NAACP vs. THE ZOMBIES

12 05 2012

We just listened to Richard and Mimi Farina’s”House Un-American Activity Blues Dream,” an electrified and electrifying musical offering that preceded Bob Dylan’s more famous “Bringing It All Back Home”  by several months, and marks the initial cross-fertilization between rock and folk music.  Although it’s  almost fifty years old, it continues to resonate–one recent commentator on Rombama/Obomney even went so far as to note that

Both Obama and Romney stay fit, dress sharply and look vaguely out of sync when wearing blue jeans.

certainly an odd echo of Farina’s line about “Presidential candidates in new Levi jeans.”

And Farina’s solution to his feelings of alienation in the USA–a trip to Cuba–continues to raise American hackles, as Ozzie  Guillen discovered to his dismay.  Talk about getting “banged hard on the head”!

But most of us are not going to pick up and go elsewhere.  “America, love it or leave it,” the reactionaries used to say in the sixties, and a lot of us lefties, from old SDS types like me to the youngest Occupiers, have picked up that gauntlet and said, “yeah, I love America and I ain’t leaving.  What are you gonna do about it?”

The answer has been, “do everything we can to disfranchise as many left-wingers as possible, so we can continue to hold the reins in this country.”  Some people have been directly disfranchised, like the five million or more Americans who cannot vote because they have been convicted of felonies.  The US is one of the only countries in which felony conviction results in permanent loss of voting rights, at the same time as it has, both by percentage and in raw numbers, more of its population in jail or under control of the penal system through probation and parole than any other country in the world, largely for “victimless” crimes such as drugs–mostly marijuana–pornography, prostitution, and traffic violations.  The allegedly felonious percentage of our population picked up markedly when Reagan declared the “war on drugs,” which, as I commented last month, turned the “war on poverty” into a war on the poor.

this is your prison population on a “war on drugs”!

Even if they have never suffered legal consequences from the herb’s contraband status, marijuana users who wish to remain free will tend to keep a lower political profile due to their vulnerability, an effective form of “passive-aggressive” repression that, I believe, is one of the deliberate consequences of the government’s unrelenting efforts to keep marijuana illegal.

But there are subtler ways to disfranchise people than by outright busting them.  The NAACP has written an excellent report on this subject, and I’m going to summarize it for you. It’s called “Defending Democracy:  Confronting Modern Barriers to Voting Rights In America.”

The NAACP starts by pointing out that the non-white population of the US is increasing faster than the white population.  I was surprised to learn that heavily white Republican-ruled Texas is now a “majority-minority” state–one in which non-whites outnumber whites.  This is also the status of California, Hawaii, and the District of Columbia.  I was also surprised to learn that five other states–Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Maryland, and Nevada–are likely to join that category by the next census.  in this context, the extraordinary efforts of mostly white Republicans to limit ballot access and civil rights that have been so prominent  in Arizona, Florida, and Georgia make sense–the old order is indeed crumbling, and those who have reaped its benefits are determined not to surrender them without a fight.  In those states and others, the NAACP lists several common tactics:

1 )Tighter restrictions on voter registration drives, such as the extreme penalties imposed in some states for getting registration details wrong or failing to return  petitions in a very narrow window of time.

2 ) Greater limitations on where and when citizens can register to vote.  State legislatures have moved to shut down “same day registration,” which allows citizens to register and cast a ballot at the same time.  Other states have simply never complied with the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, which required state public assistance agencies to provide voter registration services.  “Public assistance agencies” doesn’t just mean “welfare agencies”–it includes motor vehicle and drivers’ license bureaus.

3) Stricter laws about proof of eligibility, such as demanding “proof of citizenship.”  Many older African-Americans were born at home and never had a birth certificate, thus cannot “prove” they are citizens.  Another way in which white Republicans are limiting the right to vote is by instituting longer residency requirements.  This has a heavier impact on non-whites, who, since they are less likely to own their own homes, move more frequently than whites.

4 )Some states are reversing more liberal policies about re-enfranchising ex-felons, which has, according to the NAACP, removed “hundreds of thousands” of–primarily non-white–voters from the rolls. This has been most egregious in Florida, whichis one of the states teetering on the brink of being “majority-minority,” while Iowa has some of the strictest anti-drug laws in the country.

