I know I just posted about this yesterday as an issue, but as a matter of law SJR127 is not completely decided, it has merely jumped the first hurdle to being an amendment to the state constitution.
According to the state constitution, in order for this to become an full fledged amendment, it must be voted on and passed two more times, once by a 2/3 vote of the House and Senate, then again by the majority of voters in the state.
and if in the general assembly then next chosen as aforesaid, such proposed amendment or amendments shall be agreed to by two-thirds of all the members elected to each house, then it shall be the duty of the general assembly to submit such proposed amendment or amendments to the people at the next general election in which a Governor is to be chosen. (Source)
So here is the challenge. Between now and 2011 we have to either flip, or put in place 3 Senators and 12 Representatives that will vote against this amendment, for it to fail which would prevent it from coming up for a popular vote in the 2014 general. That’s 18 months of organizing to flip electeds and 3 more years of organizing against final adoption or nearly 5 years of organizing against this thing.
This IS NOT a call to start primary efforts against Democrats or any such nonsense. This is a call to communicate with these Democratic legislators and begin a lobbying effort to ensure they vote against this once it comes up again, and to look at Republican held districts that may be receptive to a strong Democratic challenger.
We have to start somewhere, and this is the first step.
Accountability Defeats Barbarism or It’s the Accountability, Stupid
There is no accountability in barbarism, and if some had it their way, there would be little accountability in government. Accountability is where ideology falls apart. Both sides call for more “accountability” so long as it’s politically expedient for them, but neither REALLY deliver. Honestly, it’s the height of stupid how badly both sides sell but fail to deliver accountability. Maybe it’s because elected officials are just not gifted at coming up with ways to police things, or maybe, just maybe they’re relying on sleepy eyed constituents that are only really engaged in the process from the car to the ballot box, and “just can’t quit” their electeds no matter how bad they’re messing it up. I’ll call it Brokeback politickin’.
See, when the Democrats are in control of the legislature, the Republicans want things like Ethics Commissions and fundraising embargoes and accountability and all that because they know that if they can cast doubt, or if there’s something that gains attention (like Tennessee Waltz), their advocacy will score political points. When the tables get turned, they want to dismantle the very same thing they built because it costs too much or it’s too burdensome. Both sides try to avoid stuff like this as a general rule because at some point, fate being what it is, they will be in power and thus subject to the rules as the party in power.
There are, however, people on both sides that always support things like this. I love these people, regardless of party because they possess a dynamic moral compass (one that doesn’t exclusively point at “them” all the damn time). They understand democratic institutions need oversight in order to be effective, but most importantly, that they need that oversight for the people who are paying attention, and even those who aren’t, to have faith in them, which is vital for effective governance.
So when Lt. Gov. Ramsey calls for the end of the fundraising embargo during the legislative session, or some drastic change to the Ethics Commission that he voted for, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand what’s at play in the political calculus. He can’t get elected Governor against a guy with as much money as oil in Saudi Arabia if he can’t raise money 24/7 and causing a dustup in the Ethics Commission or with TREF gives him some cover to do what he’s got to do to get the thing he wants to get. Of course, he could just as easily resign his seat in the Senate and raise all the money he could get his hands on, but then he would lose a powerful platform, and if he doesn’t win, he’s out of the game. It’ll be interesting to see if Democratic state legislators who are also running or considering a run for Governor get behind his effort. I love you guys, but don’t think I won’t call you out the same way.
Now, I personally don’t see any real problem with legislators raising money when they’re in session, so long as there are strict guidelines and a well-funded agency with teeth that can enforce the guidelines. That’s not the issue. It becomes an issue when the self-interest is so BLATANT that it stinks to high heaven like a fish market on a hot summer afternoon. This is something you do RIGHT AFTER a campaign, not in the run up.
But poor accountability doesn’t just happen when pols are policing themselves. Does anyone believe that the mess we’re experiencing economically could have been averted had; 1. Rules not been taken out of play for regulators, & 2. Our former administration not yanked the teeth out of regulatory agencies praying that the tooth fairy (unregulated markets) would pay off?
