Thursday, March 13, 2003

A Short One Today

Sorry for the brevity and lightness of today's posts, but I had a nasty one at work today and I'm really tired. I'm going to bed early to get some rest before Friday. If you haven't checked out all the fine folks in the Rocky Top Brigade and Axis of Weevil lists to the left, well, get on it! Plenty of fine reading for every kind of taste there is.

Maybe this weekend, I post my Berserker rant about the idiots who bought, designed, set up and "run" our computer system at work. It's mission critical, as they say, and hasn't worked properly since they installed it. They can't fix it either, so we blow lots of payroll babysitting it, wasting time calling the "UnHelp Desk," and lose tens of thousands in sales while it doesn't work.

I'm convinced that someone in the company got a huge kickback from the vendor to get a contract signed. It's the only possible explanation.

See ya tomorrow!
Homestar Runner

Yesterday, I site-pimped for the comic strip Day by Day, by Chris Muir.

Today I want to promote another cartoon, the online Flash-animated Homestar Runner. Done almost exclusively by the brothers Chapman, it's several dozen cartoons about the adventures of Homestar Runner and his friends.

I really can't describe this better than the cartoons themselves will. Go to the site and look around. The beauty of HR is that it's completely kid-safe and kid-lovable while being a real hoot for adults as well.

The breakout star of HR is Homestar's nemesis, bad guy Strong Bad. He has his own section where he answers emails from his fans (Flash-animated also). I had been seeing people at sites like Fark and Wil WheatonDotNet making laughing references to a "Strong Bad Email." I thought it was some kind of spam filter, until I checked it out. I watched all five dozen or so Strong Bad Emails, and now I'm hooked.

Go, read, laugh, fall in love.
Mike's Place

I like the sound of that. Reminds you of a corner neighborhood bar, doesn't it? The kind of run-down but friendly place where the door is always open, a couple of regulars can always be found, and friendly debate happens all the time, usually loud and opinionated. A couple of close booths, for those long rambling life discussions with friends that you don't realise until years later changed your life; or stools at the bar where you can size yourself against the others and be pleasantly surprised at the results.

You might have wandered in by mistake, but you instantly feel like you've found a new home. You can't wait to bring your friends down.

So, yeah, welcome. What'll ya have? We've got really good single-malt Scotches, cheap. Or beer; American, none of that sissy microbrew crap. Ask nice and I'll make ya my daquiri, if it's not busy.

What's yer name? Nice ta meetcha.

[This is an in-joke for the RTB gang. Read the others and you'll understand.]
Our Hydrogen Future

From Wired magazine comes this story by Peter Schwartz and Doug Randall, titled "How Hydrogen Can Save America."

Unfortunately, I haven't had time to do more than scan this. I'm posting the link now so I don't forget later. Here's the blurb from the top of the story:
The cost of oil dependence has never been so clear. What had long been largely an environmental issue has suddenly become a deadly serious strategic concern. Oil is an indulgence we can no longer afford, not just because it will run out or turn the planet into a sauna, but because it inexorably leads to global conflict. Enough. What we need is a massive, Apollo-scale effort to unlock the potential of hydrogen, a virtually unlimited source of power. The technology is at a tipping point. Terrorism provides political urgency. Consumers are ready for an alternative. From Detroit to Dallas, even the oil establishment is primed for change. We put a man on the moon in a decade; we can achieve energy independence just as fast. Here's how.
Very thought-provoking and challenging stuff.
Advice For Life

Some excellent advice for life today (via the Memphis Flyer) from Bea Gonzalez, now retired from running her wonderful restaurant, Lupe and Bea's. It was on North Watkins, less than a mile from me here and now, and served wonderful Mexican and Cuban dishes. She's got a new cookbook out and will be signing copies at noon on Saturday, at Davis-Kidd Booksellers.

Anyway, she says:
"Many of these are [recipes] I've invented. It was always a handful of this, a little more of that. Till you get it right. And you just do it. You make it."

"The man said he was looking for work and I said, no, I can't afford to pay anybody. I can't afford to pay myself. But he begged me, "Oh please just give me a chance. Give me two weeks to work for you and don't pay me -- just so I can show you what I can do."
That man was Esteban Nodal, who worked with her from that day until the closing of Lupe and Bea's in 1996.

Something to consider.

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Not The Bart You'd Think

The next time someone tries to tell you that the media is all conservative and pro-Bush nowadays, just read this piece of crap. Think of it as a corrective, like laxative or cod liver oil.
Two Things That Should Not Go Together

I'm sure most of y'all remember the Seventies hit "Convoy." Did you also know that the same man who co-wrote this song is also the driving force behind Mannheim Steamroller? I didn't either. Seems he and his "Convoy" partner are re-uniting for a new album.

Don't know why I'm posting this.
A Cut Too Far?

