomers. That last one is a more complex question than I can fully deal with here, but it does have to do with the fact that corporations and the wealthy are paying an increasingly smaller share of many nations’ tax income, especially here in America, and the tax burden is falling increasingly on the middle class.

The fact that Polish immigrants to Britain that are being subjected to serious abuse indicates clearly that this anger is about class, not race. There’s no racial factor involved with Poles–they and the Scandinavians might be the only people “whiter” than Britons, and they aren’t Muslims. They just have the same trades skills that Britons have and they’re used to working for a lot less money. To blow off what is going on in Britain and the United States as “racism” is either to misunderstand it or to intentionally mislabel it to deflect attention from what it’s really about, which, as I said, is that working-class people are paying the price for decisions made by high-level politicians who, until recently, have been completely insulated from the catastrophic effects of their decisions. Brexit has changed that. Here in the US, Trump rode that resentment to the Republican nomination, easily brushing aside all the conventional Republican politicians who were closely identified in the public’s mind with “the establishment.” Hillary Clinton, too, is a legitimate target for that ire.


British or Polish?


British or Polish?

The inability of working class people to see the real cause of their problems and instead fall for Trump’s semicoherent ramblings is also the fault of the corporate establishment, who have done all they can to keep the public pliant, sedated, and ignorant with television. junk food, and widely prescribed psychiatric medications. The sedation has worn thin, and the pliancy is turning to resistance, but ignorance is harder to overcome. People in this country, in England, and over much of Western Europe are angry about being clobbered with “foreigners.” Yes, their response looks like racism and nationalism, and the neoliberal political class is dismissing it as such. So far, Trump supporters, and many Brexit supporters, haven’t gotten past who they have been clobbered with to go after the corporate/state parties that have actually been doing the clobbering. If or when they do, there will be a revolution, and Trump may well be one of its first victims.

Here in America, we are in a classic, crazy-making “double bind.” The choices appear to be, “vote for Trump and invite racist, nativist chaos, or vote for Clinton and ratify the corporate security state.” Neither is an acceptable option. In Eastern Europe, the so-called Communist regimes presented people with a similar situation, holding their hegemony together by convincing everyone that they were just one person who was powerless against the state apparatus. The day all those “powerless people” realized how many of them there were, governments didn’t just fall, a whole political system dissolved. Here in America, those of us in the Green Party and elsewhere who dissent from the corporate narrative have been portrayed as a small, powerless minority. The Sanders campaign proved otherwise, but there is still a lot of work to do, and no promise of success. That uncertainty is all the more reason to do our very best.


music: Jackson Browne, “Till I Go Down.”




10 04 2010

It’s been a while since I made any “Truth in Strange Places” awards, so I’ll make up for that by giving out three of them this month, to Nashville’s Congressman Jim Cooper, former President Bill Clinton, and current “Drug Czar” Gil Kerlikowske.

Cooper gets his award for this quote:

But when you look at TN Blue CrossBlue Shield you see a company that claims to be non-profit but just built a brand-new $400 million headquarters in Chattanooga, and they leveled a small hill to build their headquarters. And I’ve discovered the Blues(BCBS) nationwide get a billion dollars every year from the federal government. You see those sort of abuses and you think, ‘Can’t we do better than this?’ There are countless tens of thousands of people in our area and millions across Tennessee who need a fairer, better deal. Why can’t we do that? Truth is, the insurance lobby has the most powerful lobby in all of American history. They’re so powerful there really isn’t an oversight committee in Congress. They got in 1946 a provision that basically banned congressional oversight, which is the catbird seat if you’re an industry. Very few industries if any have had that sort of privilege. Plus they get exemption from antitrust laws. I think they should be competitive, private businesses — not favored with all these government perks, and that’s the way they’ve been for a long time.

Thanks for coming so  close to telling like it is, Jim, even if you don’t agree with me that these corporate persons deserve capital punishment for contributing to the death and suffering of so many  real human beings.

And Bill Clinton?

