DOUBLE STANDARD

10 09 2011

Not content with having a lock on the state legislature, not content with having a lock on future elections by mandating Tennessee’s continued use of unrecountable, easily hackable computerized voting machines, the state’s Republicans are now trying to dictate who can and cannot be a Democratic legislator.  When State Representative Gary Moore became President of the Tennessee AFL-CIO, Tennessee Republican Party Chair Chris Devaney sent Moore a strongly worded letter suggesting that this put Moore in a conflict of interest position and that he needed to choose between being in the legislature and heading the state’s council of unions.

Moore defended himself, saying that his position no more disqualified him than the full-time job of anybody else in our state’s legislature. Since the legislature does not meet year ’round, it does not pay what is considered a “full time job” salary–although, when you throw in a thou a month for “office expenses,” and a healthy per diem expense allowance, it’s more money than I’ve ever made working full time.  But that’s not what I want to talk about.  I want to talk about what Rep. Moore could have said.  Maybe he considered it and thought “Naah, it’s true but saying it will just make it harder to work in the same legislature as these bozos,” but here’s what I would have said:

Republicans have some nerve alleging that ties with the AFL-CIO amount to putting a labor lobbyist in the legislature.  The AFL-CIO is an organization that represents the working people of this state–well, 5.7% of them, anyway–real live human being-type citizens of the State of Tennessee, people with families and, in many cases, deep roots in this state.  There is nothing untoward about the head of such a genuine, grass-roots citizens’ group being a member of the state legislature.

Many of our state’s Republican legislators, in contrast, are the pawns of a covert, nationwide lobby relentlessly pursuing an agenda that elevates corporate profits above human well-being,  This lobby, “The American Legislative Exchange Council,” which disingenuously–and possibly illegally-claims to be an “educational foundation,” allows corporations and their lawyers to write legislation that favors the corporations, and then pass it on to willing state legislators who introduce these poison bills all over the country as if they were their own creations.  There is no transparency; ALEC’s archive of model bills is open only to its members, and thus it is difficult for citizens to know whether their legislators are introducing a bill that truly reflects local conditions and concerns, or a generic, one-size-fits all piece of legislation that was essentially created to line corporate pockets, and the public be damned.

Fortunately, ALEC’s veil of secrecy has been pierced, and its archives exposed.  What this exposure has revealed is that much of the substantive legislation introduced by Tennessee Republicans this year was crafted in corporate boardrooms and law offices.   Those who have claimed concern about me, Gary Moore, being a “puppet of outside interests” are, themselves, puppets of an insidious outside interest. Here are some of the ALEC bills we have had to contend with here in Tennessee:

Our legislature passed a law making it necessary for voters to present a photo ID.  A driver’s license or gun license is allowable; a college ID is not, a provision that makes no sense unless you are trying to disenfranchise college students, who, unlike gun owners, for the most part do not vote Republican.  Those without a photo ID can get a “free” one from state drivers’ license offices, which will require a substantial investment of time for those who live far from such an office.  There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud due to phony ID.  This is, purely and simply, an attempt to limit the number of people who vote….but then, conservatives often speak of wanting to return to our original Constitutional principles.  For roughly the first fifty years of our republic, the franchise was limited to white male property owners.  Perhaps this is what modern conservatives aspire to do?

On a lighter note, State Sen. Mae Beavers introduced a copycat bill mandating that all presidential candidates present a “long-form birth certificate” in order to get on the ballot.  In an interview, Beavers had to admit that she doesn’t even know what a “long-form birth certificate” is.  Beavers also introduced “The Tennessee Firearms Freedom Act,” a bill introduced or passed in 35 other states, which proclaims

if a firearm and/or ammunition is made totally within the state of Tennessee, and stamped ‘Made in Tennessee,’ then the federal government has no jurisdiction over that item in any fashion so long as it remains in state and outside of interstate commerce.

It strikes me as a bizarre manifestation of conservative doublethink that this bill is being pushed by those who applauded when the Supreme Court ruled against a similar case that involved marijuana that was grown and consumed in California.  OK, the “Firearms Freedom Act” may or may not have had ALEC’s backing–but the general loosening of gun laws in the state definitely comes from ALEC.

There is the “Tennessee Civil Justice Act,” passed under the conservative rallying cry, “Tort Reform!” This bill makes it much more difficult for citizens to obtain reasonable damages from businesses that have ripped them off.  Even though passed after the enormous investment scandal that has decimated our economy, this bill specifically exempts the sale of securities–stocks and bonds, etc.–from civil lawsuits.

