U.S. GOVERNMENT DROWNED IN BATHTUB!

13 08 2011

Nashville’s municipal elections are over, and to nobody’s surprise, there were few surprises.  All incumbents save one were handily re-elected,including Jason Holleman,  and the measure to obstruct sale of the Fairgrounds to a private developer was passed by a truly impressive margin.  There will be five runoff elections in September, with participation likely to be even lower than the 20% turnout for this election.  May I point out that instant runoff voting,” a system in which people get to indicate a second choice as well as a first, ends the expense and bother of delayed runoff elections?  Just sayin’, as they say.

The one incumbent who failed to make the cut was Anna Page, a fairgrounds privatization advocate whose district just happens to include the fairgrounds.  She lost by twelve votes to Tony Tenpenny, who opposed redeveloping the fairgrounds but is, alas, a political conservative.  It’s funny how people can be in touch with reality in some ways, and out of touch in others–and I’m sure there are people who say that about me–or worse.  But….losing by only twelve votes.  Think about that.  I’m sure Ms. Page is.

I actually voted against the Fairgrounds amendment, but only because it seemed to require that auto racing continue at the Fairgrounds. I view automobile racing as one of the many modern equivalents of gladiator sports, as well as a prodigious waste of precious fossil fuels and a nasty source of pollution, so, while I was in sympathy with the overall aim of the preservationists, I couldn’t see voting for something that dumb.  But I don’t mind a bit that the measure passed.  The will of the people–to keep public property public–prevailed, at least in this case.

Nationally, we were not so lucky.  In spite of overwhelming popular sentiment for higher taxes on both wealthy corporations and wealthy real people, and growing questions about the wisdom of massive military spending, the debt ceiling deal our so-called government agreed to is a complete reverse-Robin Hood measure that shifts even more of this country’s dwindling wealth from the poor and middle class to the obscenely wealthy.

Grover Norquist is famous for saying he wants to “shrink the government down to the point where we can drown it in the bathtub.”  Well, folks, that’s what happened, and we didn’t even have to elect a Republican President to do it.  Mr. Hope and Change wrung his hands and tsk-tsked, but ultimately did nothing to stop it, like an abused wife who doesn’t like it when her husband beats the kids, but isn’t going to call the police on him.  After all, he says he’s sorry and gives the kids candy, doesn’t he?

In fact, you might be excused for thinking that Obama, deep down, wouldn’t mind getting rid of that pesky kid known as “government spending for the public good.”  Not so long ago, he appointed a commission to review Social Security and Medicare, and even his supporters complained that it seemed strangely stacked against our country’s already tattered social safety net.

But, before we get into the messy details, let’s back up and remember that Democrats and Republicans unquestioningly raised the debt ceiling for the Cheney/Bush junta seven times during the eight years of the junta’s rule, nearly doubling US debt–which stood at just under $6 trillion when Bill Clinton left office, and had ballooned to $11.3T by the time Cheney left office.  And did the Republicans insist on “fiscal responsibility” in exchange for those raises?

No.  Cheney cut taxes (mostly on the wealthy) twice, floated an unfunded, enormously expensive subsidy to the prescription drug industry disguised as a way to help Medicare recipients buy the drugs they are told they need, and burned nearly a trillion dollars in the bonfires called Iraq and Afghanistan, fires that the Obama administration has cheerfully continued to feed with our tax dollars and loans from the Chinese.

The Nobel Committee must be wondering if they can revoke a Nobel Peace Prize.

I digress–like every other real solution to America’s problems, ending our spending on foreign military adventures is “off the table.”

Back to the debt ceiling/budget cuts question–the point is, that it was completely disingenuous, if not outright hypocritical, of the Republicans to suddenly stand up for “fiscal responsibility” around the issue of raising the debt ceiling.  It has never been tied to budget cuts before–and we’re talking 74 raises in the debt ceiling since 1962–that’s quite a precedent, so it’s no wonder  many of Obama’s liberal supporters were flabbergasted when he failed to challenge the Republicans on this, and instead played right into their hands.  You start to suspect he’s secretly one of them.

Look at his record.  He didn’t prosecute anybody on Wall Street for the crash–in fact, the Wall Street firms that triggered the crash are among his strongest supporters, and their executives became his closest advisers.  By contrast,  when the Savings and Loan bubble burst twenty years ago, thousands of bankers went to jail, over a financial peccadillo that was a fraction the size of the 2008 mess–$160 billion for the S&L’s,  $7.7 trillion for the subprime bubble.  Do the math–the 2008 crash was 48 times bigger than the S&L crash, and nobody went to jail.   Can’t say the bankers didn’t learn a thing or two in twenty years!  To cap it off, not only did Obama continue Bush’s policy of bailouts for the Wall Street firms who milked the economy, his program to help individuals who were losing their homes because they had been suckered into unrepayable mortgages turned out to be a useless piece of window dressing.

