Friday, April 04, 2003

Mr. Phil Explains It All For You

A couple of weeks ago, Jackson Baker (my arch-nemesis and the blog's namesake) published an interview with new Governor Phil Bredesen. The following week, he published "Part Two", which might more properly be called an addendum.

The interview questions say a lot about Baker and how he's been affected by the Income Tax War and all its fallout, especially in the Democratic camp. Here's some of the questions, set alone:

Why was the need for budget cuts of the magnitude you've proposed not foreseen after last year's 1 percent sales-tax increase, the largest tax increase in Tennessee history?

Would an income tax have brought in more revenue than the sales tax did?

Last year you seconded Van Hilleary in promising to "repeal" an income tax if the legislature passed one. House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, who was just then trying to pass an income tax, was publicly displeased about that, as were other Democrats. Your take on that now?

Some observers consider you to be more like the traditional Republican than the usual Democrat. Your reaction?

During the 1994 campaign, when you lost to Sundquist, there were probably some unpleasant memories. Such as election night.

But there had to be high moments too, like your well-received speech to the Kiwanis Club here about "10 Things I Can Do for Memphis." One of them was bringing an NFL franchise to Memphis.

Do you consider the previous administration disingenuous about the shortfalls you discovered?

Pretty dire stuff, as you can see. So far as I know, this is the first and only real sit-down interview with the Governor, and Baker demonstrates a real lack of imagination.

The upside for us, though, is that being the first interview, Bredesen gives us a whole lot of new things.

For example, in talking about the Income Tax War itself, Bredesen has this to say:
The tax increase was an 11th-hour solution to a problem they thought was going to be solved by the income tax. Much of that increase went to fill a hole that was made by spending one-time funds in previous years. I don't think there was really thoughtful fiscal planning the last two or three years. It was: 'Once we get this Holy Grail of an income tax passed, we'll have plenty money and won't have to think of these things.'

I always thought, looking from the outside in at the income-tax debate, there were two things getting confused into one: One thing was, How much tax do you want to collect? And what is the level of services you want to have for the state of Tennessee? Do you want to be 45th or 25th or 15th on education funding? That's a longer-term issue having to do with how you want to position your state in the United States of America and so on.

Then there was the short-term issue of "We've had some really good years and the economy has gone south and we've got some pressure and how're we going to solve that problem?" And I think the income tax got used as a solution to problem number two. Because if you look at the numbers, Tennessee grew its budget substantially over the last couple of years. We created between two and three thousand new jobs in the middle of the huge budget crisis. The percentages by which our jobs grew in that period were among the highest in the country. What happened was that no one ever got focused on how you deal with these tough times because they were reaching for the Holy Grail up here.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't recall Bredesen being anywhere near this detailed and honest and open during the campaign. He didn't have the numbers or the inside view of the problems then, but neither did he articulate like this.

Bredesen also seems to understand the South pretty well, for a Yankee:
My assessment from the beginning was that if this election is about an income tax, I lose. And while I was not in favor of it, no Democrat is ever going to "out-seg" a conservative Republican on how much you can be against an income tax or any of those kinds of things. I would just say there was a campaign strategy: Don't let it be about the income tax. I ruffled some feathers and had some hurt feelings. But I also felt that when I got there by exercising some judgment I would get it back.
Yeah, he actually said "out-seg." Woo! It's pretty clear, too, that the people and media of Tennessee wouldn't let him execute his strategy.

On why he's a Democrat, he gives an answer that's passing strange:
I grew up in a single-parent family, living with my grandmother. My grandmother took in sewing for a living, and I think Democrats have always had a lot more concern about people who take in sewing for a living than Republicans have. And one of the things that I didn't like about my life before I got involved in politics was that I'd gotten into the business world and I'd made a bunch of money and I looked around. None of my friends took in sewing for a living. Or were bank tellers like my
mother was.
He chose to be one, from an apparently apolitical position!
I'm betting a lot on being able to fix TennCare. It would be the easiest thing in the world to flip that back to Medicaid, drop 400,000 people off the rolls, and go. To me, it's worth risking your governorship to try and keep 400,000 on the TennCare rolls. And, you know, I think the Democratic Party in general is a place I'm more comfortable in, with those kinds of concerns.
Now the first part of this paragraph kinda scare me. He's clearly pegging his reputation and legacy as Governor on being able to reform TennCare. I wish him luck, because I don't think he can do it. Too many forces are arrayed against him, between him and the pig trough of State and Federal money that too many attached to TennCare depend on. I still think handing back the TennCare waiver is the only way to go, but clearly Bredesen doesn't. Ah well....

Bredesen then goes on to politely but pointedly place a whole lot of blame on the previous Legislatures and especially former Governor Don Sundquist for the mess we find ourselves in now, and for the rancor of the past few years. I'm not going to quote that, or any more. Go to the links above and read the whole thing. It's all eye-opening.

The upshot of all this is a slight reappraisal of Governor Phil Bredesen on my part. He's clearly sincere about trying to remake out State's government, and forcing fiscal responsibility on the Legislature. He's not a dogmatic Democrat, with all the ideology that smothers their brains, but rather a person who had to choose a label. I'll buy that. He sees the mistakes that Sundquist made and seems determined not to repeat them, nor allow them to reappear.

I'm willing to cut him more slack than I have yet. If we cast this in terms of the Homeland Security Department's Threat Assessment Level chart, I'm officially moving us down from Yellow to Blue -- from Elevated risk to Guarded. It's still early days, and as the next post shows the forces of income taxation are still to make their countermoves. I want to see how Bredesen responds to, and surmounts, those challenges. Proof and pudding and all that.

OK, y'all can pick yourselves up off the floor now.
Naifeh Picks His Battle

I've noted several times that House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, who pinned his political career to the income tax and nearly lost it, has been remarkably quiescent as the Bredesen administration firmly closes the door on the income tax and proceeds with the very budget cutting Naifeh called the "doomsday scenario." Naifeh has been making nice and playing along like he never thought otherwise. It's too odd and not at all in character for him. I've been waiting for something to happen.

