Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Nashville Scene reporters: desperately seeking the slew

Ever since Occupy Nashville started taking on Governor Bill Haslam (or maybe it was since one of their reporters was arrested during one of ON's post-curfew occupations), the boys and girls blogging for the Nashville Scene have joined in one undeviating chorus of support for Occupy Nashville. That string continued today with an indulging Jeff Woods post and a post by Steve Haruch on outside coverage of the protest at Legislative Plaza.

What grabs my attention in this media love affair for a local protest that has not done much to protest locally (as in "protesting Metro Nashville itself") is the contrast of it to the circumspection, ambivalence, and snootiness that Scene bloggers expressed during the debate over Fairgrounds redevelopment, which occurred over the past year and a half.

You may recall that the Fairgrounds tensions ratcheted particularly over the question of whether citizens were being excluded from the Mayor's top-down planning process, and they piqued over charges that local proponents of Fairgrounds Speedway demolition did not really come from the grassroots, but were astroturfed by supporters of Karl Dean. You may also remember that opponents put the question of their grassroots credentials to rest at nearly every turn, especially one Metro Council meeting night where literally thousands showed up to speak against the Mayor's plan during public hearing.

Nonetheless, from their Pith in the Wind perch, Scene reporters were unmoved by such popular opposition in 2010-2011, until Occupy Nashville came along. Compare, for example, Haruch's dulcet post today (celebrating ON bringing together people across the political spectrum) to Jim Ridley's irresolute post on the New York Times coverage of the public hearing. Whereas Haruch frames media coverage in terms of ON's purported big tent, Ridley seems to be in full-blown denial of the long-reach populism driving opposition to the Mayor's plan. Ridley claims that the Times brings light to a debate which has been all about heat. The only heat Haruch frames of Occupy Nashville--with the aid of the warm "bridge-building" glow of "southern hospitality." Ridley invokes "carpetbaggers." Rereading these epically vamped accompaniments leaves me searching for Tara and Twelve Oaks in the protests.

A year ago yesterday Ridley and Haruch tag-teamed a post promoting a YouTube video that alleged that Fairgrounds Expo vendors supported the Mayor's redevelopment plan. A week later the Nashville Business Journal reported a poll that found that 98% of the vendors opposed Karl Dean's plan to send them to Hickory Hollow, which was supported by the astroturf redevelopment proponents before they flip-flopped to advocate tearing down the speedway.

One of the astroturfers, Keith Moorman, was hand-picked by the Mayor's Office to speak for Fairground redevelopment in a video intended to persuade the Metro Council (long before the public hearing) that Dean's community support was strong (which the 2011 Fairgrounds referendum proved to be false). But rewind the tape at Pith back to the comments section of a 2007 Haruch post where Ridley (a.k.a. "Mr. Pink") praises Moorman as a populist everyman who has "piqued interest" of his community. I'm convinced the scripted astroturf started at that very moment.

I wish I could recall a post where a Scene writer embraced populism half as vigorously during the Fairgrounds brouhaha as they have during the occupation. But Ridley called voting against the Mayor voting for the status quo. Former editor Stephen George accused the grassroots of being hollow PR and naked cynicism while giving a pass to the Mayor's propaganda squads. Tracy Moore lavished link-love on a pro-Dean neighborhood blog while ignoring many of us on the other side. Betsy Phillips looked forward to a Dean-proposed park surrounded by impervious parking lots.

To a person, they seemed loath to advocate for balancing wholesale privatization and redevelopment with a community-based planning process. But now, forthwith, populism counts. Accountability to the 99% suddenly matters where it did not last winter in the heated halls at 12th and Laurel.

Meanwhile, some of us support both an open and accountable Fairgrounds planning process and the occupation of public spaces to make corporations and government more accountable to the people. It is a more consistent position.

UPDATE:  More on the astroturf of redevelopment proponents who did not attempt to present a balanced picture of where the community stood.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

At the business end of Guns N' Roses

It doesn't really matter if you like this aging hard rock band or not. Whether you have tickets to see them this weekend at publicly-owned Bridgestone Arena or not, it's all good.

The real question is how much bling do you think the Nashville Predators will make off this non-hockey event that should have been going into Metro Nashville coffers in these tight budget times? How many revenues originally pledged to pay for Metro services like schools, libraries, and parks in order to land an NHL club will be going into hockey club owners' pockets?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Deniable Dean?

Before Thanksgiving I posed the hypothesis that if Karl Dean did not know about the plan to send millions in non-hockey-event sales taxes away from Metro coffers and to the Nashville Predators hockey club then he is either inept of willfully ignorant. According to a late-breaking NewsChannel5 report last week, it looks like more of the latter:

But we've now discovered that they've actually pocketed almost $6 million, and there's another $4 million waiting for them to claim. It's all thanks to a lobbying effort on Tennessee's Capitol Hill.

"I just was a lobbyist, so I put the bill into the legislature," said Nashville attorney James Weaver.

Weaver is the man who went to Capitol Hill to get more of your money.

He's a longtime supporter of Mayor Karl Dean and a former lobbyist for the Nashville Predators.

After the team signed a lucrative new contract with the city in 2008, Weaver now admits he got state lawmakers to send them even more taxpayer money.

"We found out after the legislation had passed," Dean told NewsChannel 5 Investigates.

But his longtime ally had a different suggestion.

"It was a public process," Weaver insisted. "Again, the bill was debated in the House, debated in the Senate, passed by both by large margins and signed by the governor."

Does Mayor Dean really expect us to believe--given general claims that mayors possess specialized knowledge of the ins and outs of financial dealings that we are not privy to--that he had no knowledge of a public process of state legislation that redistributed tax dollars to private enterprise? Karl Dean is a lawyer, for crying out loud.

Reporter Phil Williams also found that former Nashville Mayor, former Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen inserted language into two different state bills that made the transfer of millions to the Preds possible. Dean worked for Bredesen when the latter was mayor, and a slew of Bredesenistas came to work for the Dean administration--at significant cost to taxpayers--after Bredesen's gubernatorial run ended.

The symbiosis between Dean and Bredesen (both of whom are Davidson Co. Democrats to boot) suggests to me that Dean would have had to have known that the fix was in on these bills. He cannot reasonably claim any deniability unless he simply kept himself willfully ignorant.

The part of this investigation where Dean's ineptness may slouch through is NewsChannel5's finding that MDHA hocked a sweetheart real estate deal to a local business in the convention center footprint that also had personal and influential connections at the Convention Center Authority. If the Mayor's Office prompted special assistance for one business it would be corrupt enough, but the very act of putting MDHA back in charge--after their mishandling of the Music City Center publicity deal with Dean ally, PR firm McNeely, Pigott, and Fox--is stupid and incredible.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Low-wage families require more assistance than just moves to new neighborhoods

A 15-year study of families who moved from high-poverty to low-poverty neighborhoods finds that they did not necessarily enjoy access to greater opportunities:

[The "Moving To Opportunity" study group’s] special mobility assistance didn’t enable families to gain and sustain access to high-opportunity neighborhoods. Although many moved to better housing in safer neighborhoods, few moved to neighborhoods served by high-performing public schools. And few spent more than a year or two in low-poverty neighborhoods. Rising rents, problems with landlords, and difficulty finding the next apartment all pushed families back to less desirable neighborhoods.

