STARTING THE REVOLUTION WITH….GOURMET HOT CHICKEN?

12 08 2018

My attention was attracted by a headline in a recent Nashville Scene:

H*t Chicken Sh**t Addresses Gentrification in North Nashville

The event, which I’m not sure how to pronounce—“Hot Chicken Shoot”? “Hit Chicken Shi..”….well, never mind–was an effort by Nigerian-American gourmet chef Tunde Wey to call together some movers and shakers to not merely discuss gentrification over a “gentrification priced” $55 dinner, but to actually start funding a community land trust that will “allow residents to buy affordable homes while the land is owned by a non-profit in the community.”

I think this is really good news. I’ve been one of those beating the drum for community land trusts as a way to address gentrification  and was happy to see it featured so prominently at the Co-op Nashville conference a few years back. Recently I’ve been wondering what happened to all the positive energy that was generated at that gathering, so it was very sweet to get an answer without even having to go look.

I wish Tunde Wey and his friends every success in this venture. I hope to send some money  their way, and I hope you will, too. But, being a “deep green perspective” kind of guy, I also have some further thoughts about this project, and that’s what I want to share with you.

This story kind of reminds me of the peace activist slogan “”It will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need and the air force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber.” Here in Nashville, we just went through a massive campaign to pass additional taxes for a public transit system that was widely, and correctly, perceived as a tool for further gentrification of the city. “I’ve already got developers calling me about property (along the proposed light rail route)” one advocate of the plan said, on camera.  (Oops!) This plan was defeated, largely by those who realized it was going to gentrify them right out of town. Something that does seem to be going through, on the other hand, is a “major-league soccer stadium” that will undoubtedly raise property values in its neighborhood, which happens to be one of the remaining pockets of affordable housing. The good news is that the soccer stadium plan is structured to listen and respond to input from the surrounding community. The relevant part of this story, however, is that Metro Nashville is issuing $275M in bonds to pay for the project, with the expectation that the stadium will do well enough financially to pay that back.

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NASHVILLE’S BREXIT VOTE

13 05 2018

th+graph+1I recently wrote about Nashville’s plans for a better transit system, calling it “another big-ticket neoliberal scheme to make the rich richer,”  and now the voters have spoken. By a nearly 2–1 margin, with nearly twice the expected turnout, the transit plan was voted down. The analyses of the issue that I have read treat it as a failure of strategy and tactics, and largely ignore the fact that the funding mechanism was pure neoliberal flim-flam: they were going to do this wonderful thing for the low-income people of Nashville, that the lower-income people were going to have to pay for themselves. According to the Tennessean, nearly 90% of the revenue for the project would come from an increase in the sales tax. If you are reading this, I probably don’t have to remind you that sales taxes are highly regressive in nature, paid disproportionately by low-income taxpayers. The other sticking point was the widespread perception that the plan did not do nearly enough to address the already rampant issue of gentrification in Nashville, which even proponents of the plan admitted would likely come to neighborhoods with better public transportation. Indeed, Metro sees increased property values as one of the benefits of infrastructure projects, whether they’re sewers or light rail lines. Liberals in the city can make all kinds of cluck-clucks of sympathy about the plight of low-income Nashvillians, but their actions, which promote gentrification, belie those words, and lower-income Nashvillians were rightly wary of the latest set of promises and the likelihood of increased exploitation.

Let me spell that out: people earn low wages in large part because their labor is being exploited. By “exploited,” I mean that their labor produces considerably more value than they are paid for, with their employer skimming off the difference. Nashville’s largely Democratic/neoliberal power brokers blithely assumed that they could successfully exploit the exploited still further, rather than ask the businesses who exploit those workers, and who are disproportionately wealthy as a result, to pay a fair share of the cost. As with Brexit and Trump’s upset victory, the exploited took advantage of the ballot box to do what they could to indicate that they did not want to be exploited any further.

Like Brexit and the Trump Presidency, this is a three-sided issue, not a bipolar one, although every attempt is being made to portray it as such. I hated to see the GOP screw-the-poor crowd get to chalk this up as a victory about as much as I would have disliked seeing the plan win, since, to say it again a little differently, it screwed low-income people by making them pay for the plan and not doing enough to address the rampant gentrification that was all too likely to follow the tracks. The big-ticket construction plan, and the gentrification, would further enrich the wealthy at the expense of the poor, in the name of “doing something for the poor.” Excuse me for repeating myself, but I think this is an important point to make. That’s how the Democrats roll.