Well, in today's Commercial Appeal comes this story wherein it seems that the other shoe may be about to drop.

Bredesen has proposed cutting the money that the State gives to Cities and Counties by 9 percent, just like the rest of his budget. It's produced predictable howls of protest. ow, Naifeh is backing a proposal by Rep. Randy Rinks that would take money from the Hall tax on investment income in place of the 9 percent cut.

The reasoning is that the Hall tax money comes from people and cities that are already wealthy, and so would be less adversely affected by a cut in revenue from that source.
Under long-standing state law, three-eighths of every investment income tax dollar collected is returned to the city or country where the taxpayer resides, with the rest going to the state.

The state's four largest cities and well-to-do towns such as Germantown receive a disproportionate amount, because they provide a stronger investment income tax base.

Rinks said the state's wealthier and larger communities are better able to handle the budget crunch than smaller towns and rural counties that depend heavily on the state-shared tax revenue as part of their annual budgets.

Rinks's proposal, the County Relief Act, would provide the state the same $60 million savings that Bredesen's plan would produce.

"The counties would all come out better,'' he said. "Some cities would win, and some would lose.''
It's an interesting move. If Bredesen opposes it, he looks like he's protecting the State's wealthy, of whom he's one. If he supports it, he's going to take a hit from those same, influential folks.

It's the first public break by Naifeh from the Bredesen orthodoxy. I'm still a little unclear on what's Naifeh's benefit, other than discomfitting Bredesen; maybe this is to show him who's boss? I welcome any other theories.
You Have To Read Past The Jump

In newspaper parlance, the "jump" is the point where a story ends on one page and continues on another. In the Commercial Appeal it's marked by something like "See DAY CARE, B2." Many papers will try to compress the most important parts, or the parts they most want you to remember, into the first page. The "jump" part will then have the details, or in the case of uncomfortable news, the parts the paper hopes you won't read. That's because many people don't read past the jump.

In this story on Tennessee day care reforms, reading past the jump will net you some interesting reading. The story is by the CA's attack dog, Marq Perrusquia, the "go to" guy for in-depth, detailed, research intensive articles that nail their subjects.

In this case, he's overkill. The story goes to various day care workers and operators to get their viewpoint on the reforms, which are unsurprisingly supportive of the CA's story.

I've blogged on this before. I think the reforms are just more government, driven by fear and outrage at the fiscal mismanagement of day cares and brokers, and the deaths of six children in recent years. While saving children's lives is admirable, the reforms will merely add to costs and drive more families into non-day care alternatives like the "Auntie Mabel's house" option. Quoting from one day care operator: "It's costly. But how much more costly is a child's life?'' This way madness lies, of course. We can spend completely unrealistic sums and have a system in which no children are in danger of injury, and will be properly watched over by trained professionals. Of course, that'll be prohibitively expensive. Read the story for those details.

But in the middle of all this, I found:
The report found plenty of blame, starting with the tragic history of Tennessee's day care system.

With little oversight, hundreds of privately run but publicly funded day care operations sprouted following passage of the 1996 welfare reform law that pushed numbers of Tennesseans to work.

Many centers, notably several in Memphis, were driven "solely by greed,'' the report said, showing little concern for children as they vied for a cut of state subsidies, which exceeded $87 million last year in Shelby County. we find some meat! Providing for more inspectors would be much cheaper and produce immediate results all around. As for greed, that I'm afraid is endemic to Memphis' relations to any government entity handing out money. Especially when State Senator John Ford is in your corner.
Two years earlier, owner Camelia Gibson ran the center as Grand Central Station Child Development Center before federal agents shut it down as an illegal money counterfeiting operation. Gib son then leased the site to Sandra Gordon, who reopened it as Tippy Toes.

Gibson, 43, and Gordon, 31, were charged last month with four counts of reckless homicide. Prosecutors allege the women took an unjustifiable risk when they hired Hudson, a known drug user who often nodded off behind the wheel.

Hudson pleaded guilty in 2000 to possession of marijuana after police pulled him over for running a stop sign.
Hudson "often nodded off at the wheel?" This implies a lot of people knew. And if that's true, the problem is people who "go along to get along." When the owners and operators and workers aren't virtuous people, why should we believe that new laws will make them so? Why shouldn't we believe these same people will help whoever needs to pass a drug test to do whatever he needs to?

An enterprising group of parents might make some racket with a lawsuit against the State for lax oversight. That would shake up some people, and you'd see some action, fast.
Something More Going On Here?

The Friday Commercial Appeal carries news that State Attorney General Paul Summers has released two opinions regarding City Mayor Willie Herenton's plan to achieve school consolidation.

The story gives lots of space to the first opinion -- that only the City School Board has the power to call a city-wide referendum on dissolving the City schools charter, forcing the County to take them on. It's consolidation by default.

This sets Herenton back, as he's not at all likely to get the school board to play along. He's been unrelentingly critical of them, in his usual high-handed, dismissive style. Nothing he wants will get through them.

There is this delicious bit of irony, though:
"My faith in the school board to give the citizens the right to vote is not very strong,'' Herenton said. "We'll continue to move forward. All I'm pushing for is some democracy."
Coming from the man who was equally dismissive of attempts to force a city-wide referendum on using public funds to built the FedEx Forum, this smells like revenge of a sort.

But the story gives short shrift to the second opinion given by Summers:
However, a second legal opinion left the mayor considering a possible lawsuit to challenge the city school system's right to exist....

Another opinion issued Thursday by Summers gave Herenton a glimmer of hope.

Allan Wade, the City Council's attorney, had raised questions about whether the city school district lost its legal authority to operate years ago.

In response, Summers wrote: "We conclude that while someone might question the legal existence of the school district, until someone challenges it in court and a court decides the issue, the school district continues to exist legally."
The last three paragraphs came at the very end of the story, and raise the most questions.

