Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly in Metro Services in 2008

Because of the limits that following the TVA disaster has placed on my disposable research and writing time, I am not able in 2008 to pour the usual amount of effort into Enclave's Annual Best and Worst of Metro Services. So, I am going with a concise format of what I found to be the good, the bad and the ugly in Metropolitan Nashville governance. If you are a devoted Deaniac, you should stop reading here because if I were doing the regular format, the things I hit on below would have sunk the Mayor's Office to the bottom of the worst Metro services this year (even though Mayor Dean did make a laudable effort to fight English Only).
  • January
    • The good: Metro Police caught the thief of the Metro Election Commission laptops and located the hard drives at "rave-type" coffee bar, effectively dispelling a Wachenhut-contracted security guard's claims that the computers were stolen before he was on Christmas Eve duty.
    • The bad: Mayor Karl Dean singled out Metro ITS for the heist of Election Commission and promised security changes without any reference to culpability in either his office or former Mayor Bill Purcell's regarding a building alarm and camera system that was turned off on Christmas Eve 2007.
    • The ugly: Metro Legal lead with a wrist slap on Wachenhut. CM Charlie Tygard intended to go where Buck Dozier failed to go before: LEDland. Metro's computer chief had laptop stolen from his own car during Metro's IT security audit.
  • February
    • The good: Metro Parks says Morgan Park will get a playground by summer.
    • The bad: Court Clerk Vic Lineweaver wanted Metro to buy him a new car! CM Tygard's LED bill passes first reading with no debate, thanks to Vice Mayor Diane Neighbors' new iron-fist of order.
    • The ugly: CM Tygard blamed former Mayor Bill Purcell for Metro's budget problems a year after the council was spending discretionary funds furiously on pet non-profits.
  • March
    • The good: Council members paid attention to flood of neighborhood emails opposing Tygard's LED bill. Metro Public Works responded to traffic complaints in Salemtown.
    • The bad: Zoning Administrator Sonny West ignored popular opposition to the LED bill.
    • The ugly: government haters kept angling for Metro government jobs.
  • April
    • The good: CM Megan Barry called upon Vice Mayor to appoint a representative LED task force to study the LED proposal.
    • The bad: Tygard appointed his own task force to rubber stamp LED recommendations.
    • The ugly: Mayor Karl Dean appointed pro-development darling of the conservative Nashville Business Coalition, Chris Whitson, to Metro's Board of Zoning Appeals.
  • May
    • The good: CM Mike Jameson showed himself to be the only CM with the backbone to stand up and counter-punch the Dean administration's pro-development leanings.
    • The bad: Metro Police called to Salemtown to deal with drunken party brawls and indecent exposures across various properties only to excuse the law-breakers as part of a "Meharry Medical graduation party."
    • The ugly: Mayor Karl Dean rumored to eliminate pro-neighborhood Metro leaders on behalf of developers.
  • June
    • The good: Metro Planning Commission disapproved 7th & Garfield development and asked developer to get all of his ducks in a row before coming back.
    • The bad: Metro Council meeting again turned into a bash-Purcell-fest, and yet, usually iron-fisted Vice Mayor Neighbors did not lift a finger to rule it out of order.
    • The ugly: Metro Council followed "Developers Playbook" and scheduled planning and rezoning public hearings just before a major travel holiday.
  • July
    • The good: CM Emily Evans challenged fabrications of the May Town Center developers.
    • The bad: Metro Planning Department moved May Town Center proposal to the Planning Commission for a vote on the strength of the developers' studies because they lacked the funds to conduct their own economic impact study.
    • The ugly: Mayor Karl Dean allowed without objection the local media to write his role as Metro Legal chief out of the narrative on why the Bush Justice Department was investigating a council rezoning issue.
  • August
    • The good: Metro Parks met with Sylvan Park neighbors of Richland Park to consider expansion, including an amphitheatre.
    • The bad: summer ended without Metro Parks fulfilling its February promise to install a playground at Morgan Park.
    • The ugly: I received an icy monologue from Sylvan Park CM Jason Holleman comparing the property values in Sylvan Park to Morgan Park Place condos rather than to anything in Salemtown, which also borders on Morgan Park and which has never even asked for an amphitheatre.
  • September
    • The good: at least we did not have to live with Williamson Co. Republicans.
    • The bad: because of snafus, Metro Police and Metro Youth Services delayed sending detectives to Salemtown to investigate a teenage shooting, failing to support Mayor Karl Dean's central campaign promise to deal effectively with youth crime.
    • The ugly: based on the narrative of Tennessean reporter Janell Ross, Metro Police Chief Ronal Serpas asserted that "all too often" suspicious person calls are racist calls.
  • October
    • The good: you fill in the blank ____________.
    • The bad: Metro Youth Services Detectives still had not followed up with the teen victim of a Salemtown shooting.
    • The ugly: CM Jim Gotto resurrected the perennial empty patriotic gesture of introducing a memorializing resolution to put cheap yellow ribbons on poles at the Courthouse Square because he got a nod that the Dean Administration would make Parks follow through this time.
  • November
    • The good: somewhere Tony Orlando is smiling.
    • The bad: Metro Police were clearly the only ones responding to crime in after hours bars.
    • The ugly: while the press pounced on Metro Council attempts to deal with after hours crime, Mayor Karl Dean, who had run for office on the promise of dealing with youth and gang crime did nothing.
  • December
    • The good: the war on Christmas nonsense seemed to stay away from Metro this year.
    • The bad: Metro Public works was "unresponsive" to Belmont-Hillsboro Neighbors and CM Keith Durbin.
    • The ugly: Mayor Dean promised CM Erica Gilmore that installation Morgan Park playground equipment is still going to happen.

