CO-OPPING NASHVILLE

13 12 2015

As many of you probably know, I ran for Metro Council last summer.  My candidacy was pretty minimal–I made no attempt to recruit volunteers or raise money, and spent none of my own.  I created a blog and a Facebook page to lay out my platform, attended several candidate forums, posted ideas and answers on several internet voter education sites, and was interviewed by the Nashville Scene, which, as it did when Howard Switzer ran for Governor, trivialized my campaign and ignored my issues because they’re Democrats and we’re Greens, and they don’t care for competition on the left. (I was hoping to provide a link to the job the Scene did on my friend Howard, but they have apparently opted to chuck that article down the ol’ memory hole. Probably a good call on their part.)

There were three key pillars in my platform.  One was re-localizing Nashville, economically, socially, and politically–creating neighborhoods in which people could attend school, shop, work, and go out and socialize without needing to use an automobile–thus simplifying the city’s traffic problems–and granting these neighborhoods a fair amount of control over their zoning, codes enforcement, new construction, schools, and policing.  Another pillar was to identify and foster industries that would serve local needs that are currently being met by goods imported from across the continent or across the ocean.  The third pillar was to foster co-operatives as a form of small-d democratic community organization–not just food co-ops and other retail establishments, but worker-owned service and manufacturing co-ops, and housing co-ops, as well.  These worker-owned co-ops would include the local-needs industries, and the housing co-ops would be part of a larger context of urban land trusts. All these would serve to increase opportunities and living standards for lower-income Nashvillians, stabilize their neighborhoods, and empower them with an ownership stake in the places where they work, shop, and live. My proposals were largely modelled on the ones that made Bernie Sanders’ reputation as Mayor of Burlington–they were radical and populist but pragmatic and very “doable.” They are also infectious, in the sense that people hear them, like them, and make them their own.  Their emphasis on citizen, not government, ownership appeals to people all over the political spectrum.2015_1206co_2

That was my basic message.  About 2,300 Nashville voters heard it and signalled their approval by voting for me.  That earned me second-to-last standing in the election, but, for me, the important part of my campaign was that, in the course of attending the candidate forums, I got to speak repeatedly to the candidates who did win the election.  Hey, at several of these, there were more candidates on the stage than voters in the audience! Besides, candidates are also voters, and we each had four votes in the election besides the one each of us was likely to cast for ourselves.

And so, I planted my seeds, with no idea which ones would sprout or where, and, once the election was over, happily returned to my wooded hollow and my usual pursuits.  Imagine my surprise early last week when I glanced through my email inbox and discovered that the Tennessee Alliance for Progress (TAP), in partnership with Nashville Organized for Action and Hope (NOAH) and the Southern Grassroots Economies Project, (which springs from the venerable Highlander Folk Center) was sponsoring an all-day workshop on….creating co-operatives in Nashville.  How could I not go?

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THE CONTINUING COUP

9 07 2011

I want to take a few minutes to honor the late Joe Bageant, who passed out of this world back in March.  Joe was a longtime editor and writer, but only recently came to what prominence he has (or had) through two books:  the recent Rainbow Pie, a memoir which describes how he became a “radical redneck,” and “Deer Hunting With Jesus:  Dispatches From America’s Class War,” a title which, I think, speaks for itself, in a koanish kind of way.

If you’re not familiar with Joe, here’s a couple of quotes that will give you an idea:

“I always say that if Obama was delivered to the White House with Jesus Christ, a five-piece band and six gilded seraphim holding up his f-ing balls he still won’t be able to do anything because the country’s broke and Congress is bought and sold.”

Just for the record, he wrote that when The Socialist Review asked his opinion of Obama’s election.  And “f-ing” is a polite contraction of the word he really used.  The next quote comes from “Deer Hunting With Jesus”:

“Republican or Democrat, this nation’s affluent urban and suburban classes understand their bread is buttered on the corporate side. The primary difference between the two parties is that the Republicans pretty much admit that they grasp and even endorse some of the nastiest facts of life in America. Republicans honestly tell the world: “Listen in on my phone calls, piss-test me until I’m blind, kill and eat all of my neighbors right in front of my eyes, but show me the money! Let me escape with every cent I can kick out of the suckers, the taxpayers, and anybody else I can get a headlock on, legally or otherwise.” Democrats, in contrast, seem content to catalog the GOP’s outrages against the Republic, showing proper indignation while laughing at episodes of The Daily Show. But they stand behind the American brand: imperialism. They “support our troops,” though you will be hard put to find any of them who have served alongside them or who would send one of their own kids off to lose an eye or an arm in Iraq. They play the imperial game, maintain their credit ratings, and plan to keep the beach house and the retirement investments if it means sacrificing every damned Lynndie England in West Virginia.”

