12 09 2010

As you drive into Mt. Pleasant, Tennessee, you are greeted by a sign that welcomes you to “The Phosphate Capital of the World.”

Mt. Pleasant is no longer a mining town, but many of the effects remain, and they are not exactly tourist-friendly.  The city tried to become tourist-friendly by replacing the failing hardware, clothing, and appliance stores on the town square with more touristy venues–antique stores, an “old-time” soda fountain, a “phosphate museum,” and the like–but, even before the current bust, that proved a failure as well, and these days the police station is the busiest business left on the square–and how long will a town of just over 4,000 be able to afford that?

But the police department is not the kind of “tourist-unfriendly” I’m talking about.  I’m talking about the city’s chemical hangover from its “golden age” as a phosphate center.

For decades, hundreds, if not thousands, of acres around Mt. Pleasant sat unused and unusable after they had been mined for phosphate in the first half of the 20th century.  The process left behind a jumble of steep, roughly 30′ high, roughly parallel ridges, and it was not until the real estate bubble started inflating in the 80’s (sending land prices in the area zooming from a few hundred to several thousand dollars an acre) that anybody thought it was worth flattening the “mine tailings” as they were known, so they could be turned into suburban homes and strip malls.  Whoopie!

I became educated about the dirty details of phosphate mining when I was  taking care of an orchard in the area,and discovered an enormous, tree-covered, long abandoned earthwork on the steep hill above the orchard–a level area like a road cut into the hill,  with a huge earthen hump on its downhill side.  A neighbor told me this was the site of an early 20th or late 19th century phosphate extraction.   First, workers with axes and two-man saws cut all the trees down and arranged them in a long windrow.  Then  other workers used picks and shovels to dig out the phosphate ore and pile it on top of the windrow. The next step was to burn the windrow.  Heating the soil  by lighting a fire underneath it drove impurities out of the phosphate and into the atmosphere, along with a whole lot of carbon, which nobody was concerned about a hundred years ago.  The laborers who carried out this ecocide were paid sixty-five cents a day.   Sixty-five cents a day in 1900 is the equivalent of $17.10 today.  How’s that for a day’s wages?

Now, about that chemical hangover…first of all,  phosphate is radioactive.  Tobacco gets a good dose of phosphate fertilizer, and the translocation of radioactivity into its leaves may be one of the main reasons why inhaling tobacco smoke causes cancer.  Even  raw ore, the organic fertilizer known as “rock phosphate,” contains potentially dangerous levels of polonium, radon, radium, and radioactive lead.  In addition, the ore contains significant amounts of beryllium, manganese, arsenic, lead, mercury, cadmium and vanadium.  These are the “impurities”  that became airborne when the phosphate windrows were burned.  The air quality around Mount Pleasant in the heyday of primitive phosphate mining must have been anything but pleasant.

Phosphate refining methods became more..uh…”refined” as time went by, but that didn’t ease the environmental impact.  All the toxic byproducts had to go somewhere.  Somebody had the bright idea of injecting them so deep in the earth they would never come back up to the surface, but, as fracting is dramatically showing us, that doesn’t work, even in the short run, and the Zeneca Corporation had to cease and desist, pay a 3.5 million-dollar fine, and do extensive cleanup work in Mt. Pleasant due to the mess they made there.

By the way…what percent of Zeneca’s annual income is $3.5M?  As near as I can tell, the company is earning about $3.5B a year, so $3.5 million, while it sounds impressive to you and me, is a mere one-tenth of one percent of the company’s income, the equivalent of $35 to somebody who makes $35,000 a year.  Cheaper than a parking ticket.

In the 1970’s, I worked in commercial, chemically-sprayed orchards.  One of the things I learned as part of my pesticide safety education was, “if you can smell it, it’s having an effect on you.”  In the 80’s, almost every time I traveled through Mt. Pleasant, the sickly-sweet smell of newly-manufactured phosphate insecticides hung in the air.  I was grateful to just be passing through.  Some people had to live there.

The smell of organophosphate insecticides no longer wafts on the Mt. Pleasant breeze. The phosphate deposits around the town are mined out and it’s cheaper to  refine where you mine, and these days that’s the Mideast and China, where the environmental cost of doing business won’t carve that precious tenth of one percent out of anybody’s bottom line.  The good news from this is that Maury County is no longer in the top ten percent of cancer counties in Tennessee, but it’s still in the top twenty-five percent.  The binge is over, but the hangover lingers on.

Several companies contribute to maintaining Mt. Pleasant’s toxic legacy.  One is Cytec, which has taken over a chemical plant formerly run by the Avecia Corporation.  This plant, according to “Scorecard–the pollution information site,” emits levels of   developmental and reproductive toxicants and carcinogens that earn it a rating as one of America’s most polluting factories.  On its website, under the heading “Our First Priority,” the company states

Operating safely to protect our employees from workplace injuries and illnesses, to safeguard the communities adjacent to our facilities, and to preserve the natural environment for all of us and future generations is a fundamental priority at the core of everything that we do at Cytec. We have been – and continue to be – at the forefront of our industry as a leader in setting the pace in procedures, programs, and most importantly, performance relating to safety, health, and the environment.

Good luck, guys!

Two other Mt. Pleasant polluters are Tennessee Aluminum Processors and  Smelter Services Corporation, neither of which rank high as carcinogen sources, but which do rank nationally as  polluters in the “non-cancer causing” pollution category.  Their main business is recycling aluminum, which apparently involves ammonia releases.  Lovely contribution to the pleasantness of Mt. Pleasant, eh?  “Hey, if we’re going to recycle, the dirty work has to happen somewhere, and it might as well be someplace that’s already spoiled.”

Can you say, “source reduction,” boys and girls?

As we leave the ironically named Mt. Pleasant and head north, we soon come to Columbia, where Spontex upholds Maury County’s reputation by being one of the worst polluters in the entire nation, and Occidental Chemical Company is the “good guy,” scoring high on overall releases but low in carcinogens.  Count your blessings, Columbians!

Closer to Nashville, we pass through another region where the ground is high in phosphates, but not quite high enough to merit mining.  This is the area around Spring Hill, Tennessee, which has some of the richest soil in the state that is not adjacent to the Mississippi River.  So, what did we humans do with this valuable food source?   We put a car factory on it, which caused the rapid  replacement of agriculture with myriad suburbs and strip malls, all of which are now grinding to a halt because, surprise, an ailing General Motors  can no longer make money operating the factory, and they’re closing the plant.  It only operated for twenty years, but destroyed an agricultural bastion that had been productive for a  hundred and fifty years and could have kept on being productive for centuries, if left undisturbed.  At  least all the now-unemployed folk in this former farming hot  spot are well situated to grow great gardens, unless they happen to be someplace where the ground was scraped down to the subsoil to make it easier to build McMansions.