The basic problem is that Memphis City Schools were created under a special provision of law, and the actual language seems to have provided that the provision expires ninety-nine years after its passage. If you go to the actual opinions, the constitutional issues become entangled in law that goes back to the 1860s! It's dense reading, but Summers seems to be saying that a court is likely to uphold the legality of the Memphis City Schools, but he finds enough muddy language that a challenge might have enough grounds to proceed.

It's a slim reed for Herenton, but I'd imagine that he'll pursue it. And the CA will bird-dog his every step, trying to stop it.
'Bout Time

After more than two weeks of Iraqi War headlines on the front page of the Commercial Appeal we finally get a break. Today's top headline is a story marking the 35th anniversary of Martin Luther King's assassination here in Memphis...almost.

The story is more about the fading power of the AFSCME, the sanitation workers' union. While pegged to MLK, the story is more about how strength can fade over time, how complacency and change will catch up to anyone.

It'll be interesting to see if the CA goes back to its "war-only" headline policy tomorrow.

Thursday, April 03, 2003

Say Please

I have to turn in tonight, but I've still got one major story in the backlog of stuff. It's the Phil Bredesen interview I'll wager most of you didn't even know existed! It's got lots of goodies in it which I'll share, and I'll have an announcement at the end of that post that may surprise some of y'all.


Yeah, you'll either have to check back Friday night, or read this blog on the weekend. Ain't I a stinker?

Y'all be good, OK?
Tin Eared

It's been all over the news. I'm sure you've heard. Governor Phil Bredesen is cutting the State's budget by 9 percent wherever he can. He's trying to get cities and counties to take a cut in their share of State monies. Even his sacred cow, education, is doing without to a certain degree.

So why are these goobs acting like it's still the Sundquist administration?

Oh, wait. It's J. R. "Pitt" Hyde III who's doing the asking. He must think he's dealing with the Memphis Mayor and City Council, who think the sun shines from his ass.

Hey, the story even manages to work in the magic phrase: "world-class." We all know that's the most important thing about it. If it's Memphis, it's gotta have "world class."
No Taste, No Calories, No Nothing

I already blogged on this story earlier, but the day-behind Commercial Appeal has an editorial today, purportedly on the same topic.

Unfortunately, it actually says nothing. Read it closely and you'll see that little to nothing is advocated, though much is implied to careless readers. It smacks of Dave Kushma's "Well, there's this, but then there's also that" brand of mush -- "even-handedness" that masques an unwillingness (or more likely, inability) to propose real choices or actions.

It's a classic of his type, such as that may pitifully be.
The Lottery Scrap

The Commercial Appeal has been doing a fair job of keeping stories about the lottery legislation near the top of their reporting priorities, although the Iraqi War still dominates everything to an unwelcome degree. You can find pretty good stories here, here, here, here and here.

That last story is especially good, as it exposes one of several fault lines in the geography of the lottery legislation struggles. Memphis Democrats rightly worry that students from here will find themselves below the cut-off for grades if the State adopts the 3.0 GPA minimum proposed. Although poor Memphians will be "taxed" to a very heavy degree (or will buy lots of lottery tickets if you're not a Demo-speak person), we stand to lose out when the money comes back. It's causing out legislators to press for lower standards for awarding lottery scholarships.

Private colleges are also pressing for their "fair" share of lottery scholarship money. Christian Brothers, Rhodes and others have a stake there.

But the most dangerous fault line is between Senator Steve Cohen and Governor Phil Bredesen. Cohen long ago pegged his name and reputation to the lottery. He turned into a lying, scheming weasel during the campaign, making extravagant claims for lottery money, vilifying or ridiculing his opponents blithely. He wants to retire soon and needs to have the lottery concluded before his term ends.

Governor Bredesen, on the other hand, is approaching the scholarships and the lottery money with the skepticism and "go slow" attitude that has marked his administration from day one. He's spoken to the two major players for running the State's lottery and both have set low projections ($80 and $120 million, if I recall correctly) for revenues the first year. Bredesen wants to see how much money a lottery generates before we begin to make promises, and start handing it out. Wise moves.

He also wants a larger hand in appointing the people on the lottery oversight board. Cohen would like the Legislature to have the majority of seats, with the Governor having three; the Governor would like to control the majority of appointments. I tend to agree with Cohen here. Requiring majority support for appointees means public, amenable and widely-supported candidates are favored. Bredesen's model sounds like a set-up for favoritism and corruption.

But Cohen has reverted to his campaign rhetoric in his opposition to the Governor. He's already accused the Governor of having an "under the table" motive for his caution. His contempt and dismissiveness surface constantly. It's unseemly, but it's standard Cohen.

I almost shudder to hear myself say this about Bredesen, but during this extended honeymoon between the Legislature and the Governor, I hope the Governor's view continues to hold sway. We should go slow in considering what the standards are for awarding and keeping lottery scholarships, and they should be challenging, not condescending. We should wait until we have a clear idea of what revenues will be before we set loose a horde of students on our cash-strapped college and university system.

Cohen's route would likely lead to further disaster for Tennessee. Bredesen's consistent application of his philosophy of regaining control of State spending is the way to go.
Media Bias? What Media Bias?

Once again, you only have to let journalists speak and they'll out themselves every time.

In this story by Paul Farhi, from the American Journalism Review no less, examining the differences between CNN and FoxNews, his own words damn him:
While that may sound like excuse-making for CNN's failure to keep pace with Fox, there's no question both networks have tried to define themselves as something the other guy isn't. The stylistic gulf between the two is evident in their signature programs: "Larry King Live" on CNN, and "The O'Reilly Factor" on Fox News, hosted by the peppery Bill O'Reilly. O'Reilly displaced King as the most popular personality in cable news more than two years ago by being the anti-King. Where King is nonconfrontational, O'Reilly emphasizes verbal combat; where King is nonideological, O'Reilly showers his viewers with opinions. Where King is blandly respectful to all comers, O'Reilly is predictably sulfurous. "No one watches Larry King to find out what he thinks about the issues," says Isaacson.