This is why legislators and Congress in general have low approval ratings, they just don’t get accountability. This is why people feel government is broken. In Monteagle, TN House caucus chair Mike Turner said , “Republicans get elected by claiming that government is broken then get elected and prove it!”. Now that’s a funny line, and was delivered with all the bravado that we’ve come to expect from Rep. Turner, but the truth is, Democrats break government too…like when they surrender their ideals to Republican ploys.
But that’s just government accountability, not REAL accountability. After that stupid “Guns in Bars” bill passed, there was a lot of racket from restaurant owners who were ANGRY that their elected officials had not even bothered to consult them before voting (Newscoma touched on this last week). Now sure, you can’t get to every constituent, but word gets around, particularly in the restaurant industry (I mean, town crier anyone? sheesh), and had one of these fine fellows or fellettes (I think that means something else,) bothered to talk to a couple of people, word would have spread and letters and phone calls would have been made.
Here’s a tip, if you’re waiting for your legislators to magically not be a jerk, you’re going to be disappointed. I’m NOT SAYING THAT ALL LEGISLATORS ARE JERKS, many, even the ones that do stupid things from time to time aren’t. I’m saying that if you want to ensure that they don’t go down that dark path, you have to initiate contact. But one letter only goes so far. Truth is you’ll need to get a bunch of friends and colleagues to write also to make an impact. Once you’ve made that contact, expressed your opinion, if they still consistently do the wrong thing, vote them out of office, because the flaming poop bag on the front stoop is unseemly.
But people, more often than not, are interested in playing the victim and not taking the bull by the horns, and politicians count on that which is why incumbents win like 95% of the time.
Truth is, if you don’t think you can do anything then chances are you won’t. Politicians vote against their ideals from time to time because they aren’t provided the political cover, the vocal support they need to feel confident in their actions. Progressives, on a local and statewide level, consistently fail to gain the kind of change they want not necessarily because they elected the wrong person, but because they assumed that person would remember their agenda and failed to make that person do it after the election. Further, using our logic, “it’s the right thing to do, so why should there be any question?” we find ourselves mystified when our people vote in ways inconsistent with the values they espouse. Conservatives get this. They bang the hell out of their ideas EVERYWHERE, which partially explains all the whack job letters to the editor in the paper. Is it that they have too much time on their hands, or that they’re organized in a way that allows them to have more influence even though they might be fewer in number. (ie. more vocal).
Elections aren’t the end of the process, they’re the beginning. In order to make the stuff happen that we want to happen we have to build and maintain an organization. We need to run a lobbying effort.
I know that lobbyist is a dirty word and all, but not all lobbyists are fat cats making 7 figures, drinking brandy out of fancy glasses and chomping cigars. Some are workaday Joes that make money in politics advocating for one issue or another, and others are people like you and me. See, as constituents we have the right to “lobby” our elected officials for things, and we can do this in a variety of ways that don’t necessarily include hiring a former member of congress to go up to the hill and trade a vote based on the outcome of a game of racquetball. Unfortunately, you and I don’t have as much money as large corporations, so they get more expensive lobbyists. This just means we have to invest more sweat equity in our lobbying efforts or join organizations to pool our efforts.
There are lots of organizations you can join that lobby on behalf of policy ideals, from more narrow issue groups (like ACLU and NOW) to broader ideological groups (like DFA or MoveOn), to even larger member organizations like unions or the Chamber of Commerce. This gets dicey though, because any jackass with $100 can sign up and join the US Chamber of Commerce, but if you want to join a union, one either has to exist, you have to start one, or you have to find a job at one that has one. This is why passing EFCA is so important, not only for the work benefits of joining a union (though those are important), but for the leveling of the playing field in the lobbying arena that comes with it (IMHO).
Groups like the Chamber don’t want this to happen because it’s a threat to the entitlement system that they’ve created over the past 30 years. If anyone can join a union then anyone can get involved in the lobbying process working against their interests, and thus threaten their power.