The “Tennessee Healthcare Freedom Act” is another bill that came directly from ALEC, written by private insurers who do not want their profits and prerogatives regulated in the slightest.

On the labor front, the legislature abolished collective bargaining for teachers, and considered a bill that would have effectively criminalized union organizing of any kind.

It didn’t even take a full Republican majority to pass a bill similar to Arizona’s anti-immigration measures.  This bill came directly from ALEC, and it is no secret that Corrections Corporation of America helped write the law–which generates a lot of business for the private, for-profit prison corporation.

While Tennessee’s ludicrous “anti-Sharia law” may not have originated with ALEC, it is a product of the same dull-witted xenophobia that has resulted in a rash of ALEC-written anti-immigrant bills that were introduced in the legislature this year.  Immigrants, legal or otherwise, Mexican or Muslim,  are not the reason our economy has gone bad.  Our economy has gone bad because of the selfish actions of the corporations that are writing these anti-immigrant bills.

Here’s the facts:  there are an estimated 60,000 Muslims in the state, less than one percent of our total population.  There are an estimated quarter million Hispanics in Tennessee, around four percent of the state’s population.  There are 115,000 union members in the state, less than two percent of our population. We are in no short-term or long-term danger of having unions, Sharia law, or the Spanish language forced on us.  Got that?

On the other hand, there are over a million voting Republicans in Tennessee, and nearly 2/3 of them support the Tea Party and its program, which is driven by the same secretive cabal of corporations that directs ALEC.  The citizens of Tennessee are being misinformed into voting against their own best interests, filling the legislature with covert operatives for a corporate agenda that is rapidly turning Tennessee and the rest of America into a two-tier society that leaves 99% of us disempowered and impoverished in the bottom tier, while the wealthy live a lifestyle that makes Louis XIV of France look modest.

As one commentator put it, the Tea Party’s organizers “conflate crony capitalism with free enterprise, and free enterprise with personal liberty. Between them they have constructed the philosophy that informs the Tea Party movement: its members mobilize for ‘freedom’, unaware that the freedom they demand is freedom for corporations to trample them into the dirt.”

So yes, there is a dangerous conflict of interest corrupting the Tennessee legislature.  But it is those who are pointing their fingers and making loud accusations who are in fact the danger, not the state’s teachers, firefighters, other union members, Muslims or Hispanics.  Those of us in this state who truly value personal liberty over corporate license need to band together and expose this sham, not bow our heads and knuckle under to it.  No, Mr.  Devaney, I am NOT resigning.

And that’s what I’d say if I were Gary Moore.

music:  Eliza Gilkyson, “Slouching Toward Bethlehem





ROAD WARS

7 03 2009

My state representative, Gary Moore, is usually both a very reasonable guy, and responsive to the needs of his constituents. Not only is he good enough that he hasn’t had a Republican opponent in several election cycles, he’s good enough that I, as a Green, don’t feel like taking advantage of that and running against him—why risk alienating somebody you can work with?

Because he’s so reasonable, I was surprised to learn that he introduced the bill to ban bicycles from River Road, a stunningly scenic byway that winds along the south shore of the Cumberland River west of Nashville. Ban bikes? You got to be kidding!

But as I studied the issue, I started to understand what was going on. “Winds” is definitely the operative word for River Road, which traverses hills, blind curves, and occasional long straightaways on its way from Charlotte Pike to Ashland City. In many ways, it’s a beautiful, peaceful place to ride a bicycle; but, because River Road is an old road, there are no shoulders. Pedestrians, equestrians, trucks, cars, school buses, farm equipment, and bicyclists all have to share the same narrow right-of-way. And that is where the problem begins. River Road gets a lot of recreational bicycle traffic, and that’s unnerving the residents, who are concerned that they might hurt somebody and annoyed that they have to slow down and watch out for a bunch of people who don’t live in or even relate very much to their neighborhood but who feel entitled to use it for recreation—and some possibly some feel a little bugged about these folks who have the time to be out there sporting on their bikes while the residents have to dash around in their cars taking care of business. Kind of an ant-and-grasshopper thing, y’know?

So, they asked Rep. Moore if he would draft a bill that would ban bicyclists from River Road, and, being responsive to his constituents, he did, and then the fun began. Bicycling organizations all over the state raised a fuss, concerned about the precedent it would set. Mayor Dean, himself an occasional cyclist, informed the legislature that the City of Nashville is opposed to the bill—but he has made funding for sidewalks and bicycle lanes a priority in the city’s budget. Hopefully, River Road will be near the top of his list.