In other words, they didn’t really move to opportunity. It turns out that helping low-income families find, afford, and hang on to housing in high-opportunity neighborhoods requires more help than anticipated. Building on the lessons of MTO, mobility assistance programs in Dallas, Chicago, and Baltimore are now offering more hands-on help (with both the first move and subsequent moves) so families they serve can move to and stay in safe neighborhoods with good schools and abundant opportunities for both kids and adults.

It seems to me that helping low-income families move to greater opportunities requires governments to spend more money providing and sustaining supportive infrastructure (parks and libraries) and truly public schools. Also, without some sort of regulations on the apartment market, I don't see how working-class families will survive higher-income neighborhoods, where the atmosphere is more of a free-for-all than fair-value.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The political salience of local protest outside the bounds of elections alone

I've been consistently beating the drum that local protest movements (like "Occupy") need not lead to election results in order to have political merit, despite claims from critics all over the spectrum to the contrary. Out of Oregon comes news that protesters are having a profound affect on municipal policy matters without need of political parties or the ballot box:

Two weeks after Portland mayoral candidate and state Rep. Jefferson Smith publicly challenged Portland to move some of its money to local credit unions, Mayor Sam Adams this morning said he would pursue the cause.

The mayor's comments came during the public testimony portion of Wednesday's regular Portland City Council meeting and follow on the heels of the Occupy Wall Street movement and related protests against national banks. The city of Seattle this week adopted its own "responsible banking" resolution in response to the same forces.

The city of Portland has tens of millions of dollars in Wells Fargo, one target of protesters' discontent. But it was unclear as of Wednesday what specifically Adams would do differently ....

Todd Olson, the Portlander who introduced the topic during public testimony at City Council, said following through would allow the city to "address the gross inequity that brought 10,000 Oregonians to the streets of Portland six weeks ago."

This is a textbook example of how local protest groups should target city councils and Mayor's Offices to leverage real changes that move capital from powerful Wall Street banks to local institutions with larger local bang. It is not the first time cities have departed from federal policy to leverage positive change at home. 2 decades ago cities conducted an end-around President Ronald Reagan's support for South Africa and its apartheid government. By the end of the 1980s almost 100 US cities had divested from companies doing business with South Africa.

Likewise, cities are setting new headings due to Occupy Wall Street's fight against corporate malfeasance even as the Obama Administration is doing little to regulate the finance industry. That fills an under-utilized niche that politicos and party wonks ignore or hand over to others with conflicts of interest. The American Prospect has more:

"Banking is now a salient political issue," testified Olson before the city council. "Where local governments choose to bank is a political and social act."

It sure is. Now. And it would take a hearty dose of self-delusion to think that Occupy Wall Street hasn't contributed to creating a moment where wonky discussions of credit union collateralization are perfectly normal. That's true even if the folks in Zuccotti Park aren't the ones churning out white papers. That's how change politics works. And if Bloomberg thinks that "things aren't working well," another option would be for him to help figure out sensible responses, instead of chiding Occupy Wall Street protestors for not presenting end-to-end solutions wrapped in a bow, without anyone else's participation. That's a rather sad view of how change happens.

Hopefully, this trend will spill over to protesters here in Tennessee, and we will start to see pressure put on Mayors like Karl Dean to stop Metro Nashville investments in our abusive and malfeasant finance industry (the Dean Administration climbed into bed with unseemly Goldman Sachs to finance the new convention center).

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Metro Health Department flip flops on Occupy Nashville citation

First, Metro Nashville cited Occupy Nashville for feeding the homeless and told them to close down their kitchen. Then, according to an ON supporter, Metro Nashville told the local media that their kitchen shouldn't have been cited:

According to [Metro Health] spokesperson Brian Todd, Occupy Nashville can feed anybody they want to, as long as they aren't selling food. He denied that the kitchen had been shut down and compared it all to tailgating for the Titans and said the only issue was whether or not the food was being sold. Since food has never been sold by Occupy Nashville, there should be no problem, right?

Except, Occupy Nashville still has the problem of the official citation, the one with the box checked that reads, "Your permit to operate a food establishment in Metropolitan Nashville and Davidson County is suspended effective this date," so today Occupy Nashville representatives tried once again to determine what it all meant and what they could do and not do in order to avoid more citations or even arrests or eviction of the entire occupation. By the end of the day, a curious story would emerge from Metro's Director of Public Food Safety, Todd Crozier.

It seems there should never have been a citation issued in the first place. According to the explanation given to Occupy Nashville today, "somebody, possibly the state of Tennessee," filed a complaint and requested an inspection. The inspector sent was new on the job and wrote the citation based on standing regulations, unaware that Occupy Nashville has been granted an exception to the requirement that they only feed members of their own group.

The blogger goes on to say that she believes the Governor's office is behind the citation, but even if that is true, Metro Nashville officials are still responsible for assigning an inspector and citing the camp. And it looks fishy to me that Metro bureaucrats are responding to these concerns in the news media rather than corresponding with ON directly to fix these problems. Even if Bill Haslam himself filed a complaint, the Metro Department of Health is culpable for following up, including deciding on the front end that the complaint bears no merit and releasing ON instead of leaving them confused, hanging on and holding the citation.

The simplest explanation here is not that Governor Haslam is able to manipulate Metro machinery even to the fine point of sending a noob prone to cite Occupy Nashville. The simplest explanation is that Metro Nashville screwed this inspection up and then launched damage control and spin in the Tennessean. That fits the Dean Administration MO.

However, anyone bent on seeing a conspiracy here should consider the possibility that part of Mayor Karl Dean's aspiration for an-office-higher-than-Mayor may include pinning the rap for his own boner on a Republican administration. Occupy Nashville should avoid the appearance of partisanship by perpetually focusing too exclusively on Bill Haslam when Karl Dean's administration is in play.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Under-the-table state deal allows Predators to sap millions from non-hockey sales taxes on city-owned arena

These are exactly the multi-million-dollar under-the-table deals that you have to worry about when the city and the state grants subsidies to pro sports teams:

That part about Garth Brooks is particularly disturbing. The country music star came to Nashville to help the city by raising funds for flood recovery. The Nashville Predators flipped the huge sales tax windfall (which could have gone to the city to help with flood recovery) into private income. On top of that they justified the gain with a lie: that they had to rearrange their schedule to accommodate Brooks after Brooks had worked around to help them. That they would exercise guile about a charity event is particularly loathsome in my book.

But who paved the way in state government? Based on a Twitter exchange I had yesterday with Phil Williams and Scene reporter J.R. Lind, I gather that Tennessee Democrats (Gary Odom?) had some legislative oversight of the bill that hustled these provisions in on Metro's contract with the Preds. But it looks like former Governor Phil Bredesen's revenue department also had a hand in this, although the revenuers seem to deny to Mr. Williams that they have relevant records (much like the Predators' front office denied having the paper trail that CVB had).

And the Dean Administration? If it comes to keeping up with how their home team conducts its NHL business with influential state Democrats they look inept or willfully ignorant. They may not be at fault for the funneling of vast sums of government revenue to sports enterprise, but they also seem to have done nothing to safeguard tax revenues by calling public attention to questions of where sales taxes from events might come and go through the CVB. Then again, Karl Dean has never struck me as the kind of Mayor who wants to count on public attention or support beyond that which he receives at election time.

