9 12 2018

A lot of people don’t realize that there are vampires in Nashville, even though those vampires are, in a fairly substantial way, responsible for the fact that our city is “The ‘it’ city,” while other  metropolises our size, such as Detroit, El Paso, Memphis, and Oklahoma City, are more like “she-it cities.” That’s because our local vampires have learned to turn the blood they suck into money, and spread that blood/money around town in the process of consuming it.. The new vampire has a different MO, however. He sucks metaphorical blood, which morphs into money just as easily as the red, sticky kind.

Gee…speaking of vampires, I am writing this around the death and funeral of former US President George H.W. Bush, whose father derived a good deal of his wealth from the blood of the young men of Europe and America, as well as the blood of European Jews, Gypsies, radicals, gay people, and anyone else who did not fit in with Hitler’s vision of “The Master Race.” The newly dead Bush’s father, Prescott Bush, was one of the chief financiers of Adolph Hitler and his drive to Make Germany Great Again. Without Prescott’s backing, the Wehrmacht, the Luftwaffe, and all those death camps might not have happened. Bush senior paid no price for this. He went on to become a U.S. Senator. His son became head of US intelligence, then Vice President and President, and his grandson, too, became President. All have shown by their actions that they possess (or is it “are possessed by”?) the ruthless selfishness that is the hallmark of all vampires,

I’ll mention, but don’t even have time to talk much about, how Prescott Bush was also part of the cabal of Wall Street bankers who plotted to overthrow the government of US President Franklin Roosevelt. Bush wasn’t prosecuted for that, either, nor were any of the other plotters. Perhaps the fact that they had names were Harriman, Mellon, Rockefeller, to mention a few, gave them a stay out of jail card.

Let me run that by you again: Prescott Bush knew full well what the Nazis were doing, had no problem financing them, and in fact tried to do the same thing here, and his son became the President of the United States, and now we are being asked to mourn that son’s death, even though it is clear from his record that the main lesson he learned from his father was to hide his sympathy for the notion of a master race that is entitled to ruthlessly assert itself, but nonetheless pursue the fascist program. Somewhere, Adolph Hitler is laughing his ass off.

But I digress. I was talking about local vampires, and about the new vampire in town.

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9 01 2016

In December, the 21st “Council of Parties” to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change took place in Paris. Almost everybody seemed to understand that we are in “no more fooling around” territory, with some notable exceptions, like, f’rinstance, India and Saudi Arabia. Ironically, these are two of the countries with the most to lose from further climate change–like, their inhabitability.  Even so, it has become common knowledge that climate change denialism has largely been, um, fuelled by oil companiesbig-oil-the-new-big-tobacco-29081 who did the research in the 70’s and 80’s and, like the tobacco companies before them, realized that their product was lethal, and who nonetheless chose to elevate their short-term bottom line over the long-term survival of not just their customers, as with the tobacco companies, but of the human race, along with most other species on the planet. I could be snide and sneer about the oxymoronic quality of the phrase “corporate ethics,” but it’s not just corporations that prioritize reaping short-term benefits over preventing long-term threats.  It’s a fairly common human trait, it turns out, and one that is plaguing our efforts to stop doing things that release more carbon and accelerate climate change, and to start doing things that will capture carbon and reverse our ever more tightly spiralling spin into planetary oblivion. In order to reverse climate change, we must reverse our own conditioned responses.  The outer depends on the inner, as always.

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17 06 2013

Back before the fire, I was planning to closely follow, and possibly participate in, the series of  “Nashville Next” colloquiums that the city held to discuss what Nashville will become in the near to mid-term future.  What with all the upheaval in my own life, I have had to curtail my own grand plans, and so far have seen only one”Nashville Next” presentation, courtesy of the video of it posted online. I was not impressed. If this is the quality of advice our civic leadership is getting, they are taking us down the wrong path, one that will lead us hung up and hung out to dry.

The speaker was Amy Liu, a “senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and co-founder and co-director of the Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program,” according to Metro’s website.  Right off the bat, it was obvious that Ms. Liu worships at the altar of “growth.” Growth is the problem, not the solution. We  have already overshot the planet’s ability to support us in the style to which we have become accustomed.

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9 06 2012

Nashville Mayor Karl Dean has asked for a one-half percent increase in the property tax, but from the howls of protest you would think he had proposed sacrificing the first-born of every Tea Partier or other stripe of reactionary in town.  Apparently not all reactionaries identify with the Tea Party.  Here are the words of one commenter in “The City Paper”:

I’m against this tax increase but not a member of the Tea Party. So how accurate is this article? Why would you call all citizens that are against an illogical decision at this time in the economy ‘tea party sympathizers’. Where did that come from? What a bunch of liberal whack jobs you have working for your paper.

Speaking of “illogical”…how about that jump to “liberal whack jobs”?  Highly amusing, from my point of view–as a bit of a “liberal whack job” myself, I have considered “The City Paper” to be a conservative-leaning, business-oriented, but relatively even-handed publication, certainly not  a bunch of ‘liberal whack jobs.” But hey, people are angry.  Pitchforks and torches are being joked about here and there, possibly the first step to actually putting them, or their 21st-century equivalents, whatever that may turn out to be, to use.  After all, who’s actually got a pitchfork these days?  And who remembers how to make a serviceable torch?

But I digress.  Two questions:  first, what, beyond characterizing those who oppose the tax hike as “tea partiers,” did the City Paper actually say that aroused this person’s ire?  Second, what about the commenter’s claim that raising taxes at this point is an “illogical decision”?