5) States are purging voters from the voter rolls on the allegation that they are dead, have moved out of the district, or are felons, when in fact they may merely have the same name as such a person. Frequently, those purged are not notified and only find out they have been erroneously disqualified when they show up to vote. According to the NAACP  “in Florida, a flawed purge program erroneously flagged and purged 12,000 voters (mostly due to typos and other obvious clerical errors). Over 70% of those flagged voters were African-American or Latino.”

6) Many states have substantially reduced the days and hours when early voting is allowed.  Since people of color are more likely than whites to be working jobs that will not allow them to take time off to go to the polls for a Tuesday election, this has a disproportionate impact on non-white, low-income voters, who are likely to favor candidates espousing more liberal social policies–i.e., candidates who are not Republicans.

7) Many states have passed laws requiring voters to present a photo ID.  According to the NAACP’s report, “Eleven percent of U.S. citizens nationwide—approximately 22.9 million people—do not have government-issued photo IDs. Twenty-five percent of African-American voting-age citizens (over six million people) and 16% of Latino voting-age citizens (nearly three million people) do not possess valid government-issued photo ID. ”  Note that the average is one in ten, but among African-Americans, it’s one in four.  When you factor in the one out of every eight African-American men who can’t vote because of a felony conviction (and granted there’s some overlap), the trend gets kind of obvious, doesn’t it?

And why is this happening?  Proponents of tighter restrictions on voter eligibility blow a lot of hot air about “voter fraud,” but even their best efforts have turned up only an insignificant number of unqualified people attempting to vote, certainly not enough in any district to actually influence an election, and most cases are due to clerical error or misunderstanding.  On the other hand, advocates of stricter voter ID laws in South Carolina were honest, or foolish, enough to come out and say, according to the NAACP’s well-footnoted document, “that suppression of the African-American vote was ‘why we ‘need [voter ID laws in South Carolina].”

And that wasn’t just an isolated, fringe opinion.  The NAACP also quotes American Legislative Exchange Council founder Paul Weyrich, who said

“our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”

This sounds like a job for the U.S. Department of Justice, which has the 1965 Voting Rights Act to use against such blatant racism.  But there’s good news and bad news there.  The good news is, Section 5 of the Act requires the DOJ to  “preclear”  any changes in the voting laws in 15 target states that have reputations for discriminating against minorities. That is, the Department of Justice has to OK changes, including redistricting plans, before they can be implemented.  The bad news is, that only applies to 15 states, while the American Legislative Exchange Council’s henchmen and henchwomen have pushed through restrictive legislation in 31 states.  The further bad news is that the DOJ’s enforcement of the Voting Rights Act has grown increasingly anemic through the years, and came to a virtual standstill  during the Cheney administration.  Despite rhetoric to the contrary, under the Obama administration the DOJ has not focused on this area, seemingly preferring the easier pickings of going after medical marijuana providers, while the restricted-voting cabal pushes several cases on the Constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act through the Courts, probably figuring that, if they can persist long enough to get it all the way to the Supremes, that fascist body will grant their petition. The court’s stance has pretty uniformly been “more rights for rich corporations, fewer for the average Joe, or, as George Orwell put it in Animal Farm,  “Some animals are more equal than others.”

And, even if the Supreme Court, Inc. doesn’t take the case or decides in favor of the Voting Rights Act, the corporatists will keep on coming, just as they have kept on coming about abortion, climate change denial, and every other issue that might imperil their control or their profits.  If you’ve been thinking,” if this is an Apocalypse, where are the zombies?” you need look no further.  They Who Cannot Die are in the Republican Party, propelled by the profit motive and dysfunctional belief systems.  If it wasn’t so serious, it would be pathetically humorous to watch the Democrats attempting to reason with them.   The NAACP’s report concludes with a call to return to the tactics that initially advanced the Civil Rights movement, which, considering the many differences between America 50 years ago and America now, may or may not be effective, especially since corporatism has largely displaced populism in the halls of power.  They–no, we–had better gird up our loins.  It’s going to be quite a struggle.