He called U.S. free trade policies in Haiti, which helped destroy the country’s ability to feed itself and pushed hundreds of thousands of people out of the countryside and into the cities, as well as into illegal immigration to the U.S., “a devil’s bargain,” and said

Since 1981, the United States has followed a policy, until the last year or so when we started rethinking it, that we rich countries that produce a lot of food should sell it to poor countries and relieve them of the burden of producing their own food, so, thank goodness, they can leap directly into the industrial era. It has not worked. It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked. It was a mistake. It was a mistake that I was a party to. I am not pointing the finger at anybody. I did that. I have to live every day with the consequences of the lost capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people, because of what I did. Nobody else.

Of course, that’s only the tip of the iceberg as far as this country’s interference in Haiti, not to mention all the other blowback from NAFTA, which he campaigned against as a candidate but then supported as President.  (Barack Obama is not the first Democrat who ran to the left and governed to the right!)  NAFTA, after all, had the same consequences in Mexico and the rest of Latin America as it did in Haiti, collapsing self-sufficient local economies and displacing millions of people, who went streaming to the big cities of their own countries and across borders to this country, where the Faux News approach has been to blame these refugees for what our government did to them. Blame the vicitim….right.

And lastly, Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske, when interviewed, of all places, on Faux News, about the possibility that California might legalize and tax not just medical but all marijuana use, responded

Why would anybody pay taxes on a substance you can grow in your back yard?

Good point, Gil.  Let’s hear it for the local option!  That’s all for tonight!

Greg Brown–Spring Wind


11 06 2006

Back during the winter, I wrote about my State House Representative ,Gary Moore, who chaired the meeting that ended the possibility of a landfill on the Harpeth River. Not long after that, I was one of those who received a questionnaire from him about various issues facing the Tennessee legislature.. I was glad to be asked, and gladder still that he had managed to craft questions to which I could give a simple yes or no answer.

I don’t know about you, but I frequently get so-called “surveys” from the Democratic Party that are just ridiculous—the questions are framed in such a way that I have no choice but to scrawl all over them, usually to the effect of, “you spineless shoelickers gave a free pass to the no-more bankruptcy for the poor bill, Mussalioto, the Patriot Act, and the war in Iraq—a war with as much moral justification as the Nazi invasion of Poland—and now you think if you promise to cut gas prices and boost ethanol production (and what a bad joke that is!) I’m gonna send you money? Fergeddaboutit!” Well, since I never send them any money, I doubt if they count my survey, but they haven’t taken me off the mailing list yet. Not that I think that means they’re paying any attention to me—more likely, it means they’re NOT paying me any attention whatsoever. But, I digress.

Anyway, I recently received the results of Representative Moore’s poll, and I want to share them with you, along with some reflections on what I think they mean. Also, I want to thank his office for being kind enough to answer some background questions about the questionnaire.. It was sent to a little over three thousand voters, identified by the board of elections as the most frequent voters in the district, and about seven hundred of us responded. About 22,000 people voted in this district in 2004, giving Democrat Moore a 2-1 victory over his Republican opponent. I’m willing to bet the voters out here weren’t so enthusiastic about John Kerry, but I haven’t been able to determine that from public information.  (Since publishing this, a reader who knew which precincts constitute Rep. Moore’s district has told me that, in fact, the district split about 50-50 between Bush and Kerry.  Intuition confirmed–thank you, jeune66!)

So anyway, the seven hundred and some most opinionated and vocal citizens of my neighborhood have spoken, so I think it’s worth some attention. This isn’t a poll of what some of the more cosmopolitan parts of Nashville think. The northwest side of Nashville, where I live, is pretty rural, though not without suburban patches, but probably the most “old Tennessee” part of Davidson County, with the possible exception of Antioch. This is the red edge of a blue county. So, on with the show….he began with

“Do you feel the current law recently passed by the legislature adequately addresses the ethics issue?” (including a link to a website comparing “before” and “after”changes that were made by the bill www.legislature.state.tn.us . We were instructed to click on “joint ethics bill,” then on “summary of joint committee ethics bill draft”)