UPDATE:  NewsChannel5 announced today (Wednesday, Nov 23) that reporter Phil Williams will divulge the identity of the individual(s) who leveraged millions in non-hockey sales tax revenues for the hockey club on their 6 pm broadcast.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Karl Dean's bad form: Mayor's Office robbed Peter to pay Paul to pay Judas

The fact that Nashville is doing what none of its sister "hockey towns" is doing--subsidizing arenas for their pro clubs--is lousy enough. I agree with those of you who may be irritated by propping up athletics aristocrats in lean budget years.

But a tidbit buried deeper in this news is far worse than the fact that we bend over backwards to cater to corporate welfare. The Preds have been made accomplices in Karl Dean's mission to transfer Metro wealth in the form of tax revenues from the services devoted to streets, parks, libraries, neighborhoods and public safety to construction of the Music City Center.

Essentially, the Mayor's Office is raiding the General Fund (which pays for the services we demand of our local government in exchange for our taxes) to cover losses in subsidies to the Nashville Predators that were being paid by tourist taxes now redirected to construction of the Music City Center:

city leaders say it’s time for a change [in paying the Preds $7,800,000 out of the General Fund], especially considering the stress on the Metro budget. Amid whispers of a possible property tax increase, Metro Councilman Lonnell Matthews said it would be difficult to justify continued subsidies for a professional hockey team out of the operating budget.

Until last year, the subsidy was funded by tourism taxes and fees, but that revenue now goes to pay the debt for the new convention center.

Many of us warned over and over again that regular Nashvillians would be the truly disadvantaged of the convention center construction project, because our services would eventually be cut to obligate General Fund revenues to pay the huge cost. Rich Riebeling connived quite a shell game to cover the Music City Center drain on our resources without appearing to pay for construction with the General Fund. But that is exactly what has been happening.

It is time to shelter the General Fund services we enjoy from being bled out by Music City Center pipe dreams. The Mayor must end the subsidies to the Nashville Predators. If he does subsidize hockey the money should come from tourism taxes.

Knee-jerk corporate response in Nashville to proposed relief for overextended principals and teachers

After the state agreed to ease up on overworked educators and streamline the unrealistic teacher evaluation process, the Music City mogul class flushed apoplectic:

Keel Hunt, a public relations executive on the steering committee of Nashville’s Agenda, said education reform has emerged time and again as a focus for the group and Nashville. He is one of 29 people who put their names to the letter — others were Metro Nashville Director of Schools Jesse Register and Orrin Ingram, president and CEO of Ingram Industries.

Their letter contends that changing the evaluations could jeopardize the Race to the Top grant.

“I hope (the letter) helps underscore the importance that these people feel this issue has,” Hunt said. “It’s very important to stay the course. ... This is very important work, and there is broader interest in school success that goes beyond what one or two people feel.”

Nashville's Agenda has proved itself in times past to be a tool of wealthy special interests here while branding itself a product of democratic process. It was not too long ago that neighborhood-based leaders were at odds with Nashville's Agenda over the latter's "top down process that began with A-List financial, business and community leaders". I am not surprised at all that the organization wants to "stay the course" in the public school pressure-cooker that produces more opportunities for privatizing than it does for educating.

Apparently, Boss Register is willing to follow this course no matter how low teacher morale drops. He has cast his lot with the pecunious elites.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Education reformers attempt to soft-pedal embarrassments by revising history

On its Facebook page, Stand for Children - Tennessee promoted its organization's assimilation of the Education Equality Project (popularly associated with celebrity John Legend) and in the process exercised a revision of its own history:

Unlike some reform groups that frequently challenge teachers unions, Stand For Children, founded in 1996 in Oregon, has prided itself on generating local support and collaborating with unions as it promotes legislative change. That reputation was challenged this summer after the group was revealed to have lobbied aggressively against Illinois teacher unions to get a reform bill passed.

Jonah Edelman, Stand For Children’s founder and CEO, said today that the new partnership with EEP would help the groups extend their influence in more states, particularly southern states where the influence of reform groups has been less strong.

“Together, we’re positioned to shape the national debate on public education while building powerful statewide organizations across the country that will make a profound impact for students, from the state capitol to the classroom,” Edelman said in a statement.

That is an interesting gloss on what happened in Illinois and a complete omission of what happened in Oregon. Mr. Edelman is obviously using the occasion as another form of damage control to the embarrassing mess he and SFC left of their track record.

Observers acknowledge the common values that bind Stand for Children to the more conservative and dominant elements of Democratic Party culture, which share affinities with Republican politics:

The most engaged in this neoliberal education campaign are organizations focused on school choice: Democrats for Education Reform (and their 501(c)(4), Education Reform Now Advocacy), Education Sector, and the Progressive Policy Institute; as well as service-oriented groups like New Leaders for New Schools, the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) and Green Dot charter networks, Teach for America, The New Teacher Project, Stand for Children, the New Schools Venture Fund, and even the leadership of the Harlem Children’s Zone.

These groups, it should be stressed, are very careful to avoid being characterized as politically on the Right or affiliated with Republican political efforts. Their collaborators, however, do not show any such reluctance. Right-wing, free-market think tanks have joined with neoliberal education groups in pushing for choice and privatization policies. These right-wing think tanks and similar organizations are active in every state, and many more are pursuing a national agenda. Together, these groups have launched a potent attack on the progressive foundations of American schooling, and they are framing this attack as a “civil rights struggle.”

After years of hammering home the theme of “failing public schools,” the campaign is now increasingly focused on teachers’ unions and the existing system of teacher education, preparation, and certification.

Stand for Children - Tennessee plays up school choice without leaping in with both feet to the constellation of other conservative values, but they do not forswear any challenge to teachers. They have fallen silent on recently publicized ambivalence toward teacher evaluations. Whether SFC cares to concede it or not, they have built strong ties to anti-union groups, and they leave open the option of going after teachers as they have elsewhere.

In Los Angeles, as the teachers' union joined Occupy Wall Street, Stand for Children joined the opposite side, a coalition of otherwise disparate non-profits (like the United Way and the Urban League) committed to education reform. The reformers, backed by corporate donations in contrast to the grassroots empowerment of occupiers, encouraged an ad campaign addressed to the union a couple of weeks ago: "Don't Hold Us Back".

The campaign drew the appropriate retort from a local teacher:

Of all the factors that have contributed to the struggles of our students, we the teachers, THE TEACHERS, are the ones “holding students back?” Not the economy. Not the crime. Not the violence. Not the hunger. Not the fragmentation of the nuclear family. Not the lack of medical care and fresh food in the South Central community in which I work, but me, the teacher.

They really spent thousands of dollars to buy this ad, buy a webpage? Couldn’t the money used for this ad have helped the students that are hungry and homeless stay in their apartment for one more month, get that tooth taken care of?

Who are the experts in what is best for students? Educators or billionaires? Teachers or journalists? Unions or astrotorf orgs? I may be a parent, but when the doctor tells me how to take care of my daughter, I yield to the expert. When her 5th grade teacher shared his expertise on how to approach her math work, I listened and implemented. Parents play a huge role in the success of their children but we each have our own job to do; and it differs.

SFC LA is not an isolated case. Seattle's SFC has endorsed school board candidates who are financed by union-busting venture philanthropists in the Great Northwest.