To my mind, the article mentions the Tea Party frequently because most of the people the reporter talked to, apparently, self-identified with the Tea Party.  And, to my mind, one of the characteristics of Tea Partiers is irrational, hair-trigger hostility to anything and anyone who doesn’t confirm their strongly held belief that they have a right to be who they are and what they are, i.e., a right to all the privileges their wealth and position as middle-class white Americans have always entitled them.  They adamantly refuse to reconsider this. A spiritual teacher I used to hang out with called the baby-boom generation of Americans “the most spoiled generation in the history of the planet,” and while the teacher ultimately proved to have his own failings, I think he got that part right. If you’re looking for a zombie apocalypse, America’s reactionaries are the zombies.  We’ll have the apocalypse soon enough, I suspect.  Meanwhile, let’s get back to Metro Nashville’s budget and its validity, or lack therof.

When I went to Metro’s website for budget info, the oldest budget I could pull up was the 2003 one, so I’m going to use that for comparison with Dean’s 2013 proposal.

The first thing to note is that Metro’s 2003 budget called for the raising and spending of $1.3 billion, while Dean’s budget for next year is a $1.7B pie.  That’s a 25% increase in ten years.  What’s inflated the city’s budget?  Do the Tea Partiers have a point?

Here’s some facts about changes in Metro’s budget over the last ten years.  The cost of running the government itself has gone up about fifty percent, from $143M to $220M.  The cost of Metro’s court system has gone up by about a third, from $42M to $55M.  The cost of running Metro’s police department and jails has gone up nearly a third, from $165M to $212M.  The city is spending ten percent less on building inspection and enforcing regulations, a drop from $34M to $31M.  Social service spending has been cut by nearly half, from $14M to $8M.  Health and hospital expenditures, on the other hand, have almost doubled, going from $40M to $78M.   Library funding has remained nearly flat, rising only from $18M to $21M, and the parks and recreation budget has declined by about 40%, sliding from $73M to $40M.   There’s good news in the “debt service” column, as the city is paying a little less there, $159M in 2003 versus $133M now.  The kicker, however, is public school expenditures, which grew by nearly a third, from $475M to $716M, and also grew from 36% of the city budget ten years ago to a projected 42% next year.

Is there a hundred million dollars that could be trimmed out of this?  Probably.  And yes, it would probably cause some pain, mostly among those who don’t need more pain.  Cutting the salaries of Metro’s highest-salaried employees would be a great gesture, but  mere spit in a hundred-million dollar bucket.  What’s a mayor to do?

The next question to ask about the city’s budget, of course, is “where do they propose to raise the money to pay for all this?”

Those who object to higher taxes may have a point here.  Factoring in the property tax increase, Metro expects to raise $893M from property taxes, about a third more money than the $610M IT collected in 2003.  The proposed hundred million dollar tax hike accounts for about a third of the increase in this revenue source, which the city expects to provide over half its income, up slightly from  45% to 52% over the last ten years.  The city is also expecting about twenty percent more sales tax income than it received ten years ago, $295M vs. $244M.  Metro also expects grant revenue to be higher than it was ten years ago, at $330M, while a decade ago the city “only” received $240M in grants.

Two streams of thought cross my mind about this.  The first is that yes, it’s entirely possible that Nashville experienced enough growth over the last ten years so that, even with the deflation of the real estate bubble, there could be two hundred million tax dollars more infrastructure in Davidson County, at least at pre-bubble-pop prices.  Presuming the 2013 re-assessment is honest, how much of a decline will we see in the local tax base?  In my neighborhood, I have seen land and homes sit with “For Sale” signs on them for years.  That’s fine with me, since several of these are development tracts and I’d rather not see them developed, but it doesn’t bode well for Metro’s revenue stream.  The second stream of thought is that, with the country’s economy withering in spite of all the cheerleading our leaders can muster, is it really reasonable to expect continued growth in sales tax income?  Well, yes, at least in the short term. According to the Tennessee Department of Revenue, sales tax collections in, for example, the first three months of this year and last year, are on a par with or slightly above what they were back in the glory days of 2006, when a man’s home was still his ATM machine.

I intended to compare the school board’s budget for 2003 with its projected 2013 budget, but they changed their categories at some point over the last decade, making a line-item comparison impossible.  I presume, however, that when the 2013 budget allocates $559M for “personal services,” that does not mean they will be spending the bulk of their budget hiring hookers.  The Metro Nashville School Board is not, after all, the CIA!

And, after all, this tax hike is not really that onerous.   It will amount to $16 a month for the average homeowner, which is more or less the cost of one large pizza or four gallons of gasoline.  “Oh, the loss of one pizza per month!  I can’t stand it!”  And the money the county collects will, after all, be spent in Davidson County, benefitting the county’s economy, even if not quite the way a property owner might have done it himself.

So, in a way, this tax increase is pretty trivial, only magnified because feelings of community and noblesse oblige have atrophied in America.

But there are deeper questions that this tax hike brings up, questions about the city’s competence to wisely allocate funds in general, and the way we spend money on education in particular.  Let’s take a music break and then I’ll talk about that.

Music:  James McMurtry, “Comfortable

There is a very common assumption among Americans, and really among most denizens of the developed world, that the way things have, in our experience, always been, is the way it’s always going to be.  That’s clearly the assumption underlying both our city’s budget in general, and the operational philosophy of our school system in particular, and my suspicion is that it is setting us up for a major disaster.

