Friday, March 24, 2006

More Fun With Ford

Sorry, but I absolutely had to post this one!

Thanks to Nathan Moore for finding the webpage for US Representative Harold Ford Jr's University of Tennessee campaign chairwoman, Kavitha. That second link may not be work safe, so be careful! He also quotes an email from her.

At least she's not a blonde, right? I took a screengrab of the page in case it disappears. So, it's not going anywhere, any time soon!

Anyway, you guys are the best!
Fear Not, Faithful Readers

I will be away from the computer for the rest of today and all day tomorrow, so no new posts until Sunday. I've got a few things bookmarked to comment on, plus I'm sure there will be more happening between now and then. So fear not!

In the meantime, go help Operation FedUp Saturday. (I will be elsewhere, or I'd be helping them too.) They will be setting up petition drive tables up and down Poplar all day. Sign a petition, pick up one to take to work or your street, or buy a t-shirt, sign or bumper sticker!

You don't have to want the Mayor out of office to support the recall. You only have to believe that Memphians need a chance to take a sense of the community. This is serious stuff, not undertaken lightly. Join the debate.

Anyway, be good and see ya Sunday!
Lottery Looters

Stories like this are why I despise the forfeiture and seizure laws implemented in the War on Some Drugs in the US. Police are seizing a drug suspect's lottery check for $67,000 because it was stored in a safe that also contained some drugs. Or at least that's what the story implies:
Agents found 56 grams of marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine residue and the lottery check -- which was in a safe.
It's a badly written sentence. Were all these things in the safe? Or just the check? Saying "which was" instead of "which were" implies singular, not plural. (But enough grammar geekery.)

No proof that the money used to buy the lottery ticket was drug money, just a "reasonable assumption." And now they have the money. Whee! Donuts and hookers for everyone!

Don't mistakenly think I have any sympathy for the drug dealer. I live next door to one and see the daily misery, and have to live with the fall-out. Like the guy who knocked on my door yesterday -- a total stranger who saw my open door -- to try to sell me a stolen CD/tape player. No thanks.

But it's a lesson that most Americans don't seem to learn. If you don't watchdog bad behavior by law enforcement when it's perpetrated on criminals, then you shouldn't be surprised when it's used on law-abiding you. Because it will be. That's just human nature. Don't think it won't happen to you. Just ask Cory Mayes. He'll tell you.

Qui custodiet custodiens. Who watches the watchmen? Who polices the police?

Proving my point in this previous post, about the West Tennessee Republicans' botching of handling James Hart, Commercial Appeal's Washington Bureau columnist Bart Sullivan continues to hammer them.

Why is the Washington bureau writer so interested in this purely Tennessee-internal matter? Because he gets to write stuff like this:
The Tennessee Republican Party is expected to take steps to deny eugenics advocate James L. Hart from the 8th Congressional District primary ballot on Saturday, setting the stage for a legal showdown. The district includes Millington.

Hart, 62, of Buchanan, Tenn., who won the 8th District primary in 2004 with campaign advocating support for "favored races," plans to attend the Republican Party Executive Board meeting Saturday in Nashville but is not sure whether he'll be allowed to speak.
With one broad and dishonest brush, Sullivan gets to paint Tennessee Republicans as racists and censors at the same time.

Note that there's nothing new being reported here, other than minor details being updated, like meeting times. But I'm sure Sullivan was delighted to get to write this all up -- yet again! -- and tar the Republicans -- yet again!

Thursday, March 23, 2006

How's My Prognosticatin'?

I wrote a long column slightly more than year ago called The Tennessee Senate 2006 Race. I revisited it today and it's holding up surprisingly well.

Try this:
Ford also has another problem: a significant part of his power is his national reputation, on which he has become dependent. With the national party in severe flux following a decade of losing election cycles, he finds himself having to defend his Clinton/DLC tactics against a leadership falling under the sway of the Howard Dean / / antiwar, anti-America Left. Moderates and centrists are being thinned out, made to toe the line, in order to draw sharper distinctions against Republicans. Ford's co-optation instincts are frowned upon....

Ford is a student of Clinton and Bush, admitting it willingly, who each won with similar tactics of wide appeal and issue poaching and personal charisma. His desire to stay near the middle puts him at odds with the still left-moving national party, who are starting to flex muscle against DLC legacists such as himself.

Speaking of Harold the Lesser, he officially announced his Senate candidacy yesterday... in Nashville. And he had the nerve to say this:
"[W]e still have the same group of people who made the decisions on this war in charge in Washington," he said.

"Frankly, if these guys lived in the real world, they'd all be fired by now."
A Two-fer! First, Ford supported the decision to go to war, so I guess he's criticising himself. He's still there, and wants to trade up, no less. If you count his father, then they've been in Washington for over thirty years now! How's that for hogging?

Second, Harold the Lesser hasn't lived "in the real world" since his birth. Most of his life is spent in Washington and New York and Los Angeles, in the upper political and economic strata. His education was private school -- St. Albans, the school for politically aspiring young men. He vacations in Miami, Florida, and lives well down there, which I've documented before.

I predicted in that 2005 post that this would become a hot topic for him. And it has.

