Saturday, July 20, 2002

Guess Who Didn't Get the Memo

Linda Moore, the Commercial Appeal's "Wise Consumer" columnist doesn't seem to have gotten on board with the income tax thing. Her column of last Friday, contains a few inconvenient facts regarding the effects of the increased sales tax.

She writes:

That one-cent increase isn't a huge amount of money.

A wise woman told me once: "If a penny will break you you're
already broke."

So, a penny won't break the bank, it won't break a lot of
spending patterns and it won't cause most people to make a
break for the stores in Mississippi or Arkansas.

Uh-oh. Where's she going with this? Moore's column asks about the effect the sales tax increase will have on business development. Her conclusion? Not much.

"I don't think it would drive a deal," said Gary Myers, of Gary
Myers Co., a commercial real estate brokerage firm.

In talking with local developers, she writes that it is population and traffic that drives location more than anything else. She also points out that there still is not a regional mall near Memphis, but outside the county or state. But, she does drop this ominous hint:

Reportedly, Tennessee isn't likely to see broad tax reform for at
least four years.

Both Republican and Democratic gubernatorial front-runners have
made anti-income tax pledges.

And many income tax leaders in the House and Senate are
leaving the legislature. (Some may argue that an income tax is
not the only form of tax reform.)

Oh my! Is she really off the reservation.

She does, however, make the same misconception about this year's income tax defeat that most newspaper reporters and columnists have made--that no reform will take place in Tennessee until the next governor is driven from office by the forces of righteousness in four years.

This Fall is likely to see a tidal wave of new legislators with one imperative--to change the way Tennessee's government does business. Our onerous sales tax rate is due to drop next summer (a fact little-reported by the press and media). Real change has to happen this year to avoid a repeat of this summer. Expect to see, this year, real efforts to rein in State spending and vociferous efforts by Democrats and IT-lackey Republicans to stop it. Also expect to see Senator Person's crusade gather steam, as legislators try to find hidden monies to put to use.

Back to the column. Moore points out:

Regardless of the tax situation, [a Mississippi] mall would draw from
Tennessee and from the Mississippians to the south, who now
drive to Memphis's Wolfchase Galleria, Myers said.

Did the Commercial Appeal fight the development of the Galleria? Of course not, as it would become a major advertiser in the paper. Even though it effectively killed the Mall of Memphis, and hobbled efforts at Hickory Ridge Mall and Southland Mall.

Basically, Moore's column calls the temporary sales tax increase a wash, as far as mall development is concerned, and of slight impact for smaller strip malls and stores. And she doesn't provide any data on sales lost through cross-border shopping. Ah well....

Until next time, that is all.
A Tale of Two Headlines

Stylish charisma, hard work a potent mix for Wharton

Flinn follows his own drummer, to the bank

Swell guy or rich loner. Guess who the Commercial Appeal supports?

Until next time, that is all.
The Crone Speaks

Susan Adler Thorp pens a paean to the departing State Senator, and power behind the throne, Robert Rochelle. It is the usual drivel, casting Rochelle as the tired warrior leaving the field of battle with great honor and not as the defeated loser running away and crying foul.

But what's important in this column is how she uses it to sweep aside a potentially explosive issue. Buried deep in the column, she briefly addresses and dismisses Senator Curtis Person's claim that the State has well over $4 billion sitting in various State accounts. We covered this story previously, here.

Adler writes:

"What frustrated Bob so much on this issue of tax reform is that
he knew the facts and people turned a deaf ear to it,'' [Senator Jim] Kyle said.

People such as Sen. Curtis Person (R-Memphis), a 36-year
legislative veteran who faces opposition this year in his bid for
re-election. There couldn't be a clearer contrast between two

While Rochelle put his career on the line to do something for the
state, Person pandered to his anti-tax constituents and did
nothing. To the extent Person believes he can solve the state's
budget problems, his actions demonstrate how little he
understands those problems.

