11 04 2021

updated May 7, 2021

Last month I wrote/talked about the similarities, and differences, that can be found in a broad spectrum of social movements, from Antifa and Black Lives Matter to working-class Trump supporters and Boogaloo Boiz. This month, to illustrate what I mean, I’m going to examine the Nashville Taxpayer Protection Act, an initiative supported by  a civic group here in town that calls itself..well, it doesn’t seem to call itself anything other than “The Nashville Taxpayer Protection Act,” or maybe its web addy, which is  https://4goodgovernment.com/ .  This somewhat anonymous group–not only does it apparently not have a formal name, but there is nobody named anywhere on the website, although Nashville attorney  James Roberts, who has, shall we say, a checkered ethics record, seems to be its primary spokesperson. Roberts and his supporters, including, he alleges, 40 individuals he identifies only as “downtown business interests,” want to limit Metro’s ability to raise property taxes more than 3% per year without a referendum. This was sparked by Metro’s recent 37% property tax hike, which, understandably, upset a lot of people in the year of The Great Covid Economic Collapse.

Small-d democratizing approval for tax hikes is certainly an idea that a left-wing populist would support just as much as a right-wing one would. Another measure “4goodgovernment” is advancing would make it easier to recall elected officials. (Note: I have learned since writing this that I didn’t fully understand this proposal. Apparently, while it makes it easier to successfully petition for a recall election, also forbids the recalled official from running in that election–in other words, 10% of the voters could, merely by signing a petition, effectively remove an officeholder. That strikes me as, to use a technical political science term, “dirty pool.” I emphatically do not support such a measure.) Other broad-spectrum populist proposals would forbid the city from amending referendum-approved charter amendments, except by another referendum. Others call for referenda on the sale or lease of Metro properties valued at over five million dollars, and for Metro to be able to take back any land that was given to a sports team that is no longer functioning. The one measure that a left populist would not support is the one that mandates that “No elected official shall receive any benefits at taxpayer expense without a voter referendum.” Although its wording is vague enough to be legally questionable, it is aimed at denying Metro Council members one of the perks of the job–Metro-covered health insurance for them and their families for the rest of their lives. Perhaps in response to this, Metro recently voted to shift much more of the expense onto the former council members. While those who win Metro Council elections tend to come from the portion of the population that can best afford to pay for their own health insurance, this stricture seems rather gratuitous, since paying for the health insurance of current and former council members takes up 0.034% of Metro’s budget. Yeah, that’s right. Thirty-four thousandths of Metro’s budget.

So these proposals, to be voted on separately, are what this referendum drive is about. We will be examining how, and why, we finance local government , as well as looking at what makes this proposal right-wing populism rather than left-wing populism, and, to take things into the “deep green” realm, considering the how and why of the “value” of the land and buildings that are the basis of that financing. But I am going to start at “the surface,” by looking at what The Nashville Taxpayer Protection Act proposes, the political and economic philosophy of those who are proposing it, and, of course, why Metro Nashville’s government is utterly horrified by it. Read the rest of this entry »


14 11 2010

The recent election was a good one for Republicans, and the mainstream, corporate media are busy spreading the big lie that this represents a “turn to the right,” a rejection of Obama’s leftist policies,” and similar drivel.  I’m here to tell you that nothing of the sort happened.

OK, sure, the Republican party now has a lot more say in the national and many state governments, and this will push government policy in a somewhat different direction, but Obama’s policies have never been leftist, and great numbers of people did not change their minds and vote Republican.  Great numbers of people were very disappointed with Obama’s failure to deliver any of the progressive agenda, from health care reform to foreign policy, and stayed away from the polls.  The result:  “a different electorate“–older and more conservative, got to decide the results.

Why did so many of Obama’s 2008 constituency stay away from the polls?  As Dubya once attempted to put it, “Fool me once, shame on you–fool me twice, shame on me.”  Many former Obama enthusiasts were not up for being fooled twice.

How did Obama fail to deliver?  As Green Party activist Scott McLarty puts it,

Which Democratic president escalated the Afghanistan War, protected Bush officials who okayed torture and other abuses of the US Constitution and international law, maintained warrantless spying on US citizens, hired Wall Street front men like Tim Geithner and Larry Summers, authorized more taxpayer-funded Wall Street bailouts and new taxpayer-funded nuclear plants, appointed a ‘Catfood Commission’ to explore Social Security reductions, opened up more coastal waters to offshore drilling, promoted the myth of ‘clean coal’ and permitted more mountaintop removal mining, and left a substantial residual occupation force, including military contractors, in Iraq? You know who.

