Public Education Finance Act of 2013… a bold gambit to dismantle public education in Michigan once and for all

Saying “I’ve never considered myself a conspiracy theorist—until now,” Rob Glass, the Superintendent of the Bloomfield Hills School District, sent a letter out to parents in his district yesterday, outlining the education reform plans unveiled last week by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder. “This package of bills,” said Glass, “is the latest in a yearlong barrage of ideologically-driven bills designed to weaken and defund locally-controlled public education, handing scarce taxpayer dollars over to for-profit entities operating under a different set of rules.”

The 302-page legislative package, which you can download by clicking here, was drafted by Lansing lawyer Richard McLellan, a former official in the administration of Republican Governor John Engler, and the cofounder of the Koch Brothers-funded think tank, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. (To give you an idea as to where they are ideologically, we have the Mackinac Center to thank for the concept of financial martial law.) McLellan, who has long been a proponent of implementing a school voucher system in Michigan, which would channel public money into the coffers of private, for-profit schools, had been given the task last year by Snyder to rewrite the State’s 33-year-old School Aid Act, which is essentially the blueprint that dictates how our public schools are funded. Here, in the words of Superintendent Glass, is an explanation of what McLellan, through his prestigious-sounding new organization – the Oxford Foundation – has come up with.

House Bill 6004 and Senate Bill 1358- Would expand a separate and statewide school district (the Education Achievement Authority of Michigan or EAA) overseen by a governor-appointed chancellor and functioning outside the authority of the State Board of Education or state school superintendent. These schools are exempt from the same laws and quality measures of community-governed public schools. The EAA can seize unused school buildings (built and financed by local taxpayers) and force sale or lease to charter, non-public or EAA schools.

House Bill 5923- Creates several new forms of charter and online schools with no limit on the number. Bundled with HB 6004/SB1358, many of these schools could be created by the EAA. Public schools are not allowed to create these new schools unless they charter them. Selective enrollment/dis-enrollment policies will likely lead to greater segregation in our public schools. This bill creates new schools without changing the overall funding available, further diluting resources for community-governed public schools.

Senate Bill 620- Known as the ‘Parent Trigger’ bill, this would allow the lowest achieving 5% of schools to be converted to a charter school while allowing parents or teachers to petition for the desired reform model. This bill… disenfranchises voters, ends their local control, and unconstitutionally hands taxpayer-owned property over to for-profit companies. Characterized as parent-empowerment, this bill does little to develop deep, community-wide parent engagement and organization.

So, this legislation, if passed, would essentially create a parallel, for-profit education system, right alongside the Michigan public school system, unanswerable to anyone, save for an appointee of the Governor. There would be no accountability to the State Board of Education of the State Superintendent of Schools. And, as Glass points out, these for-profit entities would be able, like parasites, to take over our vacated public school facilities, which had been constructed with taxpayer dollars, for pennies on the dollar.

And the idea, it would seem, is to force this legislation through the Republican controlled House and Senate now, during the lame duck session, before the new legislative class makes their way to Lansing… which doesn’t leave us much time to get organized. (I believe I’ve heard that we have about two weeks before this would come to a vote.)

Here, in the interest of fairness, is how McLellan, through the Oxford Foundation, is positioning the legislation.

…The new Michigan Public Education Finance Act of 2013 is aimed at creating a public education funding system that allows a student to learn “Any Time, Any Place, Any Way and Any Pace,” and create the path toward more robust performance-based funding. Below are five major concepts included in the draft.

1. Removal of District “Ownership” of a Student. A student will be allowed to take a course, multiple courses or the student’s entire bundled education package from any public education district in the state. A local school district will maintain its ability to determine whether to participate in open enrollment.

2. Creation of Online Learning Options with Performance Funding. Technology is changing the delivery of instruction to students. A student will be allowed to access instruction from across the state using advancing technology. The district providing the online course will immediately receive public funding, based on performance measures. Again, a district will not limit a student’s choices.

3. Funding will truly follow the Student. Under the current model, a school receives 90% of its state general education funding based on where a student sits on the first Wednesday in October. We create a dynamic system, where the funding will actually follow the student. 15 other states are already using the Average Daily Membership method for allocating funds.

4. Framework for Performance-based Funding for all courses. We are setting the framework for the full implementation of computer-adaptive student growth and assessment tools that are on the horizon. We are maintaining the current growth funding incentives for the next fiscal year until the Smarter Balanced assessment and the recommendations from the Michigan Council on Educator Effectiveness are complete.

5. Early Graduation Scholarships. We are creating an incentive for students – who are ready – to graduate early. $2,500 will be available for each semester a student graduates early. Let’s help those students who are ready to graduate.

So, if I’m reading this correctly, not only will our students be incentivized to leave school early, thus lessening the burden on Michigan tax payers, but they’ll also be able to complete their coursework from home, having used Michigan taxpayer dollars to purchase online modules of questionable educational value from the likes of Mike Huckabee… Sounds like a great plan, doesn’t it?

Michigan Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer, who, along with other Democrats, had proposed a competing plan called Michigan 2020, apparently doesn’t buy the bullshit line about how this is being done to help children. She took to Daily Kos almost immediately after the Governor’s plan became public, and shared the following thoughts.

…(W)hile so many of us advocate for the need to reinvest in our schools throughout the state and provide each and every student with a world class education, Governor Snyder, the so-called tough “nerd”, has taken the opposite approach. He has pushed through budgets over the past two years that have raided nearly $2 billion from our schools and used it instead to provide tax handouts to big corporations without the promise of a single job being created. He has blamed teachers for poor performing schools while gutting the funding needed to keep our schools competitive and made it more and more difficult for students to achieve the success necessary to compete in a rapidly changing global job market.

Yesterday, Governor Snyder released the latest and most offensive step in his anti-education agenda in the form of a proposed overhaul of Michigan’s school aid funding. The deeply flawed plan would end public education as we know it in Michigan by enacting nearly the same voucher system that Michigan voters overwhelmingly rejected in 2000. It would create fiscal uncertainty for every single school in the state and only succeed in lining the pockets of the CEOs running for-profit corporate schools.

It isn’t a plan that looks forward, it’s one that only looks back on previous attempts by out-of-state interests to profit off of Michigan’s students. It’s a plan that says the education of our children is better left to the corporate accountants at “Schools, Inc.” than it is with the teachers in our classrooms. It’s nothing short of a disaster waiting to happen and one that I find simply offensive as both a legislator and as a mother of two young girls…

So, here’s how this trick apparently works, for those of you in other states who would like to attempt something similar… You defund education to the point of collapse, and, then, pointing to the inevitable failure, you make the case that the only option left available is to essentially hand the whole thing over to corporate America. And you bring in an anti-public education operative with ties to ALEC and the Koch Brothers, hiding behind the facade of a pro-education foundation with “Oxford” in its name, so that it sounds super smart, to draft the whole thing. Then, you announce it right before the Thanksgiving break, knowing that no one will take notice. Evil and brilliant, right?

The problem is, people in Michigan, who already voted down the idea of school vouchers in 2000, are taking notice, and the momentum against Snyder is beginning to build as more and more superintendents are stepping up to inform families in their districts. Following, as an illustration of the fact that the people are beginning to line up against Synder on this, is a clip from the recent editorial in the Detroit Free Press.