This “summary” is a 21-page pdf. Now, maybe I’m selling my fellow voters short, but I think I wasn’t the only one who didn’t have the patience to plow through 21 pages detailing that contributions must be reported within 24 hours instead of 72, that payments on credit cards must specify what was paid for, and that all this will be put online where nobody will have the time to read it. I mean, if you really want to clean up legislative ethics, give all candidates government funding and equal media access and bar ALL contributions from lobbyists, PACs, business associations, or businesses. They don’t vote, why should they get to buy our legislators? Hey, I’ve given money to Moveon and the like, but I’d rather live in a world where I didn’t have to fight the overwhelming influence of those with more money to throw around than I’ll ever see.

Well, cut to the chase: 70% of Representative Moore’s respondents agreed with me in principle—that the recent ethics bill did not adequately address the ethics issue. Slightly under eight percent thought the bill was adequate, and about 22%were undecided, one of the largest “undecided” calls on the survey. Those must be the folks that tried to form an opinion by reading the pdf.

So—how ’bout it, Representative Moore—are you willing to make a bold, positive move and propose public financing of political campaigns as a solution to the ethics and influence mess? It seems to be working well in Arizona and Maine.

Second question: “Would you support a law that would allow the Tennessee Highway Patrol to arrest undocumented illegal immigrants? This would be achieved by a Memorandum of Understanding between the Federal Immigration and Naturalization Services and the Tennessee Highway Patrol. “

Eighty-three percent of respondents would approve of that, and only ten percent would not.

I was one of the ten percent who did not approve, mostly out of sympathy for the murky mess it would create for the Highway Patrol. You rarely encounter people with no documents whatever—and that’s where it starts getting sticky. To determine whether someone is here legally, you have to check the veracity of their papers. If the THP targets brown skinned people for this treatment, there will be a justifiable fuss raised, all the more so because not all illegal immigrants are Hispanic or Asian—there’s European illegals, too, dontcha know? So the THP will have to check everybody’s status every time they make a traffic stop. This could add a lot of time to an officer’s day, for the most part to no real law enforcement benefit.

–Well, gee, if we had a National Identity Card that everyone had to have….

Hey, when I was a kid and the Cold War was almost hot, a great deal was made of how wonderfully free we are in this country. “In Russia, you have to have an Identity Card and show it to the police when asked”–that’s what they told me. Now there is a strong move towards just such an ID card. When you couple that with our country’s having the biggest per capita prison population in the world, calling America “The Land of the Free” starts to sound downright Orwellian.

Fortunately, the proposal to sic the Highway Patrol on illegal immigrants died in the Tennessee House, where the forces of reason prevailed. It’s worth noting that they prevailed not by debate and vote, but by putting the bill in an isolated corner of the House where it would just kind of die. No impassioned speeches, just an administrative veto. Thank you, guys. Sometimes “nothing” is the right course of action..

The next immigrant question on Rep. Moore’s survey found even more overwhelming support from the electorate but met the same fate as its companion—87% of respondents were in favor of “substantial fines for businesses caught utilizing the services of undocumented illegal immigrants.” Whoa, that would mean going after Walmart, most likely, and after almost every construction contractor in the state. It would criminalize what’s left of the state’s fruit and vegetable industry. If you defined “business” loosely enough, you’d be issuing citations to half of Brentwood. Can’t have that, by golly, those people are all major campaign donors. It could have been effective in discouraging undocumented workers, but oh well, can’t throw out the babies with the bathwater now, can we?

I have to say that I feel a lot of ambivalence about the illegal immigrant question. On the side of compassion, I recognize that these people are economic refugees who are coming here because the North American Free Trade Agreement destroyed the economy of rural Mexico and Central America, and then the race to the bottom created by the World Trade Organization destroyed the nascent industrial economies of those same countries, leaving millions of people just south of here broke, hungry, and increasingly desperate. There’s no place for these people to go but here. Before NAFTA, there were about a million illegals in the US; now there are at least ten times that many. QED, I believe?

