THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE IN KNOXVILLE, TENNESSEE…

25 06 2017

This report makes extensive use of a paper written by Barbara Bridges and Joel Kennedy, who pulled together most of the basic information and are quoted at great length in it, to the point where it’s hard for me to separate out their contributions from mine. The fairest way to put it is to give them credit as co-authors. Thank you both for your co-operation!

Not long after last month’s broadcast (which you may have heard as a repeat two weeks ago), I found an essay by two Knoxville Green Party members, Barbara Bridges and Joel Kennedy, about the consonance between Knoxville’s “2017 City Council Movement” and the Green Party’s “Ten Key Values.” None of these candidates have been active in The Green Party, but, to me, that doesn’t matter much. The ideas are  FAR more important than the brand.

knoxpeoplepower

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 »





THE 2012 ELECTION: FIRST, THE GOOD NEWS

7 04 2012

First the good news:   In Tennessee in 2012, Green Party candidates will be noted as such on the ballot, not lumped anonymously with the “Independents.”   I’ve been doing my best to shout this from the rooftops, but my cohort Howard Switzer has been singing it–we kicked the state of Tennessee’s butt in our court case, as I discussed last month.  Since then, the State has appealed, and also asked for Judge Haynes’ court orders to be set aside pending the appeal, a motion that was denied.

Consequently, we are looking for candidates all over the state.  Maybe you’d like to run for office?  If you agree with the Green Party’s “ten key values“–grassroots democracy, social justice and equal opportunity, ecological wisdom, non-violence, decentralization, community-based economics and economic justice, feminism and gender equity, respect for diversity, personal and global responsibility, and future focus and sustainability (and what’s not to love about any of that?),  if that sounds like more your cup of political tea than an “all of the above,” i.e., “drill, baby, drill, and dig, baby dig” energy policy, ignoring the growing danger signs from our environment, the quiet suppression of civil liberties and persecution of whistleblowers and dissenters, and the unquestioned continued maintenance of a war machine and a corporatocracy that have been deemed not merely “too big to fail” but “too big to challenge,” and just enough lip service to women’s rights and the general progressive agenda to keep people drinking Democrat (TM) Kool-aid, then you have a place in the Green Party.

The further good news is that, in a third of all Tennessee House and Senate races, there is likely to be only one other candidate, so you might not even have to worry about that old bogeyman, “Greens taking votes from Democrats, resulting in the election of Republicans.” Actually, the results are frequently so lopsided  that such an accusation would be pretty baseless most cases, anyway.  Which brings me to the bad news.

When I start by quoting Josef Stalin, you know it’s gonna be bad news, and it really, really was Josef Stalin, the ruthless ruler of Russia, who said (in Russian, of course)

You know, comrades,… I consider it completely unimportant who in the party will vote, or how; but what is extraordinarily important is this — who will count the votes, and how.

And that is definitely the question here in Tennessee.  As I have occasionally mentioned, I have been reading “Vendors Prohibited,” a 60 page report from 2007 in which lawyer Andrea Novick made a fairly conclusive case that none of the companies that produce touch-screen voting machines, known as DREs, are ethical enough to legally do business with the state of New York.  Unfortunately, the facts of the matter were not sufficient to persuade the New York legislature, which went ahead and mandated DRE use in the state anyway.  Here in Tennessee, the situation is similar.  There was a wonderful upwelling of bipartisan spirit in 2008 as the legislature passed “The Tennessee Voter Confidence Act,” including just one little concession to the Republicans:  that the TVCA not take effect until after the 2010 election, “because of the time and expense involved,” a line that the state’s voting integrity activists handily refuted, but that was swallowed hook, line, and sinker by the state’s Democrats–who found that, to their great surprise, the 2008 election turned Tennessee from a genteelly blue-dog blue state into a frothing-at-the-mouth red state, where some of the most important business of the state’s first Republican legislature since Reconstruction, besides making sure that anybody could carry a gun wherever they wanted as long as they had a non-college issued photo ID and didn’t say “gay,” was to–gosh!–repeal the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act, as a “costcutting measure.”  Never mind that the switch to a verifiable voting system would have been entirely paid for with available Federal funds.  Never mind that counties grossly overestimated the cost of the switch–famously claiming (see Bernie Ellis’s comments at this link) it would cost $70,000 to store a filing cabinet full of ballots for a few years, or that hand-counting votes would cost $5 per ballot.  Never mind that computers are notoriously short-lived machines, and between their frailty and the ongoing upgrading of computer technology, the machines will likely need to be replaced often and at great expense, as opposed to hand-counted paper ballots, which cost pennies and employ a technology–printing–that doesn’t even depend on electricity, let alone our complex industrial network, to function.  As a result of this switcheroo,  all but two counties in Tennessee use touch-screen voting machines which do not produce a verifiable, recountable paper trail, and the two counties that use optical scan machines employ Diebold products which have been found to be as corruptible as their more digital counterparts.   Let’s look at the record.

