Wednesday, April 18, 2012

What Beautiful Wickedness: ALEC and the "Wizard of Oz"

Many of us, by now, most likely are aware of the fact that several prominent corporations have broken their ties with ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council.   Among these corporations are Coca-Cola,  PepsiCo,  Kraft Foods,  Mars, Inc., McDonald’s,  Wendy’s,  Reed-Elsevier, and Intuit, Inc.

In light of these corporations having gone public in dropping their memberships, ALEC Executive Director, Ron Scheberle, issued a statement on April 11, 2012.  In it, he complained that “we find ourselves the focus of a well-funded, expertly coordinated intimidation campaign.”  He then proceeded to whitewash ALEC, calling it an organization dedicated more to “solutions than rhetoric,” transparency, job creation, fair tax policies, and open discourse.   Scheberle also gave assurances that ALEC “will not be defined by ideological special interests.”

Now, if ALEC truly operates under these principles outlined by Scheberle, it is hard to comprehend why major corporations would be abandoning it like rats from a sinking ship.  Who can argue with such altruistic and positive principles?   But then, as we look more closely at the work of ALEC, we find that its actions not only speak much louder than its words, but also speak an entirely different, contradictory language.

ALEC brings together corporations and conservative state legislators.  Then, with the input of the former [corporations], it writes legislation that it gives to the latter [state legislators] to enact.  Over 1,000 pieces of legislation are introduced by ALEC during each legislative cycle, and close to 20% of these actually become law.   In other words, hundreds of elected representatives (almost all Republican) submit legislation that they did not write. Were their Statehouses academic institutions, they all would be expelled for plagiarism.  Unfortunately, the bar is much lower for our elected representatives than it was for those same repre-sentatives when they had attended college.

Still, were they bringing decent legislation back to their respective states, and thus working in the best interests of their constituencies, one might be able to forgive them their sloth. Alas, the legislation they would bring home was mainly written by and for the international, corporate members of ALEC, not for the constituents of their specific state.   In this lies the real tragedy of contemporary, American legislative democracy.

Typical of the legislation enacted under ALEC are bills intended to roll back civil rights;  bills that disenfranchise voters, mostly in the form of voter ID laws;  bills that infringe on worker’s rights;  bills meant to privatize public services;  bills that promote the interests of corporations over individual citizens;  bills that weaken government regulations meant to protect the environment and public health;  bills promoting the take-over by for-profit private businesses of public services such as schools, prisons, public transportation, social and welfare services;  bills that permit the harassment and otherwise unlawful detention of suspected illegal immigrants;  bills that strip public employees of collective bargaining rights;  bills that weaken the power of private sector workers through so-called “right to work” laws;  and, of course, bills that have recently come to be known as “Stand Your Ground” laws, like the original one in Florida that led to the tragic murder of Trayvon Martin.

This is what ALEC does. In other words, ALEC is the secretive, behind-the-scenes source of most of the social and political disruption and angst that we have been experiencing in America: the emergency managers in Michigan, the union busting in Wisconsin, the ultrasound legislation in Virginia, the immigrant detaining and deporting in Arizona, the blocking of voter registration in Florida. One could extend this list, state-after-state; but I think you get the picture.

So, if we return to examine the statement of ALEC’s Ron Scheberle, we begin to understand that ALEC is anything but transparent.  Who knew that all that insane legislation being pushed through one Republican-dominated statehouse after another, particularly since the 2010 election, actually came from a single source?  This legislation, all written in ALEC-organized task forces, has destroyed jobs, not created them, as Scheberle wrote. It has supported tax policies for large corporations and the ultra rich and not promoted “fair tax policies.”  Because ALEC members are conservative and almost exclusively Republican, it is abundantly clear that ALEC, indeed, serves the “special interests” of a specific ideology. Scheberle’s whitewash, as I called it, is simply that: words meant to counter any anticipated criticisms and paint a picture the opposite of reality.