There’s the war crimes issue.  Obama not only took a pass on prosecuting Bush officials for atrocities they were clearly responsible for under international law, he continued and expanded those policies, including the assassination of American citizens who might be terrorists–but only ones who are out of the country, so far, so far as we know-.  What part of “innocent until proven guilty” and “right to a fair trial” does our government not understand?

When Bradley Manning tried to blow the whistle on our government’s criminal behavior, the Obama administration just put him in jail and tortured him.   Trial?  Manana.  What part of “a right to a speedy trial” does our government not understand?   And of course, Manning is only one of many who have been persecuted by this “hope and change” guy for the thoughtcrime of hoping to change questionable government behavior.

But it’s not like Obama has changed.  In one of his first Senate speeches, on the question of whether to investigate voting irregularities in Ohio that cost John Kerry the election, Obama asserted that he believed Bush had won the election fair and square and there was no need for the Senate to look into the matter, thus stiffing the Congressional Black Caucus.  That should have been enough to sink him right there, but no……

Obama wasted no time in putting GMO-pusher Monsatan–excuse me, Monsanto–in charge of the nation’s food supply by appointing Monsanto shill Tom Vilsack as Secretary of Agriculture.  Again, a totally Republican move–let the corporations run the government–”what’s good for General Motors is good for the country.”  Right.  But gee, Michelle has an organic garden at the White House–say it again, boys and girls:  “Window dressing.”

Our increasingly erratic climate is another crucial issue on which Obama’s approach has been to continue Republican policy, but with a kinder, gentler spin.  In spite of the Deepwater Horizon mess, his administration has approved the even more dangerous step of offshore drilling north of Alaska. In spite of Fukushima (not to mention Chernobyl and Three-Mile Island!), he remains committed to serious expansion of nuclear power.  After acting like he was going to slow down coal mining, which every responsible environmental scientist agrees needs to happen to keep the planet from going completely haywire, his administration has kept on approving mountain top removal mining, just like Bush (and Clinton) before him.  At Copenhagen, according to Albert Bates, who was there, Obama sabotaged the possibility of a real agreement and spun it like he had accomplished something.  This stands in sharp contrast to the Cheney-Bush approach, of course–they just sneered and hoisted the bird.  Some people loved it and some people hated it–but you know, the same is true of the public’s reaction to Obama–it’s just that the demographics of the lovers and haters has flipped.

It’s ironic–Obama is giving the Republicans everything they want, but can’t get when they’re in power.  Well, OK, abortion is still relatively legal and they said they weren’t going to defend the Defense of (Heterosexual-exclusive) Marriage Act–but ultimately, that’s just more window-dressing–and besides, they’re deporting  an Australian man who’s legally married to another man and citing DOMA as the reason.  Oh gee, they’ve declared that health insurance has to cover women’s’ birth control?  Great, if you can afford insurance–and, by the way, another subsidy for the pill-pushers.

Let’s take a music break–here’s a little James McMurtry for ya…a song called “God Bless America.”

So, the Republicans are on a roll.  They’re going to make sure that we don’t levy any taxes on wealthy Americans, whom they have renamed “job creators,” even though these so-called “job creators” haven’t created any jobs to speak of, lately, and in fact have been abolishing every American job they can possibly outsource for the last twenty-five years.  Rich people are “job creators”?  Can you say “big lie,” boys and girls?  How about “doublespeak”?

And reducing the debt by reducing taxes is another kind of double speak–the rate at which the government taxes the wealthy and big corporations has effectively declined by two-thirds over the last fifty years. Instead of raising money from taxation, the government generates income by selling treasury bonds, often to the rich people it used to tax.  This has the effect of reversing the cash flow–instead of corporate/high earner taxes going to help fund government operations, taxes from the middle class go to pay off the government’s debt to the wealthy.  In other words,cutting taxes on corporations and wealthy Americans drives the government deeper into debt–debt that will have to be paid off by the middle class, under the tax regime that has been imposed on us.

The Republicans have made it clear, and the Obama administration has pretty much agreed, that cuts to the military portion of our budget–which is about half of it–are off the table.  But, somehow, in spite of the fact that it’s supposed to be funded independently of the main part of the government’s budget, Social Security is on the table.  Services offered by Medicare and Medicaid are likely to be cut–without any attempt to limit the profits of the pharmaceutical and illness care industries, even though that’s a major factor in increased medical costs.  The Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Education, and all Health and Human Services programs will likely be given a serious trimming.  Bottom line:  if you’re poor or middle class, and need help, there’s going to be a lot less help available–medically, educationally, and environmentally.