Happy New Year, everyone! And we still deserve a better year from Metro than we got the last one.


Lamar! says TVA should clean up the ash.

Exchanging just-the-way-we've-always-done-it for change-for-the-sake-of-itself

Just when I think the Nashville City Paper can't huckle up any tighter to the Mayor's Office, the editors start spooning more.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Former Mine Safety Engineer Sees Omens of Christmas Disaster in TVA's Past Inspection Reports

A reporter with an online engineering magazine interviews a former national mine health and safety engineer who argues that past inspections had red lights flashing and sirens blaring about the possible collapse of the Kingston fossil fuel plant dike. His judgment contradicts TVA claims that increased rain fall and low temperatures caused a breach that they couldn't predict:
Jack Sparado, a former national mine safety and health engineer, says that the inspection report indicates serious problems that TVA should have addressed. He conducted the engineering analysis of a similar, 300-million-gal, coal slurry spill in Martin County, Ky., in 2000 and wrote the engineering report of the Buffalo Creek, W.Va., coal slurry spill that killed more than 100 people in 1972.

Sparado says the dike has been failing since 2003 because of foundation piping, or internal erosion. There had been two minor blowouts in recent years and TVA noted seepage. The agency took corrective measures, Sparado says, but the only solution would have been to drain the reservoir and reconstruct the dam. “It was completely irresponsible of TVA to allow the dam to continue to be used when they knew of these previous problems,” he says. “They should have done a complete stability analysis of whole dam and essentially reconstructed it. It certainly should have been engineered better than it was.”
Go read the rest of the article for Sparado's opinion on whether the ash is toxic and whether recovery from the other spills he analyzed has happened.

If this mine safety engineer is correct, then TVA is not the only culpable party. We've got a corrupt government oversight system that allows fatal flaws in waste sequestration systems that put innocent Americans in harms way and menace neighborhoods. Is TDEC responsible for oversight? Where was federal regulation? This is beyond the pale of outrageous.

Welcome to the party, pal

Governor Bredesen has decided to take time out of his holiday schedule to visit the disaster area. How much power can he possibly have over a mega-utility that encompasses several states, "exports" electricity to major cities, and apparently owns parts of rivers in Tennessee? And his office is wrong about families coming first. TVA's reputation seemed to come before the safety of the families for at least 4 or 5 days.