The third position is the one taken by The People’s Alliance for Transit, Housing & Employment, which, in its recent “People’s State of Metro” called for the following: Read the rest of this entry »





SEX, TRANSIT, GLORIA NASHVILLE

11 03 2018

Before I heard the recent news, I was planning to write a story that examined the proposal to create a rail-centered mass transit system in Nashville. When I heard about Mayor Barry’s resignation and guilty plea on the national news (“a rising star in the Democratic Party,” they called her), I decided that I would be remiss not to comment on a situation that reveals so much about our country’s politics, and human nature in general. So, sex first, then transit.

Let’s  begin with the adultery aspect. I see two somewhat opposing dynamics here. On one hand, in order for people to be fully intimate with each other, honesty is essential. The number of people involved in that intimacy doesn’t necessarily matter, as long as they all agree on the same ground rules and are wiling to work through whatever emotional baggage those ground rules may bring to light. For most people, most of the time, the basic ground rule is, “You and me, baby. Two’s company, three’s a crowd.”

On the other hand, enough people have broken their promise of dyadic exclusivity so that we, as a society, should have figured out by now that we’re not necessarily wired that way. Read the rest of this entry »





NEXT NASHVILLE–NOT

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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ODDS AND ENDS AT THE END OF AN ODD WINTER

11 03 2012

I had intended to spend some time this month talking about the unreliability of touch-screen voting machines and other perils of the voting process, which seems like an especially relevant topic now that the Green Party has a ballot line in Tennessee, but the herb issue just would not shut up, and I don’t have time left in the radio show to give elections their proper due.  Anyway, I had finished reading a report on the poor dependability of the computerized, touch-screen voting machines our state depends on, when my friend Bernie Ellis sent me a link to his Martin Luther King Day speech on that subject, which he expanded  into the many nefarious methods that Republicans are using to cut down on the ability of people who are likely to vote for Democrats to register and vote at all.  Bernie lead me to a report from the NAACP on that subject which is pretty hot, but I haven’t finished reading it yet.  So next month, the plan is to integrate those, plus explain why the Greens should be concerned about the Repubs ripping off the Dems, if it really is just two competing crime families, as we so often say.  (Short answer:  an injury to one is an injury to all, and we’re all in this together.  If the Dems were siphoning off Republican votes, we’d raise hell, too, but given the abuser-enabler nature of the relationship between Repubs and Dems, that’s unlikely to happen outside of, maybe, Chicago.)  Anyway, that’s for next month–unless, of course, something more exciting and currently unexpected bumps it.  The future is wide open.  You just never know what will happen next.

Speaking of wide open, a big patch of the Arctic Ocean that usually freezes during the winter, and which, a decade or so ago, just stayed frozen–didn’t freeze this winter.  Evaporation from this patch of open water created never-before-seen weather patterns that pushed Siberian air masses, far more loaded with moisture than usual, down over Europe, resulting in one of the coldest, snowiest winters recorded there since the “Little Ice Age” that resulted when large parts of North and South America reforested themselves after the humans who had cleared them died from diseases transmitted by the earliest Europeans to make contact with the native people of this hemisphere.  That was then, but this is now.  In a wintertime echo of the torrential rains that have scoured Pakistan, Columbia, Thailand, parts of the U.S.,  and other locations too numerous to mention, a single storm in central Europe dumped six feet of snow on the ground in just four days.  One begins to get an understanding of what happens when the Earth enters a glacial age, even as the planet inexorably grows warmer.

Meanwhile, even though 2011-12 has been one of the mildest winters in U.S. history, climate denialism by those who are making money from the causes of climate change continues unabated. For just one example, Senator Jim Inhofe, who has long denounced global warming as a hoax, has received someplace between eight hundred thousand and 1.35 million dollars from oil, gas, and other energy industry companies.   Somehow, people continue to take him seriously, and the phrase “political prostitute” is not commonly associated with his name.

Numerous other “big lies” are being forced down the throat of the American public, which is more or less bound and gagged by the corporatocracy, but, due to the effect of the Stockholm Syndrome, enough people still love the rough treatment we are receiving to keep it coming.

There’s the big lie that the Keystone XL pipeline will provide lots of jobs and keep America afloat in gasoline, when the real reason Canada’s oil diggers/carbon releasers/environmental destroyers want to pipe their poison to Houston is so they can put in tankers and send it to the Chinese, who are rapidly approaching the point at which they will be able to outbid the U.S. for petroleum products–but hey, Bill McKibben is not lying when he says that Keystone XL would be “game over” for preventing catastrophic climate change.