I have often been, and continue to be, sharply critical of the conduct of many of these government agencies.  They tend to be corporate-friendly, heavy-handed, and resistant to radical innovation–but they need to be reformed, not abolished or hamstrung.  Simply shutting them down will result in a tidal wave of corporate abuse of the environment, shoddy treatment of American citizens–the latest food contamination news is that Cargill has had to recall 36 million pounds of ground turkey, while the FDA was busy sending in armed storm troopers to arrest the head of a small raw-food co-op whose products hadn’t made anyone sick.  In a better world, it would be the head of Cargill who was getting perp-walked, and those who wish to produce or drink raw milk would be free to do so without fear of arrest.  And, of course, in an even better world, there would be no Cargill and we would all live within a few miles of a producing dairy cow and some free-range turkeys.  But we’re not there yet.  I hope I live to see the day!

That last paragraph reminds me of one of my pet peeves–the fact that Americans are far more often referred to as “consumers” than as “citizens.”  We need to change that meme.  “Consumers” implies a level of passivity–a “consumer” brings to mind the image of an overgrown baby suckling at a corporate bottle.  (Corporate persons do not have teats, after all!) and periodically needing to have its poop taken care of.  “Citizens,” on the other hand, participate actively in civic life, take care of their own poop and take care not to take any poop from the government OR private industry.  I would have a lot less problem with the Tea Party if they were as hard on corporations as they are on the government.  But, at this point, the Tea Party is a puppet of corporations who want to use populist outrage to smash the only thing standing in the way of corporate domination of America.  Barack Obama, alas, is not enough of a David to stand up to this Goliath.

And that gets us back to–what can we do about the orgy of destruction that the Republicans and their Democrat enablers have unleashed on the country?  One thing we can do is to challenge it, every step of the way–politically, legally, and by where we spend our money and how we spend our time.

Politically, there has been a noticeable uptick in interest in the Green Party, as the illusion of difference between Democrats and Republicans becomes plainer to more people.  Legally, the situation is somewhat daunting, due to Democratic complicity in the Republicans’ appointment of outright fascists to the courts and the Republicans’ unhesitating blockage of any even slightly-liberal-leaning Democrats to those positions, but some legal redress of grievances is still possible.

We need to remember the example of Vaclav Havel, who started out as a beatnik-hippie poet, courageously defending his right to own Velvet Underground records and publish weird poetry against the Monolithic, All-Powerful, Communist State, and, who, over the course of twenty years, sparked a revolutionary change in the outlook of the people of the former Communist bloc that ultimately toppled a once-monolithic, all-powerful state.  If they could do it, so can we.

At the personal level, the level of our own time and our own money, it’s important to cultivate skills of self-reliance, to simplify our lives, and help our friends do the same.  Everybody has different innate talents and developed skills, and, just as “it takes a village to raise a child,” it takes a couple of hundred real, live, fully-present people to make a village.  That looks to me like where we’re headed.  I’m not sure how we’ll get there.  But that’s what makes life interesting, isn’t it?

music:  Velvet Underground, “White Light/White Heat”





GAZING INTO MY GREEN CRYSTAL BALL

9 07 2011

We’ve got a Metro Council/Mayoral race going on in Nashville this month, but for the most part nobody’s getting too excited about it.  Most incumbents, including Mayor Karl Dean, are expected to coast to easy victories. spouting easy platitudes about growth, development, education, jobs, and “Greenness.”

But all that talk, from my perspective, is like Huxley’s “soma” in Brave New World, an addictive drug intended to pacify the masses, even though it will eventually cost them their lives.  When I look into my Deep Green crystal ball at the future of Nashville, I don’t see big international industries and businesses relocating here, on the old fairgrounds site or anywhere else.  I don’t see a busy convention center surrounded by crowded hotels and a tourist district for high rollers.

A lot of what I do see is not that pleasant to contemplate.  I see Nashville’s core cut off from the south as the bridges over a disused I-440 deteriorate, and ferries crossing the Cumberland once again, once we no longer have the resources to maintain those bridges, either.  Roads and bridges cost a lot of money, and if there’s a lot less fuel tax–or maybe even none at all–being collected–there’s no way to maintain them. I see a downtown that’s dangerous to navigate, not because of homeless, derelict people, but because of the danger of debris falling from abandoned, derelict high rise buildings.  I see neighborhoods depopulated, houses torn down, the Detroitisation of Nashville.  It’s already started, if you’ve driven down West Hamilton Road lately.  I see these empty lots being turned into gardens OR reverting back to forest.  I see neighborhoods getting together not just to garden, but to excavate buried springs and creeks so they can have a reliable, if not necessarily safe, water source as Metro’s water system deteriorates due to severely falling tax revenues.  Likewise, I see neighborhoods coming together to create their own security patrols as the Metro police department literally runs out of gas and can’t afford enough electric vehicles to respond to anything but the most dire emergencies.

