Saturday, July 27, 2002

A Bow, A Wave, A Smile

You caught me. I haven't gone back and cleaned up the typos, etc., in the previous posts of early in the week as I promised. Nor have I done that analysis of the CA's endorsements. Nor have I gotten to "Meltdown in Nashville," by our namesake, Jackson Baker. I'm sorry, but the workload prohibits it, unless I want to sacrifice other parts of my life. Only if this blog takes off, heaven forfend!

That's all for tonight. I'm off to prepare for the big push tomorrow. Y'all be good, ya heah?

Until next time,
Your Working Boy
The Stuff You Learn Just By Looking It Up, Part Two

While researching the story just below, I ran across this link to an article titled "Options for Closing the State Budget Deficit: What Now?" It is a report from a forum held in Concord, New Hampshire.

Why do Tennesseans care? Well, there's this excellent observation by the author, J. Mark Lennon:
This event dramatized the stark contrast between New Hampshire's fiscal situation as viewed from within the state - or more accurately, from inside the State House - and from the outside. "What now?" from the outside appeared to have some compelling and straight-forward answers. "What now?" from within appeared to have no answer at all.

But it's one forum participant, and his own comments, that compel. Tennessee's own Richard Fox, UT Professor of choice for the Sundquist administration for his constant doom-and-gloom pronouncements and wildly innacurate economic predictions. Fox's remarks need no further comments from me.
William Fox, who closed the forum, provided a message as clear and recognizable as Raphael's. Fox first pointed out that his home state, Tennessee, ranks 50th in the nation in the proportion of income taken in state and local taxes. New Hampshire ranks 49th. Tennessee has raised a variety of tax rates 60 times in the past 20 years to meet obligations; it still faces a serious structural budget deficit; and it recently saw its bond rating downgraded by two of the three major rating agencies. New Hampshire has done the same, faces the same, and may experience the same result.

Professor Fox's suggestion: Don't try to fund a predictable structural deficit with the Tennessee patchwork. Identify a revenue source that tends to track increases in spending requirements: one that doesn't grow too fast (encourages free spending); one that doesn't grow too slow (the structural deficit will return); one that's not exposed to excessive cyclical variation (too much money in good years, panic and deficits during downturns); one that's got a broad base and doesn't hammer on one segment of the economy. Use this source to fund baseline spending requirements.

Fox pointedly didn't recommend a specific tax to fill this prescription in New Hampshire. He did, however, point out the pros and cons of several major alternatives. A progressive income tax: meets many of the criteria, but tends to grow too rapidly. Sales tax: typically over-reliant on big-ticket items, exposed to large cyclical downturns, and typically fails to match increases in spending (leading to rate creep or returning deficits). A low, flat income tax: meets criteria of broad base, predictable growth generally equivalent to spending growth, capture of economic strength. Gross receipts tax: can work, can have broad base, best if rate kept low. Business taxes: narrow focus, exposed to dramatic cyclical downturns (and New Hampshire's business taxes are already very high in a nationwide comparison).

The Fox bottom line: A temporary hodge-podge of smaller taxes and tax increases don't solve the problem. Structural deficits will recur if they're not fixed with a structural solution, and the temporary fixes will be harder and harder to come by. There are no perfect taxes, only a selection of options, each with strengths and weaknesses. But a lasting structural solution is preferable to the patchwork alternative.

Ohhh, alright. You knew I couldn't resist!

Fox says a progressive income tax "grows too rapidly." In English, the goverment will soon be awash in taxpayer money sufficient to fund all sorts of extravagance. He recommends a flat tax. But ask yourself this:

Do you for one minute believe that the Democrats, and their running dogs in the press, will for one moment let any IT stay flat? Or do you think, as I believe, that cries of "unfair tax burdens" will soon ring out from the Mississippi to the Appalachians?

Until next time,
Your Working Boy
Read For Yourself

Bill Hobbs, see link to the left, has been writing excellently on the gymnastic moves by Finance Commissioner Dr. Neel to paint good economic and revenue news as bad. Hobbs sometimes references the numbers Neel uses, and his dodge-and-weave language. You can read the report itself, and I strongly encourage you to do so, at:

The next report, for July and the fiscal year itself, is due in a week's time. It will be interesting to see what Neel does with that expected good news.

Until next time,
Your Working Boy
The Stuff You Learn Just By Looking It Up

Remember the flap during the Income Tax War about how the State's "revenue problem" led Moody's and Fitch's to lower the State's bond rating? The CA certainly played it up.

But this story, via the Associated Press' Karin Miller, another foot-soldier in the pro-IT journalism army, paints a different picture. She cites almost verbatim from the State Comptroller's Office's terse report, which referenced a Moody's report that was released way back on July 18th, and is not now accessible on the Moody's site. Why did it take so long for this story to come out?

Her article repeats the old story:
The state relies heavily on consumption-based taxes such as the sales tax that don't grow at the same rate as the economy, the agency said in its rating update.

Then she almost immediately contradicts the Comptroller:
"Near-term economic growth is expected to generate sufficient revenue to balance expenditures for the next few years," Moody's said.

But then comes this (slight) puzzler:

Standard & Poor's took similar action earlier in the week, removing the state from credit watch, keeping its general obligation bonds rated at AA and saying the long-term outlook remains negative.

Similar? Removing us from credit watch? That's better news!

And it still remains that after the worst, most bruising battle ever in the Legislature, resulting in the penny sales tax increase that the State's papers call every bad name in the book, in the failure of the IT that every paper called our salvation, that we still maintain our rating. There's a disconnect here.
Until 2000, Tennessee had been one of just nine states with the top credit rating - AAA - from all three major agencies.

The year that Governor Sundquist's ever-growing budgets got caught by the recession.
It was lowered a year after Tennessee lawmakers began balancing the books with a series of accounting gimmicks and the use of nonrecurring funds.

A year later? Where's the causal connection then?

"Accounting gimmicks" that the citizens, and the papers, decried, but they did anyway. And by not reining in spending, but increasing it.

Then comes this zinger from Fitch's:
"With the passage of the 2002-2003 budget which increased taxes, it would appear that the state of Tennessee will be able to return to structural balance, assuming revenue estimates are reasonably realized," Fitch said in its report.

Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaiiiiiiit! Isn't our budget described by the papers as "structurally flawed?" Seems the pros think differently.

In trying to locate the Moody's and Fitch's reports directly, I was unsuccessful. However, I did locate a fascinating Moody's report on the health of Tennessee cities and counties. It paints a good and very different picture than the one we're used to hearing from the papers. I strongly encourage readers to check it out.

Until next time,
Your Working Boy
Greetings to the Folks at the Commercial Appeal!

Does someone at the CA read Half-Bakered? Have we arrived so soon? Or do great minds think alike?

In a previous post, titled "How Soon They Forget," I wrote about the CA's story on proposed rules to prevent "cruising," or "flexing" as the young folks call it today. I made an analogy using American Graffiti, the classic movie on cruising. Well, in Saturday's lead editorial, the editors use the same analogy!

The editorial blames flexers for traffic problems downtown, citing the city's failure to provide adequate parking, traffic control and streets. Yep, pack the downtown with stuff to draw people in and then blame them when things get crowded in an area where the city hasn't adequately addressed fundamental issues.

The problems flexers really pose are three-fold:

* First, they are young, black and culturally different from the majority white population that lives in, develops and profits from the downtown. Guess who loses?

* Second, they don't spend money. Therefore, they have no need to be there, of course.