Want more Ford fun? His very first, official, campaign fundraiser is where? Nashville, Memphis, Knoxville? Nope. New York City! With Sarah Jessica Parker.

Yeah, real home town homeboy there. Close ties to the folks back home. Lots of local money supporting him. Take a look at his financials:

1. He has more PAC money supporting him by a more than two-to-one margin over any other candidate.
2. Of the five major candidates, he's the only one who is raising more more from out of state than in state! Fifty-nine percent of his campaign donations come from elsewhere than Tennessee.
3. Three candidates have out-of-state cities as one of their five "top metro area" origins of donation: Ed Bryant and Van Hilleary list Washington, DC; Rosalind Kurita lists Denver (?). Harold Ford has three: Washington DC, New York and Chicago!

Yeah, real nice work there, Janus. One face is the "home town hero" and the other is the cosmopolitan, jet-setter. Where's the man in the middle?
Movin' On Up ... To The Right Side

Mick over at the Main Street Journal blog read the Living Wage posts below and asked me to rework that into a shorter version for them. You can read it here. The Main Street Journal is a glossy new West Tennessee magazine for folks who tilt rightwards in their outlook. They've also moved into the web and now blogging, thanks to Mick.

And if you're coming over here from the MSJ, howdy! Take a look around, kick the tires. I hope you find enjoyable reading. Your patronage is always appreciated here.

... are in order for Mark. Head over to his blog, The Conservative Zone and find out why.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

[Insert Boilerplate Here]

Wednesday is Game Day for Mr. Mike. I'll be playing Epic: Armageddon all afternoon and evening. That means no updates until late, if at all.

My Space Marines will be facing several challenges. They might have to crack Dave's heavily-fortified Siegemaster Imperial Guards. Or they might face Mark's Feral Ork army. (Remember those huge elephant-like monsters in Lord of the Rings? I'll be facing four creatures a lot like them.) Or I might take mercy on Fuzzy and play a game against his Eldar. Who knows?

I'm sure there's other stuff on that Intarweb we always hear so much about. Give that a whirl!

See ya later. Be good or be careful, OK?
That's More Like It

I've noted before that whenever this blog was mentioned in the print editions of the Commercial Appeal or the Flyer that it never translated into site hits. Not that I didn't appreciate the mentions, but they effectively meant little. Even Jackson Baker's back-to-back Annual Best mentions made barely noticeable ripples. I think his 2005 hat-tip turned out to be worth about 50 hits over a week's time.

Not so now! Every since the newly redesigned Flyer website rolled out, I've been seeing a steady flow of visitors. That's because they now have a front-page "Blogs We Like" feature that takes a short excerpt from recent posts in a handful of Mempis blogs in an RSS-like feed. Pretty spiffy. (I'll have more on the site redesigns for both the local papers soon.)

Unfortunately, the post that got the longest play was my look at the Living Wage campaign. The brief excerpt likely fooled more than a few of the lefties over there into thinking it would be a sympathetic look.

Ha ha -- surprise!! But seriously, thanks to the Flyer for the nice compliment and the boost in readership.
Why Libertarianism Fails

I've identified myself here as a conservative Libertarian before. I'm conservative in the broad, non-political sense of the word: I oppose change for the sake of experiment and believe that most of the "old ways" are successful for a reason. It doesn't mean I'm racist or sexist or homophobic, just very skeptical.

I'm a libertarian. I believe in the philosophy of "that which governs least, governs best." People should be as free as possible to live their own lives, free of interference. I also believe that political power should be kept as close to the people as possible. Government power at the Federal level is very broad and can be unwittingly dangerous. It should be reserved for the most basic, important things: border security, voting rights, foreign affairs.

And I'm a Libertarian, capital-L. I'm registered and voting as a member of the Libertarian Party, though I often find myself voting for Republicans in a pinch, and once in a very blue moon, the occasional Democrat. But my political philosophy finds its best expression in the Libertarian Party.

However. I'm permanently distressed with my Party. It seems the ideologues control the heart of the party, more concerned with purity of expression than achieving electoral or political success. Better we should stand there in our unstained white robes than we should kneel down in the mud to get something done.

I hate that. I've taken to calling myself a "gradualist Libertarian." I believe we should start where we find outselves and figure out the first steps to take to get us where we want to go. That means, for instance, you don't go calling for the legalisation of prostitution the day after Election Day, or the abolition of the IRS as an unconstitutional fantasy perpetrated on the American public. You don't tell people that, if elected, you're going to get rid of welfare, Social Security and education grants immediately. Or recall all American troops from everywhere around the planet, first thing, damn the consequences. The vast, overwhelming majority of Americans just aren't ready to hear that! They'll at best think you're eccentric; at worst, a full-on nut who doesn't live in the real world.

Because those actions would have profound, wide reaching, and seriously dangerous consequences. That's their problem is the oft-heard refrain from certain Libertarian quarters. It only reinforces the perception of libertarians as "to hell with you, this is about me" people. I've never understood libertarianism that way. To me, libertarianism means you don't have the government force you or others into caring about your friends, neighbors and community. You must learn it for yourself and put it into practice for yourself. No government agency is going to fix what's wrong in your community, you have to go out and do it yourself.

