FROM PARIS TO NASHVILLE

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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RE-INDUSTRIALIZING NASHVILLE

6 06 2015

southernbroomI drive through Germantown from time to time, and my route takes me past a small, warehouse-type building that bears the legend, “Southern Broom and Mop Co.”  There is never any sign of activity there when I drive past. It looks as if it must have been in existence for a hundred years or more, a bit of flotsam left over from our city’s industrial heyday in the late nineteenth century, when much of what Nashville needed for its daily functioning was manufactured or grown right here in middle Tennessee.  When I went to research this story, I discovered that, in reality, the company has only been in existence for about twenty years, and is a janitorial service, not a manufacturing enterprise.  What’s more,  the building has recently been sold–for nearly a million dollars–and will be turned into yet another trendy, high-end restaurant in this rapidly gentrifying neighborhood.  That’s too bad.  Even the wealthy can only eat so much–but everybody needs a mop and a broom.

In a recent post, I proposed that we re-industrialize Nashville, spreading new, preferably worker-owned enterprises throughout the city so that as many people as possible could walk to work, and thus lessen the pressure on our roads, and the pressure on low-income people to spend money on an automobile.  There’s two ways to increase peoples’ disposable income.  One is to pay them more, and the other is to lower their cost of living.  Even “cheap” cars–some would say, especially “cheap” cars–are expensive!

Today, I want to talk about two aspects of my plan.  One thing I want to do is explain the Mondragon Co-operative model, and examine how it could fit Nashville.  Another is to talk about what kind of industries would be suitable for the city, where they should be located, and how to raise the startup capital they will need.  I will outline some general ideas about appropriate manufacturing enterprises, but the amount of detail involved is more than I could cover here. I think that the Davidson County planning commission and the neighborhoods should work this out among themselves.  There are many variables and alternatives. I couldn’t possibly anticipate them all, but citizen involvement and an intelligent, responsive, well-informed oversight agency should be able to figure it all out over the course of a few years.

The first thing I want to say about this plan is that I am not proposing a return to the old industrial model.  The old industrial Nashville was a pit of pollution, its air filled with coal smoke, its earth and waters fouled. Nashville’s new factories should be, in the nonpolitical sense, green.  They should be quiet, nonpolluting, energy-efficient enterprises that will not detract from their neighbors’ quality of life.  Some things we may want to do are going to be loud and/or smelly, and we can find ways to buffer these from their surrounding communities.  Since community members, as employees, will also be owners of these enterprises, they will have the power to change things if they need to be changed.

So, what are the basic principles on which Mondragon factory co-ops are founded?

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TALKING IN THEIR SLEEP

13 06 2009

I attended the first three hours of Metro Planning Commission’s May 28th hearing on Maytown Center, but, bowing to my infirmities, didn’t attempt to stay until the very end.  My friends tell me I missed the best part, but between what I heard there, the deep background briefing I was graciously given, and what has emerged in the media, I feel well qualified to give you an update and, of course, my commentary.

The big story that emerged in the media was the highly conditional nature of the May family’s “gift” to TSU:  no Maytown, no land, no endowment.  The only money that TSU has received from the May family is $50,000 to conduct a “push poll” intended to promote Maytown to the black community, hungry for any crumbs the power structure might be willing to throw them.  Others, of course, see through the ruse,   which Rev. Joe Ingle, a white minister of the United Church of Christ, described to the Interdenominational Ministers’ Fellowship as “a bribe.”

Behind the scenes, there is the story of how it took all the pressure the Maytown foes could bring to bear to keep the Planning Comission from voting on the Maytown proposal before the hearing, and before the economic impact report was released.  “Sentence first, veredict afterwards,” as the Queen of Hearts remarked.  Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed, but many of those opposing Maytown feel that the Planning Commission is cheerleading the project rather than playing its legally-prescribed neutral role.

The big news (for me) that came out of the hearing was that, although Maytown Center advocates have long trumpeted that they are building their project on only 600 acres and preserving the other 900, 4- 500 of those “preserved” acres will be available for development as “corporate headquarters campuses.”  When you subtract TSU’s 250 acres, that leaves only 2-300 acres that will actually be left undisturbed–and Metro might turn that into a golf course.  So much for preservation.

The traffic impact study revealed that Tony G’s claim that building one bridge to Maytown would suffice was, to be polite, disingenuous–if I wanted to be rude, I say he lied–two or three would be necessary, and metro or the state would need to widen every major artery in northwest Nashville  to accommodate an estimated additional 5,000 vehicles per hour during peak traffic times.  While the Mays offered to build a bridge or two, they are not talking about paying for any of that.  This will be  very expensive, not to mention destructive of neighborhoods, and it will not be popular, although those factors rarely seem to bother TDOT–but that’s another story.

Back to the hearing.

Bell’s Bend preservation advocates allowed Maytown Center supporters to speak first in the public comment portion of the hearing.  I was unaware of that strategic choice, so I found it unnerving to have person after person come up to the microphone and recite the litany of how the project would provide  good paying jobs, development, and growth.  None of these people seemed awake to the real condition the country is in.  There is not going to be a recovery.  We have maxxed out our personal and national credit cards, used up all the raw materials, and monetized everything there is to monetize.  Yet, because we have known nothing but expansion all our lives, too many believe that there is some magic way to restart the bubble economy, and think of the comforting, deluded dream we have been living in since the last big depression as if it were reality.  It is not.

The economic report came out a week after the hearing, and it was a whitewash.   It merely confirmed that, if everything happened the way Tony G. says he thinks it will, Maytown will work.  Happy thoughts and pixie dust, anyone?

Today, my wife came home from a yard sale and told me she had met a guy who has been closely involved with the May family.  He told her that Jack May, the brother who is pushing Maytown Center, is a completely unprincipled, ruthless guy who will do or say  anything to get his way–and get richer.  Such a testimonial re-enforces Maytown Center opponents’ concerns that the “sustainability” promises around Maytown will be abandoned once the project goes through.  Jack May has the do-re-mi to buy and sell Metro government, and that is probably what he is working on–all behind the scenes and under the table, of course.  Jack May cannot be ignorant of the state of our economy.  As I have said before, I think the secret agenda at Maytown is a kind of gated downtown for the uber-rich.  Maytown is not just a struggle over land use–it’s a battle in the class war.

Maytown Center opponents, like advocates of universal single-payer health care, are in the uncomfortable position of having the facts on their side but the politics against them.  We will find out at the next Planning Commission meeting,  at 4 PM on June 25 at the Metro Southeast Building, whether the Planning Commission is honest enough, and awake enough, to resist the pressure of big money and do the right thing.

music:  Incredible String Band, “Sleepers Awaken








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