In all of these cases, Stand for Children may not appear to be in full-blown assault of teachers unions, but they are aiding and abetting forces aligned against public school teachers. I also worry that one day they may find it more convenient to mobilize against Tennessee teachers than stay noncommittal toward them.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Nashville occupiers suspect faux-NES van of stalking & surveilling them

UPDATE: The Scene reports that the undercover van belongs to Metro Police, who decided for some odd reason that they needed to provide Donald Rumsfeld extra special coverage when he was speaking in Nashville.

Today, Metro Police spokeswoman Kristin Mumford told the Scene that it was actually undercover Nashville cops:

The van was a Metro Police Department undercover vehicle that was part of the dignitary protection plan for Donald Rumsfeld. Given his obviously controversial status, and the police department hearing talk of possible disruptions to his visit, officers were assigned to proactively work to ensure everyone's safety.

Because everyone knows Mr. Rumsfeld cannot afford to pay for private security himself or avail upon his buddies whom he hired to go to Iraq as private security contractors.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Can anything good come from public housing? Verily.

If you followed yesterday's national "Day of Action" by Occupy Wall Street, you are aware that there were lots of dramatic moments: occupiers bottlenecking all points of entry to the New York Stock Exchange, California sit-ins at Bank of America, arrests in Atlanta and Portland, and marches and/or bridge occupations in several cities. Perhaps the most dramatic moment of the entire day occurred when giant projected images appeared on New York City's Verizon building towering over a scheduled concluding march across the Brooklyn Bridge (by a crowd that was estimated to be between 32,000 and 45,000 protesters).

Protest messages and themes were projected on to the large building from a hidden location that kept both police and news crews guessing. The light show provided an uplifting contrast to the mood of the protest, and the surprise of this ballsy tactic capped off the effectiveness of the day perfectly.

But more impressive than the tactic itself was the story of how the projectionists gained access to a place seemingly outside the suppressing clutches of NYPD. That access was granted by an unlikely hero who generally does not have the power to grant access for others to much of anything else:

Opposite the Verizon building, there is a bunch of city housing. Subsidized, rent-controlled. There's a lack of services, lights are out in the hallways, the housing feels like jails, like prisons. I walked around, and put up signs in there offering money to rent out an apartment for a few hours. I didn't say much more. I received surprisingly few calls, and most of them seemed not quite fully there. But then I got one call from a sane person Her name was Denise Vega. She lived on the 16th floor. Single, working mom, mother of three.

I spoke with her on the phone, and a few days later went over and met her.

I told her what I wanted to do, and she was enthused. The more I described, the more excited she got.

Her parting words were, "let's do this."

She wouldn't take my money. That was the day of the eviction of Zuccotti, the same day. And she'd been listening to the news all day, she saw everything that had happened.

"I can't charge you money, this is for the people," she said.

She was born in the projects. She opened up her home to us.

She was in there tonight with her 3 daughters, 2 sisters. The NYPD started snooping around down on the ground while the projections were up, it was clear where we were projecting from, and inside it was festive.

"If they want to come up they're gonna need a warrant!," her family was saying. "If they ask us, well, we don't know what they are talking about!" They were really brave and cool.

In my opinion there is a common human tendency to root for the underdog, and Ms. Vega's story is that she was the underdog who made possible Occupy Wall Street's highest moment in an already high-flying day of action. Yesterday was historic and a working-class mom helped add a bold exclamation point.

Defective detectives up to the devil's business

When I read that detectives from police intelligence enter a church where dissenters have sanctuary and shelter, take inventory of the protesters, and pump a women's shelter volunteer for information on her clients, I have a hard time not seeing the KGB's Homeland Security's finger prints. And when I learn that the pastor has to spirit protesters out the church's back door because an unknown person is snapping photos of people who come out the front, call me conspiratorial if you like, but I believe authorities are instigating some sort of treachery. A couple of days ago I maintained that DHS and FBI should focus on real threats to homeland security instead of targeting occupiers in Nashville. The atrocious actions of NYPD sustain the widely held perception that orchestrated suppression is spreading:

“It is disconcerting that they would actually enter the sanctuary,” said the Rev. James Karpen, known as Reverend K, senior pastor of the United Methodist Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew, on West 86th Street. “Here we had offered hospitality and safety, which is our business as a church; it just felt invasive”....

About 46 protesters had spent Wednesday night in the church. Just before 6 a.m. on Thursday, as the demonstrators began to stir before a major downtown protest, the two men in plainclothes came to the church door and asked the doorkeepers if they could use the bathroom, according to Mr. Karpen.

Instead, both men entered the sanctuary, one remaining near the door while the other advanced down the aisle, apparently counting the demonstrators in the pews, according to a witness who reported the episode and who asked his name not be published because he feared harassment by the police.

One of the men then went downstairs to a homeless women’s shelter, run in cooperation with B’nai Jeshurun, a local synagogue, and asked for information about who was sleeping there, said Elissa Weiss, the volunteer on duty ....

A demonstrator then confronted the men and asked them to write down their names and badge numbers. One identified himself as Detective Kevin G. Clancy, who according to 2006 police records is assigned to the intelligence division of the New York Police Department. The men then left.

“They are welcome to come in if they just say who they are,” Mr. Karpen said. “We have never had that kind of issue with the police before.

I appreciate that the pastor is "disconcerted," but implications of this level of surveillance are frightening and enraging. The direction local police seem to be taking goes down the road to perdition. If this country so goes, there is no return.

UPDATE:  DemocracyNow hosted a discussion on "New Military Urbanism," during which a legal observer of Occupy Wall Street noted the absolute brutality that increasingly characterizes policing protesters in cities:

"I was there to take down the names of people who were arrested... As I’m standing there, some African-American woman goes up to a police officer and says, 'I need to get in. My daughter's there. I want to know if she’s OK.’ And he said, 'Move on, lady.' And they kept pushing with their sticks, pushing back. And she was crying. And all of a sudden, out of nowhere, he throws her to the ground and starts hitting her in the head," says Smith. "I walk over, and I say, 'Look, cuff her if she's done something, but you don’t need to do that.’ And he said, 'Lady, do you want to get arrested?' And I said, 'Do you see my hat? I'm here as a legal observer.’ He said, 'You want to get arrested?' And he pushed me up against the wall."

If police administration naively assumes that they will not reap bitter fruit one day from the seeds they are sewing today, they are sorely mistaken.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Animating the enormous advantage of the 1% (or is that the 0.01%?)

An impressive, insightful Guardian production:

Beating up protesters is much easier than plugging potential security breaches in local utilities

Last week I had an interesting chat with a former security guard employed by Metro Nashville contractor Wackenhut to guard the Downtown water treatment plant near Salemtown. He told me that he believed the potential for catastrophic, lethal chlorine spill was real because the system does not have tight oversight.

Reportedly, the FBI is supposed to be regularly testing the security of the chlorine railroad tanker cars that deliver the concentrated toxic chemical during the water treatment process, but he never saw any conducted. He said that chlorine leak alarms went off several times in the small control building next to the tankers while he was on duty and that the building is supposed to be airtight, but on a number of occasions security personnel had to don gas masks while responding to the alarms.

