Thursday, January 31, 2008

Mortgage Companies Blunt Attempts to Stimulate the Market

From the LA Times:
Countrywide Financial Corp. sent letters to 122,000 customers last week telling them they could no longer borrow against their credit lines because the total debt on the home exceeded the market value of the property. The lender says it is using computer modeling to determine which of its customers would have their cash spigot shut off ....

The tightening of credit could help limit the effectiveness of interest-rate cuts by the Federal Reserve and an effort by Congress and the White House to put more money in the hands of Americans via tax rebates and other economic measures.
Hey, I think its great that consumers are finding credit harder to get, but what kind of belt-tightening is being demanded of mortgage companies? They're only protecting their skyrocketing bankrolls.

A Late Breaking Voter Watching the Last Democratic Debate before Tennessee Votes on Tuesday

Well, I've watched very few debates from beginning to end so far this season, but I will be watching all of tonight's Clinton-Obama debate, because it's going to help me make up my mind on whom I will vote on Tuesday. I am literally a late-breaking voter and I would be surprised if I have my mind made up even when I step into the booth to vote. I'm usually an early voter, but not this time around. I waivered and went back and forth, but John Edwards' withdrawal pretty much took my safety net away (although voting for him is still an option for me). So, tonight's debate is incredibly important to my decision on Tuesday.

7:05 Update--brown-nosing John Edwards has begun. Obama mentions him first in his opening sentence.

7:10 Update--past vs. future meme still firmly in place in Obama's discourse.

7:15 Update--experience meme still firmly in place in Clinton's discourse. Mortgage crisis raised by Clinton 12 minutes in. Good. That's where it should be. I agree with her that the difference between her and Obama are "pale." But I don't agree with her that they "pale in comparison to their differences w/Republicans."

7:20 Update--Obama deals with "mortgage mess" due to lack of Bush oversight. He believes that decreasing influence of lobbyists in DC will help solve predatory lending problem. Obama's voluntary health care program would leave 15 million people out. He says that he doesn't believe those numbers.

7:30 Update--Clinton would open congressional health care to uninsured who wish to participate. She says she will provide subsidies and cap premiums, which contradicts the charge that her plan would force people to accept it. Obama denies that subsidies will be sufficient. Picks up meme of bringing Dems and Republicans together to solve the problem. He wants to increase transparency to decrease the influence of lobbyiests; hence, his idea of broadcasting deliberations on C-SPAN. Clinton wants to mandate that insurance companies have to cover everyone; make clear to the drug companies that we pay for their studies and development "many times over," so Medicare should be allowed to negotiate drug prices down; Democrats must advance the idea of universal healthcare and build a coalition that can withstand attacks of drug companies.

7:40 Update--Obama would pay for healthcare plan by emphasizing savings and rolling back upper eschelon tax cuts. Woop. Obama made a Edwardsian reference to poor kids in crumbling schools in LA. Clinton says she would reign in tax breaks for HMOs. She would move to electronic medical records, which would save $77 billion a year. Tax increases on wealthy Americans are a moral obligation, says Obama, for the sake of covering Americans. Clinton says that we will go back to the pre-Bush tax rates.

7:45 Update--Here comes immigration. Obama argues that blaming high unemployment on immigrants is scapegoating, since unemployment was high before the latest wave of immigrants showed up. Says that this is an important distinction between Dems and Republicans. Clinton says that comprehensive immigration reform solution is the answer. She wants to tighten down borders and crack down on employers who illegally hire. Her answer seems somewhat uninspired on immigration so far: pay fines, pay back taxes, learn English, & wait in line. Once this happens then she would consider giving them drivers licenses. So, how would they get to work? Obama agrees with Clinton's uninspired solutions.

8:10 Update--First stupid question of the night: American is a business, how are you qualied to be its CEO? Clinton knocked this one out of the park: America is not a business, but a trust. It its purpose is not to make money to defend the best interests of Americans. And the money response: Dubya was elected to be CEO of this "business" and look at the mess he's gotten us into. Obama got a lick in comparing his campaign's success to businessman Romney's.

8:15 Update--Both Clinton and Obama keep saying that they are reponsible for bringing new voters into the process in overwhelming numbers. I won't deny that they have brought some voters into the process, but I have to believe that George W. Bush has mobilized a lot of these voters who want to change they way he's run this country into the ground. They get credit, but not all the credit. Voters wouldn't be mobilized had it not been for the failure in the White House.

8:17 Update--The most effective deflection of the night so far goes to Clinton: "It took one Clinton to clean up the first Bush's mess; it may take another to clean up the second Bush's mess."

8:25 Update--Iraq War discussion. This is one that the Republicans cannot win. McCain promised a 100-year-occupation. I see little difference between Clinton and Obama on this issue. The distinctions are minor. Obama's 2002 stance against the war is not something that would kill Clinton, who promises moving against Bush and the Republicans in significant ways. The opposing/supporting war distinction is now old news. Any way the Iraq War is the subject next fall, the Republicans lose.

8:35 Update--I disagree with Obama that simply opposing the war in 2002 is going to better innoculate him against Republican sling and arrows. Republicans will find a way either to minimize or to twist his opposition into an ugly mocking caricature (cue swiftboating decorated war veterans). If he really believes that Republicans won't try to manipulate perceptions, then he is sorely mistaken.

8:45 Update--Oy vey. Culture war questions about Hollywood. Cue Janet Jacksons' Super Bowl breast. What purpose do these questions serve? Leave it to the Republicans or leave it to Beaver. Otherwise, just leave it alone.

8:50 Update--Dream ticket question (either Obama-Clinton or Clinton-Obama ticket) got rousing audience applause. Uh-oh, Obama said he wants to restore responsibility in government whether picking the running mate or selecting his cabinet. Restore? Isn't that going back to something? He's off message. Must ... find ... my ... future ... meme.

Postscript--Here's how I score it:
  1. Opening Comments--a draw (Obama gets points for referring to Edwards; Clinton gets points for bringing up the subprime mortgage crisis).
  2. Healthcare--slight edge to Clinton (she seemed to offer more substance in dealing with both insurance and drug companies).
  3. Immigration--slight edge to Obama (said he wouldn't scapegoat immigrants; Clinton seemed to strike a harder pose).
  4. Best deflection of the night--a draw (Clinton dealing with the "authentic change" question by pointing out how has taken a Clinton to clean up Bush's mess in the past. However, Obama went to lengths to dispel the "cold" label he's been given by making the case for his friendship with Clinton).
  5. Iraq War--a draw (both oppose and see a relatively sort timeline in their administration, which is more important than who opposed what in the past. My own past vs. future meme).
  6. Overall results--a draw, so maybe this debate won't help me decide how I will vote on Tuesday.

Traffic Commission Ticker

The next Traffic & Parking Commission meeting has this item on its agenda that may be of interest to North End residents:
Remove “No Parking Anytime” on the east side of 5th Ave. N from Van Buren St. to 400’ N of Van Buren St.

A Man's Got to Know His Limitations

Jim Grinstead questions Mayor Karl Dean's self-insertion into the selection process for a new Metro Director of Schools:
Karl Dean's power play to force his way into the selection of a new director for Metro schools is the wrong move for a mayor who says his first priority is education.

The move is wrong because Dean is not focusing his efforts where they could do the most good. Plus it not only makes wrong assumptions about the process of selecting a new director, it unnecessarily politicizes the process.

Under state law, both the interim director and the new director will report to the school board, not the mayor. By inserting himself into the process, Dean creates confusion ....

Many of the problems any urban school district faces originate outside the schoolhouse walls. Those distractions come from unsafe streets, decaying properties that can be used as drug houses and social issues such as employment, lack of child care services and other needs that result in children arriving at school unprepared for a day of learning.

If Mayor Dean truly wants to improve the quality of education in Nashville and boost graduation rates, he'll deal with community problems over which the school board has no control. If he can improve the quality of life outside of the schools, the new director will have a much better chance of seeing the district's children through to graduation.
Progressive Nashville's observations and suggestions for Mayor Dean are consistent with points I have made before that his office's focus on education seems narrow with respect to other community issues that he can directly improve.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Who Were the Metro Scheduling Wizards Who Came Up With This One?

The Metro Council is having its regularly scheduled meeting next Tuesday, which is as you know, "Super Tuesday" or election day for a large number of states including Tennessee. The council meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. and the local polls close at 7:00 p.m.