The same spirit pervades the rest of the networks' prime-time lineups. Other than the histrionics of "Crossfire," CNN's programs feature the sedate Lou Dobbs, Connie Chung and Aaron Brown. Fox consciously counter-programs with the breezier, noisier and more combative O'Reilly, "Hannity & Colmes" and Greta Van Susteren.

Even then, it's more about packaging than politics. In reviewing a week of programming on the three cable networks last year, ADT found that CNN, Fox and MSNBC all invited similar numbers of left- and right-wing guests to their chat and interview shows. The major difference was that Fox's hosts offered more of their own opinions, and interrupted guests more frequently, than CNN's interviewers.
Look again at the words he uses to describe each network and their people. Note that Greta Van Sustern used to be CNN; notice that Donahue is missing.

The whole thing just pisses me off, but you should read it for yourself. I'll guarantee you that if you tried to point anything out to Farhi, he'd argue every point before dismissing you.
Already Dipping Into The Money Pool

Legislators wasted no time whatsoever in jamming their sticky, greedy fingers into the lottery money pool and turning it into a slush fund.
The House State and Local Government Committee adopted the amendment, authored by Rep. Jim Vincent (R-Soddy Daisy) that would deposit unclaimed lottery prize money in a new education fund. That fund would then be divided among the 132 legislators so they, in turn, could allocate their shares for educational purposes within their districts.
Nowhere at all did anyone backing the lottery propose this! It's precisely the kind of thing lottery opponents such as yours truly feared.

Nice to see legislators reach for your lowest expectations and prove every negative adage about them right. Hopefully, Bredesen will make it very, very clear that no lottery bill with this shit attached will get his signature.
Read Carefully

Today's Commercial Appeal story for dissection is this front page wonder, by Blake Fontenay, titled "Council vote bucks 'smart growth' pitch." See, the Commercial Appeal has been telling us for several months now that "smart growth" is the thing of the future for Memphis, kinda like the Pyramid was, but without the embarrassing failure part.

Shortly after hearing Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton talk about "smart growth" principles Tuesday, City Council members got a chance to put those principles to the test.
With this, and the headline, we are alerted that the Mayor has set the pace and the Council is letting us all down. Mayor's smarth growth=good; Council=bad.
The way some Cordova residents see it, the council failed.
Ahh...cheaters! Using some citizens to put your own words into their mouths. But then this is common journalistic practice. No word on how many supporters vs. opposers, so we have to take their word. Hmmm....
Chris Jones, one of the residents who spoke at the council meeting, said Wharton's remarks about focusing development in inner-city areas instead of fast-growing suburban neighborhoods seemed to fall on deaf ears.
Maybe because Council constituents aren't making it one?
"What's going to happen is people are going to keep moving to Mississippi and Fayette County," said Jones, 35, who lives in the Cumberland Farms subdivision. "The politicians don't seem to get it."
Pssst, hey, Chris, it's race and schools, not development that's doing it. Look at what they're building in the places you mention -- more of what you decry.
Brian Youngs, 30, said he moved to the area to escape the intense development that has overtaken his former hometown of Los Angeles.

Youngs said the project, proposed by politically connected developer Rusty Hyneman, has prompted many in the close-knit community to talk of moving.
Comparing Memphis to LA is a hoot, believe me. My sister lives out there and it's not nearly the same.

And isn't the story always the same? Folks move to "woodsy" nearly-rural new subdivisions, where it's nice. Developers cash in on the neighboring properties. Shock! Who thought that would happen? Certainly not the folks who'd now like to deny to others what they claimed for themselves.

Notice, too, that the Hyneman name is dropped. He's going to be the bad-boy of the developing (hee-hee...get the joke?) smart growth story, as opposed to the Turley/Belz/Hyde axis. But remember, about a year ago, when Hyneman's name came up in an investigation of campaign donations and Council actions? The CA somehow managed to drop his name from the story pretty quickly. I guess it was different then, before Wharton was Mayor and smart growth was his plan.
Neighbors worry that small and inexpensive houses will drive down their property values, increase traffic and overburden area schools.

"It's almost like living in Leave it to Beaver World," Youngs said of the neighborhood. "Now a lot of people are talking about getting out."
Ahhhh..."inexpensive" housing. That's a smart growth ideal, but in this context it's code for "blacks and other undesirables." Not that the CA will tell you that though. The whole race issue has been sidestepped in the paper's coverage of smart growth.

The story then goes on to show how Hyneman went to some lengths to adjust his plan to meet some concerns he'd been given by the Council and some zoning agencies.

But the real irony is this:
Taylor drew Youngs's ire by trying to speed up debate about the project before a seemingly inattentive council.

Taylor twice reminded his colleagues they were late for a reception to honor Jack Belz, another developer who was given the council's annual Humanitarian Award.

"I don't understand that," Youngs said. "You should listen to the people instead of having tea and sandwiches."
Both the City Council and County Commission are well known for not listening to folks at their meetings. It's a long-standing complaint and the paper to their credit have documented it before. But until the paper does in-depth investigative stories on all the developers, and not their straw men, it's meaningless.

And I'm not holding my breath to see if the CA goes after Belz like they do the suburban residential developers. Belz, you see, is on the right side of the issue -- the CA side.