Marvin Meadors’ Huffington Post article, “How Are ALEC Laws Undermining Our Democracy?,” calls ALEC a “bill churning mill” and suggests that it “bears a striking resemblance to the evil law firm in the film The Devil’s Advocate.”  If we accept his metaphor, I imagine the movie’s boss, played by Al Pacino (who turns out to be Lucifer) would have to be ALEC’s founder, Paul Weyrich (also co-founder of the Heritage Foundation). Weyrich once candidly acknowledged, “we are radicals, working to overturn the present power structure of this country." And on voting, the lynchpin of our democracy, Weyrich said, “I don't want everybody to vote....our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”  Obviously, democracy and fairness were not Weyrich’s goals; nor are they the goals of ALEC today, given that it has been instrumental in passing voter-ID laws among thirty-two states with the intention of suppressing non-Republican votes.

If Weyrich is John Milton (Al Pacino) in The Devil’s Advocate, I would offer a different film metaphor for Ron Scheberle and today’s ALEC: The Wizard of Oz.  The corporations might be the Winkie Guards, enslaved by the Wicked Witch of the West until freed at her death. 

I’d like to think that the head Guard, crying with joy at his new-found freedom, might be the Robert Gates Foundation, now that it severed its connection to ALEC. 

The flying monkeys, who are described as “intelligent enough to obey commands” become the state legislators

and we can imagine the sky blackened with them, not as they pursue Dorothy, but as they fly back to their statehouses armed with new, evil legislation.

Ron Scheberle, as ALEC’s Executive Director, would then be the Wicked Witch of the West. 

And when Dorothy (The Center for Media and Democracy, The Color of Change, Daily Kos: take your pick) accidentally throws a little water on her, her final words could also be those of Scheberle with hardly any word changes:

“Ahhhh, you cursed brat, look what you’ve done! I’m melting, melting.    Ooooh what a world, what a world.   Who would have thought that some little girl like you could destroy my beautiful wickedness.   Ooooh, no.   I’m going.....”

Monday, April 9, 2012

Marching with Hoodies: a commitment to community and life

On March 26, 2012, I wrote a blog post entitled, “OWS, Union Square, Hoodies and America’s Gun Laws.”  I received a fairly long, personal and thoughtful response to that post from a young black man named Randy.  Randy is thirty-two, employed, and lives in a mid-sized urban community in Pennsylvania.   Because I was so touched by his response, I contacted him and received his permission to post his response in this blog.

I would have preferred to see Randy’s letter appear as an “Op-Ed” piece in the New York Times or on the “Lives” page at the back of the New York Times Magazine.  His response truly merits a much broader exposure than the limited one of Wassup This Week.  But, given the two-and-a-half weeks that has passed since the Million Hoodie demonstration in Union Square, Randy’s letter would no longer be timely enough for such a venue.

And so, I publish his letter below (enlarged, in red) and follow it with a few added comments.

I am compelled to comment on this post. I am an African American black man. The Trayvon Martin situation is disturbing on many levels. I applaud those that recognize the situation, protest and speak out. 
That being said, I am bothered because there must be something more we can do besides attend protest marches. I have seen violence. I have experienced racism. Heck, I was one step away from joining a gang myself as a young teen just to feel like I was a part of a family.  

I give my background to point out that my stance is not by any means a negative towards this situation, but to call on people not just to observe a situation but to actively consider how to improve the situations of others less fortunate.  

I base my call for action on my own experience. In particular, my experience with 2 important people in my life whom I often refer to on a regular basis as my “adopted parents.” They did not adopt me as far as taking me in physically, but they adopted me emotionally and mentally. They took a random kid who, I would assume, piqued their interest enough to dig a little deeper.

I did not make it easy on them. To be honest, I didn’t really trust them. They were older, maybe by 40 years; they were white; and I was brought up not to trust. I highly respected them and in some ways feared them. I barely spoke to them but was always kind and respectful. They could have easily let me go my way and let me keep walking on a beaten path that would have led to a life much different than what I have today.

To make a long story short – they decided to take me under their wings. This act saved my life on so many levels because of what I was going through at home and what I would soon be going through as a young adult. I feel like they were there every step of the way, whenever I needed guidance and even the times I may not have wanted guidance.

My “adopted mom”--I used to call her “the apple lady” because she allowed us kids to pick apples from a tree in the back of their house--would always tell me this simple phrase when I would complain about circumstances in my life. She would say "Randy – you cannot always change what someone else does; but you can always change what you do." Boy, did I find that phrase annoying.