Whenever there was a leak on-call "specialists," some of whom did not act like they knew how to resolve the problem, responded, according to the former guard. He also confirmed what has been reported in the past by others: the complex is remarkably vulnerable to sabotage given its proximity to Downtown Nashville.

Sandbagging tankers against the 2010 flood. 
It has been frustrating enough watching what looks a tragic accident (or act of terrorism) waiting to happen get attention from outside sources while Metro, state, and federal government officials seem to ignore the threat. A major chlorine spill would be a catastrophe for Downtown and both sides of the river. However, what I find even more galling is to watch how government misdirects its security forces away from real threats and toward innocuous inconveniences like the modest protests of dissenting citizens. Take the Department of Homeland Security, which assisted the Tennessee Highway Patrol's misguided crackdown on the relatively small Occupy Nashville protest. Give the protesters credit. They've fought the battle of Legislative Plaza against the state, gone to jail and won in the courts, and been acknowledged across media (along with overwhelming public support) for their perseverance.

Nevertheless, the committed followers who continue with the group beyond Governor Bill Haslam's bumbling heavy-handedness do not seem to expand. Moreover, ON has really not done much to occupy Nashville or otherwise live up to their name. They have not shown the slightest interest in occupying Nashville's Courthouse or the Chamber of Commerce or Gail Kerr's writing cubicle or the windmills of Jerry Maynard's mind or any other place of local political influence in Nashville. They've picketed NES and staged a street play at CCA. Today they're going to occupy the Tennessee Tower. They've basically given Mayor Karl Dean  (a Democrat with political aspirations) a pass. None of this is to slight the alternative democracy they're trying to run in the form of General Assemblies.

But really, was their nonviolent unwillingness to leave state-owned public property worth the attention of Homeland Security or the FBI or any other federal agency sworn to protect Americans against enemies, foreign and domestic? DHS overstepped its boundaries in assisting Bill Haslam's act of stepping on his own feet in the ON crackdown. Why are they not more focused on finding terrorists who might strike in Nashville or on securing vulnerable targets like the chlorine tankers at the Downtown water treatment facility?

Now we see reports that agencies like Homeland Security and the FBI may be coordinating responses with city halls across the country to suppress popular backlash against Wall Street and the financial industry. I have to wonder, given that President Obama broke his campaign promise to close George Bush's oppressive GITMO detention camps, whether the White House might actually be encouraging municipal and state-sponsored gagging of dissent as well as the compromise of universal human rights at home.

I notice this morning that Juan Cole is worrying about it, too:

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan let slip in an interview with the BBC that she had been on a conference call with the mayors of 18 cities about how to deal with the Occupy Wall Street movement. That is, municipal authorities appear to have been conspiring to deprive Americans of their first amendment rights to freedom of assembly and freedom to petition the government for redress of grievances.

Likewise, A Homeland Security official let it slip in a phone interview that the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security had been strategizing with cities on how to shut down OWS protests. The FBI is said to have advised using zoning ordinances and curfew regulations, and to stage the crackdown with massive police force at a time when the press was not around to cover the crackdown ....

What these two reports show is a high-level conspiracy to deprive Americans of their constitutional right to protest peacefully.

When will we see Occupy Wall Street protesters hooded, dressed in orange jump suits, and sent to Guantanamo for military trials? When you let the government act without regard for the rule of law toward foreigners suspected of terrorism, you open yourself to be treated the same way if the rich decide to sic their police on you (it is mostly their police).

Chapel Hill, NC cops suppress OWS protesters who occupied
an abandoned building to perhaps start a free clinic
Sounds like the FBI is too distracted with aiding local police--who in turn act like paramilitary thugs toward nonviolent protesters--to spend much time testing for security holes at strategically significant utilities like Metro Water Services. I would agree with those who argue that if Homeland Security is coordinating these crackdown efforts against Occupy Wall Street, then we are not very far away from the day when we will see protesters rounded up and detained GITMO-style. The federal security apparatus, whose overseer is the President of the United States, needs to keep its eye on the ball and focus on potential local threats that are real. It should avoid micromanaging protest response as if it were quelling hostile coup d'etat. It ought to fix holes in the system rather than rolling back the civil rights of Americans.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Mike Jameson wins well-deserved General Sessions judgeship

Here come the Judge:

Tactics destined to backfire

Local blogger Newscoma reacts to the overnight raid of Occupy Wall Street by NYPD:

So when police officers go into War Memorial Plaza in Nashville in the middle of the night or more recently last night's arrests, which I find to be more than shady, do they not understand that people are tweeting and posting from their phones on social media sites? ....

What happens when you go and make arrests in the middle of the night is that you reinvigorate that which you are trying to disband. And as I said a couple of weeks ago, it was bad PR when Haslam did it, and it's bad PR when other elected officials do it ....

What we've seen in news this past week is that people are tired of being invisible. By making arrests in the middle of the night, elected officials are indeed treating people like they are invisible.

Indeed, what fostered these protests from the beginning was large groups of citizens who perceived that they had been rendered invisible by banks, corporations, and government. Continuing to treat them as invisible will not make them disappear. In fact, it generates even more willing to come from the shadows.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Why I will stay away from Jeff Street during TSU homecoming events until it's safe to attend

Before this weekend I did not take seriously claims that there has been a violent side to Tennessee State University homecoming events. After around a half-dozen reports of shootings in the last 24 hours, I guess I'm going to have to listen to the ominous warnings next year.

The gun violence started at the end of the TSU homecoming parade:

Officials said that a bullet shot from an unknown location passed through Eric Gray's arm and hit Lorenzo Vaughn in the back. Both men were transported to Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Gray was treated and released.

Police do not believe that Gray and Vaughn were targeted in this shooting. The reason for the gunfire has not been determined, nor has a suspect been found.

"We had 2 victims who couldn't identify who had shot them. They were running from the scene. They have no idea what occurred," said Lt. Eric Snyder with Metro Police. [Source]

There was also gun violence at 6 p.m. at Kentucky Fried Chicken in Hope Gardens, a Downtown neighborhood near the intersection of Jefferson Street and Rosa Parks Boulevard:

Investigators confirmed that the victims were in the drive-thru of the restaurant, waiting on food when the gunman came up to them and began shooting.

The two injured victims then drove themselves to Baptist Hospital.

Officials said both victims arrived at the hospital with serious injuries; one victim was shot in the face, the other shot in the chest.

The Kentucky Fried Chicken closed for the rest of the evening due to the incident.

Police were still investigating the incident, no suspect or motive had been determined.

The shootings continued into early this morning and affected Salemtown:

Metro Police are looking for a gunman who opened fire on several cars on Sunday morning.

Officers said a man and his friend flashed gang signs out of their windows while they drove down Jefferson Street.

The men were in a black Ford Mustang.

The pair stopped the car near 14th Avenue and got out.

One of the men fired shots at passing cars.

During the process, the gunman shot his friend in the leg.

The injured friend ran away to Fisk University, and was later rushed to the hospital.

The bullets fired from the gunman also shattered a glass window from a passing car.

The driver left the area and called for help near 6th Avenue and Buchanan Street.

This is a problem for our neighborhoods around Jeff St. that seems to be getting worse rather than better. I don't know what the organizers of TSU homecoming can do to discourage increasing gun play on these big weekends. Maybe have pre-programs and involvement opportunities for area high school students. Maybe hire more security. Maybe scale back the parties.