Few Libertarians act that way. It's all about the ideological purity and the triumph of principle. For example, take the Libertarian Party's nominee for President in 2004 -- Michael Badnarik. He stood before the nominating convention and pledged that one of his first acts would be to call a special session of Congress where he would give a lecture on proper Constitutional and American history to the legislators, and then make them sign a pledge to uphold the principles he'd just taught them.

Yeah, that was a distressing moment. Forget the constitutional issue of separation of powers, can you just imagine that scenario flying for even a micro-second in today's world? Neither can I. And yet, he was our nominee. And I voted for him.

What I desperately wish would happen is that sensible people would take control of the party. I'd even accept a Ross Perot-style, neo-libertarianish third party, one based on libertarian principles that takes a "we start here, aimed there" approach. Lay out a few simple, beginner steps like limits on government growth and the elimination of certain, specific government agencies. Making serious efforts to pay down the Federal debt. Removing troops from certain, specific, clearly unneccesary places. Re-examining the tax code with an unwavering eye to simplification.

Don't drag everyone kicking and screaming, bewildered and frightened, into Libertarian Wonderland. Don't shove it down their throats. Instead, take important issues where there's wide acceptance and give a light libertarian push. For now.

That's what Democrats have done for ages, and you can see how it's worked for them. If you study American history, you'll see that people's attitude to government has changed pretty dramatically in 150 years. They were clear from the get-go in the 20th century that they wanted a socialist worker's paradise. But whenever they faced strong opposition, they backed away, muted their talk, and went for the incremental change instead.

Remember welfare reform in the Nineties? The original push was to eventually abolish it. But President Clinton grabbed the issue and trumpeted it for himself, even though his party vilified him for it. For a while. Now, here we are ten years later and no one is talking abolishing welfare any more. Clinton gave the issue just enough of a push to take it off the front burner. And we still have welfare today, with no effort anywhere in sight to abolish it any more. Clever, huh?

Of course, as the Founders clearly saw and understood, once the people see their government as the source of whatever they need but can't get for themselves, they tend to view the public treasury as their own purse. They will start to vote themselves all sorts of bounty. More and more of the people will become dependent on that largesse; it will sap the public vigor. You will lose your nation of self-determining adult individuals to a great, formless mass of the lazy and sullen adolescents. Sound familiar?

What prompted this tirade cum lecture was this post from Wintermute on his blog, The Daily Docket. Wintermute is someone I've been reading both here in comments and elsewhere on the Internet. I'm not picking on him, nor should he feel defensive. It's just that the linked post is emblematic of what I despair of in the Libertarian Party.

He starts out with this:
These self-styled little-L "libertarian" interventionist warmongers seem to me little more than neoconservatives who smoked a little pot growing up. As an early big-L Libertarian....
He's picking up the thread of libertarianism that states that use of force to persuade is always wrong. America should not be off traipsing around the world involving ourselves in the affairs of other parts of the world and other nations, unless that problem will directly impact the safety and security of America herself.

It's a slippery slope. George Washington implored his countrymen to avoid entangling alliances, to be friend to all and enemy to none. By that light, Vietnam was unquestioably wrong; it was imperialist. Kosovo (remember that war?) was also wrong. We had no business fighting Europe's police action for them. But the NATO alliance called us into it. Which means the NATO alliance is also wrong and should be abolished.

By Libertarian lights, we might possibly, possibly, have been able to justify action against Afghanistan, but never against Iraq. It would be yet another step on the road from Republic to Empire. (You can learn more about that concept by reading around on Jerry Pournelle's blog.

Of course, the Libertarian path during World War II would likely have resulted in America stopping her involvement once we'd subdued Japan. There would likely have been no occupation or new constitution written by us. Germany was no direct threat to us until late in the war. And we likely would have confined our actions in Europe to economic and sub-rosa military aid (ie. Lend Lease) to those nations who specifically asked for it. Would we have honored a request to stop aiding the Resistance in France by the Vichy government? Frightening to contemplate how Libertarian purity would've answered that. Imagine a Europe-wide Germany with wide-ranging control of the Atlantic, via subs, Me262 jet fighters patrolling the skies, and the new A-10 intercontinental missiles aimed at our East Coast.

Anyway, back to Wintermute's post. He refers us back to the Libertarian Party plank that deals with the Iraqi War. Here's the relevant section on Transitional Action:
Voluntary cooperation with any economic boycott should not be treated as a crime. End all limitation of private foreign aid, both military and economic. Repeal the Neutrality Act of 1794, and all other U.S. neutrality laws, which restrict the efforts of Americans to aid overseas organizations fighting to overthrow or change governments. End the incorporation of foreign nations into the U.S. defense perimeter. Cease the creation and maintenance of U.S. bases and sites for the pre-positioning of military material in other countries. End the practice of stationing American military troops overseas. We make no exceptions to the above.
That's the transitional action! Not the goal, but the midpoints on the way to the goal.