Lobbies like the US Chamber, who is singularly more responsible for the destruction of mom and pop businesses like mine, is for companies like Wal-Mart and have used their lobbying power to ensure everything from offshore loopholes for big business to anti-labor legislation that hinders the organizing process. If you ain’t a billion dollar company spread out all over the world, they ain’t your friends. But for $100 bucks you can join the USCOC if you like, and for a donation you can join DFA or MoveOn, but unless you work somewhere that has one, you can’t join a union.
So why not just join MoveOn or DFA? You can, but understand that they are not focused on issues in the same way that the ACLU, NOW, USCOC and Labor are, and they’re practically nonexistent here in Tennessee. MoveOn and DFA are broadly ideologically based, ACLU and NOW are more ideologically focused on specific topics and have a greater presence and Labor is looking out for the interests of their members, even when it runs contrary to traditional ideological allies (think Labor v. Clinton on NAFTA).
Let’s think about this locally and use SJR127 as an example. Did any group in the state start a statewide petition drive or a letter writing campaign around SJR127? Did they focus their efforts on contacting people in swing districts to write their legislators advocating a position (pro or con)? I can’t say for sure, but I’ll bet money that conservatives did, because they are passionate, focused and organized to do these things. Progressives here in Tennessee right now are just passionate.
I saw NOTHING other than blog posts from the left that showed any focused or organized effort. If there was, I must have missed it. If we want to have an effect on the passage of legislation like SJR127, we have to be able to plop a sack of letters on Mike Turner’s (or any other legislator’s) desk from HIS constituents and say, “your voters want you to vote against this”. We have to have proof, and blog posts ain’t gonna cut it. In order to “Make them do it” have to focus and organize our passion.
So, how do we do this? First, we identify allies. For the purposes of SJR127 that would be groups like NOW, Planned Parenthood, and probably several others. They have lists of supporters and donors, we have to help contact these groups to find out what actions (if any) they are engaged in to fight the legislation. From there, we as bloggers use our readership to promote the effort, and if we can clean the Cheetos off our shirts, get out there and do some boots on the ground work. Depending on the success of the effort, perhaps we can swing some votes our way.
I don’t know what, if anything NOW in TN did in opposition to SJR127, but I DO KNOW that if we keep doing what we’ve always done, we’ll keep getting what we’ve always got. Writing blogs is cool, and definitely helps, but like the election, it’s the beginning of the process, not the end. The end is when we get what we want, and unless we start doing something different, it ain’t ever gonna happen.
Several months ago someone told me to leave the politickin to the politicians and just write your blog and to donate money when you can. Well, maybe I haven’t written enough, donated enough or wished upon a star enough, but being on the sidelines and just giving money to places ain’t working for me. I’m ready for the next step.
I’ve never been much of a volunteer, but now I think it’s high time I started. I want to do all the stuff that I’m scared of, phone banking, canvassing, you name it, I’m in. I want to see how this is done, and learn from the experience, and find ways to apply it on a broader scale. Most importantly, I want to have something to show for at the end of the day other than a bunch of words and angst.
So that’s where I’m at. I know where I’m volunteering, and in the next few days I’ll write something about that effort once I become more familiar with the campaign, the strategy, and the tactics employed.
In the end, if we want our elected officials to be accountable we have to make them BE accountable beyond the ballot box. Accountability is a full time job, but it’s a job that voters have to take on. As we’ve seen over the course of this session, we can’t sit on the sidelines and hope they’ll do the right thing, we have to make it politically toxic for them to NOT do the right thing. Until that happens, nothing will change. Until that happens, all the emotion, words, and frustration we’ve seen is just wasted energy. If we want change we have to make it happen, and we have to start now.
Fighting What the Fight is Really About or The Barbarism of Subterfuge
This is part 2 of a 3 part post. Part 1 can be found here
What about SJR127? The truth is, SJR127 is a Trojan horse, being rolled into the state constitution that would allow the state to make a determination on your right to privacy. Despite the emotionally charged debate that’s been going on since long before Roe Vs. Wade, a right to privacy, not abortion, is the foundation upon which that case was decided. Supporters of SJR127 want to limit your right to privacy, whether they realize it or not.
