Saturday, April 21, 2012

Big Brother Spies Want More Info, Fewer Rights for U.S. Citizens

Cyber Spying Bill Would Gather '#TMI,'

Internet Rights and Civil Liberties Group Says

In case there is any confusion about this, don't "friend" Big Brother.  Don't "like" him, either.

Politicians and corporate interests are making another run at control of the Internet, this time with a bill that allows the government to spy on you through your Facebook pages, Google searches, cell phone records  and more.

In a déjà vu moment---one of many we can expect to see---an Internet control bill is working its way through Congress, and Internet rights activists are gearing up for a fight much as they did a few months ago to thwart other Internet-choking bills.

The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), which would allow private companies and the government to share information about U.S. citizens with few limits, has drawn the ire of Internet and civil liberties groups who have launched a campaign called "Stop Cyber Spying."  The bill (HR 3523) could be voted on by the full House this week. 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Insurance Weasels Slipping Some Fine Print into TN Laws, Your Insurance Policies


NOTE: Charles Sargent,  a State Farm insurance agent and Republican from Williamson County, is sponsoring a self-serving bill that would let insurance companies slip and slide some fine print under the door of our coverage.

I wonder if Sargent knows what is in this bill.  Last year, he argued me up and down on one bill he sponsored and got passed that was very friendly to insurance agents---in part it stated if nefarious agents get sued by a member of the public who has been fleeced by said insurance agent, and if said agent has a track record of complaints and investigations by the state, the damaged consumer is not allowed to find out.  Sargent insisted that such a provision was not in the bill he sponsored.  Even after I cut and pasted that provision to him.

Not only are our legislators bogus and corrupt, they are not particularly bright; have you noticed?  

I digress.  Mary Mancini of Tennessee Citizen Action keeps us informed on the toxic bills that these legislators keep bubbling up from the sludge pool of ALEC or whatever corporate special interest or nut-job group that pushes their buttons---and campaign accounts.

From TNCA, here is the info on Sargent's latest self-serving bill:

Just as we’re beginning to pass effective public policy on the federal level that protects consumers, we’re heading in the opposite direction in Tennessee.
Not surprising, really, as we’ve already discussed at length the many ways in the which the Tennessee General Assembly is crafting and passing public policy that caters to large corporations and their twenty-first century robbers baron CEOs instead of writing rules that boost the well-being and productivity of hardworking middle and working class families.


The bill we are going to focus on today is what is called a "caption bill." The best explanation of a “caption bill” was written in 2009 by Tom Humphrey of the Knoxville News Sentinel. Read it here. Mr. Humphrey writes, "Late in most every session of the Tennessee General Assembly, fresh new ideas are brought onto the legislative scene through caption bills, a part of the lawmaking art that may be seen as institutionalized sneakiness [emphasis ours]." FYI, April 16 is late in the session. Read more...


This Thursday, the full Tennessee House of Representatives is set to vote on House Bill 2454 (HB2454) / Senate Bill 2271 (SB2271).

The caption of HB2454/SB2271 reads:

"Insurance Companies, Agents, Brokers, Policies - As introduced, creates requirements for issuance of certificates of insurance; clarifies the effect of such certificates; and authorizes oversight by the commissioner of commerce and insurance regarding regulation and assessing fines in relation thereto -- Amends TCA Title 56."

Title 56 of the Tennessee Code is titled "Insurance" and has 32 chapters and countless parts in each chapter that cover everything from the set up of the Department of Commerce and Insurance to the regulation of all types of insurance and insurance companies. Go take a look at everything Title 56 does here.

So now with a bit of background, there are two things you need to know:

  1. The original bill has been replaced in its entirety with an amendment that creates an unfair financial advantage for large insurance companies over consumers and small businesses, and
  2. The sponsors of the bill, Sen. Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville) and Rep. Charles Sargent (R-Franklin), are both insurance agents.