I would add to Scott’s list: Obama’s failure to prosecute not only Bush-era war criminals like John Yoo and Dick Cheney, but financial meltdown criminals like…gee, Tim Geithner and Larry Summers, two of his closest advisers.  Obama’s small gestures at helping people who were being thrown out of their homes were widely and correctly perceived to be ineffectual, in line with his overall policy of helping the rich and letting the middle class catch the dreck and pay the bills.  And that “Catfood Commission”? the “Deficit Commission” was a rigged jury, and it comes as no surprise that it recommends cutting Social Security (i.e., forcing the elderly to eat cat food) so we can continue to fund military adventures in the oil-rich regions of the world.  Under Obama, the American empire and its military budget have remained sacrosanct, as has the so-called “War on Drugs.”

When you throw in the way the Obama administration has been in bed with Monsanto from the get-go, and current moves to investigate anti-war activists for possible  (albeit highly unlikely) collusion with terrorists, what’s left to like about the “hope and change” guy?

To add insult to injury, we also had White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs bitch-slapping the progressive movement:

“They will be satisfied when we have Canadian health care and we’ve eliminated the Pentagon. That’s not reality….they ought to be drug tested.”

What a way to “energize the Democratic Party’s base”!

For a lot of people, that was three strikes and out right there.  With Canadian health care, a radically downsized military, and an end to the war on some drugs, this country would be on the road to the right track–but, to the neoliberals running the Democratic Party, “that’s not reality.”  That such obvious common sense is “not reality” in this country speaks directly to who’s in charge and the nature of their agenda, which is not “leftist” at all.  Democrats, just as much as Republicans, exist to serve their corporate masters…er, donors.

And thus it is deeply ironic to see the “Tea Party” and the Republicans portrayed as “a populist uprising.”  What kind of “populist uprising” is funded by billions of dollars of corporate money and calls for deregulating big business, ending environmental protection, cutting taxes for the wealthy, and sharply curtailing aid to the poor, sick, and elderly?  This is not your father’s populism, kids.

The Democrats’ failure at the polls was not due only to their own incompetence; it was compounded by the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision, which allowed virtually unlimited spending by the corporate sector…oh, yes, and the unions, too, but hey, they’re pretty much broke and toothless these days.  Through this opened flood gate, about four billion dollars poured, washing away Democrat after Democrat.  It’s almost enough to make me feel sorry for them.

This decision from the Supremes should not have been a surprise; after all, it was largely the same bench that anointed the Cheney/Bush junta in 2000.  Republicans like to decry “judicial activism” when a judge overturns a truly unjust law, but they are strangely silent when “judicial activism” favors their agenda.  In both these cases, the Supremes, despite promises to the contrary at their confirmation hearings, kicked precedent out the window and made law out of whole cloth.  In both cases, after a few sputtering protests, the Dems dropped trou, bent over, and took it.  “Oh, baby, make it hurt so good!”

Let’s face it. One major party in this country, the Republicans, is largely sociopathic; the Democrats are the sociopath’s enabler.  They’re not in opposition to each other, they’re a co-dependent team.  The Democratic Party mindset is not healthier than the Republican one.

Their mutual addiction is corporate money.  No matter which party wins the election, corporate influence on our government grows.  At this point, it’s good to remember what Franklin Delano Roosevelt,  the man who saved capitalism from itself, had to say about this influence:

“The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is Fascism—ownership of Government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power.”

Thanks to Ralph Nader for that quote.

To reduce it to Tweet length:

When government is controlled by big business, that’s fascism.  Our government is controlled by big business.  This is fascism.

“Democrat”? “Republican”?  Doesn’t matter.  Our electoral process, and our government, are demonstrably controlled by big business.  We are living in a fascist country. Obama is not a “socialist,” he’s a fascist–and so is Sarah Palin. Whether it’s Republican Rand Paul’s brown  shirts stomping a woman protester or  Democrat Max Baucus having single-payer advocates arrested at a Senate health care hearing, the intent and the result are the same.  “Democrats”?  “Republicans”?  Fascists.  As Paul Simon commented so many years ago in Mrs. Robinson:

Sitting on a sofa on a Sunday afternoon
Listening to the candidates debate
Laugh about it, shout about it
When you’ve got to choose
Ev’ry way you look at it, you lose

If I’m trying to sing, it must be time for a music break.  Here’s some Greg Brown for you, and after that I’ll talk about how our little David of a Green Party fared against Goliath in this election.