That’s right, one of the cornerstones of the conservative movement, a movement grounded in the idea of personal liberty and responsibility supports legislation that, once enacted, would limit your right to privacy, thus infringing on your liberty. Ironic isn’t it?
Liberty is defined as …the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behavior, or political views.While the purest ideas of liberty may not be possible in a world of societal norms, due process, …the principle that the government must respect all of the legal rights that are owed to a person according to the law of the land… the idea that is the core of the Roe v. Wade decision, not just abortion, is the thing that will suffer under the implementation of this state constitutional amendment as well as availability of abortion, should it pass.
For me, this whole thing is not about the emotional arguments fronted on the left or the right about “killing babies” or “choice”, it’s about whether or not “liberty” is truly endowed by our Creator, as set forth in the Declaration of Independence, the intellectual cornerstone of our Republic. The act of barbarism is the attack on one’s right to privacy in medical affairs, as determined by over 200 years of case law and the 14th Amendment. The act of barbarism is forcing someone to make a choice based one someone else’s perception of values, while clearly denying the right to privacy and due process based on a “feeling” of what should be done rather than reality.
The truth is, most of the proponents of SJR127 are not as “Pro-Life” as they claim to be, they are anti-choice. They don’t want you to have any say in your life. They are less concerned about your liberty than their drive and desire to restrict it. They want to regulate your body, mind and spirit in a way that harkens back to “serfdom”, and SJR127 is a step in that direction. I can respect someone who is “Pro-Life” but also votes for legislation to help people through their struggles by supporting contraception, education, jobs and affordable healthcare, but the people that put SJR127 up aren’t those people. They don’t care about you once your born, and if you have a problem, or are living in poverty, or don’t have access to education or employment opportunity, from their perspective, it’s probably something you did.
We’ve got some time on this before it becomes law. If we want to defeat this, electing more Democrats may help, but the biggest thing we have to do is we have to get organized, which is the topic of the next post.
Annoying aside…Finally, just a bit of reality on the emotional side of the issue. First, the notion that women use abortion as birth control is crap. I have several friends who, for one reason or another have had abortions. All of them carry the weight of the decision with them years beyond the actual procedure. These women didn’t have abortions because they didn’t want babies, but for a litany of reasons that are too numerous to name. Telling these women that their decision to terminate the pregnancy is a “second chance at birth control” or that they’re “baby killers” is vile disgusting, and the people who spout this filth should be ashamed. You can oppose abortion without engaging in this kind of over-the-top rhetoric, but I imagine that since you are left to rely solely on an emotionally explosive argument, then you have no logical argument to give.
Further, if you want to reduce the number of abortions then support something other than tying off the tip and praying nothing slips through. Education, contraception, and readily available healthcare are all solutions to reducing abortion. Acting like sex shouldn’t happen except under certain circumstances is denial. Accept responsibility for your position and support programs to limit unwanted pregnancies instead of trying to apply some outmoded code on a group of people who do not share your views. You’ll win more people over that way, honest.
Secondly, in February 2007 a child was born after just 22 weeks of gestation. This is almost exactly the mid point of the 2nd-trimester, or 8 weeks AFTER the first trimester (1st 14 weeks), which is the time frame in which an abortion, under normal circumstances may be performed. (Source) While it is a modern miracle that this child was able to live just barely halfway through the pregnancy, there is no indication that a younger fetus would be able to withstand the shock of such a procedure. Abortion is not murder because murder assumes that you are “alive”. Life is the the period between the birth and death of a living thing, esp. a human being. If you have not been born you cannot die, or be murdered, simple as that.
The next post is the mother lode…time to organize folks.
(Ed. Note: This is part one of a three part post concerning recent developments in the legislature and potential actions that can be taken in the future to keep them from happening again.
Guns, Guns everywhere or Are We Still Barbarians?