The Diebold Accuvote is a machine that reads paper ballots and tabulates the results, a simple job that could easily be done by human beings.  Here’s what Ms. Novick had to say about the Diebold Accuvote:

In December 2005, Ion Sancho, elections supervisor in Leon County, Florida, concerned about the security of the Diebold optical scanners, arranged for Harri Hursti, a computer programmer from Finland, to independently examine a Diebold Accuvote Optical Scanner. Hursti hacked the machine in the simplest way (considered a level one hack capable of being executed by an eighth grader) and exposed just how vulnerable the Diebold Scanner was – it was possible to subvert the memory card without detection.

Diebold’s response to this?  Again, Ms. Novick:

Subsequently, when Ian Sancho was required to acquire machines for the disabled community, Diebold refused to sell to Supervisor Sancho’s county unless he promised not to have outsiders reveal the Diebold machine’s flaws through any more independent testing. Sequoia backed out of discussions with Mr. Sancho and ES&S didn’t respond.
Diebold, as it has done consistently in refusing to accept responsibility for its system’s serious security failures, attempted to minimize the damaging exposure as merely a “theoretical security vulnerability”. In Diebold’s letter trying to spin the damage it was alleged without support “the probability for exploiting this vulnerability to install unauthorized software that could affect an election is considered low”. A spokesperson for Diebold went on to lay blame anywhere but with Diebold: “For there to be a problem here, you’re basically assuming a premise where you have some evil and nefarious election officials who would sneak in and introduce a piece of software…I don’t believe these evil elections people exist.”

To contradict Diebold’s rose-colored view of election officials, we have only to look to Florida in 2000, where Katherine Harris was allowed to oversee the state’s electoral process in spite of her clear conflict of interest as Cheney’s campaign chair for the state, or Ohio in 2004, where Republican Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell was, in the words of investigative reporter Jon Rappaport,

A man who campaigned resolutely for Bush and THEN oversaw the state election which handed Bush a second term. A man who is a player in the Republican party, who knows the score, who can give favors and then ask for favors back, as he pushes his own career upward.

“Is this a conflict of interest that could have led Blackwell to improperly set the conditions for a Bush triumph? Is the Pope Catholic?”

And, of course, we also have to consider the lineage of the Diebold Company itself:  according to Ms. Novick, the company’s top employees have a rap sheet that includes everything from securities fraud to money laundering to cocaine trafficking.  Former CEO Wally O’Dell, who famously promised to deliver Ohio to Cheney in the 2004 election, has since left the company, under suspicion of insider trading.  This story was, for some reason, not widely reported in the media.  Just the kind of company you’d want to have counting your votes, right?   Well, the good news is, Diebold Optiscan machines are only used in two counties in Tennessee–Hamilton County (the city of Chattanooga) where the Republicans have the Democrats whupped so badly the Dems don’t even bother running candidates  (Hey, Chattanooga Greens, are you listening?), and Memphis, where Republicans have mysteriously scored upset victories.