Our Mayor, Karl Dean, likes to style himself as “green,” and  frequently mentions his desire to make Nashville “the greenest city in the southeastern US.”  His vision of what that means seems to conform to the common delusion that if we just switch to LEED buildings and hybrid cars, and get more exercise, life will go on, “same as it ever was.”  He, and, indeed, all of us, including me, are likely in for a rude awakening about that over the next couple of decades.  Increased spending on police forces will not bring us greater personal security.  A new convention center will not bring us more tourist dollars.  Increased spending on education in its current form will not create a public prepared to cope with the many levels pf changes that are about to happen.

Ah, public education….I was raised by a school teacher, and I appreciate the fact that most teachers are deeply committed to the students they teach, work their asses off, and are underpaid for the time they put in and their level of education.  It’s important for young people to be able to make a personal connection with at least one adult who is not their parent, and that’s one of the important social functions teachers serve.  I also think it’s important for the citizens of a country to have a common body of knowledge and cultural heritage, and that’s an important function of our school system.  It’s not about preparing young people for ‘jobs,” it’s about preparing young people for life.   And I am very critical of the so-called “No Child Left Behind” educational policy that has been instituted in this country because it robs teachers of their creativity and flexibility, and institutes “ability to pass standard tests” as a measure of the success of a school teacher and a school system.

And that’s also the point at which my appreciation for our country’s school system passes over into criticism.  “No Child Left Behind” is simply a logical extension of the down side of our country’s educational philosophy, which is that it is intended to standardize people, to get them used to being treated as small, powerless subjects of a large, impersonal organization, subjects who will learn the importance of quiet obedience to authority, of showing up exactly on time, of eating lunch in a hurry, of stopping what they are doing when the bell rings, the importance of cheering for your school’s sports teams (later transformed into cheering for your army).  Real democracy demands rowdy people, not subdued ones.  Real democracy demands people who think for themselves, not people who think what they are told, whether it is by a teacher or a preacher or Faux News.  And the world we are heading into, “Eaarth,” as Bill McKibben has termed it, demands people with real-life skills, like how to grow food, how to improvise solutions and fix things, how to have a good time without electronic stimulation, and how to get along well with a group of people.  These skills cannot be learned in virtual reality or measured on a written standard test, and they are very peripheral, when they exist at all, in the curriculum of Nashville’s schools.

So, maybe, in the long run, we will be better off if we don’t give up one pizza a month for the benefit of Metro’s budget.  But maybe, in the short run, we will be better off if we do.  In all likelihood, Metro Council is going to take that pizza off our table and send it to City Hall.  Maybe we’d be better off if we learned how to make our own pizzas, from growing the wheat  for the crust right on through making the cheese and building the oven to bake it in, as well as the plate and table on which we serve it, the knife we cut it with, the napkins with which we clean our sticky faces and fingers, and the soap and hot water for the cleanup.  There’s nothing like the brain-tickling smell of fresh oregano to bring people to the table, no matter how lost in the illusion of modern America they may be.  We might just have to do it for ourselves until our leaders get the picture.

music:  Ani DiFranco, “J


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


10 05 2009

A number of bits of local news and commentary have come to my attention lately:  Mayor Dean’s “State of the City” address, the report of the Green Ribbon Committee for a Sustainable Nashville, news that the “reform” of Tennessee’s waste management policies is not only a shambles but a sham, and the renewed push for construction of Maytown Center, along with the howls of misguided (or intentionally misleading) protest that accompanied my characterization of its neo-feudal potential last month.

Hizzoner the Mayor used his moment in the spotlight to push for a new Nashville Convention Center, a sort of “build it and they will come,” Hail Mary pass proposal that has been so thoroughly excoriated by the Nashville Scene that I hardly need to go into detail here, except to answer their “what are they smoking?” question with, “must be crack, ’cause any self-respecting pot smoker would see through this welfare-for-developers proposal in a minute.”  I would also add that anybody who thinks any kind of tourism is going to make a comeback is inhaling the wrong kind of smoke.  The only big influx that I see in Nashville’s, or America’s, future, is Chinese and various Middle Easterners coming to repossess whatever they can in consideration of America’s unrepayable debt to them.  The “T” in “T-bills” is gonna stand for “toilet paper,” boys and girls.  Can you say “Confederate money”?

And, speaking of smoking crack, I have to repeat and re-emphasize that anyone who thinks Maytown Center is going to be good for Nashville is still living in the delusionary world of the Bush era.  Growth is over.  If it is built, Maytown will either rapidly turn into a ghost town or suck the air out of the rest of the city and become a gated version of downtown, so the upper crust doesn’t have to cross paths with the homeless.

We would be much better off using the energy that the city’s movers and shakers are putting into these mirages to fast-track and expand some of the proposals in the Green Ribbon Committee’s report, which is at least well-intentioned, if woefully under-ambitious.  I feel bad about having to say that.  I know some of the people on the Committee, and I trust their good will. I went to one of their public meetings, and I think the document they have produced is radical and edgy–for 1975.  At this point, it is too little, too late.    Can we create a sustainable local economy that will support our current population?  Can we produce enough hoes and digging forks for everybody to turn up the ground it will take to keep ourselves in potatoes, let alone manufacture  our own shoes and clothing? Ain’t none of that happening here in Nashvegas any more, — how many weavers and cobblers are there in this town?  We sold our industrial capacity to the Chinese for a mess of profit, and we are about to find out that money is nothing but funny-looking paper once everybody agrees it’s worthless.

