THE LARGEST AND LEAST POWERFUL GREEN PARTY IN THE WORLD, AND HOW TO EMPOWER IT

24 09 2017

The United States has the largest Green Party in the world, with around a quarter million registered voters, plus thousands more supporters in states like Tennessee that don’t have party registration. In survey after survey, and as demonstrated by Bernie Sanders’ galvanizing effect on the American public, substantial majorities of Americans support Green positions, from universal single-payer health care greenyetto a greater emphasis on alternative energy and a cleaner environment, to local economies and greater community and economic democracy, but you wouldn’t know it to look at election results, where the Green Party rarely even gets into double digits, let alone is a contender, in any election higher than the local level.

As I researched this piece, I discovered that it was easy to find links backing up my statements about public support for health care, alternative energy, a cleaner environment, and stronger local economies, but it seems as if nobody has thought to ask about the radical notion of having more “everyday people” involved in their own governance, let alone the ownership and governance of their workplaces. Both of these have been taken up enthusiastically in places where they have been tried, such as Burlington, Vermont when, and ever since, Bernie was mayor, Jackson, Mississippi today, and the increasing number of worker owned and managed companies around the country. The Democrats will attempt to co-opt Green Party positions on the environment, alternate energy, and the minimum wage, but you can bet they won’t touch economic, workplace, and community democracy. The change from hierarchical ownership and direction by the few to governance by the network of people actually involved in a workplace or community  threatens the corporatist, oligarchic monopoly of the few that currently calls the shots in this country, and thus consideration of such ideas is not welcome in polite society. As Noam Chomsky said,

chomskynarrow

I think that’s a very apt description of what’s going on the US these days: there’s tremendous passion and polarization around scores of issues, while the root cause of all of them is never touched, and keeps throwing up new shoots that we activists hack at until we grow weary. If we are going to put an end to all the many levels of oppression that saturate our society, we need to uproot the oligarchy that is the source of our oppression. It’s not just an oligarchy that’s outside us. All of us have internalized it to some extent, and we each need to win our own our personal psycho-spiritual revolution if the external revolution is going to succeed.

Meanwhile, around the globe, Green Parties are achieving a satisfying level of electoral success in a great many countries, and changing those countries’ priorities for the better in the process. Let’s examine some of those countries, and then look into why it hasn’t happened here, which leads directly to what it will take in order for it to happen here. Read the rest of this entry »





AS WE FILL OUR PETRI DISH/PLANET…..

28 10 2012

Pre-election frenzy is reaching its heights here in the U.S., as foaming-at-the-mouth insanity runs neck and neck in the polls with cool, calculated insanity, and the world holds its breath to see whether the current faction  of thugs will retain control, or whether a crew that is even more out of touch with reality will take the reins in America.  Mitt Romney, in contrast to many Republicans, says he recognizes that the climate is changing, but denies human causation.  Obama admits that humans are the cause of the problem, but won’t do anything that will actually stop it.  The subject has been off the political radar in this election.

Meanwhile, on the weather radar, we have a nearly unprecedented, very late-season hurricane bearing down on the mid-Atlantic region of the U.S., and forecasters are saying it’s likely to merge with a nearly unprecedented,very early season winter storm system that’s been making its way across the country, possibly wreaking havoc when the two systems have a party over the next couple of days.  (Gee…the two-party-system meets the two-system party!).  This follows a year of record drought, which shrank crop yields in this country and elsewhere, and has sent global food reserves to their lowest level in 40 years.  This, too, is “off the radar.”  As far as the duopoly  candidates are concerned, reality is, in general, “off the radar.”  This failure to acknowledge reality could destroy the planet.  Our political system is not just insane, it is suicidally, and ecocidally, insane, a danger to itself and others.

In the midst of all this madness, what’s a David to do but battle Goliath?  What’s Lot to do but warn Sodom and try to awaken enough righteous people to save it, especially since, this time around,  there is no place to go to get away from impending destruction?

That’s why we in the Green Party keep making what effort we can to turn the tide. Read the rest of this entry »





THE STATE BLINKS

9 09 2012

As I reported last month, the 6th Circuit Appeals Court heard the state of Tennessee’s appeal of our case at the end of July, and apparently largely agreed with us, telling the state to go ahead and put our candidates on the ballot while they wrote their final decision.  They didn’t order the state to conduct a lottery to determine ballot placement, but shortly after the court hearing, the state primary gave, uh, “primary facie” evidence of why that might be a good idea, when the first candidate listed  (alphabetically) on the Democrat primary ballot beat out the DP’s anointed candidate by a 2-1 margin and became their official candidate for U.S. Senate, in spite of being a gun-toting racist tea partier who thinks corporate Republican Bob Corker is way too tame.

Well, at least he’s got it right about Corker being a corporate whore–although, as a multi-millionaire, maybe Corker is more of a corporate whore-monger than an actual whore. Read the rest of this entry »





OUR DAY IN COURT

11 02 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

music:  Allen Toussaint, “Yes We Can Can”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

music:  Pointer SIsters “Yes We Can Can”





IN 2012, WHO WILL YOUR VOTING MACHINE VOTE FOR?

8 01 2012

As I said, getting the state of Tennessee to recognize the Green Party’s right to appear on the ballot as a party is only half the battle.  The other half involves how the votes will be cast and counted.