This has just been a taste of the many stories of short-term gain and long-term pain here in Tennessee.  There are plenty of others:  the iron mines of Lewis County, the copper desert in the southeast corner of the state, toxic waste disposal in Dixon, the destruction of the state’s hardwood forests, mall sprawl around all our cities, the reintroduction of deer at the expense of agriculture, and mountaintop removal, just to name a few.  I don’t think it’s appropriate to say, “I hope you enjoyed your tour of Mt. Pleasant,” but I do hope you found it informative.

music:  Eliza Gilkyson, “Tender Mercies


7 08 2010

I have long believed in the importance of talking with people with whom I disagree strongly, although I have not always been successful in creating the healing dialogues I long for.

Towards the end of the years I lived on the Farm when I  didn’t like the materialist direction in which things were going, my friends and I invited a lot of people to sweat lodges and full moon drum circles, hoping that sharing prayer and ecstatic experience would bond us and create a deeper basis on which to discuss the community’s direction.  The adults we wanted to commune with never showed up, but accused us of corrupting the youth when their kids did.  Socrates, I feel for ya. Eventually, pretty much all of us who held a “hippie/spiritual” vision of the community left, feeling like victims of subtle ethnic cleansing.

After that, I spent several years in Vermont, a place distant enough from The Farm that, if I said I was “from the Farm,” the most common response was, “which farm?”

Oddly enough, I did end up living at a place that everybody in the neighborhood referred to as “The Farm,” but that’s a digression….my experience with sweat lodges had left me curious about the sacramental role of tobacco in Native American ceremony, and so I planted a few rows of it in my garden, where, to my surprise and delight, it flourished, growing six feet tall, topped with huge clusters of white flowers that, unlike commercial cigarettes, smelled simply heavenly in the moonlight.

I dried my crop and found myself in possession of several pounds of organically grown tobacco leaves.  I have never been a cigarette smoker, but I crumbled up a little bit of dry leaf and stuffed it into a pipe.  The taste was not unpleasant, but the effects, if any, were pretty minimal.  Aware of the fact that I was messing with a plant that is not only highly addictive but also potentially lethal, I confined my tobacco use to rare, ceremonially appropriate occasions, and came up with an idea for political theater:  I would go to the Montpelier farmers’ market and offer tobacco in ounce and quarter-ounce baggies, as well as potted tobacco plants, for those who wanted to grow their own.  In this way, I hoped to start a dialog about tobacco, the sacramental use of herbs, the commercialization of sacramental herbs, addiction, and who knows what else.

First, I had to get it clear with the Farmers’ Market management, who were wary about being raided by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms for selling tobacco outside the normal channels.  I called the BATF, and a gentleman there assured me that, as long as I was selling simple air-dried tobacco leaves that had not been “cured” in any way, they had no jurisdiction over me.

I had a good time, sitting there at my table full of rolled-up baggies, offering samples from a small pipe, selling rolling papers,  and getting double-takes from all the pot smokers in the crowd.  I could actually make decent money at it, generally managing to gross $30-50 over the course of a morning.  But the hoped-for dialogues never happened.  I found I was basically “preaching to the choir,” talking to hippies who already dug what I was doing, while straight, square types with cigarettes in their mouths or packs in their pockets barely gave me a glance.

With the help of friends, I eventually expanded my business, selling incense, spiritual books, and imported batik clothing to benefit the Buddhist center with which I was affiliated.  It was fun selling beautiful clothes to beautiful women, but what I enjoyed most was the occasional deep conversation about a book or the spiritual essence of tobacco or the other (legal!) herbs I sold.    That business wound down in the late nineties as the music festival vending scene became overcrowded and overpriced, and my modus operandi for seeking dialogue on serious issues morphed again.

I wore a shirt that said, “WILL WORK FOR BUDDHA” to a job interview for the produce department at the new Wild Oats store that was opening in Nashville, and it just so happened that the guy who interviewed me had been a student of Baba  Ram Dass,  and had helped him start Naropa Institute, a Buddhist university, in Boulder, Colorado.  Ram Dass’s partner in starting Naropa, was, of course,the famous (or, in some quarters, notorious) Chogyam Trungpa, who has perhaps done more than any other Tibetan to transform the somewhat arcane practices of Tibetan Buddhism into something culturally understandable by Americans.    As so often happens, I’m digressing–the upshot is, he hired me.

Ten years ago, when this happened, Wild Oats’ motto was, “Where the Wild Things Are,” and store clerks were expected to be not mere faceless shelf-stockers, but dynamic, knowledgeable personalities who could educate customers on the virtues of the stores’ products.  As someone who had farmed for nearly twenty years, both conventionally and organically, and who feels passionate about the virtues of organic farming,  I was a natural for the produce department.

For several years, I enjoyed this position.  Sure, I wasn’t talking with people who disagreed about the advantages of healthy, organic food, but I was able to educate a lot of people who already knew a little and wanted to learn more.

But Wild Oats was changing.  Management squared up and expected us to do the same.  I found I was being harassed for the same behavior I had been hired for, and left the company, landing in another health food store where, in spite of it being smaller and more informal, I was talking less with customers than I had at Wild Oats, if only because there were fewer customers and my duties kept me behind the scenes more of the time.

In 2005, Radio Free Nashville went on the air. I began doing this radio show, and started the blog that records it.  “Another chance for dialogue,” I thought, but for years comments were sparse, and favorable.  I began to feel like I was still just preaching to the choir.  In the last few months, that has changed.  Let me tell you, I have had some dialogues that about made my head spin.

The first ones were not too promising.  In response to my “OBAMA THE SOCIALIST AND OTHER DELUSIONS” post, “Commieblaster” dropped me a link about how “Obama is more Marxist than socialist.”  Simple, and easy to counter.  But then somebody named  “Wouldee” sent me a longer love note that started,

obama is just as confused as you, libtard. You idiots are amazingly ignorant of reality. bye bye. You sealed the deal for the youngsters’ better judgment, showing how stupid you marxist-socailist (sic) asshats really are on the LEFT. You will hate what is coming at you for reward….