The landfill proposals that so outrage my friends at BURNT (Bring Urban Recycling to Nashville Today) are another head-shaker, another high-stakes poker game, played with a marked deck, in the tilting first-class lounge of the Titanic.  Of course, as James Howard Kunstler points out in World Made By Hand, all the recyclables we stick in landfills now are a kind of savings account that we will be able to mine in coming decades, when we will be out of natural resources and the ability to acquire them through commerce, and will have nothing better to do than dig up old city dumps, straighten bent nails, melt down and recast plastic and metal, and treasure the one or two chemists in our city who figure out how to make matches from local materials–because all those disposable lighters we take for granted are gonna be a thing of the past in the future, folks.  Do I have to remind you that you are going to have to cook with a wood fire, unless you’re lucky enough to have a solar cooker and a sunny day? And where will you be gathering your firewood?

Oh, and speaking of rigged poker games on the Titanic, our newly-Republican legislature is attempting to make sure that we don’t switch to optical-scan voting machines in time for the next election, presumably so they can rig it more easily, since they are doing such a patently bad job of running the state that they know they won’t be able to win an honest election…not that the Dims would be much better, it’s just a question of who controls what’s left of the state’s treasury.   Well, OK…the Dims would be doing nothing instead of forbidding local living wage laws, allowing people to carry guns everywhere and restricting abortion rights. “Respect for human life”? HELLO?

As all the various antics listed above indicate, either both parties are clueless about the scope of what we’re in for in this country, or they are figuring the best way to survive is to cut as many people out of the loop as possible.  If national politics are any guide, I would say the Repuglyicans are trying to cut as many of us out of the loop as they can (leaving more goodies for themselves), and the Dim-ocrats are simply clueless.  In this state, most seem to think the best strategy is to try and be as conservative as the Repugs, but since they lack the intense commitment to self-aggrandizement that characterizes so many Repugs, they end up coming across as clueless namby-pambys, which is one reason (besides ignorance and its bastard child, racism) they have been fluffing so many elections lately–like, it wasn’t just that Harold Ford is black, it’s that he’s barely to the left of Bob Corker. Not only is Harold no Jesse Jackson, he’s not even a Barack Obama.

Let me make something clear here–I  am as threatened as anyone by the future I foresee.  Western civilization as we know it needs to end for the planetary ecosystem (including humans) to continue, and I, an aging man with health problems, may not survive the change.  With that in mind, I want to make that transition as smooth as I can, so I am living as simply as I can, and supporting organizations that I believe will help cushion our descent, like our local bioregional council and the Tennessee Green Party.  As long as we have a functioning statewide political system (and I am not going to hazard a guess on how long that may be), we need to take advantage of it and use the framework of the Green Party to raise real issues:  local sustainability, resource conservation, universal access to health care, economic justice, and grass-roots democracy, to name the first few broad headings that come to mind.  There is SO much to do, and we’re  running the Green Party of Tennessee with a skeleton crew–so come on aboard, there’s plenty of room.

music:  Eliza Gilkyson, “Unsustainable


7 11 2008

In June, Mayor Dean created a “Green Ribbon Committee on Environmental Sustainability” that is charged with coming up with an action plan that will “allow Nashville to remain one of the most livable cities in the United States.”  To further this goal, the Committee is having four open public meetings this week and next: on on Tuesday, Nov. 11th, at the Nashville Convention Center, rooms 209-210, from 5 to 7 PM; one on Thursday the 13th at Looby Library, 2301 Metrocenter Boulevard, also from five to seven; a third on Saturday, the 15th at Green Hills Library from 10AM to noon, and a final meeting Thursday, Nov. 20 at Mt View Elementary School, 3820 Murfreesboro Road, from five to seven PM.  I’m planning to go to the Looby meeting, which is closest to my home.

It’s all very well organized.  There are four subcommittees:  Natural Resources, Mobility, Energy & Building, and Public Involvement, Education and Outreach.  Each is charged with identifying three categories of improvement: “low hanging fruit” that could be implemented with no budgetary cost, changes that could be funded from next year’s budget, and programs that will need longer-term planning and financing.

I could be cynical about this.  I could ask how we could “remain” one of the most livable cities in the US when we aren’t on any list of “America’s most livable cities” that I could find, and say that I suspect that, with our pedestrian-unfriendly streets, blazing summer heat and humidity, limited public transportation, strangling traffic, and smog-inducing topography, we are among the least livable cities in the country.  On the other hand, we do have, in spite of NES’s best efforts, an “urban forest” to be proud of, and it does not get mind-numbingly cold and snowy the way it does in some parts of the country.

Anyway, here are some suggestions I will be making to the Green Ribbon folks.

In the realm of zoning and codes: allow people to keep small animals such as chickens, turkeys,  rabbits, guinea pigs, etc.,  at home, and to butcher them at home (currently, home butchering is illegal, to the best of my knowledge).  Owners with lots over a certain size ought to be able to keep larger animals, such as goats, sheep, pigs, or even cows.  This will go a long way towards encouraging food sustainability.  I’m a vegetarian, but I understand that a lot of people aren’t, and won’t be, and I also know how hard it is to raise a year’s worth of beans.  Also in the realm of food sustainability, individual and neighborhood gardens should be encouraged.  People should be encouraged to take down fences and create backyard commons, both for food production and as a form of community integration and organizing.

The lawn mowing ordinance should be repealed or modified to exempt lots above a certain size or distance from a house or public thoroughfare.  This will free people up to do more essential things and improve air quality–lawn mowers do not have catalytic converters and are a major source of urban/suburban pollution.