Here in Davidson County, as well as in fourteen other Tennessee Counties, we use the ES&S Ivotronic touchscreen voting machine.  Again, the company’s lineage makes it highly suspect–it was originally founded by Christian Reconstructionists, whose avowed purpose is to take over the U.S. government and make this a “Christian” nation.  Subsequently,  the company was sold to two companies, the Omaha Herald newspaper and the McCarthy Group.   The Herald’s owners have an 11-state, two-country rap sheet, largely involving bid-rigging and fraud. The  good news is, The McCarthy Group either manages its bad PR very well or else hasn’t done anything any more out of line than any other private equity firm–except for one eyebrow-raising possibility–Chuck Hegel went from being CEO of the firm to running for U.S. Senate, and the people of Nebraska voted in that election on ES&S voting machines.  Hegel became the first Republican Senator from Nebraska in 25 years, although Nebraska’s so-called Democratic Senator Ben Nelson is considered a DINO (Democrat In Name Only) even among Milquetoast Democrats.  Speaking of Democrats, Hegel won even in black and Native American precincts that had never gone Republican.  Six years later, he beat Democrat challenger Harvey Mitulka by an astonishing 86-14 margin, again prevailing in traditional Democrat strongholds. Coincidence?  Or cheating?  No way to tell.  Nebraska’s legislature, which is officially non-partisan, had passed a bill forbidding state election employees from examining or recounting ballots.  Ain’t democracy wonderful?

And ES&S voting machines have continued to be involved in bizarre election results, the most notable recent one being South Carolina’s selection of unemployed sex offender Alvin Greene as the Democrat Party’s U.S. Senate nominee.  And what has ES&S’s response to the complaints that have reasonably been raised?

In its reply to California officials who had complained to the company about faults in the voting machines ES&S provided, the company said

ES&S will hold not only the examiners responsible, but the SOS as well, for any prohibited disclosure or use of ES&S’ trade secrets and related confidential proprietary information….if any need for changes is found, Los Angeles County will have to pay for those changes.

What wonderful customer service, eh?  And of course, it’s a snap to hack these machines, make them do what you want, and leave no trace of your trespass.

I’ve been talking for a while.  Let’s take a music break, and then get back to the other two voting machines used in the state–the Hart Intercivic and the Microvote.

music:  Steve Earle, “Conspiracy Theory

OK, VotersUnite.org has 12 pages of screwups involving Hart eSlate voting machines, and their list only covers the years from 2004 to 2006, but it’s got some real gems.  Let’s start with this one, which may help explain why Democrat election officials here in Tennessee were moved to adopt these Trojan horses to begin with:

(election commissioner) Tracy Baker asked Arapahoe County to give a Texas company a no-bid $3.5 million voting-machine contract…. Arapahoe County commissioners twice said no to the Hart voting system, first in the summer of 2002, then again last November, after deciding to put the contract out to bid.
… Between April 2001 and August 2002, Hart spent $3,759.95 on Baker and his staff, company records indicate. That included a $495 golf outing and $30 worth of cigars for Baker’s birthday.

It could have been more. The company turned Baker down when he asked Hart to pay for staff hotel rooms on a trip to Texas in 2002.  “You call any county clerk in this state,” Baker said. “You call any county commissioner. Vendors take you to dinner.”  Lisa Doran, a public information specialist in the Secretary of State’s Office, said Baker has a point.  Donetta Davidson, Colorado’s secretary of state, accepted dinner from vendors when she was the Arapahoe County clerk, Doran said.

which leads to situations like this one:

Travis County. Texas. A “default” selection is a selection automatically pre-set by the software. It remains selected unless the user specifically chooses to change it. To provide a default selection on a DRE voting machine is to give a voter a ballot with a candidate already marked.  Yet, election officials in Austin set up the eSlate DREs with Bush/Cheney as the default choice for president/vice-president. Voters who voted a straight party Democratic ticket watched their presidential votes changed to Bush on the review screen. Officials said voters caused this by pressing the “Enter” button on the second screen of the eSlate machine.

Gail Fisher, manager of the county’s Elections Division, theorizes that after selecting their straight party vote, some voters are going to the next page on the electronic ballot and pressing “enter,” perhaps thinking they are pressing “cast ballot” or “next page.” Since the Bush/Cheney ticket is the first thing on the page, it is highlighted when the page comes up – and thus, pressing “enter” at that moment causes the Kerry/Edwards vote to be changed to Bush/Cheney.

So it’s the voters’ fault, right?  And of course, Hart’s machines are eminently hackable.  Oh, by the way, the notorious right-wing radio chain, Clear Channel, is a major investor in Hart.