And in just my cursory scan of the agenda, I see at least 3 items of particular import carrying debatable content:
So, rather than holding a stripped down meeting on noncontroversial items like accepting grants and abandoning alley right-of-ways, Metro Council is going up against Super Tuesday with a small quiver of provocative items. And I guess there was no way out it. Will they slide some trash past the goalie with audience attention focused elsewhere?

"Lord Knows You Let Them Go on Forever"

Here's what cost John Edwards the media attention and ensuing votes: when he refused to get down in the sensationalist muck of personal animosity with Clinton and Obama in South Carolina. He gave them quite an upbraiding during one of the finest moments of any of the debates: "We have got to understand that this is not about us personally. It is about what we are trying to do for this country."

That last part of discussion about subprime loans and discrimination in predatory lending is the most daunting domestic challenge we have. It involves problems that market-based strategies won't solve, because market-based strategies got us in this mess--which pins poor families and African American families at the bottom of the pile disproportionately--to begin with.

Mobilize the Mommy Bloggers: Tennessee Governor Disparages the Aptitude of 35- to 40-Year-Old Moms

Governor Bredesen via VV:
I can tell you that those thirty-five to forty year old moms, if they have not been in college or in academic work for ten or fifteen years, are gonna have a lot of, I mean, they have some struggle to go with as well. There aren’t too many of them that will walk in to college and make a 3.5 or a 4.0 in college
The context was talk radio host Steve Gill's question about whether Hope Scholarships ought to go to some nontraditional students. I can't believe that Phil Bredesen is often mentioned as possible Vice President material. His shoot-from-the-hip style often leads to foot-in-mouth consequences.

Wage's Gauge

Chris Wage on the absence of real difference or opposition given today's events:
Welp, Kucinich is out. Edwards is out. I can officially stop paying attention until after the conventions. Can anyone tell me why we even bother to have primaries in the rest of the states? The meme for this election is “change”, eh? Shyah.
And the Edwards' message of change was coopted by the other Dems to begin with.

UPDATE: The Prestonian (not to be confused with the "Jacksonian," which is now a CVS or a Walgreens) opines:
I saw all three as good candidates, but it boils down to two triangulators and one dropout who didn’t have a prayer of getting 1/3 of his shtick enacted into law, even with a 60/40 Senate.

I’m hoping the triangulators don’t disappoint and buy into the conventional wisdom that “bipartisanship” = “giving Republicans all that they want, every frickin’ time.”
That "shtick" part I agree less with, and I agree more with sentiment expressed on Tapped by Dana Goldstein:
His departure is a sad moment, not least because Edwards' policies on health care, inequality, education, and so much more have framed this race, setting the progressive standard for his better-funded, media darling competitors. Hillary Clinton began her run imagining Edwards as her chief rival, and therein lay so much of his power: He alone had the ability, early in the primary, to define what it meant to challenge Clinton from the left.
I'm afraid we will not be seeing the two remaining candidates challenged from the left.

Report: Clinton & Obama Covet Edwards' Endorsement

TPM reports:
Joe Trippi just confirmed to me by phone that the Hillary and Obama campaigns are already working overtime to woo Edwards to their sides -- even before his official dropout speech.

"They're banging down the doors," Trippi told me.

"I don't expect him to do anything today," Trippi said. "His will be a very coveted endorsement. He's got a fairly large following in the party, both on line and off, and I can't think of anybody else who would be bigger or more coveted."

Asked if an endorsement was possible before Feb. 5, something that could have a huge impact, Trippi declined to rule out the possibility. "I'll let him speak to that himself," Trippi said.
More power to John Edwards and his movement of progressive voters, which is just as significant as any other campaign in this election cycle. He's finally getting the props he's been due, but failed to get:

You Better Be Nice to Me Because My Vote Just Became More Valuable to Your Candidate

The ground on which we stand just shifted via R. Neal.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Good to Be King or Kingmaker?

Today's NY Times on John Edwards' position as a "kingmaker":
[T]his year, the crowded field and the splintered results have given Mr. Edwards the chance to influence the race. As he did in South Carolina, Mr. Edwards may divide the white vote with Mrs. Clinton in states like Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee, boosting Mr. Obama’s chances.
Or as he did in Florida, he may split a segment of the white vote with Obama.

My Favorite Moment of Tonight's Election Coverage

That Republican platform would giftwrap the Oval Office for the Democrats. Let's hope they run with it and that the Dems don't find way to regift it back to the GOP.

Playing Both Ends Against Each Other: The Key Largo Edition

Once again the Dem front runners are hoisted on their own petards not so far away from each other: Clinton did her own version of transcending the old politics of the Democratic Party by skirting the rules and promoting her Florida victory (getting more votes than any candidate, Democrat or Republican). As for Obama (who doubled 3rd place Republican Giuliani's votes), can you say that he really did not campaign in Florida when his television ads continued to run, he got over half-a-million votes, and one of his sponsoring unions got out the vote for him?

I Guess This New Hire Won't Figure into the Proposed Metro Department Cuts

Mayor Karl Dean announces hire of a new computer security expert to fix what's wrong or lacking with Metro IT measures. Still no word on whether Metro is installing building alarm systems where there are none.

Salemtown Neighbors Seeks to Join with Other Neighborhoods to Leverage Security at Bicentennial Mall

At last night's January business meeting of Salemtown Neighbors Neighborhood Association the group approved a recommendation by leaders that a letter be drafted and signed by the entire membership; the letter would request that the State of Tennessee make more of a concerted effort to consider various possibilities for providing overnight security at Bicentennial Mall State Park. The group also blessed the idea of working with other neighborhood groups in Germantown, Hope Gardens, and Buena Vista to make a concerted effort to generate a positive reaction from the State Parks Department, which has acted boorish towards individuals in the past.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Tennessean Reporter Picks Up Light Emitting Tygard Story

A story on CM Charlie Tygard's attempts to authorize LED signs for a church, which was reported first here on Enclave, was picked up this afternoon by Tennessean reporter Michael Cass at the Metro Dispatch blog.

Interestingly enough, Cass also suggests (without drawing) parallels between the influence of Nashville sign baron Bobby Joslin in Metro Government and CM Tygard's initiative in the same post. Of Joslin he writes:
A reception will be held for recently retired Metro Codes official Rick Shepherd on Tuesday. This is noteworthy only because it will be held at Joslin Sign Co., the business owned by politically active Nashville sign-maker Bobby Joslin, who has unsuccessfully pushed to get Metro's laws changed to allow for more electronic signs on certain roads. Shepherd was the city's chief zoning examiner, responsible for the department that issued building and sign permits.

But Joslin, while noting that his company obtained more Metro permits last year than almost any other firm, said he wasn't looking to reward Shepherd or anyone else at Codes. He said he had never lobbied Shepherd for a permit.

"More than anything, he's an old friend," Joslin said. "He's been a common-sense guy as long as I've known him. I hate that he's leaving. Some of these tree-huggers just about drove the poor boy crazy."
No wonder Codes is one of the least liked Metro services. The chief zoning examiner appears to be in thick with with a local power broker who pushes uncontrolled growth over sustained infrastructure. Even if the parallel isn't directly drawn between Joslin and Tygard it would seem to fit.

BREAKING: Detectives Report that Stolen MEC Laptop Buyers Will Be Arrested Tonight

One of the more exciting pieces of news divulged at tonight's Salemtown Neighbors business meeting was that two persons who bought Metro Election Commission laptops from the homeless thief who stole them on Christmas Eve will be arrested tonight. Metro Detectives attended the neighborhood meeting to talk about the theft and sale of the computers containing 337,000 voters' social security numbers, and they told us that two specific persons are due for arrest tonight: one is turning himself in willingly and the other is on the lam, but he is expected to be apprehended. The detectives also told the group that they did not believe that any voter information was compromised.

Welcome to My 3,000th Post

Guess I had a lot to say.

Obama and Clinton Finally Do the Right Thing on Immunity for Telecoms

Both Democratic frontrunners, Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Barack Obama, joined all but a few Dem outliers to turn back retroactive immunity for telecommunication companies who turned over the personal phone records of innocent Americans to the Bush Administration.

Kudos to both Clinton and Obama for substantively, accountably, and progressively staking a claim on their power to defeat draconian Republican behavior, which would have excused the telecoms for violating the human rights of its own patrons in the name of national security (if it wasn't illegal and unconstitutional, then why do they need immunity?). It's about damned time.

