FRACK WHORES, FASCISTS, AND FOOLS

24 03 2013

Mothers of Invention: Brown Shoes Don’t Make It

Mothers of Invention:  Thirteen (from “You Can’t Say That On Stage Anymore, Vol. 6–not available on the net, sorry!)

Mothers of Invention:  Jesus Thinks You’re a Jerk (from “Broadway the Hard Way,” ditto)

As I promised a couple of weeks ago, I did indeed turn out for the anti-fracking demonstration, and the accompanying hearing, at Legislative Plaza, last Friday.  The best thing I can say about it is that it was great to see old friends and new, young faces.  It’s good to feel that this movement is being passed on, even if that’s accompanied by the distinct sensation that it’s being pissed on, as well.

Nature

The hearing was definitely a pisser.  Numerous people called the fracking decision into question on all the obvious grounds–conflict of interest, failure to take into account the value of an unspoiled natural environment, and the dubiousness of the alleged benefits that fracking brings to communities.  Channel 5, bless their hearts, did a background investigation that uncovered the fact that making money, not doing studies, is UT’s primary motivation in opening their forest research center to fracking.  It won’t be much good for forestry studies after the frackers are done with it!  Some members of the State Building Commission even raised the all-important question, “what happens if we get a few years into this and discover that it’s a really bad idea?”

“Trust us,” UT’s representative said, just what BP’s people said when they started deep water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, just like what Exxon’s representatives said before the Exxon Valdez ran aground, just what Shell said when they attempted to moor an offshore drilling rig in the Arctic Ocean last year.

Here’s quotes from some of the emails Channel 5 uncovered: Read the rest of this entry »

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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





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





SUSTAINABILITY? GROWTH? OR GROWING SUSTAINABIILITY?

12 09 2010

I recently read the “Sustainable Tennessee Agenda,” issued by the Tennessee Environmental Council and Tennessee Conservation Voters.  You can find it online yourself at www.SustainableTN.org.  I had to double-check the date to make sure it wasn’t really written in 1980, at the close of the Carter administration, when the steps recommended in this report would have had a better chance of succeeding.

I know people who are involved with these groups, and I know their hearts are in the right place, but I would like to ask them a few questions, like:

“Are you candy coating the depth of what we face for mass consumption?”

“Are you soft pedaling what we need to do about it because you’re aware of how little political traction this will get in a legislature that’s barely willing to grudgingly admit that the world is not flat and wasn’t created in 4004 BC?”

“Do you really think our knuckle-dragging legislature would go for even these half-, or more realistically, quarter- and eighth measures, anyway?”

Sorry if I seem kinda unfriendly, guys.  It’s just that it’s time to stop fretting about replacing the Titanic’s incandescent bulbs with compact florescents and get our butts into some lifeboats.  Let me count the ways:

They start out on the right foot, giving us a good definition of “sustainability”:

The concept of sustainability can be defined simply as, “no waste”. Waste is a measure of economic efficiency, and a simple metric Tennesseans can utilize to measure how sustainable our lifestyles and communities have become. We can monitor waste generated, or lack
thereof, to track our progress toward sustainability as individuals, organizations and societies.  Sustainability can also be defined in more complex terms that include economic criteria, natural resources and equity of access.

Unfortunately, the very next paragraph steps off into liberal la-la land, with its invocation of the magic g-word:  “growth.”

A sustainable strategy for Tennessee will position our state to stimulate a growing Green Economy and Green Jobs sector. The Green Economy potentially represents an economic future like Tennessee has never seen before. It is a retooling of our failing infrastructure in a manner that promotes Tennessee heritage, our communities and our quality of Life. This strategy insures that labor-intensive Green Collar Jobs are created locally and training programs are initiated so segments of the population currently unemployed or underemployed can benefit from stable well-paying opportunities.

Initially, you might think a lot depends on interpretation: are they daydreaming about the never-never land of a “growing,” but somehow “sustainable” economy?  Or are they simply recognizing that our “green economy” is currently miniscule, and will need to grow to replace the functions of the “growth economy” as it rots like a dead cow in a hot field?  The report’s repeated invocation of “growth” gives me the distinct and disappointed impression that the writers of this report are clinging to the idea that “growth,” the cancerous destruction of the natural world, will still be happening in our future, somehow made “smart” and “green” by higher standards and new laws.