The Microvote Infinity is used in the balance of Tennessee’s counties, and the first thing you need to know about it is that it is not designed to make a paper record of the votes it records.  Zip.  Zilch.  Nada. That inspires a lot of confidence in the product, doesn’t it?  Or at least indicates that the Microvote’s manufacturers have a lot of confidence in their product.  Well, here’s some excerpts from a couple of  remarkably candid interviews with the actual manufacturer and the company President.  First, the manufacturer’s rep, Bill Carson, told an  interviewer

Unfortunately the ITA (independent testing authority) has a limited scope in what they can test and check on the system. It is based on time and economics. For an independent test authority to absolutely, thoroughly test under all possible conditions that the device will operate properly they would have to spend, in my estimation, 10 times the amount of time and money as it took to develop it in the first place…. And the technology changes so rapidly, by the time they get done testing it, it’s obsolete.

(Picks up electrical cord.) UL says that this will not shock you and it will not catch fire. They don’t tell you that it actually works. That’s beyond the scope of UL testing. Absolutely nothing will you see in the FEC requirements that this (puts hand on DRE voting machine) has to work. It has to have these functions. But it doesn’t have to work.

And Microvote President James M. Ries went even further, saying

The states basically look at the federal qualification testing as being kind of the ultimate testing ground. As a vendor working with these independent testing authorities, they do a good job of following the test plans afforded to them by the vendors. They don’t really go outside of those test
plans…. Well, because of identity or lack of identity with records, there’s really no way that I could prove to a voter, post tally, that their vote exactly counted the way that they voted it.

I guess it’s just a leap of faith and understanding that what we’re doing is what we’re presenting to the county. So there is a bit of uncertainty there. There has to be faith in their local election boards. It’s one of those areas of a leap of faith. That you really do have to have a faith in your local jurisdiction, that they are conducting equitable elections in the best faith of the voters. The larger the jurisdiction, the more scrutiny should exist.

Faith-based voting, folks!  Gotta love it! In spite of this apparent candor, however, in 2008 the state of Indiana fined Microvote $360,000 for 198 violations of Indiana election law.  Deputy Secretary of State Matt Tusing told reporters, …” MicroVote’s apathetic attitude towards proper certification is disconcerting, especially considering that their profits come from taxpayer dollars.” Matt Tusing is a Republican, so it must have been really bad.

So these are the companies the state of Tennessee has entrusted with recording and counting our votes.  Bit of a rogues’ gallery, isn’t it?  Why is our government trusting these companies to count votes accurately and impartially when there is so much evidence against them?  This is not “conspiracy theory,” folks, even though one Democratic candidate in the state with whom I attempted to raise the question dismissed it as such.  This is potential  high crimes and misdemeanors.  Where are the Department of Justice and the Voting Rights Act when you need them?

For a precedent, we can look to Germany, where the country’s Supreme Court declared computerized, privatized voting unConstitutional, citing “fundamental decisions of constitutional law in favour of democracy [which] … prescribes that all essential steps of an election are subject to the possibility of public scrutiny.”   Meanwhile, our Supreme Court is busy sticking up for corporations’ rights to buy elections and make profits, and the right of the police to strip search anybody they damn well please.  Here’s hoping some of the Supremes (the court, not the singers!) get strip-searched!

So, the good news is, the courts have recognized the Green Party of Tennessee’s right to have our name on the ballot.  The bad news is, the elections we are participating in may be easily and untraceably rigged.  If Greens consistently win just enough votes to deny victories to Democrats, it will be a sure sign something is wrong.  Even if nothing so obvious occurs, the fix may be in anyway, aided and abetted by Republican-led efforts to limit the franchise to the wealthier, whiter portion of the electorate.  I had intended to address the rest of the range of Republican efforts to limit the electorate and manipulate the results of elections, but I’m going to have to leave that part of the discussion for next month, because I feel strongly moved to speak to the Treyvon Martin case, the more recent police murder of Kenneth Chamberlain, and the centuries-long chain of racially motivated killings, of which these two are just a couple of the most recent examples.  On that cheerful note, let’s take a music break.

Richard and Mimi Farina–“The Bold Marauder





SHOCK DOCTRINE COMES TO THE CUMBERLAND?