Lame-duck legislative sessions are typically the devil’s cauldron, filled with a steaming heap of cowardly and ill-thought-out legislation that wouldn’t have a prayer of passing if citizens (or even lawmakers) were paying much attention.

This year is no different, with the Republican majorities in both chambers weighing serious, sweeping structural changes to public education in a hurried and haphazard fashion. Certainly, the goal of this sloppy legislation isn’t to improve schooling (you’d need a far more careful approach to do that) so what’s the motive? Likely, it’s ideology — which is often the enemy of improved outcomes…

There’s no question that Michigan could use more innovation in education, and open minds about school finance and governance are going to be a prerequisite in the ongoing conversation about change. But in a host of bills that hadn’t seen the light of day until after the Nov. 6 election, the Legislature is poised to ram through reforms that really ought to be discussed and debated in a much broader context, and probably over a much longer period of time.

And much of what’s being proposed looks a lot like McLellan’s voucher system, just by another name.

The legislation being debated would essentially open up the state to creation of an unlimited number of schools run by for-profit charter outfits, businesses, universities and just about anyone else, with the use of money that now funds public school districts. Even the newly created Education Achievement Authority, which debuted this year as a special district for chronically low-performing schools, would gain sweeping power to create new schools under one of the bills being considered.

The idea behind them is principally to introduce more market competition for public schools, and to allow for more innovation.

Neither is a bad idea.

But, as crafted, these bills would not have these new schools face the kind of oversight — standard-setting and enforcement — that the state has been inching toward implementing for other public schools.

This has been a running problem with the efforts to expand charter schools since Snyder was elected in 2010; advocates believe the market for independent schools is self-regulating, and that bad charters will close because Michigan families won’t choose them.

The problem is that, in practice, that hasn’t happened in the most robust charter market in the state, Detroit, where scores of middling or even awful charters stay open year after year, providing no better education than their public school counterparts…

Assuming you agree, there are a few things you can do immediately. On one end of the spectrum, there’s civil disobedience. And, on the other, there are petitions. Here, for those of you who’d prefer not to chain yourselves up to the fence surrounding the Governor’s gated community, or protest at a local for-profit charter school, is a link to a petition, which, as of right now, already has over 11,000 signatures. Here’s what it says.

“Do not continue to promote the passage of HB 6004 or any other legislation that replaces locally elected representatives of the people with unelected State appointed bureaucrats. We do not want the education of our children privatized and our tax dollars and local school buildings turned over to for-profit corporations.”

[note: The Lansing Democrats have now rolled out a petition of their own, and I suspect that, if you sign it, and give them your contact information, they’ll keep you updated.]

And, once you share this post with your friends, you could also write to your representatives in the Michigan House and Senate, and tell them that you’re adamantly against Michigan State Senate bills 1358 and 620, and Michigan State House bill 6004 and 5923. And, while you’re at it, you could write to the Governor as well. Here’s his contact information.

Governor Rick Snyder
P.O. Box 30013
Lansing, Michigan 48909
Phone: (517) 373-3400
Email: click here

UPDATE: Oakland Schools Superintendent Dr. Vickie L. Markavitch weighs in….

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Boots Riley of The Coup… on Communism, Corporatism, hip-hop, and the need to beat down scabs

Last night, I had the occasion to speak with world-renowned hip-hop provocateur Boots Riley on a wide range of subjects spanning from his childhood in Detroit, spent in a household of Communist organizers, to his current work, organizing people in his neighborhood as a member Occupy Oakland. And, of course, we touched on his equally ground-breaking and ass-shaking music, and the 20-years that he’s now spent “using hip-hop to empower people” and “destroy Capitalism,” in bands like The Coup and Street Sweeper Social Club.

Riley and The Coup, as I suspect that most of you know, will be performing in Ypsilanti on Sunday night, headlining a fundraiser for Ozone House, to support their work with at-risk, marginalized, and LGBTQ teens. The show, which will take place at Woodruff’s, starting at 8:00 PM, is being hosted by Washtenaw Eviction and Foreclosure Defense (WEFD), and, from what I understand, a few tickets are still available. (Also on the bill are Japanther and Kev Choice.)

As for the interview, as you’ll soon discover, it’s not perfect. As I was picking Clementine up from school during the call, and as Boots was in the middle of a soundcheck, the quality of the audio isn’t great, and, as a result, much of what was said was garbled. And, because of that, I’m sure that I made a few mistakes in my transcription. I’ve also slightly edited both my questions, and his answers, in hopes of making the transcript flow better. Those of you who would like to hear the interview live and unedited, though, with all of the awkward pauses, blasting organ music, screaming children, and inartful, half-developed thoughts (on my part) that lead nowhere, can find the recording embedded at the bottom of this post… Enjoy.

MARK: I’ m curious about your background, if we can start there. I’ve read that you come from a long line of organizers… of “radical” organizers… I guess, in particular, your father. And I’m curious to know what got him involved in the Progressive Labor Party, and what took your family to Oakland, after having started out in Chicago, and then lived in Detroit for a while.

BOOTS: So, the exact details would be something you’d have to get from him, but he started out in the civil rights movement, in the NAACP, in the 50’s. He worked on the organization of the first sit-down strikes, at the coffee shops in Greensboro, North Carolina. And, later on, he was in CORE (Congress of Racial Equality). And CORE moved him out to San Francisco. And he got involved in SDS and the Progressive Labor Party (PL) at that time, just before the San Francisco State strike, which led to the creation of the College of Ethnic Studies, and all of that happened. Then the Progressive Labor Party moved him and my mother out to Chicago to be involved there. And then they needed a full-time organizer for Detroit. So he moved, and took that spot, and was a full-time organizer for the Progressive Labor Party in Detroit.

MARK: Trying to organize inside the auto plants?

BOOTS: Yeah, that was some of it. I was very young, so I don’t know exactly, but there was some auto plant work, and some student work. All I remember is that there were a lot of parties at my house, which I found out later were meetings.

MARK: What do you remember of your time in Detroit? I know you were really young, but…

BOOTS: There’s a woman who’s still active around there named Barbara Ransby. She was a teenager who was always coming through. I remember my father coming hoome with his ribs bandaged up, because the Klan had tried to make a come-back in Detroit, or something like that. And they went out and fought the Klan. And he got billy clubbed by the police, or somebody got him in the back, while they were fighting. So I remember that picture of him having bandaged ribs. What I also remember is that there were a lot of big parties, with people talking a lot, with their legs crossed. I was six when I moved away from Detroit, but those are the things that I remember. I remember Ohio Players records being played a lot.

MARK: A lot of kids rebel against their parents, but it sounds as though you kind of followed in your father’s footsteps, at least with regard to your association with the Progressive Labor Party.

