A couple weeks ago, I wrote an editor's column about the new bill passed by the Tennessee General Assembly that requires a state-issued photo ID card in order to vote in Tennessee. I wrote that it was part of a nation-wide movement among GOP-controlled states to make it more difficult for poor people to vote.
Some commentors took great offense at this notion, saying the law was not intended to do any such thing, but was merely a strategy to fight "voter fraud." To those people, I say, "Have you met ALEC?"
ALEC stands for the American Legislative Exchange Council. It was founded by right-winger Paul Weyrich and other conservative activists specifically to shape legislation designed to favor corporations and reduce accountability for big-money political shenanigans.
The Nation has just published a searing expose of ALEC's agenda — and that organization's remarkable success in getting restrictive voter laws put in place in GOP-controlled states since the 2010 elections.
The voting bill in Tennessee reflects ALEC's policies precisely. (ALEC helpfully writes the laws for the legislatures.) ALEC bills to make it more difficult for poor people, students, and seniors to vote have passed in 8 states, and have been introduced in 33 states.
Go here to see The Nation's introduction to its series of five stories on ALEC, with links to each. They are: "Business Domination Inc.," "Sabotaging Healthcare," "The Koch Connection," "Starving Public Schools" (sound familiar?), and "Rigging Elections."
To read "Rigging Elections," go here. And remember, it's not paranoia if they really are after you.
Let me see if I've got this right: The Memphis City Schools Board, which voted to drop its charter in January and hand over the administration of city schools to the Shelby County School Board, is still in charge, still meeting, and still messing with our schools.
The latest move, in which the MCS board voted 8-1 Tuesday to delay the start of the school year until October, or until Memphis pays the court-mandated $55 million it owes city schools, was kabuki theater, posturing for the camera — and for dramatic effect. It worked, as the story got top billing in the local media and spread to the national media throughout Wednesday, with council members, school board members and Mayor Wharton all making appearances on national news programs.
It's the local version of the debt ceiling debate, where posturing and politicking take precedence over common sense — and the common good. The city of Memphis is taking a huge PR hit nationally, thanks to these shenanigans.
And shenanigans is exactly the right word. Does anyone really buy the idea that MCS can't "afford" to start school with only $950 million dollars on hand out of its billion-dollar annual budget? It's absurd, like saying we can't go swimming if the pool is only 95 percent full. The school board is playing games, trying to stir up parents, students, teachers, and the media. These people did us all a favor by renouncing their jobs in January. It's time for them to go — the sooner the better.
There are times when this city reminds me why I live here. Saturday night was one of those times: We reclined on a blanket under the stars at the Levitt Shell, a full moon on the rise, and listened to the eerily wonderful tunes concocted by Amy LaVere and her band of Memphis musicians.
The place was packed with the usual cross-section of hipsters and hippies, of families, old and young. Kids were everywhere — down front dancing with the inevitable Stevie Nicks hippie dancers, streaming through the crowd, sitting on the side of the stage. The Ghost River beer sales were brisk, and personal coolers were omnipresent. There was even a breeze. And that moon — climbing over the massive oaks, lighting the sky as LaVere and her posse made magical sounds — capped the spell.
LaVere's new music sounds a bit like Nora Jones, filtered through classic Memphis musical weirdness. LaVere's lyrics are darker than Jones', full of pain and perseverance. Her characters die, get murdered, cry, drive long lonely roads, but there's a sense that they'll keep on, that pain is the medicine they, and we, all have to take.
The album is called Stranger Me, and it's perfectly strange. Buy it.
With good notices for Stranger Me coming from the national music press, blogs, NPR, Mountain Stage and elsewhere, this may be the Memphis breakout album of the year. And if there's any justice in the world, Amy LaVere's about to get some payback for all those long nights on the road. Couldn't happen to a nicer person.
Levi Aron, the man strongly suspected of murdering and dismembering an 8-year-old Hasidic boy in Brooklyn, spent the last few years in Memphis. The Smoking Gun has the best rundown on Aron that I've been able to find.
So I spent last week with the fam on Dauphin Island, just off the coast of Alabama. If you like white beaches with lots of people and tons of touristy restaurants and bars, I would recommend you NOT go there. Dauphin Island, we discovered, is much funkier and quieter. The water isn't blue; it's brownish green — you know, like the ocean. The sand is nice and the beaches are amazingly uncrowded. There are several nature and bird sanctuaries, a wonderful estuarium/aquarium, and a national wildlife refuge full of gators and herons and pelicans and redfish.
We rented a house on the bay side, bikes and a kayak, and parked the car for most of the week. There is one grocery store and about six restaurants — three of which suck mightily (Oar House, I'm looking at you). But there is a fresh seafood store, which offers just-off-the-boat shrimp, snapper, etc. and a wonderful bakery that has great bread and pastries and sandwiches. We cooked at "home" often.
And now, yes, vacation pictures. Don't say you weren't warned.
Click on the image for a little nostalgia to get you in the holiday weekend mood ... The comments are also priceless.