A massive feedback loop of disenfranchisement

Shut up he might hear you

Here’s a little palate cleanser to start things off today.

Well holy shit it looks like Biden has reversed course and is going to back waiving intellectual property protections for the vaccines after all. Kind of at a loss for words for something somewhat good actually happening. He must have read this Hell World from the other day I’m sure. Good work everyone for Getting Mad online about it. Posting is praxis.

Today’s main thing is a dispatch from Tennessee about how Republicans there seemed to be concerned with little else besides legislation designed to own the libs. Since it was written they’ve passed a ban on teaching critical race theory in schools which is clearly a very pressing issue.

“Republicans in the House made the legislation a last-minute priority, introducing provisions that ban schools from instructing students that one race bears responsibility for the past actions against another, that the United States is fundamentally racist or that a person is inherently privileged or oppressive due to their race,” according to the Tennessean.

I thought this sentence in the story was pretty funny.

“Proponents of the legislation have not cited any examples from specific schools where critical race theory or similar instruction is being taught.”

Ah. Well. Nevertheless….

“They have cited an anecdote involving an anonymous 7-year-old whose mother said the child came home from school asking if she was a racist.”

During the debate over the bill Rep. Justin Lafferty performed some real big brain historic revisionism by claiming for some reason that the three-fifths compromise was actually designed to punish southern states and in fact meant to end slavery. No one talks about this he said and he’s not really wrong there.

That’s not what the three-fifths compromise was as I’m sure you’re aware. Instead it was a fucking gift to the southern states in order to give them outsized representation in Congress by using their enslaved population numbers to inflate their official tally. Artificially increasing the representational power of the slave-owning states seems like a strange way to help end slavery but what do I know.

Oh here’s a fun fact: This type of shit is basically still going on today with the way that incarcerated people are counted as residents of the state they are being caged in despite almost always not being able to vote there themselves.

From the Prison Gerrymandering Project:

Some state legislative districts draw large portions of their political clout, not from actual residents, but from the presence of a large prison in the district. The districts with large prisons get to send a representative to the state capital to advocate for their interests without meeting the required number of residents.

Because prisons are disproportionately built in rural areas but most incarcerated people call urban areas home, counting prisoners in the wrong place results in a systematic transfer of population and political clout from urban to rural areas.

For example: “60% of Illinois' prisoners are from Cook County (Chicago), yet 99% of them are counted outside the county.”

Pretty slick shit right? First you arrest predominantly Black people from large population centers that tend to vote Democrat. Next you cage them in more rural places where the prisons are thereby inflating that district’s raw representational power. Now areas who rely on prisons for jobs and power and wealth can have a leg up on passing legislation that will send more Black people into those same prisons in a massive feedback loop of disenfranchisement.

Understanding all that you might get why Republicans are so fucking afraid of kids being taught how our country actually works and how it always has which has been centuries of cheating to ensure entrenched minority-rule by depriving as many people as possible besides white Christian conservatives the power of the vote.

Check out these two stories back to back.

As usual the first story strips all agency from the police when they kill someone. This is nothing new and should not be surprising to see. Sickening still but not surprising.

(To be clear it does seem like police had good reason to believe the man in question had just committed a double homicide and had kidnapped his son but that doesn’t explain why their efforts to save the baby included unloading on the car he was in.)

Check this part out too from the NBC reporting:

“As the suspect exited the vehicle, shots were fired.”

Ok. By who?

“Medical attention was given to the suspect but he died as a result of injuries sustained.”

Sustained from what?

Then this:

“The juvenile did receive injuries and was taken to a local medical facility for treatment.”

Did receive injuries. And notice that use of “juvenile” there. Even Black 4 month old babies get aged-up when police kill them.

Compare the framing of that story to the one from CBS Los Angeles. In the former it is known who committed the violence — the police — but their active role is made nebulous with passive language. They are being protected by the media in this case. In the latter mere speculation about the cause of a fire that killed a dog — not a human baby — from unnamed sources is given the full force of the media outlet’s imprimatur because it involves homeless people. Never mind the fact that there’s no evidence from anyone that any homeless people were involved at all as reported in the text of the very fucking story itself.

