May 022012

By Joseph Anthony

Al’s Bar has gentrified Limestone.

For years I’d drive up Limestone on my way home, turning left on Sixth. But it got too depressing, and the ladies of the night (and day), loitering in front of the bar on the corner, trying to catch the eye of passing motorists, too sad looking. The city’s annual sting operation, where it would replace the regulars with fairly attractive police women, would boost the scenery for a few days. But when the police had finished gleaning the low end of the John-gene-pool, it was back to the regular routine.

The transformed Al’s Bar has changed all that. And now that the liquor store across the street from Al’s, (another fountain of drugs and prostitution) has been replaced by the Home-Grown Press, good old fashioned vice has had to go looking for greener (browner?) fields.  I know Studs Terkel, a writer who celebrated the vitality of urban grit, wouldn’t like it. But I’m a bit more ambiguous.

It’s very hard to think intelligently and objectively about gentrification. Continue reading »

May 022012

By Clay Wainscott

Humans can evolve at an astounding rate because long ago we gave up physical change in favor of mental redefinition–of ourselves, of the world, catapulting through history in periodic jumps as our conception of ourselves expanded. How we see ourselves in turn determines how we see everything else, and in modern times there are powerful influences competing at this most basic level. Advertisers seem to know how images influence thinking and so do politicians. They want to help us determine who we are around the clock, but it’s really up to us. From a seemingly infinite array of information sources and forms of entertainment we choose what to look at online, which designer stores to frequent at the mall, and all that determines who we are and who we’re going to be in the future. It’s not a new idea but if we understood the process maybe we could take more control of the ship, or at least lean in the desired direction. Continue reading »

May 022012

By Sunny Montgomery

When I first began covering the Rollergirls of Central Kentucky (ROCK) for NoC, I’d been bewildered by everything:  the skaters whizzing past, pushing and falling, the referees gesturing wildly and the announcers hollering things I could not understand.  But by the end of the season, I was an enthusiast.  I was so overcome with female empowerment that I cut off all my hair and got a girlfriend.

So I was thrilled on April 7 when ROCK returned to the Lexington Center for their first home bout of the new season to face off against the formidable Black-n-Bluegrass Rollergirls (BBRG) from Northern Kentucky.

Rainbow Smite attempts to punch through Black-n-Bluegrass wall. Photo by Jack King.

Continue reading »

May 022012

Our man in Amsterdam helps bring The Coup to Amsterdam

By Michael Marchman

When I got an email from a friend and fellow activist a few weeks ago asking if I was interested in helping to arrange a show in Amsterdam for the Oakland-based revolutionary hip-hop band, The Coup, I nearly choked on my bitterballen.

Our Man and Woman in Amsterdam with entourage and Boots Riley. Photo courtesy IIRE.

I’ve been listening to The Coup for well over a decade. They’ve basically provided the soundtrack for my own political activism over the past ten years. Not only am I a big fan of the group, I’ve followed and admired Boots Riley’s, the front man’s, work as an organizer and agitator for a long time. Continue reading »

May 022012

An update on the Nehemiah Action Assembly

NoC News

Over 1,500 people arrived at NorthEast Christian Church on the windy Monday evening of April 23 to call for the amelioration of several social justice issues in Lexington. On the docket: predatory payday lending, the Affordable Housing Trust Fund (AHTF), and employment barriers for ex-offenders.

The large gathering was BUILD’s (Building a United Interfaith Lexington through Direct Action) yearly Nehemiah Action, which is the culmination of a year-long process that includes listening sessions on community problems, research on solutions and best practices, and engagement with those who hold the power to create systemic change in Lexington, i.e. public officials. Continue reading »

May 022012

…and their un-Earth Day environmental costs

By David Shattuck

In my three previous columns, I demonstrated that converting Lexington’s one-way streets to two-way traffic would result in unacceptable peak-hour traffic congestion; this congestion would be expected, in turn, to increase air pollution levels between 10-13%.  Recall, too, that Lexington already has the worst carbon footprint of 100 cities surveyed by the Brookings Institute in 2008.  In this column I explore some of the legal implications these facts raise.