Get Ready To Pay Even Higher Electric Bills

Developers of a planned subdivision in Roane County are suing TVA because their properties got ashed. They are welcoming other property owners to join them in the suit.

Nashvillians will no doubt be paying higher utility prices because NES "imports" TVA power, and thus, their liabilities.

TVA Fails to Follow up on Commitment to Swan Pond Resident

The hyper-local journaler forced to live among TVA's ashes expresses her disappointment that her assigned TVA "point person" failed to follow through; there is also a note of urgency in her writing:
No call back regarding the HEPA filters... I will be calling my point person and find out why.

The Ash is drying... and it's not all wet anymore.  Still no answers to the exact content of the ash....

This is a HUGE concern.  Large amounts of dry ash & even a calm breeze moves these lightweight particles around.  They settle on everything.  We are breathing them.
The new cocoon TVA has spun around its neighbors with roadblocks to minimize contact with outside agents and to manage locals' perceptions will only function if the über-utility stays in constant contact. It doesn't seem to be working for this Swan Pond resident.

The Brunt of the Pounding

According to yesterday's NY Times, a 2007 TVA inventory on file at the Environmental Protection Agency discloses some harrowing health-related numbers:
The inventory, disclosed by the Tennessee Valley Authority on Monday at the request of The New York Times, showed that in just one year, the plant’s byproducts included 45,000 pounds of arsenic, 49,000 pounds of lead, 1.4 million pounds of barium, 91,000 pounds of chromium and 140,000 pounds of manganese. Those metals can cause cancer, liver damage and neurological complications, among other health problems.

And the holding pond, at the Kingston Fossil Plant, a T.V.A. plant 40 miles west of Knoxville, contained many decades’ worth of these deposits.

For days, authority officials have maintained that the sludge released in the spill is not toxic, though coal ash has long been known to contain dangerous concentrations of heavy metals. On Monday, a week after the spill, the authority issued a joint statement with the E.P.A. and other agencies recommending that direct contact with the ash be avoided and that pets and children should be kept away from affected areas.
It is obvious that TVA has been slow to release measurements because they are trying to protect their brand name, but it is particularly despicable that they plainly denied toxicity and told people to boil water rather than stop drinking it altogether to cover their own asses.

It is still not clear what the toxic tonnage of the total spill is, but toxic outputs from their 2006 report do not look any less disheartening. For example, 51,544 pounds of lead were produced in 2006 that were either released (51,542 lbs) or transported to other sites (less than 2 lbs). You can survey and sum the other 2006 toxins after the jump.

Report: TVA Has Cut Short People's Lives

A study done 6 years ago emerges via RoaneViews:
A 2002 report found that Tennessee's Kingston Fossil Plant, the site of the December 22nd coal sludge spilled, has had persistent problems with public health. The report, written by Abt Associates for the Environmental Integrity Project and Rockefeller Family Fund, found that pollution from the plant cut short the lives between 149 and 171 people in 2001. Pollution levels from the plant since then have remained relatively constant.

But There is Silence There

No Silence Here has an updated survey of the websites of Tennessee's elected officials regarding the appalling lack of comment regarding the Kingston ash disaster on the part of the leaders whom our red state elected to office to oversee entities like the Tennessee Valley Authority. Michael Silence is vexed with the fact that only one official has issued a response:
I find this appalling and pathetic, especially with Rep. [Lincoln] Davis. I know it's the holiday season, but communicating via the Web is becoming more and more critical. For example, providing constituents with a phone number to learn if their community is impacted would be useful. Providing informative links would also be helpful.

Unfortunately, all this does is reinforce Congress' image of being slow, inept and ineffective. In many situations, that's good for America. But not this one.
Maybe they're out buying party hats and noise makers for New Years.

UPDATE: A corporate media type gets around to contacting Senator Corker's office, which gets around to issuing the usual "the Senator is aware" of the problem, which of course states the obvious. Like we didn't know that the new GOP golden boy and union-shop slayer was not aware of something that happens regarding energy in his back yard. Like we didn't know that ABC's Jake Tapper ended his Sunday morning segment with Corker by sending out thoughts and prayers to besieged Kingstonians. Enlighten us, Senator Corker. Tell us something we don't know about your plans for responding to this disaster and preventing it from ever happening again.