Another codes suggestion would be to waive non-hazardous codes requirements for owner-built-and-occupied structures, including the requirement that they be hooked to the water/sewer/electrical grid, clearing the way for more innovative housing solutions in Davidson County.  I think it is appropriate for the city to inject itself into building standards for commercial construction, but there ought to be a homeowner’s loophole.  Likewise, we need to loosen up about home businesses, although maybe there should be some limits.  For instance, we have a neighbor who has a lawnmower repair shop at his home, and so we get a lot of very annoying lawnmower noise; however, since we hope to buy his place some day, we’re not reporting him, ’cause we want to stay on his good side, and he’s a very old man, and what else would he do?  Perhaps the point that this illustrates is that flexibility and responsiveness to the local community are more important than enforcing the letter of the law.

On a totally different subject, there are a number of buried springs in Nashville, and I think these should be uncovered and turned into public fountains, both as neighborhood beauty spots and as a place to go to fill a bucket if the city water system ever goes down.  And, while we’re uncovering things, let’s also undertake burial of all the city’s electric lines, starting in the most wooded neighborhoods, where NES regularly has to cut a very ugly swath to keep the lines clear.

Another “green” undertaking I would suggest to the city is that it establish a one-month supply of fuel for city emergency vehicles.  As I reported in July, there is currently only a one-week supply of gas for Nashville’s fire trucks, ambulances, and police cars, which means they’d run out at about the same time as the city at large, which is likely right when we’d need such services the most.  (“NEED police?” my inner anarchist screams, but my inner elitist sniffs “Most people aren’t smart enough to make their own rules, so we’d better have some police around”  But I digress….)  Anyway, this gas backup should be supplemented with a program to create a pool of solar-electric charged city vehicles. Maybe it would be difficult to power a full-service ambulance on batteries, but you could at least get somebody to a solar panel/generator-powered hospital (and there’s another project!) in a hurry.

So those are some of my ideas.  They are based on the likelihood of collapse, and may sound a little strange to the commission.  I suspect many of them have not entertained the idea that our civilization with its multiple, highly complex inputs, could cease to function, even temporarily.  That’s the 900-pound gorilla in the room when we talk about sustainabilty.  Here’s hoping they acknowledge he’s present.  I’ll let you know next month.

music:  Kate Wolf, “These Times We’re Livin’ In”


13 07 2008

Here’s the full text of a memo that peak oil activist Albert Bates recently discussed with Nashville’s mayor Karl Dean, his aide, Jim Hester, and Jenna Smith, the city’s Environmental Sustainability Manager.  You can read Albert’s account of the meeting on his blog.

Bet you didn’t know we had an Environmental Sustainability Manager here in Nashville!  Well, hey, we’ve got a Human Rights Commission, too, and they’re fully stocked with band aids and handkerchiefs, know what I mean?  As far as I can tell, that’s about the level of clout Jenna Smith enjoys.  This is a pro-business environment, by gum.  Got make Nashville safe for animated billboards!

Well, I’m digressing…the memo!  Here goes. 

MEMO TO: Jim Hester
FROM: Albert Bates
DATE: 22 Jun 08
SUBJECT: Nashville’s vulnerability

Nashville is just now beginning to experience the foreshocks of Peak Oil. World demand has exceeded world production with the result that prices for oil and gas have doubled in the past year and will likely more than double again in the next. We may see $200 per barrel oil by year’s end. $1000 per barrel oil is only seven to ten years away.

Nashville is more vulnerable than many similar cities its size because it has a much higher carbon footprint than average. A recent report from the Brookings Institution ranks Nashville 95th among 100 U.S. cities for per capita carbon emissions from transportation and residential energy use (3,222 metric tons/person). Only Louisville, Toledo, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and Lexington are worse.

Metro areas with high density, compact development and rail transit offer more energy and carbon efficient lifestyles than more sprawling, auto-centric counterparts. From the standpoint of smart city planning for the turbulent next few years, Metro Nashville is strictly out of luck. Creating high density, compact development, alternative fueled buses and trolleys, and light rail transit will take years or decades and millions or billions, and given the economic effects of the bursting fossil fuel bubble, the declining dollar, and collapse of Metro’s tax base, the likelihood that resources will be available, on a sustained basis over the requisite time, is extremely unlikely. The State and Federal governments will also be in crisis, with far more demands than resources to meet them.

The seriousness of the situation cannot be overstated. Extreme weather or geological events, political and economic stagnation, or other factors could further exacerbate the dilemma.

(Albert doesn’t mention it, but Tennessee is overdue for a major earthquake on the New Madrid fault, which, although centered in West Tennessee, could still cause serious damage in the Nashville area, as well as cut road, pipeline, and rail transportation routes to the western U.S., where most of our food and oil comes from.)

Supplies of food, fuel, and other essentials arrive into the city primarily by semi-tractor trailers; to a lesser extent by rail, barge and air freight. All of these supply lines are prone to disruption in the event of a national liquid energy supply shortfall. Most are also especially vulnerable to labor strikes or the practical inability of workers to go to work.

Metro has 3 days supply of food for its population within city limits.

Three days.  Got that?  If you don’t have a few weeks worth of food stashed at home (in insect-proof containers–believe me, I learned about that the hard way!) and also, of course, a way to cook them, then you, too, could be up poop creek without a paddle.

If wholesale deliveries of gasoline and diesel stop, most service stations would run dry within one week, and sooner if people immediately fill up and hoard gasoline and diesel, as they already are beginning to. City buses do not have a strategic reserve, nor could they provide an immediate substitute for the commuter, school, and other transportation services now provided by private vehicles.