First, a little history.  The Cheney-Gore-Nader presidential contest in 2000 was widely perceived as having been tainted with electoral fraud that resulted in Cheney’s appointment to the Presidency by a Supreme Court largely handpicked by Ronald Reagan and his running mate’s father.  The electoral fraud most commonly suspected was not the old-fashioned, retail, the-cemeteries-arise-and-vote kind.  It was wholesale, two different ways.  The first was widespread purging of alleged felons from the voting rolls in Florida.  The key word here is “alleged.”  If you happened to have the same name as a felon, you were barred from voting, but, depending on the county you lived in and whether the list had your current address,  you might not find this out until you showed up to vote, leaving no time for an appeal.  Investigative reporter Greg Palast estimates that about 8,000 were wrongfully denied the right to vote in Florida.  Most of those on this Florida list were African-Americans, who went 9-1 for Big Al, who lost Florida (according to the Supreme Court, anyway) by just 537 votes.  The capper on this is that the “purge list,” with all its inaccuracies, was generated for the Republican-run state of Florida by a private data mining firm with close ties to the Republican Party.  So quit bashing Ralph Nader, all you Democrats–the Repubs stole this one with their own people.  If you just have to blame a fellow progressive for this screwup (which Gore compounded by refusing to contest it), blame John Hagelin, the Natural Law Party candidate, whose 2, 281 votes in Florida total more than Cheney’s alleged margin of victory.  Hagelin’s into Transcendental Meditation.  He can handle your scorn.

But I digress.  Besides wrongly disqualifying voters, there are two other easy ways to tilt the vote.  One is simply to put fewer voting machines in districts where you want fewer people to vote, because long lines will discourage some people.  This has been done with great success, most notably by Kenneth Blackwell in Ohio.  But the most sure-fire way to win an election you might lose on the up-and-up is to hack the voting machines.   This has been made much, much easier by America’s love affair with computers, because you can hack a computerized, touch-screen voting machine and leave no trace whatsoever.  This is not some crackpot theory.  Argonne National Laboratory, a division of the Department of Energy, did a little research and found that, for less than $30, they could build a remote control device that could hack into a computerized voting machine and change the results it recorded, and not leave any trace of the hack. Yes, I repeat myself, but this is very important.  Interestingly enough, these vulnerable machines are made by private corporations with close ties to the Republican Party.

All this has been well known, among those who are not totally absorbed in reality TV, anyway, for over a decade, now.  Here in Tennessee, in 2006, a group of citizens formalized their concern for the integrity of our elections by forming a group called Gathering To Save Our Democracy, to lobby for verifiable, recountable balloting in the state.  While a DRE, as computerized voting machines are referred to, can produce a printed tape showing the votes cast on it as it recorded them, there is no way to tell whether the vote recorded by the machine was the vote intended by the voter.  This is not a theoretical problem.  To give just one example, in 2004 DRE’s in New Mexico recorded a vote for Cheney when a voter pressed the “straight Republican ticket” button, but failed to record a vote for Kerry when a voter pushed the ‘straight Democratic ticket” button.  This happened almost exclusively in Latino and other low-income districts that were likely to vote Democrat.  Kerry lost the state by about 6,000 votes.  There were a reported 21,000 ballots in New Mexico on which there was no recorded Presidential vote.  Do the math!  The situation in Ohio was similar, but Kerry decided not to dispute the election, to the great disappointment of millions.

So, here in Tennessee, a group of citizens lobbied the state legislature to switch the state to some form of verifiable balloting, in which there would be a permanent record of the voter’s original intent.  Optical scan machines, the kind used to grade standard tests, were one option; hand counting was another .  Due to these citizen activists’ efforts, the state passed the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act in 2008, by a wide, bipartisan margin, with just one little compromise.  The Republican asked that implementation of the bill be delayed until the 2010 election, due to the “difficulty and expense” of switching over.  This was baloney, but the Democrats bought it, over the protests of the activists, who knew that the Republicans were, to be impolitic, lying.  Other states had made the switch in the amount of time remaining before the election, Federal money was available to pay for the transition, and it was, in fact, cheaper, faster, and simpler than using the DRE’s,   Cheaper- optical scan equipment requires only one computer per precinct, to count the ballots, which have been filled out by hand.  Old-fashioned hand-counted ballots don’t take any computer at all.  Faster–much less instruction necessary, and many more private spaces for filling out a ballot can be set up, compared to the number of computerized voting machines that can be provided at each precinct.  Simpler–as I said, little or no instruction is needed in filling out a ballot with a number two pencil.

If this is true, why did both Democrat and Republican Secretaries of State resist the change?  A two word answer:  Lobbying money.  The company invites state and county election commissioners to fancy dinners, where they are exposed to entertaining lectures on the superiority of the computerized product.  A bond is created.  Money may change hands.  While these are not elective offices, the commissioners have friends in politics whose fortunes they would like to help advance, after all.  Just another example of how decisions in this country are made not according to what makes sense, but according to what makes money for the powerful.

Once the bill was passed, with its delay in place, the 2008 election was a big surprise for Democrats, who lost heavily all over the state.  Was this a rigged election, or simply a sharp, racially-motivated right turn on the part of Tennessee voters?  It’s hard to tell–impossible, in fact, because hacking DREs leaves no traces.  The art in throwing an election is in not making it too obvious.  You don’t rig it so your guy wins 99-1; you rig it so he wins 50.1-49.9.  But first you purge the voter rolls of anyone who has something like the same name as a purported felon–if the person turns out to have merely committed a misdemeanor, or isn’t even the right person, hey, it’s their problem to prove their innocence. This is America, after all!  Then you shorten early voting  hours, which makes it a little harder for working people to vote, and then you pass a law requiring that all voters show a photo ID, which gets rid of some older, low-income voters, as well as some college students, (since you’ll accept a gun license but not a college ID as valid).  All these groups are more likely to vote for  Democrats.  Then you only have to tweak the election results a little, here and there, to throw the election.  I live in a majority black, and, obviously, heavily Democratic district.  I am reasonably certain that anybody throwing an election wouldn’t mess with our precinct, because a Republican triumph here would be hard to believe.  On the other hand, they might shave just a few votes here, and more elsewhere, where the outcome might be more up for grabs.