TNGOP Chair Argues for Continued Codependence on Coal in Wake of Ash Spill

Christian relays Republican boss Robin Smith's tweets on the subject.

Nashville is Talking is Leading Nashville's Traditional Media Blog Pack in Coverage of the TVA Disaster

News 2's Christian Grantham is going beyond rounding up links of local and state bloggers covering the TVA ash spill since last Monday. NiT is also asking the relevant political questions that the media should be asking but is generally not:
How much is TVA willing to spend to return the Emory and Tennessee Rivers to the condition they were before TVA released hundreds of thousands of gallons of coal wastes in them? Where are the voices of our lawmakers in Nashville who represent Tennesseans like the Hurricane Creek Keeper who demand accountability? Where are our state's U.S. Senators in standing up for accountability to the citizens of this great state? Why don't our elected officials sound like the Hurricane Creek Keeper?
NiT is even more focused on the political dimensions of the disaster than is Southcomm's flagship blog, Post Politics, which is paying marginal attention to the fallout and implications of Tennessee's worst environmental disaster ever. The Nashville Scene's proclaimed "Best Political Aggregator" continues to be strictly focused on the narrow scope of party politics (though exhaustively on Bristol Palin), while ignoring broader or local political questions.

Speaking of the Nashville Scene, their bloggers seem to be on holiday, much like Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker. And the Tennessean political blog is scantily clad by questions any larger than Jason Mumpower's love of comic books.

So, kudos to Christian Grantham and Nashville is Talking (not a political blog per se), which is driving much more aggressively at the political conditions of ground zero than any other media blog, even the ones that claim to be focused on politics.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Stuck It in the Eye of Developers and Lifestyle Consumers

This is a great story of a Seattle woman who hung on to her 1900-era home until her death forcing the faux industrial, steel-skinned boutiques planned for her plot to be built around it. The accompanying photo of her house holding out amidst the lifestyle gentrification is awesome. Some people will to stay unstylized. More power to them.

Scientific American: Coal Ash More Radioactive than Nuclear Waste

Burning coal into fly ash creates a cocktail of concentrated uranium and thoreum 100 times more radioactive than nuclear waste. People in Tennessee and Alabama who live around coal plants experience higher levels of radiation than do those who live around nuclear plants. And so what if the fly ash is unleashed in a massive flood across the ground in those surrounding neighborhoods? Perhaps massive radiation exposure?

UPDATE: The following editors note has been added to the original article today:

Editor's Note (posted 12/30/08): In response to some concerns raised by readers, a change has been made to this story. The sentence marked with an asterisk was changed from "In fact, fly ash—a by-product from burning coal for power—and other coal waste contains up to 100 times more radiation than nuclear waste" to "In fact, the fly ash emitted by a power plant—a by-product from burning coal for electricity—carries into the surrounding environment 100 times more radiation than a nuclear power plant producing the same amount of energy." Our source for this statistic is Dana Christensen, an associate lab director for energy and engineering at Oak Ridge National Laboratory as well as 1978 paper in Science authored by J.P. McBride and colleagues, also of ORNL.

As a general clarification, ounce for ounce, coal ash released from a power plant delivers more radiation than nuclear waste shielded via water or dry cask storage.

Toxic Disasters Look "Tennessee-Style" from the Great White North

Not a good international image for Tennessee to be mentioned with reference to "dirty tar sand" pollution.

Vote of No Confidence in TVA

According to Knoxnews, the Roane County Executive "hinted" that his constituents did not trust TVA's talk of tests:
The loss of that ash pond is why we are here today. A lot of people would not want to necessarily hear … about TVA sampling information. That’s why ... Roane County has asked that we have multiple agencies also conducting tests, water sample tests.
TVA would appear to have a lot more to salvage that its storage facility and rivers.