Here is my point in all this:

Its great to have a march like that Million Hoodie March and recognize when things are wrong – but let us not march with hoodies on for a single situation.  March with the lives you lead, with your entire life.

My two “adopted parents” (who are white and I am black) were marching with their lives and honoring Trayvon Martin before Trayvon was even born!

So now, I’ll wrap up with why I am still bothered.

How many men marching with hoodies have left their own children because they did not want to be fathers and so ran from responsibilities?   How many women marching with hoodies have children and are neglecting them and not showing them the love they need to endure life?   How many older men marching with hoodies are watching the younger men around them failing in life and are not willing to take them in and be a mentor?   How many older women marching with hoodies are watching women go down the wrong path and are afraid to mother them and teach them?

I can go on and on but the point is: this is bigger than Trayvon Martin and one situation – we have people killing each other and neglecting each other and refusing to do anything about it.  Let’s not just walk away from an event such as this and go back home and do nothing.   Let’s consider our own ways.  Trayvon was shot because of one man’s screwed up beliefs.  But, how many folks are harmed mentally and emotionally because of ones screwed up beliefs?  Let us all do better in the little ways that we can and consider how we treat one another.  By doing that – as my “adopted parents” have done – then we are making an impact, changing lives and are truly marching with hoodies.

Randy has created a powerful metaphor.  Marching with hoodies becomes a statement about re-defining community, about improving the lives of others as well as one’s own, about truly integrating blacks and whites and making them equal.

When George Zimmerman muttered to the police dispatcher, “these assholes, they always get away,” he wasn’t able to imagine Trayvon as part of his community.  When, according to Trayvon’s father, the first thing the Sanford police told him when he arrived at the station house was that Zimmerman “had a squeaky-clean record, a license to carry a weapon and is studying criminal justice,” he was being informed, not so subtly, that he was an outsider to this particular Sanford community.

It has been argued that, since George Zimmerman is Hispanic, and his mother was originally from Peru, the exclusionary issues of racial profiling don’t apply to him;  he, too, was an outsider. However, Isabel Wilkerson pointed out that a Duke University study has shown that Hispanic and Latino immigrants to this country "actually reported higher negative feelings toward blacks than most native-born whites.”  Essentially, they tend to hold “the same assumptions about blacks that they perceive are held by native whites.”  This, of course, is simply an effective strategy of assimilation.

For some reason, Hispanics are more readily assimilated into white American communities than are blacks.  After all, Zimmerman had become a trusted neighborhood watch volunteer.  As Khalil Gibran Muhammad writes in an article entitled, “Playing the Violence Card,” because so much violence against blacks is black-on-black, we tend to see violence against blacks differently from violence against other groups.  Therefore, violence against blacks is simply a black problem and “not a problem with social and institutional roots that needs to be addressed through collective effort well beyond the boundaries of black communities.”

And so, we come back to Randy’s letter to me about the Million Hoodie March.   He is essentially asking everyone, black, white, hispanic, to not play the “violence card.”   He is asking us all to treat everyone with compassion.   He is asking us to take responsibility for our communities, defined in the broadest terms to encompass all races.   He is asking us to treat everyone equally, to embrace everyone as brother and sister.

But we have a long was to go before we fulfill Randy’s request. We need a lot more unofficial, off-the-record, “adoptive parents” who are willing to treat our young citizens, particularly our young black citizens as equals.  As Charles Blow concluded in an article he wrote last week about our racial divide, the “perception of unequal treatment eats away at the psyche of these men and boys of color and erodes their faith in a just and honest society.  That is its own tragedy.”

And then, Blow asks a question about the tragedy of Trayvon Martin’s murder that neither he nor anyone else should ever have had to ask: “In the decision not to charge Zimmerman, was the boy with the candy accorded the same presumption of innocence as the man with the gun?”

Sunday, April 1, 2012

April 1, an Anniversary, and Rabbits

Having awakened on this, my 45th wedding anniversary, still deleriously married to the most lovely Andrea, the true center of wisdom, joie de vivre, and forceful optimism, and, it being the first day of the month, I went to my email, found the new message from RabbitRabbitRadio, and downloaded the new, April, composition.