Back to our time line.  The newly Republican state legislature attempted to repeal the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act, but failed by one vote–that of Republican Tim Burchett, of Knoxville, who distinguished himself by being an outspoken advocate of open, honest elections.  For his principled stand, Burchett was kicked upstairs in 2010, elected to the post of Mayor of Knoxville,  With him out of the way, the legislature repealed the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act, lying through their teeth as they claimed that this was done solely because the state didn’t have the money to make the switch.  The Federal money, which was all that was required, was still sitting there, unspent.  State government firmly in hand, the Repubs have drawn up a redistricting plan that is just about guaranteed to preserve their hold on power, short of large sections of the voting public waking up to the rude, uncomfortable truth.

The situation here in Tennessee is one that, if Obama and Eric Holder had even one cojone between them, the DOJ would be all over.  But they don’t, and so I’m not looking for the guys in the white hats to come riding over the horizon any time soon.

My little rant may have raised a couple of questions for you.  You might wonder why a Green like me is being so solicitous of the welfare of our state’s Democrats. And you might wonder what, exactly, this has to do with our lawsuit, the one about recognizing Green Party candidates’ Constitutional right to have our party affiliation listed on the ballot.

I’ll answer that one first.  I am concerned that, since our elections are apparently being jiggered by the GOP, they will welcome the Green Party’s official ballot slot as a great place to dump votes they have taken away from Democrats and at the same time create strife between Greens and Democrats who perceive that we are taking “their” votes.  Even if the elections were squeaky-clean, of course, some Democrats would be squawking about this, but, if they really care about electoral choice, there are ways, such as instant runoff voting, to have elections in which voters can express their second choice in the event that their first choice doesn’t make it into the top two.

So, first question second.  Why do I, a Green,  care so much about the Democrats getting screwed over?  I could get all Martin Niemoller on you and say “First they came for the Democrats,” but it’s not really that dramatic.  While the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act is a milestone in our empire’s attempt to legitimize its war crimes, I think our government’s power will fade out long before they get around to disappearing the likes of you and me.  It’s much cheaper  and easier to just ignore us.

No, I defend Democrats, especially “rank-and-file” Democrats, because, as individuals, I like them.  Hey, I used to be one myself.  I not only like them, I am like them. They mostly mean well, unlike Republicans, who tend to be sociopaths.

Disclaimer:  what follows is strictly a metaphor.  Nobody on the Mid-Tennessee Progressive Strategies Facebook list needs to feel the least bit uneasy about my intentions there, OK?

To me, Democrats are kind of like certain fascinating and delightful women I have known, who always seemed to end up giving it to some jerk who didn’t appreciate them and made their lives miserable, rather than to me, who would have respected and appreciated them. Jerks like, back in the old days, Richard Daley, or, more recently, the likes of Steny Hoyer, Rahm Emmanuel, Joe Biden, and Max Baucus. Were those women a bit dysfunctional for the kind of love lives they manifested?   Yes, but that didn’t subtract from their lovable humanity.  Am I a bit dysfunctional, hungering for the attention of those whom I do not psycho-emotionally trigger?  Probably. But people, whether they are abused women or rank and file Democrats, sometimes grow and evolve, get to the place where they see through the games and conditioning they have always accepted, DTMFA (Dump the Mother Fucker Already) and move on.  Is that my prediction for 2012?  Do I think the ranks of the Green Party will swell with masses of disaffected Democrats?  I’m not getting my hopes up, but, in the words of Shakespeare,  “‘Tis a consumation devoutly to be wished.”

music:  Drive-By-Truckers, “Wife Beater





U.S. GOVERNMENT DROWNED IN BATHTUB!

13 08 2011

Nashville’s municipal elections are over, and to nobody’s surprise, there were few surprises.  All incumbents save one were handily re-elected,including Jason Holleman,  and the measure to obstruct sale of the Fairgrounds to a private developer was passed by a truly impressive margin.  There will be five runoff elections in September, with participation likely to be even lower than the 20% turnout for this election.  May I point out that instant runoff voting,” a system in which people get to indicate a second choice as well as a first, ends the expense and bother of delayed runoff elections?  Just sayin’, as they say.

The one incumbent who failed to make the cut was Anna Page, a fairgrounds privatization advocate whose district just happens to include the fairgrounds.  She lost by twelve votes to Tony Tenpenny, who opposed redeveloping the fairgrounds but is, alas, a political conservative.  It’s funny how people can be in touch with reality in some ways, and out of touch in others–and I’m sure there are people who say that about me–or worse.  But….losing by only twelve votes.  Think about that.  I’m sure Ms. Page is.

I actually voted against the Fairgrounds amendment, but only because it seemed to require that auto racing continue at the Fairgrounds. I view automobile racing as one of the many modern equivalents of gladiator sports, as well as a prodigious waste of precious fossil fuels and a nasty source of pollution, so, while I was in sympathy with the overall aim of the preservationists, I couldn’t see voting for something that dumb.  But I don’t mind a bit that the measure passed.  The will of the people–to keep public property public–prevailed, at least in this case.