He sent his constituents a letter giving credence to a report,
circulated on the Internet and on talk radio, that accuses the
state of hiding $4.74 billion in surplus reserve funds while
Tennesseans prepare to pay a higher sales tax Monday. It's an
accusation the state's finance commissioner and comptroller have

In a letter sent to Person last week, finance commissioner
Warren Neel said in part: "You have been provided with
extensive detail. I have had numerous personal conversations
with you. The Comptroller also had discussions with you. The
explanations seem to either go unheard or were presented in a
fashion you did not comprehend.''

It's shameful that Person, who didn't offer a solution to the
state's budget problems this year and who didn't vote for a
single measure to raise taxes or cut spending, is using such a
preposterous report as a campaign tactic.

Person likely will win re-election in November in his mostly
Republican district, and return to Nashville next year to continue
a lengthy Senate career that almost certainly won't be marred by

Yep, the report must be false--it was only reported on the Internet and talk radio! Good luck getting the papers to cover that one.

Finance Commissioner Neel's explanation that he gave "extensive detail" is disengenuously reported. The report that Neel gave to Person, after several requests, was simply a bloated version of the State's CAFR. It did not detail the specific accounts as Person requested.

It must also be noted that Person, Blackburn and a few other Senators never voted for any tax plan this Summer. While the press loves to paint this as "do nothingism," the real truth is that they opposed all new taxes before any spending cuts had been implemented. They had principles and stayed true to them. It should also be noted that these Senators also provided to the Budget Committee a list of proposed cuts. Their ideas were buried in committee, to keep them from interfering with the income tax drive, by its chairman: Bob Rochelle.

The Commercial Appeal's reporters and columnists love to think they are slick. That is why Half-Bakered exists--to point out the Emperor's new clothes.

Until next time, that is all.

Colorado, about a decade ago, passed the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, popularly called TABOR. It was a constitutional amendment that limited the Legislature's ability to grow spending to the rate of inflation plus population growth. Any funds taken in by the State in excess of that were to be returned to the people as refunds or tax rebates. That cap could only by broken by the voters approving a referendum. The press of the time were vociferous in their opposition, fearing that greedy citizens would hobble the State's ability to meet its obligations and needs.

Turns out they were wrong, of course. The politicians have repeatedly gone to the people to request new or increased spending on state programs and have had them approved.

Bill Hobbs has more on this here and in the post immediately below it.

A valuable lesson for Tennessee's media and politicians.

Until next time, that is all.
The Importance of Thinking Like Me

Last Tuesday's Viewpoint column in the Commercial Appeal, by regional reporter Bartholomew Sullivan is a revealing glimpse into the mind of a member of the press. The title, "Social studies help keep us on same page," seems mild on the surface, but it really has a deeper meaning, one that grows obvious to a deeper reading of the column.

He quotes from George Orwell: "Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past." Sullivan seems to be, in the column, arguing for keeping social studies classes as a vital part of the school curriculum. But what is it he hopes the social studies to teach? Try:

riots, assassinations, demonstrations,
abdications, general strikes and wars on poverty
and against the Red menace were exciting, living
political dramas. Partisan politics...

He mentions those in rhapsodising over his own school days:

when there were such things as liberal Republicans, and New Left
radicals had some influence over the Democrats. Richard Nixon
advocated national health insurance. There was, for a time, a broad
political spectrum.

A "broad spectrum" indeed. From the very far left to the center-right! Confirming this point, Sullivan calls the Democrat and Republican parties the "two dominant, somnolent center-right parties."

He frets that "our children may never get to know dissent," even as he extols the demonstrations by anarchists, environmentalists and anti-capitalists. Yet somehow, he seems to have forgotten the most visible examples of vocal dissension: the anti-income tax demonstrations going on in this very state for the past two years!

But that doesn't mesh with his politics. He writes:

...our General Assembly failed us once
again this month and prepared to throw tens of thousands of
citizens off state-administered health care coverage while raising
the regressive sales tax that falls hardest on the poor.

When one is so far out of step with the politics of his neighbors, then it becomes obvious why he desires to see social studies kept in schools--so that it can be administered by like-minded people who will make sure that future generations think as he does.