Greg Brown:  “Fooled Me Once”

OK, here’s the Green Party’s election wrap up:

Greens drew enough votes in Massachusetts, Texas, and New York to give the Party the right to be listed by name on the ballot in the next election cycle.  In Massachusetts, Green/Rainbow Party candidate Nat Fortune pulled in over 100,000 votes in his bid to be State Auditor, just over 5% of the total.  Gubernatorial candidate Jill Stein didn’t do quite so well, receiving only 32,000 votes, but she raised enough money to take part in public debates with the duopoly candidates.  Yep, money talks!

In California, on the other hand, Green governor candidate Laura Wells received over 100,000 votes, but was arrested just for showing up as an audience member–with a ticket , no less–when she tried to attend the Brown-Whitman debate.  What was I saying about this being a fascist country?  The plutocracy allows us freedom of thought and action as long as it doesn’t pose a serious threat to them.  But I digress….

In South Carolina, Green Party Senate candidate Tom Clements, whom I featured in an earlier story,  received over 120,000 votes, about 9% of the total.  Democrat Alvin Greene, who did not campaign and is under indictment on felony obscenity charges, got 360,000 votes.  Talk about “yellow dog Democrats”!

Here in Tennessee, the news was not so good.  We were only able to field two candidates, Howard Switzer for Governor, and John Miglietta for Nashville’s seat in the US House.  Both candidates were constrained by lack of funding and the need to keep their day jobs–Howard as an architect, and John as a professor at Tennessee State–and were not able to do much in the way of campaigning or publicity.  Howard received about 1800 votes, off 25% from his  his previous total, and John received less than 400 votes, only a tenth of his 2008 mark.  About the best I can say concerning Howard’s showing is that voters in all but 5 Tennessee counties cast ballots for him, even if the so-called “hippies” at the Farm were no help–Howard only got 18 votes in Lewis county.  C’mon guys!  Won’t even throw down for one of your own when you know the Democrat’s a loser?

In addition to time and funding issues, both Howard and John suffered from a more crowded ballot and the state of Tennessee’s continuing failure to name the Green Party on its ballots.  We are an internationally known and recognized brand, dammit, and voters deserve to know our party affiliation!  We will be talking with our legislators about this soon, believe me.

There’s two more questions to address in this electoral report:

1)was the voting honest?

2) how will this influence the course of events in the US and the world?

Honesty–so far, there are few allegations of fraud, although, with touchscreen machines, it’s very hard to tell.  It looks to me like this election was “thrown” by throwing the Democrat Party’s progressives out of the boat and by conservatives throwing lots of money at it.  Who needs to cheat when you can buy an election fair and square?

My predictions for the future–we will continue to drift helplessly towards the waterfall.  The party of dithering has been replaced by the party of denial.  Whether you do nothing about the waterfall that you know lies ahead or deny there’s a waterfall ahead, there’s still a waterfall in our future, and we’re still unprepared as a nation for the end of cheap oil and American hegemony.  This election just makes it clearer that the government will not bail us out.  We’re going to have to do it on our own.   You’re not going to hear that on the news, for two reasons:  one, it’s not new, and, two, the revolution will not be televised.  Never has been, never will be.  You just gotta do it.

music:  Gogol Bordello, “Raise the Knowledge”


8 06 2008

Barack Obama has clinched the Democratic nomination for President of the United States, and the election is his to lose.  Unless he really blows it, or the election is suspended, or the Republicans conspire to cheat unmercifully and get away with it again, he will very likely be the next President of the United States.

The Bush Junta might invade Iran and declare martial law in the U.S., but I suspect that the military is too fed up with the neocons to let that happen.  And the Repugs probably are not going to steal this election, because they would rather let the Dims be the ones to fumble around and make idiots of themselves trying to clean up the mess that eight years of out-front pillage has made of the country. It’s much easier to criticize than it is to govern, after all…I should know that!

A great many of my liberal friends are totally thrilled that a dark-skinned man with the middle name of Hussein is going to be our next President. But I think the “Hope Honeymoon” will be over mighty fast, and the next four years will be no love feast for Barack Obama or the Democrat party. While I agree that he will be a better President than John McCain, I think we are in for a long series of increasingly bitter disappointments.  Let me tell you some of what I see coming down the road.

