Friday, April 13, 2012

You Get A Quarter For A Tax Break, 1,000 Others Will Get 20 Grand

There were some eager press reports this week proclaiming that the state legislature had just voted to lower taxes in Tennessee. The truth of the matter is nothing to cheer about. R. Neal lays out the math:

"... to summarize, the 0.1% get a $20,000 tax break and everybody else gets a $3.50 tax break. How very Republican!"

Just watch - this legislature will send out re-election campaign shouts of "We Lowered Taxes!"

Meanwhile, expect more cuts to education, more invasion of your personal lives, zero accountability for campaign donors, etc etc. It's the Conservative state of Tennessee where the state works to conserve money and influence into the smallest number of hands.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

ALEC's Grip on Government Slipping

I'd been reading about several giant corporate backers of a private nationwide organization - ALEC - which has been steadily writing legislation and getting states to pass them by having members of state legislators become 'board members' of ALEC - and that recently these huge companies are dropping their support for ALEC.

For one reason, thanks to online writers, the dirty details of what ALEC has been doing got told. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation dropped away from supporting ALEC, mainly due to Voter ID laws and the now-notorious Stand Your Ground law.

And the Foundation isn't alone - Kraft Foods, Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Intuit, McDonald's, Wendy's -- all have stopped the support and made sure the press and the online world knows it. It's good news, but it's quite telling that for many years, these companies have been working hard to increase their control of our cities and towns and our nation as a whole. Two of the best blog writers in Tennessee took up the story today:

R. Neal at KnoxViews: "State Reps. Curry Todd and Steve McDaniel are members of the illustrious ALEC Board of Directors, and Todd is ALEC's Tennessee state chairman. You may recall that Rep. Todd recently helped kill the "Influence Disclosure Act" that would would have required disclosing the source of astroturf legislation such as ALEC's."

Southern Beale: "But as ALEC and the Chamber wade into the weeds of extremist ideology, they’re alienating some of their biggest corporate supporters, whose profits depend on being a little less reactionary and appealing to a broad range of consumers."

ALEC, The American Legislative Exchange Council, is a hardcore conservative group, with more than 2,000 state legislators from all 50 states (about  one-third of all existing legislators), some 85 members of Congress and 14 sitting or previous governors. They've been steadily cranking out what they innocently call "model legislation". Pre-written and crafted for easy passage, these bills touch nearly every aspect of your life and of government and get handed out to members and they file the bills in state after state. As Neal pointed out, Rep. Curry killed a law to require legislators disclose how and who funds or writes legislation they present. ALEC demands secrecy, but the secret is finally out.

Repairing the damage done by a national, self-serving and deceptive campaign meant to erase each state's government will take too many years and hours -- and electing new legislators not yet addicted to the corporate trough. As of now, ALEC will fight to keep the power they've taken - and they'll seek other ways to move and act in secret by forming new groups with new names not yet tarnished with deception.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Gov. Haslam Allows Anti-Science Bill to Become Law

Gov. Haslam took the stand of not taking a stand on science education in Tennessee and has allowed a new law to go into effect which devalues science, education and apparently, the role of Tennessee's governor in the state's politics.

Here's his press release on the new law:

"NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today issued the following statement on HB 368/SB 893:

“I have reviewed the final language of HB 368/SB 893 and assessed the legislation’s impact. I have also evaluated the concerns that have been raised by the bill. I do not believe that this legislation changes the scientific standards that are taught in our schools or the curriculum that is used by our teachers. However, I also don’t believe that it accomplishes anything that isn’t already acceptable in our schools.

“The bill received strong bipartisan support, passing the House and Senate by a three-to-one margin, but good legislation should bring clarity and not confusion. My concern is that this bill has not met this objective. For that reason, I will not sign the bill but will allow it to become law without my signature.”

So he won't defend science, he won't demand the legislature be more accurate, he won't fight for the highest levels of educational achievement. He just gave up on all of it.

Just over one year ago, Lt. Gov Ron Ramsey, clearly told Tennesseans that he's running the state and that he was "focused like a laser on the economy and education". True to his word, this one new law alone will stand as proof that our state is behind economically and educationally. (As for the science which allowed for the creation of "lasers", the Lt. Governor is silent.)

"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."

That's the same ''blame the media" nonsense Gov. Haslam continues to use to avoid the consequences of his actions and in-actions.  

It is inevitable now that some Tennessee school system will have to fight in court over this law - an expensive battle which is likely to find the law at fault. It's happened quite recently -

"A useful reference work would be a 2005 decision by a federal judge in Pennsylvania striking down a school board policy requiring that students be made aware of "gaps/problems in Darwin's theory and of other theories of evolution including, but not limited to, intelligent design." In that case, Judge John E. Jones concluded that intelligent design and teaching about "gaps" and "problems" in evolutionary theory are "creationist, religious strategies that evolved from earlier forms of creationism."

Religious motives aside, the Tennessee bill reflects the view that there is a significant scientific controversy about the basic accuracy of Darwinian theory. There isn't. But what of the "dissenting scientific views" the Discovery Institute cites? It is true that a tiny minority of scientists embrace some version of creationism or intelligent design (an even smaller cohort than the minority of scientists who question human contribution to global warming). There's nothing wrong with a biology teacher acknowledging that fact as long as she makes it clear that evolutionary theory is the linchpin of the biological sciences, including medicine. It isn't censoring a point of view to inform students that it is subscribed to by a tiny fringe.

Like such measures in other states, the Tennessee bill contains beguiling language about the importance of helping students to develop critical thinking skills. That is a vital part of education, especially in the more interactive atmosphere of a high school (though it is often opposed by religious conservatives who decry "relativism" in the classroom). But even in high school, and especially in science class, teachers have an obligation to the truth. The truth in this case, discomfiting as it may be to some Tennesseans, is that evolution is not "just a theory."