You see why I despair, I hope. Do I think we should have gone into Iraq? I'm not persuaded. But the duly elected leader of our nation set us on this path and the Congress backed him. (The War Powers Act needs to be abolished. That's for sure.) I do understand his goal and eventual aim in the Middle East. But I don't think forcibly remaking this nation as an example to others, when it's not a clear and direct danger to America was called for. (Don't start up with the WMD claims. Anyone who counts thought they existed, or at least was pretty fearful they did and didn't want to find out for sure.)

Having done the deed, we don't just bail and wish the Iraqis "good luck!" As someone said, "You broke it; you bought it." We started down a path we cannot retreat from.

Again, anyway. I don't want to digress into a discussion of the War. What I want is to highlight that Wintermute's suggestion doesn't fly. It leaves chaos for others to clean up. We can't do that.

What we can do is this: Start in Europe by slowly backing away from NATO. Europe is becoming a sovereign nation, let them act like it. We subsidise their military by extending our's to cover them. They use the savings to finance their lavish social safety net. We should begin removing troops and closing bases. Let the Europeans defend themselves.

Finish the job we started in Iraq, then remove all but a garrison force from the country, which we should plan on keeping there for the near term. Say ten years.

Allow, as Wintermute notes, private Americans to support people like George Soros, whose Open Society movement has been successful in toppling totalitarian regimes in Eastern Europe and the old Soviet sphere, and democratising other nations in the area. It's a model to study, though one open to abuse as when Soros plugged tens of millions of dollars into American politics to topple Bush.

Grrrr.... This post has gone on way too long, dissembled, and now has all kinds of dangling threads trailing off from my main point. Which, restated, is this: The way to get success for the Libertarian Party is to propose and execute small steps, reasonable things, not announce and demand a total upheaval beginning tomorrow.

Water roaring against a granite mountain all at once, gets diverted. The same volume, in steady drops, will eventually, gradually, wear it down.
More Proof of Anti-Memphis Bias

Like we need it, but Mr. Roboto of Thursday Night Fever posts on trying to catch the Memphis basketball games in Nashville.

Me, I couldn't care less about college or pro sports, but for some folks this is a big deal. And yet another data point.
Why the Commercial Appeal Needs to Hire Me

According to this story for Editor & Publisher, the hiring of an explicitly "red" blogger for the Washington Post's website has caused a "firestorm."

I'm telling you, hiring me as the new Metro columnist to replace the outgoing Wendi Thomas would be a coup for the CA. It would be acknowledgement and recognition of the growing red-state nature of Tennessee, or at least those parts of Greater Memphis that aren't trapped in Seventies black orthodoxy.

And it would make the Commercial Appeal a national sensation.

Give me a chance, Mr. Peck.

Mixed News

For entry-level workers with a college degree, it's the best job market in five years. Hooray!

Unless, of course, you're part of the Memphis City Schools system, where they admit only 61% of students graduate (or get GEDs). And of those, only 80% graduate in four years (and a summer).

Meaning 48.9% of MCS students follow the traditional and expected four year path. Not sure how many of them then make it to college.

Hoo? Rah?
Employment News

I saw an article in the Memphis Business Journal about Tennessee unemployment that tweaked my "take a deeper look" alarm. A quick site search turned up more information, and a fuller context.

The original article I saw says that January's state unemployment is 5.2%, which is down from December's 5.4%. It's also down from the year-ago figure of 5.5%.

All to the good, yes? Well maybe not. We are down from a year ago, but we're up from two years ago! State unemployment was 4.9% then. We've come down from a peak, but are still above two years ago. Oops! And this during a good economy, too.

While looking for that, I also found a breakdown for Shelby County's number that says we have 6.0% right now! That compares to Nashville's 4.6%. And our rate is up from December, when it was 5.7%. Sigh.

Does the Memphis unemployment rate even make the news any more? Is it another of those unpleasant things the media just looks askance at, hoping it will go away or mutate into "happy news?"

It reminded me of the scene from 1984 where Winston Smith's friend excitedly comes to him to tell him how the State had raised the chocolate ration to 20 grams! Except that Smith had just spent part of his work day carefully replacing a story about the chocolate ration being 25 grams. His friend only knew what he'd seen in the news, which told him carefully crafted good news.

I'm not accusing the Memphis Business Journal of "happy news." But it seems the story called for a longer trend line to make clear that the apparently good news is still troubling. A wider context was called for.
You Tell Me

According to the Tennessean this is what happened:
[State] Rep. Judd Matheny ... advised the company, a Tullahoma-based title loan firm, on how to target key committee members and legislative leaders with campaign contributions.

The goal, he told The Tennessean in January, was to help 3D Financial in a "pre-emptive strike" so lawmakers would look favorably on the firm. About a month before the legislature convened for a special session on ethics, he helped 3D target more than $20,000 to a number of state legislators.

Those checks were accompanied by a letter from Matheny on his campaign stationery.

And a week before those contributions went out, Matheny received his own campaign contribution from the company of $5,000....

Matheny said he was aiding the company as he would any constituent. He also said any PAC money he receives, such as the $5,000 he received from 3D Financial, goes to charity.
Well, that begs the question: Which charity? The Help Matheny Trust?

The House Ethics Committee cleared him, finding no wrong-doing. But, as presented here, this sure doesn't pass the smell test with me.