BOOTS: Well, to a certain extent, (joining the Progressive Labor Party) was something of a rebellion, in a sense… (My father, Walter Riley) left Detroit to become a lawyer, and he split with the Party. But some of the family friends were still folks in the Progressive Labor Party. There was a political split, but there were still friendships. And, so, by the time that that I was eight, he wasn’t in PL anymore. And I started getting involved with the Party when I was fourteen. And that’s like a lifetime, those six years between eight and fourteen. And he actually did not want for me to be involved, not because of the political differences… I think, later on, as I became more developed, it had to do with political differences… but, at the time, he was arguing with them, saying, “When I was leading the Party, we never would have let someone like him (me) in. He hasn’t read enough.” You know, he felt that they were being opportunist, for letting me in just because I wanted to be in. And, to be honest, it was in the 80’s when there wasn’t much going on. I think a lot of political organizations were happy with anything… so they were a little more liberal.

MARK: Yeah, you want young people with energy, so you bend the rules a bit, right?

BOOTS: Yeah… So I became involved in their summer projects, like helping to built an anti-racist farmworkers union (in California), an undertaking which was mainly being led by people who had been kicked out of the USW (United Steelworkers), for being Communists, and being militant… who then joined the Progressive Labor Party. So I learned a lot being there.

MARK: What’s your ongoing role with the Party now? Are you still involved?

BOOTS: I’m 41 and I haven’t been involved in about 21 years.

MARK: So you left at about the same age as your dad?

BOOTS: No, he was probably 30-somethng when he left.

MARK: You still identify as Communist, though, right?

BOOTS: Yeah… So, I had ended up being a part of (their) Central Committee meetings. And a lot of the people who I met through that were the folks who had created the Progressive Labor Party, who had split off from the Communist Party in the 50’s. And their take on how to organize, combined with some British folks who had been union organizers, who had moved to the U.S. and joined the Progressive Labor Party… They taught me a lot… My experience in the Party was… The way that they organized at the time – with the exception of the work with the farmers union – was more of a one-on-one thing. It was more like a religion. Our meetings would be about who we had talked to that day, and how close they were to the ideas of the Party. “This is not going to get anywhere,” (I thought). I was in there from the age of fourteen to the age of nineteen or twenty, and I was supposedly in the leadership, and I had ideas that were more about broadening things, and making us known to the people who lived around us. But my ideas were always sort of poo-pooed and argued against. What I realized was that a lot of those folks who were still around in the Party weren’t the folks that where great organizers, who had been involved before. You know, a lot of times, folks who are great organizers have an idea that tells them… they know that you have to shape the aesthetic of your message to best suit what works. That’s what great organizers do. That’s what good conversationalists do. They communicate the essence of the idea, and the details of the idea, but they don’t have to be stuck in one tactic, or one mode. So I feel like what was going on then, and it’s what’s been going on in a lot of organizations since then. People are tied to an aesthetic. They’re tied to a tactic. You know, I was told a lot of really strict rules for how organizing works. They weren’t really true. They were just basically what they did twenty years before.

MARK: Which I assume leads into why you adopted music. I mean, that was your new aesthetic, right?

BOOTS: Definitely. Yeah… I had been told in the organization that any art form that was created by Capitalism could not be used to make revolution, you know.

MARK: I read somewhere about you going around Oakland on a flatbed truck, doing guerilla hip-hop shows, on street corners… which, I guess, illustrates how you were getting away from the one-on-one approach that the Party had been pushing, and going into people’s neighborhoods and engaging them on their own terms, in their own language, right?

BOOTS: Exactly. There wasn’t a direct correlation between the two, though, because that happened in 2000. That was a development of a few circumstances… Prop 21 was being put forward.

MARK: That had to do with kids being prosecuted as adults, right?

BOOTS: Yeah. Exactly. And, I was teaching a workshop a the La Peña Cultural Center. So I decided to do something. The workshop was about art and organizing, so I decided to make it so that folks came and had to do something. We had a lot of young rappers involved, so that was the idea.

MARK: I’m curious as to how you balance stuff now. It sounds like, when you were coming up, a lot of the work that you did was really hands-on. You were in Oakland, working on really specific causes. You were drawing attention to specific cases of police brutality, and social justice issues, and making tangible contributions. And then you transitioned to a bigger stage, where the rewards are much different, and the pay off is a lot farther off. I’m curious as to how you juggle those two things. I know you’re still doing stuff on-the-ground in Oakland, but do you think you’ve got the mix right?

BOOTS: No, I don’t. I never have a good mix. It’s a struggle to figure out how to do both. Usually, I’m either doing one or the other. Like, when I was doing stuff with Occupy Oakland, I wasn’t doing music. Anything that you do right is going to take a lot of time. It’s hard to figure it out. I think the best way that I’ve figured out is just to have different time periods during the year where you work on different things. But it’s still not easy to work out. But, you know, I hear about people who can multitask and do those sorts of things, but, the way that I write, I’m not able to do that.

MARK: Do you think, over the last twenty years, you’ve kind of figured out how you’re of the most use to the cause?

BOOTS: It changes.

MARK: How’s it changing now?

BOOTS: Well, the world changes… What allows me to keep doing my music is the thought that, these folks (doing other forms of organizing) are only reaching a very limited number of people, and my music can reach way more folks, so I need to keep doing this music, to talk to more people… but we’re in a period where certain kinds of organizing actually can grab the attention of more people than it has in the past. It’s not the same kind of organizing… I think we went though a period in the 90’s where the idea of political organizing was anything but labor related. And, now, we have a certain amount of confluence in those two realms, that I think is lending itself to a new situation.

MARK: There are definitely positive signs with regard to labor organizing. What just happened a few days ago with the Walmart walk-out strike was encouraging. But, at the same time, I think union membership is at an all time low, isn’t it?

BOOTS: It definitely is, but that has nothing to do with where people are at, and what they want to do. The reason membership is an an all time low is that the unions aren’t militant. People don’t see unions as being able to win fights. Here’s an example. Occupy Oakland, a couple of different times, shut down the port. People, wether they agreed or disagreed with us, know that that we can shut stuff down… We broached the idea of a fast food workers union in Oakland, with it being connected to Occupy Oakland. We got a tremendous response, with people being in favor. Why? Because people thought that we could win. And the reason they thought this was because they knew, whatever the case, business owners knew that Occupy Oakland could shut shit down. So, therefore, it could win. I don’t think that a lot of people have faith that unions can win. They don’t think that unions will take militant routes that can win. Like, you have to be able to keep out scabs, which means a certain amount of breaking the law. In this day and age, if you play by the Taft-Heartly laws, you’re also going to have a hard time winning. You’re probably going to lose. So it’s going to take a different set of rules to win.

MARK: It’s kind of a difficult subject to broach, but I’m curious on your thoughts concerning militancy, and how far people should be willing to go. You’ve got songs like The Guillotine and Five Million Ways to Kill a CEO, which clearly allude to violence…

BOOTS: It’s symbolic…

MARK: Yeah, but it hints at a threat, right? It reminds people that, if they push folks too far, they’re going to pay a price.

BOOTS: Yeah, but militancy doesn’t only have that narrow definition. A militant movement is one that, at the drop of a hat, will shut things down… Let’s say this. The longshoremen are the most militant of the traditional unions that exist. The ILWU (International Longshore and Warehouse Union). Any time there’s a dispute, they’re down to shut the place down. That’s militant. They’re not waiting for it to be OK’d through arbitration. They’re showing their force, right away, and exacting a cost. Many of these unions will be involved in a fight and not want to strike right away. They’re scared about a number of things. Because of that, many people feel betrayed by their unions. They feel that they’re not going to be strong enough… that they’re not down for the fight. “Militant” implies that there are going to be actions, that may be physical, that allow one to win. And that means physically keeping out scabs. If you have a strike where replacement folks get brought in, the strike is usually over. Unions have to physically, forcefully, keep scabs out.