Having Never Asked for Sacrifice, Bush Poised to Force Americans to Give Up Representation of Interest in Congress

Threatening to veto any bill that does not cut the number of earmarks in half is attempting to coerce Congress ahead of time to sell out their constituents' right to ask their elected representatives to legislate in their best interest. I'm not saying all earmarks are good ones. I'm saying that it is not the President's place to foreclose on options that the People exercise in their own best interest. There are better ways of reforming earmarks than this.

If Blue Dog Democrats are the Solution, Being "Part of the Problem" is a Badge of Honor

If Blue Dog Democrat and Obama Tennessee Campaign Chair Jim Cooper is supposed to be an example of "new leadership" turning away from the past and stepping into the future, then I'll happily wear the Obama campaign's stigmatic label "part of the problem," even though Obama's supporters are by and large conventional Democrats. And who says the Obama campaign transcends labels? They seem to reduce every other label to just two: past and future; or four: problem and solution.

I do not consider the act of labeling a problem in and of itself, because humans are labeling creatures. And for anybody to suggest that their political campaign "transcends labels" is selling nothing more than a bill of goods. The real problem in my opinion is reducing all labels down to a handful and dropping people into over-simplistic categories for a strategic purpose. That is no solution to me.

Call me "part of the problem" in an age when the solution is faintly rouged Republican-lite. Call Enclave "part of the problem" whenever labels boil down to black and white (I'm not talking race here, kids).

Maybe someone can explain to me why Blue Dogs (Hillary Clinton has her own in the person of Tennessee's Bob Clement) are qualitatively different than the Clinton-controlled Democratic Leadership Council. All I see is the analogy that Blue Dogs are to Democrats as neoconservatives are to Republicans. I cannot get past the hard, cold fact that Blue Dogs would just as soon cut domestic spending as the next Republican who might take their place. How does that differ from the corporate-leaning DLC? Until someone explains the difference, I'll just be happy being labelled by those who transcend labels as "part of the problem."

When refusals to go along with a campaign, to shelter my pet candidate from criticism and otherwise to tease him up in terms I would not otherwise use become "part of the problem," then I am "part of the problem." Hear me roar.

Salemtown's Association Meets Tonight

Salemtown Neighbors kicks off the new year with a new slate of officers and its first business meeting tonight at 5:30 at Morgan Park Community Center (corner of Hume St. and 5th Av., N).

Tonight's agenda includes:
  • A report from Brady Banks of the Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods
  • CAO report from the Metro Nashville Police Department central precinct
  • Reconsideration of efforts to improve public safety at the Bicentennial Mall
  • Call for reinvigoration of our Social Committee (to organize a street party, Oktoberfest, etc.)
  • Announcement of neighborhood clean-up day opportunity in partnership with Council Member Erica Gilmore and Public Works
  • Update on block grant process
If you live in the Salemtown neighborhood, please join Salemtown's first association as it begins its fourth year of making our community a great place to live!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Salemtown Streetscape -- Opinion of Costs

Landscape architects working with Salemtown's Advisory Committee to MDHA came up with the following very preliminary costs of the block grant streetscape plan:
  • Demolition & removal -- $16,500
  • Site work (surface treatment, stamping asphalt, etc.) -- $67,040
  • Street lighting -- $249,500
  • Signage -- $97,139
  • Landscaping (depends on a separate grant) -- $22,178
  • Architecture design fee -- $66,700
  • Survey fee -- $3,500
  • Lighting design fee -- $6,207
Factoring in the grant and the contingency costs, the total project cost in this opinion comes to $576,440. The amount of the Salemtown block grant is $589,000.

Nothing to Discourage Borrowers from "Gaming the System"

Another blow to the body of the housing market (and ultimately to the American economy) is the distinct probability that thousands of borrowers will simply walk away from their homes and their obligation to pay back their mortgages without fear of repercussion:
There is a certain cold logic to just walking away ....

Most of the people who lost the houses didn’t lose any money because they never put any money down. Though their credit is damaged, and they could face legal action in some circumstances, they got to live in a new house for a couple of years, and some of them even managed to get some money with home equity loans or by refinancing ....

as mortgages became securitized and Wall Street became involved, they became very transactional and there was no relationship built with the borrower and the lender. And I think that makes it easier for someone to see it as an anonymous party at the other end of the transaction and just walk away from it.
The subprime mortgage process fostered greed on all sides of the lending process. And the anonymous business of high finances, in what looks like a farcical, cynical incarnation of a Weberian "iron cage," never fostered personal (that is, face-to-face) accountability.

The Mortgage Industry's "Invitation to Fraud"

60 Minutes had a revealing story on tonight about the "epicenter" of the housing bust. Particularly noteworthy was their description of the mortgage industry's bonfire of avarice, before its implosion:

Almost all of the people involved in the transactions made huge amounts of money, then passed the risk onto someone else. Instead of keeping the dicey loans in their own portfolios, the big banks and giant mortgage companies that originally underwrote them, resold the mortgages to big New York investment houses.

Firms like Bear Stearns and Merrill Lynch sliced the loans into little pieces and packaged them up with other investments, then sold them to their best customers around the world as high-yield mortgage-backed securities, turning sows' ears into silk purses, all with the blessing of rating agencies like Standard & Poor’s.

"At every step in the way, somebody has his or her hand out, getting paid. And everyone, for the time, is happy. The broker got paid. He or she was happy. The lending officer, ditto. The rating agencies got paid for passing judgment on these securities. They, too, were pleased, and their stockholders were happy."
Incidentally, the two investment firms mentioned in the story are also in the list of top contributors to Hillary Clinton's campaign, each giving over $100,000 to Senator Clinton.

The Tip of the Iceberg

What if no questions were asked by either investment banks and lending ratings agencies during the half-decade that subprime mortgages were the dominant factor in the housing market? The New York Attorney General's Office is investigating that question:
A company that analyzed the quality of thousands of home loans for investment banks has agreed to provide evidence to New York state prosecutors that the banks had detailed information about the risks posed by ill-fated subprime mortgages.

Investigators are looking at whether that information, which could have prevented the collapse of securities backed by those loans, was deliberately withheld from investors.
How much easier and cheaper would it have been to regulate the approval process and to punish offenders ahead of time rather trying to investgate and to clean up this mess now?

Mayor Backs Elected Metro School Board

Karl Dean said this in an interview with the Tennessean:

I think our board has performed much better than they’ve been given credit for. I like each and every one of them. They bring a great diversity of outlooks and views to the issues, which is probably, I mean, I would assume that’s why we have an elected board. And I think the board is extremely conscientious, and I would applaud them and I applaud Dr. Garcia for the professional way that what transpired last week was handled. 9-0 vote — they conducted themselves in a way that gave credit to the city.

That being said, I certainly think this is part of what’s going on right now. David Fox and Sean McGuire are talking about schools because, like me, they want to see improvement, like me, they think it’s the fundamental issue facing this community. They’re adding to the public discussion.

That’s not the route I’m taking. I want to work with this school board. I’ve been working with this board. And I think they’re on the same page as me in terms of wanting to work together. And we’re kind of going into uncharted areas. But this isn’t a time for the status quo, and it isn’t a time for doing everything the way it’s been done in the past. And they want me to have a role, and I’m looking forward to playing a role.

The Oprahfied Third Rail of Politics is the Fourth Estate

The mainstream media both electrifies and electrocutes campaigns. WaPo is one of the final few covering John Edwards:
An ongoing study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism placed Edwards a distant sixth among Democratic and Republican candidates in volume of campaign coverage last week; the former senator from North Carolina was a main newsmaker or significant presence in just 6 percent of campaign stories. Obama and Clinton? Almost five times the amount of coverage.

Speaking of LED Billboards

While writer Joel Garreau referred figuratively in 1991 to wildly varied development in North Dallas as a "Blade Runner landscape," a Los Angeles developer--inspired by the Blade Runner motion picture--has literal plans to embed LEDs in buildings to create huge animated billboards in proposed "sign districts." That might not be a bad idea for churches that want LEDs: create sign districts to which they can relocate to animate.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Might Tygard and a Baptist Church Be Trying to Pull an End Around on the Sign Ordinance?