HB2454 / SB2271 - THE DETAILS

SPONSORS: Rep. Charles Sargenat (R-Franklin), Sen Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville)

SUMMARY: With it’s shiny new amendment, HB2454 now reads that if an insurance company changes your policy and notifies you in the fine print of a flyer they send to you with your bill, the change to your policy will take effect and bind you to that change by the simple act of you paying your bill. In other words, HB2454 says that your written and cashed check or automatic bill payment is enough to allow them to completely change your policy.

And this isn’t a bill that would just hurt consumers. It would harm any entity that buys insurance -- including small businesses.

So let’s say we have a devastating flood or hail storm. Let’s just say. The fine print in the flyer could change your policy to exclude coverage of flood or hail damage and your automatic bill payment just accepted that change for you.

And do you think your insurance company would be OK with you lowering the cost of your premiums just because you send them a check made out for a smaller amount then what you actually owe and then they deposit your check?

The U.S. insurance industry has trillions of dollars in assets, enjoys average profits of over $30 billion a year, and pays its CEOs more than any other industry. This is just another example of how they still engage in dirty tricks and unethical behavior at the consumer’s expense to boost their bottom line even further.


HB2454 / SB2271 is NOT the beginning of our state legislature chipping away at consumer rights and giving an unfair advantage to large corporations. Two bills passed LAST YEAR gave insurance companies the breathing room they needed to take advantage small businesses and families.

FIRST, the 1977 Tennessee Consumer Protection Act, which created the Tennessee Division of Consumer Affairs, was gutted in 2011 by a new law that took away our right to hold an insurance company accountable for unfair and deceptive business practices. The 1977 Tennessee Consumer Protection Act gave you or me or the proprietor of a small business the ability to hold insurance companies accountable for "Engaging in any other act or practice which is deceptive to the consumer or to any other person..." And if a jury found that the company have violated the Consumer Protection Act, they could help hold them accountable by hitting them where it hurts - the pocketbook. But a piece of new law, Section 15 of the new Civil Injustice Act of 2011, gutted this provision and made it so that only the attorney general of the state can bring a suit against an insurance company. Now given the reality of the attorney generals limited time and resources, it is unlikely they will be able to take the time to bring most of the claims.

For a big picture look at what they're trying to do, check out this law making it’s way through the legislature right now that would change the Tennessee Constitution to give the governor the sole authority to appoint the attorney general. Yikes, they’re covering all their bases to prevent accountability and transparency from making it to home plate!

SECOND, to be sure insurers have all the power and families and small businesses who need to buy insurance have none, HB 1189 was passed to remove insurance fraud completely from under the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act.

When this bill became law last year, it removed any legal recourse to sue an insurance company who refused to pay a claim. An example would be if your insurance company finds a fraudulent reason to refuse to pay your flood insurance even though you followed the rules and had paid for your bill on time for decades.

LAST, even though our law still forbids “deceptive and unfair acts” by insurance companies, the only person who can enforce the law now is the insurance commissioner since hardworking Tennesseans have no right to hold insurance companies accountable through legal action.

The current commissioner of insurance is a former insurance company lawyer.


It's worth noting that two recent high visibility lawsuits by businesses against insurers included consumer protection act claims: Gaylord's suit against their insurer for not paying fully for the Opry Mills flood damage and Gibson's case against its insurer for the same issue. Those claims were filed under the old law. Those claims could not be brought under the new law.

To be complete, there are still some small ways to hold insurers accountable that have not yet been whacked. But the ones with real teeth - the ones that provide a deterrent against abusive business practices by giant insurance corporations - are now gone, gone, gone.

Tennessee families are working harder, getting paid less, and falling behind our parents' generation. Now more than ever, hardworking Tennesseans need the protection from abusive business practices.


As we mentioned above, this Thursday the full Tennessee House of Representatives is set to vote on HB2454 (SB2271). Find your representative by going here and typing in your address and zip code or by calling 615-741-1100.