Social studies classes are not for teaching the history and development of this country, its social and political structures, its peoples and cultures, but to:

the development of such...skills as understanding
competing policy alternatives, deciphering propaganda,
considering why to vote, or even knowing what's legal and
what's not. If those skills aren't yet being de-emphasized, others
say, it's still time to be vigilant.

Why? To counter the

conflicting and contradictory economic and political messages
cross[ing] twice or three times per news cycle, responsible citizens
have to be able to filter the self-interest, lies, commercial spin
and demagoguery that buzz from every electrical device.

Notice he doesn't include the paper media. Hmm.... And doesn't that last bit, about "self-interest, lies, commercial spin and demagoguery" sound suspiciously like the criticisms levelled at his employer? Said employer also being a capitalist entity dedicated to the pursuit of profit, including fighting tooth-and-nail with its own unions and buying up the competing papers only to absorb them and shut them up? To keeping under lock and key all information about their own profits?

George Orwell also famously created a whole new lexicon in his prophetic book, 1984. One word was "doublethink," or the ability to hold two separate and conflicting ideas in the head at the same time, without distress. It seems that Sullivan has learned that social studies lesson quite well.

Until next time, that is all.
Numbers? We Got Yer Numbers

Last week, the Mason Dixon Polling and Research firm released the first Seventh District-wide numbers in the Republican primary race. They were duly chewed over by the local prognosticators and analysts. Some points seem to have been missed, however.

Here are the numbers:

Marsha Blackburn - 25%
David Kustoff - 17%
Brent Taylor - 14%
Mark Norris - 11%
Forrest Shoaf - 7%
Undecided - 23%

Most took the obvious for their point: Blackburn has a commanding lead. But a deeper dig into those numbers yields a more cloudy picture.

First, the poll only queried 320 likely voters, a very small sample. This created a margin of error of 5.5%, a very important point overlooked by the commentators. Suddenly, Blackburn's lead becomes a statistical dead-heat, very much within that margin of error.

Those 23% Undecideds also are volatile. Depending on where those folks are located, their numbers can be a good news for Blackburn, if they are in the east end of the district, or good news for either Kustoff or Taylor, if they are clustered here in Shelby and Fayette County.

Clearly, a much larger sample will be needed before anything conclusive can yet be drawn.

Until next time, that is all.
The Little League

The North Shelby Times is a free weekly paper found around the Memphis area. It is one of those papers that is long on want-ads in the back and civic boosterism in the front. Several weeks back, they published an interview with State Senator Marsha Blackburn. There is no byline. We publish this one in its entirety, for the many instructive lessons it contains. They are so clear, we think, that no comment is necessary:

The Senator is pretty and has a great personality. As a candidate for congress [sic] she seems to be a one issue candidate. She is against a payroll tax. I asked her how she would handle the deficit without a tax. She said she would cut every department by 5%. I asked how much this would save, she said 400 million. I asked her where would the 700 million for next year come from? At this time she said shw was only interested in this year. This is just another band-aid solution.

The 5% cut may be good arithmetic but, it doesn't make good sense. We have already cut education to the bone. Some of the state's parks are already closed. She said she want to keep child care affordable, but I saw where the state now has 800 licensed day care centers with only 30 inspectors. Recently four children were killed in a wreck here in Memphis. The driver was a pot-smoking $6.50 day care employee who by law should have never gotten a license to drive a day care bus, so we cut this department by 5%? Across the board cuts don't make any sense, except maybe to people who have put their heads in the sand and will vote for anyone who will take [a] pledge not to raise taxes.

Yep, no comment necessary.

Until next time, that is all.

Wednesday, July 17, 2002

Mea Culpa

We at Half-Bakered did not realise, when we started this commentary blog, the workload. It won't do to decide to do today's work tomorrow. The material piles up too quickly. So, although there were a few choice items in the backlog, they'll have to be jettisoned so we can do a better job keeping up.

We will still be trying to do a full analysis of Jackson Baker's column about the budget mess, "Meltdown in Nashville." It is simply too juicy. And there are a couple of Commercial Appeal articles we may try to catch.

Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

UPDATE 07/20/02: Just as we posted the above, our computer went into a series of browser crashes that precluded any more updates. The problem appears to be fixed now. We hope....

Until next time, that is all.
The Ad Heard Round the State

US Seventh District Republican candidate Marsha Blackburn, State Senator from Brentwood, is a known person across the state, but hasn't been running ads here in the West of the state, where her positions and votes are less well-known. Until last week, that is, when she let loose a doozy!

The ad begins by mentioning her concealed carry gun permit, for which she earned a fifty out of fifty qualification. It also notes that she owns a .38 Smith and Wesson. Three shots ring out! Then comes the standard boilerplate about her positions on the Second Amendment. In the modern media climate, such an ad is astonishing in its pro-gun honesty. One can only imagine how the Memphis Flyer and the Commercial Appeal will handle this one.

Until next time, that is all.

Tuesday, July 16, 2002

The Sheriff's Debate

ABC24 News aired the debate between Democrat Randy Wade and Republican Mark Luttrell tonight. Kudos first to ABC24 for recognising the importance of the next sheriff to the community and giving an hour of air time to this debate. One hopes they will conduct similar debates for other offices in the Fall.

Anchor Renee Malone was the lead, but she seemed to defer most tough questions to WREC AM600 talk-radio host Mike Fleming. Unfortunately, Fleming, rather than following his style on his public affairs program "Impact," used the rhetorical style of his radio show. His very first question, to Randy Wade, was more an accusation than a direct question, calling Wade more an African-American liaison than a true administrator with real credentials. It opened him up to return fire, which Wade provided, flatly telling Fleming, "That's your opinion."

Best question of the night came from a caller who wanted to know if either candidate would welcome the endorsement of current sheriff, AC Gilless. There was a long, uncomfortable pause as neither candidate spoke. Lutrell was finally asked directly and he waffled until admitting he'd accept any leader's endorsement. Wade quipped that he'd take Gilless' vote, but not his endorsement, then immediately called for the next question. It was a deeply telling moment for Gilless.

Wade played an interesting bias card. He noted to a question from Fleming about an appearance before a deputies' meeting that Fleming's information was wrong. Wade also noted that the show's official description of him as a GED recipient failed to also note his attendance at Shelby State and the University of Memphis! The way he called this to attention seemed calculated to echo the race card, without clearly doing so. One imagines that his intended audience, the black community, read his comments clearly enough.

The presentation of each man was a stark contrast. Wade was forcefully, but informally, spoken; he did seem to have a sore throat. He frequently used a style of speech similar to that of black ministers, though more personal. He was clearly nervous but remained cheerful and engaged. He managed to get in several good quips, especially one about being the first African-American "good old boy." Lutrell, on the other hand, was cool professionalism. He constantly referred to plans, management, etc. He never varied from a calm pacing, never joked. If one sees this debate through the prism of the black/white divide of Memphis, then each man was definitely speaking to his race.

Overall, a winner cannot be called. Lutrell definitely came across as the "man with a plan." Mostly, though, that plan was just "more and better management." Wade did not really offer up any clear plans, other than to "surround himself with good people." We suspect that neither may have influenced voters across the racial divide. Black Memphians and Shelby Countians just out-number whites now. And though Wade can rely on that to a certain extent, Lutrell may have an advantage. As Bobby O'Jay has said, blacks prefer their own unless its crime control; then they trust whites more.

Again, ABC24 must be credited with doing this. It gave Shelby Countians a clear view of the candidates. Their format also included emails from viewers and questions from callers (filtered through the moderators) which proved a good resource, though only used lightly. They would do well, though, to replace Fleming as a moderator and find someone more proper to the style of the forum and with better judgment.

UPDATE 07/17/02:The Commercial Appeal has a story here. It covers some of the policy points mentioned above in better detail. Amazingly, it completely fails to mention the "endorsement from Gilless" question and the embarrassing silence that followed. Why?

Until next time, that is all.