Enclave commenter Lauren has this to say about my report of CM Charlie Tygard's intention to introduce a bill to allow a Baptist church in Bellevue to have LED signs:

There are two main reasons HH Baptist Church cannot have a sign such as this. The first is they are not on commercially zoned property. The second is they are within 100 feet of a residence. They don't need this bill, they need to change their zoning. They are already in talks to potentially buy the residence. Obviously there are reasons that are beneficial to them to not have commercial zoning but they shouldn't have their cake and eat it too. They need to change their zoning, they need to purchase the residence. They need to follow the rules of every other business that has to meet these requirements just as Walgreens and Publix did. The YMCA did get a variance on their signage because they are off the street and there's no way to know they're there without the sign. But I still don't agree with that - they didn't need an LED moving sign to make that happen either. The zoning commission shut Tygard down and now he's trying to get HH permission to get their sign at the visual cost to the entire population of Nashville.
I would say that this information touches on the question of CM Tygard's ethics. The news that there is a residence within 100 feet of the church belies his insinuation that residents would not be affected by LED signs on major streets.

To what lengths does he intend to go as an at-large member to pull in favors for Bellevue organizations? If he is using his position on the Council to co-opt the zoning process that we are all bound to, then I would argue that he is using his power unethically and outside of his commitment to represent the community-at-large, since other neighborhoods would be adversely affected by an ordinance that allows LED signs on arterial roads.

Bubba's Brutality and Obama's Egotism

Once again the best analysis of the Democratic campaign tensions is from Josh Marshall. Today he writes a scathing critique of Bill Clinton's hatchet job of Barack Obama's campaign. It is long and worth a read.

But he also did not hold his punches at Obama and his zealous posse:
I hear from a lot of Obama supporters that that may be how it's been. But Obama is about the 'new politics'. But this is no different from what Bill Bradley was saying in 2000. And it was as bogus then as it is now. Beyond that there is an undeniable undercurrent in what you hear from Obama supporters that he is too precious a plant -- a generational opportunity for a transformative presidency -- to be submitted to this sort of knockabout political treatment. That strikes me as silly and arrogant, if for no other reason that the Republicans will not step aside for Obama's transcendence either ....

I think there are a lot of us who sense an air of arrogance in Obama's talk of transcendence, reconciliation and unity. I think there are a lot of people who would say, I would have loved to have transcended back in 1995 or 1998 or 2002. But we were spending every ounce on the political battle lines trying to prevent the Republicans from destroying the country. It's hard for folks like that to hear from someone new that they're part of the problem, part of the 'old politics'.
I couldn't agree more.

Another at-Large Council Member Hocking a Bright Sign Bill

Last term it was Buck Dozier (at-large) sponsoring a bill (unsuccessfully) to allow more distracting bright light clutter on the streetscapes of Nashville. Now Charlie Tygard is poised to take his turn. And I have to wonder how far local sign maker and Metro patron Bobby Joslin's foot is in the door CM Tygard is opening.

In a Friday afternoon e-mail to fellow Metro council members, CM Tygard (at-large) says that he intends to file an amendment to Metro's Sign Ordinance on Tuesday that would "allow churches, synagogues, and other non-profits that exist on major streets, i.e. collector & arterial roads only, to install LED-signs as a matter of right." He is doing so on behalf of a Baptist church in Bellevue. He tells his fellows that churches and non-profits in residential neighborhoods would not be permitted LED-signs; only those that have to compete with Walgreens or Publix on "major roads" would be allowed. That sounds like a lot of new business for Mr. Joslin's company.

I'm not a big fan of any of these new iris-branding LED signs that lead to driver rubbernecking at places like Walgreens, but in fairness to commercial establishments, we should ask whether Baptist churches are aiming for the same market niche as the local drug store or supermarket. What kind of competitive edge does Publix LED have that puts Harpeth Heights Baptist Church at an economic disadvantage? The church is in the business of saving souls, not selling oranges, and permitting rezoning so that it can proselytize seems to be skirting a rather gray area.

CM Tygard's bill also looks like a narrowly suburban-leaning one. This distinction between commercial areas placed along arterial streets completely set off from sprawling neighborhoods and secondary roads is irrelevant to high-density urban neighborhoods, where either commercial areas are mixed-use or arterial roads are right on top of stoops. An LED sign at a great distance in suburbia would loom very near many urban homes.

One would think that as an at-large member, vested with representing all of Nashville, CM Tygard would have branched out from his former Bellevue seat and started considering the consequences of such a bill for all of our neighborhoods. But with this bill and his recent comments about getting a Bellevue library stuck into the Bellevue Mall financing plan, it appears that he ran for this seat in order to bring the goods home to his own former constituents.

Midwesterners Look for Approval to Dump Radioactive Waste in Tennessee

After being turned away by South Carolina, Michigan and Ohio are looking to Congress for approval to dump all of their nuclear waste--outside of spent nuclear fuel--in other states, including Tennessee. They join 34 other states hoping to use the Volunteer State as their private dumping ground for waste that could be highly radioactive.

The other states are also banking on Texas to certify the brilliant idea of a private hazardous waste dump. Texas will probably approve even though the company, Waste Control Specialists, built its dump site predictably near two water tables. Naturally, the draft license in this private/public partnership would allow an enormous level of radioactive waste.

Inbound Perfect Storm Threatens Hope for Crumbling Infrastructure

Our infrastructure is not only buckling under its own age and unabated use. Rising construction costs and pressing demands for repair in disaster areas around the country are converging on slowly constricting budgets:
The costs have added to what has become an increasingly bleak economic forecast for many states and local governments. At least 25 states expect to have budget deficits in 2009, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which estimates the combined budget shortfall for 17 of the states at $31 billion or more. Many cities, too, see difficult times ahead as revenues wane and costs increase for wages, pensions and health care.
We are in need of leaders with Rooseveltian proclivities for re-building America.

Poker Faced in the Demorama of Race Cards

While I am skittish about the descent into identity politics, here is one blogger whose vote for that express elevator ride to left-wing hell is hard to argue with:
The high-minded tend to parse their words, so oftentimes we are left wondering about their intent.

I don't really care to wonder.

I want to know if Clinton really believes that it "took a president" to get blacks their civil rights. I want to know if Obama really thinks that taking money from Indian-American supporters makes Clinton (D-Punjab). What did Andrew Cuomo really mean when he said Obama can't "shuck and jive" his way through a press conference? Does Michelle Obama really think that blacks who don't vote for her husband constitute the slumbering masses?

And even though it was clearly meant in jest, does Obama truly believe the appropriate response to the question of whether Bill Clinton was the first black president resides in "Bill's dancing abilities"? ....

Harmless comments taken out of context and whipped to a froth in a media cycle? Maybe. But if we're gonna sweat Don Imus or Kelly Tilghman, don't presidential candidates deserve as much of our hot attention?

So as off-topic as it may seem, I'd like to know about the cards they're playing sooner rather than later.

Later being after I cast a vote.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Bredesen's TDOT Welcomes Bush Transportation Chief in Support of Toll Roads

TDOT seemed happy to welcome the transportation secretary from the ever popular Bush Administration to shill for Governor Bredesen's toll road/privatization plans. The travelling medicine show designed to pull public funds to private coffers (George W. Bush's prime directive) has come to Tennessee, and our so-called Democratic administration is embracing it with open arms. Both want to raise money to pay for roads, but they want it to go into the pockets of a few very rich transportation companies who cannot be held directly responsible for their work.

The Least of These Have Become Least Important to Democrats

Progressive Nashville attempts to call us away from the high-minded speeches and the low-brow politics of this campaign back to a primary issue at the heart of progressivism:
[John] Edwards has been talking about the poor, those in need and the rest of us who don't have the financial resources to protect us against whatever challenge life may bring.

He has been criticized for this, being called a pretty millionaire, but if his goal were simply to be elected, he made a poor choice of campaign themes ... and Edwards is smarter than that ....

But when Edwards leaves, who will be left to speak for the poor and those in need. Members of Congress, even those with poor constituencies, can't push through important issues like health care and a hike in the minimum wage that actually allows people to live a decent life. So divided has the Democratic Party become from wedge issues generated by the GOP, that its vision of prosperity for all has been all but abandoned.

When Edwards departs, Obama will talk about hope and Clinton will talk about experience, but neither has spoken about those who most need those qualities in a new leader unless the issue was forced upon them.
Indeed, whomever is our eventual nominee: if he or she fails to deal in word and in action with poverty and America's growing underclasses outside of empty platitudes and Reaganesque trickle-down policies, then he or she is not worthy to be called "progressive."

Playing Both Ends Against Each Other

Hoisted not so far apart on their own petards: Clinton slumming it with Rezko and Obama going old-style with Latinos.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Infrastructure? Who Needs Infrastructure?