There is so much more to Rabbit Rabbit Radio than a new and original musical composition each month--and the music is wonderful--that I am going to make a pitch for it by copying the April Home Page and also offering this promo piece for April in hope that it will whet your appetite.  I am, of course, encouraging you all to subscribe.

And, indeed, one must subscribe to Rabbit Rabbit Radio.  The cost is merely $1, $2, $3, or $5 per month (a choice simply dependent upon you and how much you wish to help and support the creative efforts of two fabulous musicians).

So, here below is a transcription from the home page for April, and with that, I will sign off, take my lovely wife to Fiorello’s for brunch--actually, she’s taking me--and then we will treat ourselves to the matinee of Warhorse.

All About April…

In Latin aperire means “to open,” a reference to the month in which trees and flowers begin to bloom.

Includes such holidays as Sorry Charlie Day, Walk Around Things Day, Big Wind Day, Rubber Eraser Day, Richter Scale Day and of course, Hairstyle Appreciation Day.

RABBIT, RABBIT! Welcome to the third issue of Rabbit Rabbit Radio

Much more than Valentine’s Day, I have always associated April Fool’s day with romance. My parents, Andrea and Tyko Kihlstedt, got married on April 1st, 1967 before the justice of the Glen Cove, NY court, in a no-nonsense ceremony with only their parents attending. Of course, when they joined college friends in Philadelphia who were hosting an April Fool’s Day party that evening, no one believed that they actually had tied the knot. The real April Fool’s joke was that the new International Harvester Scout that my father had bought died in the middle of the George Washington Bridge on their way down to Philadelphia.

My sister and I always found ways of combining the well-wishings of an anniversary with the trickery of the fool’s day. One year we made an entire French breakfast for my parents, but hid cotton balls and twine inside the otherwise delicious croissants. They lived to tell the tale and, 45 years later, are still quite happily hitched. In honor of their partnership, we focus this issue on things made by pairs, duos, teams of two.

Most of our songs grow from a seed created by one or the other of us. This month, however, we bring you a rocking little ditty we wrote together from tail to tip as fast as we could in the spirit of I.C.S., and recorded even faster at Studio G Brooklyn with producer/engineer Joel Hamilton. (See the 10+ page for an explanation of both ICS and Studio G).

The song is called Newsreel and features words borrowed from Günter Grass’ novel, Dog Years and collaged together by us. It is about love. Not the primped and manicured love of roses, champagne and pajamagrams, but the love of survival, of desperation, static love, misguided love, the myopic and joyous love of children, the twisted love of assassins, the mundane love of salvage yards and empty streetcars.


This month we bring you two films. First, NYC-based Norwegian photographer and film-maker Torkil Stavdal came by the recording studio at the end of the day and and filmed us as we squeezed out one last performance of Newsreel with our shredded voices. We also bring you the third in Matthias’ ongoing series, The Courage of Man.


In addition to compiling separate lists of our own, as well as a couple’s list of our favorite musical duos, we’ve invited Meredith Yayanos to help us celebrate things made by teams of two with her own selection of eleven admirable creative pairs. Meredith — a living encyclopedia of popular culture and underground oddities — is a co-founder of Coilhouse, a wonderful website and print magazine that curates the juiciest gems from alternative culture.


On the PICS page, as per usual you’ll find photographic evidence of our month’s toil and play (by us and our friend Zara Katz), but instead of a slideshow of instagram favorites, this being the month that contains Easter, which is a Christian adaptation of a pagan holiday celebrating the fertility of Spring (hence the Easter Bunny), we bring you an exhibit of the rabbit etchings of Mariko Ando the wonderful artist who created the image that has quickly become our RRR totem.

The Rabbit Rabbit Radio team:

As you might surmise, it takes us hundreds of man/woman-hours to put RRR together each month. Matthias and I are joined by George Hurd, who is the RRR Production Manager, our graphic designer , Anna Singer, and Joseph Voves, who created the RRR ‘commercial’ on the front page of the site. Rabbit Rabbit Radio is built entirely on the strength of grass-roots word-of-mouth communication. Please help us to spread the word!

Stay tuned for our May issue featuring bass player/guitartist/engineer Jon Evans, accordionist extraordinaire, Marié Abe, and Cape Cod national treasure Chandler Travis!


Carla Kihlstedt & Matthias Bossi.