music:  Ani DiFranco, “Which Side Are You On?” (1st link is the recorded version, 2nd is a wonderfully spirited live one)





LOSING INTEREST

10 09 2011

Texas Governor Rick Perry recently lead a three-day prayer marathon, asking for God to make it rain on Texas.  God’s answer?  Tropical Storm Lee skipped the state, and even more wildfires have broken out.  No reports yet of any brimstone, but a volcanic eruption in Texas would put quite a cap on the summer disaster season, wouldn’t it?  Where are all the Evangelicals who have framed other natural disasters as God’s wrathful judgment on the sinners of New Orleans, New York,  or wherever?  If God is all-powerful and on their side, how come he’s burning up the home state of his self-proclaimed most devoted servant?  Do I blaspheme?

Speaking of God’s wrath, today is the tenth anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center.  I’m starting to suspect we will never know the real story of what happened, despite the many obvious contradictions and peculiar decisions contained in the official version.  For instance:  cell phones didn’t work on airplanes in 2001–how was someone allegedly on one of the hijacked flights able to make cell phone calls?  How could an airliner hit a building at ground level (the Pentagon), and disintegrate so thoroughly that virtually no trace of the airliner was left?  How could somebody with virtually no experience flying an airliner do such a good job of flying it so close to the ground?  Why was no attempt made to shoot the plane down before it hit?  And if, as some claim, it was a missile and not an airplane that hit the Pentagon, thus explaining the lack of debris, what happened to the missing airplane?

And that’s just the Pentagon–moving to the main event, in New York, we don’t know how a kerosene (aka jet fuel) fire could get hot enough to melt structural steel–there are videos that seem to show molten metal pouring out of the stricken floors of the World Trade Center, and plenty of eyewitness reports of molten metal in the collapsed ruins.  Why were the remains of the buildings hastily recycled, rather than carefully examined for evidence of why they collapsed?  Why were traces of high explosives found in World Trade Center structure samples that were independently analyzed?  Why did Building 7, which was not hit by an airplane, and contained the security camera records for the towers, collapse and burn hours after the main event?

On the other hand, if it was, as many allege, a controlled demolition, how could the enormous amount of material needed have been spirited into the building and put in place without attracting notice?  Such a task would require so many hands that it is hard to believe that everyone’s lips would remain sealed after ten years.

I haven’t even touched on the larger questions–who knew what, and when.  Perhaps that is why our government took such great care to seal Mr. Bin Laden’s lips and confiscate his records.  We may never know if the attack occurred without the knowledge of our government, or whether it occurred with the collusion or outright participation of our government.  After all, the neoconservative “Project for a New American Century” had, only the year before, proclaimed a need for “a new Pearl Harbor” to galvanize Americans into supporting a war that, they believed, would result in American dominance of the Middle East and its oil.  And Pearl Harbor, let us not forget, was an attack that upper echelons of U.S. intelligence may have known  about, and allowed to happen, in order to…galvanize Americans into supporting a war.  Maybe that’s what happened.  As I said, there’s a lot we just don’t know.

But, in a way, it doesn’t matter whether Dick Cheney was in on the 9-11 plot or not.   It doesn’t even matter that the country, or at least the media, has largely lost interest in these questions. What the attack really succeeded in doing was provoking a massive increase in U.S. government spending–and borrowing.  Our national debt nearly doubled during the Cheney administration, largely due to increased war and “homeland security” spending.  This was all part of a mindset that saw no need to regulate or rein in government spending on big business , or in any way question the basic assumption on which our economy runs:  economic growth is the ultimate good thing.

And that is where this country has run into trouble, because our commitment to unrestrained economic growth at any cost was bound to create a crash, sooner or later, and increased government spending and borrowing–not to mention private sector spending and borrowing, as in the consumer credit boom–just brought the contradictions to a head that much faster.

Here’s the key:  a financial system based on loaning money at interest presumes that the economy can somehow grow indefinitely.  There is no way to pay off an interest-bearing loan other than to somehow create more wealth than the original loan represents.  But oops!  That presumes infinite growth on this small and extremely finite–not to mention fragile–planet.

In the prescient climactic scene from the 1983 Monty Python movie “The Meaning of Life,” the Chairman of the Very Big Corporation of America says

… which brings us once again to the urgent realisation of just how much there is still left to own.