Police, fire, and emergency medical services do not have a strategic reserve, nor does the Tennessee National Guard. It is unlikely that any fuel availability crisis would be local, which means that National Guard resources will be required everywhere simultaneously.

(Got that?  Police, fire, emergency medical services, and the National Guard do not have a gas stash.  If we’re out, they’re out.)

Many other cities that are similarly situated have begun to examine their predicament and make belated but necessary moves to address their vulnerability. Among the options they have chosen to initiate on a crash basis:

• Tasking Emergency Services to prepare plans for sustained energy outages
• Expanding light rail and alternative transit — urging people to DRIVE LESS
• Engaging in regional rail and barge planning for more energy-efficient freight operations
• Stimulating energy efficient retrofitting, alternative energy installations, and recycling
• Issuing a metropolitan challenge to develop innovative solutions that integrate land use, transportation, energy, food supply, emergency preparedness, and related areas
• Set an energy descent goal, such as 3% reduction of fossil fuel use per year, across the board
• Begin the process of gradually redesigning the city as a collection of urban villages so that residents can reduce their automobile dependence
• Develop and implement a public transit master plan
• Develop and implement a commercial freight delivery master plan
• Move Metro employees to a 4-day work-week and develop telecommute options
• Inaugurate car-share and ride-share services
• Provide start-up funding for the establishment of a Food Policy Council
• Develop and implement pedestrian and bicycle master plans.

Just at first pass, here are some direct actions the Mayor might take to get the ball rolling:

Office of Emergency Management

1. have a contingency for operating government in the sudden absence of gasoline
2. have a contingency for operating government with the periodic absence of electricity
3. have a contingency for operating government with unheated buildings
4. training and public education courses, workshops, events and films

Office of Community Development

1. have a contingency for city functioning with the periodic absence of electricity
2. planning for a business environment that lacks discretionary spending
3. develop a local currency
4. develop a micro-lending incubator system
5. training and public education courses

Office for Children and Youth

1. work with Education and Social Services to identify at risk children when school bus service is suspended or restricted
2. work with Health in designing home and neighborhood health delivery systems
3. training and public education courses

Agricultural Extension Services (George Kilgore)

1. provide organic agricultural and nutritional educational products to individuals and families so they can increase personal food and water supply and improve public health and welfare
2. create supplemental local emergency food supplies by growing and storing staples in many locations

(Storing staples? No, no, not the little metal thingies you use to fasten pieces of paper–grains and beans, dude!  We’re talking about getting beyond vegetable gardening here, talking about reintroducing subsistence farming….which is what most of mankind has done for thousands of years…we just had a little hundred-year break from it, that’s all, and now it’s ending…time to get back to work!)

Metro Soil and Water Conservation (John Leeman)

1. provide rainwater catchment and storage educational products to individuals and families so they can increase personal water supply and improve public health and welfare

2. create supplemental local emergency water supplies by capturing and storing water in many locations
3. drought and heat wave planning

City Planning Dept (Michael Skipper, Matt Meservy)

1. have a contingency for operating government with the periodic absence of electricity
2. have a contingency for moving people in the absence of gasoline
3. regulation of existing buildings with potentially unusable elevators or other services

Emergency Medical Services

1. strategic petroleum reserves
2. specialized training
3. develop neighborhood first responder system


1. strategic petroleum reserves
2. drought and heat wave planning
3. monitor supplemental local emergency water supplies


1. strategic petroleum reserves
2. food and water reserves
3. pharmaceuticals


1. Walkable/bicycle school distances
2. Buses restricted to handicapped, outer zone residents, high risk

Health Services

1. The Havana model – neighborhood based care
2. Strategic petroleum reserves for generators/power
3. Solar powered health modules
4. Home grown pharmaceuticals
5. Malnutrition – Nashville has less than 3-days supply of food
6. Rationing system

Law Enforcement

1. strategic petroleum reserves
2. special training
3. more bike patrols
4. replace select cars with golf carts, motorcycles, foot patrols
5. ground helicopters except for emergency operations

Social Services

1. special training
2. replace cars with golf carts, motorcycles, bicycles

Nashville Gas

1. Contingency plan for nationalization of services
2. Rationing system

Got all that?  “How to operate government with the periodic absence of electricity”?!  Now, maybe the electric grid going down is at the extreme end of things, but we are approaching the point of diminishing returns on the trucking business, as well as the airline business, and from what we have seen so far, things are happening faster than predicted…and yes, I know Y2K was supposed to do the same thing, but that was narrowly based on one computer program, and what we have now is widely based in a spectrum that runs from a flatlining real estate market to diminishing fuel supplies and increasing fuel prices to freakier weather to diminishing food supplies and increasing food prices to extremely tight credit to snowballing devaluation of the dollar….and, here in Nashville, we have a Metro Council that is more concerned about making sure English is the city’s official language than where next week’s meals are coming from.  Hey, guys, wake up!  The Mexicans are going home!  There’s no more work here!

I’m not kidding about Metro Council’s obliviousness on this issue.  Elsewhere in his story, Albert recounts Jim Hester’s appraisal of the Council:  five green votes, five that could be persuaded if they think the economics will work, and thirty-one people who are totally clueless and think the gravy train is just gonna keep on running.  This is a recipe for disaster.  The good news is that Albert Bates has just written a platform for anyone who wants to contest any of those 31 seats.  The bad news is, there’s not a moment to lose.

music: David Rovics:  When It All Comes Crashing Down


14 10 2007


A reader of my blog last month asked me some serious questions, so I’m going to take this opportunity to respond to them. To refresh your memory, I had spoken about my admiration for Ken Jakes’ “no money from Political Action Comittees” stance, and dismay with Lonnell Matthews for taking advantage of so many of the offers that Ken had turned down. I also had voiced my support for Karl Dean.