MARK: You mentioned that you were making some headway in Oakland with the fast food workers. What happened with that?

BOOTS: The main problem was convincing other folks in Occupy Oakland that it was something worthwhile compared to the other things that were going on. There are so many things going on with Occupy Oakland. People are spread really thin. So, it just wasn’t the time to bring this out. People weren’t down to dedicate the time.

MARK: It’s tough. It seems, with the Occupy movement, that so much time and effort is spent providing social services… like just recently, with all of the Occupy Sandy stuff. There are just so many needs that have to be addressed, that it takes up a lot of the bandwidth.

BOOTS: I think Occupy Oakland is different. It does provide services, but in the midst of campaigns. We’ve got the foreclosure defense stuff going on. And we’ve got various folks working on police brutality stuff. There are all sorts of things happening. Some people don’t want to do the service stuff and all, and, other people, that’s their thing. They like feeding people.

MARK: So it wasn’t a question of capacity. It was more a result of an internal discussion within the organization concerning priorities.

BOOTS:Yeah, a fast food workers union seems like a good idea, but the question is whether fast food workers would be down with it, and you’re not going to know unless you’re part of that outreach. And, at the same time, we had the school occupation happening, and a lot of people were involved in that. There were foreclosure defense actions. There were neighborhood assemblies. We were declaring moratoriums on foreclosure in certian neighborhoods. So, a lot of people were doing many different things. So, that was part of the problem at the time. Then there’s people that had experience organizing unions, and many of them wanted to be sure that it was their union that got to do it, and it was just too early to declare that. Let’s put it like this… It wasn’t for lack of wanting by people that were in fast food work. We actually had people that were down to do it, and we had a few things in place, we just didn’t have enough people to really carry it through.

MARK: Speaking of the plight of low-paid workers, your new album, Sorry to Bother You, is about telemarkting, and, in a broader sense, I guess, it’s about shitty, low-paying jobs in general. In addition to just being a good record, in the tradition of The Coup, is there a bigger message behind it? Are you trying to rally support for anything specific? Does either the album, or the movie that you’re working on, which uses the album as a soundtrack, touch on, for instance, the importance of organizing low-wage workers?

BOOTS: Not specifically around organizing telemarketers. The movie has some stuff about a union that’s being attempted at a telemarketing spot. Which is what was happening at the place that I worked at (when I was doing telemarketing). But it’s not specifically around organizing telemarketers. It’s around organizing people in the workplace in general.

MARK: So that message is in the movie?

BOOTS: Yeah. Yeah… Well, I don’t know that the “message” is in the movie, but the situation is in the movie.

MARK: Are you in pre-production yet for the movie?

BOOTS: I guess, technically, yeah.

MARK: Your producer, I’ve read, is Ted Hope, who produced movies like The Ice Storm, Happiness, American Splendor…

BOOTS: And 21 Grams. And the director is this guy, Alex Rivera, who did this movie called Sleep Dealer.

MARK: How’d it all come together?

BOOTS: I just kind of put a blast out to people I know, and Danny Goldberg, who was managing Street Sweeper Social Club, and also used to manage Nirvana and work with Led Zeppelin, read it and loved it. And he got it to Ted Hope. And Ted Hope was like, “I want to make this movie.” It probalby also helped that I had a soundtrack.

MARK: How did you sell them on the idea that you would be the right person for the lead? Or was that just part of the deal going in?

BOOTS: That was just part of the deal. I was like, “I’ve written this script. I have the soundtrack. And I will play the lead.” So, if somebody did’t like that, they just didn’t respond… It’s also a good marketing thing for them too. You know, if it’s going to be an independent film, there’s probably going to be more interest in it if the creator of it is part of it as well. I’m acting all the time anyway.

MARK: What do you mean… on stage?

BOOTS: Yeah, as a performer – it’s theatrical.

MARK: Had you attepted to do someting like this before? Didn’t I hear about a book that was being written from one of your songs, and the possiblity that it may turn into a film as well?

BOOTS: So a woman heard a song (Me and Jesus the Pimp in a ’79 Granada Last Night) and wrote a book based on it… I didn’t want the movie made. It had the potential to be a very terrible movie, if not done by the right person… I didn’t like the themes. She took the story and read things into that I…

MARK: With this new record, when you started writing it, did you know that you wanted to see it evolve into a dark comedy…

BOOTS: Well, I wrote the script first. I took like a year and wrote the script, while my manager, agent and record label said, “What are you doing?”

MARK: Because they wanted to keep you recording, and playing on the road…

BOOTS: Yeah. Yeah. It’s like, “You’re not going to get a movie made.” They wouldn’t say it in exactly that way, but that was the thought.

MARK: So, you think that it will do well in the marketplace… that people will buy tickets and like it?

BOOTS: Oh, yeah. There are people that have read it that I trust, that think that it’s a great, new, and interesting thing.

MARK: I’m happy for you… You put something out on Twitter a few days ago. “I realized five years ago,” you said, “we’re never going to go platinum, we’re never going to get radio play, we’re never going to make money at this.” Is part of this movie thing because you want to reach a wider audience, or is it more about paying the bills?

BOOTS: I don’t think people are able to pay bills on independent movies.

MARK: I imagine that you’d get a cut on video sales, right?

BOOTS: Yeah, but think about the time that you spent on it.

MARK: I guess what I was getting at is that it’s probably a little more lucrative than the record business.

BOOTS: Maybe for somebody. But independent movies? No. It’s not like that. It’s a labor of love. But people want to make some money at it. And that’s one thing about Ted Hope. He’s an independent movie guru. He’s someone who’s able to make independent film turn a profit. But, again, like I said, the amount of profit, compared to the amount of time put into it… It’s not like some cash cow. But it’s possible, you know. Maybe it could be some breakout hit. But it’s not real likely to happen. And that’s the name of the game in every industry. “More work for less pay.”

MARK: I’m curious as to where you draw the line. You mentioned earlier that folks in the Progressive Labor Party had told you that no artistic endeavor could come out of the Capitalist system and have any meaning, or something along those lines. And you pursue this line as a career. But you draw a line at advertising…

BOOTS: I didn’t believe them (that nothing good could come from works produced within the system)… In reality, that’s where music comes in. It’s advertising. Music is licensed to TV shows. It’s advertising. TV shows are there to keep people watching, so they’ll watch commercials. So, the music that’s licensed to them helps that to happen. And we do that.

MARK: Yeah. You’ve done that. You’ve written music for the Simpsons, and done other stuff. But yet, when it comes to selling a song to Levi’s, you’ve said something like, “That’s a line that I won’t cross.” And I’m curious about that line, and where you draw it. Like you say, the TV show is there to sell ads, and you work with them. So, that line is kind of fuzzy… I’m just wondering what your thought process is. Do you consider, for instance, the good stuff you could do with the money that you’d receive from selling a song to a company, or the fact that it would get your music out to a broader audience? I guess what I’m asking is, how firm is that line?