But I also have to recognize that these huddled masses yearning to breathe free are being exploited by corporate America. They are a tool for depressing wages, benefits, and worker power in this country. And sure, America has an unnaturally high standard of living compared to the rest of the world, but we need to change that by redistributing our aristocracy’s ill gotten gains, not by making the poor poorer.

What to do? It has been pointed out over and over again in this debate how difficult it is for Americans to work in Mexico, especially compared to vice-versa. So it seems to me that it would be OK to make it much harder for businesses to hire undocumented workers, as long as we renounce NAFTA and the WTO and make a concerted effort to rebuild localized, sustainable economies in our southern neighbors by recreating a small farm, small manufacturing economy—if our bankers, the Chinese, will let us, and if the pace of global warming doesn’t turn Mexico into the Western Sahara. Two big ifs, fer sure.

music: James McMurtry, “Safe Side

Rep. Moore’s 4th question was about raising the minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $6.15 an hour. About 75% approved that, less than 20% opposed. The Nashville Living Wage Coalition ran some numbers and figured out that a living wage in Nashville is someplace around eleven or twelve dollars an hour. The Nashville City Council was unwilling to guarantee that people working for the city would make that much. Five-fifteen an hour is about ten thou a year, six-fifteen is about twelve. The legislators just gave themselves a two-thousand dollar a year raise, but failed to do that for low-income Tennesseans who can’t give themselves a raise.

Here’s what happened: the Tennessee House actually passed a bill that officially raised the minimum wage by a dollar—but exceptions were made for companies employing less than fifty people, waitstaff who receive tips, college students working for their schools, people without a high school diploma or GED, farm and landscape nursery workers, undocumented workers—in other words, just about everybody who’s getting less than $6.15 an hour—estimated to be about 40,000 people statewide and 12,000 here in Nashville. Oh, and there were no enforcement provisions in the bill—somebody making less than minimum wage would have had to sue their employer in order to enforce the law. Fat chance. I think that’s taking privatization a bit too far!

So, the Tennessee Senate voted this bill down, 17-12, which was probably just as well—a bad bill can be worse than none at all, because it creates the illusion that something has been done.

Question 5 addresses health care costs:”Would you support a law that would require businesses with one hundred or more employees to provide insurance coverage for their employees, or be required to pay into a State-administered health care pool?”

About 73% supported this proposition while just over 18% opposed it. This is a reflection from a nationwide movement that is targeted primarily at Walmart, which is notorious for using Medicare and state health programs for the poor as employee health insurance. I’m not crazy about this kind of reformist proposal because it puts more money and power in the hands of the insurance companies, which are a big part of the problem, and also I’m not in favor of reforming Walmart, I’m in favor of hitting the company with antitrust lawsuits and hacking it into little bitty pieces and making sure it never rises again. Silver bullets, garlic, the works.

But Walmart need not fear even reform in Tennessee, let alone dissolution. The Fair Share Health Care Act died in committee. Walmart will not have to pick up health care costs for the nearly ten thousand of its workers who are (or were) on Tenncare, which is a good thing for the company’s bottom line—because those ten thousand workers are about a quarter of the company’s employees here in the state. Paying their doctor bills would really screw up profit margins. Can’t have that.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Congress is revving up to repeal the estate tax, which will enable the Walton family (and a few other members of the uber-rich) to hang on to still more of their ill-gotten gains. When are all these rich white guys who are posturing about this being a “Christian Nation” going to get the part about “not laying up your treasures where moth and rust doth corrupt?”

music:  Joan Baez,  “Satisfied Mind

A resounding 83% of respondents favored raising the cigarette tax to offset lowering the sales tax on food, but that didn’t stop our state senators from voting this idea down, with encouragement from our so-called health-care governor. Tennessee has the highest food sales tax of any state in the country, and the third lowest tax on cigarettes—and, of course, no income tax, making the sales tax the backbone of state revenue. I suppose it makes a certain amount of sense not to base your revenue on taxing something people would be better off not using at all, but the food tax hits the poorest people in the state the hardest. Everybody admits it’s unfair, but there’s no political will to do anything about it. Chalk one up for the tobacco lobby.