In 1983, it seemed that there was still a lot left to own, but, just a few years later, the field had narrowed considerably.  By the early 90’s, the planet’s material resources were pretty much accounted for or tapped out, and bankers started resorting to what you could call ‘creative financing”–Collateralized Debt Obligations, Collateralized Bond Obligations, and so forth, even a second generation of essentially artificial financial instruments based on CDO’s, etc., which catapulted high finance into a realm of such huge amounts of–ultimately–imaginary money that the only “collateral” for these abstract investment opportunities was more  abstract money, because there just wasn’t enough actual stuff to do the job.  The world of finance had run out of things to own, and yet  banksters made billions in a market that resembled nothing so much as an off-track betting parlor for an imaginary horse race.  They made enough money to buy the U.S. government, with the result that, when their schemes blew up in their faces, they were able to manipulate that government into bailing them out instead of prosecuting them for theft and fraud.

The rest of us are not so well-connected.  Debt also became overwhelming at the family/individual level, resulting in a flood of bankruptcies and foreclosures that has decimated the American middle class and shoved the poor even farther down the storm drain.  Oh, and did I mention that part of the corporate Ponzi scheme involved moving as much manufacturing out of the US as possible, to places where they wouldn’t have to pay their workers as well, or observe expensive environmental safeguards?

Here’s some numbers:   real wages for the average person have declined by about 14% since the early 1970’s, while the cost of living,  as measured by the consumer price index,  has risen by a factor of five.  The cost of living increase is partly due to price increases, but also  involves using television to hypnotize people into believing they need things that they do not, in fact, need, thus inflating demand.

A more concrete example:  the average home price in 1972 was $27.000.  Adjusted for inflation to 2007 prices, that’s about $134,000.  But, in 2007, the average home price in the U.S. was  around $300,000, and the median was in the neighborhood of $250,000.  So, for the average American, income–down 14%,  while the price for keeping a roof over our head is up nearly 100%.  That has opened up a big hole between our expectations and our ability to fulfill them, a hole known as a “debt trap.”  The total amount of individual debt in the U.S. is about 2.4 trillion dollars, about a third of it credit card debt, the rest mostly home and college loans.  In 2009, the average household debt was only about $16K, but the average household debt of households with credit card debt was $54K.  The good news is, both these figures were about half of what they had been a year earlier.

The bad news is that a fair amount of this debt disappeared when banks gave up on collecting it, because the debtors went bankrupt.  Foreclosure, of course, technically transfers the asset to the bank, but unoccupied, unsaleable homes have a funny tendency to lose value rather rapidly.  Too bad for the banks.  My heart bleeds.

The other bad news is that, since our economy is based on credit, the fact that people are borrowing and spending less is ‘bad for the economy.”

But the good news is, our unsustainable, growth-dependent economy needs to wither and die, to keep the planet from withering and dying.  I’m not too hung up in the “either/or” of this, because it looks like the planet is going to wither and die enough to shake the cancer of our civilization, and possibly our entire species.  As one who appreciates what is valuable in humanity–our self-awareness, our ability to understand large concepts, and our ability to be compassionate with each other–I hope it doesn’t come to that.  But unless several million mostly rich, white, mostly Americans ( who are overall somewhat deficient in self-awareness, understanding, and compassion) don’t get a clue pretty quick, it could, indeed, be curtains for us.  These are interesting times, indeed.

music:  Eliza Gilkyson, “2153





STALLING TACTICS

7 11 2009

Last Thursday, Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett and Common Cause had their day in court, and the result was something of a standoff.  While Chancellor Perkins declined to force Hargett to buy optical scan vote counting machines, he did rule that the law as passed does not mandate that Hargett purchase machines that are not in fact available, as Hargett has been insisting.

I found it interesting that, when Hargett filed a brief with the court asking for dismissal of Common Cause’s suit, he did not attack their premises, he just attempted to claim sovereign immunity for the state, and questioned Common Cause’s standing to sue.  For those of you who don’t speak legalese, that means he said he couldn’t be sued over this, and if somebody could sue him, it wouldn’t be Common Cause.  As the first rule of lawyering says, “when the facts are against you, argue the law.  When the law is against you, argue the facts.  When they’re both against you, attack your opponent’s character.”  Hargett didn’t quite stoop to ad hominem attack, this time,  but he definitely had the facts against him., and he knew it.