13 03 2011

Last month, I attended a meeting called by the Nashville Peace and Justice Center, at which we “brainstormed,” as they say, on how to pursue a progressive agenda in Tennessee, given the state’s sharp tilt to the right over the last several elections.  I have to say, the results were not encouraging.  The old traditional tactic, “lobbying the legislature,” no longer works, and our current state government brushes off such mass demonstrations as we can muster as implacably as Qadhafi’s counterattack on the Libyan rebellion.

One call for a “mass demonstration” produced about 400 local union members and justice advocates–basically the usual suspects, from what I observed when I was there. A “statewide” gathering a couple of weeks later pulled in, I’m told, 3-4,000 people, the largest gathering of non-Chicanos to hit the state capital in quite some time, but hardly critical mass, especially since everybody went home promptly when the demo was over.

As far as the state’s Republican legislative majority is concerned, they probably could have just stayed home in the first place.  The party has an agenda to pass, and they don’t intend to be swayed from it.  As long-time activist Bernie Ellis has commented,

If you spend any time on the hill these days (as a few of us are), you will know that our legislature has indeed been taken over by flying monkeys. Opposing freedom of religion, dictating to local governments what protections they can extend to their citizenry (or not), creating our own Tennessee state currency — the list of anti-American lunacy goes on and on. Democratic legislators say that the Republicans are not even speaking with them anymore about any bills and (one) said to me yesterday that, in committees, Democrats are being gaveled as “out-of-order” as soon as they open their mouths. This is lawlessness of the highest order, and there is no solution available to us anymore that involves logic, rationality or politeness. The solution is in our Tennessee history books, which we should reread before this particular stain of Republicans burns them all.

(When I hear from liberals trying to work with our legislature) I am reminded of the TV commercial of the single Homo sapiens in an office full of chimpanzees. If I wanted to be around dung-slinging animals, I would go to the zoo. If I wanted to honor and observe the power and wonder of the consent of the governed, I would go to a lawfully and democratically elected legislature anywhere on this planet. These days, since the TN legislature was (s)elected by other means, it is not the place to admire democracy — it is a place to pack peanuts and wear a raincoat.

….All votes… will be strictly along party lines and anyone who doesn’t realize that by now needs to get off the kool-aid. We lost our democracy in 2008 when we allowed the Republicans to conduct “just one more” election on the DREs. If anyone wants to go to the U.S. Department of Justice (or the barricades), get in touch. If not, then have a nice life.

Thanks, Bernie, for laying it out so passionately.  I’m going to spend the next few minutes elaborating on his compact commentary, which mentions a great many more issues than it explains.

Last things first–the Tennessee legislature, which happily passed a bill mandating a return to recountable ballots in 2008, continues to backpedal on that promise.  Republicans are committed to the idea that switching from computer voting to paper voting will cost more money, and are using their “commitment to cut expenditures” as a reason to retain our current, unverifiable, expensive, computerized voting system.  It is Bernie’s strong belief that Republicans took advantage of computerized voting to fix the last election and seize power in the state.  I think this may well be the case, and Republican insistence on retaining the computer voting machines is certainly highly suspicious, given their general rejection in the US and around the world, but I also can see that the state’s rightward slide may be attributable to a reactionary trend among rural white Tennesseans and the general lameness of the state’s Democratic Party.

A Department of Justice investigation would be helpful, but, given that the Democratic Party’s lame response to the Republican Party’s pro-business offensive goes right on up the line to the DOJ and the White House, I don’t think we’ll get any clarification on this any time soon, and the question in Tennessee will continue to be “Who did your voting machine vote for?”

“The solution in the Tennessee history books” to which Bernie refers is an incident commonly known as “the battle of Athens,” in which an organized group of returning WWII vets successfully took up arms to overthrow a corrupt county government in Athens, Tennessee, shortly after the war.  It’s a wonderfully romantic image, but I don’t really see it as a practical option at this point.  This time around, alas, they’ve got the guns AND the numbers.  We are in the same position as the Good Government in Gomorrah party, but, unlike Lot, we can’t just leave, because nearly the whole country, and most of the world, is in no better shape than we are here.  We’re gonna have to ride it out where we are.

As for general lunacy and dung-slinging, here’s a short list:  the “anti-Sharia” law, revocation of collective bargaining for Tennessee teachers, unilateral abrogation of the national health care bill, a proposal to limit cities’ ability to enact local anti-discrimination, fair wage, and zoning laws, a state constitutional amendment forbidding an income tax, a proposal that the state issue its own currency…this is getting to be a long “short list.”

