OVERCOMING MONOPOLY POLITICS

9 10 2016

Most Americans treat our country’s two-party political system as if it had been handed down from on high, some kind of eleventh commandment. “Thou shalt only have two political parties, and all others shall be chastised as ‘spoilers’ and cast into outer darkness.”

Not only is this central tenet of American politics not one of The Lord’s commandments, it isn’t even in the US Constitution, which makes no mention of political parties whatsoever. Our current system, which makes it difficult for other political parties than the Republicans and Democrats to get on the ballot and share in the country’s governance, was, over time, tweaked by these two “major parties” to discourage competition,which was already damped down by our “winner take all” electoral system. It’s as if it were the water that we’re fish in, totally taken for granted, just as most people take our lack of a national health system, expensive college education, and lack of paid maternity leave, things which pretty much every other country anywhere near as well-off as ours has, totally for granted, and even dismiss as “unrealistic” the notion that we could have such things in this country.

Let’s use a metaphor to describe our situation. Suppose Ford and General Motors had total control over who could sell cars in America, and used that control to make sure that no foreign car companies were permitted to import their products into the US, and no other domestic car manufacturers could set up business, either. Suppose all that Ford sold was Pintos, which, for the benefit of my younger readers, were notorious for being “unsafe at any speed,” as Ralph Nader pointed out long ago when he was the fair-haired boy of the liberal Democrats. But I digress…suppose all Chevrolet sold was monster SUVs that got about 6 miles per gallon and also had serious safety issues. Suppose Ford and Chevrolet, or the corporations that owned them, controlled the automotive press, and reviews of their products stressed the safety and economy of SUVs and Pintos alike, and routinely trashed foreign cars and Mr. Nader, with his silly vendetta about those cute little Pintos.

2016-election

election 2016–which will you choose?

That’s the American political situation today. Read the rest of this entry »





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

11 09 2016

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

readyforoligarchy

Do not think about a Green Party!

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

 

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





PAINTING OURSELVES INTO A CORNER

3 04 2016

American democracy has been functionally describable as “a two-party system” for most of our country’s history. There have been “third parties,” but they have rarely been successful at breaking into the mainstream. One exception is the Republican Party, which took advantage of the collapse of the former “second party,” the Whigs, to  become the other major party besides the Democrats, in the election of 1856, running bearded, long-haired John C. Fremont for President.

JCFrémont

John C. Fremont, the first Republican Presidential candidate–a long-haired guy with a beard.

They didn’t win that election, but went on to win in 1860 with Abe Lincoln, and kept that string going for most of the next seventy-two years, until Roosevelt routed Hoover in 1932.

Meanwhile, other parties kept hoping to do what the Republicans had done. The Populists and Socialists never got much traction; the Progressive Party, championed by Theodore Roosevelt and later Robert LaFollette, came closest. The Progressives were actually a spinoff from the Republicans, and succeeded in diverting enough Republican votes to allow the election of Woodrow Wilson, who first kept us out of, and then got us into, World War I. Hey, it was a good excuse for arresting radicals and labor organizers. It’s kind of amusing, in light of the current political landscape, to think of the Republicans as the progressive part of our political spectrum, but that is how they started out–taking the radical position that slavery should be limited and, ultimately, eradicated. I am sure that, when they endorsed this idea in 1856, they had no idea how soon it would come to pass. That should serve as an inspiration to all of us. Thank you, Republicans!

So, what has being a two-party system meant for the form and direction of politics in this country? Read the rest of this entry »





THE CONTEXT OF THE ASSAULT ON PLANNED PARENTHOOD

11 10 2015

First of all, we have to accept that mainstream American politics has long been about which party’s lies resonate better with the voters.  For most of the last 35 years, the Republicans have had the more popular fantasy, to the point where the Democrats have had to borrow parts of it just to be able to get a hand in the cookie jar from time to time (I’m lookin’ at you, Obama, Bill, and Hillary!).  A delusional belief system accompanied by compulsive lying would be easy to spot and treat if it were the province of only a few isolated individuals, but, since similar delusions and manias have a grip on the minds of millions of people, it becomes tempting to simply accept them as consensus reality and go along with the madness, forgetting that it’s what we once vowed to cure. “Of course American politics is built on ego, selfishness, greed, delusions of grandeur, and overwhelming paranoia.  Of course you’re always going to have to choose the lesser of two evils. Get used to it!”

Lately, however, the Republican side of the duopoly has reached a pitch of madness. There have even been signs that it might be turning into a healing crisis, rather than a fatal spinout.  There are some signs that this same healing crisis has spread into the Democrats, as well.  Part of the Democrats’ delusion has long been that they, as the more populist wing of the corporate duopoly party, offer a real alternative to the Republicans.  “Hey, we’re for abortion and gay marriage!  Vote for us, ‘cos we’re cool!” Get ’em by the short hairs, and their hearts and minds will follow, eh?

I think we can trace the beginning of this particular delusional/manic episode to the 2000 election, when the Republicans turned Al Gore’s wonky, intelligent, detail-oriented personality into a major campaign issue, as if the qualities that might make him a good President were drawbacks, reasons to vote for his opponent, who seemed to embody the very opposite of those qualities. The Republicans, I believe, compounded this by conspiring to steal the election from Gore, a crime which the Democrats chose to ignore, instead blaming Ralph Nader and the Green Party. In psychological terms, that is known as displacement.