Are we any more civilized than we ever were? I mean sure, we’re not living in an ancient age of Kings claiming to have their “God” on speed dial or anything (right?), and no one in the US is getting invaded by the village or city-state next door (except DeSoto Co.), but have we really changed all that much emotionally and intellectually since those times?
The obvious answer is yes, we have modern democratic institutions, and live in well constructed houses that are the result of thousands of years of engineering knowledge, and work in offices and factories and farms and other businesses that are highly mechanized to make the jobs less unbearable, and have all kinds of technology that helps us live longer, more productive lives…but really, are we all that different? I mean, we have different stuff, and that stuff is, arguably, way cooler than the old stuff and helps us get more stuff done faster, but has the change in civilization only been about stuff or is there something deeper?
The question probably sounds pretty stupid really, I mean, could anyone rationally say that we’re as barbaric as the fabled empires of yore? Just look at the differences of modern warfare. Wars that once cost hundreds of thousands of lives, perhaps millions, are now executed with pinpoint precision, and when targeted correctly, spare the lives of most of those in the general vicinity (right?).
So perhaps we value human life more than we once did. Perhaps that is our crowning achievement. Or perhaps, we just have more stuff to do things in ways that we didn’t before, and the sparing of human life is more of political necessity thanks to the speed and impact of information dissemination than any great awakening of the human mind.
Maybe I’m just being pessimistic, or maybe there’s something to what I’m saying.
I’m not honestly suggesting that while civilization has grown, our ability to be civilized has become stagnant. It is, however, interesting to me that with each small step forward we take as a society there is pushback from those who wistfully yearn for the more barbaric days of yore, where the men were men, the women were women, only the bad guys died in gunfights at the end of the movie and the good guy rode off into the sunset with the girl. I mean, we all recognize that this is fantasy right? That world didn’t really exist. Just like Greek mythology is fables, and all, right?
That said, I’m mystified by the misty eyed apologists for SJR127, the guns in everywhere bills, the possible dismantling of the Ethics Commission, and I’m sure I’ve missed something because I haven’t mentioned either of the Stuntbabies yet. All of these things are throwbacks to our fabled barbarian past.
If someone pulls a gun on you, and starts shooting, how likely is it that you can duck for cover, draw your weapon, and return fire without endangering the lives of others in the vicinity? Seriously, how likely is it that the adrenaline will take over and you will not only miss your target, but also hit an innocent bystander? Think about the number of rounds found at many murder scenes involving firearms. For that matter, think about the number of rounds shot in a typical gunfight in a movie. What is the typical round to bullet wound ratio in either of these scenarios? How many rounds not only miss their targets, but carry on to inflict a wound on an innocent bystander? It’s not like they stop when they miss, right?
I mean honestly, handguns, while convenient, are dreadfully inaccurate. Because of the short barrels, a fraction of a degree is likely the difference between hitting and missing your target at ranges of over 30 feet. While the average person may believe they have the intestinal fortitude, resolve, and accuracy of Dirty Harry, the truth of the matter is that rarely is anyone given the time to line up a shot that even remotely resembles his iconic, “do you feel lucky, punk”, moments. It just doesn’t happen, and if it does, and the trigger is pulled, it’s more likely that you just shot someone who was out of bullets…effectively disarmed.
I’m not suggesting that people who own firearms are somehow uncivilized, or barbaric, quite the contrary. I’m a strong supporter of 2nd amendment rights and feel that gun ownership, while a huge responsibility, is a right provided by the Constitution. I don’t think people NEED AK-47’s or anything like that, and they sure as hell don’t NEED automatics, but who am I to tell someone what kind of gun they go hunting with, as long as they’re hunting for something other than people. Further, I’ve been to many shooting ranges in my time, and have enjoyed renting and shooting “assault style” rifles. It’s a thrill, no doubt about it. The problem for me comes not in the gun ownership, but the rationalization for unfettered carriage.