Nationally, we were not so lucky.  In spite of overwhelming popular sentiment for higher taxes on both wealthy corporations and wealthy real people, and growing questions about the wisdom of massive military spending, the debt ceiling deal our so-called government agreed to is a complete reverse-Robin Hood measure that shifts even more of this country’s dwindling wealth from the poor and middle class to the obscenely wealthy.

Grover Norquist is famous for saying he wants to “shrink the government down to the point where we can drown it in the bathtub.”  Well, folks, that’s what happened, and we didn’t even have to elect a Republican President to do it.  Mr. Hope and Change wrung his hands and tsk-tsked, but ultimately did nothing to stop it, like an abused wife who doesn’t like it when her husband beats the kids, but isn’t going to call the police on him.  After all, he says he’s sorry and gives the kids candy, doesn’t he?

In fact, you might be excused for thinking that Obama, deep down, wouldn’t mind getting rid of that pesky kid known as “government spending for the public good.”  Not so long ago, he appointed a commission to review Social Security and Medicare, and even his supporters complained that it seemed strangely stacked against our country’s already tattered social safety net.

But, before we get into the messy details, let’s back up and remember that Democrats and Republicans unquestioningly raised the debt ceiling for the Cheney/Bush junta seven times during the eight years of the junta’s rule, nearly doubling US debt–which stood at just under $6 trillion when Bill Clinton left office, and had ballooned to $11.3T by the time Cheney left office.  And did the Republicans insist on “fiscal responsibility” in exchange for those raises?

No.  Cheney cut taxes (mostly on the wealthy) twice, floated an unfunded, enormously expensive subsidy to the prescription drug industry disguised as a way to help Medicare recipients buy the drugs they are told they need, and burned nearly a trillion dollars in the bonfires called Iraq and Afghanistan, fires that the Obama administration has cheerfully continued to feed with our tax dollars and loans from the Chinese.

The Nobel Committee must be wondering if they can revoke a Nobel Peace Prize.

I digress–like every other real solution to America’s problems, ending our spending on foreign military adventures is “off the table.”

Back to the debt ceiling/budget cuts question–the point is, that it was completely disingenuous, if not outright hypocritical, of the Republicans to suddenly stand up for “fiscal responsibility” around the issue of raising the debt ceiling.  It has never been tied to budget cuts before–and we’re talking 74 raises in the debt ceiling since 1962–that’s quite a precedent, so it’s no wonder  many of Obama’s liberal supporters were flabbergasted when he failed to challenge the Republicans on this, and instead played right into their hands.  You start to suspect he’s secretly one of them.

Look at his record.  He didn’t prosecute anybody on Wall Street for the crash–in fact, the Wall Street firms that triggered the crash are among his strongest supporters, and their executives became his closest advisers.  By contrast,  when the Savings and Loan bubble burst twenty years ago, thousands of bankers went to jail, over a financial peccadillo that was a fraction the size of the 2008 mess–$160 billion for the S&L’s,  $7.7 trillion for the subprime bubble.  Do the math–the 2008 crash was 48 times bigger than the S&L crash, and nobody went to jail.   Can’t say the bankers didn’t learn a thing or two in twenty years!  To cap it off, not only did Obama continue Bush’s policy of bailouts for the Wall Street firms who milked the economy, his program to help individuals who were losing their homes because they had been suckered into unrepayable mortgages turned out to be a useless piece of window dressing.

There’s the war crimes issue.  Obama not only took a pass on prosecuting Bush officials for atrocities they were clearly responsible for under international law, he continued and expanded those policies, including the assassination of American citizens who might be terrorists–but only ones who are out of the country, so far, so far as we know-.  What part of “innocent until proven guilty” and “right to a fair trial” does our government not understand?

When Bradley Manning tried to blow the whistle on our government’s criminal behavior, the Obama administration just put him in jail and tortured him.   Trial?  Manana.  What part of “a right to a speedy trial” does our government not understand?   And of course, Manning is only one of many who have been persecuted by this “hope and change” guy for the thoughtcrime of hoping to change questionable government behavior.

But it’s not like Obama has changed.  In one of his first Senate speeches, on the question of whether to investigate voting irregularities in Ohio that cost John Kerry the election, Obama asserted that he believed Bush had won the election fair and square and there was no need for the Senate to look into the matter, thus stiffing the Congressional Black Caucus.  That should have been enough to sink him right there, but no……

Obama wasted no time in putting GMO-pusher Monsatan–excuse me, Monsanto–in charge of the nation’s food supply by appointing Monsanto shill Tom Vilsack as Secretary of Agriculture.  Again, a totally Republican move–let the corporations run the government–“what’s good for General Motors is good for the country.”  Right.  But gee, Michelle has an organic garden at the White House–say it again, boys and girls:  “Window dressing.”

Our increasingly erratic climate is another crucial issue on which Obama’s approach has been to continue Republican policy, but with a kinder, gentler spin.  In spite of the Deepwater Horizon mess, his administration has approved the even more dangerous step of offshore drilling north of Alaska. In spite of Fukushima (not to mention Chernobyl and Three-Mile Island!), he remains committed to serious expansion of nuclear power.  After acting like he was going to slow down coal mining, which every responsible environmental scientist agrees needs to happen to keep the planet from going completely haywire, his administration has kept on approving mountain top removal mining, just like Bush (and Clinton) before him.  At Copenhagen, according to Albert Bates, who was there, Obama sabotaged the possibility of a real agreement and spun it like he had accomplished something.  This stands in sharp contrast to the Cheney-Bush approach, of course–they just sneered and hoisted the bird.  Some people loved it and some people hated it–but you know, the same is true of the public’s reaction to Obama–it’s just that the demographics of the lovers and haters has flipped.