Cyclists thought they had scored a victory when Rep. Moore temporarily withdrew the bill from a committee hearing date, but that, it turns out, is because the residents of River Road wanted additional time to buttress their case. The bill will be back .Banning bicycles as the automobile heads off into the sunset is pretty counterintuitive—but even if this bill passes, when the gas runs out, it will be ignored.

Meanwhile, there’s something very important that hasn’t happened. There has apparently been no communication between cycling groups and the neighborhood, which would seem to me to be the first step to take. River Road Neighborhood Association representative Rena Clark says she would welcome such talks, but has been unable to set anything up. As of this writing, I have been unable to connect with Walk Bike Nashville, one of the main bicycle advocacy groups involved in opposition to the ban, to get their side of the story, but it seems like there should be an attempt to work this out at a lower level before setting a solution into the stone of state law. Can we talk?

music:  Queen, “Bicycle





THE PEOPLE SPEAK

9 04 2006

The majority of the two hundred and fifty people attending an “informational meeting” about a proposed landfill in Bellevue were strongly opposed to the project. As a result, it probably won’t happen. The meeting, called and chaired by Rep. Gary Moore, drew an overflow crowd to Bellevue Middle School auditorium. Attendees, many bearing “NO DUMP” placards handed out by dump opponents outside the hall, first listened to (and heckled) a well-crafted power point presentation by the dump’s proponents followed by a simple rebuttal from Dorrie Bolze of the Harpeth River Watershed Association: it’s illegal for the simple reason that it’s potentially dangerous, so don’t do it. There’s no way to clean up a polluted water table.

The crowd largely shared her sentiment, and echoed it in one way or another throughout the evening. The dump’s advocates are asking for an amendment to the State Scenic Rivers Act that will allow them to fill this former quarry with about four million yards of construction and demolition waste over the next ten years, and then turn the leveled land over to the state for park and recreation purposes–and some condos. They want to clean up this attractive nuisance, this tragedy waiting to happen. A noble purpose, although little mention was made of the approximately thirty million dollars in dump fees the project will gross over its history–not to mention proceeds from the condominiums “Yeah, we’re in it to make a profit,” spokesman Crom Carmichael admitted. “Aren’t we all?”

This “everybody else is doing it, so why can’t we?” attitude seemed to be at the heart of Carmichael’s case. At one point he produced a map of the Harpeth valley showing all the major point sources of pollution that flow into the river, challenging opponents of his plan to go after all the other polluters on the river. Not a bad idea, actually…. At another point he produced a chart showing that the water currently in the quarry is cleaner than the water in the river flowing by the quarry. He seemed to think this would justify creating another potential point source for pollution, but this logic failed to impress the crowd, one of whom shouted out, “The river’s polluted there because of all the crud washing into it from the Riverwalk development!”

This prompted Rep. Moore to ask the audience to please be courteous and allow Mr. Carmichael to finish his presentation. It was not the only time he had to make that request. Most but not all of the interruptions were from those against the dump, but at one point when someone was talking about the obligation of the current owners to secure the property against being an attractive nuisance, and referred to “the millions of dollars they have made from this quarry,” a representative of the current landowner called out, “Since when have you been my accountant?”

One surprise for anti-landfill campaigners was the advocates’ enlistment of Odell Binkley as a potential manager for the project. Odell operates a similar landfill on the floodplain of the Stones River on the other side of Nashville, and is highly regarded for the quality of his operation there. He was also one of the major movers in the effort to close down Nashville’s notorious downtown thermal plant. He is probably the most conscientious person available for the position, but even he had to admit, in response to residents’ repeated concerns about the potential for river pollution, “God’s the only one who can guarantee anything,” and God is not being offered the management of this landfill. Moreover, Karl Meyer reported to me that Binkley admitted to him after the meeting that he was still negotiating with the Carmichael crew about the terms of his management, that Carmichael and friends were having a hard time with some of the standards Binkley wanted to enforce, and were only offering him a five-year contract on the ten-year project.

I suspect that some of their difficulty comes from the recycling dilemma. posed by the project’s ten-year deadline. It is possible to recycle up to around 90% of what gets brought to C&D landfills, especially if you have someone who will take recycled material for fill rather than digging it out of someplace new. According to John vanderHarst, a well known Nashville recycling authority, Binkley recycles about 25% of what comes into his Stones River landfill. That ain’t 90%, but it’s better than Metro’s paltry 2.5%, or the complete lack of recycling at Southern Services, another major player in the Nashville trash game.

