Monday, January 16, 2006

Parting Thoughts

Parting Thoughts

1) Let's clear up this pretense that television news shows and local papers are some pure expression of the First Amendment. They are not. They are in the business of selling a commercial product -- namely their readership -- to businesses with another product to sell. The "news" (or in the case of the Commercial Appeal, "information you can use") is the hook to get eyeballs to their product; more eyeballs means higher ad rates. Getting certain groups of eyeballs, as determined by market research consultants, also means higher ad rates.

Protestations that the news is pre-eminent over the business side of things is a case of the tail thinking it wags the dog. How many newspapers and television stations hire consultants to juice up their presentation to attract more eyeballs? How many bring in consultants who tell them how to pursue and uncover hard to report stories? Exactly.

News is a commercial enterprise. Learn that and you'll begin to better understand what you're watching and reading. They do not serve you, but the needs to make a profit and stay in business.

2) Just for fun, for the people in the local media who read this blog, I have a hypothetical: You learn that there is a terrorist cell in Memphis. They take you to their meeting place, where you see a few of them and hear them discuss not blowing up something, but setting up a network for later terrorists to come into, who will then begin bombings, etc.

Do you go to the police immediately? Do you call your News Director first? Do you do the story and never contact the police? If you just do the story, when the police and FBI later contact you, do you give them all the information they request? What would you do, and why?

3) Ophelia Ford will not lose her Senate seat. Get used to it. The Senate committee investigating this will send a strong -- though toothless -- rebuke to the Shelby County Election Commission. The Senate will place all responsibility there, as they certified the election and therefore Ophelia Ford. Anyone who thinks the Senate will refuse to seat Ford isn't looking at all the other senators who might one day face a similar challenge. You expect them to set a precedent for their own ouster?

4) I am now fully convinced that the Tennessee Republican Party doesn't want to run a successful candidate against Phil Bredesen for governor. We are seeing the same thing we've seen in the past two second-term gubernatorial elections in Tennessee. Both Ned McWhirter and Don Sundquist faced token (and that's being kind) opposition from the opposing parties in their re-elections.

Here we are in the middle of January of the election year, and no candidate! It's far too late to mount any kind of strong, effective, wide-based campaign by now. No one has come forward and no one seems too worried about it.

It's not what some Republicans are trying to claim -- that Bredesen is a formidable candidate. He's not. He squeaked by Hilleary and has come under all sorts of fire since. Bredesen is wide-open vulnerable on ethics, corruption and his handling of TennCare. He took state-shared revenues from Tennessee municipalities to balance his first budget. That move precipitated a lot of the budget crises we've seen across the State. The State has been running large surpluses ever since, but has never restarted revenue sharing.

The Assembly could, under strong Republican leadership, both restart revenues and cut the state sales tax by 1/2%, and still run surpluses! Yes, a half-percent cut is miniscule, but it's the symbolism of it, the statement of seriousness in really cutting taxes for Tennesseans, that is the gain. A gubernatorial candidate who aligns with Senate Majority Leader Ron Ramsey could start a powerful wedge to use against Jimmy Naifeh in the House. It's a winning platform, and a strong one, so it's no surprise no one in Nashville has advocated it.

I am certain that we are being set up, for the third time, for another run at the income tax. As others have noted, the Assembly seems to want to devolve some taxing authority down to the cities. Shelby County, at least, is interested in enacting a tax on business payrolls, which is not precisely an income tax but functions that way. Seeing how differently worded variations of the privilege tax go through the State courts will help to illuminate the path for writing a successful State income tax. I'm sure of it.

Look back to the various plans that were put forward when the income tax was last debated. There was only one common feature to every proposal -- eliminating the Hall tax on investment income. There a reason for that: the enormously wealthy who live off investment income want their tax burden relieved. Yes, all you hear about are the "grannies having the stocks taxed" but the real hits are to the ultra-wealthy. These are the folks who provide the real cash, and the real power, to the elites in the leadership of the Democrat and Republican parties in Tennessee. That's a big part of why the income tax keeps coming back.

The other is the more prosaic. An income tax is nearly invisible, especially as compared to the sales tax. How many times have you gone shopping for stuff, keeping a total in your head, only to be shocked by the final, after-tax, total? Now, how many of you can say how much you take home every week? But can you tell me how much is taken out in various taxes before that? Exactly. Most folks can't. Most folks think of "what they earn" as their take-home pay, not their actual pay. When an income tax increase comes along, it works out to a few dollars, or tens of dollars, per paycheck. Doesn't seem so bad, right? Not until you multiply that by every paycheck you got that year.

The Republican Party leadership this time is as bought and paid for as the Democratic Party leadership was in 1998. You will see the income tax revived in 2007. Mark my words.

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And so, I take my leave. I'm out on walkabout. I'll check comments, once in a while, but basically (unless something is really worth it), I'm on hiatus for real.

Y'all take care.

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