What the hell, I printed it, and responded, in part:

I’m sorry, sir, that you’re so angry and looking for some satisfaction in blaming me for Obama and Obama for the mess we’re in. I agree with you that Obama has contributed to the mess, but, again–I’ve been saying since day one that Obama is part of the problem, not part of the solution. If you’re not paying enough attention to tell me from him, you’re not paying enough attention to keep yourself from getting hurt long before you have the chance to do damage to anyone else. Please be careful!

The ice was broken.  “Clarance R” went several rounds with me on “SCIENCE-BASED MEDICINE” largely on the basis that plant medicines couldn’t possibly be as effective as synthesized, concentrated pharmaceuticals.  I’m not sure s/he ever did get the point that I think we need to look to the plants because the pharmaceuticals may not be widely available much longer, but the exchange evolved from an argument to a discussion, and left me feeling good about it.

Then I started hearing from “Jack,” who wrote in his opening response to “TEA PARTIES–BOSTON OR WONDERLAND?”

…in the past ten years I have moved to the right politically and by now the Tea Partiers make more sense to me than The Farm’s veterans…..

Reading your words I remember how I used to see the world a few decades ago and I realize how difficult it is to bridge the gap between, roughly, the right and the left, the red and the blue, the Tea Party and The Farm.

I don’t have a solution for that. The differences are real and they go pretty deep. The two sides talk but they don’t really hear each other because the words aren’t understood in the same way and they are connected to different sets of facts with different shadings of emphasis and different belief systems of how things fit together.

America is about as polarized now as in the sixties and seventies. I find it distressing but it seems like something we will just have to work through as best we can , with as much respect and love as we can manage, and that seems to be a tall order for everyone these days.

I responded, in part:

I share your concern about people not listening to each other, and not being able to hear/understand each other when they try. It will take some effort and commitment, but if we are as intelligent a species as we like to think we are, we can learn to do it. In fact, we had better.

In further exchanges, he pointed out that, if I’m really seeking dialogue, I might have more success without terms like “Repugs” and “deluded,” and I responded…anyway, with dialogue being a rare critter these days, I think it would be worth your time to go to the blog and check it out, just for a model of what Tea Party-Green dialogue can be.

there’s more.  “Rogerthesurf” doubted my claim that we are running out of oil (TRUTH IN STRANGE PLACES–LAMAR ALEXANDER):

You have to remember that we heard the same stories as you write above in the ’70′s and ’80′s.
Well the shortage then was manufactured by politicians, for example President Carter with his domestic oil price policy etc.

I came back with:

If we had taken Carter’s advice then instead of drinking Reagan’s Kool-Aid, we wouldn’t be in the mess we are in today, with the US running major deficits to import oil and major military missions (and consequent deficits) to secure oil supplies from Iraq because “the American way of life is not negotiable.” The oil companies wouldn’t be pressing to drill in dangerous, expensive places like a mile under the ocean or the far Arctic if they knew of “easy oil.”

And we were off!  It was quite a spirited debate, and about the last I heard from Roger was

Well Brother Martin, thanks for answering my questions so well.

I will leave you in peace.

However do you have any advice for the normal individual on how to prepare for the approaching holocaust?
For instance, are you taking any steps yourself?

And I answered,

cultivate a circle of friends of varied ages and aptitudes, and do things together that build your trust in each other. Learn and practice basic knowledge and skills–gardening, carpentry with hand tools, hand sewing, “barefoot doctor” medical skills, including herbal medicine and skin stitching, shoemaking, metal working, bow hunting, small animal raising, butchering, simple ways to preserve food–including meat. (I’m a vegetarian, but if I can’t raise enough beans and grains, I’m not going to starve for my principles! There’s more important things in life than what we eat.) Pay off all your debts. Make home improvements that improve the efficiency of your home. Cultivate good relations with your neighbors, even if they don’t end up being the people in your circle of close friends. Do your best to hip people to what you see coming–the greatest security is created by the maximum number of people being most prepared, not by who’s got the most guns and ammo.
Cultivate tolerance and humor, and do your best to be easy to get along with, caring and sharing.

As for what steps I/we are taking, that same list about covers it.

Hope that’s helpful to you. Happy trails!

A few days after that, “Sarah” left a note on the “TEA PARTIES” thread, saying

Maybe you should copy this thread as a post so more people will read it. Or post a condensed version.

Thanks for the suggestion, Sarah.  I’ve had to give a very condensed version, but hopefully it will inspire some of my readers and listeners to check out the conversation, and maybe even contribute something to it…meanwhile, I’m very happy to finally get to communicate with some people who challenge my views and make me think about why I think what I think.  Occasional rigorous examination of our own biases, opinions, and beliefs is as essential to a sane future as any material survival skill…as one of my favorite bumper stickers says, “DON’T BELIEVE EVERYTHING YOU THINK!”

Speaking of which, P.S. to Jack on the “McCHRYSTAL FOR PRESIDENT?” thread:  after reading Hansen, Jonah Goldberg, and a few other right-wing commentators, I see what you mean about it being unlikely that McChrystal will be the Republican presidential candidate…he bucked authority and that’s a big no-no….

music: The beatles, “Hey Bulldog


7 08 2010

When 20 federal agents show up at a farm and seize farm products and computers, the first thing most people would think is, “marijuana.”  All too often, these days, it’s a different m-word:  milk, and also, sometimes, meat.

In response to demand for better-quality dairy and meat, farmers and local food activists across the country have set up private buying clubs, similar to  fruit-and-vegetable-oriented “Community-Sponsored Agriculture” groups.  Under this arrangement, which is a private agreement among consenting adults and not an open store, raw dairy products and freshly butchered meat move directly from farm to home, with no middleman, resulting in increased returns to the farmers, who need all the returns they can get.

State and federal regulatory agencies are starting to raise hell about this.  It’s hard to say how many farms and co-ops have been raided for “illegal” milk and meat, but the frequency of these raids seems to be increasing.

Illegal milk and meat–who woulda thunk it?  This is the latest bump in the road for the local food movement, and provides a prime example of two things:  first, laws passed because of a certain kind of dangerous behavior are being used to suppress a different, far more benign activity; and, second, big food’s use of the government to enforce its monopoly when other methods fail.

The rise of mass civilization over the last three or four centuries produced many unintended consequences–for that matter, the whole thing was an unintended consequence of unbridled selfishness as an organizing principle for society, but let’s keep it to the milk and meat department for now.

Not so long ago, the main way people had access to dairy products was from owning a milk cow, or knowing somebody who did.  Without refrigeration, fresh milk was a rare and transient treat, and ice cream an even rarer treat for the very wealthy.   Most milk became  yogurt and cheese, which store much better than milk.  Not so long ago, too, people had no clue about the germ theory of disease, and so contamination of fresh, raw milk was easy, unintended, and all too common.