BOOTS: Well… For instance, K-Mart offered us a bunch of money for the Magic Clap. They wanted to make it a part of their main commercial ad campaign for the fall. So, you’d turn on the TV, and you’d hear, “K-Mart, Magic Clap,” forever. And you’d think of K-Mart when you hear that song. And do I want to spend my life with that? Like, the job market is hard out there, but… That would erase a lot of shit, you know? If I were going to try to make money, I could probably think of some other things to do, that weren’t music-related. If I did that, though, I’d reach more of an audience, but people would be thinking of that song, or whatever it is, as connected to that group. So, you know, when they offer The Coup money, they’re not only offering The Coup that. They’re buying a group. They’re buying an idea, you know? The idea that, “Even these dudes, are behind this product.”

MARK: So they’re buying your credibility…

BOOTS: It’s the idea that people think that we represent (the company or product). They’re buying philosophy. If I was just an artist known for making… Let’s say that I had my same revolutionary ideas, but that my art, that I was know for, was acting, or making love songs, or whatever. Then, when I did something like that, it would just be about me. But for me to attribute those songs to a product, means to attribute those ideas… So, for instance, when I was in Portland, we did an eviction defense rally, people were marching down the street changing, “we got the guillotine.” So, lets’s say I turned around, and sold that song to Nike… It wouldn’t just be about me. It would be about a movement.

MARK: When I first heard about your band, it was right after 9/11, and the cover for your record Party Music became a news item. I’m just wondering if you were at all scared when that happened, when you saw what happened on 9/11, and then thought about the album cover that you’d just created, which showed you blowing up the World Trade Center using a guitar tuner… Were you afraid of a backlash?

BOOTS: You know, I got into the music to talk about ideas. So I really didn’t worry about it. It gave me a platform to talk about other ideas.

MARK: I know that Bill Maher gave you a hard time about it on his show, and he also, as I recall, said something about you being a Communist, like “people who sell records aren’t Communists.” Are you getting better at answering those kinds of challenges now, after having heard them for a couple of decades?

BOOTS: The idea of wanting to make a revolution… You have to be in the system to do it. You can’t say, “You can’t be a Communist and work retail.” If you work in an automotive factory, you’re participating in Capitalism, but how else do you organize anyone, if you’re not part of it? Folks that say stuff like that either don’t understand, or they’re looking for a quick retort. The reality is that what people are saying is not that they don’t want to participate, but that they don’t want other people to be affected. I don’t want other people to be affected by Capitalism. I feel that, in reality… and I may be deluding myself… I’m a pretty crafty dude. I can figure out how to survive. I could figure out how to be the crab that climbs up the barrel, or whatever. But I don’t want for there to be a barrel. I don’t want everybody else to get cooked. And that’s the point.

MARK: Do you think we’re making any progress? Things have gotten a lot worse in a lot of ways since you started in 1991. Wealth inequality, for instance…

BOOTS: Really? In 1991, we were having demonstrations with ten people. So, things have gotten a lot better. Now we’ve got thousands of people, all with the idea that we need a systematic change, with class analysis being a part of it. Things have gotten better.

MARK: I wasn’t thinking about the numbers of people in the street. I was thinking about wealthy inequality, the fact that our public schools are being systematically dismantled…

BOOTS: The numbers are the only thing that matters, though. What matters is not how the state is working, or how the system is working, but the point at which the movement is that could change the system.

MARK: I can see you point, and there’s potential there. A movement is starting to build. But, at the same time, you see the public school system being systematically taken apart, our wealth being siphoned off by for-profit charter schools, the growing, racist “patriot” movement in America…

BOOTS: Yeah, and all of those things are going to happen as long as we don’t have a movement. So none of that surprises me. As long as you don’t have a movement, any of the gains that you make are going to be dismantled. And that’s why a revolutionary movement that fights for reform, on the way to making revolution, and sustains the movement… That’s why you chart your progress relative to how the movement is growing, not on how strong the system is that is attacking you.

MARK: One last question… Were do we have the most leverage? Where should we be focusing right now, if we really want to make long term, systematic, sustainable change?

BOOTS: Well, it’s like we were talking about earlier. I think right now what people want are material gains. They need to see victories. And they need to see it done in a certain way. We need a radical, militant labor movement that uses direct action and work stoppages to gain some of these things. We need for it to be connected to the community, and not just built around wages. But using labor and work stoppages to effect change in other areas, that would normally be considered community things – community organizing. An example is how the ILWU shut down the port of Oakland in protest of the Oscar Grant verdict. They might have done it in a safe way, but that’s an example. And there need to be sympathy strikes. That’s got to become a tool. And union leaders are going to have to be down with going to jail, just like anyone else on the line is down for it…

Now here’s the recording, for those of you who either can’t read, or just refuse to.

A big thank you to my friend Jeff Clark for reaching out to Boots, and making all of this happen. And thank you to all of you who contributed via Kickstarter to bring the vision to reality.

See you Sunday night.

Posted in Art and Culture, Civil Liberties, Corporate Crime, Detroit, Economics, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 32 Comments

The possibility of a farmers market on Ypsilanti’s Water Street

Over the course of the past week or so, I’ve posted twice about the 38-acre vacant lot at the heart of downtown Ypsilanti commonly referred to as Water Street. In the first post, which was written in response to news that Family Dollar had expressed interest in building on the site, I outlined my objection to the bargain chain being the anchor around which this development project, which very well could define our City for next several decades, takes shape. And, in the second, I held up Grand Rapids, where they’re investing in infrastructure to serve their local food entrepreneurs, and not just pinning their hopes on an out-of-state bargain chain that pays minimum wage, as an example of economic development done right. Well, the resulting conversations were very interesting, as you might imagine. This was especially true of the comments which explored the possibility that Water Street could be a suitable home for a year-round farmers market, like the one presently being constructed in Grand Rapids (only perhaps somewhat scaled down). And, tonight, I’ve decided to move a few of these comments (slightly edited) up to the front page, in hopes that they might spur additional conversation on the subject.

The first comment comes from Jean Henry, the former owner of Ann Arbor’s Jefferson Market, who, at present, leads environmental sustainability initiatives at Zingerman’s.

On a very basic level I love (the idea of a year-round, food-centric facility on Water Street). My understanding, right now, is that we are maxed out on farmer’s markets, though. There simply aren’t enough farmers to supply any more markets. They are spread too thin. Farmers can’t farm and simultaneously be at 5 markets a week. To do so would mean that they would need to hire someone to tend the stand, and then everyone would complain about the increased price of the food being sold. That said, from what I understand, farmers like the big markets. So, if this one were to intentionally take the place of existing Ypsi markets, and maybe house a food hub, so that distribution could be done on-site as well, then it could work. I suppose a feasibility study would bring all this to light. I think, in general, proposing something grand and inspiring and forward thinking, and then asking the question “Do we need it?” in a non-anecdotal way, via a feasibility study, will bring you the solution that you seek. I’m pretty sure you don’t need a dollar store. Those giant businesses have a high-margin model where mistakes can be afforded. (i.e. They can open and close and the brand keeps on going.) Food does not. Almost anything you would want on Water Street does not. And so it will be hard to pull off. It will also be very hard to fund. But the chances of it sticking around and working for the good of Ypsi for the long haul are much greater. Even if you didn’t pull it off, the process of the City (by which I mean its citizens) visioning what it wants, determining what it needs, and trying to pull it off, would be really useful for Ypsi. At minimum you would all learn a lot. The future of Ypsi is really up to the citizens. If you all could get something bigger scale started, maybe the City, and groups like Eastern Leaders, could follow (rather than trying to lead) and assist. Then you’d really be on your way to having the City you all deserve. Water Street is a really great piece of property. Despite the troubles, it has incredible potential. As does all of downtown Ypsi.