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

Thought For The Day

Via the quite dry but always thoughtful blog of Jemima Pereira comes this thought for the day, from G. K. Chesterton:
The saying that good men are the same in all religions is profoundly true, if it means that the attitude of doing one's best is the same everywhere. But if it means that they will all do the same thing it is not true; it is not common sense. A man from a distant continent or a remote century may be as good as any of us--self restrained, aspiring, magnanimous, sincere. But we must not complain if he has a slight penchant, let us say, for human sacrifice. It will altogether depend upon the nature of his philosophy. And that is how the case stands at the root of the horrors of the Near East. The Moslems are not without creditable qualities in the least--courage, sobriety, hardiness, hospitality, personal dignity, intense religious belief. These are fine qualities. The thing we will not face is the enormous fact that they have along with all this, not merely from personal sin, but by ingrained, avowed, and convinced philosophy another quality, a total disregard of human life, whether it is their own or other people's. Therefore our civilisation is and must be at war with them, and that war is a religious war, or, if you prefer the term, a philosophical war. We are allowed by the modern mind to call the Moslems en masse thieves, beasts, devils from hell, though it is manifest to common sense that no people can be so entirely composed. The one thing we are not allowed to say against them, the one thing that amid all our curses it would really be thought illiberal to say, is exactly the thing which is really our case against them. Our case against them, that is, is that they both think and act, that they think and therefore act against everything for which we stand.
Written in 1903, and so informed by attitudes some today might find distasteful, but something to think about anyway.
Credit Where It's Due

I rag on the CA pretty mercilessly. They deserve it. Just see the next post.

But sometimes they do something good, even if it is by way of housekeeping, and I must laud them for it. A few weeks ago, the CA tried to reorganise their back pages, where the comics and the Jumble are. They were trying to compact some features into a tight space, so they cut a few comic strips to make room for features from other parts of the paper (the "this day in CA history" thingy).

They over-cut on strips, though not cutting enough since they kept "Mary Worthless" and "Apt. 3-No Gee" and some other awful stuff. But they had a fair bit of space to refill.

They chose to add a photo from the CA archives! Every day, we get a different photo of some bit of Memphis history. Today, it was a Memphis cotton carrier from the late 19th century. Previously, we've seen the new Main Library on McLean and Peabody, Booker T. and the MGs in their salad days, B.B. King as a very young man, the Memphis skyline in 1903, and others. I love history, so I'm enjoying this quite a lot. As time goes by, and they use up all the obvious things in the archive, we can look forward to a trove of photos of the real Memphis past.

Good going, guys.
Take That! Foolish Critical Readers

No, not you dear friends, but readers of the Commercial Appeal. Still clearing out Sunday stories, I have to mention this story titled "Critics Cornered," in which theater critic Christopher Blank, under the guise of writing about a persistent, critical letter writer is actually using some column space to exact a small measure of revenge.

He writes:
Someone was trying to tell me how to write.

"Can you believe this?" I said, handing it to my editor, and we laughed, because laughter is the only armor critics have against the myriad people who feel that no hack journalist is qualified enough to say negative things about the entertainments they love so dearly.

More articles showed up, picking, prodding. Some of them were complimentary, too.

VERY GOOD INDEED! TERRIFIC!, raved a sprawling manuscript on a play review that also bore the mark of a balanced criticism by back handedly pointing out a grammar goof. One does not quibble about split infinitives with one who never dangles a participle....

Why couldn't she see what I was trying to accomplish?

I was trying to make classical music seem interesting to folks who might ignore it. I was trying not to sound so stuffy. I was trying to be entertaining.

One day, a long letter arrived on a sheet of white paper. It said:

To help save your job - You need to LISTEN with eyes closed if necessary. No "scenery" (the seating arrangement at a recent chamber music performance) or "costumes." Actors use body, voice. Musicians just "voice," "interior." Music is drama too. The inner soul, not the "outer" seen on stage.

As the victim of a critic, I was suddenly bursting with questions that actors, musicians, dancers, directors and various enraged arts fans have been asking me for ages: Who are you? What qualifies you to say what you say? Do you even know anything about that which you criticize?

Since the letters came anonymously, I couldn't purge my ire by means of snarky, self-defensive rebuttals, much like those I send to folks who question my authority via E-mail. Raging silently, I wrote to my anonymous critic.
He's angry because an anonymous person repeatedly sent him marked up columns with lots of advice on how to improve. Sound familiar? It got under his skins pretty bad, to judge by this column. When she finally used her real name, Blank was more than willing to out her in this article, all the while venting his own anger.

Sadly, he doesn't seem to have understood the lesson here. There's nothing wrong with critics have opinions. It's good, as it means they have some standards by which they judge what they review. The problems is when those standards aren't articulated to the reader, who is then left to wonder what the reviewer does like and why. That's the nub of it -- why.

Blank has absorbed the CA writer's tendency to hide behind the institution, to present a disconnected face to the public while pretending a neutrality that is, to most readers, clearly false. Only by admitting to biases and prerequisites can the reader see where the reviewer comes from. That's what generates a lot of the outraged mail to the CA, not clearly knowing where they come from.

One of my favorite reviewers from the past was rock critic Lester Bangs. His reviews were rambling and emotional, and often not apparently on the subject at hand. He once wrote a review of a Black Sabbath album in which he mostly told a story of going to the supermarket late at night to score some Romilar cough syrup, for a cheap high, while extolling the virtures of a Romilar downer. He only briefly mentioned the Black Sabbath album, but it was clear that he was saying it wasn't as good as a Romilar high. If you were a regular reader of Lester Bangs (a reader requisite of any reviewer), you knew what he meant. He had strong opinions, passionate beliefs and a tongue that could both cut and caress.

But too many of the reviewers for the CA have problems of blandness, or irrelevance, or aestheticism. John Beifuss, the movie critic, is bland; Tom Walters is irrelevant; Frederic Koeppel is the aesthete, the guy who is better than you. Andrew Young, Cap'n Comics, is pretty passionate, but is strictly limited to his comics ghetto. Bill Ellis clearly loves music and can tell you what he likes, or dislikes, and why in ways that are informative to you.

Anyway, the CA's answer to Blank's problem is to institute the "Readers React" feature. It's a bad idea, as it's just another Letters to the Editor, broken out by specific article. As a newspaper reader, I really don't care what other readers think. I'm paying to know what the writers think, and more importantly why. How many times have they already printed Letters to the Editor that demanded answers, only to ignore any response? They would do far, far better to simply give the "React" space over to the writers at the paper to answer questions from readers. Explain themselves, their biases and reasoning, and the public will benefit. The paper will develop a real relationship with the community, not the present one-way shovelling of drivel we have now.