A little more recently, dairy went from being a farm product to being an industry. As with any large capitalist enterprise, it involved underpaid, alienated workers who were not concerned about the quality of what they produced, and management looking for any corner it could get away with cutting.  Not surprisingly, this resulted in frequent contamination of the milk supply, widespread public illness and outcry, and, ultimately, regulation requiring refrigeration and pasteurization in an attempt to  insure safety.

The same thing happened in the meat-packing industry, with Upton Sinclair‘s famous novel “The Jungle” galvanizing public and legislative support in an attempt to clean up the business of keeping America supplied with meat.

But none of this changed the fundamental dynamic.  Workers remain underpaid and alienated, management still cuts every corner it can get away with, and the result is repeated episodes of contaminated products reaching the market, and widespread public doubt about the safety of officially approved practices, such as the use of  the hormone rBST to increase milk production.

Creating alternatives to mainstream meat and dairy products is not as simple as growing your own fruit and vegetables. XX Legally, meat and milk that are sold must be processed in government approved facilities–but the practices in those facilities, and indeed to some extent, their very existence, is the problem for many seeking local, healthier food.  To compound the problem, the regulations have been designed to favor large production facilities, and place onerous, unnecessary burdens on small producers–such as the detail that slaughterhouses have to provide a separate bathroom for the inspectors.

And so, people have formed private buying clubs to circumvent this.  They buy a portion of a milk or dairy cow from a farmer, so that when the cow is milked or slaughtered, it is already “theirs” and the farmer is merely performing a service for them.  This situation is far removed from the alienated, profit-seeking “industry” model that prompted the need for regulation.  There is a bond of trust between farmer and eater, and the farmer wants to give his customers the best quality he can, not the least he can get away with.

The law in many states, however, does not recognize this, and we have the spectacle of state attorneys and department of agriculture personnel roaring self-righteously about shutting down dangerous operations–which may be perfectly legal in a neighboring state.  In fact, some level of raw milk sales is legal in most states–but the federal government prohibits interstate commerce in raw milk, and has actively worked with law enforcement to shut down raw milk sales whenever it could.

There’s an eerie resemblance to the current patchwork state of medical marijuana here.  Another parallel with marijuana is health benefits.  Just as marijuana advocates propound its health benefits, which are vigorously denied by the DEA and some uptight academics and conservative social critics, so advocates of raw milk say that, overall, it’s much healthier for you than processed milk, claims strenuously contested by  many of the same people who oppose marijuana legalization.

But I’m a vegan.  Why do I care about this issue?  They’re not restricting my right to raw beans!  Well, actually, they’ve restricted my right to eat raw almonds.

And that’s where the wider implications of this food fight come in.  The blanket ban on raw almonds was instituted because of a salmonella outbreak that occurred in the almond crop of a large-scale, “factory” almond farm, and this is the same pattern we are seeing all over the “food industry.”  Factory-farmed foods have contamination problems, but the regulation that is introduced in response to these problems makes it much more difficult and expensive for small-scale operators, who are not the source of the problem.

Moreover, this continues the precedent, again, set through the drug laws,  that the government can control what we choose to put into our bodies, for reasons that have more to do with who controls the government than with human health. There are lines that can be drawn, but prohibiting private transactions among consenting adults is not the place. Banning commercial tobacco sales, for example, would be a good idea.  Prohibiting individuals from growing tobacco and giving, or even informally selling it, to their friends, outside a commercial framework, would not be a good idea.  But I digress.

Is it perhaps mere paranoia to think that the government would persecute the raw milk/fresh meat movement at the behest of Big Ag, rather than to protect innocent, misguided citizens from poisoning themselves?

Consider that Obama’s appointments to Ag Department posts look like he did his recruiting almost exclusively at Monsanto, the Fox News of agriculture. Consider that big agriculture, although it would be bad PR to admit it publicly, is concerned about having their market monopoly undermined by local food.  Consider the way corporate policy tends to become government policy, through the irresistible attraction of campaign funding arrangements.  The interwoven media-government-big business cabal will take advantage of every illness that can possibly be attributed to local food to make it seem dangerous, and use every mass release of contaminated food by a multinational food producer to create regulations that are full of loopholes for the big guys and hurdles for the little guys.

It’s about scale.  Raw milk is distinctly local.  It is not a mass-marketable product.  It cannot be transported cross-country, or across a continent, like pasteurized milk. (Most of the store-sold milk in Mongolia, traditionally a big dairy country, is now imported from Europe–but I digress.)  If a batch of raw milk is contaminated,  a few dozen people may be affected. But when the industrial food complex fouls up a batch, tens or even hundreds of thousands of people are poisoned.  Cargill, one of the companies concerned about the dangers of local foods, recently had to recall a million pounds of beef tainted with an antibiotic-resistant strain of salmonella.  How many people got sick from this?  Who knows?  Most of the  people who ate it were ignorant of its origin.  And of course, the resistant salmonella developed because factory-farmed cows are routinely fed antibiotics.  But that’s another story.

Factory-farmed eggs have had a long history of salmonella contamination.  The FDA has put new rules in place that will not eliminate contamination, but cut it by 60%.  Looking on the bright side, the official announcement says

79,000 illnesses and 30 deaths due to consumption of eggs contaminated with the bacterium Salmonella Enteritidis may be avoided each year with new food safety requirements for large-scale egg producers.

So…that means that there will still be 52,000 illnesses and 20 deaths every year due to salmonella-contaminated eggs, and that’s OK.  But raw milk!?  Send in the tac squad!

And don’t get me started on all the lawbreakers who are getting away with it while the government packs heat to bust people with milk cows.  OK, I’ll start a little:  Alberto Gonzalez will not be prosecuted for pushing US Attorney Generals to start cases just to make the Democrats look bad, or for helping John Yoo blow a lot of hot air about why it’s OK for the US to violate the Geneva Conventions and torture people, or just kill them outright.  John Yoo’s not getting prosecuted for that, either.  And not only are the boys at Goldman-Sachs not getting prosecuted for ripping off the rest of us, they’re getting to run the government.