Of course, the cigarette tax also hits poor people the hardest, because more poor people smoke, but to me that’s kinda like the lottery—anybody dumb enough to get involved with tobacco or the lottery deserves to lose their money. At least the lottery won’t give you cancer.

Question seven is about an issue you’ve heard about from me before: the Harpeth dump, which went down to defeat in the face of overwhelming neighborhood rejection. Overall, however, when more than those who were not looking at a dump in their backyard were polled, 49% thought it would be OK, with only 39% demurring—must be the folks who live near the Harpeth. Not in my backyard, but yours will do! Ah, the American spirit!

It’s not exactly “Profiles in Courage” material, but I hope Rep. Moore would have fought the dump just as vigorously even if he had known that his constituents weren’t solidly behind him on it.

Question eight asked whether Tennessee should require a photo ID before allowing an individual to vote, and a fairly decisive 71% came down in favor of this subtle but radical change in governmental procedure.

I think this indicates that we need to do extensive education on this issue. I alluded before to the totalitarian nature of mandatory ID cards, and this is a little different, because it’s specifically about voting and not about the rest of life in wartime, but I think it indicates public misperception about the nature of voting fraud in this country. Old-fashioned, Tammany-Hall style voter fraud involved having people who were not actually registered cast ballots. New-style, Ed Blackwell/Katherine Harris style voting fraud removes people from the voting rolls unjustly and then hacks the computers so that, if you do get to vote, your vote goes to someone other than who you thought you voted for.

Georgia attempted to pass a law requiring photo id in order for citizens to vote, and it was struck down by the courts as too restrictive of voters’ civil rights. I think that if people understood that this is a proposal that makes it harder for older and poorer citizens to vote, their opinion of this idea would shift. As far as I can tell, there was no proposed legislation on this question in Tennessee this year—but the Federally mandated “Real ID” act, which is an unfunded mandate, is coming into force in 2008 and will push the state to create a more rigorous form of ID. May I see your papers?

Slightly more people, 77%, wanted the state to restrict its driver’s license tests to the English language. which seems to me to be a form of gratuitous racism—the amount of English you need in order to navigate the road system is considerably simpler than the conceptual grasp of English a person needs in order to pass a written test. I think this kind of racism is part of what the voodoo economists who are running America refer to as “the trickle-down effect,” otherwise known to plumbers, parents, and battered women everywhere as “poop rolls downhill.” Franz Fanon referred to it as “the psychology of the oppressed.”

What it boils down to is this: almost all of us here in America are oppressed by this country’s elite, those whom George Bush famously addresses as “my power base.” Our oppression is carefully frosted over with a blitz of consumer goods, public spectacles, and the propaganda message that this is “the freest country in the world.” (with, again, the highest prison population in the world) Even those of us who are aware of this snow job and the truth behind its lies feel practically powerless to counter it; those who are not aware will always be inclined to vent their frustration on some vulnerable “other.” Now it’s the Mexicans; it’s been the hippies, it’s been the communists, it’s been the Jews, the labor organizers….if you can’t stop the pain, pass it on.

Well, I’m philosophizing and psychologizing and getting far away from Representative Moore’s questions. The next one is a bit of a no-brainer: “Should Tennessee require proof of automobile insurance before issuing or renewing license plate tags?” That one was favored 92 to 5. Hey, if you’re going to travel at high speed in a small metal box that, if you lose control of it, will inflict damage on things you don’t own and can’t afford to pay for, the thoughtful, compassionate thing to do is have liability insurance.