Urge your representatives to protect consumers and prevent the further erosion of consumer rights in Tennessee and vote NO on HB2454.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

TN Legislators Denying Citizens the Right to Vote

From Tennessee Citizen Action:

Earlier this afternoon, after failing in the Tennessee Senate several weeks ago, the bill to repeal the photo ID to vote law died in the Tennessee House. Following the committee meeting, we released the following statement:
“We’re extremely disappointed that instead of protecting the fundamental right to vote guaranteed us - not once, but twice - by the Tennessee Constitution, Republicans are taking it away,” said Mary Mancini, executive director of Tennessee Citizen Action, “The idea of ‘voter fraud’ is a fraud and they have repeatedly refused to present evidence to the contrary. Here's what's really going on: Republican politicians all over the country are unnecessarily rewriting our election laws to keep students, people of color, the working poor, and seniors from voting against them. And they're manufacturing a problem to explain it away.
“The right to vote is a fundamental American right. GOP-led barriers to voting are unnecessary and extraordinarily harmful to our democratic process. We've never solved anything in this country with less democracy, and we still can’t.”

The people of Tennessee could use your help this year.

The right to vote and choose our leaders is at the heart of what it means to be an American, but conservatives are working to rewrite our laws so it's harder for students, people of color, the working poor, and seniors to vote. Won't you volunteer to make sure that any Tennessean who wants to can exercise this fundamental freedom come November?

We will be working all across the state to:
  • Register voters
  • Educate Tennesseans about the new photo ID to vote law
  • Help people to get their photo ID
Please signup below and indicate how you would like to help.

Questions? Call 615-736-6040 or email
50 Vantage Way Ste 250 | Nashville, TN 37228 US
50 Vantage Way Ste 250 | Nashville, TN 37228 US

Monday, April 9, 2012

TN Legislators Rig the Game for Big Money to Pay No Taxes, Not Get Sued

Tennessee Citizen Action Reports

No Access to a Jury for You!

What do you do if you're part of the majority in the state legislature and a bill you passed might run afoul of the state constitution? You scramble to change the Constitution, of course!

Last year, Governor Haslam's "Tennessee Civil Justice Act of 2011" passed the state legislature and was signed into law. Among other things, this new law established limitations on damages in civil liability cases - also known as $750,000 cap on damages. HJR0698 by Rep. Vance Dennis (R-Savannah), would amend Article XI of the Tennessee Constitution to "permit the general assembly by statute to establish limitations on damages in civil liability actions and other causes of action."

So the caps on damages bill passed last year might be unconstitutional and rather than protect our 7th Amendment right to a civil jury trial and/or encourage businesses that innovate and take care of of their workers, they'd rather amend the Constitution to fit their agenda of helping corporations avoid accountability for egregious acts. HJR0698 will be heard in the House Finance Subcommittee on Wednesday, April 11 at 11:00 am. Watch here.


Gubernatorial Power Grab

What do you do if you want your governor to have more power than any governor has had in the past? You change the Constitution!

HJR0804 by Rep. Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol)

Currently, the state's attorney general is selected by the Supreme Court of Tennessee. But why allow 5 learned people to discuss the merits of a candidate when a partisan Governor can do so instead? HJR0804 proposes an amendment to Article VI, Section 5 to allow the governor to appoint - with legislative confirmation - the attorney general. HJR0804 will be heard in the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, April 11. See also SJR0693 by Sen. Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet) to be heard on Senate Finance Ways & Means committee on Tuesday, April 10 at 8:30 am. Watch here.


A Rigged Economy

What do you do if the state's economy is working fine for the top 1%, aka your CEO campaign contributors, and you want to keep it that way? You change the Constitution!