I’m going to close with a quote from farmer and local food activist Joel Salatin:

“This food safety is a very subjective thing. If there’s one thing that stands between freedom and tyranny it’s the choice of being able to decide what to feed our own bodies. If that isn’t the most basic human freedom I don’t know what is.  By what extreme notion has it been decided that it’s perfectly safe to feed our kids Coco Puffs, Twinkies and Mountain Dew but it’s not safe to feed them compost-grown tomatoes and raw milk?”

music:  Greg Brown:  “Canned Goods


11 06 2006

Back during the winter, I wrote about my State House Representative ,Gary Moore, who chaired the meeting that ended the possibility of a landfill on the Harpeth River. Not long after that, I was one of those who received a questionnaire from him about various issues facing the Tennessee legislature.. I was glad to be asked, and gladder still that he had managed to craft questions to which I could give a simple yes or no answer.

I don’t know about you, but I frequently get so-called “surveys” from the Democratic Party that are just ridiculous—the questions are framed in such a way that I have no choice but to scrawl all over them, usually to the effect of, “you spineless shoelickers gave a free pass to the no-more bankruptcy for the poor bill, Mussalioto, the Patriot Act, and the war in Iraq—a war with as much moral justification as the Nazi invasion of Poland—and now you think if you promise to cut gas prices and boost ethanol production (and what a bad joke that is!) I’m gonna send you money? Fergeddaboutit!” Well, since I never send them any money, I doubt if they count my survey, but they haven’t taken me off the mailing list yet. Not that I think that means they’re paying any attention to me—more likely, it means they’re NOT paying me any attention whatsoever. But, I digress.

Anyway, I recently received the results of Representative Moore’s poll, and I want to share them with you, along with some reflections on what I think they mean. Also, I want to thank his office for being kind enough to answer some background questions about the questionnaire.. It was sent to a little over three thousand voters, identified by the board of elections as the most frequent voters in the district, and about seven hundred of us responded. About 22,000 people voted in this district in 2004, giving Democrat Moore a 2-1 victory over his Republican opponent. I’m willing to bet the voters out here weren’t so enthusiastic about John Kerry, but I haven’t been able to determine that from public information.  (Since publishing this, a reader who knew which precincts constitute Rep. Moore’s district has told me that, in fact, the district split about 50-50 between Bush and Kerry.  Intuition confirmed–thank you, jeune66!)

So anyway, the seven hundred and some most opinionated and vocal citizens of my neighborhood have spoken, so I think it’s worth some attention. This isn’t a poll of what some of the more cosmopolitan parts of Nashville think. The northwest side of Nashville, where I live, is pretty rural, though not without suburban patches, but probably the most “old Tennessee” part of Davidson County, with the possible exception of Antioch. This is the red edge of a blue county. So, on with the show….he began with

“Do you feel the current law recently passed by the legislature adequately addresses the ethics issue?” (including a link to a website comparing “before” and “after”changes that were made by the bill . We were instructed to click on “joint ethics bill,” then on “summary of joint committee ethics bill draft”)

This “summary” is a 21-page pdf. Now, maybe I’m selling my fellow voters short, but I think I wasn’t the only one who didn’t have the patience to plow through 21 pages detailing that contributions must be reported within 24 hours instead of 72, that payments on credit cards must specify what was paid for, and that all this will be put online where nobody will have the time to read it. I mean, if you really want to clean up legislative ethics, give all candidates government funding and equal media access and bar ALL contributions from lobbyists, PACs, business associations, or businesses. They don’t vote, why should they get to buy our legislators? Hey, I’ve given money to Moveon and the like, but I’d rather live in a world where I didn’t have to fight the overwhelming influence of those with more money to throw around than I’ll ever see.

Well, cut to the chase: 70% of Representative Moore’s respondents agreed with me in principle—that the recent ethics bill did not adequately address the ethics issue. Slightly under eight percent thought the bill was adequate, and about 22%were undecided, one of the largest “undecided” calls on the survey. Those must be the folks that tried to form an opinion by reading the pdf.

So—how ’bout it, Representative Moore—are you willing to make a bold, positive move and propose public financing of political campaigns as a solution to the ethics and influence mess? It seems to be working well in Arizona and Maine.

Second question: “Would you support a law that would allow the Tennessee Highway Patrol to arrest undocumented illegal immigrants? This would be achieved by a Memorandum of Understanding between the Federal Immigration and Naturalization Services and the Tennessee Highway Patrol. “

Eighty-three percent of respondents would approve of that, and only ten percent would not.

I was one of the ten percent who did not approve, mostly out of sympathy for the murky mess it would create for the Highway Patrol. You rarely encounter people with no documents whatever—and that’s where it starts getting sticky. To determine whether someone is here legally, you have to check the veracity of their papers. If the THP targets brown skinned people for this treatment, there will be a justifiable fuss raised, all the more so because not all illegal immigrants are Hispanic or Asian—there’s European illegals, too, dontcha know? So the THP will have to check everybody’s status every time they make a traffic stop. This could add a lot of time to an officer’s day, for the most part to no real law enforcement benefit.

–Well, gee, if we had a National Identity Card that everyone had to have….

Hey, when I was a kid and the Cold War was almost hot, a great deal was made of how wonderfully free we are in this country. “In Russia, you have to have an Identity Card and show it to the police when asked”–that’s what they told me. Now there is a strong move towards just such an ID card. When you couple that with our country’s having the biggest per capita prison population in the world, calling America “The Land of the Free” starts to sound downright Orwellian.

Fortunately, the proposal to sic the Highway Patrol on illegal immigrants died in the Tennessee House, where the forces of reason prevailed. It’s worth noting that they prevailed not by debate and vote, but by putting the bill in an isolated corner of the House where it would just kind of die. No impassioned speeches, just an administrative veto. Thank you, guys. Sometimes “nothing” is the right course of action..

The next immigrant question on Rep. Moore’s survey found even more overwhelming support from the electorate but met the same fate as its companion—87% of respondents were in favor of “substantial fines for businesses caught utilizing the services of undocumented illegal immigrants.” Whoa, that would mean going after Walmart, most likely, and after almost every construction contractor in the state. It would criminalize what’s left of the state’s fruit and vegetable industry. If you defined “business” loosely enough, you’d be issuing citations to half of Brentwood. Can’t have that, by golly, those people are all major campaign donors. It could have been effective in discouraging undocumented workers, but oh well, can’t throw out the babies with the bathwater now, can we?

I have to say that I feel a lot of ambivalence about the illegal immigrant question. On the side of compassion, I recognize that these people are economic refugees who are coming here because the North American Free Trade Agreement destroyed the economy of rural Mexico and Central America, and then the race to the bottom created by the World Trade Organization destroyed the nascent industrial economies of those same countries, leaving millions of people just south of here broke, hungry, and increasingly desperate. There’s no place for these people to go but here. Before NAFTA, there were about a million illegals in the US; now there are at least ten times that many. QED, I believe?