If holding things together with spit and bailing wire was good enough for our ancestors (and their shorter life expectancies), it's good enough for us (a long life of quality is overrated anyway), so don't pay any attention to this otherwise alarming report from

  • "More than one in four of America's nearly 600,000 bridges need significant repairs."
  • "A third of the country's major roadways are in substandard condition."
  • "The number of dams that could fail has grown 134% since 1999 to 3,346, and more than 1,300 of those are 'high-hazard,' meaning their collapse would threaten lives."
  • "Aging and inadequate sewer systems spill an estimated 1.26 trillion gallons of untreated sewage every year, resulting in an estimated $50.6 billion in cleanup costs."
Cost to fix these hazards: $1.6 trillion.

Maybe Afterward She Can Unveil Her Plan For Bicentennial Mall

Busy. Busy. Busy.

Too busy to reply to my letter to her on progress on security at Bicentennial Mall.

It will be two weeks tomorrow since I sent that letter and still no word.

I wonder if Hillary Clinton has an opinion on whether states should provide minimum security in urban parks.

Clinton, Obama Keep Mum on Telecom Immunity

TennViews tells it like it is on limited Democratic opposition to giving rich telecommunications corporations special rights and privileges in the justice system:
...John Edwards calling for support of Chris Dodd's filibuster on retroactive immunity for telephone companies who spied on you. it was against the law, against the Constitution, and against the American people.

Hillary? Obama?

Will this election be about who will most fight for the American People, or about who will support Corporations breaking the law?
Note to frontrunners: opposing telecom immunity is progressive.

UPDATE: A number of Senate Democrats voted for telecom immunity and against progress today. Here is the hiss list:
Sens. Evan Bayh (D-IN) [has been mentioned as a possible VP candidate], Tom Carper (D-DE), Daniel Inouye (D-HI), Tim Johnson (D-SD), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Ben Nelson (D-NE), Mark Pryor (D-AR), Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), and Ken Salazar (D-CO).
Congressional Democrats deserve approval ratings lower than George W. Bush.

A Republican with Whom to Work?

Progressive Nashville points out that Lamar! is expressing a bipartisan spirit to the chagrin of the red-meat wing of his party.

Did Southern Baptists Use Tax-Exempt Resources to Oppose Rudy Giuliani?

Americans United fires across the Nashville-based Convention's bow after the Baptist Press "reports" that the SBC President said that "evangelicals can beat" Rudy Giuliani.

Take the Thompson Challenge

Freddie T's unorthodox exit from the Republican field has generated some head-scratching:
Fred didn't hold a press conference or go on a show or even put out a youtube video announcing his departure from the race. He just sent out a half-dozen line press release. I'm out. Bye. Thanks. A few more words, but not many ....

So here's the question, can anyone remember a major presidential candidate not holding some sort of public event to announce he or she was out? Not a press conference, TV appearance, not anything?
I cannot think of one. Fred Thompson seems to be breaking new ground.

19's Erica Gilmore Podcasts with Liberadio

CM Erica Gilmore talks with Mary Mancini and Freddie O about campaigning for office, partnering with activists in the 19th District, the panhandling ordinance, the Germantown Overlay bill, and neighborhood concerns about crime.

She also discusses the rape on Bicentennial Mall, the community response afterward, and the fact that Metro's hands are tied because the crime occurred on state property.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Johnson Parts Ways with Fox on School Board Proposal

School Board Member Karen Johnson disagrees with David Fox's proposal that all power for selecting Metro Board of Education members be restructured along corporate lines:
[S]erving as an elected official is quite different than serving on a corporate and/or appointed board...of which I have had the honor and opportunity to serve on both. Strengthening the community voice has been pushed throughout my time on this board with the strategic plan process, the rezoning process, the chamber report card, the graduation task force, etc. This latest idea seems to me to be an effort that would be the complete opposite of what so many are working to achieve.

Stopped Sweating the Stolen Laptops Yet?

Just when you thought you could exhale:
During the examination of the computers, police discovered a compact disc in one of the laptops, and that disc contained information including voters’ Social Security numbers.

[Metro Police Chief] Serpas said no fingerprints were found on the disc, but police can’t be sure that no one took it from the computer and copied it. Election Commission staff told police that the disc probably had been in that computer since November 2006 .... Serpas said the experts can’t rule out the possibility that someone used high-tech equipment to copy or scan information in the computers, but he said that is highly unlikely.

“If someone had very sophisticated equipment and software, they may have imaged the software,” he said.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Out-Foxing School Board Accountability

It has always been one of the interesting ironies to me that the same business community that demands a free market also tends to rely--with a few exceptions--on centralizing power in order to solve problems. Hence, it seems no accident that the one of the Nashville Chamber of Commerce's endorsed School Board Members, David Fox, has come out today calling for centralizing the School Board Member selection process into the Mayor's Office.

It is true that democracy is messy, inefficient, and that it lacks the effective execution of power concentrated in one chief executive. However, Mr. Fox ignores the risks of using executive power absent the electoral process to place officials who should be publicly accountable. He makes an unwarranted leap to maintain that putting the responsibility in the Mayor's hands will "ensure that people with the appropriate expertise and experiences" will govern the school system. That assumes that every Mayor will always appoint in the best interests of parents and students. It assumes that Mayors would not patronize political friends with appointments or stack a School Board that serves his or her office rather than the constituents.

There are no assurances that just because the Mayor is Mayor he or she will appoint those with expertise or experience. In fact, given Metro's strong executive form of governance, the opposite is just as likely. A bad Mayor would amount to bad School Board appointments. What should we do then? Executively appoint rather than popularly elect the next Mayor? While Mr. Fox's recommendation seems well-intended, it sounds like wishful thinking and bad governance.

Mr. Fox refers to Mayor Karl Dean as the perfect fit for what he has in mind, and that seems to be part of the problem: that he does not seem to be looking past this Mayor (whom we cannot yet judge in terms of his policy initiatives on education). But Mr. Fox's other problem seems to be that he is not looking within the system itself. A strong executive--who was hired for his educational expertise and experience--helped create many of the problems we have in this school system. He was criticized for his autocratic managerial style.

Meanwhile, other Nashville leaders argue persuasively that with Mr. Garcia's exit management and responsibility needs to be site-based rather than concentrated and that the Board needs to be more legislatively accountable to the Council. Going in the direction seems a more reasonable and progressive first step than cocooning the School Board inside a strong Mayor's Office far away from voters and distant from all accountability besides that which an executive demands.

Best Comment on Freddie's Farewell

The distinction goes to Josh Marshall:
I thought it was worth pointing out though how hilariously Fred has managed to have his departure be as lackadaisical and delayed as was his entrance into the race.

As you can remember, Thompson fiddled and waited and yawned and dawdled, eventually going through something like two or three campaign managers before even getting in the race. And here it's been pretty obvious that the guy's been toast for weeks. He basically gave his withdrawal speech three days ago on primary night. Earlier today he put out word that he wasn't showing up for the next debate. And now as sort of an afterthought he mentions that he's dropping out of the campaign.

I say two weeks before he picks up the phone and lets his campaign workers know there's no need to come by the office any more.

Dear Democratic Voter: Any Time You Are Tempted to Put Your Candidate on a Pedestal, Watch This Video

The vehicle of your absolution:

No one is clean on this tabernacle.

And We Know Flippers Live in World Full of Plunder Blunder

So, S-townWife and I are watching one of these flipper shows you see on HGTV or TLC when I openly wonder how much longer these shows are going to last given that I'm reading in different places that the housing market collapse has rendered house flippers an extinct species. She points out that the show producers are now consistently starting their broadcasts with intros like, "Watch as this flipper takes on more than he can handle or afford."

So, have these shows--for the sake of money--shifted from attracting potential flippers to a once popular trend to affirming non-flippers for staying away as the trend ends? In a declining housing market, catharsis would seem to be the most marketable product.

Birds Do It. Bees Do It.

All politics is feral:
Researchers who study highly gregarious and relatively brainy species like rhesus monkeys, baboons, dolphins, sperm whales, elephants and wolves have lately uncovered evidence that the creatures engage in extraordinarily sophisticated forms of politicking, often across large and far-flung social networks ....

Wherever animals must pool their talents and numbers into cohesive social groups, scientists said, the better to protect against predators, defend or enlarge choice real estate or acquire mates, the stage will be set for the appearance of political skills — the ability to please and placate, manipulate and intimidate, trade favors and scratch backs or, better yet, pluck those backs free of botflies and ticks.

Monday, January 21, 2008

When Free Trade Feels Like Captivity

The mortgage market collapse is increasing our dependence on foreign wealth.