I doubt it.  The report talks of training “at-risk youth and young adults” to do energy conserving retrofits on existing buildings.  I got news, folks–there’s already plenty of well-trained construction workers with families and mortgages (or just the rented roof over their heads) who are “at risk” of becoming homeless if they don’t find work soon.  And the money for this project is coming from…..?  Sorry, we’ve got a war to fight, no money for domestic make-work programs.

But, if the housing and commercial real-estate boom, which has been the main driver of our economy ever since manufacturing jobs started going overseas, if that boom has busted, the only boom left is the coal and natural gas extraction industry, which aims to pulverize Tennessee’s countryside so we can keep the lights on in the cities.  Hey, nobody can afford to live in the middle of nowhere anymore, who cares what it looks like or if you can drink the water?  The report takes a strong stand against mountaintop removal and gas fracting–the idea of injecting fracting chemicals into Tennessee’s cave-riddled topography sounds like a recipe for nightmare to me, but since we’ve got a nightmare legislature (that’s probably only gong to get scarier), there’s no telling what they will approve for the sake of those generous campaign contributions.  I will stand with you on this issue, folks, even if I think you’re more than a little out of touch when you talk about “growth.”

Likewise, the section on solid waste recycling is…solid, calling for increased recycling and composting and an end to Tennessee’s bizarre practice of labeling landfilled construction materials as “recycled.”  Talk of composting leads to the subject of local agriculture, which the Sustainable Agenda, of course, strongly supports.

Calling for better public transportation, on the other hand, is one of those too-little-too-late platform planks.  Our entire infrastructure is built around the private automobile, and the result is that there are not a lot of “masses” needing transportation–points of origin, destinations, and times of travel are so fractured that it would be difficult to locate a mass-transit system that would actually be serviceable for most people.  And then there’s two other factors:  construction money, and the continued existence of jobs to which people need to commute.

The “education” section talks about the importance of creating a “no child left inside” program, and generally instituting conservation/pollution awareness/environmental programs in our schools.  They don’t mention the movement towards hands-on gardening as a school project, but I’m sure they would approve of it being in the mix.  Maybe they thought it was a little too radical to mention out front.  I don’t know.

So, I’ve been a real Mr. Smarty Pants about this report–what would I do different?

Let’s start with education and “green jobs.”  Through most of history, most people have spent most of their time producing food, or providing the technology needed to produce it.  We’ve had a couple of hundred year break from that, but the break is drawing to a close.  Farmers, herders, hunters, gatherers, blacksmiths, basket weavers, barn and granary builders, harness and buggy makers are the wave of the future…oops, no jet backpacks….sorry ’bout that!  We also need clothes, at least part of the year, and shoes come in handy.  Weavers and spinners and tailors and seamstresses and shoe makers will once again be important as well.  It won’t all be a throwback to the past.  There will be plenty of work recycling and repurposing the detritus of our current consumer culture.   And, let’s not forget millers and bakers, and the facilities they need to ply their trades.

But we do not live by bread alone.  We need to educate people not only in these practical skills, but in the expressive arts as well.  We are not “going back” to lives that are “brutish, nasty, and short.”  We are going forward with the cultural heritage of the entire history of the planet.  Gilgamesh and James Joyce, Beowulf and the Beatles.  Local manufacture of paper and ink, and local printers, will be important.  The internet will not be with us forever, I suspect.

I  believe it is not too late to create a future in which nobody needs to, as Thoreau said, “lead a life of quiet desperation, and go to their grave with the song still in them.”  We need musical instrument makers, and millions of people to play, really play, those instruments, millions of people who are not afraid to sing while they work and when their workday is done, in millions of neighborhoods, not for fame and profit, but just for fun.

We also need to educate people to celebrate our heritage and history, to understand our triumphs and mistakes and our place in the cosmos, not to mention fostering an understanding of how our own minds work, and we will need truly creative teachers to foster this kind of education.