It’s ironic–Obama is giving the Republicans everything they want, but can’t get when they’re in power.  Well, OK, abortion is still relatively legal and they said they weren’t going to defend the Defense of (Heterosexual-exclusive) Marriage Act–but ultimately, that’s just more window-dressing–and besides, they’re deporting  an Australian man who’s legally married to another man and citing DOMA as the reason.  Oh gee, they’ve declared that health insurance has to cover women’s’ birth control?  Great, if you can afford insurance–and, by the way, another subsidy for the pill-pushers.

Let’s take a music break–here’s a little James McMurtry for ya…a song called “God Bless America.”

So, the Republicans are on a roll.  They’re going to make sure that we don’t levy any taxes on wealthy Americans, whom they have renamed “job creators,” even though these so-called “job creators” haven’t created any jobs to speak of, lately, and in fact have been abolishing every American job they can possibly outsource for the last twenty-five years.  Rich people are “job creators”?  Can you say “big lie,” boys and girls?  How about “doublespeak”?

And reducing the debt by reducing taxes is another kind of double speak–the rate at which the government taxes the wealthy and big corporations has effectively declined by two-thirds over the last fifty years. Instead of raising money from taxation, the government generates income by selling treasury bonds, often to the rich people it used to tax.  This has the effect of reversing the cash flow–instead of corporate/high earner taxes going to help fund government operations, taxes from the middle class go to pay off the government’s debt to the wealthy.  In other words,cutting taxes on corporations and wealthy Americans drives the government deeper into debt–debt that will have to be paid off by the middle class, under the tax regime that has been imposed on us.

The Republicans have made it clear, and the Obama administration has pretty much agreed, that cuts to the military portion of our budget–which is about half of it–are off the table.  But, somehow, in spite of the fact that it’s supposed to be funded independently of the main part of the government’s budget, Social Security is on the table.  Services offered by Medicare and Medicaid are likely to be cut–without any attempt to limit the profits of the pharmaceutical and illness care industries, even though that’s a major factor in increased medical costs.  The Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Education, and all Health and Human Services programs will likely be given a serious trimming.  Bottom line:  if you’re poor or middle class, and need help, there’s going to be a lot less help available–medically, educationally, and environmentally.

I have often been, and continue to be, sharply critical of the conduct of many of these government agencies.  They tend to be corporate-friendly, heavy-handed, and resistant to radical innovation–but they need to be reformed, not abolished or hamstrung.  Simply shutting them down will result in a tidal wave of corporate abuse of the environment, shoddy treatment of American citizens–the latest food contamination news is that Cargill has had to recall 36 million pounds of ground turkey, while the FDA was busy sending in armed storm troopers to arrest the head of a small raw-food co-op whose products hadn’t made anyone sick.  In a better world, it would be the head of Cargill who was getting perp-walked, and those who wish to produce or drink raw milk would be free to do so without fear of arrest.  And, of course, in an even better world, there would be no Cargill and we would all live within a few miles of a producing dairy cow and some free-range turkeys.  But we’re not there yet.  I hope I live to see the day!

That last paragraph reminds me of one of my pet peeves–the fact that Americans are far more often referred to as “consumers” than as “citizens.”  We need to change that meme.  “Consumers” implies a level of passivity–a “consumer” brings to mind the image of an overgrown baby suckling at a corporate bottle.  (Corporate persons do not have teats, after all!) and periodically needing to have its poop taken care of.  “Citizens,” on the other hand, participate actively in civic life, take care of their own poop and take care not to take any poop from the government OR private industry.  I would have a lot less problem with the Tea Party if they were as hard on corporations as they are on the government.  But, at this point, the Tea Party is a puppet of corporations who want to use populist outrage to smash the only thing standing in the way of corporate domination of America.  Barack Obama, alas, is not enough of a David to stand up to this Goliath.

And that gets us back to–what can we do about the orgy of destruction that the Republicans and their Democrat enablers have unleashed on the country?  One thing we can do is to challenge it, every step of the way–politically, legally, and by where we spend our money and how we spend our time.

Politically, there has been a noticeable uptick in interest in the Green Party, as the illusion of difference between Democrats and Republicans becomes plainer to more people.  Legally, the situation is somewhat daunting, due to Democratic complicity in the Republicans’ appointment of outright fascists to the courts and the Republicans’ unhesitating blockage of any even slightly-liberal-leaning Democrats to those positions, but some legal redress of grievances is still possible.

We need to remember the example of Vaclav Havel, who started out as a beatnik-hippie poet, courageously defending his right to own Velvet Underground records and publish weird poetry against the Monolithic, All-Powerful, Communist State, and, who, over the course of twenty years, sparked a revolutionary change in the outlook of the people of the former Communist bloc that ultimately toppled a once-monolithic, all-powerful state.  If they could do it, so can we.

At the personal level, the level of our own time and our own money, it’s important to cultivate skills of self-reliance, to simplify our lives, and help our friends do the same.  Everybody has different innate talents and developed skills, and, just as “it takes a village to raise a child,” it takes a couple of hundred real, live, fully-present people to make a village.  That looks to me like where we’re headed.  I’m not sure how we’ll get there.  But that’s what makes life interesting, isn’t it?

music:  Velvet Underground, “White Light/White Heat”





STONEWALL HARGETT

9 01 2010

Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett is continuing the old Southern tradition of dogged, faithful persistence in a cause that is just plain wrong.  Like Stonewall Jackson before them, he, and the rest of the Tennessee Republican party are grimly holding off the future, using every trick they can muster.  But, just as the South was ultimately overwhelmed in the war over secession, the green tide of history will ultimately  roll over Hargett, Marcia Blackburn, Susan Lynn, Ron Ramsey, and all their tea-bag slinging cohorts.