However, something needs to be done. Next year I plan to stay away from Jefferson Street and way away from the TSU campus during homecoming for the sake of my own safety. The crime associated with the celebration, unfairly or not, is not good for community spirit.

UPDATE: NewsChannel5 reports that two of the gunshot victims from last night are refusing to assist police in identifying their attackers:

Police have said they believe the two men who were shot at [KFC in Hope Gardens] ... were specifically targeted ....

Investigators say Terrence Parrish, 22, and Michael Jones, 24, were injured when two men got out of a Chevrolet Trailblazer and shot them ....

Investigators confirmed that the victims were in the drive-through of the restaurant, waiting on food when the gunman came up to them and began shooting.

Officials said both victims arrived at the hospital with serious injuries; one victim was shot in the face; the other shot in the chest. Sunday, they were both in stable condition at Vanderbilt Medical Center.

Police say Parrish and Jones both have arrest and convictions histories dating back 2006, and investigators say neither victim was interested in helping police find the people who shot them.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Stand for Children - Tennessee's teacher survey has very short reach

At our public school's last PTO meeting I asked the principal where teacher morale was given the state's link of their evaluations to student test performance.

On nearly a daily basis I read reports statewide that teacher morale is sinking due to evaluation links to factors that they do not control. Teachers don't determine which children have learning disadvantages due to poverty. Teacher aren't in each of their students' homes in the evenings making sure homework gets done and motivating parents to motivate their kids to learn.

That query to the principal, who answered but deftly turned the conversation over to teachers present, resulted in a long discussion between all present that pushed our meeting past its designated end point. I was surprised that it went so long, but it was an indication to me that this is an unsettling and unsettled issue for teachers, parents, and administrators. The teachers in attendance echoed the frustrations I have been reading about.

In an unrelated event, Stand for Children-Tennessee (the corporately-backed nonprofit partnering with Metro Nashville Public Schools and the Nashville Chamber of Commerce in an advocacy position on public policy) put up a survey on their Facebook page for teachers to give feedback on the state's evaluation process the next day. Given the animated discussion of the night before, I was curious as how many teachers the survey might reach.

Stand for Children has often made a point in the past that their advocacy work in government is backed by community input and grassroots support, which can only be true if they have individual one-on-ones with a broad range of community leaders and if they are engaged with varied neighborhood-based and local-school-oriented associations.

In the case of teachers, the survey would only hold merit as a tool for collective action and informed advocacy if it was offered to the largest number of teachers likely to respond. So, I posed my question about the survey's reach on Facebook. The response I got back from SFC, was that the survey was only going out to the teachers who had "friended" the Facebook page, but that they were hoping that it would go "viral" and be forwarded to other teachers.

My hope is that SFC does not substitute "going viral" with collecting representative samples of surveys to reflect the true sentiments of teachers outside of their Facebook audience. The most constant commenters on the SFC Facebook page seemed to be conservatively bent toward driving down teacher pay and mandating testing. In the time I've been following the comments there, I have not seen very much opposition to the conservative mindset.

And frankly we should not forget that in other states SFC has actually lobbied government against teachers unions on behalf of the wealthy venture philanthropists who fund education reform. I continue to have concerns that the Tennessee chapter will drift that direction. Monday a big, less-than-flattering story on Tennessee teacher evaluations came out in the New York Times. SFC did not link it on their Facebook page. However, the next day they linked a Commercial-Appeal story with a headline screaming that teacher accountability is the key to closing the student achievement gap. Such selective attention makes me wonder about genuineness behind the survey.

So, when Stand for Children-Tennessee publicizes their teacher survey results in the future, we should take them with a grain of salt as we should their claims to be real (instead of "Facebook friend") advocates for teachers, parents, and children. In the present, if you are concerned like me that teachers are being scapegoated and targeted in place of the bigger drags on student performance, go fill out their survey now.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Haslam will likely choose the Tennessee Democrats' way, because it is cheaper to charter

Education blogger, Jim Horn ponders the quandary Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam faces on the question of vouchers for private schools:

Haslam's more guarded approach to dragging government to the bathtub to drown it represents the most dangerous kind of post-partisan maneuvering, whereby both sides of the aisle of the corporate jet come together to toast the reign of corporate government and the further aggrandizement and continued control by the 1%ers.

In terms of education policy, the former neolib Gov. Bredesen handed off to Haslam a plan designed by the Gates, Broad, and Walton Foundations and approved by their boy, Duncan, to make Tennessee the poster state for corporate education "reform," from uncapped charter growth to unceasing value-added testing to replacement of urban professional teachers by the [Teach For America] missionaries to the unfettered growth of online diploma mills for high school kids.

The dusting off of another reform of 50 years ago, school vouchers, has left Haslam in somewhat of a pickle. If Tennessee is going to follow the [Business Round Table] script for unrestrained charter growth, dependent as such a plan will be on tax dollars to fund these unregulated and segregated corporate-run testing camps, then can TN, without a state income tax and with sales tax maxed out at around 10% (with local options), afford to open the door to another drain on the state coffers, as vouchers surely will be?

Tennessee Democrats and the education reformers who love them seem to be in a lathered lockstep to oppose vouchers, so they're doing Governor Haslam a solid in the form of a chance for an easy retreat from his party's reckless right-wing. But the Democrats already failed to bar the door to vouchers by advocating the corporate privatization of public education through charter schools. As far as I'm concerned the Dems have no credibility on the subject of vouchers outside the Governor's Office.

Tennessee Highway Patrol emails on "well organized" Occupy Nashville: "This one is a little different"

NewsChannel5's Phil Williams posted THP emails he obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request that show they conducted a "covert operation" on Occupy Nashville. There is no real surprise in police and security forces infiltrating social protest movements. It always happens. It is no conspiracy theory to expect cops to engage in surveillance and subterfuge; hopefully most movements are not naive, but they learn how to track and counter-surveil police and government operations on their protests.

But the emails do spur several questions:

  • Why was both Homeland Security and THP obsessed with conducting a "covert operation" on a nonviolent protest group to the point that it took troopers off the highways, away from protecting travelers and it diverted attention from tracking actual terrorism threats?
  • Why is it Occupy Nashville's job to "control the homeless" population who have been around Legislative Plaza for a long time?
  • Did protest-suppressing THP officers in uniform hide badge numbers and identities because they might also have been used as plain-clothes, "blend-in" infiltrators at other times?
  • Why did an Occupy Nashville leader compliment and thank THP for its illegal crackdown on protesters on October 28?

UPDATE: SouthComm reporter Steven Hale tweets that Bill Haslam is dropping all charges against Occupy Nashville protesters. That begs another question: how can the Governor justify the labor expenses and other operational expenses that went into what looks like a wasteful crackdown on nonviolent protesters?

UPDATE: Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the Honorable Embarrassment, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

The decline of the progressive city, demanded by Republicans, enabled by Democrats

In his article called "The Myth of the Progressive City," Denver resident David Sirota enumerates the ways that leaders of Democratic cities have sold out the once proud faith in progressive tenets that lie beyond the pale of  strictly social issues (wherein common ground is often found with Republicans):

Sure, two or three decades ago, there may have been some truth to the notion that the American city is a union-driven bastion of populist progressive economics. But today, while cities may still largely vote Democratic, they are increasingly embracing the economics of corporatism. The result is that urban areas are a driving force behind the widening intra-party rift between the corporatist, pro-privatization Wall Street Democrats and the traditional labor-progressive “Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party ....