I haven’t even mentioned “the healing arts”…but I’m running out of time.

The “green jobs” future I foresee may not be “well-paying opportunities” as we think of them today, for the simple reason that there will not be that much “money” around in the future, but it will, in the report’s words, be  “an economic future like Tennessee has never seen before….a retooling of our failing infrastructure in a manner that promotes Tennessee heritage, our communities and our quality of Life.”

We won’t be rich, but we might just be a whole lot happier than we are on the current treadmill.  Whatever it turns out to be, I’ll see you there!

Burning Times, “The Only Green World”





TEA PARTIES: BOSTON….OR WONDERLAND?

10 04 2010

When I read about the shenanigans perpetrated by the Republican Party lately, I don’t just wonder “What are they thinking?”  I wonder if they are thinking at all, or if they are merely DNA-powered robots in an extremely reactonary, defensive response to the fact that everything that has ever given them security and a sense of self is vanishing like smoke.

There’s plenty of evidence that there is no thinking involved here, most prominently the “Obama is a Marxist/Socialist!” movement, which I commented on last month.  That post, in which I decried the absurdity of calling Obama a “socialist” and pointed out some of the many ways he does the bidding of the capitalist, corporatist masters of America, prompted a reader who identified himself as “Commieblaster,” from College Road in Olive Branch, Mississippi (oh, the irony!), to comment “Obama isn’t a socialist, he’s a Marxist,” and direct me to his website, www.commieblaster.com.

Well, fair is fair.  If Mr. Commieblaster is open-minded enough to read me, I owe it to him to pay a visit to his domain, and so I did.  Oh, my.

“Eighty members of Congress are Socialists!”  he warns.  What, in his book, makes them “socialists”?  Primarily, it seems, association with an organization called “Democratic Socialists of America,” whose website opens with these words:

Democratic Socialists believe that both the economy and society should be run democratically—to meet public needs, not to make profits for a few. To achieve a more just society, many structures of our government and economy must be radically transformed through greater economic and social democracy so that ordinary Americans can participate in the many decisions that affect our lives.

So….the tea partiers, who are reacting to what they perceive as an autocratic government, also feel threatened by the idea that “ordinary Americans” ought to be able to “participate in the many decisions that affect our lives”?   Go figure….

DSA’s site also features a number of articles complaining about Obama’s rightward course  and an interview that specifically addresses “Why Obama is Not a Socialist.”  Other criteria for being a “Socialist,” according to Mr. Commieblaster, include supporting Hamas rather than Israel (which was once described as “the most socialist country outside the Eastern Bloc” and where the government still has far more influence on the private sector than in the US), and entertaining the possibility that Mumia Abu-Jamal was framed.  So…does that make sense to you?

Shortly after hearing from Mr. Commieblaster, I ran across an article written by that ol’ devil Commie, the last Marxist left standing, Fidel Freaking Castro himself, in which Castro said flat out

BARACK Obama is a fanatical believer in the imperialist capitalist system imposed by the United States on the world. “God bless the United States,” he ends his speeches…..

The current administration’s militarist policies, its plunder of natural resources and unequal exchange with the poor countries of the Third World are in no way different from those of its predecessors, almost all of them extremely right-wing, with some exceptions, throughout the past century.

That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement, is it?

Perhaps Commieblaster would say that Castro is dissembling (the devil is, after all, “the father of lies”), but actions speak louder than words, and the evidence still stands that, with every move they have made, from bailing out banks in the financial crisis to promoting coal and nuclear energy development to subsidizing for-profit health insurance to creating a nationwide broadband system by helping out Comcast, the strategies that Obama and all those “socialists” in Congress have employed have propped up the capitalist system, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that highly centralized, private, for-profit systems are the least sensible, efficient, and economically viable means to promote the common good of the American people.

But I’m not going to talk about that right now.  I’m going to keep examining the reactionary, right-wing mindset that looks at Democratic party corporate shills and sees Marxist-Leninists.  Commieblaster is, as far as I know, just another guy on the street like me.  Let’s look at what happens when the people he supports are elected to office and actually get to act on their vision.

