A DEMOCRAT WITH A SPINE!

30 01 2008

When I reported last month that DHS had backed off on insisting that states do the impossible before breakfast, it seems I missed the fine print–they have to ask for an extension and swear that they will do the impossible before lunch.  How heartening to find somebody who’s willing to stand up and roar about this b.s. !

Montana governor Brian Schweitzer (D) declared independence Friday from federal identification rules and called on governors of 17 other states to join him in forcing a showdown with the federal government which says it will not accept the driver’s licenses of rebel states’ citizens starting May 11.

If that showdown comes to pass, a resident of a non-complying state could not use a driver’s license to enter a federal courthouse or a Social Security Administration building nor could he board a plane without undergoing a pat-down search, possibly creating massive backlogs at the nation’s airports and almost certainly leading to a flurry of federal lawsuits.





PUSHING THE HOT BUTTONS, IGNORING THE KEYS

13 01 2008

I recently received an email communique from Tennessee Rep. Gary Odom, touting the legislature’s achievements this year. He didn’t mention my favorite, which was a state resolution opposing the Real ID Act. That passed back in June and was sponsored by my State Representative, Gary Moore, and I am quite proud of him for that. Hey, it was a bipartisan agreement–even Lamar Alexander came out against it. Lamar’s opposition is not enough to make me proud of him, however, for a wide variety of reasons. He does get a Truth In Strange Places nomination, though, for saying,

“We have just assumed that every single State will want to ante up, turn its driver’s licenses examiners into CIA agents, and pay hundreds of millions of dollars to do an almost impossible task over the next 3 years.

“We did that without any recognition in this legislation that we are not the state government, we are the federal government, and, if we want a national ID card, we should be creating a federal ID card. “

And that’s something Lamar thinks we need. Maybe after this term in the Senate, he’ll be nominated for a position in the Supreme Soviet. May I see your papers?

(After I wrote this, Homeland Sekurity Reichsfuhrer Michael Jerkoff announced that they have set the compliance date back to 2014, which gives a possibly saner Congress the chance to repeal the mess.  The junta never admits it’s flat-out wrong about anything, but this is probably as close as we’re going to get.)

Well, opposition to Bush junta policies is probably a little edgy for Mr. Odom, who, as the Majority Leader in the Tennessee House, has got to keep himself firmly in the mainstream.

And the mainstream achievements Mr. Odom is proudest of are: more funding for education out of the lottery revenue stream, continued funding for highways in the state, and a tougher crime package.

Ah, the lottery revenue stream. A lottery is OK, but an income tax is unmentionable…lottery participation is voluntary, but an income tax in Tennessee will mostly come out of the pockets of the wealthy, which is why the anti-tax demonstrations we had here a few years ago consisted of well-dressed, mostly overweight people stopping traffic around the State Capitol while they honked the horns of their SUVs.

Lottery ticket buyers, on the other hand, tend to be under-educated, low-income, and black. Not a political force to be reckoned with, y’know? There is something strangely ironic about having the least-educated members of society fund improvements to the educational system that are unlikely to ever be of any benefit to them–unless they’ve got four-year olds, which, come to think of it, is a good possibility, since ignorance breeds children. But how many of those children will ever make it into college?

The Nashville Scene recently wrote an editorial chiding the Democrats for moral laxity over the Tennessee Waltz convictions and a couple of other incidents of lawmaker misbehavior. The Republicans, they seemed to imply, held the high moral ground in this state. As a Green, I’m not about to carry water for the Democrats, but the Repugs certainly have done their share of sinning. After all, the Tennessee Waltz entrapment was schemed up by a politicized Republican Justice Department that was out to make the Democrats look bad. How moral is that? And how moral is it to completely demonize the idea of a progressive income tax in Tennessee, leaving us with a sales tax system that burdens the poor much more than the wealthy? All these so-called pious Christians don’t seem to have much regard for the Jesus who frequently warned against the dangers of too much material accumulation, or for the early Christian community described in Acts, in which believers pooled their belongings and gave to each person as he or she had need. But I digress. I am not advocating turning Tennessee into a Christian Communist state!