The richest 400 families own more than 150 million Americans (half the country). The $100 million earned in one year by the CEO of Bank of America could have provided median incomes to 2000 families.
If our nation's economic growth had been shared fairly for the past 30 years, wages would be 60% higher than they are now. Corporate taxes are at an historic low in terms of the economy and share of federal revenues. And yet, instead of crafting public policy that makes everyone pay their fair share, SJR0221 by Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Collierville) would enshrine into the Constitution a prohibition on a payroll tax - even on those Tennesseans making millions a year. Basically, we'd be stuck with a Constitution that would prohibit the 1% from paying their fair share. Add this to the secret financial negotiations they want to be able to have with corporations thinking about relocating here and the push to fully repeal the estate tax and we have a system developing that caters to large corporations and their 21st century robbers baron CEOs instead of writing rules that boost the well-being and productivity of hardworking middle and working class families. SJR0221 was passed this year by a simple majority.
Next year it will have to pass by a 2/3 majority. Then, it will go on the ballot to be voted on by the people in the next gubernatorial election.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

We Are Living in a Military Police State....Don't You Know?

Just because Big Brother is not labeling what we have as a military police state, we have exactly that in the growing bureaucracy named Department of Homeland Security.  Didn't you know?

Would you be surprised to know that the homeland security types have bought enough hollow-point bullets (these expand upon impact and do maximum tearing and damage) to shoot every American citizen twice? 

Did you know we have for-profit corporations giving online "degrees" in Homeland Security?  Did you know Homeland Security is blowing billions of taxpayer money to ramp up police and sheriff departments, which were para-military organizations already, with military type gear and AK assault rifles?

We have the NDAA---National Defense Authorization Act of 2012---which was signed into law by Obama this past New Year's Eve and which gives the military the OK to pick up anyone they want, any time, and hold them indefinitely without being charged and without being shown any evidence or their accusers.

We are witnessing the takeover of our rights and the snuffing of free speech.  Military bases have hundreds, maybe thousands, of prison encampments around the country.  Some of these were used to lock up Japanese people in the U.S. during World War II.  The U.S. is dusting them off now to make room for the future alleged "enemy combatants" and domestic protestors of corporate monopolies which will populate them in the years to come.

Click here to read Dave Lindorff's article in

And here is a great investigative article by Chris Hedges, who joined Noam Chomsky and others to sue the government because NDAA is unconstitutional.

Coke, Pepsi, Kraft Lift the Rock ALEC Has Been Hiding Under

ALEC: Ordinary Citizens Are Priced Out of Democracy

Giant trans-national corporations Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Kraft are dropping their memberships in ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, and so is Intuit, maker of Quicken and Quickbook accounting software.

ALEC charges corporations membership fees---it's $25,000 for the Jefferson Club level, but many corporations donate much more---which are tax-deductible, and for their money the corporate interests get to huddle behind closed doors with state legislators who get their marching orders for corporate-favored legislation.

Regular citizens do not have those many thousands to donate just to get access to politicians who are ostensibly representing those citizens, not corporate special interests.

In this system which is now in control of legislation in Washington and 50 states, regular people have been priced out of democracy. 

ALEC has until recently succeeded at hiding under a rock and having little light shining on its seedy, corrupt operation.  But the public has been hearing more and more about ALEC in the past year, and pressure on certain corporations has started a run to the exit led by Coke, Pepsi, Kraft and Intuit, with probably more to come.

Click here for a story at PR Watch

and here for another good story at truthout

U.S. Corporations Plan Marketing for Death of the Middle Class

It's called the "hourglass economy," where there is a market at the upper end of wealthy buyers, and then there is everyone else at the poverty end....but no middle. 

As the U.S. empire ages and crumbles, we are increasingly becoming a country of the haves and the have-nots.  You know, like Mexico. 

Here are links to two good stories, one in and the other at, which lay out the "hourglass economy."

Friday, April 6, 2012

Keeping Score with Tennessee's Lunatic Legislature

We not only keep cranking out crazy stuff (Guns in Bars, Don't Say Gay, etc.) which make fodder for late-night network comics, we are destroying lives by the legislative actions to limit victims' rights, to choose corporate profits over taking care of nature, to pull the plug on free education and many more dastardly deeds. 

Tennessee Citizens Action is keeping score for us.  Lord knows, somebody has to do it.

Click here for the latest tally from TNCA.