Well, I don’t often start with “the deep green perspective” on things, do I?  So…what am I blathering about now?

I’m talking about a couple of related campaigns.  One is not on many people’s radar, while the other has a much higher profile, but they both reveal similar, peculiar, and disturbing patterns, not just in the way Repuglycans and Dimocrats jostle for power, but in the ways they work together to guard their joint monopoly on that power.  This two-party monopoly (call it a duopoly for short) is in many ways responsible for the disconnection between what the people of this country want and what becomes the law of the land.  There’s more than one way to run a democracy, and at the end of this talk I’m going to do my best to explain how we could tweak our governmental operating system to make it more responsive to popular ( as in, from the people) viewpoints.

First, the specifics.  The Green Party of Tennessee has been putting up candidates for over ten years now, but the words “Green Party” have only once appeared on a Tennessee ballot–in 2000, for no apparent reason, the state decided to give the Green, Libertarian, and Constitution parties a ballot line.  Then they changed their mind.   Why?  We’d like to know!

In Tennessee, our candidates are listed as “Independents,” down there in the miscellaneous list with the solitary visionaries and crackpots, even though we are affiliated with  an international movement and the Green Party has more members in the US than in any other country in the world.  This is partly because, here in Tennessee and in several other states, the duopoly has set up election laws, and an election law bureaucracy, that make it extremely difficult for any other parties to be listed by name on the ballot.

Here in Tennessee, a “third” party has to get petitions signed by tens of thousands of those who voted in the previous election, stating that they are members of the new party and want it to be named on the ballot.  Or something like that.  When we tried to petition for ballot access, our representative was told by officials that, while they couldn’t tell her exactly how the petitions needed to be worded, if they were not correctly worded, they would be rejected.  Can you say Kafka, boys and girls?

Moreover, the petitioning process is time-consuming and expensive, with the cost of gathering signatures estimated at about a dollar each, which is prohibitive for a small party.  It would cost us $40-50,000 to get on the ballot via the petition route, a fee the Democrats and Republicans do not have to pay.  Hey, some animals are more equal than others, as George Orwell pointed out.

Ohio’s laws were similar, and the Green Party there went to court and had them struck down as unconstitutional.  With this case for a precedent, we in the Green Party of Tennessee figured it would be no big deal to get our state to change its law.  Well, we didn’t figure on ol’ Stonewall Hargett, or the stalling tactics of his Dimocratic predecessor, Riley Darnell.  They do not want no stinkin’ Green Party line on the Tennessee ballot, no sah.  Once was enough.

Joining with the Constitution Party and the Libertarian Party of Tennessee, we filed our case in 2007….and waited….and waited…..until May of 2008, when the state presented us with a voluminous number of highly detailed questions to answer–and only a month to answer them in.  The nature of the questions was such that the request seemed more like a stumbling block than anything truly relevant to the case.  They wanted to know every instance of anybody in the Green Party talking about getting on the ballot, the history of the Green Party in Tennessee, the history of the Green Party in the US, the details of every Green Party ballot access struggle in every state, the details of Green Party elections in every state–all in just one month, no extensions.

Well, we did it.  And then–nothing, again, for nearly a year and a half, when, in November of last year, we got notice that the State Attorney General would be taking depositions from all three parties involved…in just one week.

The Green Party’s designated litigant, Katey Culver, duly showed up at the Attorney General’s office–and did not get treated to any ol’fashioned southern hospitality.  First and foremost, she would have to wait for five hours while the state cross-examined the litigants from the Constitutional and Libertarian parties.  Oh, and by the way, there was no drinking water available.  Gee, was that some not-so-subtle physiological pressure being applied?  And of course there was the cross-examination….very cross, to hear Katey tell it–the state’s lawyer did her best imitation of a pit bull, badgering, insulting, splitting hairs, demanding irrelevant details, anything a lawyer can do to intimidate and browbeat a witness short of profanity and physical violence, and used up every minute of the two and a half hours allotted.  Hey, that’s what lawyers do…ain’t the adversarial American justice system wonderful?

And now….how long will it be until we can get a court to respond?  This was all done in relation to what is called “a motion for summary judgement,” meaning that the State essentially has no case for defending a law that has already been judged unconstitutional, and so we are asking a Federal judge to make them stop stalling and do the right thing already.  But a Federal Court order doesn’t necessarily get much traction here in Tennessee, where even state law is enforced at the discretion of those in power, as we shall shortly see, when we look at Stonewall Hargett’s strategy in failing to implement the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act.  First, though, let’s wrap up the Green Party story.

We are currently being given the runaround by Tre Hargett, who, as Secretary of State, is charged with administering elections, but we were equally mistreated by Riley Darnell, his Democratic predecessor.  Neither of the big boys wants to give the Green Party a seat at the table.  We’re an almost embarrassingly small operation, but we see having “Green Party” listed next to our candidates’ names on the ballot as essential to growing ourselves, and we feel that an increased “Green” presence in local, as well as national, politics is essential for the rescue of this nation.  What is the duop0ly afraid of?

music:  Bob Marley and the Wailers, “Small Axe

OK, now for the high profile stonewalling case–Tre Hargett, et al., vs. the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act.