To sum it up:  Republicans may be sociopaths, but Democrats are their enablers.  What a choice we have in politics!  And that brings me to my next subject, the continuing coup here in America, including validation of Joe’s prophetic abilities–there was recently a well-documented incident in which a male Republican government official all but put a female Democrat elected official in a headlock–which, once more sums up the whole situation in one messy image.  More on that later.

One of the more prominent arenas in which the struggle between the psychopaths and their enablers is playing out is the various state and national budget battles that are taking place.  Let’s look at Minnesota as an example.  It may well be a harbinger of things to come for all of us.

The government of Minnesota is currently shut down, because Republicans won’t agree to raise taxes for the wealthiest Minnesotans, arguing that a tax increase on the wealthy hurts everyone.

Now, I have just castigated Democrats for being enablers to their Republican sociopath counterparts,  but credit where credit is due:  Minnesota’s Democratic Governor Mark Dayton laid out his logic in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

The Minnesota Department of Revenue reports that, as a percentage of income, the wealthiest 10 percent of our citizens pay only three-fourths as much in state and local taxes as do the rest of Minnesotans. The richest 1 percent, who on average make over $1.2 million a year, pay only two-thirds as much.

If they all paid the same percentage of their incomes as everyone else, there would be an additional $4 billion in revenues for the next biennium. That would eliminate two-thirds of our state’s next budget deficit.

It would allow us to begin to restore our commitment to education. To serve our senior citizens. To lower property taxes.

Earlier in the article, Dayton pointed out that property taxes have doubled in Minnesota in the last decade–while Republican Tim “no new taxes” Pawlenty was governor.  Property taxes can be very regressive–just because you own land or a house doesn’t mean you have a lot of income, y’know?  Somehow, Republicans don’t seem to have a problem with that tax increase.  Or maybe, it’s “if we didn’t have to support all these socialistic public schools, we could cut property taxes.”  Some school districts in Minnesota have cut back to four-day weeks due to lack of funding.  I’m not that crazy about public schools, myself, for a whole host of reasons I don’t have time to go into now–but on the positive side, they can be one of the glues that hold communities together.

The Minnesota Republicans’ stonewalling on tax increases for the richest one  percent of Minnesotans harks back to one of the highlights of Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, when George Bush said:

This is an impressive crowd: the haves, and the have-mores. Some people call you the elite, I call you my base.

And that’s just what Republicans all over the country are doing:  working to make the richest richer and to hell with the rest of us.   In Spain, everybody knows that “Republicans” is just a polite word for “fascists.”  I’d say I wish that awareness would catch on here, but I think there are too many people who don’t care what the opposition calls them as long as they have the most toys.  And so the class war drags on, and the selfish wealthy are winning.

Republicans can collect a political majority for two reasons:  one–a lot of Americans are gullible and mis-educated enough to believe that, even though they’re not rich, they could get rich and it would make them happy; and two–Republicans believe that because they are right it is OK to bend the rules and cheat like hell.  We see this in Republican efforts all over the country to limit voter turnout through increasingly restrictive voter ID laws, voter  caging,  and creative redistricting.

That’s what happened here in Tennessee when the legislature went Republican for the first time since Reconstruction, a hundred and fifty years ago–and not only did they restrict the hours and days for early voting and require people to produce a photo ID to vote, they rescinded the previous legislature’s bipartisan mandate to switch to  a recountable voting system.  We vote on computers in this state, and there is no way to tell whether they are accurately recording voter preferences, but there are plenty of ways to hack the machines so that they inaccurately record those preferences–undetectably.

And what else are the Republicans doing with the power they are seizing from all-too-often clueless Democrats?

They seem to be doing their best to turn America into the kind of country George Orwell envisioned in “1984”:  a small, well-off, well guarded elite, a slightly larger class of desperate wannabes, and a vast, disempowered, ignorant sea of proles, kept in their place by Fundamentalist Christian Shari’a, in our case, rather than Orwell’s “love of Big Brother.”