With a growing share of investment coming from so-called sovereign wealth funds — vast pools of money controlled by governments from China to the Middle East — lawmakers and regulators are calling for greater scrutiny to ensure that foreign countries do not gain influence over the financial system or military-related technology ....

Debate is swirling in Washington about the best way to stimulate a flagging economy. Despite divided opinion about the merits, foreign investment may be preventing deeper troubles by infusing hard-luck companies with cash and keeping some in business.

The most conspicuous beneficiaries are Wall Street banks like Merrill Lynch, Citigroup and Morgan Stanley, which have sold stakes to government-controlled funds in Asia and the Middle East to compensate for calamitous losses on mortgage markets. Beneath the headlines, a more profound shift is under way: Foreign entities last year captured stakes in American companies in businesses as diverse as real estate, steel-making, energy and baby food.
Is there a ceiling on how much American real estate foreign investors might scoop up and control with bottoming out real estate prices?

And talk about your absentee landlords. I heard a zoning official the other day say that land owners who live in other states are the most difficult to hold accountable for zoning violations. What about the landlords who live in Canada or Europe?

And while we're on the subject of this panacea of wonderful things that some keep telling us that free trade brings, let's go back to my old credit account with GE Money, which had its computer tapes containing 650,000 customers' social security numbers disappear. Aren't those tapes much harder to recover if they're floating around a black market in Indonesia or Thailand? The GE phone operator I spoke with the other day had an Indian or Pakistani accent, so chances are good that she was talking to me from Asia. How in the hell are investigations of this disappearance coordinated on a global level, and how hard would it be to pursue legal redress if I have to recover losses?

Even at-Large, Tygard Continues to Push for Bellevue Library

During his tenure as Bellevue Council Member last term, Charlie Tygard's pet project seemed to be squeezing money out of the Mayor's budget for a library in his district. Now that Mr. Tygard is an at-Large member, he seems still bent on getting a library for his own district. He told the Tennessean that the resolution that would authorize tax increment financing for a new Bellevue mall--which I do not support--was deferred so that a library could be included in the plans. That belies a City Paper report that said that the reason it was deferred was because Mayor Karl Dean did not support the plan (unless Mr. Tygard is suggesting that it was deferred because Mr. Dean wants a Bellevue library, too).

Will the Cultural Fight between Obama and Clinton Camps Cost Democrats the White House?

The American Prospect surveys what the Obama and Clinton campaigns are specifically doing against one another to blow the Democratic campaign to retake the White House.
Neither Obama nor Clinton is running on their identity, but because the substantive policy differences between them are so small, identity has become central to their showdown. Even with the best of intentions, this kind of competition can easily take an ugly turn as incidental remarks or minor episodes get turned into symbols of seeming disrespect or are suspected of being forms of strategic insinuation .... a referendum on racism and sexism in the spring does not seem like a prelude to victory in the fall. Keeping the election focused on the manifest failures of conservative Republican leadership is the only way the Democrats can grasp the opportunity at hand.
So true.

And the media (both mainstream and bloggers) would rather hone in on the overwrought melodrama between Obama and Clinton instead of on the real issue of racial politics over on the Republican side.

Planning Defers Decision on Germantown Historic Overlay Until End of February

I did not attend the January 10 Planning Commission Meeting in which the G-town overlay was considered, but I can now pass on the news that the action taken has been put online.

A Shared Southern White Boy Sentiment

Same here, lovable liberal:
In short, by demographics, I was the natural target of Richard Nixon's Southern Strategy to move Southern Democrats into the Republican Party, racism, regionalism, and conservativism intact.

How did the Republicans miss me?

In short, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
It didn't take with me, either. Thank you, Brother Martin.

Prophet of Doom: King's Jeremiad Against American Hubris

Martin Luther King, Jr.'s political thought should never be divorced from his public theology, which in the instance of his growing opposition to the Vietnam War manifested in prophetic terms of God breaking the backbone of American power and placing it in the hands of another:

King on Meet the Press (1966): Facing Hard Media Questions on Turning the Movement North

Throughout its existence, the Civil Rights Movement faced down insinuations that it deserved the persecution it got for nonviolent disobedience. It is one thing for movement participants to understand and to accept the risk of their actions of precipitating social change. It is quite another for the media to sit on the sidelines of a just cause and blame the participants for the abuse that was already latent and waiting for them.

The following exchange is an excerpt from a 1966 segment of Meet the Press (published in James M. Washington's A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr.) in which MLK was grilled about whether his movement tactics caused hatred, violence, discord, and harm, especially as the movement went north to Chicago. The fact that the reporters kept asking the same type of blaming question repeatedly indicates to me that they were not taking Dr. King's claims to accountability seriously:
[Lawrence] Spivak: Dr. King, I'd like to come back to you now. The superintendent of police of Chicago ... said the other day that your civil right tactics have aroused hatred among Chicago white residents and are hampering the Negro's progress. What's your answer to that?

King: Well, my answer is that this is totally erroneous. Our civil rights efforts have not aroused hatred, they have revealed hatred that already existed. There is no doubt about the fact that there are many latent hostilities existing within certain white groups in the North, and what has happened now is that these latent hostilities have come out in the open .... there is no doubt about the fact that there is hate here. We didn't created it, we merely exposed it and brought it to the surface.

Spivak: Dr. King, I'm sure you either heard or read President Johnson's speech yesterday when he warned that violence and discord would destroy Negroes' hopes for racial progress. Now isn't it time to stop demonstrations that create violence and discord?

King: Well, I absolutely disagree with that, and I hope the president didn't mean to equate nonviolent demonstrations with a riot, and I think it is time for this country to see the distinction between the two .... I think demonstrations must continue, but I think riots must end because they are socially disruptive ....

[Richard] Valeriani: Dr. King, to follow up Mr. Spivak's question, recent polls suggest that in terms of national reaction, demonstrations are now counter-productive. By continuing them don't you run the risk of doing more harm than good?

King: Again I contend that we are not doing more harm than good in demonstrations .... I have never felt that demonstrations could actually solve the problem. They call attention to the problem, they dramatize the existence of social ills that could be very easily ignored if you did not have demonstrations, and I think the initial reaction to demonstrations is always negative .... Now that we have started on a massive scale in the North it is only natural that we would have this reaction.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Remembering the Militant Moderate

An uncompromising call to arms:

[A] strong man must be militant as well as moderate. He must be a realist as well as an idealist .... This is why nonviolence is a powerful as well as a just weapon. If you confront a man who has long been cruelly misusing you and say, "Punish me, if you will; I do not deserve it, but I will accept it, so that the world will know I am right and you are wrong," then you wield a powerful and just weapon. This man, your oppressor, is automatically morally defeated, and if he has any conscience, he is ashamed. Wherever this weapon is used in a manner that stirs a community's, or a nation's, anguished conscience, then the pressure of public opinion becomes an ally in your just cause.
- - Martin Luther King, Jr., Playboy Interview, 1965

Police Report Laptop Information Did Not Appear to Be Accessed

News 2 reports that the homeless burglar sold the two Election Commission laptops he stole on Christmas Eve for $80 and a six-pack of beer to a Downtown "rave-type coffee shop." The computers changed hands 3 or 4 times before police located them but the police are satisfied that the security of voters' personal data was not compromised in the transactions.

In the meantime, police expressed suspicion about the coffee house, given that they found other pieces of computer hardware and software throughout.

On Video: South Florida Group Protests Slumbering Wackenhut Security

The private company with whom Metro Nashville government contracts to provide security continues to be the focus of controversy elsewhere for the lack of security they provide for those lucretive contracts. The fun part of this video is the one where the Wackenhut official tries to stop protestors from taping their complex and does not get help from local police

We are getting what we pay for with a private contractor like Wackenhut, and they are getting substantially more than they are worth.

Blight Update

In the three weeks since I posted on some condemned Salemtown shacks that were standing open for any kind of illegal activity, they were boarded up and then demolished. All that stands in their place now is a vacant lot.

But it is not clear what owner Billy Easterling intends to build. The word from a nearby property owner is that Mr. Easterling told him that he intends to go through the rezoning process so that he can build a structure for his law offices (it is currently zoned R6 for residential). The problem with that rumored intention is that rezoning commercially may open the property, which is in the middle of a residential street, to other less attractive businesses (like a car wash?).

We need to keep tabs on the Planning process and oppose any rezoning request that adversely affects the residential quality of life of the street or increases vehicular traffic on already busy 5th Avenue. Mr. Easterling's intention might be none other than a law office, but that does not guarantee that if he sold it it would remain a law office.