Let’s take, as an example, the “anti-Shari’a law.”  This bill defines Shari’a as follows:

“Sharia(h), as defined and understood by traditional and authoritative sharia scholars and leaders, is a legal-political-military doctrinal system combined with certain religious beliefs; further, sharia is based historically and traditionally on a full corpus of law and jurisprudence termed fiqu and usul al-fiqh, respectively, dealing with all aspects of a sharia(h)-adherent’s personal and social life and political society.”The bill also states that Shariah “requires all its adherents to actively and passively support the replacement of America’s constitutional republic, including the representative government of this state with a political system based upon sharia(h).”

The bill would give Tennessee’s attorney general the power to designate an organization as “a Shari’a organization,” and forbid individuals from giving support to such an organization.  Since our state government has already been the source of a complaint calling Bernie Ellis a terrorist, this does not bode well for any of us whose politics are in any way left of center. The legislation seems to conflate “shari’a” and “terrorism,” which is simply incorrect.  Shari’a is the Islamic version of Judaism’s Talmud, a long and constantly evolving discussion of how professing a certain religious faith applies to one’s daily life.

In the same vein, many Christians look to the Bible for guidance, and if you’re looking for something scary, the idea of Biblical religious law is at least as scary as anything in shari’a.  Everybody knows about the famous “what’s a good price for my daughter/why can’t I own a Canadian?” letter, but that only scratches the surface.   If Christians are serious about “following the word of the Bible,” then they (and we) are going to have to take this passage seriously:

If any man take a wife, and  … and say, I took this woman, and when I came to her, I found her not a maid: ….if this thing be true…. Then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her with stones that she die. Deuteronomy 22:13-21

That’s Christian shari’a., and it isn’t purely theoretical.   There are “Christian dominionists” who want to institute this kind of “Biblical law” here in America.  They constitute a major component of the “Tea Party,” and they are much more numerous and active than “Islamic terrorists,” most of whom have to be recruited by the FBI. And Bill Ketron is worried about Muslims?

This is some of why our Constitution says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ….”  It’s a minefield.  Directing a law at shari’a without banning Talmudic studies or Christian Dominionism is plainly religious discrimination, but, as Bernie commented, our state legislators are not interested in logic–when it comes to religion, finances, or any other issue, they want it their way.  Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.

While much of the state Republican Party’s agenda seems like sheer lunacy, other aspects of it are in line with the party’s national agenda, which, as Naomi Klein has commented, is an attempt to use the country’s weak financial condition as an excuse for instituting American fascism–the takeover of the government by big business interests.  She calls it “The Shock Doctrine.”  Of course, this has been going on for years, but it is gaining momentum, playing on people’s fears and directing their anger at phony targets–“Obamacare,” “Socialism,” “entitlement programs,” just to name a few–so that the wealthy can pick our pockets and bend the law to favor their own interests rather than the common good.

After having cast doubt on the legitimacy of state elections and the rationality of state legislators, it may seem pointless to talk about the Green Party of Tennessee and our attempts to get our party name on state ballots, but part of being the Good Government Party of Gomorrah is to act like you expect to be taken seriously, and let the chips fall where they may.  To that end, I would like to let you know that we will be having our annual meeting at the Ecovillage on the Farm in Summertown, Tennessee, on the weekend of April 9-10.  We will be posting details on our websites soon.  Anyone who shares the Green Party’s “Ten Key Values” is welcome to attend.

The other bit of Green Party news is that a bill has been introduced into the state legislature in an attempt to respond to our court victory over the state on the ballot access question.  Here’s what our lawyer, Richard Winger, has to say about it:

SB 935 would still leave Tennessee with a requirement that a minor party submit 40,042 (signatures on a petition) for the 2012 election, no later than four months before the Tennessee primary.  SB 935 would still leave Tennessee with an unconstitutionally difficult law, especially given that no minor party has petitioned successfully in Tennessee since 1968.