As the 2007 Lexington Traffic Study explains, Main and Vine Streets (and also portions of some of the other downtown one-way streets) are part of the state highway system; accordingly, they cannot be converted unless the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) approves the proposal.  KYTC, in turn, is limited by federal environmental and highway laws in what it may approve.  The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) mandates that planners evaluate potential environmental consequences before implementing proposals that will involve significant federal funding or involvement.  The first step in the NEPA process is an Environmental Assessment (EA).  If the EA determines that the proposed action “will not have a significant effect on the human environment” then KYTC may issue what is known as a FONSI (no relation to the Henry Winkler character from Happy Days.) Continue reading »

May 022012

U.S. history, U.S. governments and job creation

By Jack Stevenson

Presidential elections in the United States are affected by the economy.  We are going to be hearing rival arguments about job creation and economic recovery.  Can a government create jobs and engineer recovery from an economic recession?  A brief glance at the American experience is revealing.

A little more than a century ago, the common conveyance was a horse drawn carriage.  Suddenly, the horseless carriage created great excitement.  By 1915, there were 450 companies in the United States trying to produce carriages that would eventually be known as automobiles.  Few of those companies survived, but an era was born—and another one died.  Harness makers, wagon and buggy producers, and those in the horseshoeing trade found that their jobs had been eliminated by a newfangled contraption that made a lot of noise, scared horses, and didn’t run very well.  But for every job eliminated by the horseless carriage, several new jobs were created.

Henry Ford standardized parts.  With that achievement he could produce automobiles on an assembly line, and the efficiency of the assembly line and standardized repair parts made automobiles affordable for ordinary Americans.  Mass production of automobiles generated follow-on employment for people in glass, rubber, coal, steel, road building, oil exploration and refining, gasoline service stations, automobile sales and service dealerships, junkyards, towing, emergency medical service, insurance, chemicals, law, farm machinery, construction equipment, military equipment, trucking, machine tools, the travel and recreation industry, and the automobile facilitated suburban housing utilization and shopping mall development.  The automobile was an economic engine.  The jobs that were created generated tax revenue that made the United States Treasury the envy of the world.  Automobiles were an exceptionally useful invention, and everybody wanted one.

Today, there is no job generator on the horizon that promises to be equivalent to the automobile.  In fact, businesses have moved to eliminate employment.  Automation and computerization are reducing the need for employees.

Depressions, stimulus, war and debt

When World War II began, the United States had been suffering from a severe economic depression for more than 10 years.  Unemployment was still over 17 percent in 1939, a decade after the infamous stock market crash.  During the depression, the Roosevelt Administration engaged in countercyclical deficit spending to stimulate the economy, but it did not generate economic recovery.  Robert S. McElvaine, historian and author of The Great Depression, writes that “Without the military boom in response to the German war machine, Roosevelt’s presidency would probably have been remembered as compassionate and helpful but ineffective in solving the fundamental problems of the Depression.”

The war created a gargantuan demand for war materiel: ships, planes, trucks, tanks, artillery, and the thousands of other things that were required to equip and sustain millions of soldiers, sailors, and airmen.  Unemployed citizens were recruited to work in the war production plants.  The demand was so great that women were welcomed into the factories.  During the course of the war, sixteen million Americans served in the armed forces.  War production and military service solved the unemployment problem.

The United States government imposed taxes but also borrowed, massively, to fund the war.  The massive debt was not a great burden because, after the war, the U.S. was the only industrial power still standing.  The U.S. produced for the entire world and quickly became the world’s leading economy.  Also, when the war was over, there was strong domestic demand for everything a growing population of young American families needed.  A generous GI Bill provided an educated work force.

We cannot duplicate this employment process today, and surely no reasonable person would want to.