On spending issues, Democratic-voting cities across the country have simultaneously slashed social services while offering up huge taxpayer subsidies for stadiums, corporate office buildings and other private, for-profit projects.”

As true as this may be for other cities it is especially true in Nashville, Tennessee, where Democrats in charge here refuse to see any of the regressive practices in privatization and subsidizing corporate influence. We have a Mayor, a Democrat, who generally ignores democratic process, unless he is threatened with a tidal wave of popular backlash. He appoints corporate donors and friends to influential committees and task forces with agenda often predetermined due to influence from interest groups like the Nashville Chamber of Commerce and the Nashville Business Coalition.

In a recent slow-pitch interview with an ingratiating "All Things Considered" (NPR) reporter, Karl Dean donned the corporatist stripes of so many Democratic city officials:

RAZ: Now these aren't boomtowns .... But they're clearly doing something right or many things right .... Mayor Karl Dean ... says his city has historically been more resilient .... What can somebody like you, in your position as the mayor of a city, actually do to begin to turn things around given how deep this economic crisis is? Is there a whole lot somebody like you or any mayor can really do?

DEAN:  ...We've been very active in economic development. And I think, fundamentally, you have to continue to invest in yourself, and the two ways we've done it, I think, are the most important. Number one is, unlike other major cities, we have not cut our schools' budget .... That's the one thing Nashville has to get right. We've also invested in ourselves, most particularly in this new convention center ....

RAZ: So does it mean that you have to just think more creatively? You have to go to the private sector and maybe look for a sponsorship, look for private companies that are willing to pay for public projects or public spaces like parks or community centers ....

DEAN: ....we've put more funding into education, but I have and others have reached out to the private sector to help us bring Teach For American here, the New Teachers Project, Charter School Incubators. If we did not have the private sector, we would not have been able to do that. Because if you're going to be doing anything innovative in government right now, you've got to build partnerships. You just can't do it on your own.

Dean tag-teaming education reform with
Chamber of Commerce CEO Champions
Terms like "innovation" and "education reform" have been used as code words here to privatize school service workers (removing their union from the public school equation), to spend millions on charter schools (privatized public schools which sap government revenues from traditional public schools), to link teacher evaluations to student test results (causing low teacher morale) and to force business-models via "CEO Champions," backed by venture philanthropy, on Nashville's secondary schools (which gives the Chamber of Commerce even more influence with little accountability to parents or taxpayers).

I am seeing more frustrations expressed here at neighborhood gatherings, parent-teacher organization meetings, and even in the streets (with Occupy Nashville) about how little control people have over municipal policies that are supposed to be informed by the community. As more people question and dissent, corporatists trot out the backlash argument that the wealthy people like those the Mayor enlists are the ones who provide us our jobs (as if that justifies their greater influence in politics above and beyond letting the people decide). They may create the jobs, but the workers create the wealth. Democrats like Karl Dean seem to have forgotten that.

Cities should be places where progressive democracy materializes rather than standing as empty window dressing that hides the hard machinery of top-down power. Neither prominent Davidson County Democrats nor their champion, Mayor Karl Dean, have done much to make Nashville such a place. We live the myth of progressive cities, too.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Literal occupation is free expression

With the number of arrests of Occupy Wall Street protesters--most of whom are demonstrating nonviolently--approaching 3,500 nationally, it is worth pointing out how quickly and easily local, state, and federal government officials are ordering violent suppression of free speech. It is also worth considering the inalienable quality of our rights to assemble and express ourselves:

Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, told AlterNet, “The tenting, the camping, the tarps, the patio polls, the cooking — all of that is part of the political expression of Occupy Wall Street. That’s what it embodies. This is not a one-day demonstration. This is saying, 'We will occupy, we will stay here as part of our political expression until things change.' I think it’s embodied in the protections afforded by the First Amendment.” He added: “How can you occupy unless you have tents and sleeping bags to protect people from the elements?”

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Occupy Chicago mic checks Gov. Scott Walker in front of a well-to-do audience over schools, TIF, etc.

Bank Transfer Day is here!

We spent the last few weeks getting our financial obligations in order and transferring most of our funds in Bank of America accounts to a local credit union. We are not the only ones. In the month of October, 650,000 customers transferred $4.5 BILLION to credit unions. Other people have transferred funds to local banks. Maybe a massive redistribution of money away from the big banks will jog them out of arrogance and encourage them to be more socially responsible. In the meantime, we are pleased to support a local business whose customers are the stockholders.

Happy Bank Transfer Day! Remember, remember the 5th of November!

Friday, November 04, 2011

Was it really a "real controversy"? I'm still waiting on a "real controversy"

Not sure why Phil Williams mentioned me along with two leaders from the Republican and Democratic camps during the Twitter chat about Bill Haslam's crackdown on Occupy Nashville. The Governor bungled the overnight occupation of Legislative Plaza, and he turned a small upstart demonstration with practically no strategic accomplishments, bearing an uncertain future into an ire-raising constitutional fight for civil rights. Supporting Occupy Nashville's right to stage on public property was a no-brainer.

While I applaud former TNGOP spinmeister Bill Hobbs for taking a strong stand in support of Occupy Nashville, this question was bound to divide Republicans, many of whom have not lost all their senses about the people's right to protest. Sure, some token party apparatchiks spoke in favor of the curfew, but there is always room for both craziness and posturing in the public discourse.

No Tennessee Democrat is going to support the curfew with a Republican Governor fumbling the ball. Their electoral chances increase the more Bill Haslam screws up. This is not to suggest that no Dems support the curfew on principle, but so many Democratic officials are financed by the big shots that Occupy Wall Street is taking on. So, supporting Occupy Anything cannot be easy for those plugged into the party system. Governor Haslam did the Democrats a favor last week by giving them an easy choice. If Phil Bredesen had done this we would hear a lot less from Democratic Party supporters, who seem more attuned to social issue controversies, rarely raising a peep to questions of wealth, poverty, and economic justice.

However, I can't fathom why I'm mentioned. I have little or no connection to the parties. The last time I volunteered to work to elect Democrats was 1988. The last time I considered a Republican worthy of my vote was in high school, when I was too young to cast a ballot (the indiscretion of youth). I consider myself an independent with a profound distrust in the parties, and thus in the ballot (even though I do vote in nearly every election). Maybe Phil Williams considers me the extreme liberal in this group and the most predictable one to support Occupy and bash Bill Haslam. That would be a rather uneasy, fleeting Kumbaya with TNGOP and TNDEM.

There was no real controversy. It was an overwhelming majority against Bill Haslam. He was bound to back down. Of course, now that the Haslam Administration has backed down, there still is no controversy, which for me is part of the problem.

I admit that I be would wrong to say that Bill Haslam was the sole catalyst of the dust-up over access to Legislative Plaza and the consequent ascendance of Occupy Nashville. In fairness to ON, their courage to face arrest and jail, their tenacity to return night-after-uncertain-night to occupation, and their unimpeachable commitment to social change also contributed to their win over the State of Tennessee.