Monday, April 2, 2012

TN Legislators Handing Our Lives Over to the New Robber Barons

More from TN Citizen Action
THE LEGEND OF LEGISLATIVE BIGFOOT: Does a Government That Works for Us Really Exist?

Short answer: No, not right now it doesn't.

For those of you keeping score at home, below is a summary of the legislative priorities of the Republican majority in the state legislature.

In a nutshell, they are crafting and passing public policy that caters to large corporations and their 21st century robbers baron CEOs instead of writing rules that boost the well-being and productivity of hardworking middle and working class families. That's not what we sent them to Nashville to do.

  • Republicans want to make it impossible for you to hold corporations accountable for the negligent and harmful acts of their employees. Another would allow attorneys who defend large corporations to be able to meet with and interview your doctor in secret (34 states prohibit this kind of secret one-way communication). If corporations know they can violate doctor-patient privilege at will and can’t be held responsible for the catastrophic actions of their employees, then they will be less likely to enforce conscientious hiring policies, provide appropriate training and education, and promote a culture of safety. Is this looking out for the people of Tennessee?
  • Tennessee families are working harder, getting paid less, and falling behind our parents' generation, and yet they want to dismantle campaign finance reforms by allowing corporations to make secret cash campaign contributions in the critical 10 days before an election.

  • Corporations have shipped jobs overseas leaving breadwinners jobless and rural Tennessee communities decimated and yet they want to penalize honest, hardworking Tennesseans who are simply trying to feed their families by drug testing them if they receive benefits from the state. And to add insult to injury, requiring them to pay for the expensive test themselves.
  • And we'll let Joseph Green of Springfiled tell you about how they are dismantling the current unemployment system. In a Tennessean article, Mr. Green "wonders if he has a target on his back" and "sometimes feels as if he’s being labeled as a second-class citizen because he has been out of work for nearly two years." He's quoted as saying, "I feel like it’s discrimination, especially against us folks who live out in the country where there aren’t that many jobs," he said. Proponents , i.e. Republicans and the Chamber of Commerce, say that the changes are needed to "improve accountability and crack down on fraud and abuse." First, they're one to talk about accountability (see all of the above) and next, show us the fraud and abuse?*
  • Under the leadership of Republican Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey they have made defending the estate tax a major priority, citing a recent Forbes Magazine article that states that Tennessee is "not a good place to die." Again, we'll leave it to a friend, Pith in the Wind writer Betsy Phillips, to point out the failure of leadership in this nugget: "I swear, I will never understand Republicans. It's all "bootstraps, bootstraps, bootstraps" — until it comes to people getting money from their rich, dead parents. Then Ron Ramsey has to take to Twitter: ' Forbes points to Tennessee as a place 'not to die.' We simply have to remove this tax as soon as possible.' Oh, Heaven forfend! Forbes doesn't think Tennessee's a good place to die! Well, obviously Forbes' research sucks, because Tennessee is a wonderful place to die. In fact, we make it very easy for folks to die here all the time - especially if they're poor, black, women or children."
  • Would you ever allow a deal to be made in your name without knowing all the details? What it if it affected you financially? Of course not! But that's just what Governor Bill Haslam wants to do with SB 2207 / HB 2345, part of his legislative package. If passed, this bill would allow the Governor to offer cash incentives (read: tax dollars) to large corporations in secret and without any kind of accountability.
The rational for these bills is always the sam. They say, "We have to cater to large corporations because they create jobs." But where are those jobs? Look no further than last year's fight for Governor Haslam’s "Tennessee Civil Justice Act of 2011." During that debate we were promised 577 jobs per week. Yet here it is almost a year later and where are the 30,000 jobs created by this legislation? Since 2003, Tennessee job growth is way up - 198,000 new jobs and 52 new corporate headquarters. So why not continue with the policies that have helped to create these jobs? Why not encourage businesses that innovate and take care of of their workers instead of helping corporations avoid accountability for egregious acts and making it easier for them to give you money for your campaign?
*Or is this like the photo ID to vote law where all you have to do is say that fraud exists and we should believe you?