The Rev. Donald Sensing has a great picture on his blog today. Maybe these State budget cuts are going just a little too far?

By the way, may I mention that Don's blog is on the short list of folks I check every day? He's a great writer, and he's got such an unexpected life history that it makes for some unexpected points of view for a Methodist minister. And don't let the minister part put you off. He looks like he'd be a great guy to hang out with.
Popularise This Comic Strip!

It's Day by Day, by Chris Muir, the story of four young(-ish) folks in the workaday world. I've seen a couple of other bloggers (Instapundit and One Hand Clapping, see the RTB list at left) mention this comic strip today, so I checked it out.

Wow! It's very funny and has a modern, sorta-conservative vibe. It kinda resembles Doonesbuy, but don't let that put you off; Muir's politics are diametrical in a post-GenX way. It's political and pointed, but also very, very funny.

Did I mention it's funny?

He is OK with folks rerunning his strip on their websites or blogs. In fact, he's got a very modern attitude about the Net. (Link thanks to Don Sensing.) It's refreshing to see.

When I migrate to the domain (, I plan to feature his strip on the site. It's that good.
Let's Play A Game!

Poor Mike Fleming, afternoon radio talk host for WREC AM600. He began his career in print journalism and his roots still show today. He will begin a sentence only to get lost somewhere inside, forcing him to course-correct with a lame comment or a really bad choice of words. You can just hear the writer inside him wishing he could go back over that sentence, but it's live radio, so he soldiers on, embarrassing and limp.

He also has a remarkably small and repetitive vocabulary for a writer. That's the source for our little game. Let's draw up a list of the words and phrases that poor Mike tortures and abuses. I'll start and y'all can join in through the comments.

I can't believe it!
...and you can't change my mind, either.

C'mon! It's fun! Add to the list.
The Commercial Appeal Finally Tells You What To Think, Kinda

One problem with newspapers in the 24-hour news cycle and instant-comment Internet Age is that it can take them days to respond to stories that occur in the evening. Bredesen's budget presentation is one example. Talk radio was already on the story that night, and bloggers like South Knox Bubba and Bill Hobbs (even Instapundit) had detailed commentary and analysis beginning that evening and picking up steam the next morning.

It took the CA until today to get their commentary into the Editorial Page. Unfortunately, it was apparently written by Dave Kushma, Mr. Cliff Notes Of Fairness. It's getting so I can spot his hand now, when their editorials don't come down from headquarters or get written by underlings.

Anyway, the CA seems to be saying that Bredesen has done well, mostly, within his self-imposed constraints, except that this budget shouldn't be the blueprint for future budgets. The paper goes on to note, in a "there's this, but there's also that" style, the various cuts and shifts Bredesen proposed.

Then, sadly, it ends with this whimper:
Still, lawmakers of both parties predict they will approve Bredesen's budget with few changes or even reservations. That's to be expected, since the governor's plan largely spares them from making difficult political choices.

The $933 million tax increase the General Assembly approved last year - the largest in state history - did not solve the state's fiscal problems and compounded the unfairness and inefficiency of the Tennessee tax structure. Bredesen's call for the state to live within its means is likely to find a receptive audience. And the governor deserves credit for the openness with which he conducted public hearings that preceded his budget submission.

Repeatedly over the past few years, and notably in last November's election, Tennessee voters - and the politicians who represent them - have expressed a clear preference for low taxes over improved, or even sustained, basic state services in many areas. The governor's new budget should quickly make apparent the consequences of that choice.
Whine, whine, whine. "We lost and we're never gonna let you forget it! Where's my Mommy?"

Yeah, the solons at the CA know what's best for the rest of us, and they won't ever miss a chance to chide us for not meekly apologising at our temerity in thinking for ourselves.

Give it a break, guys, and move on.
How Odd

While looking for a Commercial Appeal story on their website, for the post coming up next, I ran across this story which didn't appear in the print edition.
Two Knoxville legislators have proposed a 14-day time limit on inspecting public documents under the state's open records law.

Under their bill, when a government entity provides records in response to a request, the person seeking them has 14 days to collect the information or make copies. After that, the person's right to see the records would expire and further access could be denied.

The bill was filed by Rep. Harry Brooks (R-Knoxville) and Sen. Tim Burchett (R-Knoxville) at the behest of Knox County Sheriff Tim Hutchison.

They filed the measure after Hutchison was found in contempt of court and fined $300 for making false statements about public records last year in his long-running battle with a county commissioner.

Hutchison said he supports open records, but the law as it now stands "assumes that you're dealing with people who are reasonable.''
Spoken like a real defender of the public. Serve and protect my ass. Literally, in his case.
Knox County Commissioner Wanda Moody and her attorney, Herbert S. Moncier, said the legislation is an obvious attempt by Hutchison to weaken the state's Public Records Act.