That illustrates the fundamental dynamic that has played out between Republicans and Democrats in all the instances I am going to relate:  an unfair contest between the cruel and the clueless, in which the clueless remain clueless about why they keep losing, or even why they keep playing the kind of games they lose. Where I grew up, I was taught that, if somebody says something that seems to be dripping with weird implications, you don’t just play along like nothing is happening, you say what those implications seem to be, letting the chips fall, and the poop fly, where they may. That is what I am going to do here.

We’ll skip over the near certainty that 9-11 was a flimflam and the  absolute certainty that Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction” was a con, and check into 2004, when the Republicans again turned what should have been a strong “selling point” for Democratic candidate John Kerry–his war record–into a new political verb–they “Swift boated” him, emphasizing

John Kerry redeems himself/why they hate him

John Kerry redeems himself/why they hate him

a version of what happened to Kerry in Vietnam that painted a much more negative picture of him–they said he turned and ran.  His own crew members deny that.  But here’s the thing:  the comrades-in-arms who attempted to discredit him also shared a dislike for his later change of heart–he joined Vietnam Veterans for Peace, and became a major spokesperson for the group. I think that’s where he redeemed himself, but it really burned some of his old war buddies’ bacon.  They did not care for the notion that they had fought on the side of injustice. Sorry, guys. US intervention in Vietnam was wrong, and Ho Chi Minh was right, even if the repressive Vietnam of today is far from the U.S. Constitution-inspired workers’ and peasants’ paradise that Ho envisioned.  I also think that the Democrats’ use of Kerry’s “war heroism” as a selling point shows that, whatever their disagreements, Republicans and Democrats agree on the importance of American imperialism. Read the rest of this entry »





WHEN THE CENTER CANNOT HOLD

7 03 2015

A couple of weeks ago, I was commenting in a discussion thread on Facebook that had started with a local, politically active friend bemoaning the abysmally low turnout in the last election.  Here in Tennessee, only 29.1 percent of the electorate bothered to show up at the polls, the second lowest turnout in the country.  This enabled the sixteen percent of Tennessee voters who actually support banning abortion and income taxes, and who approve of the mean-spirited program of the Republican Party, to feel as if they had swept like a mighty tide over the state.

Well, I pointed out, the Democrat Party hasn’t really put up much of a fight.  Their leadership is inextricably tied to the national DP leadership, which is, truth be told, “progressive” only in its rhetoric, and then only when it needs to attempt to motivate “progressives” to vote for Democrats.  The progressive rhetoric, which is never truly radical, certainly not anti-corporate, and absolutely never questions capitalism, is quickly cast aside once the election’s over, and, if they win, the Dems go back to being the same old imperialist, corporatist, center-right party they’ve always been.  So, I said to the folks in the thread, why don’t all you progressives come over to the Green Party?

stein_chanceResponse? He was shocked, absolutely shocked.  “When Greens run, Democrats lose,” wrote my friend.  Another commenter chimed in, “Nader cost Gore the 2000 election.  Look what that got us.”

It was late at night, I was feeling ill, and I was short on temper and brains. “You guys have drunk too much Democrat kool-aid,” I fumed, and quit the group in disgust.  It didn’t take me long to regret my grumpiness and haste, but they declined to let me back in the group. I had had a chance to unmask some of my friends’ illusions, and I had blown it.  What I am telling you today is for my own benefit as well as for the benefit of the many people who would have echoed their words, reminding me to be patient with those who have fallen for the Big Lie about Nader, and the many other big lies that, er, underlie our sociopolitical fabric. Read the rest of this entry »





“REALISM” AND JILL STEIN

9 09 2012

Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala are running the strongest Green Presidential campaign  the party has yet seen.  While Ralph Nader, it’s true, had greater name recognition, Ralph’s personal style is not very “green.”  He is very much a my-way-or-the highway kind of guy, which sharply diverges from the Green value of grassroots democracy.  Stein and Honkala have incorporated Green values into their campaign organizing, generating an enthusiasm that has enabled them to raise sums of (noncorporate!) money far beyond what the Party has been able to summon up in previous elections, qualifying the Green Party for Federal matching funds, and even breaking into TV advertising.

Modern media maven that I am, I put  Jill’s pitches on my Facebook page, where, sure enough, one of them generated some pushback.   A long time friend, whom I appreciate for his thoughtful approach to life, wrote:

“Your protest and donation vote will accomplish what?…..If there’s no one who you like who can win, why not give your dough to some person who is starving or has a life threatening issue or something like that….don’t you think it would have more direct impact….everyone can spin an exciting story if they don’t have to execute the vision….the only difference between a hallucination and an inspiration is the execution.”

To which I replied:

“Why not give your dough to some person who is starving”?  Because I’d rather get ahead of the game and end the conditions that allow people to go hungry.  “….or has a life threatening issue”…..the Republican and Democrat programs are life threatening, endangering all life on the planet for the sake of short-term corporate profit.  Greens have “executed our vision” in numerous governments around the world, generally with positive and popular effects.

As Michael Lerner said, “Realism has been defined by the powerful and the media they control to mean any policy that does not significantly challenge the current distribution of power and wealth. So I say, “Don’t be realistic.” The God revealed to the Jewish people is a God that makes it possible to overcome systems of power and domination, starting with the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. All people, who are created in God’s image, can aspire to transcend the constant voices from outside and from inside our own heads that insist we accommodate ourselves to the existing reality rather than change it.”

So, friend, why are you such an apologist for the sorry state of the status quo?

I could also have thrown in Dom Helder Camara’s well-known bon mot, “When I feed the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor are hungry, they call me a communist.”  Or, in this post-communist era, “they tell me I’m being ‘unrealistic’.”

Let’s talk about this “be realistic” thing a little.  Read the rest of this entry »





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








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