Where are the people gonna go?  Many will move back to the rural areas and small towns where they still have family, because life will be somewhat more pleasant and secure in those locations.  We may see some horrific epidemics that either defy drug treatment or, worse, that could have been prevented if only the funds for public health measures had been available.  I think we will lose a lot of population by attrition–it will be easier to die from a broad spectrum of diseases, including a couple that I’m working it out with myself, and the world will be dismal enough that people will be less inclined to start families–and, like us older people, children will be more prone to succumb to things that are not, at our current level of civilization, fatal.

On a more positive note, I think we will see a revitalization of our riverfront as an industrial and transportation hub.  The Cumberland provides a deep-water passageway combined with a strong current, two factors that are little appreciated today. Before the era of rail transport, it was the equivalent of an interstate highway, and let’s not forget that there is a reason why the word “current’ applies to both rivers and electricity–they both provide energy.   The river’s energy, however, is not dependent on fossil fuel or high-tech solar installations.  Water power can turn lathes for machine shops, run industrial looms to weave cloth, and power bellows that can create a hot enough fire to run a metal forge, as well as the more common applications of grinding grain and lifting water into fields for irrigation.

I was very relieved to meet someone the other day who has a good technical understanding of water wheels and how to build them.  In another few decades, somebody with those skills will be able to, as they say, write his own ticket.

And since I’ve been talking about deteriorating infrastructure, let’s not forget that there are locks and dams on the Cumberland that are not going to last forever.  We have not had our last major flood here in the Cumberland basin.

But–try running for Metro Council talking about those issues.  Can you say, “Debbie Downer,” boys and girls?  I don’t believe their is enough moral courage in this country to face the likely realities of our future.   To function as part of Nashville’s government, you have to at least make nice with the soothing pabulum of “growth” that far too many people believe in even more fervently than Christianity.

It’s like they say–the tough part of knowing the answers isn’t so much the knowledge itself, as having the patience to wait for somebody to ask you the right questions.  So, if you are involved in Metro government and actually have a clue about what’s going on, you will only reveal your deepest thoughts in fairly subtle ways.  You might propose to allow people to keep a few chickens.  You might oppose “future’s so bright” projects like Maytown,  the convention center, or seeking to sell the fairgrounds to private developers..

When I see Metro Council members who take such positions, I am inclined to favor them, though I’m certainly not going to put them on the spot by asking too many questions.  I know what constitutes political suicide, and I’m not going to push my favorite local politicians to expose themselves, so to speak.

Funny–it’s easier, politically, to be out about being gay than it is to be out about understanding the transition we are about to undergo.  Well, being gay ultimately involves only you and your sweetie, but transition involves everyone. Aah– i digress.

As I’ve observed Metro Council over the last several years, two of its members have really stood out for me–Emily Evans and Jason Holleman.  Among the Council’s 40 members, they are two who seem to be the most clued-in about what the future really holds in store.   And yet….and yet…..our “Green Mayor,” Karl Dean, seems to be behind the well-financed effort to unseat Holleman.  What gives?

I think what we are seeing here is a case of greenwashing versus reality-based decision-making.  Dean likes to be billed as “The Green Mayor,” but a look at what he actually does, and a look at who’s behind him, reveals the truth.  His moves, most noticeably on the Fairgrounds and Convention Center issues, have been pure, clueless, big-business optimism.  His backers are the Democrat Party mainstream, who are not so much committed to being “Green” as they are to branding themselves as “Green,” just like the national party.  Corporate pigs with green lipstick.  Ugh.

Jason Holleman is a David to these Goliaths, who value loyalty to their personal power above independent, rational thinking.   By this time next month, we will know who the people of Sylvan Park have chosen.  Good luck, Jason!

music:  Jane Siberry–Superhero Dream>Grace





STEPPING IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION

13 06 2009

Last month, I suggested that, rather than pursue the chimeras of Maytown and the Convention Center, Nashvilleans would be better served by taking the suggestions of the” Mayor’s Green Ribbon Committee” and running with them.  Much to my delight, that’s just what Metro Councilman Jason Holleman is doing.