This law, passed in 1957, provides that all state, county and municipal records be open for inspection and that those in charge of the records shall allow such inspections unless otherwise restricted.

The Moody-Hutchison legal battle, which dates back to 1996, involves contentions that the sheriff has used public funds without appropriate approval from the County Commission.

Moncier initially sought records through the legal process known as "discovery" but wound up also filing a request for inspection.

Moody said Hutchison initially responded with just 22 pages of material....

"This is just a bill to make it more difficult to find out what he's doing with public money," Moncier said.
Amen! I sure hope to see this story in dead-tree tomorrow. I can't believe that the CA, which has long used public records laws to make stories and to attack enemies, wouldn't be all over this one.

And, hey! All you East Tennessee bloggers? Tell these children to grow up.
Bredesen Continues To Amaze

Governor Phil Bredesen is one busy guy these days. The day after his budget is released comes news that the Federal Department of Health and Human Services will give Tennessee TennCare program a waiver on prescription drug costs. This will give Bredesen room to start putting limits on prescription drugs. [Odd note: this story is written by two CA writers, but does not appear online. You'd think something so important would be there.] Thompson's only caveat was that there is no demand for more Federal money.

The story puts Bredesen on the defensive and quotes from two activists representing people who depend on TennCare dollars, but includes this wonderful money shot:
(TennCare) is a monster that is growing at a rate that no source of revenue can keep up with. No revenue source can grow 9 to 10 percent a year. I've got to get my arms around TennCare."
Damn but that's impressive!

Then, today, Bredesen spoke to legislative leaders in Nashville, telling them to go slow on the lottery scholarships. The Tennessean story doesn't quote Bredesen's words, but I heard some soundbites on WREC 600 this afternoon. He mentioned two of the companies angling for the lottery job, and how both had set expected revenues far lower than the Legislature was. He recommended a "conservative" approach (His word! I swear.), joking that he didn't think the companies had any reason to lie in their proposals about how much money they expected to make from a lottery.

Once again, impressive. Bredesen continues to walk the walk, day after day. Maybe everyone in Nashville is so stunned to see him act this way that this is why there's so little public or vocal opposition, other than grumbles from a few of the expected corners. There were a few rumblings yesterday from some legislators that small changes might be made, (See Bill Hobbs exhaustive roundup here. Make sure you read his other posts while you're there, OK?) but no proclamations of the budget being faulty or dead on arrival.

Speaking of Mr. Hobbs, he makes an excellent point on Bredesen's disdain for the roadbuilder lobby:
Here is a fact: Phil Bredesen is the first Tennessee governor in modern history who doesn't need the roadbuilders. Think about it. The roadbuilders are powerful because they give a lot of money to candidates running for office, They are wealthy, but they represent only a tiny chunk of the total electorate. But Bredesen is worth more than $100 million. As he showed last fall, he can toss a million bucks into his own campaign without blinking. Which is why Bredesen is the only governor who could take on the roadbuilders and reduce the state's roads budget as part of the across-the-board budget cutting. The best part is, Bredesen isn't proposing a one-year reduction in spending. He intends to make his budget the new - and lower - baseline.

''I have to reset the spending level down from where we would have been,'' Bredesen said a day after unveiling a budget that included $355 million in spending cuts. ''I've made it clear,'' he said, referring to his Cabinet, ''don't throw me anything you're expecting to get back one or two years from now. … I don't want to do this every year. Let's get the pain behind us.''
Well said, Bill.

Fun days continue in the Volunteer State.
Bloody Hell

Seems that Spice Girl Geri Halliwell will be one of the judges on the American television show All American Girl. Some have wondered at a Brit judging "all American-ness." Halliwell replies:
"I'm an all-American girl with a British accent. I have an all-American attitude...that it doesn't matter what class you come from or how smart you are, anything is possible.... She has finished the writing for her third solo album, which is scheduled for summer release. "Because I'm Spanish, I think it will have very much those roots."
Bloody hell. Worry about class in not American, though it is distinctly a British concern. And when she talks Spanish, she doesn't mean Hispanic or Latino, but Spain itself.

This is the kind of utter devaluation of meaning that really galls me. Liberals and Democrats have long argued that such things are only labels and that anyone can "be" whatever they want, although there's this elusive quality of "realness" that sometimes intrudes. Marketers have seized on this to sell anything to anyone. Never mind earning such things -- Remember kids: hazing is wrong! -- by prolonged effort; just slap the label on and it'll sell to the masses!

Poncy wankers should be kicked to the kerb.

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Not Much To Add, or Plop!

Well, Governor Phil Bredesen released the new budget yesterday and it's just what he said it would be: serious cuts all around. So far, so good.

Naturally, even though the Tennessee public television network made the speech available to WKNO, they chose to show a Suze Orman "grow wealth" infomercial instead. It is pledge week after all, and priorities are priorities! So, I missed the speech itself.