The nature of this repression is brought to light in a recent Guardian/ Alternet story focused on a fifteen-year old Mississippi girl who is facing a life sentence for having a miscarriage.  Yes, you heard/read that right.  Her case, however, is only the tip of the misogynist iceberg:  Thirty-eight states have passed or are considering “fetal homicide” laws, which are billed as a protection against assaults on pregnant women–but in South Carolina, where such a law has actually been passed, only one man has even been charged, while three hundred pregnant women have been prosecuted, mostly for having had miscarriages and testing positive for illegal drugs, even though there is no scientifically demonstrable link between drug use and miscarriage.  Other states’ “fetal endangerment” laws  have resulted in pregnant women being charged with child abuse and sent to prison simply for testing positive for marijuana.   Is the mother or the prosecutor engaging in “reckless endangerment” here?  Is it not truly Orwellian when we criminalize body chemistry rather than behavior?

But the bullying isn’t just at the relatively impersonal, prosecutorial level.  In at least one case, in Wisconsin, there has allegedly been one-on-one physical abuse.  Newly elected Republican Supreme Court Justice David Prosser allegedly grabbed fellow Justice Ann Bradley, a Democrat, by the neck after she asked him to leave her office for referring to the Democrat Chief Justice of the Court, Shirley Abrahamson, as “a total bitch,”  and threatening to “destroy her.”  Is this not the language of abuse?   What is this abusive man doing on the Wisconsin Supreme Court?  Elected, no less?  This is a sad reflection on our country.

So, seeing the Republican and Democrat Parties as locked into abuser/enabler roles is not just a metaphor.  American politics are dangerously dysfunctional, and, short of the Green Party pulling off an electoral miracle in the next few cycles, likely to become even dumber and more deadlocked as we drift into the future.  The coup that was launched with the Supreme Court’s selection of Cheney and Bush as winners of the 2000 election will continue.   Republicans may succeed in their battle for complete control of the ship of state.  Congress can pass resolutions declaring that the roar of the waterfall ahead is merely a figment of Al Gore’s imagination, and continue to focus the power of the government on oppressing the people rather than saving the planet, but the reality is that the current is only going to get swifter, and the roar is only going to get louder, and sooner or later the American ship of state will lurch over the waterfall at the end of oil and empire, and crash onto the rocks below, dashing all the Republifascists’ control fantasies in the process.  They can’t say they weren’t warned.

music:  Grateful Dead, “Throwing Stones





ON, WISCONSIN!

13 03 2011

Greece, Ireland, Iceland, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya….who could imagine they would freak out in Wisconsin?

Actually, Wisconsin is one of the more likely powder kegs in the US , a state with a traditionally progressive voter base (the birthplace of the Progressive Party, after all!) that woke up after the last election to discover it had been taken over by Tea Partiers.   Sure, there are states with a more radical tinge to them, like California and Vermont, but both of those states rejected the Republican invitation to self-immolation.

Tea Party governor Scott Walker’s budget proposals, likely to pass in the state’s now-Tea Party dominated legislature, represented a giant step backwards for many of the state’s residents.   As Hannah Arendt observed in her classic book On Revolution, revolutions tend to occur not when the poor are oppressed to the breaking point, but when the middle class, which had something, senses that it is losing its privileges.

Walker’s credibility was tarnished when he got “punked,” as they say these days, into believing that he was conversing with David Koch, when he was actually talking to Ian Murphy, a blogger from Buffalo, New York.  The “confidential” twenty-minute conversation revealed that Walker planned to use layoffs of state workers as a tool to push for getting his way, and also captured him agreeing to quid quo pro arrangements with “David Koch.” Both are illegal under Wisconsin ethics laws–but the state Attorney General is a Republican, so don’t hold your breath.

Since conservative pranksters had been responsible for at least two well-publicized media stunts–the “how do we start a whorehouse?” ACORN video and the spurious trashing of Shirley Sherrod, Republicans could hardly complain about it when one of their own got fooled.  Unlike Republican efforts, Murphy didn’t  have to edit their conversation in order for Walker to make a fool of himself. While Walker  claimed that the tape didn’t reveal anything he hadn’t said in public, it did.  Beyond the potential ethics violations, Walker fantasized about “taking a baseball bat” to his political opponents.  A Deputy Attorney General in Indiana who suggested using live ammunition against the protesters in Wisconsin was fired; why should it be any different for a governor who threatens violence against peaceful demonstrators?

This just in: the same so-called “conservative” who trashed ACORN recorded NPR exec Ron Schiller saying that

public opinion is driven by “this very large uneducated part of the population.”

and

“(Tea Partiers). believe in sort of white, middle-America, gun-toting.   I mean, it’s scary. They’re seriously racist, racist people.”