* Third, I still maintain my point from the original post, one still not acknowledged in the CA editorial. That is, the flexers are a nuisance to the folks who live on the bluff, who prefer their river-views unpolluted by the great unwashed.

Until next time,
Your Working Boy
The Million Dollar Mayor--County Version

In this story, the Commercial Appeal begins by making much of Republican candidate George Flinn's campaign spending. But readers who persist to the end get a slightly different story than those who skim Page One.

The CA pointedly notes that Flinn's disclosure forms show him spending $999,000. The CA also lists many other numbers, including Mayor Dr. Herenton's previous record, $962,000, or 96% of Flinn's amount. Big record-buster, huh?

Best line is Wharton's reaction: "Goodness gracious." Um...yeah. Wharton also makes noises about how he "never wanted to just wallow in money," even though his campaign raised $895,000, or 82% of Flinn's total. Right, no wallow there!

But the best part is voter reaction: "...they don't seem to mind." Sixty-four percent of voters polled said they thought it good when candidates spent their own money! A meager 17% disapproved.

Well darn them, we'll have to work to change their minds.

Until next time,
Your Working Boy
Roosevelt Has Left the Building

Richard Locker, Nashville bureau chief of the CA, wrote this column last Tuesday, riffing on his opinions on the State Legislature, the changeover sure to come next session and Teddy Roosevelt. As always with the CA, it's mostly repetition of the usual fabrications they want you to believe.

Apparently, he's been reading the Edmund Morris book, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt. Locker seems to long for a new Roosevelt to ride into the corrupted and weak Legislature to sort it out and then reform it. He unfortunately picks a bad quote, mentioning "sodden...Irish," but we'll let that go. The point is that the Legislature "has become dysfunctional."

There's no question that Naifeh and Rochelle screwed it up pretty badly this year, but I somehow don't think that's Locker's point.

Even so, the legislature has become dysfunctional. The tax fight
didn't create its structural problems; it mere ly brought them into
public view.

The underlying dysfunction...

What else can you call a Senate Finance
Committee that sat moribund through most of this year's
six-month-long session, despite state government's biggest
financial crisis in decades, content to let its more ambitious
counterpart in the House take the lead in investigating tax plans
and spending cuts?

Last things first. WHAT spending cuts? Naifeh and Sundquist made it clear that the only spending cuts they'd allow were to be of the Armageddon type. And the Finance Committee is chaired by Mr. IT himself Robert Rochelle. Senators Blackburn and Person, for two, tried to investigate spending cuts and were shut down by Rochelle. They gave up because it was clear Rochelle was only going to allow an IT plan. He was waiting for Naifeh to get the votes in line in the House; that was the plan!

Locker goes on to list all the symptoms of this year's problems and the visible effects, but never actually tells us what that dysfunction is. It's left to the reader to draw the conclusion that we need good ol' TR:

Roosevelt emerged in his first year
as a leader, sparking an investigation of a profitable scheme by a
state's attorney, a Supreme Court judge and a leading financier
to bleed a foundering corporation of its assets. By the end of the
session that spring, he was a household name statewide.

Somehow, I don't think Locker really wants that kind of investigation into say, the wife of Speaker Naifeh, who is a highly paid Capitol Hill lobbyist, or the many seeming sweetheart deals that Sundquist seems to have cut, or the behavior of some legislators on their off time. Only Senator John Ford seems to rate that, but it seems both pro-forma and personal for the CA these days.

Until next time,
Your Working Boy

Friday, July 26, 2002

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

The CA is proudly trumpeting new poll numbers under a headline, "Latest poll numbers show Wharton's lead widening," that a skimming reader might think means one thing, but actually shows something very much else.

The CA writes:

Wharton leads Republican George Flinn
with 45 percent of the vote compared
to 21 percent. Those who are
undecided registered at 27 percent.

Wharton’s lead has increased 5 percentage points since an
earlier poll conducted July 14-17.

Which is incredibly misleading because Wharton's numbers didn't go up, rather Flinn's went down! Dig down deeper into the print version of the story [which part is not online, oddly enough] and you find these ponderers:

* Wharton's percentage of the black vote is 66! When blacks are nearly 90% Democrat, that's something to worry over.

* Wharton is also only drawing less than half (49%) of city voters.

* Across the numbers, Undecideds account for anywhere from one-quarter to one-third of voters.

* Flinn's Don't Recognize/Don't Knows account for 40%, two-thirds the number of people who do Recognize him. With all his ads, and this close to the election, that's startling and very bad news.

Flinn's negatives have risen all across the numbers: whites, Republicans, suburbans, etc. But Wharton's "overall support has remained virtually the same...[his] support remains rock solid."

In other words, AC Wharton's numbers have stayed static. He's not attracting any more voters, and this after beginning a series of ads! What's happening is that Flinn is putting people off with his "crony" and "anti-arena" ads. This calculated move seems to be backfiring for Flinn, which ought to be good news for Wharton. But the real story is that AC isn't getting those Flinn voters. He appears to have reached his plateau.

The question is, with only six days left can Flinn repair the damage?

Until next time,
Your Working Boy
Sundquist Continues Work on His Legacy

In this post I wrote the following, referring to Mike Fleming:

[he] mentioned that several people had told him Governor Sundquist discussed the need for an income tax up to nine months before his infamous State of the Stateaddress. I've never seen this anywhere else....

Well, today Bill Hobbs, in this post covers an interview Sundquist gave to Nashville TV station WSMV.

It's a sad bit of revision and butt-saving. Read it and Hobb's rebuttal.

Until next time,
Your Working Boy
There's Another Shoe Here Somewhere

In this story, the CA reports on State Senator Marsha Blackburn's press conference of Thursday, which was called to address a flyer that has been circulating. The flyer tries to allege that she's a spendthrift and high-liver.

The article mentions that they "sham group" that claims credit for the flyer was incorporated only recently and that the only name they can attach to it is one Brian Eastin, who is described as "a former employee of the state Republican party."

Some employee! He was the Executive Director. Why do I have the feeling that something subterranean is going on here? Is this some kind of payback for her staunch anti-IT stance?

Until next time,
Your Working Boy
Non-Proliferation Decision Fails

Added some more links to the list at left. I'll stop making root links in the stories and just point you to the main links at the left from now on. Stories will be directly linked as usual. I'll be adding the local TV stations, at least the ones with serious news departments, tomorrow.

I've added the North Shelby Times to the list of links and will be checking in from time to time. I keep stumbling over this one, mostly at Mom'n'Pop convenience stores and the laundromat. It's an odd and ambitious little paper with the oddest columnists. Read North Shelby Politics. [Note: that link is big and in PDF format.] Their website is as quirky as the paper itself.

Not much tonight, as I must catch up on sleep. Tomorrow should see a big update, though. Hopefully....

Your Working Boy

Thursday, July 25, 2002

We Are The Government and We Are Here To Help

In the current issue of the Memphis Flyer, a story titled "The Price of Safety" [not online] discusses the onerous recommendation of the Child-Care Transportation Safety Report. It proposes new regulations requiring all daycare centers to be licensed by the Department of Human Services and to purchase vans meeting Federal standards. These vans will also have to be staffed with a monitor.

Of course, the immediate effect of this will be to either shut down centers that can't afford the new vehicles, leaving fewer options for parents, or raise the costs of daycare. Don't be surprised to see calls from certain quarters for public assistance for lower-income families, in the wake of this.

But the recommendation for new, Federal-standard vans would not have done much to stop the most recent deaths of children in daycare vans. They were all the fault of drivers, harried or drugged. Pressed to hold labor costs down, it is difficult to see how daycare centers will be able to pay enough to attract employees of enough caliber to care for children as much as parents do, of higher caliber than they already get.