But the Newsom Pointe landfill people (“Newsom Pointe Reclamation Project” is the formal name for the dump proposal) are trying to fill their hole in just ten years. The traffic they will need to achieve this goal—it will take a truck every six minutes, eight hours a day, five days a week, for ten years, to fill the quarry with no recycling—is similar to what Mr. Binkley’s landfill on the east side of town is taking in from the whole county already, and with U.S. economic indicators raising red flags all over the place, the future of development on the west side of Nashville could be pretty iffy, and with that, the reality of actually filling this hole could vanish with the value of the dollar. So, it is in their best interests to recycle as little as possible, to make sure they make their deadline.

In response to repeated questioning, Carmichael said that if the ten-year deadline was looming and the quarry was not full, they would have to buy fill dirt from somewhere to finish it off—that, it seems, is one object of the ten million dollar bond they would be required to post before commencing operations. “How far is ten million dollars gonna go when diesel fuel hits ten dollars a gallon?” one resident demanded. Carmichael didn’t seem to understand the question.

Another way they could forfeit their bond is by polluting local ground water. Testing for interconnectivity between the quarry and the river still has not been done, but the quarry is almost certainly connected with the local water table, and many people in the area still get their water from wells. Mr. Binkley assured residents that, once the quarry was pumped out, the landfill would heat up enough to evaporate any water that entered it before it reached the bottom and carried potential pollutants from the landfill into the water table, citing his experience at Stone’s River for reference, but the audience did not seem convinced. After all, it was Mr. Binkley himself who said only God can guarantee anything. One audience member with an engineering background said that he understood that about 43% of all clay landfill liners leak, while another said he had been told in engineering school that all earthen dams leak. (I should point out that lining the stone pit with an “impermeable” clay liner is part of the Newsom Pointe plan.)

Carmichael also stressed the attractive nuisance danger of the currently abandoned quarry, as well as the fact that it has become a site for completely unregulated dumping. Area residents responded that it is the current landowner’s responsibility to stop this, and it doesn’t take turning the site into a landfill to make it more secure. Besides, there are two abandoned quarries in the state park across the street, and they’re tourist attractions, in spite of being nowhere near as spectacular as the Newsome Point quarry.

Representatives of the current owner (an elderly woman) said that if conversion of the quarry into a dump was not approved, they would reopen it as a quarry. In the meeting, they claimed that they still had all the permits they need for this, but Dana Coleman of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation said in an email, “the site no longer has a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit and would therefore be required to submit an application as though it were a new site.”

Such an application would require public hearings and, given the increasingly residential nature of the area, would meet just as much opposition, at least, as the landfill proposal. You can bet residents will be even more upset about dynamite than they are about construction and demolition waste.

At the end of the long line of people with questions was a local minister, who started talking about how much misinformation was circulating in the room and how there had been several public meetings called about the landfill that had attracted no attention. He seemed to be launching into a sermon on the benefits of the proposal when Rep. Moore interrupted him, asking “Do you have a question, sir?”

“No,” the minister replied, “I just wanted to make some remarks….”

“This is an informational meeting. We’re not asking people to speak up for or against the proposal. Please sit down.” Polite but firm. Thank you, Rep. Moore.

Representative Moore and Senator Henry, as well as Charles Graves of TDEC, all said in conclusion that,while they respected the good intentions of Mr. Carmichael and Mr. Binkley, they felt it would set a bad precedent to allow such a variance to the Scenic Rivers Act, and opposed the proposal. The manager of the Kingston Springs water system, which takes water from the Harpeth just a few miles below the quarry, had already voiced his concerns. Mayor Purcell’s office has announced that they see no need for another C&D landfill in Davidson County.

Charlie Tygard, the local Metro Council member who has advocated in favor of the project and was expected at the meeting, had phoned in his regrets to the organizers and gone to a hockey game instead, an announcement which drew hoots of derision from his assembled constituents.

The crowd left the auditorium with the feeling that there will not be a landfill in their back yard. With opposition from both local members of the state legislature, the City of Nashville, and TDEC, it seems at this point that the Harpeth River dump is dead in the water, so to speak. Maybe democracy still works.

music: “We Can Run (but we can’t hide)” by The Grateful Dead








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