We don’t have to look far to do that, because our own state legislature here in Tennessee is dominated by tea-party types.  What have they been up to lately?

Exhibit A:  A committee of the Tennessee House recently sent four bills on to the whole legislature.    To quote Jeff Woods of the Nashville Scene:

Two .. measures are state constitutional amendments …to ban the individual mandate and the other to decree that the free enterprise system will live forever in Tennessee.

(The other) Two… are identical–both bills that supposedly would nullify the law’s mandate that all Americans buy insurance. There are two of these bills because their respective sponsors, Rep. Susan Lynn and Sen. Mae Beavers, are running against each other in August’s primary and anxious to take sole credit for this monumental achievement.

They all passed by voice votes to loud cheers from tea partiers…..

And…two things stand out about this example.  The first is that our country’s first Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, fought and won a civil war in this country  over the question of whether states have the power to nullify Federal law.  The decision was, they can’t do that.

Well, times have changed, you might argue.  OK, how about this one:  our most recent Republican administration likewise argued strongly that states did not have the power to nullify Federal law….in the words of that notorious socialist, Antonin Scalia,

The regulation of an intrastate activity may be essential to a comprehensive regulation of interstate commerce even though the intrastate activity does not itself “substantially affect” interstate commerce. Moreover… Congress may regulate even noneconomic local activity if that regulation is a necessary part of a more general regulation of interstate commerce. …The relevant question is simply whether the means chosen are “reasonably adapted” to the attainment of a legitimate end under the commerce power.

In other words, the Federal Government can tell the states to sit down and shut up.

But hey, Scalia said that in the Raich vs. Ashcroft case, which was about whether the federal government had to recognize California’s medical marijuana laws, and everybody knows that anything goes when you’re trying to stamp out the evil weed…but the Bush junta also successfully swatted down Oregon’s assisted suicide  law and California’s attempts to raise mileage standards on cars. So….states can nullify federal law if Republicans want to fight the gummint, but when Democrats try to insist on states’ rights, it’s not OK.  That seems to be the underlying principle here, does it not?

Exhibit B:  Our state legislature has, by overwhelming majorities and without debate, passed a law requiring all medical facilities that perform abortions to post the following language prominently (in 40-point type) in their waiting rooms, or face serious fines if the signage is absent:

“Notice: It is against the law for anyone, regardless of the person’s relationship to you, to coerce you into having or to force you to have an abortion. By law, we cannot perform an abortion on you unless we have your freely given and voluntary consent. It is against the law to perform an abortion on you against your will. You have the right to contact any local or state law enforcement agency to receive protection from any actual or threatened criminal offense to coerce an abortion.”

Lawmakers soundly rejected an amendment that would have included language pointing out that it is also against the law to force anyone NOT to have an abortion.  In their perception, pro-abortion pressure from Planned Parenthood and domineering husbands is much more of a threat than anti-abortion pressure from fundamentalist churches and domineering husbands. Senator Beverly Marrero, one of the only two State Senators who had the courage to vote against this bill (the other was Andy Berke), said of it

We all know this legislation is purely political, designed to increase the anti-abortion bona fides of lawmakers up for re-election this year.

I couldn’t agree with her more.

Exhibit C:  My state representative’s “weekly update” informed me about HB 3280 which, to quote from the bill summary

..revises the substances that give rise to the offense described above in (1), so that it would be unlawful to operate or be in control of a motor driven vehicle while under the influence of any intoxicant, marijuana, “drug, substance or combination thereof, affecting” the central nervous system instead of a “narcotic drug or drug producing stimulating effects on” the central nervous system.”

“Any substance that affects the central nervous system”?  What substance that we take into our bodies doesn’t affect our central nervous system?  The bill was aimed at making it illegal to operate a motor vehicle under the influence of anything that might negatively affect a person’s judgement and response time, but, taken literally, makes it illegal to drive under the influence of coffee, food, or any of the many prescription drugs that have “do not operate heavy equipment” warnings on their labels.  I take one of those, metoprolol, and I can’t say that I or anyone close to me has observed it affecting my judgement or co-ordination.   Of course, this  It will  probably be used mostly to persecute people whose urine tests positive for marijuana, in spite of overwhelming evidence that marijuana metabolites in urine are not an indication that one is “under the influence of” marijuana, and despite research by the National Highway Traffic Safety Board that pretty well exonerates marijuana as a cause of hazardous driving.