But I also have to recognize that these huddled masses yearning to breathe free are being exploited by corporate America. They are a tool for depressing wages, benefits, and worker power in this country. And sure, America has an unnaturally high standard of living compared to the rest of the world, but we need to change that by redistributing our aristocracy’s ill gotten gains, not by making the poor poorer.

What to do? It has been pointed out over and over again in this debate how difficult it is for Americans to work in Mexico, especially compared to vice-versa. So it seems to me that it would be OK to make it much harder for businesses to hire undocumented workers, as long as we renounce NAFTA and the WTO and make a concerted effort to rebuild localized, sustainable economies in our southern neighbors by recreating a small farm, small manufacturing economy—if our bankers, the Chinese, will let us, and if the pace of global warming doesn’t turn Mexico into the Western Sahara. Two big ifs, fer sure.

music: James McMurtry, “Safe Side

Rep. Moore’s 4th question was about raising the minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $6.15 an hour. About 75% approved that, less than 20% opposed. The Nashville Living Wage Coalition ran some numbers and figured out that a living wage in Nashville is someplace around eleven or twelve dollars an hour. The Nashville City Council was unwilling to guarantee that people working for the city would make that much. Five-fifteen an hour is about ten thou a year, six-fifteen is about twelve. The legislators just gave themselves a two-thousand dollar a year raise, but failed to do that for low-income Tennesseans who can’t give themselves a raise.

Here’s what happened: the Tennessee House actually passed a bill that officially raised the minimum wage by a dollar—but exceptions were made for companies employing less than fifty people, waitstaff who receive tips, college students working for their schools, people without a high school diploma or GED, farm and landscape nursery workers, undocumented workers—in other words, just about everybody who’s getting less than $6.15 an hour—estimated to be about 40,000 people statewide and 12,000 here in Nashville. Oh, and there were no enforcement provisions in the bill—somebody making less than minimum wage would have had to sue their employer in order to enforce the law. Fat chance. I think that’s taking privatization a bit too far!

So, the Tennessee Senate voted this bill down, 17-12, which was probably just as well—a bad bill can be worse than none at all, because it creates the illusion that something has been done.

Question 5 addresses health care costs:”Would you support a law that would require businesses with one hundred or more employees to provide insurance coverage for their employees, or be required to pay into a State-administered health care pool?”

About 73% supported this proposition while just over 18% opposed it. This is a reflection from a nationwide movement that is targeted primarily at Walmart, which is notorious for using Medicare and state health programs for the poor as employee health insurance. I’m not crazy about this kind of reformist proposal because it puts more money and power in the hands of the insurance companies, which are a big part of the problem, and also I’m not in favor of reforming Walmart, I’m in favor of hitting the company with antitrust lawsuits and hacking it into little bitty pieces and making sure it never rises again. Silver bullets, garlic, the works.

But Walmart need not fear even reform in Tennessee, let alone dissolution. The Fair Share Health Care Act died in committee. Walmart will not have to pick up health care costs for the nearly ten thousand of its workers who are (or were) on Tenncare, which is a good thing for the company’s bottom line—because those ten thousand workers are about a quarter of the company’s employees here in the state. Paying their doctor bills would really screw up profit margins. Can’t have that.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Congress is revving up to repeal the estate tax, which will enable the Walton family (and a few other members of the uber-rich) to hang on to still more of their ill-gotten gains. When are all these rich white guys who are posturing about this being a “Christian Nation” going to get the part about “not laying up your treasures where moth and rust doth corrupt?”

music:  Joan Baez,  “Satisfied Mind

A resounding 83% of respondents favored raising the cigarette tax to offset lowering the sales tax on food, but that didn’t stop our state senators from voting this idea down, with encouragement from our so-called health-care governor. Tennessee has the highest food sales tax of any state in the country, and the third lowest tax on cigarettes—and, of course, no income tax, making the sales tax the backbone of state revenue. I suppose it makes a certain amount of sense not to base your revenue on taxing something people would be better off not using at all, but the food tax hits the poorest people in the state the hardest. Everybody admits it’s unfair, but there’s no political will to do anything about it. Chalk one up for the tobacco lobby.

Of course, the cigarette tax also hits poor people the hardest, because more poor people smoke, but to me that’s kinda like the lottery—anybody dumb enough to get involved with tobacco or the lottery deserves to lose their money. At least the lottery won’t give you cancer.

Question seven is about an issue you’ve heard about from me before: the Harpeth dump, which went down to defeat in the face of overwhelming neighborhood rejection. Overall, however, when more than those who were not looking at a dump in their backyard were polled, 49% thought it would be OK, with only 39% demurring—must be the folks who live near the Harpeth. Not in my backyard, but yours will do! Ah, the American spirit!

It’s not exactly “Profiles in Courage” material, but I hope Rep. Moore would have fought the dump just as vigorously even if he had known that his constituents weren’t solidly behind him on it.

Question eight asked whether Tennessee should require a photo ID before allowing an individual to vote, and a fairly decisive 71% came down in favor of this subtle but radical change in governmental procedure.

I think this indicates that we need to do extensive education on this issue. I alluded before to the totalitarian nature of mandatory ID cards, and this is a little different, because it’s specifically about voting and not about the rest of life in wartime, but I think it indicates public misperception about the nature of voting fraud in this country. Old-fashioned, Tammany-Hall style voter fraud involved having people who were not actually registered cast ballots. New-style, Ed Blackwell/Katherine Harris style voting fraud removes people from the voting rolls unjustly and then hacks the computers so that, if you do get to vote, your vote goes to someone other than who you thought you voted for.

Georgia attempted to pass a law requiring photo id in order for citizens to vote, and it was struck down by the courts as too restrictive of voters’ civil rights. I think that if people understood that this is a proposal that makes it harder for older and poorer citizens to vote, their opinion of this idea would shift. As far as I can tell, there was no proposed legislation on this question in Tennessee this year—but the Federally mandated “Real ID” act, which is an unfunded mandate, is coming into force in 2008 and will push the state to create a more rigorous form of ID. May I see your papers?

Slightly more people, 77%, wanted the state to restrict its driver’s license tests to the English language. which seems to me to be a form of gratuitous racism—the amount of English you need in order to navigate the road system is considerably simpler than the conceptual grasp of English a person needs in order to pass a written test. I think this kind of racism is part of what the voodoo economists who are running America refer to as “the trickle-down effect,” otherwise known to plumbers, parents, and battered women everywhere as “poop rolls downhill.” Franz Fanon referred to it as “the psychology of the oppressed.”