Distorted Religion

From the Pacific Northwest: progressive religion's invisibility is due in large part to mainstream media's "if it bleeds it leads" focus on religious reactionaries.

Meanwhile, in New Orleans

Natural conditions are not the only cause of New Orleans' risk of flooding. Both industry and suspect engineering have taken their toll:
In Katrina's wake, the Army Corps of Engineers has gotten the brunt of the criticism for the disaster. Besides building suspect levees, the Corps' mission to control waterways with spillways, floodgates and other measures has played havoc with nature by restricting the Mississippi's sediment and fresh upriver water from replenishing the delta's wetlands.

There are other reasons for the disastrous wetlands loss: Human development, cypress logging, ill-advised farming on the coast, hurricanes, slipping-and-sliding geologic faults and even a South American semi-aquatic rodent called nutria imported to Louisiana in the 1930s.

But many scientists say the oil industry's 10,000 miles of canals - enough to stretch nearly halfway around the world - and the drilling they supported played a decisive role. Some scientists say drilling caused half of the land loss, or about 1,000 square miles.
Sounds like the oil industry, which floats on its ocean of annual profits, needs to kick in some funds to help bring New Orleans back.

The Impending Surge at Home

Life is neither fair nor just, a brutal fact that is indicated in the reality that the President responsible for the Iraq War will never have to be held accountable for the folly of that incursion and occupation. But the consequences are surging to our doorstep, according to the Associated Press in a story on the increasing numbers of Iraq War vets falling into homelessness and mental disorders.

The precipitating factors of this coming "tsunami" are unique to the Iraq theatre, "like multiple deployments and the proliferation of improvised explosive devices, that could be pulling an early trigger on stress disorders that can lead to homelessness." And the burdens of dealing with the emergent challenge will fall not where they should, on George W. Bush, but on the next President and the next and the next and perhaps the next.

And given the finicky dimensions of American post-war culture and the selective grace of conservatives (who pour money into wars they want soldiers to fight, but not into dealing with the domestic reparations we owe our veterans afterwards), one wonders about the prospects of dealing with what looks like a distinctly different kind of homelessness than we have seen in sometime.

So, while life may not be just, there is some justice in the wrath of war being visited on Americans, who gave Mr. Bush two terms as President and elected a Congress that failed to tighten the purse strings on Iraq. And in all likelihood the next President will come from that compliant Congress, so there is some justice in that.

But the advent of fury at home includes post-traumatic bills coming due and homeless veterans whom we will have to face and to whom we must respond on our streets. And while the karma is realized more and more with passage of time and while life will continue to be unjust, the lot that falls to us will be to demand and to make justice where none can be found. We cannot in good conscience fall back on the social Darwinism that life is unfair, when it is our hands and our hearts that make it fair, and that make it so even after our soldiers come home.

Tennessee Republicans Politicize the Memory of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tennviews refers us to the TNGOP release that uses the national occasion for remembering MLK, Jr. for twisted PR and partisan gain.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

WaPo Late on the Uptake

WaPo readers are just now reading the dated story on the Nashville laptop theft absent the details about apprehension of the burglar and recovery of the hard drives. Sheesh. Robert McMillian's story, which was slightly stale when it ran in ComputerWorld on Tuesday, was picked up by PCWorld and then WaPo today.

South Carolina 527 Compares Confederate Flag to Nazi Swastika; Mike Huckabee Responds

The commercial and the candidate's response:

Could you be any more on a roll than that?

Saturday Morning Starbucks Dispatch

11:16 a.m., 3rd Avenue North, just outside of Salemtown:

While driving past Metro Water Services, I noticed a security guard coming out of the gate in his white Wackenhut vehicle.

Naptime must be over.

Why a President Mattered to the Civil Rights Movement

Bill Moyers on how the media and political opponents blew Hillary Clinton's comments about Lyndon Johnson's role in the 1960s civil rights reforms out of proportion in order to score some emotional points on race:

As you can see, Moyer's commentary is less about Clinton and more about the role that a President can play in forcing through democratic reform when the majority refuses it. LBJ did more than any other President, reinforcing anti-discrimination provisions in place since 1875. Because of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fair Housing Act of 1968, LBJ stands ahead of John F. Kennedy, whose legacy on civil rights seems only slightly forward of Dwight Eisenhower's.

The whole debate on race and civil rights during this 2008 campaign was unnecessary and ugly and it was spurred on by the mainstream media. As much as Martin Luther King, Jr. should be honored for what he has done, he could not have done it by himself. He needed the help of the President. It is just that simple. Dr. King knew that, which is why he met and spoke regularly with both LBJ and JFK.

Companies that Insure $450 Billion in Mortgages to Be the Next Falling Domino?

Some say we are in recession and the subprime crisis is more than just subprime, it is a credit and a coming insurance crisis:

And, as if there were not enough stupid and crooked lending ideas in the world, when the market finally maxes out consumers, they can charge it on their 401(k) Debit Card:
Borrowing against your nest egg is becoming as easy as stopping at an ATM.

A growing number of companies now offer employees the option of being issued a debit card that taps a 401(k) loan. The card, called ReservePlus, allows workers to withdraw funds from their 401(k)s.

The immediate concern for consumers is that impulse spending desires could trump their long-term savings needs.

Critics contend use of the cards risks depleting already skimpy retirement savings. "Big picture: it just takes us out of the context of a 401(k) loan being a loan of last resort," says Jean Setzfand AARP's Director of Financial Security. "Seeing what we see, with retirement savings not quite where we want to see it, we're just afraid that this is going to deplete it further."
Oh, yeah. Making retirement accounts easier to draw from sounds like a great idea. Who are the market wizards who come up with that one?

Friday, January 18, 2008


Ackermania via R. Neal:
[B]logs not only impact the speed and availability of news, but influence the tone and editorial direction of reporting .... [N]early 70% of all reporters check a blog list on a regular basis and one in four reporters have their own blogs.

Is Getting the Vision Thing Enough?

A debate among Democrats is in a rolling boil over at TennViews over comments that Presidential Candidate Barack Obama made concerning bureaucracy and vision:
I'm not an operating officer. Some in this debate around experience seem to think the job of the president is to go in and run some bureaucracy. Well, that's not my job. My job is to set a vision of 'here's where the bureaucracy needs to go.
After 7 years of George W. Bush's inability to do "the vision thing," Senator Obama's comments sound like a breath of fresh air.

However, Henry Adams made the oft-cited observation of a President that she or he "resembles the commander of a ship at sea. He [or she] must have a helm to grasp, a course to steer, a port to seek." On that score, Mr. Obama only seems to claim to have the vision, the port to seek, as his responsibility. There are still the hands-on matters of grasing the helm and steering--eyes on compass and constellations--toward the sought-after port. So, I think that it is natural and appropriate that the Senator's allergies to the more bureaucratic responsibilities of presidential work is causing some to question the wisdom of a constricted approach to leadership.

After a Week, No Word from State Senator Thelma Harper on Bicentennial Mall Security

Last week I sent Senator Thelma Harper a letter asking for an update on changes that she promised were coming for Bicentennial Mall security. Since receiving a confirmation from her Executive Assistant a week ago, I have heard nothing else from the Senator about this important issue.

Lest You Think Private Companies Are Not Prone to Exposing You to Identity Theft

NPR reports that computer security is lacking all over:

GE Money, a unit of General Electric that handles credit card operations for J.C. Penney and other retailers, says a computer tape has gone missing, and it has the personal information of about 650,000 customers. The loss includes social security card numbers for about 150,000 people.
I am fairly sure that we had a GE Money account in the past through Wolf Camera. Oh boy. Exposed once again.

UPDATE: Yep. We did have a GE Money Bank credit account, and I found this ironic warning emblazoned in large bold print across an old bill we got from them:
Unable? Au contraire. GE Money seems more than able to provide up to 650,000 cases of account info to anyone but the cardholders.

If You Knew A Hard Drive With Your Identity Data Ended Up at a "Rave-Type Coffee Bar" in South Nashville Would You Feel Relief?

Police reported a few hours ago that the homeless burglar accused of stealing two Metro Election Commission laptops lead them to a "rave-type coffee bar" in South Nashville, where the MEC hard drives containing 335,000 voter social security numbers were located. Later, police were lead to a Goodlettsville home where the laptops themselves were located.