On June 19, 2010, the 1100 workers at the Evansville, Indiana, Whirlpool plant lost their $18 per hour jobs because the company closed the plant and outsourced the jobs to a foreign country.  With the approval of the U.S. Government, American corporations have outsourced approximately six million jobs to foreign countries.  When that happens, families are devastated.  Businesses where those families spent money are diminished, tax revenue declines, and welfare requirements increase.  Yet, our capitalist doctrine approves of these adjustments.  Corporations exist to maximize profit; they do not exist to govern wisely.  While we strive to increase employment, we simultaneously eliminate jobs.

British economist John Maynard Keynes advocated that, during an economic recession, a government should spend more than it collects in tax revenue to stimulate economic recovery and then impose taxes to recover the debt as soon as economic conditions improve.  This theory has many adherents.  However, we must ask if it is wise to incur a debt when a country already has a staggering debt.  Since 1970, 42 years ago, the United States government collected more tax revenue than it spent in only four years, and it spent more than it received in tax revenue in each of the other 38 years.  Consequently, our national debt is now more than 15 trillion dollars.  We are currently spending almost 40 percent more each year than we collect in tax revenue, and we have not found an equitable way to curb that excess spending.  So, currently, government spending (deficit spending) to stimulate the economy and trigger job growth is not a very practical solution.

Government’s role: trust

If a formula existed that a government could apply to engineer a recovery from a serious economic recession, every government on the planet would use it, and economic recessions would be weekend affairs.  Obviously, that kind of economic formula doesn’t exist.  But government does have a necessary role in our economic system.  Foremost is creating trust.

We need to be able to trust our police and our judicial systems.  We need confidence that the hundreds of government functions that serve us are reliable.  Among those many services, none is more important than public education.  In a complex technical society, education is vital.  We need to know that we can change our government or government officials when necessary.  Trustworthy and responsive governments provide a good foundation for economic activity.  Federal, state, and local government payrolls provide an important cushion during an economic recession.  Those paychecks just keep coming, and without the government paychecks, economic recessions would be much worse.

Economics professors Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff surveyed the history of economic crises over several hundred years.  They indicate in their book, This Time is Different, that it typically requires five years for a country to regain full employment following a severe recession.  If that trend holds, employment in the United States will normalize by 2013.  But, “this time,” it may not happen that quickly.  The people who lost their jobs to outsourcing are not going to be recalled.  Mortgage housing issues are not resolved.  The national debt and our unwillingness to produce tax revenues equal to annual government expenditures limit the government’s capability to solve problems.

Regardless of your political party preferences, you would be wise to view political promises of government driven economic prosperity with some skepticism.

May 022012

By Jason Souders

The article titled “F**k U-Scan” (April, 2012) was an insightful look into our current employment situation and the state of automated technology. Yet I feel that the focus of the article antagonized technology when the problem lies in the economic system in which that technology resides.

It should not be our plight to create more mindless jobs with low pay, no benefits, and no purpose. I want robots and computers to replace every mundane, repetitive, and soulless task that is currently occupied by a glassy-eyed debt slave that cannot afford to buy breakfast cereal. Those are jobs for machines, not living breathing human beings with souls, imagination, and feelings. Continue reading »

May 022012

By Marcus Flores

There’s an old saying that goes “I may not agree with what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it.” This seminal apposition of liberty and tolerance was likely imported from France—Voltaire specifically—in the days when British misrule plagued the American colonies. Consequently, the ideas expressed in those eighteen words have become central to how Americans participate in their economy.   Continue reading »

May 022012

Who’s your neighbor?

The book of Acts 4:16 asks a great question that was directed toward the Apostles, Peter and John. “What are we to do with these men?” And that sounds like an appropriate question for the leadership of Southland Christian Center (“Who is my neighbor“). However, looking to chapter 5 of Acts, a wise Pharisee named Gamaliel gave some profound advice that could benefit us all. “If their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God” Although I see pertinent arguments on both sides of the pond, I might suggest that people begin to pray for God’s will to be done. I would love to know what the outcome will be!