The real reason for all this comes from State Representative Kathryn Bowers who, as the Flyer notes, is "actively involved in child-care legislation." She says, "Even though it doesn't directly involve transportation, it was difficult for me to get around the fact that it's much more difficult to open a bar than it is to open a daycare center in terms of responsibility of owners and investigation...and that gives me pause."

Ah, there we are. Getting government fingers tighter around daycare. Watch for teacher's unions to start circling, too.

Until next time, that is all.
Fill in the Blank

The Commercial Appeal has learned what astute viewers of ads for State Senator Marsha Blackburn might already know. In this story the CA discovers that an out-of-state group is producing and funding some ads. The Club For Growth is paying for a series of TV ads that promote Blackburn's strong anti-tax background.

Unfortunately for the CA, when they contacted Stephen Moore, who is also an economist and senior fellow for libertarian think tank The Cato Institute, he was voluble and forthcoming. He answered all questions openly and fully! Oops. No secrecy to gin up.

The Club's URL is visible, if not glaring, in their ads. Sadly for CA readers, they fail to provide one in the story, as is often the case with them and their targets. I'm glad to correct the omission.

Until next time, that is all.
The Debate, Such as it Was

Well the Mayoral candidate debate is over and it was as expected. The silly ad flap dominated, wasting time, and not much else was made clear. No real new ground was broken. Democrat AC Wharton, Republican George Flinn and Libertarian Bruce Young participated.

Kudos to Steve Dawson, Fox13's primary news anchor, for a good job trying to keep order. In the first question, to George Flinn, Flinn elected to try to bring up the ad flap. Dawson immediately stopped him, Wharton who tried to jump in, and Dawson forced them back on topic. Dawson was controlled and focused throughout. Well done.

Flinn didn't come off as well as backers hoped, I think. He immediately went to the ad flap and brought it up again and again. It appears he was trying to pin it on Wharton and then sit above the fray, but he didn't achieve that. It made both look juvenile. Wharton, oddly enough, rebuked the Commercial Appeal's reporters and columnists by calling Flinn's ads "not negative--misleading." Take that!

Wharton began very calm and professional, as Lutrell was in the previous ABC24 Sheriff's debate. But when Flinn kept up with the ad flap (and I should point out that Wharton also did his bit to keep that whole exercise alive), Wharton lost his cool, growing angry and taking on some of his lawyerly demeanor. That was especially shown when Wharton forcefully demanded Flinn "look me in the eye" and accuse him of doing what CA stories claim Flinn is accusing. Wharton's question was weasel-wording, as he used "I" and we all know that it would be an underling who would do that, with Wharton given plausible deniability for situations exactly like this. Wharton's campaign image of fatherly and kind and cool was blown; how you look at his reaction would probably be colored by your politics.

Flinn essentially accused Wharton of colluding with the Commercial Appeal to triangulate him, with the "political elite" as the third leg. Nice piece of triangulating, but Wharton accurately pointed out "your debate is with the CA." All of this was a silly argument, as Bruce Young pointed out. Steve Dawson finally called the situation "intractable...[with] no more left to be said" before he pushed on.

Mr. Young came off quite well. The Libertarian Party candidate held his own and looked good on camera. His drawback is the "who's that?" factor, as most television viewers and paper readers won't know him. The ad flap arguments kept him on the sidelines, largely, which made him look slightly irrelevant against the two major party candidates. Still, he did make the most of his opportunity.

All candidates called for "accountability" as the solution to county school funding, though Flinn proposed floating county bonds to make it "local money" not subject to the three-for-one formula of present school funding. And Wharton mentioned "enhanc[ing] property not performing." Whether this was code for re-appraisal of commercial property, or for redevelopment, was not clear enough.

All candidates supported making Shelby Farms an independent entity, per Ron Terry's plan.

Two bits: First, AC Wharton undercut one of Susan Adler Thorp's whacking points against George Flinn by saying that the County Mayor "does" affect education in the county. Hu-zaa! Second, all the candidates proposed fiscal responsibility, even Democrat Wharton. Nowhere but in the few left-liberal politicians like Chumney or Cohen and in black Democrats do you hear old-Democratic speak about more government spending and more programs being touted. Strange times.

Mike Fleming will have a field day with all this tomorrow, but voters didn't get much out of the deal. Too bad.

Until next time, that is all.
The Tide Rolls In, Part Two

I reported earlier about Antonio Lopez' write-in campaign against House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh. Lopez' campaign is picking up steam! His story is appearing on television news and here. Lopez is handing out stickers for voters to bring to polling stations, which is happening. The story notes that early voting is running 400% over last election!

There are also the stories we covered the other day, found at Tax Free Tennessee about the write-in movement in general, or scroll down for the links.

Interesting times in Tennessee.

Until next time, that is all.
Florida Voting, Tennessee Style

South Knox Bubba undertook early voting in Knoxville and lived to tell the tale.

Until next time, that is all.
Forcing the Hand

Republican mayoral candidate George Flinn's latest round of ads, has finally forced the Commercial Appeal to start talking about who AC Wharton is and what he does for a living.

Before the campaign, the CA would, in stories about Wharton, his clients or local Democratic politics, extol his connections and respected insider status. Now, he's just a guy, minus the connections. It's a disservice to readers to avoid that. Many, Half-Bakered included, believe that Wharton is a stalking horse for City Mayor Dr. Herenton, that Wharton will, during his tenure, advance the general aims of Herenton. Those aims include consolidation, which I think is a good and unavoidable thing, but many deplore. Wharton's waffling and ducking on that issue initially worried many. Wharton's long history of picking high-profile and notorious cases deserves scrutiny. Were the CA to write up Wharton's background as they do Flinn's, voters might be better served.

Look at yesterday's headline: "Flinn ad assault lashes Wharton as pol 'crony'"

"Assault?" "Lashes?" Violence by the Republicans again, I guess.

The paper quotes from the televison ad: "Having one of your cronies as Shelby County mayor: priceless. AC Wharton - he's everything the power brokers and politicians want him to be." That actually pretty much sums up the fears of some voters! And what the story documents, in a limited way, tends to bear that out, especially in mentioning Willie Ann Madison and the Cherokee Children and Family Services scandal. With the Ford connection there, it literally begs deeper investigation!

The story continues, quoting again:

Wharton campaign adviser John Bakke, however, was outraged.

"This fulfills our worst expectations of a sewer campaign. Anyone
associated with Dr. Flinn ought to denounce this garbage," Bakke
said. "It's low-down stuff and it pollutes the political process."

Right.... John Bakke should know, eh?

Unfortunately, Wharton proves that Flinn's tactic works, by denying it does:

Wharton denounced the new
allegations Tuesday as mean-spirited
and cowardly.

"It has backfired tremendously
because we have not been able to
field calls on anything else other than
people calling our office expressing
just downright disgust and outrage,"
he said.

Sounds like it worked to me!

Until next time, that is all.
So Much to Do, So Little Time

I'm waiting for the mayoral debate later, and will post commentary immediately afterward.

In the meantime, the Commercial Appeal is running a lengthy and heart-warming series on the rebirth of Stax Studios/Soulsville in Memphis. One problem--the coverage fails to tell the story of how the City Council, back in the 90s, allowed Stax to be razed and destroyed, oblitering its heritage, because they refused to cough up the $25,000 (or $50,000, I can't recall as I write this) needed to save it.

But we can find the quarter-billion to enrich the folks involved with the Grizzlies and their pol pals.

Until next time, that is all.

Wednesday, July 24, 2002

Notice of Abdication and Other Business

Half-Bakered has received many emails and comments since we added the feedback system to the blog. But we quickly learned that no one is fooled by the royal use of "we" in our posts, as done here. We thought it was a fun mockery of the newsprint tendency to do the same, but it seems more a tired gag. Half-Bakered is indeed run by one person, who will still remain anonymous.

The Commercial Appeal has, time and again, demonstrated no compunction about going after those it perceives as impediments to its agenda. Ask Heidi Schafer, who had her home address published, and Duncan Ragsdale; both opposed the Grizzlies' drive to use public funds and both were pilloried by the CA. Mike Fleming also goes after those he can safely attack.

We are under no illusions that we rate that highly, but we also don't want to take chances. We must protect ourselves against those whose resources dwarf our own.

Beginning tomorrow, Half-Bakered will begin speaking like normal folks and use "I." We hope this will not be upsetting to our readers.

We will also be going back through posts of the day before and cleaning up the typos and other errors. Oy! Such an embarrassment!

And lastly, we've added some new links to our list. One's a Memphis blogger; one's Tennessean; the other's a radio station. More to come tomorrow.

Until next time, that is all.
The Mayoral Debates

Someone make sure to notify Susan Adler Thorp, because George Flinn and AC Wharton will be debating tomorrow. Fox13 will be carrying a live debate between all the candidates for mayor, during their 9PM newscast. Read more here. On Friday, they will do the same for the Sheriff's candidates.

It is good news for Libertarians that Bruce Young, the party's candidate for mayor, will be included. It will be his highest profile appearance of the campaign and has the party jazzed. Unfortunately, this also means that the half-hour program will give short shrift to all candidates.

Until next time, that is all.
That Rushing Noise You Hear Is The Tide

Read the Wednesday items at Tax Free Tennessee, about the anti-incumbent mood and the astonishing rush of write-in candidates for the Fall.

Until next time, that is all.
URL Round-up

A passel of links for your reading and perusing pleasure:

* From Insight on the News magazine comes this story about the Income Tax War. Some interesting tidbits and more of the usual spin. Note that all the quotes are from the pro-IT side.

* Free Republic is the premier conservative news and discussion forum on the 'Net. Some amazing on-site reporting from the income tax protests was posted there, and many pictures. Gail A. is a Memphian who regularly posts there, catching whatever stories she finds on the Income Tax War. You can bookmark this page to zero in on Tennessee stories.

* Sine Qua Non Pundit is a blogger who frequently skewers Richard Cohen, the Washington Post columnist who can often be found in the pages of the Memphis Flyer. He does a much better job than we could at taking apart Cohen, so we'll post links to him whenever a new jab comes up.

* Bill Hobbs has already mentioned this one but, in case you are one of the foolish who doesn't check his blog daily, we will also post this link to a Tennessean story whose title should warn you: "Incumbents say tax issue won't hurt re-election efforts." Polls and whispers say very much otherwise. Don't these folks ever get tired of their circle jerks?

* A couple of bits, a little on the old side but worth the read, from TownHall, an excellent site that pulls together most of the important conservative newspaper and television pundits, columnists and commentators. Two Bob Novak items. First, this one about Lamar!'s chances on August 1 (scroll to the bottom). Then this one about Gore's speech in Memphis last weekend and the poor national reception it got. (Somewhere we ran across a story pointing out that this is not the first time Gore has said, "To hell with polling, let 'er rip." He did it several years ago, almost word for word, and you can see it did him little good. We'll post the link when we rediscover it.)

Until next time, that is all.

Tuesday, July 23, 2002


The Commercial Appeal's David Kushma is bravely going where everyone else has already been, carefully following the worn paths of others, again.

In his latest, he essays to explain how the sales tax increase isn't really going to help higher education. Lest you think he's making another income tax plea, he even says:

Relax; this isn't another pitch for a state income tax. That issue is
dead, probably for at least another few years, although we
certainly haven't heard the last of it.

Well, Dave, that means it's NOT DEAD YET! No one seriously thinks the income tax issue is gone. It will come back, and most likely before four years have passed. The shadowy men--bankers, financiers and the ultra-wealthy--would like it too much.

Unfortunately, Kushma manages to let the facts trip him up. He points out:

Yet state colleges and universities
have hiked most tuition rates by at least 7.5 percent - and some
by as much as 28 percent - for the new school year.

That's far less than the double-digit increases of the past several
years, to be sure. But it's more than the rate of inflation, and
enough to bring renewed discomfort to students and their
parents - and perhaps to cause some to consider higher
education in another state.

Not California, which hiked tuition 15% this year, or many surrounding states which will also have double-digit increases, something that the CA rarely bothers to mention.

The new budget offers a slight increase in state aid to colleges
and universities....

And even after a tax increase of nearly $1 billion, which also
includes (too) small hikes in "sin" levies on tobacco products and
alcoholic beverages and in some business taxes, parts of the
budget still will be under-funded. Higher education is Exhibit A....

Which is it, Dave?

Although we've dodged an income tax, we haven't solved the
state's budget problems. They'll be back, sooner or later. In fact,
they really haven't gone away.

Now wait a minute, Dave. Sundquist/Naifeh/Rochelle/et al's income tax was supposed to raise around $1.1 billion. But the $1 billion dollar's raised by the sales tax increase isn't enough? The largest tax increase in Tennessee history? Obviously, then, you're saying that the income tax would've been raised the year after it was enacted, no?

As you can see, it's a mish-mush that contradicts itself. Kushma also plugs the usual CA gripes about the "fairness" of the tax load (never bothering to note that the income tax would shift the burden from nearly 100% of Tennesseans to roughly 40%) and how inflexible the sales tax is (even thought it raised more money, again, this year than last, even with the recession).

Kushma follows Susan Adler Thorp's lead in taking a swipe at Senator Person's inquiry into State accounts:

That doesn't mean falling for talk radio/Internet fantasies
such as the state's alleged $4.74 billion secret surplus. It does
mean looking more closely at what we're spending and what
we're getting in return.

No one's said they're "secret." Nor are they fantasies. The State's CAFR clearly points them out.

But he does score a bull's eye. Kushma notes:

For all the huffing and puffing over this year's budget, lawmakers
again avoided examining some of their, and lobbyists', most
cherished spending priorities.

Highway construction, for example. Why is it unthinkable that
State Police patrols - which by definition occur largely on
highways - should be funded out of driver license fees and
gasoline tax revenues rather than the general fund? Evidently
because the folks who pour concrete say so.

In fact, this idea was proposed and promptly shut down. TDOT Commissioner Bruce Saltsman told the legislators that he wasn't going to give up any of his money! Nor would he "allow" the Legislature to shift one penny of the gas tax to that the General Fund. Kushma actually hits the mark, but it's a shame he hasn't gotten his people to actually look into the issue. The CA has studiously avoided anything resembling investigations of roadbuilders and developers, much less the cloistered abbey that is TDOT, for years.

The CA would do well to follow the example they set several years ago when they ran a series of articles breaking down the City's budget and explaining it to readers. We at Half-Bakered encourage them to do the same for the State's budget, letting readers see for themselves what's really going on. We dare them.

Until next time, that is all.
Reader Contributions

Liberty Larry has a couple of links to pages he maintains. They are breakdowns of the many candidates for local and state races, though the local race pages are much more in-depth. He writes, as his name might imply, from a Libertarian perspective, one that is non-existent in coverage by the media, though both small-l and large-l libertarianism was front-and-center in the Income Tax War. Check them out:

Until next time, that is all.
The Crone Speaks

Well, here's where we make bad jokes like "Once, twice, three times a lady," or "Three strikes, you're out!" but they seem too trite for Susan Adler Thorp's latest retribution. Far more appropriate, though it opens us to charges of sexism, is Shakespeare's "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorn'd."

For the third time in three weeks, SAT has published a mauling of "a href="">George Flinn. Seems she really holds a grudge. When Flinn's campaign manager snubbed her in a grocery store, she took it very personally and lit into Flinn. A week later, she did it again. Now comes the latest.

Never let it be said that columnists don't use their privilege for personal vengeance.

In this week's installment, she pulls out all the usual guns. There's dodging debates (he'll be in one this Thursday), there's outsider influence (his handlers, hired by the party), there's personal attacks (though if she does it, that's not an issue), there's negative campaigning (though she herself admits it works) and there's continuing to flog a misrepresented story (Flinn's "back room deal" ad). Too bad this isn't a movie, 'cause it's got everything.

Adler writes:

The ad starts by criticizing the quality of public education in
Shelby County and ends with a lament about the purported
backroom deal that was "guaranteed with taxpayer dollars. But
taxpayers didn't even get to vote on it.''

Perhaps Flinn should stick to reading X-rays. It apparently hasn't
occurred to him that taxpayers don't vote on funding of city and
county schools, either. Together these two school systems have
budgets of about $1 billion annually. That's equivalent to building
four arenas every year.

Funding schools is the job of the City Council and County
Commission - the elected representatives of the people. In case
Flinn and his handlers haven't checked, this is a nation built on a
representative form of government - of the people, by the people
and for the people.

And perhaps Adler should be honest. Planning, contracting and building schools is a long, drawn-out public process, hashed out in many school board meetings. Public officials helm the deal. The arena deal came about suddenly, in closed meetings, with press releases about what was happening. Private developers and team owners led the way. The lingering anger in the community, as evidenced in the CA's own letters column, refutes Adler's assertions.

Why would a voice of truth spend so much money to distort the facts?

Many Memphians have asked similar questions of the Commercial Appeal.

Other than fueling voter anger, negative advertising has a darker
side. It tends to alienate voters from the political process,
generates distrust, clouds serious discussion of issues and
erodes faith in our political system.

And yet, the CA dutifully and lasciviously covers it all, and devotes op-ed column space to it as well. Why? Because they know that conflict and discord sell papers.

[Flinn's] prescription for helping ailing schools is nothing more than
sloganeering. It's equivalent to what doctors used to do when
they used leeches to bleed their patients and promised a cure.

We'll let that beauty speak for itself.

Because negative advertising could backfire, Flinn's team hasn't
yet gone hard after Wharton, who is one of the nicest and most
respected men in Shelby County.

That one too. Isn't that a good reason to vote for Wharton?

How this man can keep a straight face as he campaigns on a
promise to bring accountability and openness to county
government is beyond me.

Well there you go now. Who wouldn't want to talk with her, after being characterised that way?

As always, Adler makes much of Flinn's money. Got to remind the voters how "out of touch" he is, after all. Never mind how Wharton lives, we (literally) won't discuss that. And she makes the usual digs about his campaign advisers, like Wharton doesn't have his own. And of course, there's still no discussion of the many controversial cases Wharton has taken over the years and how the public might react to that. Don't want to cause trouble there.

But it's interesting to note that with all this negative attack on her part, she has yet to write of AC Wharton. Not a column yet. Plenty of time to attack Flinn; none for extolling her man.

Take your own advice, Thorp.

Until next time, that is all.
Your Thoughts Here

Thanks to Blog Out, we now have commenting! Please feel free to add your thoughts, critiques and observations to this blog.

We have also added an email contact: asme -at- crosswinds -dot- net. Please use this to forward links or information to Half-Bakered. We do not warrant that submissions will be used, but they will be looked at. However, if you have access to Lexis-Nexus that you are willing to share, have subscriptions to the Tennessee Journal you'd like to give us , or are willing to make donations to help move this site to the pay side, we most likely will use them and happily so!

Please, though, note that we at Half-Bakered are not available for engaging in conversation or debate through the commenting system or our email. Our time is already too full keeping up with posting. Sorry.

Citius, altius, fortius!

Until next time, that is all.

Monday, July 22, 2002

Mom, We Did Our Homework. Can We Play Now?

Whew! A lot of work tonight, and we still haven't got to Jackson Baker's "Meltdown in Nashville" article from last week's Memphis Flyer. Our fingers hurt too much, even for that. Good night.

Until next time.
Sounds Good To Us!

A few good links, courtesy of TaxFree Tennessee:

The Bristol Times-News has this story where State Representative Ron Ramsey talks, as an insider, about some of what went on in the Capitol during the Income Tax War.

And the Knoxville News-Sentinel has this story about the an interesting side-effect of the Income Tax War and the election's biggest phenomenon: write-in candidates. Half-Bakered hopes to do further comment and links on this development in the future.

Lastly, although we quoted this link in the previous post, we're breaking it out here as well. TFT has this extraordinary examination of Jim Henry's dubious connection to Lamar! Alexander and why it's cause for worry. Must reading.

Until next time, that is all.
Pronouncements From the King-makers

The Commercial Appeal has been running its endorsements for the past week. We hope to have a statistical breakdown (incumbent v. challenger, Dem v. Repub, white v. black, etc.) sometime this week, our regular employment permitting.

To no great surprise, in the US Senate race they prefer Lamar! Alexander on the Republican side and Bob Clement for the Democrats. Noting that Alexander and Ed Bryant, his challenger, are little different, in their opinion, they plump for Lamar!'s experience as the deciding factor.

Most Republicans would beg to differ, of course. For them, the differences are stark and determining. Lamar! represents the same moderate-to-liberal, Establishment Republicans that Karl Rove, President Bush's senior adviser, has been pressing for across the country. That strategy has produced clearly failing results, most dramatically in California, Virginia and New Jersey to date. Grass-roots conservatives, believing candidate Bush's professions of conservatism, are turning out in droves, agitating to push the party back to the right against Rove's "capture the middle" efforts. Bryant represents the same no-apologies conservatism that Bill Simon reflects in California. Bryant suffers from a lack of name recognition to much of the general population, but that may not be a factor in a party primary.

Clement gets the nod for experience as well, and for policy, but the CA's two paragraph endorsement seems nearly perfenctory, which it may well be in the Republican-leaning state. It's interesting to note that Lamar! gets nearly three times as much ink as Clement, and even Bryant gets slightly more.

In their gubernatorial endorsements, there is a seeming mild surprise. Neither front runner, Phil Bredesen for the Democrats nor Van Hilleary for the Republicans, gets the nod. Instead, the CA pulls for the also-rans.

Jim Henry, the Republican, is the kind of candidate that papers build up. He has no real hope of winning, but the wretches at their desks pull for him anyway. And Randy Nichols, the Democrat, is so far out of the running that the endorsement seems almost farcical.

But there is a real issue, one that the CA has refused to give up on, even after the debacle and meltdown of this past Legislative session, powering their endorsements. That issue is an income tax. Both Bredesen and Hilleary are on record with anti-income tax pledges, though neither candidate is showing real enthusiasm for keeping it. The CA has shown ruthless willingness to do whatever it has to in order to help the income tax clause. If that means backing "Hail Mary" no-hopers, then so be it.

We're going through these endorsements paragraph by paragraph. Please bear with us.

Nichols and Henry have trailed in opinion polls and money raising,
but they must not be written off for those reasons. Their
campaigns have been more honest and substantive than those
waged by the ostensible front-runners in their races, and they
appear better prepared to work effectively as Tennessee's chief

Running on issues is what they have to do, having nothing else. And their losing positions show what their party-mates think. Calling either "better prepared" is pure opinion that simply cannot be demonstrated. Strictly speaking, Bredesen is the best prepared of the lot.

The next governor will inherit the budget mess the General
Assembly deferred, but did nothing to solve, by raising the state
sales tax rate this month after provoking a partial government
shutdown. Our state now has the highest average state-local
sales tax rate - and arguably the least fair, least efficient tax
structure - in the country.

More of the same disinformation and propaganda the CA has promulgated in the effort to secure the income tax. The Legislature did punt the issue, so that voters can speak their minds clearly and the next session can proceed from whatever mandate they get. Nothing was accomplished this session precisely because Speaker Naifeh's iron "my way or the highway" control wouldn't allow any other considerations. He blocked, thwarted, bullied or threatened all other options, so that his would be the only possibility left standing. He failed, twice, and the Senate finally got fed up with his obstinancy.

The sales tax increase will expire at the end of this fiscal year. Legislators know this and know they have to do something permanent. This Fall will tell them what that is. As to the "least fair, least efficient" charge, TaxFreeTennessee have been doing admirable jobs in demolishing it.

Increasing state government's already excessive reliance on
sales tax revenues merely compounds its structural budget
problems. Reversing course and placing Tennessee on a sound
footing - and speaking candidly to taxpayers about this state's
fiscal condition - is the most important task the new governor
must face.

There is no structural problem. There is a spending problem, plain and simple. It is worth noting that Tennessee was on sound footing, without an income tax, for many bountiful years. Extravagance and lack of foresight are what doomed us.

"Speaking candidly...?" The CA lecturing us on "speaking candidly?" Please pardon us while we laugh derisively.

Lame-duck GOP Gov. Don Sundquist has tried to promote tax
reform - including an equitable, broad-based state income tax - in
his second term. But his opposition to an income tax in his
previous campaigns for governor cost him essential credibility.

No. It was his sudden about-face, right after a re-election campaign in which he repeatedly denounced an income tax, that doomed him. It was Bush 41's "read my lips" taken up an order of magnitude. It made him a pariah in his own party and the most reviled person we've seen in politics, Nixon included.

This year's leading (in polls, anyway) candidates for the
Republican and Democratic nominations - U.S. Rep. Van Hilleary of
Spring City and former Nashville mayor Phil Bredesen - have
followed the prevailing political winds and built their campaigns
largely on opposition to an income tax. When the state House
seemed ready to look favorably on an income tax measure this
year, their me-too vows to seek its repeal as governor helped
seal its defeat.

Bredesen and Hilleary lead in every way. When only orthodox black and socialist-left Democrats, the teacher's unions, and ultra-wealthy Republicans support the income tax, it doesn't take much to read the winds. It took everything Naifeh had, every trick and every threat he knew, to still fall five votes short. Both Bredesen and Hilleary acted to let the Legislators know that it was time to get past that stalemate and onto other solutions.

In the process, they alienated many lawmakers and foreclosed
options. That would not seem a good position for a would-be
governor who wants to lead a responsible debate and achieve
bipartisan compromise.

They led. They made it known that they did not support Naifeh's thuggery. They effectively undercut him and helped to move the issue along. They both showed admirable leadership quality, at least in that case.

Nichols, the Knox County district attorney general, is the only
major candidate of either party who explicitly favors the kind of
tax reform Tennessee needs: a fair income tax coupled with
reductions - not increases - in state sales taxes. Such changes
would reduce the state tax burden for most Tennessee families
while equipping the state to pay for vital services more
adequately. Nichols's courageous advocacy of tax reform, instead
of the evasion or obstructionism displayed by other candidates,
merits support.

And it's why the CA favors him. Period.

Just as important, Nichols, who grew up in rural West Tennessee,
emphasizes spending reform. His familiarity with law enforcement
administration enables him to offer credible ideas for cutting the
cost and improving the efficiency of the state's criminal justice
system without risking public safety.

As a prosecutor, Nichols also speaks persuasively of the value of
investing in such things as higher teacher salaries, community
mental health programs, early childhood enrichment, and
long-term care of elderly and disabled Tennesseans, to save
money that might otherwise be needed later for police and prison

And where, in this laundry list of increased spending, is there any reform? It's all more of the same..

Bredesen insists that fixing the state's broken budget is
essentially a matter of better "management." Such skills will be a
necessary attribute for the next governor, but the state's budget
problems have grown so severe that they realistically will not be

While he has been eager to tell voters what he opposes,
Bredesen has been less willing to discuss specific tax measures
or program cuts he would favor. Such change-the-subject rhetoric
may help win votes, but it also could limit his ability to govern if
he is elected.

We hope that Bredesen will force the departments under him to tighten up. But given his record in Nashville as mayor, and his party affiliation as a Democrat, we don't hold much hope there.

Among other Democratic candidates for governor, Charles Smith,
a former state commissioner of education and chancellor of the
Tennessee Board of Regents, has said important things about
the value of a strong public education system to economic
development. That investment message also demands voter

And Tennessee's parents have been saying just as loudly that they believe their education dollars are being misspent. No efforts at true education spending reform have happened, and with the Tennessee Education Association blocking it, likely it won't happen soon. So parents rebel against more money as the same old answer.

On the Republican side, Henry, a former mayor of Kingston, offers
voters an appealing blend of public and private sector
experience. As a Republican leader of the state House in the
1980s, Henry showed his ability to work with lawmakers of both
parties to achieve productive consensus on such issues as public
school reform.

Henry's background as president of a private placement agency
for mentally disabled children, and as a former chairman of the
state Republican Party, reflect political and executive skills and
leadership that also would serve him well as governor.

TaxFreeTennessee has done a remarkable job in this story of dismantling that myth. Henry was, to borrow their words, a "water carrier" for Governor Alexander's spending increases. No reason to believe he won't do more of the same as Governor himself.

Henry, like Hilleary, says he opposes an income tax. Unlike
Hilleary, he concedes the tax structure must be overhauled. He is
willing to place the matter before a state constitutional
convention and abide by the popular will.

Although he cites his conservative credentials, Henry also
emphasizes the importance of enhanced state investment in
higher education and in maintaining TennCare as a safety net for
poor and chronically ill Tennesseans.

Henry's anti-tax credentials have been called into serious question, as we noted above. He admits the need for "tax reform," the code for "income tax." And he supports expensive, socialistic government. This is a Republican?

Hilleary, who lacks the breadth of Henry's experience and
knowledge of key state issues, has seemed content to sit on the
advantages in poll numbers and fund-raising he has acquired
during three years of campaigning. He has refused to debate
Henry during the primary campaign.

Finally, we agree! It is the tactic of a winning candidate and it is no credit to Hilleary. AC Wharton's Memphis mayoral campaign is similar, but the CA approves of that.

The wisdom of that strategy often is validated when Hilleary
speaks up. He at first denied the structural, long-term nature of
the state's budget deficit, calling it a "fictitious myth." When he
finally acknowledged the state's fiscal crisis, he blamed it on
TennCare and suggested the answer was to cut the program -
which costs Tennessee taxpayers less than many other states'
comparable Medicaid programs while insuring more people - to

It is a fictitious myth. Spending is the problem and TennCare is a major part of that. Serious TennCare reform can save the State up to $400 million. Reversion to Medicaid might save more. And once again, the CA out and out lies: TennCare does cost more and is insuring numbers and groups it was never intended to insure.

Hilleary recently conceded the state needed more revenue, but
declined to specify a source. His platform might be summed up by
his memorable campaign utterance: "Whatever the voters are
buying, that's what I'm selling."

Voters of both parties deserve better approaches. The
nominations of RANDY NICHOLS and JIM HENRY would give
Tennesseans their clearest, best choice for governor in

And Memphians deserve a real newspaper, not a propaganda arm of special interests. But we have choice there, now do we?

Until next time, that is all.
A Puzzling Omission

We did not find this story in either Sunday's or Monday's Commercial Appeal. Considering its potential for "doom and gloom" apocalypse-mongering amongst the press types, that's really odd. If someone has seen this elsewhere, please forward the link!

From the Monday USA Today, in the Across the USA column:

TennCare officials say they will disqualify up to 100,000 people, including 3,000 children, from the health insurance program by Jan. 1. Enrollees are being notified of an eligibility review. Officials say the changes are necessary to curb abuse and reduce costs. TennCare replaced Midecaid in Tennessee in 1994.

Note that "up to" 100,000 will be dropped. Still, why there's been no hue and cry over this is odd.

Until next time, that is all.
Depends On How You Look At It

Another tasty morsel in the Monday CA. In this column, James W. Brosnan, the CA's Washington Bureau Reporter gives a journeyman PR bit about the work US Representative Harold Ford, Jr. is doing to build his connections and career.

But it was this bit at the end that caught our eye:

[Democrats] can't afford a breach. Ford and Gore need each other to overcome
the Republican tide in Tennessee, whether it's Gore in another presidential bid in
2004 or Ford for the Senate in 2006.

That one can be read in either of two ways, depending on your point of view: Democrats must stick together to win against the Republicans --or-- To roll back the Republicans who afflict our state, they must work together.

Take your pick.

Until next time, that is all.
How Soon They Forget

In this story in today's Commercial Appeal, they report on the downtown phenomenon of "flexing." Basically, hundreds of youngsters cruise along Riverside Drive in their cars, trying to see and be seen, stopping to chat up friends and impress the opposite sex. But the City is enacting a "no cruising" law to put a stop to that.

The sole reason given is that the many cars are clotting up traffic around Beale Street and the Pyramid, and choking Riverside Drive. Nevermind that they are public streets and parks, that the City has never addressed the area's parking needs adequately, that no crime is being reported in connection with flexing. It's taking money from downtown and Beale merchants and that's good enough.

Black kids cruising and meeting girls is a problem. But when white kids did it not-so-many decades ago, it was "American Graffitti." Or kids today can do it in the parking lots along Winchester and Summer Avenues, where police can "manage" the problem better and that's tolerable.

But left out of the story is another, possible, motivator for this new law. Take a drive along Riverside. To one side, you have Ol' Man River himself, rolling along oblivious. But to the other, you have the bluffs and the many expensive homes overlooking Riverside. Some very wealthy, powerful and important folks live up there and one can just imagine the noise drifting up to their aerie paradise. No doubt the gods on Olympus look down upon the masses in their sordid affairs and despair of the pollution encircling their little bit of Manhattan on the Mississippi.

Or not.

Until next time, that is all.
Totally Gratuitous

There's no reason to read this story. Just look at the picture. All we can say is, Michelle Mitchell is one very healthy looking woman. Very. Healthy.


Until next time, that is all.
Headline of the Week

Love's gone, but parents in a lather at East

Talk about mixed metaphors and scrambled meaning. That strange headline is above a story about the troubled ex-principal of East High School, Dr. Oscar Love. (And don't get us started singing Kiss' "Dr. Love," OK?) After stirring controversy there, a controversy that Memphis City Schools couldn't substantiate, he was transferred to Raleigh-Egypt, where parents are now complaining about being given another school's problem. What any of that has to do with the headline, only the Commercial Appeal knows.

Until next time, that is all.
We Can Hardly Wait

The truly execrable Mike Fleming is touting a "very special guest" on his Wednesday radio show (3 - 7PM) on AM600. Talking about Senator Curtis Person's call for a complete accounting of all State assets, Fleming claims he will have a "special guest" who will "name names." Fleming claims that when he asked this guest if the State had $4.7 billion in idle assets, the person said, "It's more than that."

Our hopes are not high for this interview. Fleming is not noted for intellectual depth nor real doggedness in his interviews. He talks a good game when alone, but he often becomes deferential and superficial when interviewing. Fleming has already had several callers (Half-Bakered included) point him to the State's CAFR, where he could easily do some of his own research. Based on comments to this point, he does not appear to have done so, nor seem interested in doing so.

Allow us to take a few paragraphs at this time to comment on Mike Fleming. At one time, on a different local radio station, he went by the nickname "Napalm Mike." ("Like napalm in your coffee" was his tagline.) Today, it's "Fleming & Company." We did not hear him in the "Napalm" days, but do not hold him in high regard today. Especially compared to Nashville radio talkers like Phil Valentine and Steve Gill, he can be safely called a lightweight. It is regretable that he generally wastes such an important platform.

He embodies many of the worst stereotypes of talk radio. His daily menu is usually the outrage du jour. He will take whatever is the topic of the day--always something emotional and controversial--and riff on it for the first 30-45 minutes of his show, working up a good lather of moral outrage. His vocabulary is peppered with words like stupid, liberal, garbage, animals, unbelievable, outrageous, idiots, etc. He will frequently say something very like, "I think it's the most outrageous/stupid/unbelievable/idiotic thing I've ever heard and you can't change my mind. But you're welcome to try at 545-WREC." You get the idea--work the outrage of the listeners and gin up the calls.

He has the distracting habit of quoting unnamed people who "tell" him things, usually political, civic or media insiders. The information is often of the interesting variety, as when he mentioned that several people had told him Governor Sundquist discussed the need for an income tax up to nine months before his infamous State of the State address. I've never seen this anywhere else, nor has Fleming ever discussed this startling revelation with any depth since. These things pop up from nowhere and can often disappear as quickly.

Rather than debate or confront folks with difficult ideas, he will often cut them off, sometimes pretending the call never happened. He will also pick hapless, defenseless callers to rail against, to puff up his reputation as a tough guy. Fleming has the distressing tendency to talk in absolutes, things being the worst, most, -est, etc. It is polarising, of course, and a cheap rhetorical trick.

During the tax and budget debates his own stance could be difficult to infer. When asked, point blank, if he opposed an income tax, Fleming said he opposed higher taxes. Note that he didn't answer the question asked! Also, he has repeatedly referred to House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh as his "good friend," a status confirmed when, during the heat of the income tax battles, the day after Naifeh referred to talk radio hosts as scum and the lowest form of life, Naifeh called Fleming to specifically exempt him from that description! Fleming was also the only radio broadcaster allowed to broadcast live from his 2002 Coon Supper, but never broadcast from Nashville during the budget battles.

Fleming is one of only three radio call-in show hosts who regularly addresses community and political issues. One is Andrew Clark, Sr., who is also on WREC, on Sunday afternoons. He is an older black conservative whose viewpoint is not of the black orthodoxy. He is a calm, reasonable voice. The other is WDIA's Bobby O'Jay. Bobby's show tends more toward the personal and the black-cultural, as summed up in "Bobby-ology," his philosophy on life and the black experience. He is serious in his way and clearly a man who spends time thinking things through. He also takes a much higher number of callers than his WREC counterparts, which makes for a great way to get a good view into the Memphis black community. Janice Fullilove also had a WDIA call-in show, but gave it up to run for County Register. Fullilove would sometimes be paired with Fleming in "Point/Counterpoint"-type arguments on ABC24 News, to the expected disastrous results. They would shout over each other in soundbites, accomplishing little.

Finally, we must admit that Fleming's voice itself often makes him hard to listen to. When he gets worked up, as he regularly does, his tenor rises and rises to a nasal squeak that hurts our ears. Although we make real efforts to listen to his show, to catch important news that other media outlets in Memphis may ignore, we have rarely been able to listen for more than an hour or ninety minutes. It's just too painful, and now we're not talking about his voice.

Until next time, that is all.
Your Thoughts Here

Thanks to Blog Out, we now have commenting! Please feel free to add your thoughts, critiques and observations to this blog.

We have also added an email contact: asme -at- crosswinds -dot- net. Please use this to forward links or information to the blog. We do not warrant that submissions will be used, but they will be looked at. However, if you have access to Lexis-Nexus that you are willing to share, have subscriptions to the Tennessee Journal you'd like to give us , or are willing to make donations to help move this site to the pay side, we most likely will use them and happily so!

Please, though, note that we at Half-Bakered are not available for engaging in conversation or debate through the commenting system or our email. Our time is already too full keeping up with posting.

Citius, altius, fortius!

Until next time, that is all.

Sunday, July 21, 2002

Who Let the Attack Dogs Out?

The title of the Commercial Appeal story says it all:

Flinn in web of curiously secret lawsuits

Web as in "Oh what a tangled web we weave/When first we practice to deceive." Curious as in "doesn't it make you wonder?" Secret as in "something to hide?"

In the stable of reporters at the CA, they have the soldiers like Richard Locker and Paula Wade. They have the Wise Old Sage, Susan Adler Thorp. Marc Perrusquia is the gardener, constantly out there turning over the dirt. He's been a reliable sword in the CA's parries against the Ford family and now he's been put into the Flinn field.

What does the story turn up? Not much. George Flinn, Republican mayoral candidate, and Mary E. Norman countersued each other in 1996. The entire matter is under seal. They appear to have had a dating relationship around the same time.

Yep, that's it.

But from this slender root, Perrusquia manages to make a story that fills over 1/3 of a page, using lots of words like "unusual, declined, embarrassing, secrecy, close off, shield, smattering, troubles," and the chilling "in the vaults."

But our favorite is this passage:"Norman's suit against Flinn is locked in a vault in the Circuit Court clerk's office." Perfectly factually true, as all records are kept there, but ooooooooh, doesn't it sound nastier and juicier this way?

The story tries to imply that Flinn might have had something to do with Norman leaving a job this year:

Earlier that year, Norman left her job with Metro Traffic Network, a
company that provides road-condition reports to local TV and radio
stations. She had sold advertising for Metro Traffic since 1999, said
former co-worker David Paige.

"I know she was having some problems with Flinn at the time," Paige

The two had dated for several years, he said.

Paige said he didn't know specifics about Norman's troubles with Flinn or
any details of her suit but said Flinn "had influence" with Metro Traffic.

More oooooh! Sounds kinda like he got her fired or something, doesn't it?

Perrusquia repeatedly calls the sealing "unusual," or other similar variants. But his most damning expert can only come up with this:

That's most unusual," said C. Barry Ward, a Memphis lawyer...

And this:

The case was sealed in April or May on the order of Circuit
Court Judge George H. Brown Jr., said Robert Mathews, a manager in
the clerk's office.

Reached last week, Brown said judicial ethics prohibit him from
discussing the case, but he agreed this type of all-encompassing seal
deviates from the norm.

"No, it's not common to do that," said Brown, who said such seals are
reserved for "matters of a personal nature . . . that would have an
embarrassing potential to it."

Hmm...really, um, unusual, no?

What's truly odd about this story is that, even while making a big cotton candy ball from this bit of sugar, the story appears to pass over the most damaging part:

The 1996 suit by Feldmann alleged that Flinn controlled and sexually
abused her during a personal relationship the two had beginning in June
1995. The suit alleged Flinn prescribed drugs for Feldmann and gave her
others out of his "personal supply." The drugs allegedly included the
anti-depressants Zoloft and Prozac and also Valium.

Feldmann contended she subsequently had two overdoses.

Feldmann sought up to $2 million in damages. The case was settled two
years ago under undisclosed terms. She could not be reached by The
Commercial Appeal.

Flinn's lawyers drew attention in legal papers to Feldmann's lengthy
struggle with mental illness. A psychiatric evaluation in the file
contended that Feldmann "has some features consistent with borderline
personality disorder."

Flinn, a radiologist as the CA loves to point out, prescribing anti-depressant drugs to a girlfriend? Overdoses? Psychiatric problems? This seems like the tawdry, sticky and embarrassing kind of story that would dog a candidate for weeks and yet it is merely glossed over, compared the rest of the story's treatment of Ms. Norman. Is it possible that this was a warning to Flinn of what's yet to come in future stories?

Only time will tell.

Until next time, that is all.
Quote of the Week

From the story below comes this winner, from Donald Winfield, 61, who was part of the poll.

"I have more government than I can afford, need, want and use."

Until next time, that is all.
Avoiding the Obvious

The Commercial Appeal has a story about new poll numbers in the County Mayoral race. In a nutshell, Democrat AC Wharton has 46%; Republican George Flinn has 27%; 23% remain undecided. The poll surveyed 600 Shelby Countians with a margin of error of 4%. It did not survey likely voters.

The story tries to make much of Wharton's "support from a more diverse population." It also quotes Rhodes College polisci professor Michael Nelson, a sometime media expert, in a rehashing of Flinn's recent and recurring ad distancing himself from the "backroom deals" that shoved through the new NBA arena. Nelson calls Flinn's ad a "Hail Mary pass. He's transformed himself into a kind of anti-establishment populist."

Well, duh! Republicans saw the writing on the wall this year: that demographics make it a near certainty that the County will elect a black mayor. They also read the tea leaves of blame: the next mayor will be stuck with some very hard choices regarding city-county consolidation and repayment of the County's $1 billion-plus debt. It's a no-win scenario for the winner. They had tremendous difficulty finding a good candidate and finally got the game Larry Scroggs to make a go of it. Flinn, sensing an opportunity, decided to jump into the race, flattening the indifferent Scroggs in the process and royally angering the Republican establishment with his victory. Flinn's always been the "anti-establishment" guy!

AC's been damned near unbeatable since Sir Isaac Ford (His real name, we swear.) dropped his quixotic run as an independent. It's a simple, obvious fact of Memphis politics that the black vote is almost always monolithic and the white vote diverse. Ford's dropping out ended any potential splitting of that monolith. With blacks making up somewhere between 55 and 60% of the County's population and voting 95% Democratic, with the white population divided into Democrats and Republicans about 1 to 3, an AC victory has been all but assured for weeks now.

It would take a real catastrophe for AC to lose, but he's been remaining low and seldom saying much beyond boilerplate. The CA hasn't done much in the way of stories on him, other than the usual profiles. While they have been making great hay of Flinn (see the above story), they seem not at all interested in Wharton's history of legal clients, which might upset or anger a lot of white and black voters. FOX13 News has a debate scheduled for Thursday of next week, so something may come of that.

In the meantime, the CA continues to pretend there's a contest here. Mostly to hype the story and sell papers. Partly to bash on Republicans.

Until next time, that is all.