This morning, Bill Hobbs (here, here, here, here, and here) and South Knox Bubba
(here, here, here, here, here,
and here) had great, detailed looks at the budget. I can't really add anything more here and won't. Just follow the links and read up. They both cover this in closer looks than the local paper!

The Commercial Appeal had two stories, see the links above. One was a quickly written overview, hitting high points, but lacking close scrutiny. The other was a lengthy recitation of everyone locally who will suffer.

What mostly stuck out was the lack of legislative comment. Two Democrats and one Republican gave qualified support, saying they expect little change. Even House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, who predicted the universe would end if a budget like this came to pass, has shown amazing deference to Bredesen's budget. That's too odd for words. Is he that craven? Or does he know something about the process down the road and so isn't worried? After all his grim-faced predictions and bullying threats last year, once he lost he still kept alive the idea of the income tax. Immediately after losing the vote, he claimed the IT was dead forever. But as the weeks wore on, he kept reducing the time before he expected to bring it back before the House. After Bredesen's election, he shut up altogether, although the State's papers kept up the drum-beat in new and more muted language.

So why is he so rah-rah now? I can't see that Bredesen has cowed him, nor can I see that Naifeh has suddenly had a major change of heart and mind. Something's missing, I think.

Bill Hobbs thinks that Bredesen has performed a miracle of triangulation. The Governor made sure that education got an increase while everything else is cut and other funds are raided. As Bill sees it, Bredesen has set up a situation where anyone proposing to block cuts or increase other spending has to justify why it's more important than education. It's "the children" vs. whatever you propose: roads, health care, State parks, etc. Pretty clever, if true, and deadly if Bredesen carries it out.

There's just something wrong about this! Everyone connected to the State government teat has, for the last four years, fought tooth and nail, without apology or mercy, to keep spending going up for themselves or their projects. Now, with the exception so far of rural teachers, they are all silent and making cuts, the very cuts they swore were impossible. It's miraculous.

That's the problem. It's almost too good. Bredesen has created the very budget no one said could be done. He's so far fought off all comers, education excepted and that's OK. He's delivered the budget to the expected complaints, but not to any threats or promises of torpedoing, rural teachers already noted. Legislators are saying that they don't expect to do much tinkering, because they'll have to justify it.

Have I entered Bizzaro Tennessee? Nine months and some personnel changes have made this much of a difference? I still think there's another shoe waiting to drop.

Watching the wrangling over the setup of the lottery scholarships, promises made before the vote now being modified, makes me think that Bredesen's budget will get a rough working over by Legislators and lobbyists. It's just that they're being quiet right now, and will work quietly in the coming months, to keep the fuss down. Time will tell, I suppose. If I'm wrong, feel free to mock me in May.

So far Bredesen has kept his word and matched that word with action. He's to be applauded and respected for that. He's already making it clear he intends to do major surgery on TennCare, and not slap a Band-aid over it, to paraphrase him. I think he should just return the TennCare waiver to the Federal government and get it over with, but the former health-care business turn-around specialist in him seems to want the challenge. Good luck there, too.

He's bitten off some serious chew. He's chewing. I think he has yet to bite down on some of the bits of bone waiting for him. The next three months will tell that tale.

ABC24 News has now started, as part of their "Preparing For War" Iraqi War story banner, including weather forecasts from Iraq! That's right, now you can have the same inaccurate predictions of weather from Baghdad and Basra as you get from Memphis.

The former best hard-news station continues to dumb down. They fired their old anchors, including local hero Michelle Robinson, and brought in a couple of Fox-style, light-as-air, good-looking mannequins. But they kept many of the same reporters, oddly enough.

It's just depressing.
Memphis Sprawl: The Mayor Speaks

Sunday's Commercial Appeal had a guest editorial from Shelby County Mayor AC Wharton as part of the CA's weeklong series on urban sprawl. Let's look through it:
Making our community a wonderful place to live continues to be a top priority of Shelby County government, as it has been for more than a quarter of a century.
Would this be the same government which has allowed unrestrained growth during that time period? The same zoning boards which have routinely allowed whatever changes developers wanted, regardless of citizen and neighborhood protest?
But growth and development issues involve more than rezoning parcels of land and building new neighborhoods. They raise questions about the best use of our limited amount of land, and challenge government in many other ways.
Limited? For who? Folks already live in eight neighboring counties who consider themselves Memphians. How does Shelby County plan to control them? Snatch them into a Regional Planning Collective?

Large swaths of land have already been built and paved over. Even if we stop growth today, we'll still build more roads and development just to service what's already there.
Construction of new infrastructure - roads, sewers, parks and schools - drives up debt. New developments often divert from the inner city investment dollars needed to support existing infrastructure, draining the government treasury of the funds it needs to provide essential services.
So why hasn't any of this been addressed by previous governments? Could it be that Memphis and Shelby County governments have been running a pyramid scheme, constantly keeping the city borders moving outward at a pace that just outpaces debt and infrastructure needs?