Well, maybe I shouldn’t get my dander up too much about this, just yet.  Although it passed the House unanimously, so far it’s bogged down in committee in the Senate, which is taking up more important things like allowing mountaintop removal in Tennessee, in spite of the fact that the state generates far more revenue from people coming to appreciate our scenery than it does from people destroying the scenery to pull a little coal out from under it.  And that’s just one argument.

And there’s a bill that will insist that all driver’s license tests shall be conducted in English,unless the applicant’s stay in the country has been

approved and authorized by the United States department of homeland security for a specific purpose, including investing, overseeing investment, or providing needed services to companies or businesses in Tennessee, and for a specified period of authorized stay,

In other words, rich foreigners are welcome; poor ones are not.  This one, too, has yet to emerge from the committee thicket, and the state’s business interests are speaking up against it, so sense may yet prevail in this case.

We also have the spectacle of our supposedly Democratic governor worrying that more people will find out they’re eligible for Medicare and sign up for it, easing their own medical expenses but increasing the state’s.

I could tell you more, but I think I have gone on just about long enough.

Into this tea party atmosphere, more reminiscent of Wonderland than Boston, strides Howard Switzer, who is once again the Green Party’s gubernatorial candidate.  I wish we had a horde of people running for state legislature positions to back him up, but alas, it ain’t happening this year.  You can find Howard’s blog at switzer4governor.blogspot.com/

Naomi Wolf, author of The Shock Doctrine, has found a new popularity among the tea partiers, and in a recent interview she said she has some faith that their questioning of authority will, in the long run, be beneficial.  I hope she’s right.  I am concerned that the tea partiers will turn out to be the 21st century version of the SA, the “brown shirts” who provided the populist muscle that brought Hitler to power and were quickly disposed of as a political force once he and his corporate conspirators consolidated their hold on Germany.  On the other hand, Hitler did not have to contend with shrinking resources and a shifting climate, both forces that are more than equal to the task of toppling a civilization.

Unless they do come to their senses, the tea partiers, who seem to have the momentum in US politics at this point, will continue to spend their energy in irrelevant, illusory, paranoid pursuits, codifying intolerance and ignorance, and squashing any dissent other than their own.  I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

music:  Greg Brown, Worrisome Years





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”





PUTTING A BANDAID ON CANCER

11 02 2006

It’s been called putting a bandaid on cancer, and that’s not even my wild-eyed, crazy way of saying it. Tennessee State Senator Steve Cohen, an elected official, called it that. But he’s an advocate of medical marihuana, so maybe he is wild-eyed and crazy. Still, he’s an state senator, and I, who am deeply suspicious of elected officials, am inclined to agree with him. What we are referring to is the ethics reform bill just passed by the Tennessee Legislature. Like any promise of reform from an unrepentant addict, it’s heartbreakingly meaningless. The bill puts limits on what lobbyists can do, but that’s like putting limits on how much a shark can bite instead of getting rid of the shark—if the shark has to take ten little bites to eat you instead of one big one, he’ll just take his time and bite you ten times to get what he wants, because you still haven’t kept him from getting what he wants.

What would “getting rid of the shark” look like? We can see an example in the State of Maine, which has recently made public financing of political campaigns a cornerstone of its democracy. Most Maine legislators are now campaigning with funds provided by the taxpayers of Maine, instead of the state’s wealthy business interests, and it is making a difference. Maine is now the only state in the Union that offers universal health care—something blocked year after year by lobbying interests although poll after poll reveals its popularity and study after study reveals its sanity. Just for another example, Maine has also passed legislation guaranteeing truckers overtime pay, although every trucking company in the state opposed it.