The solution is to provide that Tennessee let newly-qualifying parties nominate by convention, something that 43 states permit.  The National Civic League published “A Model Direct Primary Law” in 1951 (back then it was called the National Municipal League) and recommended that small qualified parties nominate by convention, not by primary.  This saves taxpayer dollars.  Tennessee permitted small qualified parties to nominate by convention until 1961, and the old pre-1961 system worked well.  Letting a newly-qualifying party nominate by convention would make it possible to have a deadline that passes constitutional muster…..

Early petition deadlines, if in place in 1854, would have prevented the Republican Party from getting on the ballot.  The Republican Party was founded on July 6, 1854, and it went on to win a plurality in the US House of Representatives in the autumn 1854 election.  Back then there were no government-printed ballots, and therefore no ballot access laws.  But if there had been ballot access laws, a petition deadline earlier than summer would have stopped the birth of a very important new political party.  I hope you amend SB 935 so that it is more like SB 617, a bill by Senator Campfield that lets newly-qualifying parties nominate by convention, so that the petition deadline is later in the year.  Thank you.

How cool to find a way to pitch it to Republicans, Richard!

So there it is…and bizarrely enough, it’s Stacey Campfield, whom I have berated in these pages before, who is working to do the right thing.  Goes to show, you don’t ever know, eh?

Well, if it’s all rigged, maybe having the Green, Libertarian, and Constitution parties on the ballot will just give the puppet masters more columns into which to shunt would-be Democrat votes.  Or maybe it will be a genuine step toward broadening the political discussion in this state.  My choice is to act in good faith and presume that everybody else is, too–but watch each card and play it slow.

music:  Grateful Dead, “Deal





GREEN VALUES, BUDDHIST VALUES

29 08 2008

“If there’s a Green Party, I want to join,” the Dalai Lama has said.  Certainly, not all Greens are Buddhists, but this does lead to the question of how much overlap there is between Buddhist values and Green values.  I recently read David Loy’s Money, Sex, War, Karma–Notes for a Buddhist Revolution, which, without mentioning the Green Party, provides some answers.

Loy examines money, sex and war in  order to understand why they never deliver the satisfaction they promise, and points to what it is we are really looking for when we put our faith in these pillars of modern society.  Why, it’s happiness, isn’t it?  Fulfillment!  And how can anything outside ourselves–a lover, a million dollars, or a warm gun–fill an emptiness that is ultimately, nowhere but within ourselves?  This continual, frustrating search has warped human culture to the breaking point.  Could Buddhism alter society enough to prevent our cultural suicide?

Maybe…but we need to understand its limitations.  First of all, Buddhism is ultimately a personal practice, not a social prescription.  Christianity and Islam, on the other hand, have become strongly identified with politics and ways of ordering society.

In Islam we see institutions such as Sharia, which dictate minute details of personal conduct, and the Caliphate, a religious state ruled over by the spiritual heirs of the Prophet, which continues to haunt the dreams of Mullahs and Islamic politicians alike.

Christianity, by accepting the imprimatur of Constantine and becoming the state religion of the late Roman Empire, likewise identified itself politically with what we now call “the divine right of kings,” a form of political absolutism that allowed for no debate, no democracy, and no non-conformism.  It is small wonder that today, even many “Protestants” whose religions began in rebellion against the overarching hegemony of the Catholic Church demand a state that conforms to their religion by banning or penalizing “sins” such as abortion, homosexuality, non-marital sex, and various forms of consciousness alteration, from alcohol to marihuana and the stronger psychedelics.  That these essentially religious taboos are the regular subject of political debate, or in some cases unquestioningly enforced by the authority of the state, testifies to how deeply our culture is held in the grip of religious fundamentalism, in spite of its secular appearance.

Buddhism’s political track record is not flawless, either, of course, but compared to the major Western religions, its sins have been slight.  Tibetan Buddhism before the Chinese invasion had ossified, presiding over a society that was technically devoted to enlightenment, but whose lamas were all too frequently far more secular than spiritual in their orientation.  Still, Tibet was a small part of the Buddhist world, which, before being cut apart by the sweeping swords of first Islam and then Communism, spread a society based on  meditation and reason from the steppes of central Asia east to Japan, and from Mongolia south through the Indonesian archipelago.  While there were militaries in all these lands, there were also monasteries, and the potent call of a religion that not only claimed that material success is just an illusion, but that offered people tools and techniques to discover this for themselves.  By contrast, Christianity and Islam made sheep of people, offering them only submission to the authority of the church as a way out of the misery of daily life.

