WORKING ON A BUILDING

9 05 2015

citylimits2-1The Nashville Scene recently published the map above, along with a short article about the persistence, and spread, of poverty in Nashville. The map comes from the 114-page “executive summary” of Metro’s Social Services Department’s annual report, and has a lot of very revealing information about “the it city.”  Forget the hipster/country music glamour stereotypes–“it’s” about poverty.  While about a quarter of our city’s residents have incomes of $100,000 a year or more, another quarter are living at or below the poverty line, with incomes of less than $25,000 a year, including yours truly.  The maps show how poverty has spread in Nashville, moving into the suburbs.  They are also a good springboard for a discussion of housing policy and zoning.

Gentrification is a major issue in Nashville, often coupled with increased population density, as developers purchase small, older houses on large lots and replace them with structures, frequently duplexes or apartment buildings, that more nearly fill the lot.  Although I think greater urban density is a good idea, I don’t think this is the way to go about it, for a variety of reasons.  Some of these reasons are ecological, others are social, others are psychological.

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OBAMA–WHAT WOULD MLK THINK?

13 09 2008

A vast chorus of voices has been quick to point to Barack Obama as the fruit of Martin Luther King’s “Dream.”  I have my doubts. Here are some excerpts from Reverend King’s famous, but rarely quoted, speech at Riverside Church in New York on April 4, 1967, just exactly a year before he was assassinated in Memphis (substitute “Iraq” for “Vietnam” in this speech and it’s frighteningly accurate):

It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor – both black and white – through the Poverty Program.Then came the build-up in Vietnam, and I watched the program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political play thing of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic, destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.

Perhaps the more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the young black men who had been crippled by our society and sending them 8000 miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in Southwest Georgia and East Harlem. So we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. So we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would never live on the same block in Detroit. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.

My third reason grows out of my experience in the ghettos of the North over the last three years – especially the last three summers. As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through non-violent action. But, they asked, what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today, my own government.

***

The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality we will find ourselves organizing clergy, and laymen-concerned committees for the next generation. (We have now been doing it for two generations.–MH) We will be marching and attending rallies without end unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy.

In 1957 a sensitive American official overseas said that it seemed to him that our nation was on the wrong side of a world revolution. During the past ten years (now fifty–MH) we have seen emerge a pattern of suppression which now has justified the presence of U.S. military “advisors” in Venezuela. The need to maintain social stability for our investments accounts for the counterrevolutionary action of American forces in Guatemala. It tells why American helicopters are being used against guerrillas in Colombia (still happening, 40 years later–MH) and why American napalm and green beret forces have already been active against rebels in Peru. With such activity in mind, the words of John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken, by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investment.

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. When machines and computers, profit and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look easily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say: This is not just.” It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America and say: ” This is not just.” The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war: “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to prevent us from re-ordering our priorities, so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war.

Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. Riverside Church, NYC, April 4, 1967

Barack Obama, for all his “hopeful” rhetoric, would not dare endorse this radical analysis of American reality, which, sadly, is as true today as it was over forty years ago.  The “death wish” continues to dominate.  Obama proposes to give us guns and butter, as they say, but we know from the last forty years that it will be guns today and butter tomorrow, always tomorrow, because the sellers of guns are very skilled at keeping their noses in the trough.  Obama’s pledges to build our military will be kept, because that is how the system is set up.  He will throw a few crumbs to the poor and the middle class–who are rapidly joining the ranks of the poor–but it is clear from his speeches and the company he keeps that he is as committed to maintaining American hegemony as John McCain, both Bushes, and Bill Clinton.  He is not the heir of Rev. King’s vision.  He is just Colin Powell with charisma.  If Atlanta is looking for new sources of energy, I suggest they hook a generator up to Reverend King’s tomb, because he must be spinning in his grave.

Now, this kind of talk is going to piss off a lot of people, because to most people badmouthing Obama implies support for a McCain-Palin ticket.  Would I really rather see a PTSD-plagued, nearly senile reptile and a clueless Christian Dominionist bimbo run the country?  Wouldn’t I rather try and pull Obama left  than pull McCain towards the center?