All of that’s true enough, but apparently telling the truth is enough to get you in trouble these days.  People don’t want to hear the truth.  It’s too hard on their precious, threatened egos and lifestyles.  Republicans hope to use this to cut NPR and PBS out of the federal budget, which will save each of us $1.43 a year.  Don’t let the prospect of so much additional wealth go to your head!  Defense spending, meanwhile, is costing each of us  $3,000 a year, but that’s sacrosanct. As so often happens, I digress….there are a million stories on the Naked Planet.

The day-to-day drama of this struggle is fascinating, but let’s take a few steps back from the crowd and get a feel for the big picture.

Much has already been made in the media of the connection between organized labor’s support of the Democratic Party and Republican efforts to destroy union power as a way to undercut the Democrats.   Plenty of commentators have also pointed out that unions have shifted over the last several decades from a blue-collar to a more white-collar demographic.  I would like to take this one step further.  The Republican propaganda machine is whipping up public sentiment against teachers and state employees because they still enjoy the lifestyle and perks that many Americans have lost as the country has been  de-industrialized (and de-unionized) over the last several decades.  In other words, the party of “Christian values” is promoting anger, greed, and envy to bring down the last remaining bastion of middle-class America.  Nice work, guys.  I’m sure Jesus would be proud of you.

At the same time, right-wingers have been horrified by any suggestions, such as Michael Moore‘s, that there might be something wrong with the fact that the wealthiest 40 Americans have more resources at their disposal than the bottom fifty percent.  Yeah, that’s forty people (OK, plus their families) put together who are wealthier than a hundred and fifty-five million of us .  From the Tea Party perspective, it’s class warfare to point that out, but somehow it’s not class warfare when conservatives work to destroy public health care for those who can’t otherwise afford it, unions, community organizations like ACORN, or public service organizations like Planned Parenthood.

Can you say “doublethink,” boys and girls?  Ever wonder how a scenario like Orwell’s 1984 could possibly come to pass?  We may be living it, if things don’t fall apart first.

While I would be the first to admit that middle-class American expectations are, considered on a global scale, immoderately luxurious, it is simply not fair for the wealthy to insist that the middle class take a hit so that the upper class can continue its even more immoderately luxurious lifestyle.  All of us here in America need to come down a few pegs. As with climate change, the problem will not go away if the Tea Partiers succeed in muting the nation’s conscience.  It will return to haunt us again and again, more and more forcefully.

“You can have my money and my guns when you rip them from my cold, dead fingers.”  That’s the deal you want?  That’s the deal you’ll get.

And where has Obama been during all this?  If he were really a socialist firebrand, as the right-wing media love to assert, he would have been in Madison, addressing the rally and reclaiming the base that elected him in 2008.  But no, Obama was nowhere near Madison.  His staff instructed the Democratic National Committee to back off efforts to support the Madison demonstrators, wile he offered tepid words of encouragement, similar to his pronouncements on the revolution in Egypt and the ongoing revolt in Libya, similar to the way Bush I encouraged the Iraqis  to revolt against Saddam and then did nothing while Saddam slaughtered them.  No, Obama’s allegiance is not to the people, his allegiance is to them that bought him.

It’s not clear to me where this movement is going, but I see a couple of  possibilities.

If the protesters’ energy ebbs and the anti-populists, the Republican Tea Partiers, prevail, America will slip further into being a two-tier society.  We will be less organized, less flexible, less able to meet the challenges that will shake us harder and harder as time goes on.

If the protesters prevail, then they will, to a certain extent, be in the position of the dog that chased cars and actually caught one.  There will be plenty of difficult decisions to make, and no “other” to blame for poor outcomes and unintended consequences.   Reinstating the business taxes that Governor Walker abolished in order to create his “fiscal crisis” justification for ending collective bargaining, will, in all likelihood, discourage business, if only because Republican business owners will get mad and find ways to avoid paying taxes.  Freedom to keep all the money you make is, after all, at the head of the list of Tea Party freedoms, right up there with the freedom to ignore compassion, facts, and logic in the interests of having things your way.

So, I certainly stand with the Wisconsin protesters to the extent that I don’t want to see the wealthy win this battle in the class war.  But I can’t, in all honesty, join them in “defending the American dream.”  The American dream is built on the backs of millions of people in the third world who cannot have a decent life because we need their poverty to support our wealth.  We need to wake up from the American dream, but we need to all wake up from it.  The majority of Americans should not be made to suffer more so that the wealthiest one percent can keep on dreaming.  It’s time to share the pain.

Music:  James McMurtry, “We Can’t Make It Here Anymore








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