13 06 2010

I created a bit of a flap a few months back when I referred to Metro Council member Lonnell Matthews, Jr. as “Step n’ Fetchit”  for being so willing to do the bidding of the May family.   I have been doing some research on who financed Matthews’ campaign for Metro Council, and here’s what it looks like to me:  Matthews may not have thought he sold himself to the May family, but the Mays, who donated heavily to his campaign, almost certainly thought they were buying him.

By the way, it was very disingenuous of you, Mr. Matthews, to claim you don’t know the occupation of someone who lists the address of the Nashville Civic Design Center as their “home.”

I have read Mr. Matthews’ campaign finance statements, and the names and amounts are all there in cold, hard print….or maybe it’s flickering pixels, but no matter what metaphor you use (“it’s there in black and white”?  nooo…..), the facts remain the same:  the Mays–Jack, Frank, Diane, and Leon–Jeff Zeitlin and his Mays Landing LLC, and various friends and relatives of theirs, were major backers of Lonnell’s 2007 campaign for the Council, contributing $25,000 of the $35,000 that fueled his’ run for office.

.  Thirty-five grand, by the way, is an eyebrow-raising amount of money to spend in a Metro Council race.

I mean, you give a guy 25K, you might expect something in return, right?  As  Lyndon Johnson famously said, “you got to dance with them that bought you”–oops, Johnson said “brought you,” but we know what he meant, don’t we?

And Matthews at first did not dance with them that bought him, stepped on their toes when he did, and ultimately failed to deliver.  At first he appeared to oppose the plan.  When he finally got on board with it, he proved to be an inept advocate, famously telling the planning commission “We have to put the cart before the horse on this project.”  So now, the Mays are out $28M on their Bell’s Bend adventure, with no financial returns in sight.  Furthermore,   to keep their reputation up with the TSU crowd, they have had to go ahead and give TSU the 200 acres of floodplain and the $400,000 endowment that were originally promised only if the whole project went through.  Well, the floodplain, as we’ve just seen, is worthless for development anyway, and 400 grand is just chump change after 28 million.

Jeff Zeitlin is probably smiling to himself and thinking “suckas…at least I got mine!”

I can certainly understand why Matthews and many others in the TSU/ North Nashville area would find Maytown’s bait tempting.  “Jobs, education, and development” was, for many years, the magic mantra of upward mobility among a people who have been oppressed and exploited for centuries merely because of the shade of their skin, which is no good reason at all.  But the American bubble has burst.  Development is largely over, and education is rapidly becoming a portal for debt slavery rather than high-end employment.  It’s time for new priorities and a new paradigm, and I believe that the changes we are going through will ultimately be an empowerment and not a disappointment, but I also understand that it may take a while for that to sink in.

Meanwhile, Lonnell is fortunate that the Mays operate on the right side of the law, or he might find himself on the bottom of  the Cumberland in concrete shoes.  And he’s lucky that they don’t literally own him, or they would be selling him down the river, as the old saying goes.  Rumor has it hat the Mays are doing is grooming a candidate to contest his seat in the next election.

Rumor further has it that that candidate will be former Metro Council member and unabashed Maytown Center advocate Saletta Holloway, who is currently registered with the city as a lobbyist for Bell’s Landing Partners.  One aspect of colonialism is rich white people choosing which native will hold power in the colonized area and help them exploit it.  That seems to be what’s happening here.  Other than being a stooge for her white masters, Ms. Hollloway has what passes for impressive credentials.  She is, as I understand it, on the Board of Directors at Meharry Medical College and was a delegate to the 2008 Democratic convention.  I’m sure she could give Lonnell a run for, um…the money.    She will have to move into the district in order to run for his’s seat, but her backers have plenty of cash and real estate, and a strong desire to teach Mr. Matthews a lesson.

By the time of the 2011 election, Matthews will have had four years to cultivate his constituency, and from my perch here in the hills it looks like he is doing a good job of taking care of the flood-battered residents of District 1, where White’s Creek literally pushed houses off their foundations.  Perhaps Mr. Matthews has learned from his fling with the May family about the dangers and obligations of accepting outside money.  I know that, when I first met him, I was impressed with his grasp of the real issues that underlie the thin veneer of conventional political discourse in this country.  I would be wonderful to see him scrape the Maytown debacle off the bottom of his shoes and go on to greatness.  Time will tell.

music:  Yohimbe Brothers, “More from Life”


14 02 2010

There has been good news and bad news in Tennessee in the last couple of weeks.  Some of the bad news is that our dear governor, not content with throwing poor people off Tenncare, has decided to throw poor hospitals off it, too.  Under his plan, struggling hospitals like Nashville General, and many rural hospitals, will not be reimbursed more than $10,000 for any Tenncare patient they take care of.  Now, I’m not about to defend hospital price schemes, or many hospital practices, for that matter, but overpriced and unintuitive as it is, our current medical regime works hard to save people’s lives and ease their pain. Setting broken bones is setting broken bones, whether you do Reiki on the patient afterwards or not.  Hospitals do have a legal and moral obligation to take care of people (and yes I know a lot of horror stories about what has happened when, for insurance reasons, they don’t), and if the state quits reimbursing them for that care, the net result over a few years is going to be fewer hospitals and less medical care for those on the bottom of our societal pyramid.