The whole County has already been divided up, just see the Master Plan on file at the County's offices. Every government already knows what to count on. But we are slowly getting closer to the County's edges. And I suspect that, in part, is why Wharton and the CA are addressing this issue. When you can't grow out, you have to cannibalise. They're trying to set up the transition.

I also suspect that consolidation plays a part here. I still maintain that Wharton is Mayor Herenton's stalking horse for the consolidation issue. Wharton is enough of his own man, and dignified enough, to not be obvious about it. He also realises the political trauma he'll bring on himself if he's too clearly aligned with Herenton. You'll notice that Herenton is quiet on the smarth growth issue, as Wharton is trying to stay low on consolidation.
Memphis and its surrounding suburban developments make ours a community of contrasts. A revitalized downtown is once again becoming a business and entertainment district where people want to live. Downtown has become a magnet for the arts and a tourist destination, but other older areas of the city are steadily losing population, spinning off social problems such as housing deterioration, under-performing schools and crime.
Again, nothing new. We've been discussing these things since I arrived here fiften years ago.

Plus, he's being a bit ingenuous. Crime and bad schools aren't directly correlated to folks moving out. Most of our crime is a function of lost jobs and drugs, and bad schools. The bad schools are the result of disastrous mismanagement by school leaders, County and City leaders, and teacher unions, all protecting political turf at the expense of children.

Notice that Wharton holds up the downtown as a model and the beacon. That's deliberate. The whole CA series has been doing this. It is, I'm pretty sure, their intent. They all hope to convince Memphians and Shelby Countians that the huge drain of resources into the downtown is for everyone's ultimate good.

It's a battle of developers. The Turleys and Belzs of the downtown versus the Hynemanns of the outer edges. The Turley/Belz group have the ear -- and pocketbooks and hands and voices and backbones and friends-- of our elected leaders and their bureaucracies. This is all about protecting prerogatives, namely the Turleys' and Belz'. It's little wonder that Tuesday's CA has this puff piece on Henry Turley.

It's not that they are doing better, but that they are in charge. If County developers had the kind of explicit public support and direct money that downtown developers did, they too would be making "magnets and tourist destinations," which they are doing, in a way, with their clean, new subdivisions and strip malls. It's just more utilitarian and blunt.
Shelby County Commissioner Bruce Thompson has observed wisely that growth into the suburbs is arguably a matter of the migration of our population rather than actual growth. If he is right that we're not experiencing real growth, why are we spending so much money to build new infrastructure for a nomadic population?
"Smarth growth" means taking the area as a whole into one umbrella of control. Therefore, the growth of the whole area in population negates Thompson's assertion.

Why are we building all this new growth then? For the one reason Wharton, and the CA don't state anywhere. The eight hundred pound gorilla in the living room. Race.

Since the Sixties, whites have been fleeing farther and farther out, trying to outrun the grasp of the City and the faster-growing population of black Memphians. The turnover of City government to the black majority in the late Eighties only speeded up the process. It's ugly, but true. No amount of social engineering can, or has, changed this. Nothing Wharton does, short of throwing the blanket of "Memphis" over an eight county, three state area will change that.

Developers go where the people want. Growth policies by the County only encouraged this for the past thirty years; zoning laws play a part as well. But very few people want to live in walking distance of public housing projects, or majority-black, low income neighborhoods, even blacks themselves when they have the economic and financial choice. No "smart growth" plan will change that.
We need smart and sustainable growth. We need zoning laws and planning decisions that will keep our neighborhoods stable for the long run.
Here's the nub of it. What he's just proposed is more and more-restrictive laws; tighter zoning controls (except for developers, of course); yoking the people to social engineering schemes. This is all too little and far too late. The horse is out of the barn by thirty years; reining it in will take monumental effort. Attempting to do that will only drive more and more people across County and State lines.
Subdivisions that were built when the first county mayor took office in 1976 are declining in value, as newer developments spring up in other areas. Germantown Road, once a mostly wooded and serene strip of road, is now a thoroughfare for heavy traffic and commercial development. Buildings along it already are being abandoned, threatening the sanctity of nearby neighborhoods.
The first sentence is simple fact. Neighborhoods always decline over time. The Parkway used to be the most expensive and swankiest homes in the City. Now, parts of North and South Parkway approach slum status. It's like he's saying that "over time, mountains tend to flatten into plains." Well, duh!