So, is there some kind of intra--mural politics going on to protect Matheny, or business-as-usual in the State House? Or are there further circumstances not reported that mitigate appearances? Or is the culture of the State House so debased now that something like this doesn't even bother them?

You tell me.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Update on the Living Wage Post

In the post just below on the Living Wage movement and the minimum wage hike, I mentioned Professor David Ciscel and his white paper “What Is a Living Wage for Memphis?”

I wanted to find out more about that paper and its provenance, so I emailed him. He was nice enough to respond.

As to writing the paper and its genesis: "No one writes such things unless they are interested in the topic.... Yes, the paper was written to influence public opinion. We felt that the issue of low wage work was not being taken seriously in the Memphis region. The response over the past 7-8 years has be[en] very good." He says "It was sponsored by the UM Center for Research on Women and the Women's Foundation. But neither provided a grant -- CROW published and distributed. The idea came from the Director of CROW -- Dr. B[arbara] E. Smith. -- in 1998."

You can see Prof. Ciscel's updated version of the paper here. Note the first paragraph:
It takes $31,284 a year or $15.64 an hour in a full-time job for a family with one adult and two children in Memphis to be self-sufficient, according to the new Living Wage 2002 study....
and these follow-up paragraphs:
The Living Wage 2002 study is an update of Ciscel's 1999 Living Wage study. In the 2002 study, the Living Wage for a family of one adult and two children is 14.9 percent higher than the 1999 Living Wage of $27,225 a year for the same family type.

The Living Wage varies depending on the size of the family. For a family of one adult and one child, the Living Wage in 2002 is $26,128 a year, up 17.1 percent from the $22,306 Living Wage in 1999. For a family with two adults and two children, the 2002 Living wage is $35,130 a year, an increase of 12.5 percent from the 1999 Living Wage of $31,220.
And then there's this kicker:
The percentage of Memphis families who do not earn a Living Wage is large, although data was not available to pinpoint the number, Ciscel said. However, according to the U.S. Census, the median household income in the Memphis area is $34,583, which means that half the households earn more and half earn less. In the Memphis area 15.3 percent of residents live below the poverty threshold, and in the Memphis city limits 20.6 percent of residents live below the poverty threshold, according to the 2000 U.S. Census.
Get that? Median household income is still below the living wage for the standard nuclear family (Mom, Dad, two kids).

It's interesting to note that, according to this report, one in five Memphians lives in poverty! Why isn't this at the forefront of Memphis' problems being addressed? How can the City justify the hundreds of millions dumped into the Downtown (where the jobs produced are all service sector, low wage jobs) when the whole city faces 20% poverty?

Anyway, Prof. Ciscel adds that he's involved with MIFA and now part of the Living Wage Coalition (after writing the paper). He's also on the Board of the Mid-South Peace & Justice Center. That, to me, says a lot. I leave it to you to decide for yourself.

Again, my thanks to Professor Ciscel for taking the time to respond.
Wish My Friend Luck

Mark at the Conservative Zone has a busy day today. He's nervous, so go wish him good luck.
The Limping Wage

Democratic advocates seem to have found, at long last, an issue that they can gain traction with: the the living wage.

This has been bubbling along for several years here in Memphis, largely on the efforts of MIFA, in the link above. Note that they claim:
Thousands of Memphis workers are not able to meet their families' basic needs for shelter, food, transportation, and health care on their wages alone. Despite working hard, they are forced to rely on public assistance, charitable help, or second and third jobs in order to make ends meet. Without a living wage, they face uncertainty about how they will care for themselves and their children.
Remember these claims for later. Note also their idea that one job -- no matter the kind of job or type of work -- should provide sufficient income to support a whole family. Remember that, too.

It comes before the City Council as well. Take this Memphis Flyer story, which goes into some detail about the micro-management of the local business economy proposed:
The coalition has been pushing for a living-wage ordinance that includes health benefits since 2003. They'd also like the ordinance to require companies that receive tax freezes or city contracts to pay their workers a living wage.

"We're certainly pleased that the council is making some movement on the living wage, but what we want to see is a comprehensive ordinance that covers the city contracts and tax freezes," said Rebekah Jordan, director of the Mid-South Interfaith Network for Economic Justice and a member of the coalition.

While Mitchell's resolution is only expected to cover full-time city employees, she said she'd like to see companies that receive PILOTs (payment-in-lieu-of-taxes) pay their employees a median income of $35,000 a year, well above the $20,000 a year advocated by the Living Wage Coalition.
There was also this earlier Flyer story with more information on the supporters of the living wage and what they want to achieve:
...Rebekah Jordon, executive director of the Mid-South Interfaith Network for Economic Justice...

...Jacob Flowers, director of the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center. Flowers was upset that tax freezes through the payment-in-lieu-of taxes (PILOT) program mean that neither the retail portion of Peabody Place nor Hampton Inn will pay full taxes until 2037, while the companies pay workers as little as $7 an hour.

Brad Watkins, chair of Democracy for Memphis and a member of the Living Wage Coalition, said that legislators recognize that the living wage is an important issue.
You'll notice that while $7.00 an hour isn't a "living wage" neither is it the current minimum wage.