I don't think that's going to happen, though. The paper has a one-way wall between themselves and the public. They are deeply protective of their privilege. Oddly enough, it's precisely the kind that they do not sit for from the subjects of their questions. Goose, meet gander.

You can see a preview of what the new "Readers React" feature will look like here. Tellingly, they use the exact same people, and some of the same words, as they quoted in the above story! Wow, such economy. It bodes well for the future.

Tuesday, April 01, 2003


Never shy about taking credit when it's not due, Sunday's Commercial Appeal had an editorial [not online, unsurprisingly] in which they try to chastise legislators for modifying the day care reforms while simulataneously claiming credit for day care reforms. It's sad.

While noting that it was the deaths of four children in a day care van that provided the emotional horror that spurred the reforms, they also claim:
Much of the impetus for the movement was provided by an investigation by the Commercial Appeal that followed the deaths of two Memphis toddlers who were abandoned in overheated day care vans in July 1999.

Abuses in the state-subsidized day care system revealed by the newspaper helped lead to federal and state investigations of WillieAnn Madison and her husband, John, who ran Shelby County's former child care brokerage.
Please, don't over-reach. Senator John Ford has beaten back much of the investigation, to protect his own ass. While they dug up some good information, the State did the real work, and it was only after the tragedies, not before. The CA has a very bad habit of coming to stories only after someone else breaks them.

Besides, the reforms are nothing to crow about. The tragedies of the children's deaths could have been prevented by the day care owners themselves. But they had to keep the driver they had -- because they can't afford the quality that the State wants. If the reforms first demanded by the State are implemented it will be catastrophe for day care, and the families that rely on it.

Costs will have to go up. New vans, of a significantly larger style and size, are mandated. More workers, too. And the paperwork load goes up, meaning more time filling and filing it. All this costs money, which has to come from somewhere. And it ain't gonna be the State.

Laws and reforms made by legislators motivated by public outrage are almost without exception bad ideas. History has shown this over and over. But the CA seems to resist the lessons of history.
Lost In The War News

With all the war reporting, it's not too surprising that this story, from Friday's Commercial Appeal got lost in the shuffle. The paper only carried it on the inside page of the Metro section, another casualty of their war over-coverage.

Governor Phil Bredesen announced that he's delaying some TennCare changes indefinitely, so that an out-of-court settlement can be reached. Among the delays will be dropping those who failed to re-enroll, or were cut for not meeting criteria, and raising rates for some.

You can thank Gordon Bonnyman, of the Tennessee Justice Center, the constant hobble on the engine of change for TennCare. He seems hellbent on seeing any Tennesean, or anyone who can cross the State line, kept on maximum benefits. He's also tried to stop any change attempted in TennCare. Bonnyman is a one-man-show for socialist health care.
TennCare advocate and attorney Gordon Bonnyman said he had been particularly worried about a provision that would have cost about 150 enrollees, most of whom are dependent on ventilators to breathe, the private nursing care that allows them to stay home rather than in hospital intensive care units.

"That's not a huge number, but the effect would have been very dramatic," Bonnyman said.

The governor's delay in benefit changes will cost the state about $24 million in the current fiscal year, TennCare officials say, but it gives officials the opportunity to settle lawsuits that have been costing the state hundreds of millions of dollars.

Bonnyman, who successfully has filed a number of lawsuits against the state on behalf of TennCare enrollees, said the governor's decision - and earlier action allowing people dropped from TennCare to reapply - gives him hope the cases can be resolved to the benefit of all involved.
Oh good! I'm so glad this one-man government is satisfied. Note that he's cost the State hundreds of millions of dollars, money that could have gone to health care, and not to lawyer's incomes.

Thanks, Gordo. And I guess I should be razzing the Governor, but I understand his logic here. I can only hope he takes the same uncompromising stance with Bonny-brain that he's taken with the State Legislature and the bureaucracy. Time will tell.
Just As Long As Folks Don't Throw 'Em

So, Tennessee now has an official fruit. Oh joy. The tomato. I just bet the folks in Ripley are real happy today.

At least they definitively settled something:
Answering one question, [Rep. Dennis Roach (R-Rutledge)] noted that the tomato is a fruit, not a vegetable, because it grows on a vine.
Maybe when Sheryl Crow comes to visit Memphis as part of the Memphis in May Beale Street Music Festival we can show her anti-war ass a real Tennessee welcome by sending a whole lot of Tennessee's official fruit her way while she's performing on stage?

I suspect that's not what legislators had in mind.
Pres Le

To properly pronounce the above title, imagine a Chinese Elvis Presley. Yeah, it's that awful.

The Commercial Appeal lives to promote any event or thing that helps make Memphis a "world class city." It's odd and sad to see in action. They'll do the worst kind of boosterism for anything, almost to the point of pandering.

They were all behind Sid Schlenker and his plans for the Pyramid, not bothering to research his past and accusing doubters of treachery, until he skipped town. Then they looked into him and found all kinds of badness.

So it is with the pandas at the Memphis Zoo. Although in the larger scheme it's a "who cares?" kind of thing, in the eyes of the CA it's the kind of red star (not gold here) that signifies that Memphis has arrived, that we're "world class."

So we get lots of stories like this from today's CA. And we get the C.A. Eye's silly "Pres Le": an inflatable panda bear that they drag around the City and photgraph at various locations. It's like those "kidnapped gnome" adventures, but without any sense of urgency or mystery or fun.

But the CA sure loves it.
The Changing Face Of Europe

A few bloggers have made note of this story from the Times of London, which reports that Europe's population is shrinking, and fast. If current trends continue, Europe will lose over 85 million in population in the next fifteen years!