The second part of this paragraph is smoke and mirrors. The County has been allowing this kind of development all along, even encouraging it. Former Mayor Jim Rout has been the developer's friend all along, as have predecessors. Wharton is proposing to suddenly reverse course. It'll be messy and violent, as we'll soon see.
Developers, city planners and other government officials debate the impact of this kind of unbridled growth.
Suuuuuure. And developers have always controlled and won the debate. Wharton is trying to tilt the balance back to government. Good luck.
But there is no question about this: If the current patterns of development remain the same and our growth policies do not change to provide for sustainable growth, the county's current $1.5 billion debt will soon mushroom to $2 billion. That ultimately could threaten county government's ability to provide basic services.
Too late, it already has. And the debt issue he raises is more to do with an unfair, legalistic funding scheme than growth itself. It's a straw man, designed to frighten you into joining the cause. Solving the school funding issue would solve the debt problem, largely. Continued growth can provide the tax and income base needed to reduce the debt.
During my campaign last year, I pledged that the development of a long-term comprehensive growth plan for Shelby County would be a top priority. I am bringing that pledge to center stage Tuesday by convening the first countywide Alliance for Equitable Growth Summit at the Cook Convention Center. This summit will bring to Memphis some of the nation's leading experts on growth, development and policy.
Eh. We're going to import someone else's ideas. Again. And sell it to Memphians and Shelby Countians as the greatest deal since...the Pyramid?
The summit's goal is to bring to the surface all of the questions surrounding development, including the one that may be most critical: Does growth cost taxpayers or does it pay for itself?
Growth unrestrained costs taxpayers, of course. The mess it creates is awful, as we all know. But it's thirty years too late to fix.

What Wharton is hoping to do, to repeat, is to tilt the balance of control in growth back to the government. I shudder to imagine the Shelby County Commission with even more power.
If we conclude that growth does pay for itself, at least in the short term, how do we ensure that it also pays for itself in the long term? And if we conclude that growth doesn't pay for itself, what changes can we make to ensure that it does? Our plan is not to stop growth, but to manage growth so it is sustainable.
Notice he doesn't define "sustainable." Too bad, as that's the crux of it. If he means leap-frogging the leading edge of development back to the City's center, to move outward once again, it's a bold plan and likely undoable. If he's talking about creating a dynamic sytem of constant growth in pockets around the City and County, then it's admirable, but without bold and major zoning law changes, and conquering the race issue, he's not going to get there.

Zoning laws work against him. The kind of density that city centers are made from is written out of the law nowadays. That's a big reason why suburbs look as they do, after the availability of large tracts of land. You can't assemble those kinds of tracts without using eminent domain in the inner city. Good luck with that, when it's the developers' own property being taken from under them. We've already seen how slow the process is downtown, with clearly substandard properties. Specualtive property ownership will be tough to overcome.

Seeing how he proposes to shoehorn suburb-style subdivisions into the inner-interstate area will be interesting. Or does he picture the very expensive kind of development we see out on Mud Island? That's going to push out a whole lot of the people already living there. Where does he propose they go?

In the inner city, the infrastructure - streets, lights, sewers, hospitals - already is in place.
And much of it is very old and in need of replacement. He's proposing to add stress to an already stressed system. A recipe for more infrastructure costs.
We must encourage balanced growth by developing policies and incentives that make rebuilding inside the city as attractive as building outside the city. Providing quality schools in all parts of our city, making inner-city streets safe and attractive and cutting bureaucratic red tape can help.
Frankly, the schools thing won't be happening any time soon. Crime isn't going to go down soon either. Leaders like to point to how safe downtown is, which isn't true; go down there and see for yourself. Lots of the kind of folks (low income, low education blacks) who scare off the middle-class whites congregate there. Go after 3PM and look at the ghost town.

What they've also done is push the homeless and vagrants a bit farther east. Into my neighborhood, in fact. That's not solution. You only continue to push those folks around to the lowest income area, or densest building spaces, where they can slip out.