This is a point I have made here and elsewhere: very few businesses pay the actual legal minimum. Most start people out at $7 or $8 an hour, voluntarily, because folks won't work for less. In fact, there's a sign above Patterson near the University of Memphis right now advertising entry-level jobs at FedEx Ground at $10 per hour! We'll also come back to this again.

A couple of weeks ago, Tennessee General Assembly Democrats, including Memphis' State Senator Steve Cohen, held a press conference in Nashville announcing they were going forward with living wage legislation via an increase in the minimum wage. I happened to catch the PBS show Tennessee Legislative Report which had extended excerpts from the press event.

What struck me was the complete lack of hard numbers they presented. No idea of how many were affected, or would be affected, by the proposed changes. No mention of how many earned the minimum wage, or how many jobs only offered minimum wage. But there were repeated mentions that the minimum wage hadn't been raised in a decade and how inflation had made it meaningless. Cohen also made pointed mention of how "single mothers" couldn't support their families on $5.15 an hour. But, again, no hard numbers. Just a lot of emotional heart-string tugging.

Yesterday, the Tennessean ran an excellent article on the minimum wage legislation that did, finally, offer some hard numbers. And eye opening they were, too; so instructive that they ended up at the bottom of the story, the dank cave of unwelcome information in news stories.

At the halfway point, we get begin to get hard numbers:
Nationally, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics says about 2 million American workers, 2.7% of the work force, earned $5.15 an hour or less in 2004 (the most recent year of available data). The workers were generally young, single and without high school diplomas. Many worked in bars and restaurants and got tips on top of their hourly wages.
Note that recipients are "generally young, single and without high school diplomas." No mention of what kind of work pays this level, though the Tennessean story begins with a portrait of car-wash workers.

It's also important to spot that last sentence about bar and restaurant work and tips. There is an important exception to the minimum wage law for these kinds of jobs. It allows for a lower base wage ($2.13 an hour, as the story goes on to report later) because tips from customers make up the difference.

Notice that the reporter doesn't break these numbers down, to obtain the actual number of workers who do non-alternative minimum work. He is content to conflate two issues into one to bolster his argument.

The story continues:
About 40,000 people — fewer than 3% of the state's hourly workers — have jobs that pay at or below the federal minimum wage, according to the U.S. Labor Department. Most of those are in food processing and serving.

Nationally, federal statistics suggest that eight of 10 employees who work in food and drinking establishments are actually paid above minimum wage.
So there you go, less than 3% of Tennesseans are paid below %5.15 an hour and many of them are under the restaurant exception! Note, too that the writer preferred to use the ambiguous, but higher "less than 3%" rather than the accurate but lower "2.7% " or whateve the real number is. Hmmmmm....

Keep reading all the way to the very bottom and you finally learn this:
Fewer than 2% of the job orders processed by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development in Davidson County in the past year paid less than $6.15 an hour. But about 10% of the job orders received statewide in the past 12 months paid less than $6.15.

Increasing the minimum wage probably wouldn't have a direct impact on employers such as Kroger or McDonald's, where wages already are above the $6.15 an hour level, observers said.

The lowest starting wage at area Kroger stores, for example, is $6.50 an hour for a stock person, Kroger spokeswoman Melissa Eads said. If they're willing to work during the day, they get a $1 per hour premium.

"It's an extremely tight labor market," Eads said. "It's a constant struggle for us to find people."
Many of you are thinking Why make such a big deal about so few people? Why not just support this? Because it is government tinkering to buy votes with your money, that's why.

Few people will be directly affected by raising the minimum wage, as we've seen. But many more will be affected by the artificial floor placed on wages that will drive labor negotiations for higher wages of their own later on. It does have an inflationary impact over time.

The Commercial Appeal got into this on Sunday, with this story by old-regime holdover Richard Locker. Locker opts to focus less on the practical numbers of the minimum wage proposals than on the inside-baseball politics. But he does break down the 40,000 figure from above for us:
The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics says 7,000 Tennessee workers are paid at the federal minimum wage and 33,000 mostly restaurant and other exempt employees are paid less.

But 162,000 are paid between $5.15 and $6.15 and would see an increase if it passes.
Now we're getting somewhere. Tennessee has 2,250,000 workers in 2004, per the US Deptarment of Labor. That means roughly 7.2% are affected by the minimum wage rise! Very different from the "less than 3%" number being wielded above.

But as I said, Locker focuses on the politics. Try these selected passages. Do you see any point of view embedded in this "news" story?
For the first time in a generation, the Tennessee legislature is debating enacting a state minimum wage, at $1 over federal minimum wage -- but its fate likely rests with the Republican-majority Senate.

...The Democratic proposal is gaining ground because the federal minimum wage of $5.15 an hour hasn't been increased since Sept. 1, 1997.

The wage bill has set off a classic confrontation between Democrats and Republicans, labor and business.

It also underscores how the Tennessee legislature is evolving. For decades, conservative, pro-business Democrats ruled both chambers, mostly siding with business over labor.

But the Senate's new Republican dominance, and the GOP's deepening conservatism, leaves Democrats more willing to consider such measures.

The House Democratic Caucus endorsed the minimum wage. Senate Democrats haven't endorsed it as a group but Democratic Sens. Steve Cohen of Memphis, Doug Jackson of Dickson and others are sponsoring Senate versions.