The TVCA was passed with near-unanimity by the Tennessee legislature in 2007 after a concerted campaign by local activists under the name “Gathering to Save Our Democracy.”  This act mandated that Tennessee voting shall be conducted on paper ballots and counted by the same kind of optical scanning machines that are used to grade standardized tests and validate powerball tickets.  This technology is well established, inexpensive, fast, and fairly foolproof.  Only one machine per precinct is needed, instead of the large number of what amounts to dedicated computers that touch-screen voting calls for.  Voters need only a private space and a number two pencil to mark their ballots, rather than each voter occupying an expensive machine for however long it takes to indicate her choices, as is the case with touchscreen voting.  It’s a much more efficient system.

This is especially significant when we look at what happened in Ohio in the 2004 election, which was conducted on touchscreen equipment.  The highly partisan Ohio Secretary of State, Kenneth Blackwell, assigned fewer machines to Democratic Party strongholds, which lead to long lines, which lead to some people not voting because of inclement weather, work obligations, and general frustration.  Strangely enough, it was Blackwell who reversed Ohio’s decision to use optical scan voting machines, and instead use Diebold touch-screen machines…a company in which he just happened to own stock…I don’t know which of those two facts is more peculiar, especially in light of what’s going on down here.

Yeah, so what’s going on down here….in 2008, Tennesseans voted on touch-screen machines, and every open seat in the legislature was captured by a Repuglican.  Some observers chalk this up to a racist reaction to Obama in rural, mostly white Tennessee, and to the namby-pamby nature of the Tennessee Democratic Party, which is even more of a Republican-lite Party than the average state Democratic organization.  Others wonder if some chicanery was involved, but with electronic voting, “vapor ballots,” as some activists call them, there is simply no way to tell.

Touchscreen voting machines are computers, and as computers, they are highly suspect.  We all know that computers can have bugs, and computers can be hacked.  One example is a local, one-issue election in Georgia, where touch-screen machines recorded 200 blank votes–as if people would bother to show up for a one-question election, step into the voting booth, and then not vote.  Yeah, right.

Another, more serious example occurred in Florida.  In the words of the Electronic Frontier Foundation,

Voters from Sarasota County announced today that they are filing suit in state court in Tallahassee asking for a re-vote in Florida’s 13th congressional district. The suit alleges that thousands of citizens were disenfranchised when massive undervotes plagued the tight congressional race between Democrat Christine Jennings and Republican Vern Buchanan. In a high-profile battle over former Rep. Katherine Harris’ seat, the result was decided by 363 votes, yet over 18,000 ballots cast on Sarasota County’s e-voting machines registered no vote in the race, an exceptional anomaly in the State.

Official investigation of this contest failed to confirm that this was a problem with voting machines, but consider what official investigations found (or failed to find) about the Kennedy/King assassinations, CIA cocaine smuggling, 9-11, last year’s economic collapse,  the Christmas bomber in Detroit, or what-have-you, and you realize that doesn’t mean much  (except that a lot of us have lost faith in the government, quite possibly for good reason)…and this is, after all, only one example of the many problems with electronic voting.  Plus, let’s not forget that the president of the Diebold Corporation, one of the primary manufacturers of touch-screen voting machines, is famous for saying he wants to help elect Republicans, and that all the companies that manufacture touch-screen voting machines are controlled by known Republicans.

So, back to Tennessee.  Now in the majority for the first time since Reconstruction, the Republicans had a change of heart:  they listed  repealing or  further delaying implementation of the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act as one of their primary goals, part of a broad offensive aimed at limiting voter participation and election accountability by requiring photo IDs to register and vote,and a host of other proposals generally designed to make it more likely that they would remain the party in power.  Most of these bills died in committee, but the GOP did succeed in stacking the state election commission and replacing many experienced county election administrators with Repuglycan  operatives, who now form an ersatz authoritative “echo chamber” for the Repuglican campaign against the TVCA.

The campaign against paper ballots whas been a classic propaganda play.  Secretary of State Hargett and State Election Co-ordinator Mark Goins cried crocodile tears, insisting that they wanted to carry out the law and switch to optical scan machines, but there wasn’t enough time, there were no machines that met the legal standard, and it would cost too much.

Every single one of these statements is a lie; but, as Nazi propaganda master Josef Goebbels said, if you repeat a lie long enough, loud enough, and often enough, people start to believe it, and that’s what Hargett  and Goins did.  Their lies have been unquestioningly echoed in newspapers across the state, creating the illusion that there are good reasons not to switch to a verifiable voting system by the next general election.

Their claims were ludicrous on even cursory examination–other states have changed over to optical scan systems in less time than Tennessee has to make the switch, and those states have demonstrably saved money by doing so; the money to buy the machines is available from the federal government at no cost to Tennessee, and the cost estimates provided by the GOP’s hand-picked election commissioners were way out of line–claiming that it would cost $50 per ballot to do a hand recount (when states like Missouri and Nevada spend a nickel per ballot for hand recounts), or that it would cost $70,000 to store a filing cabinet full of ballots for two years.

Like Pickett’s charge at Gettysburg, Stonewall Hargett’s campaign almost worked. Last year, the Tennessee legislature came within one very principled Republican vote of putting off the TVCA “until 2012”–which you can bet would turn into forever.

So, they are going to try again this year.  Gathering to Save Our Democracy, Common Cause, and that radical hotbed, the League of Women Voters,  are doing what they can to persuade some of the non-ethically challenged Republicans in the Tennessee Senate to keep the TVCA on track for implementation in 2010. (Full disclosure:  I know there are Republicans who are not ethically challenged because my father was one–but that’s another story.)