Cutting bureaucratic red tape? Hasn't happened and won't soon. Too many perquisites to protect behind that red tape.
For example, LeMoyne Gardens once epitomized the worst of urban life, but now symbolizes the best that local urban dreamers can accomplish. The miracle of LeMoyne Gardens paves the way for the builders of Southwind to rebuild Hyde Park and Firestone.
Unfortunately, the definition of miracles is that they happen rarely. They also require a real-world investment of sustained money and time, and a guiding plan. Who's going to control the plans for my neighborhood?
The summit is designed to be a catalyst for change in the way county government deals with growth - change that will result in better stewardship of our land and resources. If government and developers work together to make available affordable housing within our urban center, protect our rural communities and conserve resources, county taxpayers could save perhaps millions of dollars.
"If government can regain the upper hand, we can promise utopia." Doesn't sound quite so believable when you put it like that, does it? Notice, too, all the weasel words he uses there. Gotta watch yer back.
It's no secret that Shelby County is laboring under a budget crisis. More than half of the county's $1.5 billion debt can be attributed to the cost of building schools.
Move more folks back into the inner City and you'll need to upgrade or replace schools. Maybe even build some more.
As our community expanded to the east in past decades, poor planning by government and developers resulted in crowded suburban neighborhoods and overcrowded schools in need of relief.
Wait! Doesn't this contradict exactly what he said in the first paragraph? Yes, yes it does. Oops.
We can change that with cooperation and careful planning to identify the best areas for public investment - areas where new roads, new sewers, new parks and new schools should be built to accommodate sustainable growth.
Again, didn't he just say a couple of paragraphs previous that coming back to the inner city would mean less of just the kind of spending he now proposes? Yes, yes he did. Can't have it both ways, Mayor.
Good growth policies can help shore up our economy and our sense of community. This week's three-hour summit won't result in dramatic change overnight, nor will it offer the final word on any of the issues addressed.
"Sense of community" comes when the Land Use Board and city planners respect the people who already live there, and hear their desires for the direction and shape of growth. Letting developers do what they want, regardless of prior zoning or neighborhood needs, is what got us here. Memphis has an enormus number of neighborhood associations, and some of the most powerful. That bespeaks of strong communities already. How about the City and County respect those voices?
It will, however, pave the way to developing enforceable policies to guide governing bodies as they make critical decisions on growth. It will be a catalyst for public debate and ultimately could inspire changes that will help preserve Shelby County's natural beauty and civic prosperity for future generations.
The City and County could simply reform their own actions, listening to the people and not being the servants of developers, reforming zoning laws to allow dense downtown-style land use (ie. allowing people to live over commercial and retail establishments and allowing much closer mixing of residential and commercial use on a tighter scale).

But not the kind of development on Mud Island. Take a look some time. Acres and acres of tightly-packed apartment blocks or small homes with a single tiny commercial block (one grocery, one video store) to service it all. It means lots of folks driving in and out to take care of basic needs. Instead, allow more, small commercial areas so that you have a variety of several small businesses every few blocks.

He could also get the Land Use Board to toughen its spine, and the County Commission to act for the people and not the developers. Don't let people move all the way out to the edges of the County and beyond, and then demand large, straight roads through established neighborhoods and parks just for their commuting convenience. Let them either find jobs out there or bring them over. But don't let them compartmentalise our community for their own purposes.

Start there, Mr. Mayor, and then we'll see what happens. Then you can try for your "smart growth" grand plan.
Just What We Need

The Shelby County Commission has the answer to solving the City/County school funding crisis -- another commission! Somewhere between nine and thirteen appointees will be selected to make the decisions for the County Commission. How convenient! Of course, paying for all those commissioners, their meetings and meals, their travel to study other cities' solutions, their analysts, etc., will be your job.

Supposedly, the commissioners will be "independent" and with "teeth," as County Mayor Wharton puts it. Right. They'll be the usual suspects drawn from the usual pool of suspects. They'll answer to the people who appoint them. I'm sure this incestuous relationship will be free from problems.

Yeah, that's the Memphis way. When faced with difficult decisions, go the Board or Commission route. It lets others make the hard choices and insulates the elected officials from damage when those hard choices go badly. We've got close to a dozen of 'em already, so what's one more?

Monday, March 10, 2003

Impotent Dissatisfaction

James "Woody" Brosnan, the Commercial Appeal's Washington bureau reporter has an editorial today. Someone titled it "What's the cost of being world's No. 1?" but it seems more impotent dissatisfaction with present circumstances, in regards to President Bush and Iraq, in search of a story hook.

He tries to make some equivalency between Clinton and Bush in regards to foreign intervention. He then goes on to dredge up the Project for the New American Century story. This claims, somewhat falsely and in Brosnan's case misleadingly, that a secret plan was hatched by in the early Nineties for America to take over the world. You can read the real report for yourself here. It was written in 2000, in light of America's pre-eminence and sole world-superpower status, as a guide to navigating those waters in our nation's best interests, something that Brosnan tries to make sound sinister.

Brosnan talks to a former Clinton national security advisor who essentially agrees that military action is necessary. Even Brosnan admits it. But he seems to think that we're being prideful, and that's the real danger.

Then he closes with a warning about the budget. Like I said, an impotent mess looking for an organizing principle.
Now That's Odd

The lead editorial in today's Commercial Appeal, entitled, "Stick to original lottery plan" doesn't show up online! Instead, the smaller, secondary editorial is there.

Hiding something, maybe? The editorial is the usual have-it-both-ways, covering-bases mush, so that may be it after all. The editors keep bouncing back and forth between events and failed expectations, plans and other plans. Maybe Dave Kushma wrote this? It has his stamp.