Democrats and the Tennessee AFL-CIO Labor Council base their support on Congress' failure to increase the federal minimum wage in a decade...
Ahhhh... I'd have to excerpt too much. Go read for yourself.

There are two really jaw-dropping passages, though. First is this whopper:
For decades, conservative, pro-business Democrats ruled both chambers, mostly siding with business over labor.
If this is true, how does it explain TennCare? Sheesh....

And then there's this winner:
Democrats may want to cite Arkansas Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee, who wants his state's minimum wage raised. It's "pretty clear" people can't live on $5.15 an hour, [Bredesen] said.
Never mind the non-sequitur that few "live" on $5.15 an hour, but don't you like how Locker manages to work in this bit of advice by just quoting the governor? Yeah, me too.

But wait! There's more. The Smart City Memphis blog has also tackled the living wage idea. We'll begin with their first recent post and look at selected passages. It opens:
More and more, cities and states are stepping in to address issues that traditionally would have been the province of the federal government.
"Traditionally" these would have been local issues, but for the efforts of Progressive, Labor and Demcoratic activists to nationalise it and hand power to the Federal government to trump all the millions of local businesses to set their own demands and needs.
And with recent reports that the salaries of young workers are declining and that family earnings are headed in the wrong direction, state legislatures are jumping on minimum wage as a powerful populist issue.
No citations for these assertions. (A regular failing of the "trust us, we're authorities" attitude of Smart City.) The author just spend a couple of paragraphs trying to argue that it's some kind of bi-partisan opportunism to find a winning issue by citing California Governor Schwarzeneggar (a RINO by many measures), but notice now it's "state legislators" and not Democrats pushing this issue. Nice elision to an incorrect conclusion!
Taking a lesson from the Religious Right, which manages to concoct a yearly vote on something dealing with gays to get out their base vote (last year, it was protecting the sanctity of marriage, and this year, it appears to be prohibiting gay adoptions, although we guess lesbian couples will be allowed to keep their own babies), more mainstream political interests are looking to the minimum wage as a GOTV issue for themselves.
Again, nice bit of misdirection and false metaphor used to also score some unrelated political points here.

"Anti-gay" activism is a reaction to efforts by gay activists to change things into something they haven't been. Living wage is the latest effort in a century-long effort to equalise wages of workers with the profits and salaries of business owners and managers. They don't track. Equating them as "get out the vote" is slightly disingenuous at best; factoring in the emotional factor, it's dishonest.
The campaign has enlisted no less an authority to their cause than the widely respected economist David Ciscel of University of Memphis. His 1999 white paper, “What Is a Living Wage for Memphis?” articulates the case convincingly and serves as the Bible for the campaign. Also, he is the “truth squad” for the movement, correcting the misstatements by City Hall functionaries fighting the living wage notion.
I have emailed Prof. Ciscel to ask him about the paper and his involvement with the Living Wage Coalition. If I hear back, I'll post an update.
Incredibly, city and county governments have people on their payroll beging paid less than the living wage. In late 2004, there were 226 people in city government paid less than the living wage. When county government contemplated a policy to raise all wages just to the poverty threshold in the late 1990’s, the money was directed instead for “salary adjustments” for higher paid employees.
Note the fait accompli of the faux surprise that some City and County employees are paid less than $10 or $12 an hour! Even though it's perfectly legal and normal.

On the other point, who is surprised to learn that the top-level employees of Memphis and Shelby County were looking after themselves rather than others? It's like saying you're suprised it rains around here.

The discussion that followed that post was lively and pointed and I leave it to the reader to study it.

A few days later, pushed by the comments, the SMC blog posted a follow-up, intended to bolster its arguments. It was piss poor work.

The whole thing can be boiled down to the three points the author highlighted:
1. They improve human dignity.
2. They increase the spendable income in the area.
3. Higher wages force business innovations.
Point the first is just flat silly. What business is it of local government to "improve human dignity." What kind of economic argument is that?

The second point is blurry at best. The argument is that families at the low end need help to meet the basics like shelter, food and health care. I don't think they mean "spendable income" in quite that way. Shelter (ie. rent or home debt) goes to a single entity, like a landlord or bank. Health care means insurance, which means the money goes to enormous corporate financial entities. Food means groceries, which I think might apply.

But if they tried to make "spendable income" mean things like entertainment, then they've failed (or been lying) in their original argument about just how poor some of these families are!

Then there's point the third, which they even restate in a devastating way: "High wages lead to innovations -- often techniques that reduce labor needs." In other words, higher wages force businesses to find ways to employ fewer people by using technology. Methinks the SMC love of technological advances got the better of them here.

Again, read the comments that followed, which make a lot of good points about how businesses will respond to the living wage laws proposed. Mostly, the answer is by moving away or disconnecting from government.

Except, of course, those people who want to make a very nice living by taking advantage of City and County laws by exploiting them. Look at the rather nice cottage industry of local firms manned by the locally well-connected (ie. Reginald French and his IT company) who help the firms doing business with Memphis and Shelby County meet their "diversity quotas." These sham firms provide a way for businesses to be seen as meeting the need to hire x number of minority workers while extracting hefty management and consulting fees from the cost of business. It ends up costing the taxpayers more than it should for the same work, but now done with lower, uncontrolled, quality.