This, I think, is where Buddhism and the Green Party begin to intersect.  They share a commitment to personal empowerment, to individual liberation as the foundation stone of a liberated society.  What individual liberation means, as David Loy points out, is freedom from what Buddhism terms “the three poisons:” greed/selfishness, anger/separation, and ignorance–which happen to be the building blocks of consumer society.

These poisons are institutionalized in our economy, our nationalism and military, and our so-called news media, and it is only when we free ourselves from the various spells they cast that we are capable of creating a saner way of life.  Loy takes pains to point out that Buddhism does not describe that way of life, but rather trusts liberated individuals to create a society that is appropriate for them:

We should hesitate before deriving any particular economic or political system from the various teachings of Buddhism…..Buddhism is really about awakening and liberating our awareness, rather than prescribing new institutional structures for that awareness.  We cannot pre-determine what awakened awareness should or  will decide when applied to the problem of social dukkha (suffering).  There is no magic formula to be invoked.  That no one else has such a formula either, so far as I can see, means that solutions to our collective dukkha cannot be derived from any ideology.  They must be worked out together. (p. 141)

This, of course, is completely in line with the first two of the Green Party’s “Ten Key Values,” which are grassroots democracy and social justice.  Loy sees Buddhism not as a separate movement, but more as a spice for existing movements that can flavor them with the integrity that comes from personal spiritual practice, commitment to nonviolence, a sense that we are all in this together, and awareness of impermanence and emptiness, which are not as esoteric as they may sound–they amount to the wisdom that everything will change, sooner or later, because nothing has any permanent existence.

Impermanence means that no problem is intractable since it is part of larger processes that are constantly evolving, whether or not we notice.  My generation grew up during a Cold War that would never end, until suddenly it did.  Apartheid in South Africa seemed inflexible and implacable, but below the surface tectonic plates were gradually shifting and one day that political system collapsed.  These characteristics are not always encouraging:  things can slowly worsen too, and solutions as well as problems are impermanent.  It depends on us to understand how things are changing and how to respond to those changes.

That highlights two other principles connected with impermanence and nonsubstantiality:  non-dogmatism and upaya, “skillful means.”  Shakyamuni Buddha’s own flexibility and Buddhism’s lack of dependence upon any fixed ideology implies the pragmatism of praxis.  We build whatever raft will work to ferry us to the other shore, and once there we don’t carry it around on our backs.  Nonattachment allows for the openness and receptivity which awaken upaya:  imaginative solutions that leap outside the ruts our minds usually circle in.(pps. 145-6)

At the bottom of the web page describing the Green Party’s ten key values is a disclaimer:

There is no authoritative version of the Ten Key Values of the Greens.  The Ten Key Values are guiding principles that are adapted and defined to fit each state and local chapter.

Non-dogmatism, then, lies at the heart of both Buddhism and the Green Party, but I think there is an important difference between the two:  it is possible to be an intellectual Green who participates in the party but does not actually live the values, but in order to be a Buddhist one must actually practice what Buddhism offers.  However, just as it is possible to practice Hatha Yoga without being a formal, observant Hindu, so the mental disciplines (which are often referred to as “yogas”) of meditation and attention that are at the core of Buddhism can be practiced without formally becoming a Buddhist.  Of course, these yogas will be more effective in a more formal context, but there is plenty of benefit to be derived from “generic” meditation, just as spending fifteen minutes a day doing hatha yoga asanas is valuable whether or not one dedicates them to Shiva or Krishna.

The Green Party has been searching for the key that will take it from its current marginal status into the realm of being a serious contender in the American political arena.  I would humbly submit that if every Green were to take his or her personal transformation as seriously as the social and political transformation whose necessity we all see, our power would be magnified and unimaginable possibilities would open up.

I could be wrong; perhaps nothing can pull America back over the brink; and I certainly have no way to make anybody else change their life.  But I do strongly suggest that anyone who cares deeply about the fate of America will benefit from reading David Loy’s little bookMoney Sex War Karma, and following his simple advice.  I don’t know of any better idea.

music:  Bruce Cockburn, “The Gift








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