This month will reveal the outcome of the struggle in the Tennessee Senate, but, unsure whether there will be a “Rock of Chickamauga” in this battle,  some election activists are looking ahead and establishing communication with the US Department of Justice and the Federal Election Commission.

Just what is at stake here?  By holding on to power in the state through the 2010 election, the Repugs will be able to redraw district lines after the 2010 census in ways that will guarantee them solid majorities in the state legislature and the state’s US congressional delegation–though it’s easy for me, as a Green, to argue that most of our so-called Democrats, being of the blue dog stripe, are hardly better than Republicans, anyway.  Well, there is a difference.  Democrats, however conservative they may be, generally feel obligated to at least make a nod to the real world in terms of environmental/ethical/social justice legislation, while the great majority of Repugs pledge allegiance to corporate profits only and throw no crumbs to the common people.

But, as I said when I started talking, the green tide of history, or perhaps the end of history if we are not careful, will roll over the Republicans, and most Democrats as well, like Sherman marching through Georgia.  The power they are grasping for will turn to sand and slip through their fingers. While they are busy passing laws to let people pack concealed heat and keeping gay couples from adopting children, or even laws to make everybody buy private health insurance, the growth economy that is closer to the core of their belief system than Jesus Christ Himself is imploding, the gasoline that powers their SUVs is drying up, the global industrial economy that produces the Prius is coming apart at the seams, and the climate is bucking like a wild, unbreakable horse with an unwanted  rider on her back.  Nature bats last, and don’t you ever forget it. Those who are not “reality-based” enough to deal with all this are setting themselves up for a very painful collision with..reality.

music:  Zappa, “A Lie So Big”

OK, I’ve been giving you an earful about the travails of the Green Party as we try to get our name on the ballot, and the shenanigans of the Republican Party as they maneuver to maintain dominance over the Dims and keep us out of the picture.  Is there a better way?

There are several improvements that could be made to the US voting system, although, considering the hash we just made of health care reform, my hopes are not high for their implementation.  Look, we set out to drive stakes through the hearts of the health care, insurance, and pharmaceutical vampires and it looks like we’re ending up with a law that fines us if we don’t give them our blood .  So, do I really think the Repugs and Dims are going to open up their monopoly on electoral power?  Do the good cop and the bad cop ever hang it up and bring in a mediator instead?  The Green Party is part of the ruling coalition in some countries, but we can barely get a ballot line in this one.

When I look at political reality in this country, I do actually find some grounds for hope, specifically when I look at the issue of the so-called “Drug War.”  While the federal government has done everything it can to maintain worldwide marijuana prohibition, local campaigns have opened one state after another to legally, readily available medical marijuana, and the federal government has had to get on board and stop prosecuting medical marijuana users and suppliers in states where it is legal.

In a similar way, it may be possible to make changes in the way we vote for candidates that gradually percolate up to the national level.

The way that many  Green Parties have gotten into parliaments in Europe is through the practice of “proportional representation,” in which, as I understand it, voters cast their ballots for the party of their choice, and then the seats in the legislature are divvied up according to the percentage of votes each party receives, whether the party got a majority in any one location or not.

Much as I like this idea, I think this would be a hard sell in America, where people are used to the idea that their local representative in government is literally representative of the views of a majority of those in her district.  Another practice, however, is more compatible with what we are used to in this country and, I think, would be an easy sell for a referendum, although I’m sure both major parties would fight it as fiercely as private insurance battled the public option and expanded Medicare.

That practice is called “instant runoff voting.”  It’s pretty simple.  You get to vote for your first choice AND your second choice, in races where there are more than two candidates.  A candidate has to have a clear majority to win.  If no candidate has a clear majority, the second choices of those who voted for the candidate in last place are counted, and so on up the line, until somebody has a clear majority.  This eliminates the “spoiler effect” that happens when liberal votes get split between two competing candidates (say, Ralph and Al, just f’rinstance), allowing the conservative candidate (let’s call him “George”) to win without a majority. If everybody who voted for Ralph could have indicated that Al was their second choice, then, since Ralph is running behind Al and George, and nobody has a majority, all those second-choice votes for Al turn into real votes for Al, and Ralph is Al’s savior instead of his spoiler, and maybe Ralph gets a place in Al’s cabinet instead of his picture getting a place on Al’s dart board.

Medical marijuana had to struggle for a while before it started catching on, but this idea is much less divisive than legalizing the noble herb.  At least, I haven’t heard about anybody saying that Jesus spoke out against instant runoff voting, or that instant runoff advocates are sinners who will roast in hell for our immorality.

So…it’s not immoral, it’s certainly not fattening, and it’s not really illegal, just not yet the law of the land, and I like it….hmm, I must be getting old…but I digress.

Instant runoff voting is not a guarantee of success for the Green Party.  We would still have to contend with mainstream media that has a blatantly corporatist, duopoly party bias and enormous disparities in fund-raising ability, due to the fact that we, on principle, will not take money from the usual political sources. (Who, considering their principles, are unlikely to offer it to us anyway.)

Here in Tennessee, there is no provision for popular referendum, but it might be possible to persuade a city to make the move.  To do that, we will need progressive, persuasive candidates at all levels, and we will need to pump up our state organization and create some political muscle.  Would you like to be part of a political organization that works for  people instead of big business?  We are having our annual meeting and nominating convention in Knoxville on February 20, and would love to be overwhelmed by fresh faces.  Check out our website, gpoftn.org, where details will be posted soon.  Hope to see you there!

music:  Leonard Cohen, “Democracy








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