And, a little while later, Jean added the following.

Waiting for offers (as was the case with Family Dollar) is almost always a bad idea. Maybe Ypsi just needs to try a little harder on its own behalf. I don’t mean just the government, I mean all of you. Funding IS possible. It would just require a lot of work. A public/private partnership, all stakeholders engaged, outside investors… even tax breaks in the short term for a larger tax base in the long term. There are lots of progressive redevelopment models out there, but none are easy, and local models are almost non-existent. The major stakeholders and an active citizenry need to be on board. And to get to that you need a great vision – which I think Mark has begun here. Rather than assume what is and isn’t possible (which I also did in my earlier comment, admittedly), I think it would be great if people could start to weigh in on what they CAN do. What alliances can be formed? What funding mechanisms exist? What are Ypsi’s strengths rather than its limitations? You actually have tremendous capacity in terms of an engaged (if somewhat cynical) citizenry, progressive thinkers, people that understand city planning and hybrid corporate structures, a major university, a predominantly thriving (by MI standards) county, AND a really beautiful piece of property on a riverfront downtown with an Olmsted-designed park corridor, within a mile of a major freeway and rail lines. I don’t know if you all realize what an unusual municipal asset that is. There are so many people at the universities, in county government and in economic development in the wider metro area who could help you all realize a great vision. But first you all need to stand tall and say, “We have something of value and we want to work hard collectively to make the most of it.”

A great model for sustainable development (and the hurdles one faces – the path has not been at all easy, and the formerly giant project has scaled down considerably) is the North Charleston Noisette project (in North Charleston, South Carolina). I spoke to the developer, John Knott, a few years ago about Water Street and he was interested in talking to someone in Ypsi about it. (I don’t think that ever happened.) I think the scale of it was appealing to him, relative to the behemoth that he took on. Also, I know at one point Eastern Leaders was looking at the whole corridor behind Water Street to 1-94 for economic development, so there really is a bigger potential package than just Water Street. There are people out there who know how to do this work. And they can tell you what is possible. Your sense of constriction originates, at least in part, in a tiny tax base. The city lines are simply drawn too tightly around downtown. I really believe to overcome that sense of constriction you need to look to the surrounding area for help and be prepared to believe and demonstrate that you are worthy of investment. You will also need to be very clear about what you want. Ypsi’s potential is so obvious to me. I really hope you guys take another stab at the Water Street windmill.

And, this comment comes from Amanda Edmonds, the director of Growing Hope, the organization that, among other things, runs Ypsi’s existing Downtown Farmers Market.

A few comments on both farmers’ markets – and saturation points – and a public market on Water Street. I’ve spent considerable time thinking and working on both!

So, as for farmers’ markets, my view is that we are at a saturation point for small neighborhood or small-community markets in Washtenaw County, particularly in places where food access and transportation aren’t big barriers for people. I wouldn’t say we’re at a saturation point nation-wide – there are many communities where there’s no good access to a market, or other fresh, healthy, local food options – and I’m really pleased with where we are in Michigan overall, mostly because we are a leader in the country when it comes to markets that accept EBT/SNAP. I’m proud that our Downtown Ypsilanti Farmers’ Market (DYFM) was the third in Michigan to accept EBT (back in 2006 when we started – and props to the Ypsi Food Co-op for helping provide the capacity to make that happen), and that this year 103 markets across the state accepted EBT. Many of the markets across the state doing EBT spent the day together last Monday in Turkeysville, MI reflecting and figuring out what’s next – all thanks to the amazing leadership of MIFMA (the Michigan Farmers’ Market Association) which is a lean organization that deserves much of the credit for our markets rocking out in Michigan. The total season EBT sales for markets across the state may top $1 million this year– which is only a small percentage of overall EBT sales, but it’s growing at an amazing rate. The DYFM topped $18,000 in EBT sales alone in 2012 – and that’s just during a four hour block on Tuesday afternoons in downtown Ypsi from May through October… So, the fact that more markets are being supported in areas where food access is difficult, is amazing. And it’s great that communities are creating markets as central squares and community gathering spaces.

The challenge is in what it takes to sustain a market. It costs us a lot of money, and we fundraise for to make our market what it is. Markets are not financially self-sustaining, particularly when they, like the DYFM, offer EBT and other programs/incentives that support food access, healthy eating education, support for small business development, et al. We’re going to see – and already are, in some ways – a boom and bust in markets who don’t have the capacity – or the ability to raise the funds to build capacity – to keep afloat. A lot of market managers are volunteers, and that becomes challenging when you’re basically running a bank on the back end (via token systems), and as a result you have a lot of turnover, which makes it hard to provide consistency to the many small businesses (farms, bakers, et al) who are relying on you for their income, and to the customers who are relying on you for their food. So, one thing I think we need, and are going to start seeing, is some consolidation of markets so that we can have well-run farmers’ markets with the efficiencies that come from that. Not one mammoth market monopoly, but just thinking about how to clump some markets under single entities that can provide shared marketing, vendor coordination, etc… There are also opportunities for winter markets. We go inside the Corner Brewery in November and December, and have a long waiting list of vendors who would like to be in this smaller space. As more growers are doing season extension, and there are more cottage food vendors, etc, we need opportunities for more permanent market space and indoor opportunities for all, or part, of the winter.

And, that leads me to Water Street… Since some of us were at the International Public Markets Conference (put on by Project for Public Spaces) in Cleveland in September, I’ve started thinking more about a public market on Water Street. While I’ve dreamed for years of the vacant Smith Furniture building being such a space (something like North Market in Columbus, Ohio), that seems like it’s not going to happen any time soon, and, well, Water Street is available… and a public market adjacent to the proposed Recreation Center would be a nice, complimentary use. The Royal Oak market is a pretty simple structure – a giant pole barn, really. It doesn’t have to be as fancy as the Grand Rapids market, but it could be built out in stages. We could, for instance, develop our local kitchen incubator (which still in the works) in a smaller phase-1 site, and then eventually move it over. We could host our farmers’ markets there as well as have permanent stalls… And, it can be events space.

I’ve been working through how and when to facilitate community visioning around this and other food-system-based economic development in Ypsi – if people want to be involved they can get in touch with me… Look also for an open house info session for people interested in being involved in an Ypsi Kitchen Incubator that Growing Hope will be hosting in December on behalf of Washtenaw County Community & Economic Development…

And, later, Amanda added the following stream-of-consciousness addendum.