But thinking about the scenario above, what likelihood of survival does carrying a firearm into a restaurant actually give you? Does it give you any, or does it give you a false sense of security wrapped in the fables of a thousand western movies? Truth is you are no safer with a firearm than without, anywhere, and in some cases, actually more likely to either be fired upon or killed with your own gun. Carrying a firearm, particularly a concealed one, is not any more a deterrent than allowing the death penalty in murder cases deters people intent on committing murder, or long jail sentences deters people from smoking marijuana. In fact, it’s probably less. Vigilante justice is no substitute for the justice system that we’ve spent the past 200+ years building, if anything it weakens it.
We are not barbarians, in fact we’ve come a long way, and while there are people who commit barbaric acts in our society, we cannot act like returning the favor is justice. Justice is making them accountable to society through the justice system. Expanding the number of places that concealed weapons may be carried is not safety, it’s false security wrapped in mythology. All too soon, that mythology is going to backfire.
Next up, SJR127 and the anti-choice crowd
Tennessee is growing. According to US Census estimates Tennessee has added some 525,614 people since the census in 2000. In that time, the Eastern and Middle Divisions, as defined by TN Code 4-1-202 through 204 have seen their population increase by nearly 500,000. The Western Division, by contrast, has only added 30,000 people.
The Western Division suffers from some issues that have contributed to this poor population performance. First, the W. Division has fewer counties (21) that are far more rural than the other two divisions. The W. Division has only 1 of the 10 largest counties in Tennessee…Shelby. Only Shelby, Madison, Tipton and Gibson have populations over or near 50,000. By contrast, Middle TN has 8 Counties with populations greater than 50,000, and East TN has 15.
According to these estimates, Shelby County has only grown by just over 9000 people since 2000. Davidson, Rutherford, and Williamson in Middle TN have grown by over 150,000 total in the same time period. Knox, Hamilton, Blount and Sevier in the East have grown by around 100,000. Where have all the West Tennessee people gone?
10 counties in West TN have seen population declines since 2000 for a total of 6500 fewer people. Tipton and Fayette, the two counties surrounding Shelby have seen a growth of almost 16000 people. Many of these new residents are likely from Shelby Co., creating a growth neutral situation. DeSoto Co., MS has seen growth of some 50,000 since 2000, the vast majority of these people have moved from Shelby Co. Under these circumstances, the growth that Shelby County “feels” in terms of infrastructure use is not realized in the tax base, or the population leading to a net negative growth as a percentage of the entire state’s population of 1.8% division wide.
With redistricting coming up in 2010, the Western Division stands to lose as many as 3 Representative and 1 Senator, if these numbers hold true, to the quickly expanding Middle. This is bad news for as many as 4 elected officials as well as the people of the Western Division, but at this point, there’s not much that can be done by 2010.
The closure of several manufacturing plants in NW TN, and the general absence of economic diversity in rural counties is partially to blame for this decline, but the majority of the cause is right here in Shelby Co. High crime, low graduation rates, rampant poverty, and a reliance on existing employers to “grow our way” out of the problem have hampered Shelby’s growth, sending more and more people to N. Mississippi, which has almost tripled in population since 1990.
Mayor Herenton’s famous declaration calling on people to “leave” rather than addressing the problems of the City can’t have helped the situation.
On the flip side, nearly all of the new employers to the state in the past several years have taken residence in the Eastern and Middle divisions. This helps explain their growth as much as our inability to maintain our percentage of the statewide population.
In the end, while this is an ugly scenario, this is the reality that we’re facing in two years, assuming that the numbers hold true. For Democrats, it gives us one more motivating factor for taking back the House in 2010, to keep Republicans from exploiting these statewide demographic shifts in redistricting. For the Western Division, it further illustrates the need for us to demand better from our elected representatives in state, county, and city government.
We have a lot to address, and it can’t all be done by 2010, but it’s important for the 21 counties here in the West not fall so far behind that we become an economically depressed area of Tennessee. We have a great deal to offer, but we also have to stop being our own worst enemies, and work together to raise the standard of living for all West Tennesseans. It’s a tough row to hoe, but inaction is not an option.