Neighbors have been expressing concern for months about the fire risks that come with homeless encampments in the area, and they say they hope Togo’s death will prompt changes. However, the Los Angeles fire Department says the cause of the fire that killed Togo remains undetermined, and there’s no evidence that any homeless persons were involved.

It’s the exact opposite of what is done for the police. An entire class of people — the most powerless and vulnerable population we have — is immediately framed as suspicious and guilty while our powerful state agents — the ones with the ability to take our lives at will — are treated with kid gloves. It’s fucking sick. I have nothing clever to say about this. It disgusts me.

What do they think the result of a story like this is going to be? Do they not expect anti-homeless sentiment to become further inflamed? There’s already been a fucking epidemic of homeless people being set on fire around California as it is.

Tennessee Republicans seem like they’re having a blast

by Eli Motycka

Tennessee has long been sinking into the abyss. But this legislative session things have somehow managed to get even worse. Since January the Republican supermajority-trifecta has gone on a side quest to dunk on liberals in special new ways. It often seems like that’s their only goal.

Tennessee has been hellish for a long time to be clear. Nashville specifically. It was the back office of brokering and transporting enslaved Africans from coastal ports to the Deep South. You can still have a corporate retreat or wedding or both at the Hermitage, the plantation estate home to Andrew Jackson and his genocide against indigenous people. In the 20th century, we’ve contributed the great ideas of privatizing healthcare and prisons, with Hospital Corporation of America still one of the city’s biggest employers, and the stain on humanity that is Corrections Corporation of America/CoreCivic.

In the 2000s, when I was growing up, state politics were much more gridlocked and legislative battles focused almost entirely on taxes. 

I remember when we righteous children got permission in high school to leave in the middle of the day to protest a “Don’t Say Gay” bill in 2011 that would have made it outright illegal to discuss homosexuality in the classroom. Those are my friends Susie and Noah in that picture in that linked article. We held rainbow signs. Eventually the bill failed, seemingly confirming the message of all the movies you saw as a kid: Bad guys try to do evil and you have to stand up to them.

In truth, this was an early sign of serious, not-quite-dominant macro-political gravity pulling the Republican Party towards more extreme cultural doctrine, especially on touch points like gender and sexuality. Ten years later this machine has fully matured and there’s nothing really stopping it.

Today Tennessee lawmakers are tending to important agenda items like stripping workers’ rights, creatively dismantling reproductive rights, blocking any and all moves towards more accessible healthcare (on principle), making it harder to vote, writing gender binary into law, writing heterosexuality into law, writing Christianity into law, and making it more illegal to be transgender, the common suite of American fascism that’s defined the post-Obama right, especially in the South.

This past year our Covid response has amounted to completely nothing. We never had a statewide mask mandate at any point and The Hill declared us “Ground Zero” in December. The Governor’s strategy was a series of strongly-worded suggestions, culminating in the “Face It” ads that ran last summer. We had a ton of cases, including much of the Republican leadership who got it at a caucus event.

Broadway, Nashville’s honky-tonk answer to Bourbon Street, but more comfortable for White Supremacists, got capacity-restricted but stayed open. When things got too restrictive at one point, bar owners sued Nashville’s mayor. 

While they weren’t acknowledging Covid, lawmakers here were busy with everything else. Governor Bill Lee made it legal to carry a gun without any paperwork, a type of freedom referred to as a permitless carry or a Constitutional carry depending on how you view the outcome of the Civil War. After Occupy, and then again after protests this summer, the state made it a felony to erect a tent on state land and has decided to extend legal protections to people who hit protestors with their cars.

All of this culture-war-based legislating has sometimes been done imaginatively, like the new legal requirement for burial or cremation after an abortion, and a new requirement that teachers notify parents 30 days in advance if they’re going to bring up sexual orientation or gender identity. Sometimes it’s been done festively, like the parade that Secretary of State Tre Hargett threw for the state constitution when it got moved about 800 yards between two state archives.