When I refer to a public market, I’m not talking about open air market, but a year-round space that can accommodate farmers’ markets, as well as permanent stalls… Royal Oak has a fairly simple version. North Market in Columbus, Ohio is one of my inspirations. A shared use or incubator kitchen could also be a part of it. A community event and/or performance space could be accommodated as well… I’ve visited many of these types of markets, at a variety of scales, in communities of different sizes. I think it’s the next step for us. I think it – the property/building – should be privately or community-owned, and then we should have a nonprofit and community partners as users/tenants/etc… Or, we could have an entity like a CDC as an owner…

[note: During Tuesday’s City Council session, it was decided, after a 4 to 1 vote, to move forward with the proposal from Family Dollar. This would not, however, preclude us from considering other parcels on the site for such a public market.]

Posted in Ideas, Local Business, Locally Owned Business, Sustainability, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 30 Comments

Agenda 21… Are America’s city planners in on the United Nations plot to enslave us, and force us onto bicycles?

There’s only one thing people on the far right hate more than the United Nations, and that’s the United Nations setting international guidelines for sustainable development. I learned this a few days ago, while listening to a special episode of Glenn Beck’s radio program about a secret UN initiative to deal with the looming threats of global climate change and overpopulation. One after another, people were calling in and literally screaming about the nefarious presence of bike lanes in their communities, and how we’ve started down a part that will invariably lead to urban concentration camps. Bike lanes, and traffic circles, it would seem, are harbingers of a unified world government intent not only on rationing our use of oil, but crushing individual liberty. The wheels, according to Beck, were set in motion decades ago, when, on June 13, 1992, at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (Earth Summit), 178 governments voted to adopt the program called Agenda 21.

The threat is so great, according to Beck, that he’s written a book about it, just in time for the holiday shopping season. The book, entitled Agenda 21, shows us what life will be like in a post-Agenda 21 world, says Beck.

Here’s a clip from the dust jacket:

“I was just a baby when we were relocated and I don’t remember much. Everybody has that black hole at the beginning of their life. That time you can’t remember. Your first step. Your first taste of table food. My real memories begin in our assigned living area in Compound 14.”

Just a generation ago, this place was called America. Now, after the worldwide implementation of a UN-led program called Agenda 21, it’s simply known as “the Republic.” There is no President. No Congress. No Supreme Court. No freedom.

There are only the Authorities.

Citizens have two primary goals in the new Republic: to create clean energy and to create new human life. Those who cannot do either are of no use to society. This bleak and barren existence is all that eighteen-year-old Emmeline has ever known. She dutifully walks her energy board daily and accepts all male pairings assigned to her by the Authorities. Like most citizens, she keeps her head down and her eyes closed.

Until the day they come for her mother.

“You save what you think you’re going to lose.”

Woken up to the harsh reality of her life and her family’s future inside the Republic, Emmeline begins to search for the truth. Why are all citizens confined to ubiquitous concrete living spaces? Why are Compounds guarded by Gatekeepers who track all movements? Why are food, water and energy rationed so strictly? And, most important, why are babies taken from their mothers at birth? As Emmeline begins to understand the true objectives of Agenda 21 she realizes that she is up against far more than she ever thought. With the Authorities closing in, and nowhere to run, Emmeline embarks on an audacious plan to save her family and expose the Republic — but is she already too late?

Beck, of course, didn’t really write the book. According to an editor who had worked on the project some time ago, it was written by a nurse named Harriet Parke, who was inspired by Beck’s entreaty to his Fox viewers to “do your own research” on Agenda 21. Here, by way of background, is how this editor describes the UN document from which the book takes its name, to the readers of

…If you’re not an urban planner, here’s a crash course on the novel’s eponymous United Nations Agenda 21. It’s a 40-chapter behemoth written in 1993. It lays out non-binding guidelines for promoting economic growth, environmental protection and social equality. Basically, it is a recipe for living within our means today, so that we do not pass along to our children a degraded economy, environment and society. It addresses topics as various as toxic waste, biotechnology, conservation and green transportation, all with the goal of helping poor countries develop economies — in large part, by encouraging wealthy countries to dial back in sensible ways on their consumption of resources.

Today, city and regional planners support the concepts that underpin Agenda 21, because they translate the big picture to local efforts to save people time and money. In other words, think globally, act regionally. After all, the planning profession is about supporting a community’s efforts to collaboratively make the best of change — such as whether your community is growing or shrinking, or becoming more rural, suburban or urban. Change is inevitable: Brookings reports that “our population exceeded 300 million in 2006, and we are on track to hit 350 million in the next 15 years.” And that “America will probably be older, more diverse, more urban — and less equal” than we are today.

Planners help communities find common-sense, constructive ways of using limited resources wisely. It looks for ways to make transportation inexpensive, keep energy plentiful, and help towns and cities avoid the kind of bad economic decisions that lead to eyesores like, say, a half-deserted strip mall anchored to an abandoned Wal-Mart. Thanks to zoning, for instance, which was created in the 1920s to protect property values, no one can come in and inappropriately construct a landfill or a steel mill next to your house.

Glenn Beck and fellow pundits hate Agenda 21, however, because they interpret a few lines from chapter four out of context. Their scare tactic is to say it’s the narrow end of a wedge that will insert global UN authority over American towns and cities, allow the government to confiscate private land, reallocate resources by force, and evict people from their single-family homes. Never mind that the law of the land begins with the United States Constitution and that our relationship with the UN can hardly be described as lockstep. Moreover, the United States has no land use laws at the federal level, whatsoever. All land use decision-making authority in the United States lies with the states, who delegate authority to local governments. Relatively speaking, the United States has some of the strictest protections for private property in the world.

Agenda 21 is simply a non-binding, unenforceable menu of guidelines that exists to help any town or city that signs on to it. But when removed from all sensible context and cast forward into a dystopian future, Agenda 21 becomes the novel “Agenda 21,” which tells the story of a post-American settlement where people are forced to ride bikes and walk on treadmills to generate electricity, told whom to marry, raised in communal kibbutz-like nurseries, and forced to swear allegiance to a scary green one-world socialist entity…

Unfortunately, though, some people are taking the “threat” of Agenda 21 very seriously, as evidenced by the fact that, during this last summer’s Republican National Convention, the Republican Party adopted a resolution opposing Agenda 21, adding the following line to their official platform: “We strongly reject the U.N. Agenda 21 as erosive of American sovereignty.” Furthermore, several state and local governments have considered or passed legislation opposing Agenda 21.(Alabama became the first state to prohibit government participation in Agenda 21, and Arizona just recently rejected a similar bill.) And, irate Tea Party activists, waving copies of the Agenda 21 guidelines, are not only making the lives of city planners in America miserable, but also derailing significant projects. The following comes from a report earlier this year in the New York Times.

Across the country, activists with ties to the Tea Party are railing against all sorts of local and state efforts to control sprawl and conserve energy. They brand government action for things like expanding public transportation routes and preserving open space as part of a United Nations-led conspiracy to deny property rights and herd citizens toward cities.

They are showing up at planning meetings to denounce bike lanes on public streets and smart meters on home appliances — efforts they equate to a big-government blueprint against individual rights.

“Down the road, this data will be used against you,” warned one speaker at a recent Roanoke County, Va., Board of Supervisors meeting who turned out with dozens of people opposed to the county’s paying $1,200 in dues to a nonprofit that consults on sustainability issues.