There’s the big lie that fracking for natural gas is going to provide us with at least a century of low-carbon fuel.  Fracking for natural gas is looking more and more like a bubble that’s going to pop any year now.  There’s not nearly as much recoverable natural gas as initially promised, it does result in major carbon emissions, it permanently pollutes the water table often enough that it should be called into question, it turns the countryside into an industrial zone,  proven reserves are more like eleven years worth than a hundred, and, hey–what are we going to do when the gas runs out? President Obama proudly proclaiming that natural gas will provide “600,000 jobs” is a campaign lie, er, promise, and his support of fracking is as much a crime against humanity as his sabotage of the Copenhagen climate talks or targeted assassinations.  The truth is, fracking for natural gas is not a solution to our energy overdraw. Reducing our usage is the only possible path forward.

The truth is that reviving the U.S. auto industry was the moral equivalent of giving a junkie another fix.  The private automobile is, like everything else Obama has lent his charisma to, part of the problem and not part of the solution.  Detroit’s underused industrial capacity could have ben retooled to create mass transit and intercity rail service–but then again, automobile culture has decentralized America to the point where few people are actually in a position to make use of mass transit even if it existed, and the continuing economic collapse of our country means that fewer and fewer of us will have a reason, or the financial means, to travel across town, let alone across the country.

I don’t want to close this show on quite that sour note–so let me conclude with this:  we still have the option to get with our friends and neighbors and start building relationships that will enable us to share skills and resources as things spiral down into post-empire America.  It’s never too late for that.

music:  Eliza Gilkyson, “The Great Correction

down on the corner of ruin and grace
I’m growin weary of the human race
hold my lamp up in everyone’s face
lookin for an honest man
everyone tied to the turnin wheel
everyone hidin from the things they feel
well the truth’s so hard it just don’t seem real
the shadow across this land
people round here don’t know what it means
to suffer at the hands of our american dreams
they turn their backs on the grisly scenes
traced to the privileged sons
they got their god they got their guns
got their armies and the chosen ones
but we’ll all be burnin in the same big sun
when the great correction comes
down through the ages lovers of the mystery
been sayin people let your love light shine
poets and sages all throughout history
say the light burns brightest in the darkest times
it’s the bitter end we’ve come down to
the eye of the needle that we gotta get through
but the end could be the start of something new
when the great correction comes
down through the ages….
down to the wire runnin out of time
still got hope in this heart of mine
but the future waits on the horizon line
for our daughters and our sons
I don’t know where this train’s bound
whole lotta people tryin to turn it around
gonna shout til the walls come tumblin down
and the great correction comes
don’t let me down
when the great correction comes

–copyright eliza gilksyon





IT’S THE END OF THE WORK AS WE’VE KNOWN IT

12 02 2011

Last month, in a post entitled “Dude, where’s my $30K?,” I tried to shed some light on the magnitude of income inequality here in “the land of the free” by pointing out that our country’s per-capita spending on bank bailouts and our military apparatus, plus corporate profits, comes to $30,000 per person.  Yes, that’s $120 thou for a a family of four.  And they say we don’t have money for unemployment benefits, a national health care system, or social security.  Go figure!

That money, all $7.5 trillion of it, is not coming out of our tax dollars, at least not yet.  Mostly, it’s being created out of thin air by “quantitative easing” and/or being borrowed from the Chinese and the Saudis.  It’s not being created by the classic route of taking raw materials, conceiving a use for them, modifying them, and selling a product at a “profit”–profit being both the difference between what workers are paid and the true value of their work, and what we keep for ourselves instead of repairing (if possible) the damage to the environment that our extraction of raw materials has caused.  That paradigm as a road to wealth is obsolete, although it’s obviously what we are going to need to relearn how to do, minus the profit and plus the environmental repair–just to get by, as international trade implodes under the weight of the end of cheap fuel and other raw materials.

I was raised to believe in the virtue of the labor movement.  My early heroes were the IWW martyrs and all those who fought for the poor in the class war that runs through the history of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  These were epic struggles for justice.  Workers fought for fair treatment by their employers, and, for a time, prevailed.  The result was the blossoming of the American middle class in the thirty years between the end of World War II and the mid-seventies, which we are starting to realize was America’s “golden age.”

But several things were wrong with that superficially happy picture .

The most obvious, and widely commented on, was the spiritual emptiness of our material paradise, noted by commentators as disparate as Jack Kerouac (who, I hope, needs no introduction!) and Sayyid Qutb, one of the leading lights of the Muslim Brotherhood and, along with the CIA, a major inspiration to the founders of Al Qaeda.  But that’s a whole other story.  Back to “work,” as it were.

Another thing that is wrong with the struggle of the American labor movement is that, after the marginalization of the IWW and the Socialist Party, the labor movement never questioned capitalism as an economic arrangement.  That has been the subject of much commentary and analysis, and certainly has a great deal to do with how the ruling class has been able to dump the American working class and its unions into that famous, even cliched, “dustbin of history.”