Here’s what a reader said about these issues:

“I guess I’m somewhat confused about a lot of things said in this post. First of all, the PAC money mentioned as coming to Candidate Lonell Matthews Jr. all comes from local groups within Nashville. School teachers, plumbers, pipefitters, government employees etc. It’s not like he was supported by AT&T, Colt Arms, Blue Cross etc. We’re talking working people who get together to promote a little justice in our local society by supporting like-minded people.

And as regards Karl Dean, I’m stunned that you have chosen a millionaire Belle Meade lawyer whose huge personal fortune comes from strip mining in West Virginia and Wyoming. I’m speechless.”

and here’s my initial reply:

“One of the major sources of political bankroll in Nashville is the business community, specifically big players like Gaylord, who, according to Ken Jakes (who as far as I can tell has no reason to lie about this) use their influence to circumvent zoning and environmental laws. So, when he accepted money from the Nashville Business Council, Lonnell WAS accepting money from big corporate players.

As far as Karl Dean goes, the question is not where his money comes from, which he has little control over, since it’s his wife’s inheritance, but what he’s going to do with it. And no, he’s certainly not perfect, but my call is that he’s less imperfect than Bob Clement.

To me, there’s an underlying issue here, the populist/progressive divide, and questions like why so many politicians who start out somewhat progressive but mainly populist end up being demagogues like Huey Long. I plan to write on this topic for my show next month.

Thanks for caring enough to say something” So, here we go.

Now, here’s the thing: all of the other candidates I supported were taking PAC money and I had no problem with that. Jerry Maynard had loads of endorsements, including the Nashville Business Coalition. Megan Barry, the “ethics candidate,” accepted endorsements, although most of hers were from genuine grassroots groups such as the Sierra Club, the Tennessee Equality Council, and the Nashville Neighborhood Defence Council. But she did accept the endorsement of the Greater Nashville Hotel and Lodging Association….must have been a fluke.

And, among Lonnel Matthews’ endorsements from the firefighters, the Democrats, and the police, all of which fall into my correspondent’s characterization of “working people,” was…the Nashville Business Coalition! Hmm…the NBC doesn’t maintain a website, although it apparently meets regularly and endorses candidates and ideas…this mysterious entity may be linked to the Nashville Chamber of Commerce, and may include Gaylord, HCA, and all the other big players that Ken Jakes was so concerned about, but I’m going to have to keep researching to find out, it seems.

As far as the Green Party thing about not taking PAC money, it starts to look like a question of how you define “PAC.” I had always thought of PACs as big spenders at the state or national level, not the local Service Employees International Union or gay rights advocates. To run a competitve citywide race in a big city like Nashville takes money, and so Jerry Maynard and Megan Barry took money from organizations they felt comfortable with. I can’t fault them for that.

The race between Ken Jakes and Lonnell Matthews, on the other hand, drew on a voting pool of less than ten thousand voters, in a district designed to elect a black candidate. Considerably fewer than half the eligible voters turned out, which gave white candiate Ken Jakes a fighting chance. When you look at the lopsided precinct-by-precinct results, you can see that the votes were cast largely along racial lines, and that it would have taken a lot for Lonnell to lose. So Ken’s totals probably wouldn’t have been improved by endorsements, but he got to look noble by declining to seek any. Lonnell probably increased his margin of victory a little with the advertising and get-out-the-vote efforts he made for the runoff, but it’s significant to note that his vote total for the runoff amounts to his votes in the first round plus the votes for William Mason, the other major black campaigner in the first round.

As for the Dean-Clement race, I have yet to meet Karl Dean, but all of my friends who met him were impressed with the fact that he does not come across like a stereotypical politician. “He’s a mensch,” one of my Jewish friends commented. He’s been involved in Metro government long enough that I’m sure he’s got some dirty laundry, but hey, don’t we all? We need people in power who are not typical, people who are not habitually committed to the status quo, and I think Karl Dean is as good as we’re going to get for now, so I voted for him. If he screws up badly, I won’t vote for him again.

Now, about those “wider issues,” that question of why populists become demagogues…let’s start with a bit of evidence that will seem almost too good to be true to some, and totally obnoxious to others. It’s a study done at UCLA, which seems to show that people who are politiically “liberal” use more of their brains than those who are politically conservative. This greater brain usage allows them to tolerate ambiguity and change their minds more easily, opening them to charges like “flip-flopper.” Sound familiar?

What does that have to do with populists and demagogues? OK, we’ve tended to conflate populists with progressives in this country, because the system, in spite of a lot of fancy ideals, is mostly weighted against the people, so it’s progressive to be an advocate for the common people. But there are two different kinds of being “for the common people.” There’s being for the people because it’s the fair thing to do, and then there’s being for the people because you want to get what’s rightfully yours, by god, and screw them all if that’s what it takes for you and yours to get your due. If that’s the kind of populist you are, then once you have “your rightful due,” you will do whatever it takes to defend it, whether that’s fair to everyone else or not—the “my country, right or wrong” approach. This is about a hundred and eighty degrees from the truly progressive, “the right thing, whether it means my country is wrong or not” attitude, and I think it starts to explain why a “liberal” and a conservative can look at the same facts and come up with such different interpretations, and that’s why some populists have the potential to turn into demagogues.

