Thursday, March 17, 2011

Contempt for Students and Free Speech in Tennessee

UPDATE: State Senator Randy McNally of Oak Ridge wants the students who protested to be expelled from college. More contempt for free speech and students from the Republican-led legislature.


Hysteria and falsehoods from state officials flowed heavily when a group of Tennessee college students disrupted a legislative committee meeting this week - most troubling is the hateful attitude on display which shows pure contempt for free speech and civil disobedience. Oh, that awful civil disobedience ...

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, the would-be Tea Party Governor, let fly a whopper:

The right of all citizens to protest and assemble peacefully is sacred in the State of Tennessee,” Ramsey said in a statement. “However, this General Assembly will not be intimidated by nomadic bands of professional agitators on spring break bent on disruption. We talk through our differences here. Tennessee is not Wisconsin.”

Yeah, those darn students!! Darn elitist education seekers!! Speaking out of turn!! Arrest them!! Jail them!!! Spring Break, boooooo!!! And it's so disappointing to hear a lifelong politician say we have "rights" - except when they are used. You can "talk through our differences" when we decide it is okay for you to talk.

Tom Humphrey covered the spectacle and the comments from readers stoke the hysteria:

Yes, these are the same thugs (Organized for America hoods) that were at the Union Rally at the Plaza on Mar.5th. Several walked up to us (the Counter-Protesters-read Tea Party) and asked "Ya wanna pick a fight"? They are being funded by (soros $) and are well-funded. They are being paid. These are Obama's "Army". Freedom & Rights for Them, no one else!"

But, as already noted, the protesters were just Tennessee students demanding a voice in how education policy is created:

The previous comment is a joke. I was one of the participants in the direction action today, and know all but a couple of the others very well. None of us were at the March 5 rally (not that we don't support the efforts of teachers to fight for their own rights) and we are certainly not connected to Organized for America in any way. OFA was/is an Obama support group that would never dream of endorsing a direct action such as what we pulled off today.

And as for us being well-funded (or funded at all), that's absolutely false. None of us have any connection to MoveOn, nor did we receive any funding whatsoever from any other source except our own jobs. We are just workers from all over the state who are tired of having our rights assaulted by the super rich and their legislative allies and decided to do something about it. I'm sad to see other workers join the Tea Party to support the interests of corporations over the interests of workers. Y'all are some very confused individuals. And everything you said in your comment is just straight up false and made up.

P. S. Most of us don't even like Obama. He refuses to stand up for working people, instead supporting tax cuts for the wealthy and spending cuts on programs that benefit ordinary people. I didn't vote for him in 2008 and I won't vote for him in 2012."

The truth is that very highly organized and fabulously wealthy business, corporate, and out-of-state groups get invited and seated at conference tables in legislative committee hearings, get called in as experts in their fields, are praised and lauded by elected officials -- and are not called "professional nomads of agitation", are they?

Every Tennessee legislator knows the education issues - from pre-school through college - are under intense scrutiny and residents and workers have rights to express their views, and even to peacefully protest and yes, even disrupt meetings. It's one way to petition government and demand representation.

To insult them - like Knoxville Senator Campfield or Lt. Gov. Ramsey - shows these "leaders" have nothing but contempt for the ideals of free speech, nothing but contempt for students and education.

On Wednesday, Gov. Haslam retreated from the national Republican plan to strip away all collective bargaining for teachers, which shows that he knows the national plan led by Wisconsin Gov. Walker has been a huge FAIL.

Legislation crafted by Gov. Haslam and Rep. Beth Harwell would allow collective bargaining for basic pay and benefits but still excludes several items Republicans, as a national party plan, want to remove, including the union's rights to make political donations from the dues of members.

Yet, even that proposal is pure political blackmail and goes against recent Supreme Court decisions regarding free speech for corporations and unions.

Rep. Glen Casada is leading the hypocritical forces in this shady tactic. His newest legislation proves it by claiming only one type of organized political financial donations - from corporations - should be allowed, while criminalizing organized workers and limiting their financial donations. Of course, labor unions tend to donate more to Democrats - Rep. Casada and the new Republicans in charge want to stop that cold.

His plan is to remove restrictions now in place on how much corporations can give directly to candidates - but he's already filed bills to make it illegal for unions to donate to political campaigns and to ban the ability of unions to use funds for any political donations.

Rep. Casada tells the Tennessean something very hypocritical in defense of his pro-corporate money plan:

However unions are treated, that's how corporations should be treated," Casada said. "That's my bottom line."

He then adds that he'll withdraw his anti-union bills if the legislature approves his pro-corporate one. Sounds like political blackmail.

All in all - it shows that free speech and political participation for the few and not all are being pushed into place.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Laser Beam Focus of Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey

"I’m focused like a laser beam on job creation and education." -- Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey

"But providing someone a small tax incentive, or giving them a sales tax holiday, is almost hokey, in my opinion. So yes, there are things like that …that we can help jobs…, help train their work force. But those are the things we should be doing anyway, and you can tailor-make those to individual projects. But you’re not going to grow the economy overall by some government program." -- Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey

Jeff Woods at The City Paper points to the fact that Republican legislators in Tennessee are focused on many issues other than jobs and education, unless you count the bills to change/remove union representation for teachers (dubiously phrased as "Education Reform"):

Also among the measures drawing scorn:

Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, is calling for Tennessee to study establishing a monetary system of its own to be ready “in the event of hyperinflation, depression, or other economic calamity related to the breakdown of the Federal Reserve System, for which the state is not prepared …”

Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, thinks it’s a good idea to set up a committee of legislators to pick and choose which federal laws are constitutional and presumably therefore OK to follow.