But there’s something else the labor movement never questioned, something that has rarely even been noted:  the labor movement, even the Socialists and “radical” anarchists of the IWW, never questioned whether the work they were doing was, in the long run, worth doing.  The forests of America were clearcut, Appalachia was despoiled, and General Motors destroyed America’s interurban railroad system so it could sell more cars–and all the unions wanted was a bigger piece of the pie.  Nobody in the labor movement questioned the wisdom of these moves.

That last one, GM’s dismantling of mass transit in America, is especially worth examining, because shifting from mass transit to personal motorized vehicles has had such a massive, destructive, and likely unintended effect on not only America, but the world.

Because individual automobile ownership has become the norm in this country, our population dispersed over a far wider area than would have been the case had we remained dependent on mass transit.  Suburbia became possible.  Urban sprawl sucked up millions of acres of woodland and farmland adjacent to cities, undermining local self-sufficiency.  In the name of boosting automobile and gasoline sales, our country’s intercity highway system was improved.  Thus subsidized, trucking and automobile travel undermined the country’s long-distance railroad system, once the best in the world.  Now, like the much of the rest of the country’s infrastructure, our railroads are struggling not to fall into third world status.  The net result of this is that now, as petroleum production slips into decline, we are tied to the most petroleum-dependent and inefficient methods of transport–road and air, and our automobile-addicted population is too scattered to be served by mass transit, even if we had the money left to build it.

Wait, there’s more!

The psychological effects of America’s transition to individual automobile transportation are likewise manifold.  Travelers no longer need to deal with railway schedules; we can leave whenever we want to, travel by any route we choose, stop where we feel like stopping, and we don’t have to share our space with anybody else and negotiate whatever compromises that might entail.  We do not sit on benches in train stations waiting for connections.  The primacy of individual preference has been enshrined, from our individual psyches to our lifestyle expectations to our national foreign policy.   It’s all me, all all the time, all splendid isolation, from our far-flung suburban homes to our daily commutes…oops, fewer and fewer of us have a job or the resulting daily commute.

And that is where it all starts falling apart.  I have commented before on the fascistic nature of American society–how our government increasingly exists solely to promote corporate interests.  It’s not just about health care or the right of corporations to spread GMOs for fun and profit. Full participation in American society, if you live outside a few urban areas, requires that automobile ownership.  For most people, that means an investment of twenty to forty thousand dollars or more–hundreds of dollars in monthly payments to a private corporation for an object that, ironically, does nothing but lose value from the moment you drive it off the lot.

Think about how much money is tied up in automobiles.  Five relatively new vehicles are easily worth a hundred thousand dollars.  How many cars do you encounter on a typical drive around town?  Five hundred?  ten million dollars.  Five thousand?  A hundred million dollars worth of automobiles, all stuck in rush hour traffic.

But, as I said, fewer and fewer of us are stuck in rush hour traffic, because fewer and fewer of us have jobs, nor are we going to have “jobs,” at ;east not in the traditional meaning of that term.  As I pointed out last month, it would take 630 businesses with 35,000 employees each just to absorb people who are currently “unemployed,” let alone create cubicles for all those who are, as they say, “just entering the labor market.”  There are no buyers in the labor market, not in America.

But that’s not the same as there being nothing to do.  On the contrary, there is everything to do.  Somewhere along the line in its drive to monetize everything, the official economy of America has largely ceased to do the things that really matter to people.  There is food to grow for people who want something besides sugar, starch, fat, and salt.  There are young people, old people, and sick or handicapped people who need care that is truly caring rather than being motivated by the promise of a paycheck.  Increasingly, there will be a need to manufacture and use basic tools, a need and the skills to sift through America’s trash middens and waste stream to find what can be reused or repurposed.

Our profit-crazed, out-of-touch formal economy now places a higher value on putting people out of their homes than it does on keeping them in those homes.  There are currently eighteen million unoccupied houses in this country, many of them foreclosures, and about 700,000 homeless people.  Do the math.  Many of the unoccupied houses have been stripped of wiring and copper pipes and anything else that could be recycled.  Many homes, unoccupied or occupied, are poorly insulated and inefficiently heated,  These are all jobs screaming out for someone to do them, but there is no money to be had, because housing the poor is of no value to the rich.

Soon enough, it won’t matter.  Our system has stoutly resisted reform, which means that the only alternative left is collapse, and a rebuild from the ground up.  The web of car payments, college loans, and credit card debts that keeps so many ensnared in a world a few removes from reality, running on a paycheck treadmill, will melt away like a bad dream, and we will find ourselves in a different world altogether.  All together, indeed.  That will be the only way to succeed at surviving.  And there will be plenty of work for everyone.

music: Burning Times, “The Only Green World”








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