The police are due kudos as the singular Metro Department functioning optimally through this crisis, but I'm sure money gleaned from identity theft could buy a lot of Ecstasy and glow sticks, so we are by no means out of the woods. We still don't know what was done with the data on the hard drives by the java-ravers. The fact that the homeless burglar and not the java-ravers led police to the hardware whereabouts makes me wonder what was done with the data in the wake of the total media saturation of this story. Hopefully, police will be able to find out whether they copied it, stored it, used it, or sold it to other young enterprising types fond of trip hop and industrial electro breaks.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

We Are Thankful for the World Outside of Presidential Politics

Thank you, average America:

A major Pew Research survey of racial attitudes taken this past fall found that whites, blacks and Hispanics all have generally favorable opinions of one another and all tend to see inter-group relations in a more positive than negative light. There are some differences in these attitudes by race, ethnicity, age, social-economic status and geography -- but these tend to be small. The overall portrait of race relations is one of moderation, stability and modest progress.

Now that the Council Election is Past, Eric Crafton is Back to Fighting Funding For Public Schools

Last July I called attention to what I considered Council Member Eric Crafton's unethical use of a reproduction of Nashville Public Schools letterhead adjacent to his name along with a complimentary, but unauthorized comment from the School Board Chair on campaign material that he mailed to voters. I also pointed out that CM Crafton's founding of and participation in the controversial "Save Our Schools" organization, which opposes funding increases for Public Schools, was not mentioned in the campaign literature.

Now that Mr. Crafton does not have to worry about protecting his Council seat, it looks like he is back promoting SOS and playing a strident opponent of public schools. Here's homeschooling blogger Kay Brooks's account of the SOS presentation to the Council Education Committee on Monday:
"3 1/2 years ago...I started hearing that our schools were woefully underfunded, but that they were making tangible progress. But this just didn't ring true with what parents and other constituents were telling me... So I decided to do some unbiased, independent research to see if in fact we were underfunding our schools and see if real progress could be measured."

"I started by sending over 10 simple questions to Metro's school administrators. The only response I got was that they were too busy preparing their budget that was coming up later that spring to answer my question. So I founded the Save Our Students organization..."

"Why do I bring this information before you? Because I truly believe that both our education system and our children's futures are at an irreversible tipping point if we don't make dramatic, meaningful, measurable changes. Without change, our children will suffer. Irreparable harm will be done."

And he made the specific point that the:
"information is not being represented to usurp the School Board's authority, but rather offered in a spirit of cooperation and a shared interest in our children's success."
Regarding money:
"In my opinion however, it is fiscally irresponsible for the Metro Council to send 35% of Nashville's budget...around $600 million a year, to the School Board without expectations of measured achievement and without providing some oversight."
He is not talking like he requires Board Chair Marsha Warden's support or the credibility of the Nashville Public School's label any longer.

I guess we should be thankful that CM Crafton seems more conciliatory in his latest attempt to get some grip on the public education purse strings, but he was similarly conciliatory at one point last spring in the English Only debate where he promised to work on an amendment for community education at an Adult Learning Center. Afterwards he just continued to act mean about forcing Metro employees to speak English all the time with little attempt to blunt the divisiveness of it. I would be surprised if SOS's agenda against our public schools turns out any differently.

Bucking the Privatization Trend in Toll Roads

New Jersey governor shuns privatization of toll roads, keeping public money in the public sector in order to pay state debts and invest in transit projects. Progressive States calls it an honest proposal that--unlike privatized toll roads in other states--does not send billions of taxpayer dollars into self-interested private tolling companies:
There is no such thing as a free lunch, despite privatization being sold that way. Companies pay lots of money for privatized highways because they then get to raise tolls themselves and keep the profit, rather than reinvesting on behalf of the public. Gov. [John] Corzine is arguing that New Jersey can raise $30 billion by keeping the increased toll money that other states like Indiana are giving away to private companies. It's not a free lunch, but at least it's not a deceptive rip-off like the highway privatization scams being promoted around the country.
There are more effective means than toll roads to fund transit projects, but my main opposition to tolling is based on the trend to sell out the taxpayers to private companies. Public tolls are better than private tolls because the money is gets invested in public projects instead of private bank accounts.

Metro Departments List Scenarios for Service Cuts in Response to Mayor Dean

Tennessean blogger, Michael Cass has got his mitts on possible service cuts that Metro Departments are proposing in response to Karl Dean's directive to see how they would be affected by 5, 10, & 15 percent cuts.

Here are a couple of the more disconcerting ones for neighborhoods:
The Nashville Fire Department could cut the equivalent of 194 employees, delaying its response times for some fires and medical emergencies.

Metro police might not be able to hire any new officers.
Looks like we are headed toward a cut-because-you-can approach to dealing with the budget this year. If the Mayor accepts these kinds of cuts, it is safe to say that neighborhoods may not have the priority that they had during the previous administration.

How is Karl Dean going to achieve his initiatives against youth violence with fewer cops? And if the first responders and police are going to be cut, you can count on Community Centers like the one at Morgan Park staying closed all weekend for the foreseeable future, but then we're going to need more cops to deal with the increased violence and vandalism of bored youth who have no Parks programming to keep them occupied.

Accused Laptop Burglar Admits to Christmas Eve Heist

News release from Metro Police:
Accused burglar Robert Osbourne, who surrendered at police headquarters early today, has admitted to the Christmas Eve break-in of Metro’s Election Commission offices on 2nd Avenue South. Osbourne has been booked on a charge of burglary and is being held in the Metro Jail in lieu of $80,000 bond.

The ongoing investigation into this case by Central Precinct detectives led to this afternoon’s recovery of a computer router taken during the burglary. The place from which the router was recovered is not being disclosed at present. Detectives continue in their efforts to recover two Dell laptop computers also taken from the Election Commission.

Osborne's admission that he is the burglar on Christmas Eve puts to bed the fired Security Guard's contention that the laptops were stolen before he was on duty on Dec. 24.

CRIME ALERT: Homeless Convicted Burglar is Suspected by Police in Metro Laptop Theft

A former resident of the Union Rescue Mission who has a buglary and cocaine-related rap sheet has been linked through a DNA-match of blood left at the Metro Office Building broken into on Christmas Eve. The suspect is still on the lam.

The Union Rescue Mission has a women's facility on Rosa Parks Boulevard near Garfield Street, so we have a number of homeless individuals who hang around the intersection of 7th Avenue North and Garfield and over on Rosa Parks near I-65. The 45-year-old suspect is Robert Osbourne and police have released the following photo:

If you see this man contact the police, because he likely has information as to the whereabouts of Election Commission laptops containing 337,000 Nashvillians' social security numbers.

Some Folks Were Born Above Identity Politics; Oooh, They're Red, White, and Blue

The other day I dared to differ with local Republican favorite son Bob Krumm on his dualistic contention that Republicans (the Children of Light) don't talk about identity politics and Democrats (the Children of Darkness) do.

Of course, all one has to do is start sorting through various Republican rhetoric to discover that the fortunate one's contentions are, in fact, false. For example Jonah Goldberg--a conservative Republican commentator whose penmanship often appears in the City Paper--made quite a splash on the Jon Stewart show recently touting his book "Liberal Fascism," which Stewart pointed out is a little obsessed with -isms (besides being nakedly hypocritical by describing people who "throw around the word, 'fascism'" as being fascists).

Being hung up on -isms and delineating liberal vs. progressive identities (including claims of which one is more fascist) amount to a Republican talking about identity politics (besides being an exercise in Orwellian doublespeak).

Contrary to Political Myth, How Ronald Reagan Almost Lost the Cold War

#1 on a list of 10 worst IT disasters of all time:
The threat of computers purposefully starting World War III is still the stuff of science fiction, but accidental software glitches have brought us worryingly close in the past. Although there are numerous alleged events of this ilk, the secrecy around military systems makes it hard to sort the urban myths from the real incidents.

However, one example that is well recorded happened back in 1983, and was the direct result of a software bug in the Soviet early warning system. The Russians' system told them that the US had launched five ballistic missiles. However, the duty officer for the system, one Lt Col Stanislav Petrov, claims he had a "...funny feeling in my gut", and reasoned if the US was really attacking they would launch more than five missiles.

The trigger for the near apocalyptic disaster was traced to a fault in software that was supposed to filter out false missile detections caused by satellites picking up sunlight reflections off cloud-tops.
Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), a late Cold War approach to engaging the USSR, almost became a self-fulfilling prophecy, and this was one of those inadvertent hazards that Nuclear Freeze proponents warned people about in the mid-80's.