First of all, there is the misperception that Barack is a populist candidate.  He makes every effort to portray himself that way.  His demeanor and delivery are disarming and informal.  He does not come across like a stereotypical politician, but when you read the fine print you discover that he acts like one.

He is getting the bulk of his support from Wall Street.  It is good that the banking gang has recognized that the Bush Junta is not acting in their best interests, but the fact that they have settled on Obama means that he is unlikely to do the things he should to reign in big money’s influence on this country.  Obama has already signaled his willingness to play along with the bankers by his support of the so-called “Class Action Fairness Act of 2005,” which severely limits the ability of private citizens, or even States, to sue corporations.  The NAACP,  the ACLU, and the National Organization for Women, as well as fourteen state attorneys-general, all pleaded with Congress not to pass this Republican-sponsored legislation, but Obama spoke out for it, saying, disingenuously,

Every American deserves their day in court. This bill, while not perfect, gives people that day while still providing the reasonable reforms necessary to safeguard against the most blatant abuses of the system. I also hope that the federal judiciary takes seriously their expanded role in class action litigation, and upholds their responsibility to fairly certify class actions so that they may protect our civil and consumer rights..”.

Talk about putting lipstick on a pig….but that’s only the beginning.  Obama has voted for all of the Bush Junta’s repressive legislation–from funding the Homeland Security Department to renewing the Patriot Act to supporting the so-called Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act. (Well, to be fair, that one was originated by Democrat Jane Harmon, and it hasn’t come up for a vote in the Senate yet.) He has shown strong support for strip mining, the war on drugs, the death penalty, increased military spending, and nuclear power, and opposes single-payer health care and impeachment. He supported Joe Lieberman, not Ned Lamont, and Ok’d the Bush junta’s appointments of war criminals like Robert Gates, John Negroponte, and Michael Chertoff.   He approves Israeli-style toughness in the Middle East and exile-style toughness on Cuba. He’s even talking about enlisting Republican Chuck Hegel as his running mate. For me, it gets to the point of, what’s to like about this guy?

I think a lot of liberals are projecting a lot of hope on Barack Obama, and I think there is going to be one mighty tug of war over him, which, due to the power of money, the liberal populists will lose. Obama just may be the straw that breaks the back of liberal loyalty to the Democrats, and the big winner from this will be the Green Party, beginning in the 2010 election cycle. I think the Green Party, thanks to the disappointments Obama will provide, will rise steadily in power and influence and supplant the Republicans as a major political force in this country….if the country hangs together long enough for that to happen. But that’s another story.

music:  Bob Marley, “Top Rankin‘”


14 10 2007


A reader of my blog last month asked me some serious questions, so I’m going to take this opportunity to respond to them. To refresh your memory, I had spoken about my admiration for Ken Jakes’ “no money from Political Action Comittees” stance, and dismay with Lonnell Matthews for taking advantage of so many of the offers that Ken had turned down. I also had voiced my support for Karl Dean.

Here’s what a reader said about these issues:

“I guess I’m somewhat confused about a lot of things said in this post. First of all, the PAC money mentioned as coming to Candidate Lonell Matthews Jr. all comes from local groups within Nashville. School teachers, plumbers, pipefitters, government employees etc. It’s not like he was supported by AT&T, Colt Arms, Blue Cross etc. We’re talking working people who get together to promote a little justice in our local society by supporting like-minded people.

And as regards Karl Dean, I’m stunned that you have chosen a millionaire Belle Meade lawyer whose huge personal fortune comes from strip mining in West Virginia and Wyoming. I’m speechless.”

and here’s my initial reply:

“One of the major sources of political bankroll in Nashville is the business community, specifically big players like Gaylord, who, according to Ken Jakes (who as far as I can tell has no reason to lie about this) use their influence to circumvent zoning and environmental laws. So, when he accepted money from the Nashville Business Council, Lonnell WAS accepting money from big corporate players.

As far as Karl Dean goes, the question is not where his money comes from, which he has little control over, since it’s his wife’s inheritance, but what he’s going to do with it. And no, he’s certainly not perfect, but my call is that he’s less imperfect than Bob Clement.

To me, there’s an underlying issue here, the populist/progressive divide, and questions like why so many politicians who start out somewhat progressive but mainly populist end up being demagogues like Huey Long. I plan to write on this topic for my show next month.