It's not worth quoting, to be honest. Though in closing I'll note that they once more repeat Senator Steve Cohen's late-campaign lie that the lottery will bring in "net profits of more than $300 million." The report from which this number is drawn predicted a range between $180 and $300 million. Cohen stuck to the $300 side until the very end, when he to took to inflating even that. Lottery planners in the Legislature are more sensibly predicting around $220 million. Given the first report dates to the boom years of the middle '90s, this seems wise.
Not Quite, Glenn

Instapundit has this post, titled "IT'S A TRENT LOTT MOMENT FOR THE DEMOCRATS." I don't think he's quite right on that.

It started back on Monday, March 3, when U.S. Rep. James Moran, Democrat from Virginia, speaking to an anti-war group at an Episcopal Church, made remarks that seem pretty clearly anti-Semitic:
"If it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq we would not be doing this," he said. "The leaders of the Jewish community are influential enough that they could change the direction of where this is going and I think they should."
Jewish leaders, as the example on Instapundit's site shows, are reacting. Even the Washington Post now has a story, on the reactions from a variety of Jewish organisations.

The problem is, this doesn't track as the Lott controversy did. Lott made his ignorant remarks on a Friday evening, and by Saturday the conservative forum Free Republic was already ablaze with calls for his resignation and condemnations of his stupidity. The furor had reached crescendo by Sunday night and it was already clear, even if Lott didn't realize it for a couple of weeks, that he was on the way out.

Even so, no national media picked up on the story. It wasn't until Rush Limbaugh spoke about it in mid-week that papers like the Post started running the fiasco, and television news had it by end-of-week. Then, the whole thing became the steamroller that finally flattened Lott.

It was, however, the uproar in conservative quarters, nearly a week before the story broke beyond the Republican/conservative community, that ended Lott. Go to Free Republic and look around; read the threads. In the Moran case, I searched Democratic Underground, roughly the liberal equivalent to FR, and came up with nothing. No posts or threads or articles. No uproar. Nada. In fact, the newspaper story that first broke Moran's remarks is already a week old! The Washington Post story, detailing Jewish reaction, is dated today. It's only now that Jewish leaders are moving, compared to the Republicans who were already moving against Lott within 36 hours.

The Democrats who are quoted in the Post story are a single local colleague and a State of Virginia Democratic functionary. In the Republicans' case, there were already prominent leaders and others who had staked out positions, or were fleeing as fast as they could, by this point in the story.

To his credit, Moran has already unequivocally apologised. He noted, in his original remarks, that he felt emboldened by the supportive, anti-war, audience to speak boldy; he was also speaking to a Jewish woman. Moran noted that his own daughter is marrying a Jew and coverting; something he is happy with. So, some of the sting of those remarks is taken away. One is hard-pressed to see Lott in anything similar, with a black person.

So, no. It's not at all the same. But we'll see a whole lot of folks, Republicans and conservatives, pumping this for all it's worth. That's a shame, as the tit-for-tat; you do one, we get one mentality has to stop. I just hope this stays below the media feeding-frenzy radar.

What's more noteworthy is the other comments Moran made, indicative of some serious strategizing on his and his party's part:
"The protest marches so far have been relatively ineffective in the United States," he said. "The speakers chosen have not been credible."

When asked who these speakers were, he said: "The worldwide socialist movements, the Al Sharptons of the world, the Cynthia McKinneys."

For the protests to be successful, he said, they have to become a middle-class suburban effort. Only when middle America started opposing the Vietnam War did it finally come to an end, he noted.

"People like you need to take control of the movement," he said.

But war is inevitable, he said, and the best the anti-war movement can hope for is to be recognized by history for their doomed efforts.

"I think it's going to be a frustrating process," he said. "But at least in the end we'll be able to say, 'I told you so,' and the history books will record that the nation was divided."
Now there's a wealth of material for pundits to chew over! Stuff with real value, and not some mock-equivalency of bigotries.

Sunday, March 09, 2003

Europe v. America; Uni- v. Multi-lateralism

An excellent post from Bitter Sanity about the differing perceptions in America and Europe of the role of the UN.
Considering what European nationalism did to the twentieth century - not to mention the nineteenth, the eighteenth, and I could go on for a while - it's reasonable for them to have concluded that nationalism unrestrained is the evil that causes war. And to have turned, after the Second World War, to transnational organizations - the UN, the EC, the EU - as a way of putting chains on nationalism, of keeping it within bounds, of preventing it from ever again drawing the whole world into war. These organizations are entrusted with keeping the old demon of nationalism down, and so naturally, they must have a certain degree of authority over national governments.

In order to do this, the UN - more precisely, the web of transnational organizations, but the UN is the foremost of them - must be endowed not only with political power, but with moral force as well. Nationalism is a spiritual phenomenon and it engages people's hearts. To counter it and to overmaster it, the UN must also call upon spiritual ideas: the brotherhood of all people, the future of the world, and peace itself. It must be conceived, not only as symbolizing these things, but as embodying them. Defiance of the UN becomes synonymous with breaking the community of mankind.
Right on the money. Go and read it all. Thanks to Instapundit for the link.