What it boils down to is this: almost all of us here in America are oppressed by this country’s elite, those whom George Bush famously addresses as “my power base.” Our oppression is carefully frosted over with a blitz of consumer goods, public spectacles, and the propaganda message that this is “the freest country in the world.” (with, again, the highest prison population in the world) Even those of us who are aware of this snow job and the truth behind its lies feel practically powerless to counter it; those who are not aware will always be inclined to vent their frustration on some vulnerable “other.” Now it’s the Mexicans; it’s been the hippies, it’s been the communists, it’s been the Jews, the labor organizers….if you can’t stop the pain, pass it on.

Well, I’m philosophizing and psychologizing and getting far away from Representative Moore’s questions. The next one is a bit of a no-brainer: “Should Tennessee require proof of automobile insurance before issuing or renewing license plate tags?” That one was favored 92 to 5. Hey, if you’re going to travel at high speed in a small metal box that, if you lose control of it, will inflict damage on things you don’t own and can’t afford to pay for, the thoughtful, compassionate thing to do is have liability insurance.

As a raving anti-corporatist, of course I’d prefer to see single-payer car insurance that came out of gas taxes along with my single-payer health insurance that comes out of income taxes, but in the meantime (and I’m not holding my breath for nationalized insurance, believe me) I’m more than willing to be practical and buy from a private insurer. There’s even a politically progressive company out there to buy from—most insurance companies do make most of their donations to Republicans, in case you didn’t know.

music:  James McMurtry,”Comfortable

The next question surprised me, because I would have thought it as much of a no-brainer as the insurance question: Should Tennessee require seatbelts in schoolbusses, even if it means increasing taxes to pay for it? That gathered only a plurality, 45-31. To me it’s the metal box deal again: if you’re traveling at high speed in a metal box, strap yourself down so you won’t go bouncing around if there’s an accident. Especially, make sure your kids are strapped down. Did the tax increase bug people? How many seat belts could you install for the price of one kid having to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair? Or spend the rest of his life dead?

Well, it might just be the tax thing. One result of the corporate takeover of our government over the past several decades has been a shift of the tax burden from corporations to individuals, and from wealthier individuals to poorer ones. According to an Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy study, in 2003 the uppermost 1% of Tennessee taxpayers paid about 3% of their income in state and local taxes, while the middle of Tennessee’s income pyramid, the people earning $24-38,000 a year, paid 8.7%. Those at the bottom, with incomes of $14,000 a year or less, pay 11.7% of their income in taxes—and that doesn’t even count the lottery tickets they buy.

Nationally, corporate taxes are sinking towards 1% of GDP, from a 1960 level of 4% and, more relevantly, over 2% as recently as 1999. In Tennessee, there have been tax giveaways to encourage corporations like Dell and Nissan to locate here. “Tax giveaway” is a misleading term for this—the government may be giving it away, but you and I are paying for it. So, if people feel a little edgy about paying for seatbelts in schoolbusses, I can forgive them. Let Nissan be a “good corporate citizen” and donate ’em, hey? Of course, then they’d all hafta say “NISSAN” in big bold letters, but, gee, ya can’t get something for nothing, can you?

Question 13 is another potential bureaucratic nightmare fueled by people’s insecurity. 84% of all those responding to this poll would support fingerprinting of pawnshop customers to “help identify persons trafficking in stolen property.” Oh, yes, it would also build up the government’s fingerprint files, wouldn’t it? And concentrate law enforcement’s attention on small time criminals, leaving less time for corporate crime, which steals from thousands of us by making everything we pay for more expensive. Well, local law enforcement doesn’t do much with that anyway.

As I investigated this peculiar law—which would net the fingerprints of more wannabe musicians than active burglars—I found that it has been implemented as a “special-case” law—only in Knoxville and Memphis must pawnshop customers give up their prints to buy or sell. How effective has this been? It’s hard to tell; an article on stolen bicycles in Knoxville made no mention of fingerprinting, pro or con, and the Tennessee State Pawnbrokers’ Association has nothing to say about it on their website.

Karl Marx, that supposedly discredited prophet, used to rave about what he called “commodity fetishism”—the attribution of great desirability to consumer goods that are not intrinsically valuable. It looks to me like this “commodity fetishism” is the water us American fish swim in—we are encouraged to have lots of stuff, and to keep our stuff secure. That’s what makes the economy go ’round, and if too many people start stealing from others in order to satisfy their perceived needs, we have a breakdown of law and order.

With the vast disparities of income and opportunity that exist in this country, the eroding economy, and the lust for consumer goods that the mass media are built to feed, people are going to fear for their possessions, and they will look to the state to protect them from the perceived danger of robbery. My own view is that the way to work on this is to make the wealth more equal and back off on the commodity promotion. Many of those who clamor loudest for strong property protection are ones who follow a religion that enjoins them not to—here it comes again– “lay up wealth where moth and rust doth corrupt,” and I think taking that more seriously would help, too; I’m just not sure what the State of Tennessee could do to promote it without becoming a theocracy.

music:  Greg Brown, “The Way They Get Themselves Up”

And, speaking, at least obliquely, of theocracy, the next question asked, “Do you feel that alcohol products such as wine from out of state or outside the country should be allowed to be purchased over the internet?” That one lost on a plurality, 40%-45%. I checked online and, sure enough, you can’t buy wine online in Tennessee and have it shipped to you. Why someone would want to go to the expense of having a bottle of wine shipped to them from out of state is a question I can’t answer, as I’ve never understood why people drink wine in the first place—but why would some people want to prohibit other people from buying wine? That’s another philosophical question that goes beyond the bounds of this survey. All I can say is, some people don’t let logic or tolerance get in the way of their opinions. What to do?–”All intolerant people should be rounded up and shot?” I don’t think so. I’ve devoted many hours of my life to trying to understand how a tolerant society should deal with intolerant people, and I still don’t have an answer.

“The Green Party—the only political party honest enough to say,’We don’t know.’” Well, maybe that’s not a good campaign slogan.

Question 15 asks if “Tennessee should pass a law that would give local governments the power to enact laws to prohibit smoking in public places?” This power was stripped from municipalities by a 1994 law. As a nonsmoker, I was pleasantly surprised to find that getting a 72%-22% pass, although I am concerned that if they make smoking in public illegal, the next target will be passing gas, and then I’ll be in trouble.

The last time I went out to a club to hear a band, I had to leave about halfway through the show because the thick pall of tobacco smoke in the room was making me sick. A couple of days later, I read a review of the show that complemented the club on how well its new ventilation system worked. Really?