The step he is proposing is a no-brainer, really, and I was surprised to learn that it needs to be taken, but–get this: for the last fifty years, it has been illegal to have a community garden in Nashville .  It doesn’t matter if you own the land and it’s an open field, you can’t legally farm it in the urban services district.  And, even if you live on the property and just have a garden, it is illegal for you to sell your produce.  Gee…I thought the only produce that was illegal to sell was the kind people grow in closets…but it turns out that the criminal agricultural population is not restricted to pot growers…all the urban community gardens springing up around Nashville–and there are more and more of them–are illegal.  We are fortunate that Metro has not sent out the paddy wagons and bulldozers to round up these criminal gardeners and turn their paradises back into parking lots.

Holleman’s bill is co-sponsored by Kristine LaLonde, Emily Evans, Erik Cole, Mike Jameson, Bo Mitchell, Megan Barry, Jerry Maynard, Sandra Moore, Erica Gilmore, and Darren Jernigen. Remember those names–these are the  Metro Council members who have at least a clue about where this country is headed.  Councilman Holleman told me in an email that his proposal has attracted “questions about the details, but no negative feedback.” In other words, there’s a strong likelihood that it will pass.

One hair that the bill splits is that, while it legalizes the sale of produce grown in the city, which will allow  gardeners to support and expand their operations, it does not allow “farm stands” at gardens in residential neighborhoods.  In other words, you can’t have a stash of picked tomatoes sitting there waiting for customers.  Gardeners must take their produce elsewhere and sell it, or contract with people through consumer-supported agriculture-type arrangements.  My guess is that this barrier will increasingly, and informally, be breached.

The bill does not permit raising livestock in the city, which I think is another prohibition that will soon fall.   Currently, if you have a few rabbits, chickens, or pigeons in your backyard, you have to be able to pass them off as “pets”–but who’s going to notice where your breakfast egg comes from, or complain if one of your “pets” disappears and ends up on the dinner table?  Is this what the National Animal Identification System is intended to enforce?

“Mrs. Jones, we’re from Animal Control and we noticed that the transponder on one of your chickens went dead yesterday.  Here’s our search warrant–why don’t you just tell us: where’s the body?”  Yeah, right…

Backyard animal raising is a more complex issue, in some ways, because animals, unlike plants, sometimes make noises and create odors that are annoying to neighbors. Perhaps the way to deal with this would be to allow people to keep animals if all or most of a neighborhood is in agreement. It’s certainly worth discussing. What do you think, Metro Council members? Are you ready for the next bold step in local food security?

Now, besides food production, another tightly regulated part of the American urban scene is housing, which in our economic model is privately owned, or often privately owed rather than owned.  As the economy has begun to stumble (and you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!), many people have fallen behind in their house payments or been unable to come up with their rent money and been evicted, frequently resulting, at first, in perfectly good houses standing empty.  I say “at first” because often these empty houses are broken into and stripped of anything salvageable, such as copper pipes.  They then become derelict shells that all too often get bulldozed, since we’re not yet desperate enough for building materials to take them apart stud by stud.  Soon come, soon come.

But meanwhile, the stupid logic of private property dictates that these houses must stand empty while their former occupants, already unable to afford  to keep a roof over their heads, have to seek shelter elsewhere.  Many move in with friends and relatives, which is kind of  good, since one of the things we as a culture need to relearn is how to get along with each other and share close quarters, but that’s a lesson better learned voluntarily.  Some people who are evicted don’t have family or friends who can make room for them, and become homeless.

We can contrast this peculiar behavior with what happened during the breakdown of the Soviet Union.  Since all housing was government owned, people were not made homeless due to their inability to earn money.

Or we can contrast it with the third world, where, from Sao Paulo to Calcutta, the poor scavenge together shelter from whatever they can find, and create vast cities-within-cities.  Whenever homeless people in the US start to do that, the codes department soon shows up with a bulldozer and “cleans it up.”  Property rights and appearances are still paramount in America.  They trump compassion every time.

It would be great if we could change that and allow people a little freedom to create a roof over their heads if we as a community are otherwise unable to provide them with one.  That’s a big step down the road from legalizing community gardens, and I don’t expect Councilman Holliman to propose it next month or even next year, but we are going to have to start examining all the ways in which unreasonable expectations create unsolvable problems–whether in the area of food, housing, or personal behavior–and don’t get me started on that topic!

Hopefully enough people will realize that it’s easier and more compassionate to change our expectations and relax the law than it is to try and keep a tight rein on  things and create criminals ex nihilo.  We’ve got enough real problems to deal with already.

music:  Incredible String Band, “Big Ted








Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 608 other followers

%d bloggers like this: