Thursday, August 15, 2002

A Little-Reported Big Story

Many thanks to South Knox Bubba for catching this one. It seems the incoming President of the UT system, John Shumaker, may be exactly what the University system has been needing for many years--a man who can live within his means! Shumaker says:
"When you're faced with constantly planning for cuts,
for eliminations, a shutdown," he says, "that crisis
management mode is something that we can do and do
it well. But it's a distraction from the larger strategic
goal-setting and even the operational activities that you
need to pay attention to...."

"We must decide what we're going to be with the
resources that we've got, and that's why I've been
using the phrase 'we're going to give Tennessee the
best university it can afford,'" he says. "Now, it might
look different. It might be smaller. It might be
stratified...But it is going to be quality; it is going to be
student-centered; and it is going to be focused on the
land grant values of putting knowledge to work in
some form or another...And we're going to have to do
some surgery, and it's not going to be pleasant...."

"I've always thought that the fairest and most efficient
form of financial aid is low tuition," he says. "That's the
spirit of public universities, and no bureaucracy needs
to support it. Look at how much we spend on
administering federal grants and loans both on
campuses and in Washington. Just keep tuition low,
and you don't need a bureaucracy."

I predict two things. First, he's going to be vilified by the academics and administrators, who will find sympathetic ears in the press. Second, if given a chance he's going to do wonders for the UT system.

You can read the original story here and I highly recommend you do. It's inspiring!

Until next time, that is all.
Your Working Boy
It's Always What They Don't Tell You

Today's Commercial Appeal has a Business section story about the post-political plans of Shelby County Mayor Jim Rout. It seems he's up for election to the Board of Directors of SCB Computer Technology.

It's a bland story that mentions Rout's salary would be $20,000, plus a bit more. But nowhere in the story do you find anything about SCB's Shelby County connections. And there's the real story.

SCB is a giant firm, with wide and deep roots here in Shelby County. They are players and getting Rout would be a lucrative coup.

Then there's the whole issue of a leading politician going to a huge corporation which has intimate dealings with the local government, which seems like Post-Politics 101 to you and me but is apparently High Latin 650 to politicians and businessmen. Regular goobs like us don't understand how politics works, and how subtle and sopshisticated is the mind of these folks that they can pull off this kind of jump without breaking ethics, rules or laws.

Certainly the highly sophisticated types at the CA aren't bothered by any of this. They didn't even bother to report it!

Until next time, that is all.
Your Working Boy
Is There A Connection?

I'm hoping someone out there can clear this up.

Some time back, the Commercial Appeal reported on problems with the Juvenile Court Clerk's office, specifically one Darrell Catron, the former aide to Shep Wilbun. Wilbun fired Catron when spending irregularities and other problems arose. Now the federal government is probing.

Well, in today's "Region in Brief" column comes a story [not online] about changes at the Beale Street Development Corporation. the body which controls the Beale Street cash cow. The BSDC's founder and two other board members were expelled. They were accused of financial irregularities, and were also behind a failed attempt to take over the BSDC.

Where's the connection? The BSDC executive director is one Randle Catron. Do you think there's any relation? Isn't it ironic?

Until next time, that is all.
Your Working Boy
Chewy Hobbs Goodness

Bill Hobbs has been on a tear the past few days. Here are some highlights:

The gubernatiorial debate Wednesday night, which I sadly missed [see below], has got Hobbs looking at the reactions of the papers, here, here and here. One Half-Bakered note: the AP's Karin Miller is back! Ooh yeah.

Hobbs neatly skewers the Sundquist administration's actions after Nashville's Channel Five ran a sharp investigative series, which Tax Free Tennessee also reprinted here.

Just before the gubernatorial debates, Van Hilleary came out in favor of the Colorado Taxpayer's Bill of Rights (TABOR), forcing Bredesen to react. Unfortunately for Bredesen, he flinched and clearly left wiggle room for himself on future tax increases, even an income tax. Whether it was smart Hilleary planning, which I kinda doubt given his bad moves in the primary, or lucky speechifying, it has proven a water-shed moment for him. Bredesen has been clearly exposed! Hobbs does some good work on explicating this, and giving you lots to learn about TABOR.

So quit reading me and go there!

Until next time, that is all.
Your Working Boy
Promise Not To Laugh, OK?

It seems the Commercial Appeal is being goaded into holding a community roundtable to confront issues of credibility. It seems this is a project of the Associated Press Managing Editors, called the National Roundtable Credibility Project.

The project's aim is to halt what many view as the erosion of
newspapers' credibility with their readers....

Face to face with staff members of their hometown newspaper,
these readers can, as the APME says, "shine a spotlight on a
newspaper's sore spot.''
Sure don't sound too enthused, do they?

Well, the CA doesn't lack for issue of credibility. For instance, right off the top of my head:

* The CA's editorial and other columnists are, to a man and woman, identifiably liberal. Now, they do run conservative columnists on the editorial page, some quite respected. But, why doesn't the CA have a single conservative staff columnist?

* The CA is an unwavering and vociferous supporter of anything to do with downtown "revitalization." This is often to the point of uncriticality, and sometimes to the point of ruthlessness to opponents of these plans. Why is the CA so nakedly "booster?"

* The CA has regularly run investigations into the Ford family and their various doings. But the paper, which has decried sprawl to the point of running articles examining it, has yet to run a single investigation of any developers. Nor have they ever run a story looking into the political and financial relationships between developers and City politicians. Why are they hesitating?

* William B. Tanner ran an aggressive outdoor advertising sign business, buying up the competition and routinely chopping down trees without permit to build new signs. His actions were well-documented and controversial. Then he mysteriously sold his business and retired. Many months later, the CA runs a long, admiring Feature story about him, ostensibly about his bout with cancer and his "eclectic art collection" and unusual, but good, taste. The article glossed over his former difficulties. Mere weeks later, Tanner received death threats. He had one explosive device detonated on his property and another left to be discovered. The story was held back, deep, into the Metro section. It has since disappeared. What's really going on?

* This one is highly subjective, but talk to most Memphis blacks and they'll tell you, the ones who bother to read the paper, that it is deeply biased against them. Even a lily-white like me can see some merit to that argument. How does the CA respond? Where can they point to refute the charge? Certainly not to the top editors, who are all white men but one.

In fact, the CA is very white. Just walk through the various sections every day of the week. The marquee reporters--Perrusquia, Locker, Wade, Erskine, Fontenay? White. Editorial columnists--Thorp, Branson, Kelly, Brosnan? White. Business, investment, marketing? White. Sports? White. Television, humor, music? White. Pets? White. Religion? White. Health, food? White. Medical, parenting, schoolwork, etiquette, dress, advice? White. Social? White. History? White. There's a few blacks in the side columns of the "Neighbors" section and the one "Wise Consumer" columnist, and...that's it. In a city that's more than half black that's criminal. What postive steps has the CA taken to address this? Why has it taken so long, and produced so little visible result?

Give me more time and I could think up a lot of others. But the CA has already chosen their topic. Are you ready?
Our topic: Good news vs. bad news. What is the newspaper's obligation?
I warned you not to laugh. They think their credibility problem is in the perception that they write too much bad news and not enough good news. They must have laughed up their sleeves, or sat around quite solemnly nodding their heads, over this one.

The whole point of this exercise is:
...for each newspaper to pick a topic relevant to its

These roundtable meetings won't be a miracle cure. But they are
a beginning, a way for newspapers to be more open about what
they do. A way to restore the kind of understanding and
communication on which credibility depends.
A better way, of course, one the CA routinely calls for from the government it purports to cover, is transparency. Open conversation between reporters and readers, columnists and community. One up-and-coming idea that's been around a while is an ombudsman. That's someone who represents the reader interest inside the edifice of the paper. It has worked well for hundreds of papers around the country. Another good idea is for reporters and columnists to start keeping blogs like this. But keeping everyone safely behind the glass walls of the CA building, more secure than any ivory tower, only breeds distrust.

Still, the CA does promise "a comfortable conference room at the Fogelman Executive Center at the University of Memphis." See? Not even inside the CA.

"Even if you aren't picked, we'll publish a story afterward to let you know what was said." Gee, that's really comforting.

Your Working Boy is giving serious consideration to going undercover and attending this wind-ding, just to spy on the enemy firsthand and report the truth to you.

Until next time, that is all.
Your Working Boy
Debate? What Debate?

It was the first gubernatorial debate between Democrat Phil Bredesen and Republican Van Hilleary, minus the smaller party and independent candidates. It's about the future of the State, post-Income Tax War. [I invented that phrase, so forgive me for overusing it.] So, does any Memphis TV station pick it up?

Of course not! Shame on all of them for putting profits ahead of civic responsibility. Although, given the rough weather last night, most of the debate would have been covered over by weather warnings or interrupted by really concerned weathermen putting all that expensive technology to extravagant -- overkill -- use.

Thanks to the Commercial Appeal, though, we have the returned-from-vacation Paula Wade to provide this report on it.

Bill Hobbs calls it decently comprehensive and you can read the rest of his comment here. No disrespect intended to him, but a closer reading finds the usual CA biases.

Wade calls a Bredesen question a "a philosophical softball" but says Hilleary's response "neatly sidestepped it." Then Hilleary's next question "was half-accusation," to which "Bredesen calmly responded.".

"In the closing statement, Bredesen took his only shot at Hilleary...", whereas "Hilleary, in his closing statement, accused Bredesen...."

It's all in the word choice. Welcome back, Paula!

Until next time, that is all.
Your Working Boy
Shifting Sands, No...Dirt

In this story in today's Commercial Appeal, which follows on from this story yesterday. Seems developer Kevin Hyneman was using dirt from the excavation of the new arena site to build up some land on the Wolf River, next to the Mississippi. The wall of dirt was 35 feet high, and on Sunday it collapsed, causing a blockage of the Wolf Harborage, trapping a Coast Guard ship and closing businesses farther up the Harbor. Both the CA and the Memphis Flyer first covered this piece of property some months ago when Hyneman stripped the land of trees, laying it bare.

Two quotes of interest:
Hyneman paid $2.6 million for the 21 acres, much of it easily
flooded, and arranged to have the arena dirt spread on it to raise
it to a buildable level. Recent negotiations to sell the property to
the non-profit Riverfront Development Corp. and developers
Henry Turley and Jack Belz were put on hold when the land
Doesn't that sound like a real sweetheart deal got scotched? Makes me curious. And Hyneman is going to be stuck with the half-million dollar cleanup bill, too, unless he finds a way to get the City to pick up the cost.

Then, from yesterday's story:
"But we told Kevin (Hyneman) to have his engineer review the
data that he's collected to look for any anomalies that might
show up," Monroe said.
Both stories mention and quote from City engineers, others from the Army Corps of Engineers, various consultants, even Hyneman, but nowhere is the name of Hyneman's engineer named! I would assume he has one, after all the City did give him permits. So, who was it and why isn't he being questioned?

Until next time, that is all.
Your Working Boy

Wednesday, August 14, 2002

Temporary Service Interruption

Due to unexpected company this evening, there will be no update. I'll resume tomorrow. Thanks for understanding.

Until next time, that is all.
Your Working Boy

Tuesday, August 13, 2002

The Issue That Will Not Die

Flexing must be vexing the Commercial Appeal. It must be a slow news day, because today's lead editorial in the CA is about "cruising." Note that they don't call it flexing anymore and the quotes are from the editorial! Old people, sheesh....

I've already covered this here, here, here, and here. But still, it's worth going over the CA's tired flogging of the issue.

Complaints that the ordinance infringes on the civil liberties of
innocent youths, depriving them of the opportunity to enjoy a
harmless recreational opportunity, have been exaggerated. City
Council member Joe Brown's public invitation last week to young
people to "come down by the thousands and march on this city
government" was irresponsible.

Does the councilman believe the intimidation of legislative bodies
by excited mobs is a better way to create law than reasoned
debate? In fact, acts of intimidation led to the proposal for an
anti-cruising ordinance.
There's a whole rant in that last paragraph, about the relationship of government to citizens and the right of people to assemble, but it'll have to wait for another day. Sometimes, a little intimidation is required to remind the government of its place, that they are the servants of the people and not their masters. Also, pleas for "reasoned debate" too often cover for a bloodless, airless sophistry that, like modern philosophy, can argue anything, freed of connection to the lives of citizens. Life is messy and sometimes government must be too.

But there's no "exaggeration," here. They do want to restrict the freedoms of the City's black kids, to protect the profits and leisure of a powerful few.

In growing numbers, downtown residents, tourists and other
visitors have complained of being threatened, bullied and kept
awake all night by motorists who circle the block incessantly - and
sometimes erratically - near hotels and apartments with horns
honking and bulked-up car stereo systems blaring.

Tourists and Memphians, including several council members, have
described personal encounters with young cruisers that
convinced them it may be only a matter of time before acts of
verbal and physical harassment escalate into more serious
violence. Several visitors have said that as long as the cruisers
are downtown, they won't be.
In other words, there's been nothing yet but the fears of suburban whites with little experience of urban blacks. Notice there's still no reports of actual incidents, just "fear." And folks who live downtown don't want the busyness of the place to impact their privileged lives. Someone from New York should talk to these folks, and soon, because these idiots have no clue!

Brown warns the ordinance could be enforced in a way that
discriminates against young people who aren't harming anyone.
That's a concern, but the same could be said of most laws on the

Any police officer who engages in harassment should be held
accountable for his or her actions. The Police Department has an
internal affairs bureau that investigates such complaints.
Does anyone really doubt that this law would be selectively enforced, and differently enforced depending on the race of the officer and of the complainant?

Ask any Memphis black about run-ins with the police. Ask those who've gone to the Review Board if they were satisfied or if the incident was ruled in the police's favor. The CA's bland but bold-faced assertions are meaningless.

Councilman Myron Lowery's proposal that police crack down on
rowdy youths by vigorously enforcing the law against disorderly
conduct is valid. Such laws can be especially helpful if a police
officer witnesses the conduct. A city anti-noise law also could be
enforced more strictly downtown.

Better traffic control by police and cooperation by downtown
merchants, including parking garage operators, also would
improve traffic flow downtown...
There's your solution right there! But it would require more police than are currently out there, which is expensive. Instead, give the police a tool they can whip out whenever circumstances are messy. I'm not anti-police, not by any means, but taking from the citizens their right of free assembly, no matter how unruly that assembly is, to give to the police even more power is almost always the wrong solution.

Downtown has grown and prospered with the addition of such
attractions as AutoZone Park, Peabody Place and South Main art
galleries. Beale Street continues to be a people magnet, with its
flourishing restaurant and club scene. Over the next two years or
so, a refurbished concert venue at Memphis Cook Convention
Center and a new arena will create demand for more parking
spaces, more traffic lanes for downtown ingress and egress, and
an even greater police presence.
And how much planning and adjusting has the City done in foreknowledge of this? Squat! Developers keep wedging more and more into the already-crowded downtown and the City just looks on. There's been no street-level planning of traffic and people flow. The parking situation was already bad before Autozone Park and other attractions were built. But the City blithely watches and the CA blames the kids.

The success of downtown Memphis affects the quality of life of
every resident of the region, by providing a greater variety of
cultural experiences and generating sales tax receipts that help
defray public costs of development. The new anti-cruising
ordinance would be a small but helpful tool in the overall effort to
make downtown thrive.
That first sentence is a load of hooey! It's a self-serving argument if ever there was one. The CA, and the City government, is in the back pocket of the developers and bankers who want to make piles of money. The citizenry has been hijacked and pushed around to make their fantasies come true, to line their pockets with our money.

This may seem a petty thing to get worked up over, but it's a very fundamental right that's being bought and sold here. I hope that crowds of kids show up at the City Council meeting and scare the holy crap out of them. Serves 'em right.

Until next time, that is all.
Your Working Boy
A Correction

That's right, when I make a mistake, the correction is right there in the regular flow of posts. No hiding your mistakes at Half-Bakered!

In this post, I said that the combined budgets of the City and County school systems was nearly $2 billion. And that the cuts proposed by the County Commission would amount to roughly 1.7%

Well, I was wrong. The City Schools budget is $743 million. The $10 million proposed cuts amounts to 1.4%. The County Schools budget is $276 million; their proposed cut is $12 million, or 4.3%. That last is a not-insignificant cut, especially compared to the City's.

Sorry for the error and I'm glad to correct it.

Until next time, that is all.
Your Working Boy
More Twists and Turns

In a story I covered here, that includes relevant story links, I talked about the possible suit by some losing County candidates looking into possible fraud.

Today's Commercial Appeal mentions the story, now moved down to the "Region in Brief" section. There's no online link, so I'll reprint it here. Authored by Marc Perrusquia.

A lawyer representing three defeated Democrats said Monday he plans to review election data today and hasn't given up on a possible contest of the Aug. 1 county election.

Although state law requires a contest to be filed within 10 days -- a deadline that passed Monday -- attorney Michael Scholl said the law also impounded election data over that period, keeping the candidates from examining returns. "It's a Catch-22," Scholl said.

Scholl said a team of consultants plans to review computer cartridges from voting machines today. If problems are found, a suit will be filed challenging the election and the constitutionality of the impoundment provision, he said.

Scholl represents Shep Wilbun, Joe Cooper and E.C. Jones. The three ran for Juvenile Court clerk, County Commission and county trustee, respectively.

Until next time, that is all.
Your Working Boy
County Commission Punts

With newly-elected Commissioner John Willingham sitting in the audience, watching carefully, the County Commission, sensing defeat and wishing to avoid the embarrassment, passed over a vote on a tax increase. They opted instead to shift some funds from sales tax revenue.

But note the Commercial Appeal's take on the story:
The Shelby County Commission on Monday left the county
property tax rate unchanged, delivering a resounding "no" to a
proposed 10-cent hike for schools....

The measure had been forwarded to the full commission by a
divided budget committee last week. But commissioners on
Monday knew the votes weren't there....

In an 8-2 vote, the body passed the current county property tax
Not quite a "resounding no." They avoided the increase vote and merely passed the no-increase budget. By the way, three Commission members either didn't vote or weren't present, which squares with my prediction yesterday of a 7-6 or 8-5 vote against.

And the writer, Michael Erskine this time and not Ruma Banerji as in the previous two stories, manages to add the usual CA spin:
Just months after two incumbent commissioners were upset in
the May primary amid vocal anti-tax rhetoric, commissioners did
not even bring the 10-cent increase to a vote Monday....

The tone of Monday's meeting stood in stark contrast to the close
of the budget debate last year, when a bevy of sheriff's deputies
and county police officers were called in to keep order amid
tumultuous protests over a 43-cent property tax hike and a
doubling of the wheel tax.

Relatively, this year's budget process ended with merely a
whimper. Just a handful of tax opponents were present. Not a
single homemade poster was waved. And the three deputies on
hand had little to do but wait out the three-hour meeting.
Some interesting comments from various participants before we go:
"I believe that this was a year that we . . . recognized the
commission would just not be receptive at all to any type of
property tax increase or substantial funding increase," said David
Pickler, chairman of the Shelby County school board.

"We really got about all we could have expected...."

[Commissioner Cleo] Kirk said he felt the schools could "get by" this year with what
commissioners could give them.

"The schools are really not in that great of a need this year," he
If they could do this, then why the gnashing of teeth over not getting their request? Is it that there's still padding in budgeted-but-unspent funds from the previous budget, as most agencies have?

The good news here, despite the CA's smudging over, is that a tax increase was stopped. That's a good sign for the future. Most important, will the cuts to be made come from administration and future building projects? Or will they make easy, show cuts?

Until next time, that is all.
Your Working Boy
Pulling It All Together

Several stories by themselves are just the usual news and views, but when you pull the bits and pieces buried in them all together, you get a very interesting, if surely unintended, result.

In today's lead editorial on passing laws against downtown cruising the Commercial Appeal opines:
Does the councilman believe the intimidation of legislative bodies
by excited mobs is a better way to create law than reasoned
People behave this way when frustration reaches a peak. The frustration results from citizens' sense of disconnection from, and disrespect by, their political leaders. Free-spending and profligate government agencies, or politicians who benefit from decisions they make in ways not available to the average person are a sure fuse to ignite that sense.

Next there's the story of politicians getting free University of Tennessee football tickets, some of the hardest to get in the State. In this post-Income Tax War climate, what has been going on for years suddenly is unseemly, and rightly so. Legislators will be "requested" to pay for those tickets they do get, a mere $38. The University doesn't have the spine to demand payment, since the tickets are their way of lobbying legislators for more money and better treatment. Your tax dollars and your ticket dollars are going to bribe and pamper their fat daddies. While it's a small and largely symbolic change, it's a change of attitude and a start.

And then there was this. An otherwise rote story about the slow ticket sales for the Redbirds this season, blaming Sept. 11 and a slow economy on the slowdown, has this tiny bit dropped in:
Saturday night, The Med (The Regional Medical Center) had a
group outing of more than 6,000 people, leading to ticket sales of
Look at that number again. If you assume they paid only $10 a ticket (I have no idea what a reduced-price group sales ticket is, but that's a fair, if low, number.), then the Med spend $60,000! That's a year's salary for someone, or several someones in maintenance. And this from an agency that's chronically cash-strapped.

Regular folks look at things like this and get steamed. But politicians and bureaucrats don't blink. It's the perquisites of the job for them.

It's from such acorns that the mighty oaks of voter rebellion are grown.

Until next time, that is all.
Your Working Boy
The Truly Execrable Mike Fleming

What is up with Fleming? He's been on the "Ricky the Rat" Rout tear for more than a week now, detailing every twist and turn of the fortunes of the son of the outgoing County Mayor, head of the Shelby County Young Republicans, and erst-while leader-to-be of the SC Republican Party. Rout's actions prior to the election were despicable for a leading Republican and deserve to be brought up for opprobium, but good golly Miss Molly!

He won't let go. What's his motivation? What is his purpose? His stated goal is to get Rout out of Republican politics for good. But it seems he's carrying someone's water here and I'm left wondering.

Until next time, that is all.
Your Working Boy

Monday, August 12, 2002

Public Service Announcement

You'll notice to the left I've added Weather Pixie. She's a real-time weather condititions report. This blog is nothing if not relentlessly earnest and serious, so I thought a bit of whimsy might not hurt. Plus, I love weather. I can watch the Weather Channel for hours, sometimes.

Click on Weather Pixie to go to her home page, if you want to add her to your site.

Until next time, that is all.
Your Working Boy
The Story Simmered, Now It's Done

The Tennessean had a story Sunday about the problems of Republican candidate Karen Bennett, who is mounting a write-in campaign in the 52nd District. Tax Free Tennessee has been covering the story, too.

The good news today, which may also auger well for Antonio Lopez in his run against House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, is that she has had her votes certified. She's in! The bad news is that, in investigating, the Tennessean found dozens of election tally sheets either improperly filled out or missing. Almost one in eight in both the Republican and Democratic primaries!

More bad electoral news.

Until next time, that is all.
Your Working Boy
Slightly Off Topic, I'll Admit

In my daily surf of the web, I came across this story from Kansas City, Mo.

Two men, one a candidate and one his long-time critic, come to blows over political signs. Now that's negative campaigning. Someone alert Susan Adler Thorp!

Until next time, that is all.
Your Working Boy
Another Milestone Achieved

Although I certainly didn't set out with that goal in mind, Half-Bakered has achieved another milestone today. I was referred to on Instapundit! You can see my letter to Glenn Reynolds about mid-way down the August 12 entries, 4:16PM. (Instapundit doesn't have individual item links.) Yeehaw!

What happened was Glenn linked to another blogger's entry (Stephen Den Beste) critical of anonymous blogging. Well, ol' Half-Bakered is anonymous, with what I feel is sufficient reason. So I responded, laying out my reasons and fears. Glenn felt it good enough to use! Yeehaw! Now if he would only add me to his links list. [hint, hint]

Thanks to Glenn for making a little ol' blogger's day. Those of you unfamiliar with Instapundit are urged to go there immediately. He's on my short list of daily surfing, which should say enough.

Until next time, that is all.
Your Pleased Working Boy
Looking at Symptoms, Missing the Disease

We're all familiar with road construction here in Memphis, and today's Commercial Appeal carries this story talking about it, in very superficial terms.

What's missing, you might ask? How about a close look into the medieval guild that is the Tennessee Department of Transportation? Have you ever seen a story interviewing the road designers or explaining the design philosophy? It's as though they are a cloistered brotherhood. Designs for road projects appear as if by magic, seemingly unconnected to community need but apparently driven by developer and commercial interests. Public comment periods seem to produce no comment-inspired changes. Finished projects have designs or executions that don't seem to have taken into account the drivers who must navigate them, nor the traffic loads they bear. It's all a very mysterious and secluded process.

Then there's funding and expenditure. TDOT is presently sitting on more than one billion dollars in unearmarked funds! During the early manuevering in the Income Tax War, some legislators poked around the funds. Chip Saltsmann quickly and decisively slapped them down. He told them that he would not allow the funds to be used to fix present budget problems, nor would he allow any gasoline taxes to be diverted to help out. Some folks asked which was more important: roads or schools? But the whole issue disappeared.

Tennessee's roadbuilders and developers are a very powerful bunch, as are their lobbies and business trade groups, wielding inordinate power over the Legislature. Travel the back areas of the State and you'll find beautifully sculpted divided four-lane roads to nowhere much. Developers set their sights on new tracts of land and, whoosh!, huge sparkling roads appear to provide access.

There's a giant nest of corruption, bribery and influence-peddling going on here, without question, but the CA refuses to investigate. It's a scandal. But they do have time for silly puff pieces like this story.

Until next time, that is all.
Your Working Boy
Art V. Commerce

There's a fun story in the Metro section of today's Commercial Appeal about the Farmer's Market in Southaven, Mississippi. It seems the building has been hosting the Market for a couple of years now, but many folks don't even know it's there. There's no sign!

The Chamber of Commerce, which manages the space, has not installed a sign, other than a small, hard-to-see one that's since disappeared. What they have done, with an unknown portion of the $1000 adverstising budget, is to hire an artist to paint murals on the side of the building. Yeah! Couldn't they have hired the artist to, oh say, paint a sign?

The Mayor of Southaven is now making noises about taking over the Farmer's Market. Just great--another power grab by government. What is by all acounts a success, signs excepted, stands to become another boondoggle.

Until next time, that is all.
Your Working Boy
Mysterious Missing Column

Tennessee bloggers have been buzzing over this Wall Street Journal column, by John Fund, all weekend. It already seems old news, but today's Commercial Appeal carries the column in a vertical half-page! It's astonishing by itself that the CA carries it, being flattering to talk radio and anti-government protest, but they also have a largish and flattering picture of State Senator Marsha Blackburn to boot. Can't wait to see the letters to the editor over this.

Strangely, the story isn't in the online version of the CA. I imagine it has to do with the Wall Street Journal's reprint agreement, but still, it seems odd.

And I finally recalled where I first saw the column--Tax Free Tennessee! A belated thanks to them for putting this on line.

Until next time, that is all.
Your Working Boy

Sunday, August 11, 2002

What's Really Going On?

The lead editorial in Sunday's Commercial Appeal argues against the proposed property tax rise to be voted on tomorrow by the Shelby County Commission. Their central argument is that the present Commission is a lame duck, and therefore any action they take carries a taint of illegitimacy. The CA thinks the Commission should wait for the new members to join next month before taking action.

Generally, that's a good point. But given that the vote tomorrow is expected to go 7-6 or 8-5 against, and that the next Commission is perceived to be even more skeptical of tax increases, I wonder what's really going on in the CA's editorial offices.

The rise is only ten cents per one hundred dollars valuation. That number is important because it merely requires a simple majority to pass. Larger increases require a 9 vote majority. It's possible that the CA doesn't want this Commission to take such a penny-ante action, which will be hard enough to sell given the large increase voted in last year, but rather hopes they wait so that the CA can gin up the community to the need for even larger increases.

Getting a property tax increase from the new Commission will be tough. The Republican majority will be more conservative than before and far more skeptical of increasing any tax. Is it possible that the CA is hoping to hobble the new Commission with an intransigent image, an "anti-regular-folks-like-us" brand that can then be pointed to whenever they go against the wishes of the CA's editors? That they hope to make this a weapon to use against the Commission for the next four years?

Could be....

Until next time, that is all.
Your Working Boy
It's All in How You Look At It

The Commercial Appeal looks at the changes being wrought in the incoming Shelby County Commission. But the real story seems to be in the story's point of view.

From paragraph one, we learn that "election battles...threaten to divide even more sharply..." the Commission. The story then goes on to detail how the incoming Republicans can be expected to bring a more partisan and divisive atmosphere with them. How it is up to them to learn to work with the Democratic minority still in place. Apparently:
Although Republicans narrowly retained their 7-6 majority over
the Democrats in the recent election, they also experienced a
radical shakeup in leadership.

Upsets of Republican incumbents Morris Fair and Clair Vander
Schaaf in the primary were two big election surprises. Previously,
no incumbent commissioner had been unseated since 1982.

The two were ousted by John Willingham and Joyce Avery, who
pledged a more conservative approach to governing amid voter
outrage over hikes in the wheel tax and property tax last year
and approval of the downtown arena project without a public
It's interesting to see a CA story acknowledge voter and public sentiment so accurately, without the modifying reminders of how wrong they were.

What's clear in the story, but completely unspoken, is the voter perception which the CA even recognizes, that the Commission is drifting away from representing the values of average Shelby Countians. That's what led to the boisterous election this time. The people feel left out of the process by their supposed "leaders," and so shook things up to send a clear message. Is that message received? It seems the CA hopes not.

But of all the folks interviewed for the story, only one, Buck Wellford who is leaving, expresses any concerns! All the rest sound positive or even upbeat. Kinda works against the point the CA is trying to make, doesn't it?

Incoming Republican commissioners say they don't want to create
a more strident atmosphere but will stand firmly against new
Implying any problems will be the fault of Republicans. Nice one, eh?

The whole article reeks of "you must work with us, not the other way around." Where "you" is the incoming Republican majority, and the others remaining, and the "us" is the good old Democrats, who continue in the minority. There is this passage:
Last year, for instance, Democratic commissioners who
wanted a pay raise succeeded by persuading enough
Republicans to go along to win its passage. In turn, Democrats
agreed to a redistricting plan that maintained the GOP's 7-6
majority for at least four more year
It tries to imply a quid pro quo, but seeing how all the Commissioners benefitted from the raise, passed during a rushed meeting on New Year's Eve, it doesn't quite wash. I suspect that the Democrats thought there was enough of a demographic change to possibly sway that crucial seventh vote to their side, hence leaving redistricting alone, they thought, meant they would gain anyway. It just failed, is all.

"We did you a favor, now you owe us." How nice. How typically CA. How wrong.

Until next time, that is all.
Your Working Boy
The Crone Speaks

We're well past the elections and Susan Adler Thorp still can't get past it! Poor dear.

This week's bleat is several items rolled into one, suggesting she had a few items left over to burn. She reports some oddball stuff, takes yet another swipe at George Flinn and then complains that Shelby Countians have been "stripped" of their representation by the election of Marsha Blackburn, from "suburban Nashville," to the Seventh District US Congressional seat. Redistricting by Thorp's beloved Democratic leaders is what changed things enough to allow her election. They had planned for Blackburn to be knocked off by someone from here, as has happened to anyone from the eastern end of the District for 20 years. They didn't count on Blackburn rising to the occasion and earning hero stripes in the process.

Not does SAT seem to consider that folks in the east end of the District might view this win as "getting back" their representation after twenty years of watching urban Shelby County dominate.

Then, SAT devotes the rest of the column to a very admiring overview of David Kustoff. It's nice stuff. What a shame she couldn't have written it during the election, instead of devoting half of her column space to bashing George Flinn and bewailing negative campaigning.

I could say something about hindsight being 20/20, but I don't think SAT, in looking back, is looking anywhere in that direction.

Until next time, that is all.
Your Working Boy
Hype V. Facts

The West Nile virus story is getting a lot of play, especially in television news. It makes for a scary story: a virus appears in the US for the first time ever in 1999. It spread westward, slowly and steadily. Then folks begin to die. A cluster of deaths occurs, leading to a detailed examination and BAM! Suddenly you have panic.

Well, read this story to help put your mind at ease. It turns out:
In 1975, an outbreak of the mosquito-borne St.
Louis encephalitis spread through 29 states, killing 95 people and
infecting about 3,000 others. The following year, infection rates
were down, and they have stayed down over the decades that

Health officials expect a similar trend with West Nile virus...

The first notable outbreak of St. Louis encephalitis occurred in
1974. The illness is still around today, but the number of cases
yearly has fallen dramatically. Last year, four people died in the
Monroe, La., area from St. Louis encephalitis, and 62 were

Given the history of West Nile and related illnesses, it's not likely
the outbreak will increase exponentially next year, Slavinski said.
In 1999, seven people died, and 55 others were hospitalized in
New York with West Nile virus. The state hasn't reported any
cases this summer.
So, relax. You should still, as always, take precautions against mosquito bites and get rid of the standing water pools that allow them to breed. But fears of an epidemic are, unsurprisingly, over-blown.

Elephant Rants has a brief, pungent and cut-to-the-point commentary here. It's worth the quick read.

Until next time, that is all.
Your Working Boy
The Plot Thickens

In a story I covered yesterday, about the possible suit by losing Democratic candidates E.C. Jones, Joe Cooper and Shep Wilbun to access voting records from certain precincts, Fox13 News reports that suit will probably go ahead, and they add more information about the nature of the problem.

It turns out that the person who put the wrong cable into the wrong port erased all the voting data received at Ridgeway High School. The suit is to get access to the individual data cassettes from the voting booths, either to recount or review. There was, in the contention of Joe Cooper, sufficient time during the gathering of the cassettes to reconstruct the vote totals, for mischief. The Election Commission denies any wrong-doing or miscount.

More on this as it develops.

Until next time, that is all.
Your Working Boy