Mary Jane Battista

Downtown streets

I couldn’t agree with you more (“Meddling with city streets“). Two way Main is wrong way Main ! I don’t see someone stuck in traffic suddenly saying, “Gee, since I’m not moving, I’ll get out and shop at this store or eat at this restaurant.” If someone needs to get from E. Main to Newtown , let them travel smoothly thru downtown and maybe they will come back another time to do business. If they avoid downtown due to congestion, they will never come down for entertainment or a meal. I’m old enough to remember gridlock on Main during rush hour, and there is far more traffic today than there was 40 years ago.

Howard Stovall

Town Branch Market, 233 E. Main St

I lived in Lexington in the ’60s when all the streets were 2 way.  Population 50k — 60k.  Traffic was horrible.  Driving through town was very difficult.  Now population is 400k. Imagine Upper St and Short St. and High St. all 2 way:  Madness.  Put the idea to a vote of the people.  Who are these people that make decisions like this without consulting the people?

Alan Isaacs

I have somewhat mixed feelings about the street conversion idea. I live downtown and as much as I hate to admit it, the one way streets can be confusing and difficult to navigate. As much as I think they are a bunch of wimps, I do hear enough people that live in the suburbs complaining about how difficult it is to get around down town, and I have to grudgingly admit that they might have a point.

On the other hand, your points about moving a greater volume of traffic, safety, and less pollution are pretty convincing. As a cyclist I do feel safer on one way streets since you don’t have to worry about oncoming traffic.

If the benefits are mixed at best, it probably isn’t worth the trouble and expense of fooling with it. There are other more important problems for the city to deal with.

I am sorry to see you quote Randal O’Toole in your article. That guy has the reputation of being a pro suburban sprawl hack.


Author responds:

Thanks for the comments.  Dan, you busted me on Randall O’Toole.  I’m sorry to have quoted him as well because it wasn’t necessary: the evidence demonstrates the truth of the quoted statement.  Conversion proponents, on the other hand, rarely bother to support their claims with any evidence.  And for over a decade now they have insisted that 2-way street conversion is essential, yet can point to no city where conversion has made a difference.  I have much more to say on the subject and am grateful to NoC for providing this forum for discussing it.

David Shattuck

Human trafficking

The concept of labour slavery (“Modern day abolition and its price“) has never left the US. The prison industry is a collusion of big business and government. For decades these governments have created laws that are based on perpetuating expensive police and federal agencies like the DEA, ATF, etc…and criminalize the use of substances other than tobacco, alcohol or pharmaceuticals. This legality or illegality occurs regardless of the actual harm connected to their use and perpetuates a black market in these substances as well as higher levels of crime and violence.

Now that the “independent lawmakers” both federal and state have created laws and penalties, the “human resources” snared by these laws is passed on to the corporate for profit prison industry. Slavery is the inevitable result of these corporate prisons (and government run prisons as well) when they exploit this resource by creating manufacturing/farming/telemarketing/etc jobs for prisoners who are then paid pennies per hour, given a high starch/low protein diet, housed in minimal space and forced to pay for the “benefits” like the meals they eat and the bunks they sleep on. Rebellion against this slavery results in extra time, beatings, torture and death.

Fenian, from Smirking Chimp blog

Our man

Love your post, Michael Marchman (“My life as a migrant worker“), and love lots about Kentucky although I wish I knew more. Our previous socioeconomic status has left with the economy. We have to face the fact that it is gone for good, get over it and get on with it. For me, that means finding a way to survive the upcoming transition to self reliance. It could be viewed as a nice problem solving opportunity. I’m looking for a place on a fresh water, maybe the Ohio River, in a medium size city far away from nuclear power plants, maybe Louisville. Don’t know if L’ville has any kind of like minded community, though….

Cameron Salisbury, from Smirking Chimp blog