These moves are predictable and expected, especially with no opposition in any office or chamber. The GOP controls the House 73-21 and the Senate 27-6 and Democrats have done nothing but lose since 2008. (Did something happen then?) There is no reason to assume any of that is changing anytime soon, so I guess it’s natural that when you get comfortable, bored of constantly winning, and aren’t challenged, it’s time to start flexing on the libs.

Lately things have descended—or devolved—into a different type of legislating that seems more focused on enshrining important conservative cultural touch points like the Bible, ladders, and Ben Shapiro. 

This is the stuff that doesn’t even bother with a pretense of solving actual problems or of even protecting white male Christian straight people, it just kind of seems like they’re doing it … for fun? 

In April the House passed two official State Welcomes (there is no precedent for this) one each honoring Tomi Lahren (passed 71-20) and Candace Owens (70-18) for moving to Tennessee. In both cases, lawmakers (mainly one party-climber guy named William Lamberth, who recently adopted a hedgehog) use their  “Whereas” clauses liberally as places to make specific jabs at whoever they think they’re fighting against. The Daily Wire’s relocation, and Lahren, Shapiro, and Owens’ moves with it, is vaunted by all parties as a kind of “market punishment” for the terrible governance of coastal socialists who love taxes and don’t understand economics. We’re taking our 75 jobs and leaving, Shapiro said.

Don’t worry he got his official welcome too.

Designating the Holy Bible as the official state book was actually a little controversial because of some bureaucratic stalling by Lieutenant Governor and Senate Speaker Randy McNally, an East Tennessee Republican from the before-times (first elected in 1979) who didn’t quite get how things are done now. A few lawmakers have been trying for this the past couple sessions and it looks like this will be the year as McNally finally came around and the bill is now on the Governor’s desk. Tennessee is a Bible publishing hub, so the move has also been justified by its economic promise. Massachusetts’ Make Way for Ducklings, technically the state’s children’s book, is the only other symbolic tome I can find. I’m not from Massachusetts but that seems kind of charming and less unconstitutional.  

What else? No state has an official tool yet. Now that great honor will probably go to the Tennessee ladder for some reason. The bill is short, there’s no clear reason why this is happening other than a guy suggested it, and no money is being passed around as far as I can tell. And yet apparently the public welfare requires it:

The sense down here is that a lot of dumb legislation has started to go through just because they can do it. Bills are being debated and passed simply as a result of people with a certain ideology having access to the levers of power, like when you get your hands on a label-maker or fridge magnets. No reason to bother with even a pretense about what bills do or don’t achieve or legality or constitutionality. They are all almost just red meat (which may soon be legally enshrined in some way) to prove there are no consequences for culture war stunts. 

Any outrage from national media about this pointless showboating can often backfire because, unlike the bills themselves, it’s often rooted in good faith. Consider this New York Magazine piece. It’s about Tennessee Rep. Micah Van Huss’s bill officially declaring CNN and the Washington Post fake news on behalf of Tennesseans and the “rights that our veterans paid for with blood.”

Indignant coverage like that, especially from the coasts, strengthens the far-right here, who can then offer it back up to their base as media bias confirmation. That bill HJR779 failed last year, but was yet another sign that lawmakers were interested in purely performing culture. 

Ten years after I missed European history to protest “Don’t Say Gay” I’ve realized that rainbow signs don’t actually stop bills like these going through. Neither do the rallies organized by Planned Parenthood or days of protests against police. They are crucial for many reasons, and I still attend them, but Republicans nonetheless continue to control the lawmaking, both the goofy stunt laws and the ones that do real harm. Their internal negotiations decide what happens to us 7 million Tennesseans. National money and/or media might care when there’s a particularly egregious chance for clicks, or if, like in Georgia, our electoral votes are on the line. Meanwhile, we still have to live here. Tennessee Republicans seem like they’re having a blast. For the rest of us the joke doesn’t really seem all that funny anymore. 

Eli Motycka writes about Nashville at publiccomment.substack.com

Ok that’s all for today. Before we go please enjoy this week’s two nominees for the Hell World Mind Genius of the Week: Josh Duggar and a Massachusetts pizza shop owner who defrauded the government out of a large PPD loan so he could buy an alpaca farm in Vermont and host a bitcoin radio show.