But there's more to this story than just that. Europe has been changing already, as complex factors already are coming into play in relation to population pressures. These changes mean a lot for Europe, and will affect America as well.

Several European countries -- Scotland, Italy, and Russia if you want to be generous -- are experiencing negative population growth. That is, the death rate is exceeding the birth rate. Scotland and Italy are already beginning campaigns to bring in folks from other nations to compensate.

Other nations -- France, Germany, Sweden -- have been importing people from outside Europe for decades, to perform the low-level scut work that natives don't want to do anymore. In France, it's Algerians; in Germany, it's Turks. Britain has growing populations of Caribeans, Pakistanis and Muslims, though for different reasons.

Nations that once defined themselves pretty clearly in cultural and historic terms now find themselves in a situation analogous to America. It's one they haven't had to deal with, as opposed to America which is defined by its outside populations, and they aren't handling it at all well.

Outsider populations in Europe find themselves marginalised on the one hand, while being kid-gloved on the other with demeaning and suppressing PC treatment. It's put them into ghetto communities and isolated them, breeding anger and hostility that's now erupting all over the face of Europe.

The importation problem came about because of Europe's generous welfare states. Every nation of Europe offers benefits, from cradle to grave, that far outstrip anything offered here in America. It's expensive to do this, and European budgets are going broke even now with the strain. America has been indirectly aiding Europe by assuming the bulk of their defense budget, through NATO. Most European countries spend around 2 or 3% of their budgets on defense; America's is closer to 17%; a large part of that is NATO spending. The Europeans, for all that they look down on Americans, are quite willing to have us keep on spending for them, as assuming their own burdens would completely bankrupt them and collapse their welfare states.

As I noted earlier, populations in Europe are steady or declining; some of the Eastern European nations aren't affected yet, but as they reach Western standards of education and equal rights, they will also see declines in birth rates. It's been clearly documented that as women's education and employment opportunities rise, their birth rate declines as they have fewer children, later in life. Bringing the newly freed nations of the former Soviet bloc into the European mindset will just spread the problem.

To keep the whole Ponzi scheme afloat, to keep working bodies in the jobs that pay the benefits that support the native Eurpopeans, they've been bringing in folks from cultures completely different from their own. Cultures that still stress family bonds, traditional family roles, high birth rates, and strong religious values. So far, these cultures have strongly resisted assimilation into the European fold. Nations like Denmark, France, Britain and Italy now face the difficult prospect of maintaining their historic cultures in the face of new citizens who don't care to join in.

Europe as we have thought of it since the 1700's in slowly, but definitely, coming to an end. Either they will have to find ways to blend in their new populations, making them part of the historic culture, or they will begin to crack into Balkanised tribes within old national boundaries. The shift is underway now, and the PC Euro-treatment of the outsiders is forcing cracks.

It's the condescending treatment of Leftists and Progressives, under the PC guise of "respect for differences" that is killing them. It's the arm's-length treatment that justifies inaction through a false front of allowing "self-determination" and "respect." Rather than maintain, or even slightly modify, the old historic culture, these Leftists will allow alien cultures to grow within their own, unassimilated and uninterested. It will lead to the displacement of the historic culture.

Europe is well along on that road. Within two generations, we may not even recognise many European nations as our spiritual and cultural forebears. America is also seeing this, though on a much slower basis, and more spread out. Hispanics pose the greatest threat, if any, of cultural displacement in America.

Closing borders is the simple solution. America's have been wide open for nearly thirty years, resulting in the largest numbers of immigrants in the nation ever -- both in raw numbers and as a percent of population; even exceeding the great immigrant influx of the late 19th century! By closing, or severely throttling back, borders we have time for the dominant culture to work its assimilation. It's what happened with the last major waves of the 19th and 20th centuries. The result was intermingling and intermarriage that spread and diluted the immigrant cultures into the majority, to the benefit of both.

But that attitude is precisely the problem for the Left. They simply can't do it. Add to that the job and welfare pressures in Europe and it's flatly undoable for them. America is presented with some interesting new options in the post-Iraqi War era. With a loss of influence for Europe around the world, and especially in America, they will see themselves vaulted solidly into secondary status. European Union size and economic power simply won't matter. If President Bush is bold enough to renegotiate NATO, he can hand Europe such problems that they'll never recover from. European intellectual hegemony over certain elites in America will become quaint and meaningless, as they'll be championing a sytem and approach that the majority will see is clearly failing.

Powerful lessons for America. Historic inevitability for Europe.
Ramsey Clark

Ramsey Clark appears in the news in the past year as an anti-war activist, usually identified, as in this story at (which should know better) only as "appeasement movement leader and former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark...." This really sticks in my craw, as he's much more and much worse than folks are led to believe.

For starters, he was an attorney general nearly forty years ago, during the Johnson administration! That's like calling Jimmy Carter "the former president." It leaves out a lot -- a whole lot that's more relevant than one job decades ago.

You can read a pretty dry biography here. You'll note that during his government time he was pretty active in increasing and consolidating Federal power, and he wasn't a friend of the Second Amendment, either. He was, to his credit, instrumental in civil rights reforms.

Johnson, however, found him to be too timid, for all his leftyness. And in the presidential campaign of '68, when Nixon ran on the "hard on crime" Southern strategy, Clark was so far to the left of Nixon he was an easy target. It helped Nixon to get elected and put Clark out of favor with Johnson. He left government shortly afterwards.

As I said, it's the years since then that really tell the tale. The Washington Post wrote a pretty in-depth feature article on him last year, which you can read here. It's worth the time, but here are the money 'graphs:
These days, for instance, Clark, 74, serves as a lawyer for Slobodan Milosevic, the former Yugoslav dictator now on trial for war crimes at an International Criminal Tribunal in Holland. Clark is also defending Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, a Rwandan clergyman charged with genocide in connection with the massacre of Tutsis in 1994.