Back to Rep. Odom and his list of achievements…he was happy to report that state highway funding will continue, hand in hand with efforts to produce ethanol from non-food crops here in the state. both of which indicate a determination to carry on with things just as they are for as long as we possibly can rather than look for serious alternatives like mass transit that works, redesigning our infrastructure to lessen the need for commuting, or widespread local solar power generation (which, among other things, could power electric cars). These bold moves were not made.

The legislature “got tough on crime” by creating more DA’s and public defenders and making gun crime penalties harsher. Well, from a certain perspective, this approach has worked. Between 1994 and 2004, the crime rate in Tennessee dropped about 4%, but the number of people incarcerated went up 58%. “Getting tough on crime” is now a for-profit industry, with prisons replacing factories as the economic engine that drives some counties in our state. This is not a healthy development, and I don’t think that pushing people through the court system faster and mandating longer sentences is a good answer. A courageous criminal justice program would end the death penalty, outlaw private prisons, decriminalize or at least abolish jail time for victimless crimes, and put more money into educational and psychological services for violent or large-property criminals. Let’s be clear: by “psychological services” I don’t mean putting them on meds! And white-collar criminals? Let ’em chop cotton and break rocks! But seriously, it’s a scare tactic to keep the public focussed on violent crime and the occasional twisted child molester while our environment is raped and plundered, corporate thievery is rampant, and elected officials steal elections and vandalize the Constitution.

Speaking of stolen elections, Tennessee does appear to be on the verge of dumping its touchscreen voting machines and working with optical scan equipment. There has been a lot of citizen pressure on this issue which seems to have helped move it along–state legislators don’t get the volume of mail that national legislators receive, so it’s easier to influence them, which is a good thing. Votesafetn.org has a website set up that makes it easy to contact the committee members.

The legislature did allocate money to improve broadband internet access in rural parts of the state. This is a good thing. Some of us are on the information superhighway, and some of us are following mud ruts to town. With physical travel due to get a lot more difficult as the price of gas, or ethanol, or whatever, continues to spiral on up, we need to do what we can to expedite the flow of information and communication. The four million they put into broadband should have been forty million.

In a sop to low-income Tennesseans, the legislature cut the sales tax on food by a half of one percent. That’s fifty cents less taxes on every hundred dollars worth of groceries. Whoopie! How magnanamous!

Other key issues that saw no action from the legislature, from my “deep green perspective,” are questions of land use planning and forest preservation and regeneration and promotion of local agriculture and industry that might return a measure of self-sufficiency to a state that has to import just about everything that it uses. A century ago, Tennessee was a poor but self-reliant state; the current widespread ownership of automobiles, electronic devices, fancy kitchen appliances, and central heat and air systems would certainly appear lavish to a traveller from the past, as would the proliferation of supermarkets and big box stores.

But with oil, consumer credit, and our whole economy sliding down the tubes, we may soon be asking ourselves if we really are better off than our horse-drawn, wood-heated, dirt farming predecessors. If I were a state legislator, I would be thinking about that. Judging by Rep. Odom’s report, they’re not.

music: Richard and Linda Thompson, “Civilization”





THE NOOSE TIGHTENS

14 10 2007

 

 

If one example epitomizes creeping fascism in America, it is the recent Florida incident in which John Kerry did nothing while police tasered and arrested a student who asked him a rambling question about why Kerry had not contested the 2004 election and why nobody had moved to impeach Bush. Did Kafka write the script for this? Andrew Meyer had a non-soundbite question. He was trying to lay out enough background so that his question made sense, and had in fact gotten to his point, when University of Florida police moved in, manhandled him to the back of the room, put him on the floor and tasered him, while Kerry droned on, making jokes about the incident( “I’m afraid he’s not able to come up here and swear me in as President.”) and everybody in the room just sat and watched. Later, Kerry claimed he was not aware that Meyer was being tasered. Hey, the guy was screaming “Don’t taser me!” I guess this kind of answered his question about why Kerry didn’t contest the election. All that’s necessary for evil to triumph, they say, is for good people to do nothing.