Here’s how lobbying and state government work elsewhere: in West Virginia, when legislation was introduced due to public outrage over accidents from illegally overloaded coal trucks, by the time the  lobbyists got through with it the law raised the legal load limit on coal trucks

A great deal of this has to do with the legal notion that corporations are “persons” in somewhat the same sense that you and I are persons: corporations are entitled to the same rights of free speech and discretionary spending that human beings are. (Fortunately, they have not yet been accorded the right to vote—although they can buy elections a lot more easily than you or I!) Now, there are some important differences between a corporation with the right of free speech and discretionary spending and a human being with those rights.

First, a corporation is likely to have a great deal more money and other resources than a human being—insofar as freedom of the press is for those who own one, they can buy not merely presses but editors and publishers and distributors and retail outlets. They can buy out their competition and shut it down much more readily than a private citizen can. Comcast, Bell, and some other big corporations are trying to do that to the internet, even as we speak.

Second, corporations, properly run, live much longer than human beings, and having composite brains made up of replaceable individuals dedicated to their service, are capable of carrying out more complex and longer-term plans than individual human beings. This can be a good thing. It can also be a very bad thing.

Third, a for-profit corporation is committed through its charter to one basic purpose: becoming bigger and wealthier. To state this a little differently, for-profit corporations are dedicated to infinite self-agrandisement. If this were the case for an individual human being, that person would be deemed a dangerous sociopath or psychopath, removed from all positions of responsibility, and segregated from society. In the case of corporations, we tend to put them in positions of responsibility and let them order society. I don’t know about you, but this does not make sense to me.

Not-for-profit corporations, by contrast, are primarily dedicated to providing some kind of service, rather than to self-enrichment. This is a much saner business model.

A fourth difference between corporations and individual humans is that, while humans may face capital punishment for crimes against society, corporations face no such direct threat. Only financial judgments may be levied against them, and if those financial judgments wreak havoc with the corporate bottom line, there are bankruptcy courts that are the financial equivalent of Intensive Care Units, designed to do everything they can to keep their corporate patients’ cash flowing. There is no such state-run fallback mechanism for individual human beings who run afoul of the death penalty—and due to recent changes in the law there’s a lot less help for those of us who fall into mere bankruptcy, too.

Now, I seem to be a bit far afield from ethics reform in the Tennessee Legislature, but I think real legislative ethics reform has to be sweeping enough to bring corporations to heel, including capital punishment for the most serious corporate crimes. That is, a corporation should be subject to dissolution for doing things that get large numbers of people killed or injured—think Bhopal, Three Mile Island, Dow, Dupont, asbestos, coal mining…the corporate sector in America is completely out of control. It should exist to serve the people, not the other way ’round, as our current government advocates.

I think another wider reform that would bring us a more ethical government would be greater competition in the political field. We need to work to break up the Demopublican stranglehold on elected office. The either-or political choices we are forced into by this monopoly do not encourage creative thinking. We need to make politics more of a multiple choice affair. Just for openers, we need to make it legal for so-called “third party” candidates to list their party affiliation on the Tennessee ballot.

Equally important would be the institution of Instant Runoff voting, which allows you to vote for your second choice as well as your first choice. For example, I’d rather see the Green Party’s Chris Lugo as senator from Tennessee than Democrat Harold Ford, but I’d much rather see Ford in the post than, just for example, Van Hilleary. So I could cast my primary vote for Chris, and my secondary vote for Harold. And, if Chris doesn’t win, but Ford can plainly see that he won because he was the second choice of a substantial minority of Green Party voters, then he knows he has to keep the Green Party faction happy to get elected. And if Chris gets elected because a whole lot of people feel more comfortable voting for a Green over a Democrat because they know they’re not supporting a Republican by splitting the non-Republican vote, so much the better.

Other reform measures that would result in a more honest legislature would be making referendum and recall readily available to the citizens of Tennessee, so that not only do the Republicrats lose their monopoly on elected office, the legislature no longer has a monopoly on enacting legislation. And of course, the foundation of any electoral system is a tamper-proof voting system—for which we need national legislation to replace Bush’s Helping Americans Vote Republican act, which, by pushing states towards non-verifiable electronic voting systems, makes it easier to steal elections.

Meanwhile, there’s cancer in our legislature and all we’ve got for it is this lousy bandaid. Guess we need to make more noise.

(no music segue)








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