Local officials say they would dismiss such notions except that the growing and often heated protests are having an effect.

In Maine, the Tea Party-backed Republican governor canceled a project to ease congestion along the Route 1 corridor after protesters complained it was part of the United Nations plot. Similar opposition helped doom a high-speed train line in Florida. And more than a dozen cities, towns and counties, under new pressure, have cut off financing for a program that offers expertise on how to measure and cut carbon emissions…

And, thanks to our friends at, who recently attended a four-hour briefing session for Georgia’s Republican State Senators, we now have some insight as to how this particular conspiracy theory is making its way though our state legislatures. Following is hidden camera video, shot on October 11, of a four-hour Agenda 21 information session for Georgia legislators called by Chip Rogers, the Republican Majority Leader of the Georgia State Senate, and Treasurer of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). During the session, Rogers shared what he’s uncovered about Agenda 21 with his fellow State Senators. (The invitation to the event promised that the presentation would explain: “How pleasant sounding names are fostering a Socialist plan to change the way we live, eat, learn, and communicate to ‘save the earth.'”) I particularly like the part, at about 23 minutes into the presentation, when we hear conservative operative Field Searcy relate to the Senators how Obama is using a mind-control technique known as “Delphi” to trick the American people into accepting this UN-orchestrated coup, which will ultimately see all of us forcefully relocated to cities. (It should be noted that Rogers was just two votes short of getting anti-Agenda 21 legislation approved by the Senate last session.)

Agenda 21 Full Video from Bryan Long on Vimeo.

And, did you catch that Majority Leader Rogers is the Treasurer of the ALEC Board of Directors? (He’s also their Georgia State Chairman, and winner of ALEC’s State Chair of the Year Award.) I find that connection really interesting, given ALEC’s well-established role as the lead entity pushing the extreme legislative agenda of corporate America. As one doubts that the very intelligent individuals behind ALEC truly believe that President Obama is attempting to enslave us, and hand our country over to the United Nations, I can’t help but think that they’re involved in the pushing of this conspiracy theory for other reasons… most notably, to stop environmental legislation that would negatively impact the bottom lines of America’s largest and most powerful corporations. This, in other words, has nothing to do with the threat of creeping Socialism, and everything to do with a desire on the part of America’s CEOs to operate outside of the law. This is about keeping cap-and-trade from being implemented, and keeping our coal-powered factories belching black smoke into the atmosphere.

And, on that note, I give you the ad for Glenn Beck’s book. Be sure to watch until the end. Otherwise, you won’t learn about how, in the future, we burn old people alive for energy.

note: I should add that I think this subject matter should be fair game for fiction writers. Dystopian novels, when done well, as in the case of 1984 and the Handmaid’s Tale, can be incredibly powerful. And, as we find ourselves, right now, at a time in history when natural resources are dwindling, population is rising, and our climate seems intent on wiping humanity from the face of the planet, I think we need to begin exploring, through fiction, and all other means available to us, how our countries might choose to intervene in hopes of salvaging what can be salvaged. It’s certainly plausible, I think, that we could find ourselves in a situation, for instance, where people are incentivized to give up their cars, move into urban centers, and use mass transportation. (Personally, I’d like to think that we could figure out how to make cheap, efficient solar power ubiquitous before resorting to the burning of our elderly, but I suppose it’s an alternative worth considering.) No, what I object to isn’t the book, but the fear mongering being done by certain people on the right who have a vested interest in the status quo. I have a problem with ALEC taking up the Agenda 21 conspiracy theory as a way to drive terrified and poorly-informed individuals into the offices of their elected officials, demanding that we not, for instance, legislate the emissions of coal plants, because it’s all part of Barack Obama’s evil Socialist plot to overthrow our great and powerful country. And, it pisses me off that Glenn Beck is building an empire on this nonsense, peddling fear between ads for gold coins, local gun shops, and so-called “survival seeds.” So, it’s not the book that I object to – it’s the completely disingenuous propaganda campaign surrounding it.

Posted in Environment, History, Observations, Other, Politics, Predictions, Rants, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 27 Comments

Anti-abortion “personhood” legislation comes back to Michigan… with a new twist

Conservative legislators in several states, knowing that a Constitutional amendment to outlaw abortion is unlikely, have begun attempts to work around the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. Most notably, these legislative attempts have involved, in some way, shape or form, the concept of personhood – the notion that a fertilized egg is in fact a human person, and, as such, is deserving of the full protections that our laws provide the rest of us, who are out of the womb, and breathing on our own. Attempts have been made in several states, including Mississippi, Oklahoma, Virginia, and, to my knowledge, all have failed. In spite of this, however, fundamentalist conservatives keep trying. Right now, for instance, attempts are being made in both Alabama and Georgia. And, Michigan Republicans, having already attempted it in 2009, are back at it again, with a clever, little twist.

The following comes from a site called RH Reality Check:

…Michigan Republicans are now pushing a bill that would grant a tax credit to any fetus proven to be at least 12 weeks along by December 31st. Calling it an “advance” on the actual tax break the family would receive the next calendar year, the GOP frames the financial help as a chance to offset expenses with pregnancy…

The bill, if it passed, would provide about $160 per family and would cost the state $5 million to $10 million per year, according to the report.

Hospital costs associated with a pregnancy tend to range in the thousands to tens of thousands of dollars, especially for women without health insurance. In the meantime, the state has continued to fight against the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and the state insurance exchange.

The lack of financial impact the tax credit would offer families makes it clear that this move isn’t about family support, but about reproductive rights. Zach Pohl, Executive Director of Progress Michigan, calls the move exactly what it is — redefining “personhood” via the tax code…

And, as State Representative Jeff Irwin recently mentioned to me, this new legislative push isn’t just misguided, but ironic, seeing as how many of the same people pushing for this new, pre-natal tax credit, voted in 2011 to kill Michigan’s $600 tax credit for real, living, “fully-formed” kids.

Anger aside, I’m curious as to how this would work, if enacted. Would you send in a pee stick with your personal income tax forms, or would you have to actually get a Social Security number for your fetus first? And what would stop you from terminating a pregnancy right after filing your paperwork, and qualifying for your $160? And would you have to give the money back at a later date, if the State were to determine that your baby never came to fruition? And, speaking of which, would the State have to employ a squad of investigators dedicated to the task of following up, and ensuring that these little tax deductions matured into babies? And, if so, how much would that add to the cost of the program, which, according to State projections, would already cost us up to $10 million per year in lost revenues? And who gets to claim the tax credit – the father or the mother?

I’m forwarding these questions, and a few others, along to Lisa Posthumus Lyons and Jud Gilbert, the sponsors of House Bills 5684 and 5685 respectively, and I’d encourage you to reach out to them as well… And, while you’re at it, you might also want to ask why they’re focused on this kind of nonsense when our public schools are failing, our infrastructure is crumbling, and our families are struggling to make ends meet. Oh, and you might also want to ask if they’re aware that abortions are down by 5% under Obama. (If they respond, let me know.)

[note: It should be mentioned that attempts are being made at the federal level as well, thanks to Paul Ryan and Todd “legitimate rape” Akin. For more on their proposed Sanctity of Human Life Act, and how, if enacted, it could create a situation where birth control is perceived as murder, click here.]

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