 

When I was in college, an incident like that would have sparked a riot, tasers or no tasers. The fact that nothing happened is a sad commentary on the state of America today, and what’s sadder is that it’s not the only symptom of repression, or of passive acceptance of repression. We’ve all heard of no-fly lists, and the increased airport security that goes with them. Flying these days is like going to a voluntary prison,where they treat you OK as long as you do what they tell you. Step out of line like Carol Gotbaum or Doris Watson, and police who are trained to confront big, burly, healthy male criminal types will manhandle you to death. What happened to treating women, no matter how agitated, like ladies?

 

While these womens’ deaths are, so far, isolated incidents, there are plenty of people who have found that the friendly skies aren’t friendly to them any more. While the exact number is a state secret, there are an estimated 700,000 people either forbidden to fly in this country or subject to intense search and questioning every time they board an airplane. What have they done? In many cases, they are individuals who have spoken out against US government policy. This is political harassment, pure and simple. In spite of widespread protest, the government is planning to make travel even more difficult—by next year you will, if they have their way, need a passport to visit Canada and a federally-approved “real ID” to enter federal courthouses, national parks, and other locations. Gotta protect them national parks from freedom-hating terrorists, yessir. Oh, by the way, you won’t be able to get social security or open a bank account without it—and you may not be able to get one, and it may cost more than you can afford.

 

Plus, you can only cross the US-Canada border if you’ve been a very good little boy or girl. In June, I recounted the plight of a psychologist who has been refused entry into the US because of articles he published in praise of psychedelics, thirty years ago, although he has no arrest record and has been visiting his family in the US without incident for decades; now comes news that two anti-war activists, Medea Benjamin and Ann Wright, of Code Pink, were recently refused entry into Canada because of the arrests they have undergone to protest the war. Both had entered Canada with no problem as recently as August. It seems the US FBI gave Canadian customs the National Crime Information Center list so the Canadians would know who to keep out, and it makes no difference to the Canadians whether you were arrested for attempted murder or for trying to stop a war they themselves had the good sense to avoid. According to this standard, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, and Desmond Tutu would all be denied entry into Canada. And speaking of Desmond Tutu, the Nobel Peace Prize winner was briefly blackballed from speaking in Minneapolis because Jews in Minnesota interpreted his criticism of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians as “anti-Semitic.” Hey, Arabs are Semites too, y’know? And what the Israelis are doing to them IS a lot like apartheid! Anyway, THAT particular piece of American censorship was turned back by popular outcry.

 

American censorship. It’s what’s happening, baby. We got Pearl Jam’s anti-Bush lyrics to “The Wall” cut out, we got Bono’s speech accepting the Liberty Medal edited for him. (The company did present his full remarks in another, longer video clip that fewer people would see.) We got Verizon trying to keep NARAL from using its flash messaging service, we got Yahoo and MSN deciding that Truthout’s emails are junk no matter what the recipients think. And, speaking of keeping people from finding things out for themselves, we got marijuana arrests at another all-time high. In 2005 it was one every forty seconds, in 2006 it was one every thirty-eight seconds. That may sound like a pretty trivial increase, but those two seconds mean that 47,000 more people—another 130 people every day– were arrested for marijuana last year, mostly for simple possession. More people were arrested for marijuana than for all violent crimes put together. Hey, is this a free country or what? It will only be a free country if lots and lots of us, too many of us to haul away or throw a wall around, start exercising our rights. John Kerry and his vacuous Democratic buddies—Hillary, Obama, whoever– are not gonna do the job for us.

 

music: REM, “Welcome to the Occupation








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