As a raving anti-corporatist, of course I’d prefer to see single-payer car insurance that came out of gas taxes along with my single-payer health insurance that comes out of income taxes, but in the meantime (and I’m not holding my breath for nationalized insurance, believe me) I’m more than willing to be practical and buy from a private insurer. There’s even a politically progressive company out there to buy from—most insurance companies do make most of their donations to Republicans, in case you didn’t know.

music:  James McMurtry,”Comfortable

The next question surprised me, because I would have thought it as much of a no-brainer as the insurance question: Should Tennessee require seatbelts in schoolbusses, even if it means increasing taxes to pay for it? That gathered only a plurality, 45-31. To me it’s the metal box deal again: if you’re traveling at high speed in a metal box, strap yourself down so you won’t go bouncing around if there’s an accident. Especially, make sure your kids are strapped down. Did the tax increase bug people? How many seat belts could you install for the price of one kid having to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair? Or spend the rest of his life dead?

Well, it might just be the tax thing. One result of the corporate takeover of our government over the past several decades has been a shift of the tax burden from corporations to individuals, and from wealthier individuals to poorer ones. According to an Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy study, in 2003 the uppermost 1% of Tennessee taxpayers paid about 3% of their income in state and local taxes, while the middle of Tennessee’s income pyramid, the people earning $24-38,000 a year, paid 8.7%. Those at the bottom, with incomes of $14,000 a year or less, pay 11.7% of their income in taxes—and that doesn’t even count the lottery tickets they buy.

Nationally, corporate taxes are sinking towards 1% of GDP, from a 1960 level of 4% and, more relevantly, over 2% as recently as 1999. In Tennessee, there have been tax giveaways to encourage corporations like Dell and Nissan to locate here. “Tax giveaway” is a misleading term for this—the government may be giving it away, but you and I are paying for it. So, if people feel a little edgy about paying for seatbelts in schoolbusses, I can forgive them. Let Nissan be a “good corporate citizen” and donate ’em, hey? Of course, then they’d all hafta say “NISSAN” in big bold letters, but, gee, ya can’t get something for nothing, can you?

Question 13 is another potential bureaucratic nightmare fueled by people’s insecurity. 84% of all those responding to this poll would support fingerprinting of pawnshop customers to “help identify persons trafficking in stolen property.” Oh, yes, it would also build up the government’s fingerprint files, wouldn’t it? And concentrate law enforcement’s attention on small time criminals, leaving less time for corporate crime, which steals from thousands of us by making everything we pay for more expensive. Well, local law enforcement doesn’t do much with that anyway.

As I investigated this peculiar law—which would net the fingerprints of more wannabe musicians than active burglars—I found that it has been implemented as a “special-case” law—only in Knoxville and Memphis must pawnshop customers give up their prints to buy or sell. How effective has this been? It’s hard to tell; an article on stolen bicycles in Knoxville made no mention of fingerprinting, pro or con, and the Tennessee State Pawnbrokers’ Association has nothing to say about it on their website.

Karl Marx, that supposedly discredited prophet, used to rave about what he called “commodity fetishism”—the attribution of great desirability to consumer goods that are not intrinsically valuable. It looks to me like this “commodity fetishism” is the water us American fish swim in—we are encouraged to have lots of stuff, and to keep our stuff secure. That’s what makes the economy go ’round, and if too many people start stealing from others in order to satisfy their perceived needs, we have a breakdown of law and order.

With the vast disparities of income and opportunity that exist in this country, the eroding economy, and the lust for consumer goods that the mass media are built to feed, people are going to fear for their possessions, and they will look to the state to protect them from the perceived danger of robbery. My own view is that the way to work on this is to make the wealth more equal and back off on the commodity promotion. Many of those who clamor loudest for strong property protection are ones who follow a religion that enjoins them not to—here it comes again– “lay up wealth where moth and rust doth corrupt,” and I think taking that more seriously would help, too; I’m just not sure what the State of Tennessee could do to promote it without becoming a theocracy.

music:  Greg Brown, “The Way They Get Themselves Up”