And I’m betting that, as I was writing this on Friday afternoon, our Secretary of State and his minions were working hard to figure out how to keep dragging their feet, hoping that when the legislature convenes in January, the Republican majority will take them off the hook by delaying implementation of the bill until 2012, a move that failed by only one vote in the last legislative session.  It’s quite a change of heart from the near unanimous, bipartisan support the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act, which mandated a return to recountable ballots,  received in 2008.  What’s going on here?

I think that a look at a couple of things that happened in Texas will answer that question.  The first is the famous (in some quarters, anyway) Texas redistricting struggle of 2003, when Texas’ Republican-dominated legislature did its best to redraw the state’s congressional districts to insure a permanent Repuglycan majority in the state’s Congressional delegation.  They only succeeded in doing this because the Bush junta disregarded a memo from US Justice Department lawyers saying the scheme was illegal–and not only did they disregard the opinion, they put a gag order on the attorneys who wrote it.  Ah, the Bush years….

And, what do you know…Tennessee will be redistricting after the 2010 census…and the Repugs would sure like to be in charge of that.

The other Texas story that bears on our situation here in Tennessee is what Lou Dubose of the Washington Spectator calls “the three percent solution.”  This refers to successful efforts to suppress minority voting in order to shave a few points off likely Democratic vote percentages, insuring Republican victory.  The Repuglycan attack on ACORN and their repeated raising of the straw man of “voter fraud” are just the tip of the iceberg, it seems.

In Texas, the county tax assessor is responsible for registering voters as well, and the position is an elected, partisan office. In Houston, a Republican registrar rejected voter registration forms for such picayune reasons as failure to check a box stating that they would be 18 on the day of the election, even though applicants gave their birth date just a line or two further down the form.

We could jump to Ohio at this point, and recall that the Republican Secretary of State there rejected voter registrations that were not on the right kind of paper.

What am I getting at?  Many Republicans in Houston won their races by the proverbial hair:  50.01%, 50.15 percent–you get the picture.  In effect, they won by denying the vote to individuals they thought likely to vote Democratic.

That’s how we get back to Tennessee, where Republicans are using every delaying tactic they can find to keep using easily-hackable, unrecountable electronic voting technology.  They don’t have to do anything blatant, just switch a few votes here and there, and they can insure that they wil be the ones with their hands on the wheel and their fingers in the till in Tennessee for the foreseeable future.

OK, so why did Democrat-appointed  Secretary of State Riley Darnell pimp for computerized voting, and where was the state Democratic party when he supported what the Repugs are now clinging to?  As for Darnell, he seems to have been enjoying perks from the touch-screen voting cabal–according to verifiable voting advocate Bernie Ellis,

Darnell  served on the board of  “The Election Center,” a group founded with start-up funding by the voting machine companies which continues to promote nonverifiable voting systems that are now being rejected nationally.

And rejected internationally, too.  In a recent decision, Germany’s highest court ruled that electronic voting machines are unconstitutional in Germany because the votes are counted in secret, a story that for some strange reason attracted little notice here in the U.S.

As for why most Dems went along with Darnell on this, it’s the same stupid solidarity that gives us  right-wing wannabes like Jim Cooper, Lincoln Davis, Phil Bredeson, and Harold Ford, Jr. and gets insulted when some of us refuse to support them.  Many of those involved in this fight are active, left-wing Democrats, none of whom have a prayer of ever getting nominated for elective office.  One Democratic functionary told peace activist Chris Lugo, when he offered to be the Democratic candidate for US Senate, to  “go to hell,” and that’s probably the inner circle of the party’s attitude toward my trouble-making friends in the fair election movement, although they will be tolerated as long as the hay they’re making can be thrown at Republicans.

Hey, guys and gals, why dontcha come join the Green Party, where you’ll be appreciated and can be in charge and able to make a difference?  The door is open….

music:  Frank Zappa, “A Lie So Big”








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