But I do think the strategic choices they make fit the efforts of the party wonks and of the mainstream journalists to frame their protest strictly in terms of electoral politics while leaving economic questions out of the equation. A WPLN story yesterday reported that ON leaders are going to focus more on their group's identity and the perceptions created in the media. They wrote a nonconfrontational letter to the Governor asking for collaboration with his team on the occupation. After hearing that Vanderbilt College Republicans were going to come out to protest their protest, ON leaders baked literal cookies and put out the proverbial welcome mat. This afternoon Occupy Nashville will march to Nashville Electric Service of all places.

I'm confused as to how any of these actions support ON's stated goals to challenge corporate personhood and the political influence of corporations. The Nashville Chapter says that it exists to support the Occupy Wall Street movement, and yet it chooses different, narrowly political targets than those on Wall Street. OWS NYC has sent several waves of protesters to the headquarters of Goldman Sachs. OWS Oakland closed down the Port of Oakland for part of a day. Yet, Nashville leaders are marching on NES and patronizing Vandy frat boys with cookies.

In contrast, the law student arrested during OWS NYC in front of a bank in the video below personifies a core organizing principle of Occupy Wall Street in his impassioned and personal exclamations about foreclosure:

Tomorrow has been declared a national day of protest against the large banks called Bank Transfer Day. It will be the culmination of a month that has seen 650,000 people transfer their funds to credit unions and local banks in what could be one of the largest mass acts of divestiture in US history. And yet, what has Occupy Nashville chosen to do today? March on NES, which is essentially an arm of government (Power Board members are selected by Mayor Karl Dean and approved by the Metro Council).

The problem with protesting government is that big business owns government. And the political parties are the servants not of people but of the corporations who fund them. Focusing on government is like focusing on the symptoms rather than on the illness itself. That said, the NES protest does fit the conventional slots for partisan politics in Tennessee even as OWS claims to be an unconventional protest. As such it detracts from this weekend's focus on banks. In my opinion, Occupy Nashville should try to be less of a podium and spotlight for Tennessee Republicans and Democrats to frame their campaign messages and more of an alternative protest along the lines of OWS protests.

UPDATE: President of Tennessee Young Democrats fawns on Occupy Nashville. My guess is that he hopes to flip the protest into votes for well-heeled Dems come election time.

UPDATE: The Occupy Nashville Facebook page posted a video of a visit to their camp from the NES CEO earlier today, where occupiers try to make clear their reasons for marching on NES and he tries to make clear his motives for misusing funds. Note one of the commenters replying to the video pointed out that his salary still puts him in the 99% that Occupy Nashville wants to advocate against the 1%. Interesting quandary.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Welcome to the police state

l told you not to use my damn name. Can't you even try to keep from forgettin' that?

Not even your code name?

Oh, yeah, yeah. My code name.

Y'all hear that? We're usin' code names.

-- from the film "Raising Arizona"

Nashville Scene reporter, Jonathan Meador, tells the full story of his unjustifiable arrest during Bill Haslam's red-state crackdown on Occupy Nashville's constitutional rights. The section on Tennessee Highway Patrol officers not identifying themselves or wearing their badges (to show their badge numbers) is particularly troubling for those of us concerned about police abuse and transparency:

No one offered to look at my credentials, no one gave me an opportunity to put them in contact with my editor. Nor did they listen to a colleague, who kept shouting I was a member of the press. He later said a trooper told him, “You want to be next?”

The combined weight of heavily equipped Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers was too much. My knees buckled, and I was slowly, firmly introduced face-first to the freezing marble of the plaza. They dug their knees into my back and tightly affixed a pair of zip-tie handcuffs, the plastic gouging my wrists. From all directions, I could hear screaming.

“Remember to charge this one with resisting arrest,” said a trooper.

“Yessir,” said another.

“Go ahead and take him, Mo,” said one of the officers as I was pulled to my feet and marched forward in plastic handcuffs.

Ahead stood a line of detainees gathering before a massive Tennessee Department of Correction bus. While waiting in line, I asked the trooper his name, hoping friendliness would make things easier. I even added an unironic “sir.” His only reply was, “I can’t tell you that.”

“Is your name ‘Mo,’ by any chance? I overheard one of the troopers calling you by that name.”

No response. There were no badges visible on the trooper, nor even the name tag they’re required to wear. He only looked ahead.

I find the lack of faith in people within Bill Haslam's administration to be troubling, to say the least.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

When one is embedded, occupying only seems mushy

Tennessean columnist Gail Kerr is getting kudos for writing an editorial criticizing Governor Bill Haslam for cracking down on Occupy Nashville last week. But it was not like she was exactly supportive of Occupy Nashville:

With no clear goals, agenda or leader, Occupy Nashville was a murky movement with a mushy message that probably would have fizzled.

Occupy Oakland on General Strike today
moving to shut down the Port of Oakland
This comment is so disingenuous. If Occupy Nashville had called for a general strike, closed down banks, and drew thousands to march on a major trade center like Occupy Oakland did, they would be a hard target for Gail Kerr, who once treated Bob Corker as a superhero for taking on unions. Nashville's chapter of Occupy Wall Street could take a firmer, clear stance and open itself to Kerr charges of being blinded by union loyalism.

But Kerr is also misleading. Occupy Nashville has been transparent about their goals and agenda. First they intend to occupy public space to the end of supporting Occupy Wall Street in New York City. Wall Street is the center of American power, so it makes sense. They also intend to hold General Assemblies to involve anyone not plugged into the 1%'s power grid in an alternative political process. They are exercising open-ended democracy for people without money or power.

Occupy Wall Street has, as of this writing, issued no bullet-pointed list of demands. It has set forth no litmus test for would-be members. And that seems to be part of the point: tolerating contradictions, keeping the conversation open-ended and welcoming all comers.

In the process, they are developing other goals. They have been clear that their protests intend to express organic opposition to banks; nationally, Occupy has won victories that no newspaper columnist has, like changing the media discussion from the deficit to joblessness and motivating banks to drop debit card fees.

Finally, if the movement has no clear leaders they also do not have figureheads who, like some corporate newspaper columnists, can fall prey to temptations of political influence and wealth on various issues unoccupied by ordinary people.

It is a shame that it took Bill Haslam's stumblebum crackdown on freedom of assembly for Gail Kerr to attend to the OWS movement, but this protest extends beyond easy constitutional problems that beg editorial grandstanding. It is a movement focused on authentic democracy and an economic revolution that probably makes embedded journos like Kerr nervous when they're not writing PR for the rich and famous.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

They ain't got Jack

The developer who tried to push-poll North Nashville into support for May Town Center while promising us "jobs, jobs, jobs!", is on the lam from his former partners who are looking to sue him for failing to keep his promises:

Nashville investor William Kantz is trying to sue Jack May over his handling of the failed $4 billion May Town Center project — if only he can find him.

Kantz is one of four original members of the partnership that owns property in the rural Bells Bend area that is home to the proposed development ....

Kantz alleges that May, who spearheaded the controversial project, seized control of the partnership and added members in violation of a partnership agreement and failed to deliver on promises made to members ....

While May has residences overseas and has been known to be spend extended periods of time at them [a lawyer says] ... May’s present travels are suspiciously convenient.

I have to wonder how irresponsibly May Town Center would have been developed if approved and what kind of low-wage, menial jobs would have actually been provided to North Nashvillians.