And, speaking, at least obliquely, of theocracy, the next question asked, “Do you feel that alcohol products such as wine from out of state or outside the country should be allowed to be purchased over the internet?” That one lost on a plurality, 40%-45%. I checked online and, sure enough, you can’t buy wine online in Tennessee and have it shipped to you. Why someone would want to go to the expense of having a bottle of wine shipped to them from out of state is a question I can’t answer, as I’ve never understood why people drink wine in the first place—but why would some people want to prohibit other people from buying wine? That’s another philosophical question that goes beyond the bounds of this survey. All I can say is, some people don’t let logic or tolerance get in the way of their opinions. What to do?–”All intolerant people should be rounded up and shot?” I don’t think so. I’ve devoted many hours of my life to trying to understand how a tolerant society should deal with intolerant people, and I still don’t have an answer.

“The Green Party—the only political party honest enough to say,’We don’t know.’” Well, maybe that’s not a good campaign slogan.

Question 15 asks if “Tennessee should pass a law that would give local governments the power to enact laws to prohibit smoking in public places?” This power was stripped from municipalities by a 1994 law. As a nonsmoker, I was pleasantly surprised to find that getting a 72%-22% pass, although I am concerned that if they make smoking in public illegal, the next target will be passing gas, and then I’ll be in trouble.

The last time I went out to a club to hear a band, I had to leave about halfway through the show because the thick pall of tobacco smoke in the room was making me sick. A couple of days later, I read a review of the show that complemented the club on how well its new ventilation system worked. Really?

Here’s what I think about tobacco—and alcohol, for that matter: we need to take the corporate money out of the equation. Anybody who wants to grow their own tobacco, brew their own beer, ferment their own wine, or distill their own single-malt scotch is welcome to do so, and free to share it with their friends—but no public sale, advertising, resale, etc. allowed. Is that too draconian? How could we still have bars? OK, so maybe we can work in a way to create and license “public houses” for that purpose—and maybe we could treat all currently illegal drugs the same way. Just a thought.

The second to last question was “Do you think Tennessee should pass a law that would require a statewide uniform voting procedure utilizing a verifiable paper ballot?”

That got a slim majority—51%–with about 27% definitely opposed and 22% undecided, one of the highest undecided groups in the poll. This made me realize that, while I’ve been attentive to the furor over the apparent stealing of the last two elections, this issue has been pretty much absent from the mainstream media, which finds missing teenage girls and runaway brides more important than whether the guy in the White House is there legitimately or not. Hey, he’s not a cute blonde. Even Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s authoritative, annotated article in a recent Rolling Stone hasn’t raised a blip on the don’t-rock-the-boat boys’ radar. So I suppose it’s a bit of a victory for us pesky types if over half the people out here in the boondocky, redneck part of Davidson County would like to make sure there’s a paper record of how they voted.

OK, final question—an essay question! Well, not exactly—Representative Moore asked, “What are the three major issue that concern you the most?” Taxes was first, with 30%, followed by illegal immigrants at slightly under thirty percent, followed by health care at 26%, ethics at around 20%, education running a distant 5th at about 9%, and fuel costs the last large grouping at around 6%.

Taxes? Yes, the current system is unfair, even if most people don’t understand why. This is an issue that will take a lot of voter education to counter the persistent smokescreen that covers the truth about corporate abandonment of civic responsibility.

Illegal immigrants? Not much Tennessee can do about that one—it’s a national problem that needs an international solution. If they could stay where they came from, they would, y’know, so let’s help ’em find ways to stay home. Meanwhile, we do need to admit that big business is complicit in bringing these people into the country because their willingness to accept low wages works to the advantage of the businesses that hire them, and that’s going on because CAFTA, NAFTA, the WTO, and our open trade with China have created a race to the bottom in which the US has a long and unpleasant way to go. The US trade deficit was $9B ten years ago; it was over $70B last year, and that’s a greater threat to our national security than terrorists or illegal migrant workers.