Here’s what I think about tobacco—and alcohol, for that matter: we need to take the corporate money out of the equation. Anybody who wants to grow their own tobacco, brew their own beer, ferment their own wine, or distill their own single-malt scotch is welcome to do so, and free to share it with their friends—but no public sale, advertising, resale, etc. allowed. Is that too draconian? How could we still have bars? OK, so maybe we can work in a way to create and license “public houses” for that purpose—and maybe we could treat all currently illegal drugs the same way. Just a thought.

The second to last question was “Do you think Tennessee should pass a law that would require a statewide uniform voting procedure utilizing a verifiable paper ballot?”

That got a slim majority—51%–with about 27% definitely opposed and 22% undecided, one of the highest undecided groups in the poll. This made me realize that, while I’ve been attentive to the furor over the apparent stealing of the last two elections, this issue has been pretty much absent from the mainstream media, which finds missing teenage girls and runaway brides more important than whether the guy in the White House is there legitimately or not. Hey, he’s not a cute blonde. Even Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s authoritative, annotated article in a recent Rolling Stone hasn’t raised a blip on the don’t-rock-the-boat boys’ radar. So I suppose it’s a bit of a victory for us pesky types if over half the people out here in the boondocky, redneck part of Davidson County would like to make sure there’s a paper record of how they voted.

OK, final question—an essay question! Well, not exactly—Representative Moore asked, “What are the three major issue that concern you the most?” Taxes was first, with 30%, followed by illegal immigrants at slightly under thirty percent, followed by health care at 26%, ethics at around 20%, education running a distant 5th at about 9%, and fuel costs the last large grouping at around 6%.

Taxes? Yes, the current system is unfair, even if most people don’t understand why. This is an issue that will take a lot of voter education to counter the persistent smokescreen that covers the truth about corporate abandonment of civic responsibility.

Illegal immigrants? Not much Tennessee can do about that one—it’s a national problem that needs an international solution. If they could stay where they came from, they would, y’know, so let’s help ’em find ways to stay home. Meanwhile, we do need to admit that big business is complicit in bringing these people into the country because their willingness to accept low wages works to the advantage of the businesses that hire them, and that’s going on because CAFTA, NAFTA, the WTO, and our open trade with China have created a race to the bottom in which the US has a long and unpleasant way to go. The US trade deficit was $9B ten years ago; it was over $70B last year, and that’s a greater threat to our national security than terrorists or illegal migrant workers.

Health care? Yes, it’s a serious concern. Even if you stay healthy all your life and then go into a nursing home when you can’t take care of yourself anymore, the nursing home will suck up your savings, so you’ll have nothing to leave your kids but memories. The for-profit, out-of-control health care industry is sucking America dry. We could do something about this at the state level in the short term, although it will take national legislation (or maybe a revolution) to recreate the health care industry in a way that truly serves people.

There are serious issues that didn’t make it into this questionnaire. The interconnected questions of urban sprawl, peak oil, and global warming are intensely local in their effects. At this point, most of the people in Rep. Moore’s district commute by car into Nashville; before the automobile, most of the few people in this area pretty much stayed put—they got to Nashville once a week or once a month, maybe. The district, along with the rest of Nashville, is too spread out for mass transit to work effectively. What is going to happen? It should certainly be a function of state government to create a co-ordinated regional plan for the future, but there doesn’t seem to be much long-range vision in the legislature. Maybe longer terms would help; certainly public financing of campaigns would free legislators from constant fundraising and its concomittant preoccupation with the short-term needs of wealthy business owners.

I have been commenting on the details of Representative Moore’s survey from a Green perspective—what’s the overall shape of it look like? I think that what we see here is a society and a legislature engrossed in, and all too frequently distracted by, the immediate symptoms of problems that are rooted deep in the structure of our political system, our society, and our economy. From the myopic mainstream perspective, these problems have complicated, uncertain solutions, or none at all—f’rinstance, the 21-page “summary” of the legislative ethics law. We Greens offer solutions to these questions that are, in the literal sense, radical—we see how to cut these afflictions off at the root.

Increasing corporate taxes and instituting a graduated income tax will take the burden of taxation off those least able to bear it—and that ain’t Wal-mart. The way to solve the flood of illegal immigrants here in America is to improve conditions in their homelands. A national single-payer health plan, curbs on the for-profit health industry, and a strong emphasis on prevention will bring health care costs under control. Stating these solutions is easy; bringing them to statewide or national attention is another question entirely.

The harvest is great, the laborers are few, and the crop will soon spoil. There is no guarantee of success; we hardly even know what “success” will look like. Let’s get moving, people.

Eliza Gilkyson, “Old Coat

Wow—I just did almost a whole show on state and local issues. There’s just time to mention a few things: the honesty in unlikely places award goes to U.S. Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, relentless drug warrior and architect of the plan to lock up all eleven million illegal immigrants, who chose to buck the corporate tide and work to preserve internet neutrality. We lost that battle in the House, but maybe the Communications Act of 2006 will meet the same fate as arresting eleven million people. If not, it’s likely the end of America’s Democracy Wall; how close are we to our own Tienamen Square?

If I’d had more time, I would have written about the accelerating thaw in the Arctic and the desertification of age-old oases in western China; about the peculiar and scary intersection of Christianity and Fascism that’s going on in this country; about how even Republican judges don’t like the new bankruptcy law, which our own Jim Cooper voted for, because it assumes that most bankruptcies stem from people being deadbeats when the truth is that eighty percent of all bankruptcies are the result of catastrophic medical bills… the lady here in Nashville who got hit by a police cruiser and has almost $400,000 in bills, but so-called “tort reform” in Tennessee has capped the damages the city can pay at $250,000.

I would have spent a lot of time talking about the latest bad news about electronic voting; I would have talked about how the psychiatric industry labels people—mostly women and children– as mentally ill, so they can sell them meds—did you know “road rage” is now a treatable—that means prescribable and billable—mental illness? I would have speculated on why Dick Cheney maintains such a veil of secrecy and why he recently empowered our Secret Service chief, John “the Butcher” Negroponte, to exempt corporations from SEC reporting rules. I would have talked about how funny it is that the mainstream media are alarmed that Venezuelan businessmen have just bought Sequoia, a voting machine company, but nobody seems alarmed about how Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel owns the voting machines that elected him in Nebraska. I could go on, and next month on July 15th, I will. Meanwhile, you can read this and other rantings of mine at Rose will be in next week. Enjoy!.
music:  James McMurtry, “Memorial Day

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