A corollary question is, what about people who are, as has been said of our new vice mayor, “progressive but not populist?” I think this is a viewpoint that rejects “right or wrong” populism but doesn’t fully articulate “for the good of everyone” populism, because the holder of the viewpoint has judged, rightly or wrongly, that the electorate is not ready for such a bold step. And, when you look at the people we elect on a national level, I’m sorry to say I think they’re justified in their pessimism.

music: Mothers of Invention, Hungry Freaks


11 03 2007

A few months back, I promised you that I would be investigating the green aspects of Nashville’s various mayoral candidates. The election’s not ’till August, so I figured I had plenty of time—but then one of the candidates forced my hand. David Briley made the following proposals:

• Create a Mayor’s Office of Sustainability to coordinate public-private environmental cooperation, to study methods of lowering carbon emissions in Nashville, to create an environmental standards report, to “address environmental racism and injustice” and to develop environmental education programs for school children;

• Establish “green building standards” for public and private construction, requiring new Metro construction to meet environmental standards and incentivizing private developers so they would build environmentally-friendly projects “through density bonuses, through fast-track approval of green projects in our community – we can do that and save the taxpayers money,” Briley said;

• Dedicate one cent from the existing property tax levy for Metro to buy private open space.

• Expand curbside recycling throughout the entire county — from the Urban Services District into the General Services District — on a voluntary, subscription basis;

• Encourage the use of “hybrid, low-emission, and alternative fuel vehicles” by creating “a Metro fleet of hybrid vehicles” and encouraging public use of green vehicles through incentives such as cheaper and priority parking; Briley would lobby the Tennessee General Assembly so that it would let such vehicle owners use HOV lanes;

• Have Metro plant trees or other greenery in the city’s rights-of-way and public property — such as in medians and intersection islands — and have Metro plant at least 1,000 trees annually;

• Establish a target for Davidson County to reduce emissions levels 10 percent below 2000 levels by 2014.
Very good beginning, Mr. Briley! So I got on the stick and mailed a fairly lengthy and detailed list of questions to the other candidates. Karl Dean’s campaign and Bob Clement’s campaign both responded, but Howard Gentry and Buck Dozier have ignored me, so far. I’m not surprised to be ignored by Mr. Dozier, who after all is the godfather of those obnoxious new animated billboards we are now plagued with, but I’m a little disappointed not to have heard from Howard Gentry. The Clement campaign requested my question list and promised a reply, but hasn’t actually done so yet. Karl Dean had this to say to me on the subject of creating a sustainable Nashville:

“I am dedicated to making Nashville an even more environmentally-friendly city. One of the biggest contributors to global warming is vehicle emissions, especially those produced in the inner city by diesel vehicles. Metro government can make an impact by using alternative fuels like biodiesel in mass transit buses, garbage collection trucks, and school buses. It can be used without engine modifications in any diesel vehicle including cars, buses, trucks, and off-road equipment. I would pursue the use of federal and state grants to pay for infrastructure changes for refueling stations and encourage Metro School and MTA to do the same.

“Increased use of mass transit will also greatly cut greenhouse gases. Nashville should begin to plan now for its future use of mass transit. But before additional transit options are funded, we need to make the most efficient use of what we already have. Mass transit will only work if we have enough flexible routes. We need to study the current routing plans, get customer feedback and look to other cities that have successful plans.

“Education programs aimed at better public awareness of the causes and solutions for green house gases can make a major impact.  The public is open to hear about this issue and seems eager to be a part of the solution. We need to lead this wave and make the most of it.

“Lowering electricity usage is important for reducing overall greenhouse gases. Again, public awareness goes a long way. Grants, incentives, recognition programs, getting schools involved with the education and publicity, are all inexpensive ways to “get started.” Partnering with NES, Nashville Gas, the Home Builders Association, and engineering and the architectural associations for outreach programs is the best way to get some expertise and free assistance for the city.

“I am also a huge supporter of our Greenways and our Park System. I’ve sat on the Greenways for Nashville Board. And I am committed to the implementation of the entire 10-year masterplan for Parks and Greenways.

All the best,

Karl Dean”

I appreciate Mr. Dean’s views, but I would have to give David Briley points for being “fustest with the mostest,” as the founder of the Ku Klux Klan, whose statue adorns the southern approach to our city, used to say. I would also give David Briley lifestyle points for having spent time teaching in Ecuador and getting to know the third world first hand, and a different kind of lifestyle points for using Jack Johnson’s “Let it Be Sung” as the song on his Myspace site. Dean’s Myspace site is run by his 19-year old son. He doesn’t feature any music.

On a perhaps more important note, dealing with crime in Nashville, Dean proposes to “Create a Plain-Clothes Neighborhood Intervention Unit. Citizens are on their best behavior when they know they are being watched. The Neighborhood Intervention Unit will reinstate the use of plain-clothes officers in unmarked police cars for daily patrol.”

This caused me to wonder if surveillance cameras would be the next step, and left me feeling slightly creepy.

Briley, on the other hand, notes that “10,000 young adults ages 16 to 24 in Nashville are responsible for 80 percent of our crimes, and that taking measures now to reach out to struggling students may help change this.” This seems like a much less scattershot approach to me, and one that I would feel more comfortable supporting—plus which, it would probably be cheaper than hiring plainclothes cops. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and all that.

So, at this point in the marathon, David Briley is far and away the “greenest” candidate running, with Karl Dean a healthy second, Bob Clement saying he’s gonna get with the program, and no word from Howard Gentry or Buck Dozier. Stay tuned.

music: Greg Brown, “One Big Town”

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