The living wage is social engineering. It's tinkering with things as they are to get the desired outcome as it should be. "Should be" of course, is defined by those seeking to inflict their ideas on the rest of us.
Podcasting the Local News

Podcasting is a relatively new web phenomenon. For those not familiar with it, you basically record your own program -- news, commentary, music, educational, informational, it could be anything. This is usually an audio file saved as an MP3 file (like downloaded music), but more and more folks are starting to use video, too.

Anyone can download these files any time, to listen to anywhere. On their iPod, on their CD players, in their cars, on their computers. It's an easy way to make your programs available to the widest audience under the widest possible circumstances.

Of course, as with any trend, the marketers are jumping on it. And so, too, is local news. So far only WPTY/24 and WMC/5 offer them.

The WPTY podcast is actually just the audio portion of their 5PM daily news broadcast. The WMC podcast is a "5-7 minute daily newscast" per their website. It appears to be similar to the network cut-ins they do during the "Today" show.

The only Memphis blogger I'm aware of who podcasts now is Thaddeus Matthews. I've toyed with the idea, but so far see no reason for one.

Along similar lines, WREG/3, WMC/5 and WPTY/24 all offer online streaming video of selected news reports from their evening newscasts. They all require computer access, I believe; I'm not sure if any of this is cellphone accessible as of yet, although I think WREG/3 is offering something.

And poor FOX/13? Nothing. Even their own website is bare bones. What's going on over there?
Never Anger a Sitting Legislator

Having been burned by a failed primary election contest last year, State Representative Henri Brooks is getting revenge (of the good sort) against Ophelia Ford.

Brooks has introduced legislation to trigger an automatic recount (not requiring Election Commission action) if an outcome is within 1/2 of one percent of the total votes, for the top two candidates.

This is good, as it removes action from a possibly partisan Election Commission and makes it automatic. I'm for that.

However, again I ask, why is the State in the business of conducting party primaries? It's not a constitutional duty. Only the election to fill the office is. Primaries are party business and should be handled by parties, at their own time and expense.

But I guess that's the point. Why should they spend their own money, and face the confusion and effort, when they can fob it off on the State, and by extension, the taxpayers?

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Spring Cleaning

It's almost April, and I need some cash fast, so it's spring cleaning time at Casa Dos Amigos. It's all gotta go:

1. Denon AVR-1403 Stereo Surround Receiver and Home Theater. Top of the line, like new. Work great. Handles 5.1 sound, DTS inputs, component video. With remote, lots of cables and manual. NOTE: requires 8 ohm speakers ONLY. (Specs here.) $200.

2. Pioneer CLD-M301 Laserdisc and 5 CD player. Got from neighbor, but powers up fine. (Specs here.) $25.00

3. Audiovox Soundshaper 90, 10-band graphic equaliser. Lightly used; like new. With manual. $25.00

4. Pioneer S-H235B-K, 6 ohm speakers. 100 Watts each. With manual. Insides perfect, but dusty. $50.00/pair.

5. Huffy Ocala "Classic beach edition" 6-speed cruiser bike. Frame, fenders and paint in excellent condition, but gearshift needs repair. Currently stuck in 6th gear. Derailleur is fine. Comes with new handle grips. $50.00

6. 6 foot plastic ficus; limbs & leaves need reshaping, but still in fine condition. Smells of incense and cigarettes even after cleaning! (Not mine, I promise.) Comes with ceramic "Chinese" koi-bowl planter with gold, black and terra-cotta colored floral Oriental design. $30.00

7. 30 gallon aquarium tank. Dirty inside and out. (It was a terrarium.) No cracks or leaks that I know of. 12 x 24 x 17 inches. $20.00

8. VHS tapes! All $2.00 each in excellent condition.
a. The Navigator (Vince Ward; time travel sci-fi. Really good!)
b. Blackadder season 1 (two tapes)
c. Punk Rock Movie (The original! Sex Pistols, Clash, Billy Idol)
d. Metropolis / Things to Come two-fer
e. Star Quest (low budget sci-fi; 1990; pretty good!)
f. Hannah and her Sisters (I know, I know. Let it go.)
g. Miracle Mile (End of the world, in LA)
h. Max Headroom (The American pilot version, IIRC)
i. Sex, Lies and Videotape (Steven Soderburgh)
j. Arise! (Church of the SubGenius indoctrination video. The Gospel of Slack. Trippy!)

I live in Midtown, near the Pig on Madison, just down from Sekisui. All sales cash and final. Must go fast! Offers entertained.

I also have boxes of mid-90's music magazines. Ben is Dead; Industrial Nation, Op, Option, Fizz, Factsheet Five, etc. Any interest? And three wooden cassette tape racks that hold 60 tapes each, plus nearly that many mid-80's to early 90's punk, indie and alternative cassette tapes. Way too many to list, unless someone is seriously interested. Cheap bulk sale on them. A treasure trove to the right person! All in excellent shape, very playable.

My stress, your gain.