In a bill spawned by the Obama “birther” conspiracy theory, Senate Judiciary Committee chair Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, wants to force candidates on Tennessee’s ballot to prove U.S. citizenship by producing their birth certificates.

“Such distractions should anger Tennesseans who look to elected representatives for leadership, fresh ideas, responsible behavior and efforts to help responsibly guide the state, promote economic development and create a better-educated workforce,” The Jackson Sun wrote in a stinging editorial listing many of the legislature’s more unusual proposals.

Ketron, also sponsor of the bill against Shariah law, has been singled out for special abuse on Twitter from wisecracking state political observers.

“Sen. Ketron to propose legislation stating that Tennessee courts must apply Miller Lite’s ‘Man Law’ to all disputes,” the liberal blogger Ilissa Gold wrote in a representative tweet.

Ketron maintains his bill would give the state the authority to go after Muslim terrorists. But even his hometown newspaper, the Daily News Journal, ridicules that claim. The state doesn’t need or want that power, the newspaper said in an editorial, adding that the legislation is worded so broadly that it could cause problems for “anyone who practices a core set of principles such as praying toward Mecca five times a day, abstaining from alcohol, fasting during Ramadan or following Shariah rules for finance.”

In its own editorial, the Knoxville News Sentinel said Ketron’s proposal “would basically outlaw Islam” and called it “obviously unconstitutional and an embarrassment to the entire state.”

Critics say many of these around-the-bend bills are coming from far-right organizations and are put forth by grandstanding lawmakers without much thought. Beavers’ “birther” proposal seems to be one such bill. It requires candidates to produce a “long-form birth certificate.” During an appearance on the Internet’s Reality Check Radio, Beavers conceded she didn’t even know what that was.

“Now, you’re asking me to get into a lot of things that I haven’t really looked into yet,” the senator told the show’s host when he asked about that.

As for President Obama, Beavers said: “I have no personal knowledge about whether or not he was eligible [to run for president] or not, but there have been a lot of questions about it, and I think it just begs the question, you know, who’s really checking on this?”

A bill by Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, requires public schools to “create an environment” in which teachers “respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues,” including evolution. It also orders administrators to “assist teachers to find effective ways to present the science curriculum as it addresses scientific controversies.”

Dunn insists he aims only to promote “critical thinking” in schools about the origins of life. But opponents say the bill is clearly intended to open the door to teaching intelligent design in public schools, and creationists admit they support the proposal. David Fowler, of the Rev. James Dobson’s Family Action Council, touted the bill in an opinion piece in the online publication, The Chattanoogan.

“Certainly intelligent design theory is not without its critics, and if the subject is going to be taught, then discussion of those criticisms is appropriate,” Fowler wrote. “But it is also appropriate that students understand that intelligent design is a theory that many scientists are beginning to consider and hold because of the weaknesses in the scientific evidence supporting evolution.”

Wesley Roberts, a Hume-Fogg High School science teacher, testified against the bill during one day’s hearings. He said it invites “ghost stories” into the classroom.

“I cannot imagine a student demanding by legislative authority that we include faith healing in a discussion of vaccinations,” he said. “It takes us backward. Science is not a democratic process in which anyone’s opinion, no matter how non-scientifically based, counts. It’s a process that deals only with reason, logic and proof.”

Dunn, whose bill still is pending in the House subcommittee, dismisses such concerns. He said he was acting in part because a child came to him and questioned why humans and chimpanzees don’t have the same number of chromosomes if they come from common ancestors.

Dunn insisted his bill wouldn’t lead to the teaching of intelligent design but would foster a more wide-ranging and open discussion of how life began. Louisiana enacted the same proposal in 2008, and there have been no reports of the teaching of creationism there, he said.

“There are things that are possible, and maybe that’s what’s alarming you,” he told his critics during one subcommittee meeting. “There are things that are probable. It is possible that Elvis Presley is alive. It’s not very probable.”

Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey blames criticism of the legislature on the news media, which he says focuses on the weird and controversial.

Read the whole article here.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Catastrophe Beyond Words

The massive sorrows and terrors in the wake of the tsunami which hit Japan are too many to count.

I have numerous friends who have many loved ones there, and I hate to imagine what they have been going through. The loss of life and safety today are at brutal levels, and sadly, will likely increase for so many. Words plunked down here on this blog fail to capture the grim realities facing the island nation.

This event is global - tsunami waves traveled some 5,000 miles from Japan to California in mere hours. Scientists report the entire planet shifted and the main island itself moved from 8 to 12 feet following the quake which ruptured the the planet's crust in an area about 250 miles long and 100 miles wide.

We each of us have life-challenging days, but coming face to face with the ocean's raw fury and the shifting of the very surface of the planet is nearly beyond comprehension.

Recovery efforts will bring even heavier burdens.

If you are able to offer assistance, I hope you will.

I marvel at how some survived, such as 60-year-old Hiromitsu Shinkawa, who was clinging to the roof of his home as the waves hit, and both he and the roof were swept out into the ocean, where he was finally discovered by rescuers after two days and some 10 miles from shore.