Frankly, I have to take a deep breath and say yes, I think it IS a tossup, when you look at Obama as a slick, charismatic near-neocon partnered with an imperialist-drug warrior patsy for the financial-insurance-real estate tycoons. To those who think they will be able to pull Obama left, I say, don’t kid yourselves–bigger money than you’ll ever see is moving him where it wants him to go. I think it is a sad indication of just how unfree we are in this country when, at a time when we are facing momentous challenges and changes, these phonies are given the spotlight, and candidates like the Green Party’s Cynthia McKinney and independent Ralph Nader, who have real answers to the real questions at hand and should be dominating the race, are ignored by the tycoon-directed mainstream media and the public.

I think the country will come unglued faster if McCain wins, and slower if Obama wins.  I don’t think it will be pretty in either case, even though I believe the country needs to come unglued, so that maybe we can put it back together a little smarter than it is now.  I am not prescient enough to know whether a faster or a slower collapse would be better.  I just know that I would rather vote for what I want and not get it than vote for what I don’t want and get it.  You make up your own mind.

music:  Eliza Gilkyson, “The Party’s Over





Remembering Maximum Leader King

5 04 2008

As a teenager, I was a hanger-on with a small civil rights group in my hometown of Dayton, Ohio…the rest of the group was black folks in their twenties and thirties.  I helped them canvass neighborhoods and gather signatures for petitions, scaring the bejesus out of everybody when I vanished for a while in a particularly scary (even for them) part of town…but I’d knocked on the door of somebody who was listening to some very tasty jazz, and when I showed some appreciation, the guy had invited me in, offered me a beer and a cigarette (both of which I declined) and we were just grooving on the music together, and I lost track of time….but I digress….

“Maximum Leader King” was one of the names that members of the group (called Dayton Alliance for Racial Equality) had for Rev. King.  All that took place back in 1965-6, before Rev. King started talking about the wider context in which racism in America occurs.  Here’s Jeff Cohen’s appreciation of Rev. King’s true legacy:

King’s sermons on Vietnam could get as angry as those of Barack Obama’s ex-pastor: “God didn’t call America to engage in a senseless, unjust war … We’ve committed more war crimes almost than any nation in the world.” In 1967, King was also criticizing the economic underpinnings of U.S. foreign policy, railing against “capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries.” Today, capitalists of the West reap huge profits from their domination of media — in the U.S. and abroad.

Thankfully, we now have the Internet and independent media outlets where King’s later speeches are available for the ages.

If King had survived to hear the war drums beating for the invasion and occupation of Iraq — amplified by TV networks and the New York Times front page and Washington Post editorial page — there’s little doubt where he’d stand. Or how loudly he’d be speaking out.

And there’s little doubt how big media would have reacted. On Fox News and talk radio, King would have been Dixie Chicked … or Rev. Wrighted. In corporate centrist outlets, he’d have been marginalized faster than you can say Noam Chomsky.

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BRAVE NEW WORLD

21 02 2008

In Brave New World, Aldous Huxley prophesied that people would be divided into work/social classes by prenatal nutrition.  “Epsilons,” the lowest class, were intentionally dumbed down by prenatal alcohol exposure and used for menial tasks. Paul Krugman reveals  that American culture has spawned something similar…..

   “Poverty in early childhood poisons the brain.” That was the opening of an article in Saturday’s Financial Times, summarizing research presented last week at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.     As the article explained, neuroscientists have found that “many children growing up in very poor families with low social status experience unhealthy levels of stress hormones, which impair their neural development.” The effect is to impair language development and memory – and hence the ability to escape poverty – for the rest of the child’s life. So now we have another, even more compelling reason to be ashamed about America’s record of failing to fight poverty.

    L. B. J. declared his “War on Poverty” 44 years ago. Contrary to cynical legend, there actually was a large reduction in poverty over the next few years, especially among children, who saw their poverty rate fall from 23 percent in 1963 to 14 percent in 1969.

    But progress stalled thereafter: American politics shifted to the right, attention shifted from the suffering of the poor to the alleged abuses of welfare queens driving Cadillacs, and the fight against poverty was largely abandoned.

    In 2006, 17.4 percent of children in America lived below the poverty line, substantially more than in 1969. And even this measure probably understates the true depth of many children’s misery.

    Living in or near poverty has always been a form of exile, of being cut off from the larger society. But the distance between the poor and the rest of us is much greater than it was 40 years ago, because most American incomes have risen in real terms while the official poverty line has not. To be poor in America today, even more than in the past, is to be an outcast in your own country. And that, the neuroscientists tell us, is what poisons a child’s brain.

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