Health care? Yes, it’s a serious concern. Even if you stay healthy all your life and then go into a nursing home when you can’t take care of yourself anymore, the nursing home will suck up your savings, so you’ll have nothing to leave your kids but memories. The for-profit, out-of-control health care industry is sucking America dry. We could do something about this at the state level in the short term, although it will take national legislation (or maybe a revolution) to recreate the health care industry in a way that truly serves people.

There are serious issues that didn’t make it into this questionnaire. The interconnected questions of urban sprawl, peak oil, and global warming are intensely local in their effects. At this point, most of the people in Rep. Moore’s district commute by car into Nashville; before the automobile, most of the few people in this area pretty much stayed put—they got to Nashville once a week or once a month, maybe. The district, along with the rest of Nashville, is too spread out for mass transit to work effectively. What is going to happen? It should certainly be a function of state government to create a co-ordinated regional plan for the future, but there doesn’t seem to be much long-range vision in the legislature. Maybe longer terms would help; certainly public financing of campaigns would free legislators from constant fundraising and its concomittant preoccupation with the short-term needs of wealthy business owners.

I have been commenting on the details of Representative Moore’s survey from a Green perspective—what’s the overall shape of it look like? I think that what we see here is a society and a legislature engrossed in, and all too frequently distracted by, the immediate symptoms of problems that are rooted deep in the structure of our political system, our society, and our economy. From the myopic mainstream perspective, these problems have complicated, uncertain solutions, or none at all—f’rinstance, the 21-page “summary” of the legislative ethics law. We Greens offer solutions to these questions that are, in the literal sense, radical—we see how to cut these afflictions off at the root.

Increasing corporate taxes and instituting a graduated income tax will take the burden of taxation off those least able to bear it—and that ain’t Wal-mart. The way to solve the flood of illegal immigrants here in America is to improve conditions in their homelands. A national single-payer health plan, curbs on the for-profit health industry, and a strong emphasis on prevention will bring health care costs under control. Stating these solutions is easy; bringing them to statewide or national attention is another question entirely.

The harvest is great, the laborers are few, and the crop will soon spoil. There is no guarantee of success; we hardly even know what “success” will look like. Let’s get moving, people.

Eliza Gilkyson, “Old Coat

Wow—I just did almost a whole show on state and local issues. There’s just time to mention a few things: the honesty in unlikely places award goes to U.S. Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, relentless drug warrior and architect of the plan to lock up all eleven million illegal immigrants, who chose to buck the corporate tide and work to preserve internet neutrality. We lost that battle in the House, but maybe the Communications Act of 2006 will meet the same fate as arresting eleven million people. If not, it’s likely the end of America’s Democracy Wall; how close are we to our own Tienamen Square?

If I’d had more time, I would have written about the accelerating thaw in the Arctic and the desertification of age-old oases in western China; about the peculiar and scary intersection of Christianity and Fascism that’s going on in this country; about how even Republican judges don’t like the new bankruptcy law, which our own Jim Cooper voted for, because it assumes that most bankruptcies stem from people being deadbeats when the truth is that eighty percent of all bankruptcies are the result of catastrophic medical bills…..like the lady here in Nashville who got hit by a police cruiser and has almost $400,000 in bills, but so-called “tort reform” in Tennessee has capped the damages the city can pay at $250,000.

I would have spent a lot of time talking about the latest bad news about electronic voting; I would have talked about how the psychiatric industry labels people—mostly women and children– as mentally ill, so they can sell them meds—did you know “road rage” is now a treatable—that means prescribable and billable—mental illness? I would have speculated on why Dick Cheney maintains such a veil of secrecy and why he recently empowered our Secret Service chief, John “the Butcher” Negroponte, to exempt corporations from SEC reporting rules. I would have talked about how funny it is that the mainstream media are alarmed that Venezuelan businessmen have just bought Sequoia, a voting machine company, but nobody seems alarmed about how Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel owns the voting machines that elected him in Nebraska. I could go on, and next month on July 15th, I will. Meanwhile, you can read this and other rantings of mine at brothermartin.blogsource.com. Rose will be in next week. Enjoy!.
music:  James McMurtry, “Memorial Day

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