Thanks for caring enough to say something” So, here we go.

Now, here’s the thing: all of the other candidates I supported were taking PAC money and I had no problem with that. Jerry Maynard had loads of endorsements, including the Nashville Business Coalition. Megan Barry, the “ethics candidate,” accepted endorsements, although most of hers were from genuine grassroots groups such as the Sierra Club, the Tennessee Equality Council, and the Nashville Neighborhood Defence Council. But she did accept the endorsement of the Greater Nashville Hotel and Lodging Association….must have been a fluke.

And, among Lonnel Matthews’ endorsements from the firefighters, the Democrats, and the police, all of which fall into my correspondent’s characterization of “working people,” was…the Nashville Business Coalition! Hmm…the NBC doesn’t maintain a website, although it apparently meets regularly and endorses candidates and ideas…this mysterious entity may be linked to the Nashville Chamber of Commerce, and may include Gaylord, HCA, and all the other big players that Ken Jakes was so concerned about, but I’m going to have to keep researching to find out, it seems.

As far as the Green Party thing about not taking PAC money, it starts to look like a question of how you define “PAC.” I had always thought of PACs as big spenders at the state or national level, not the local Service Employees International Union or gay rights advocates. To run a competitve citywide race in a big city like Nashville takes money, and so Jerry Maynard and Megan Barry took money from organizations they felt comfortable with. I can’t fault them for that.

The race between Ken Jakes and Lonnell Matthews, on the other hand, drew on a voting pool of less than ten thousand voters, in a district designed to elect a black candidate. Considerably fewer than half the eligible voters turned out, which gave white candiate Ken Jakes a fighting chance. When you look at the lopsided precinct-by-precinct results, you can see that the votes were cast largely along racial lines, and that it would have taken a lot for Lonnell to lose. So Ken’s totals probably wouldn’t have been improved by endorsements, but he got to look noble by declining to seek any. Lonnell probably increased his margin of victory a little with the advertising and get-out-the-vote efforts he made for the runoff, but it’s significant to note that his vote total for the runoff amounts to his votes in the first round plus the votes for William Mason, the other major black campaigner in the first round.

As for the Dean-Clement race, I have yet to meet Karl Dean, but all of my friends who met him were impressed with the fact that he does not come across like a stereotypical politician. “He’s a mensch,” one of my Jewish friends commented. He’s been involved in Metro government long enough that I’m sure he’s got some dirty laundry, but hey, don’t we all? We need people in power who are not typical, people who are not habitually committed to the status quo, and I think Karl Dean is as good as we’re going to get for now, so I voted for him. If he screws up badly, I won’t vote for him again.

Now, about those “wider issues,” that question of why populists become demagogues…let’s start with a bit of evidence that will seem almost too good to be true to some, and totally obnoxious to others. It’s a study done at UCLA, which seems to show that people who are politiically “liberal” use more of their brains than those who are politically conservative. This greater brain usage allows them to tolerate ambiguity and change their minds more easily, opening them to charges like “flip-flopper.” Sound familiar?

What does that have to do with populists and demagogues? OK, we’ve tended to conflate populists with progressives in this country, because the system, in spite of a lot of fancy ideals, is mostly weighted against the people, so it’s progressive to be an advocate for the common people. But there are two different kinds of being “for the common people.” There’s being for the people because it’s the fair thing to do, and then there’s being for the people because you want to get what’s rightfully yours, by god, and screw them all if that’s what it takes for you and yours to get your due. If that’s the kind of populist you are, then once you have “your rightful due,” you will do whatever it takes to defend it, whether that’s fair to everyone else or not—the “my country, right or wrong” approach. This is about a hundred and eighty degrees from the truly progressive, “the right thing, whether it means my country is wrong or not” attitude, and I think it starts to explain why a “liberal” and a conservative can look at the same facts and come up with such different interpretations, and that’s why some populists have the potential to turn into demagogues.

A corollary question is, what about people who are, as has been said of our new vice mayor, “progressive but not populist?” I think this is a viewpoint that rejects “right or wrong” populism but doesn’t fully articulate “for the good of everyone” populism, because the holder of the viewpoint has judged, rightly or wrongly, that the electorate is not ready for such a bold step. And, when you look at the people we elect on a national level, I’m sorry to say I think they’re justified in their pessimism.

music: Mothers of Invention, Hungry Freaks

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