Over the years, Clark has also served as an attorney for the Palestine Liberation Organization. And for Radovan Karadzic, a Bosnian Serb general indicted on charges of genocide in 1995. And Lyndon LaRouche, the American political cult leader convicted of mail fraud in 1988. And Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, the so-called "blind cleric" convicted of seditious conspiracy for his role as spiritual adviser to the men who exploded a truck bomb in the World Trade Center in 1993.

But defending clients isn't all Clark does. He also serves as what one former colleague describes as "a one-man opposition State Department" -- flying to Iran, Iraq, Panama, Serbia, Libya and North Korea to denounce the United States for what he calls "war crimes" or "genocide" against those nations. Then he comes home to convene propaganda tribunals, where leftist activists try -- and inevitably convict -- the United States for crimes against humanity.
Pretty astonishing stuff, yes? It certainly changes your perception of the man, casting him in a decidedly less flattering light than "former U. S. Attorney General" does.

Clark is also the founder and leader of the International Action Center, a broad umbrella group for anti-war, anti-US, anti-capitalist activities. Take the time to look around the site a bit, to get its flavor. The IAC was affiliated with the Worker's World Party, which some of you may recognise as the power behind the front of ANSWER, the group that organised and launched the anti-war protests of this year. ANSWER and WWP are both Stalinist groups that are also anti-US, anti-capitalism, and pro-North Korea! It's all a cozy nest, though Clark now disavows ANSWER and WWP.

But you can read all of the above very closely and not find the real jaw-dropper: Ramsey Clark is the paid agent for Saddam Hussein and Iraq in the US! He was hired some time this year, the date isn't available. Go back over the NewsMax and WaPo stories with this in mind and his words take on a new, and very insidious, light.

Want more? CBS anchor Dan Rather is on record as thanking Clark for setting up his famous interview with Saddam Hussein.
As noted in the February 25 CyberAlert, in a February 24 AP dispatch David Bauer reported: “CBS acknowledged that former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, who is prominent in the global anti-war movement and met with Saddam on Sunday, put in a good word for Rather in helping secure the interview. Clark has known Rather for a long time, said CBS News spokeswoman Sandra Genelius.”

So, next time you hear Ramsey Clark referred to as "the former U. S. Attorney General," just remember all of the above, and worry at the sloppiness of the reporting and journalism that allows this cancer to live and spread.

Monday, March 31, 2003

Better Late Than Never

Today's Commercial Appeal has excerpts from an article that first appeared in Public Interest and was also discussed in USA Today. It is based on studies done by the authors that showed that affirmative action programs at universities don't really achieve the results they intend. The article is part of a series the Commercial Appeal is doing on race relations, as the US Supreme Court is hearing arguments tomorrow on a Michigan case involving racial preferences at colleges and universities.

I've already seen this discussed around the Internet, so the Commercial Appeal is late, as print will be, in getting around to it. But better late than never!

Basically, the study was the first to look at actual student attitudes, divorced from the usual PC education and the desire of students to give the appropriate answer to authority figures. What they found was a vast gulf between the beliefs of professors and administrators, who tended to see what their PC doctrine taught them, and the students, who lived what anecdotal evidence has been showing for years.

When asked carefully (read the article for discussion of how it's done), they found that students tended not to see evidence of racism on their campuses, nor to believe in race preferences in admissions. The study also found, tellingly I think, that perceptions of a satisfactory university experience fell as minority enrollment increased! PC says that the opposite result is expected.

This ties in with another article in the Commercial Appeal that says:
All students benefit from a diverse student body - diverse racially, ethnically, geographically and ideologically. That's true even when classroom topics don't include race-loaded issues such as racial profiling. It's also true when students interact outside the classroom.
It's the usual PC mantra that the above study contradicts.

It also shows how much the purpose of a university education has changed over the past 50 years. It used to be that attending higher education served one of two purposes: either to provide the necessary extra training for a specialised field (law, medicine, etc.) or to give a common background to young men from families of means and connections.

It's the latter that has changed. It used to be that young men would come from all over their States, or from the country in the case of Harvard, Yale, et al., from families with different backgrounds, and from different educational achievement. These were the men who were expected to become the leaders of government and business in a few years. University life was intended to give them a common background of speech, reference, knowledge, behavior and expectation. It pasted over diversity with a veneer of common experience and bonding. It both raised and lowered the young men, making them all peers. It pressed them into the new social realm they would be moving in.

Now, we expect college to do the opposite, taking kids from a presumed sameness of life, from the presumed cocoons of segregated suburbia they inhabited, and force them into collision with difference, all in the loving and supportive embrace of professors and administrators who were supposed to teach them all how to get along, just as they would be expected to get along in the Big New World of Tomorrow that socialists dream of. In that view it becomes important to get minorities into college not for the benefits that would accrue to the minorities, but for the benefit of the white masses.

The result we've seen. Blacks, frequently intimidated by the high-pressure, low-support atmosphere of majority white universities -- cut off frequently from family support -- tend to clump together. Whites, both fearing the minorities and fearing charges of racism that can flow from misunderstandings, as well as always suspecting that some lower standard helped the minority, tend to be aloof. It works just the opposite of intentions.

State universities are stuck. By law they cannot discriminate on the basis of race. If it's wrong for whites, legally it's wrong for blacks, unless new law allows racial preferences, which always have the result of tainting those they intend to help. But they do want to get at least a representative sampling of their community.

The best answer is the most difficult. Don't tinker with or lower entrance expectations on grade, class ranking or achievement, but redefine what makes a good university candidate. Include softer, more subjective measures alongside the stricter numerical ones. It means looking at the kind of student the university wants to turn out, the kind of adult they want to make of the youth that comes in. What has the student done to make it to college? How difficult is the challenge for them, and the how successful the attempt? What does the student want to do with their education? What opportunities does the university offer that the student wants? How motivated are they? Make this clear on the front end, so that applicants know it takes more than grades to get in. Regularly review the people in the selection committee to make sure they stay fresh and open-minded.

It's tougher this way, but fairer to everyone involved.