And, speaking of those on the bottom of the social pyramid, let’s talk some real trash, and more good news/bad news, like, the good news is, Tennessee leads the Southeast in the amount of landfill material we count as recycled….the bad news is that that appears to be the case only because we jigger our statistics, and everybody knows it, and a regional EPA representative who showed up at last week’s Davidson County Solid Waste Board meeting and at the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) review hearing said that our funny accounting makes us “the laughingstock” of the Southeastern solid waste disposal community….a “solid waste disposal community?”…who knew?  But I digress….

Tennessee claims a remarkably high percentage of diversion from landfills, which is presumed to be “recycling,” but it seems that our near-70% figure (most states are in the 25% range) has been achieved by creating construction and demolition (C&D) landfills around the state and counting material that ends up in them instead of  trash landfills as “diverted from the landfill.”  As you may remember, there’s a big quarry out on McCrory Lane that some big operators wanted to fill with C&D trash…right next to the Harpeth River.  Well, we kept that mistake from happening, but there are  over 80 other C&D landfills in the state, and more bad news–due to Tennessee’s geology, almost all of them leak, as do almost all of our regular landfills.

More bad news–guess who tends to live near landfills?  Why, poor people, wouldn’t ya know, rural poor people who get their water from wells and springs that are all too often contaminated by runoff from these landfills…so then they need Tenncare to help cover the sometimes awful consequences of imbibing low levels of serious pollutants, but, gee, the Guv just cut their access to Tenncare….round and round we go….gotta pay for those roads, y’know….

Hey, I’m not just some radical conspiracy theorist making this stuff up.  That EPA guy I mentioned, Jon Johnston, called the pattern of dump sites in Tennessee “racist.”  It seems to me that if somebody from the government says something is “racist,” that kind of makes it official, doesn’t it?  So…all the trash generated by us rich white folks ends up poisoning low-income people of color, just like all the carbon we white folks spew is baking and inundating…dark-complexioned people in third world countries….is there a pattern here?

OK, good news–it looks like TDEC has finally been shamed into closing the C&D loophole….bad news, the C&D dumps that are still open get to stay open, and will keep leaching nasties into the water table.  At least the building boom is over.

Some further peculiarities of Tennessee waste disposal law have to do with food waste and its potential as animal feed and compost.

The average grocery store discards about a thousand pounds of unsaleable produce and other over-age food every week.  Used to be, farmers could take this and feed it to their animals, no problem.  But the garbage haulers looked at this, and they had a problem.  They wanted to get paid to haul that “food waste” to their landfills, so they had the state pass a regulation that said that all food waste must be heated to 140 degrees before it could be fed to farm animals.  Farmers, by and large, are not equipped to do this, and so the garbage haulers stopped a reasonable recycling program and fattened their own wallets, as well as increasing the load on Tennessee landfills.

They also tweaked the regulations on making compost out of this material, i.e., feeding it to worms, the only kind of livestock exempted from the 140 degree requirement.  They wrote the law so that you could bring anything in to your farm, but made it illegal to sell compost, classifying it as “toxic waste.”

The good news is, it looks like a lot of this is about to change.  There’s two kinds of green consciousness involved:   Greenback consciousness, and green living consciousness.

Greenback consciousness is about all the money it’s costing to bury recyclables in landfills.  Bruce Wood, who has devoted decades to advocating for saner solid waste policies, estimates that a quarter of what is “thrown away” in Nashville (and I put that in quotes because there is no “away”), a quarter of Nashville’s solid waste is compostable, and another quarter is paper.  Composting and recycling this material, Bruce calculates, would save Nashville thirty thousand dollars a day in hauling and dumping fees, as well as creating useful, valuable compost and paper that doesn’t come from sacrificing trees. Thirty thousand dollars a day…that’s a hundred and fifty thou a week, someplace around seven and a half million dollars a year…like I said, greenback consciousness has a certain leverage.

Let me put this another way to help you understand the scale of this.  A thousand tons, two million pounds, of compostable materials enter Nashville’s waste stream every week.  Handled properly, this could produce about 330 tons of finished compost per week.  Wouldn’t that make this city’s gardens grow!?

More good news.  The solid waste folks have confessed that their stringent regulations on composting are based on sewage sludge handling procedures, and that there needs to be a separate, much looser category for “vegetative compost.”

The problem with sewage sludge isn’t from what you’re supposed to put in your toilet, although mixing that with water does make it nastier than it has to be.  The problem comes from the myth of “throwing things away,” and all the toxic substances that people “throw away” that end up at the sewage treatment plant.

Out of the toilet and back to “vegetative compost”–it looks like we’re not just talking theory here.  Recycling activist Glenn Christman, who has been working to get a municipal composting operation off the ground (well, on the ground, really) for several years, reports that Metro’s Public Works Department has offered him five acres for a pilot program, and that TSU, while still reeling from being used by the Maytown Center gang, is ready to launch a program that will compost all the University’s food waste for use by the school’s ag department.

Meanwhile, Waste Management Incorporated, which has been the bad guy behind the restrictive regulations I have been describing, has realized that there is money to be made in compost, and has become a major investor in “Harvest Power,” a company that is planning to set up and manage municipal composting operations all over North America.  I’m not clear why this needs to be done by private, for profit industry, but  in a capitalist economy it’s a good sign, as long as the boys from WMI don’t start putting their competitors through the compost choppers….

music:  Drive-by Truckers, “Puttin’ People on the Moon”

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