Just some guy laying claim to his rights

Raked over the Coal in 1984

While the Tennessee Valley Authority is lately casting itself as committed to green technologies, according to one NY Times writer--who squared off with a former TVA Chief Economist (now the "Marathon Oil Company Professor of Energy Policy" at LSU)--a shotgun marriage had to be arranged for the electricity behemoth and the idea of clean air:
TVA has indeed had to accept compliance with the Clean Air Act and with land reclamation standards. The courts forced it to do so. The years of legal battles with environmentalists which finally, in 1977, gave TVA no alternative but to start obeying the law, and the terrible damage wreaked in the meantime by TVA's own smokestacks and by the mining practices of its coal suppliers, are matters of public record.
TVA seems to be in unusual type of animal. According to one source it "is a political entity with a territory the size of a major state, and with some state powers (such as eminent domain), but unlike a state, it has no citizenry or elected officials."

It sounds more like a shadow state, and I keep seeing these videos recorded over the past weekend of Kingston law enforcement telling activists that they cannot go on the Emory or Clinch Rivers because TVA owns them. That seems like an odd arrangement in a republican democracy. Does the U.S. Coast Guard patrolling those rivers serve at the pleasure of the TVA CEO?

Drifting Coal Ash to Watts Bar Could Bury Heath Shuler's Investment Opportunity

Facing South reports that if Kingston steam plant ash were to reach Watts Bar Reservoir, North Carolina Congressman Shuler's multi-million dollar lakeside development investment could take a hit. I'll bet it is stopped well before it hits any wealthy developments.

So, Is TVA Now Legally Liable for Encouraging Boiling Sludged Water Last Week?

Via Michael Silence: the Associated Press reports that state and local officials are now telling residents to stop drinking water around the Kingston fossil fuel plant because tests have found high levels of arsenic that could be threatening neighborhood well water.

Trauma and TVA

Knoxviews commenter Tess works through her anger at TVA by asking that the utility giant be willing to make some lifestyle sacrifices:
Professional Counselors needed for Traumatized Coal Ash Disaster Victims

Hey yall, we are in the middle of field testing and going door to door collecting information where Swan Pond is where the ash blowout happened.

People are answering their doors crying. They answer their phones that way--we are dealing with traumatized folks and our field personal are science geeks.

We need someplace we can tell people where they can go for counseling.

Can anyone recommend anyone in Harriman, Kingston, Oak Ridge, or Knoxville--a center or something that we can send people to?

If you have suggestions, go here:

Above is quoted from linked site, but my question is: Isn't the well-being of the people who have been harmed by this disaster not something else that TVA should be taking care of? (and apparently is not?) I am getting more and more angry by the minute...

I just had a thought! I bet a lot of the TVA board members have a lake house or mountain house, in addition to the house that they live in. Why not, as a show of good faith, let these families who have lost their homes on the river in Swan Pond live in those second homes until this situation is resolved?

TVA Already Reported What Was in the Ash. Reporters Failed to Find It

News 2's Christian Grantham posted the following comment:
Mike, TVA reports to the public precisely what's in the fly ash through the EPA. Here is their report.

The only reason main stream media hasn't reported it isn't because TVA isn't sharing it. It's because reporters haven't been smart enough to just get the report right off the web.
So, the journalists are just as culpable for the lack of TVA transparency as TVA is. Where the hell are the reporters?

UPDATE: The other question preying on my mind is why the hell didn't TVA just refer the public to its EPA report?

UPDATE: Christian argues that it is important to maintain a distinction between river tests (toxic) and tests at the source of treated water (not toxic). That point may matter, but I wonder how much so now that the land-laden ash is likely drying out and going airborne.  Hazardous exposure is not just a matter of processed H2O.

You Just Cannot Get Good Orcs and Trolls Nowadays

The NYTimes' Stanley Fish nominates AT&T for worst company in the world based on his annoying experience at having to reset his own telecom mechanism. Apparently, AT&T failed to keep all of his preferences on file or they just refused to use them to reestablish his home phone connection. To add insult to injury, a few days later he found that the changes he re-requested didn't take on the Mordor side, and he ended up getting shunted to a totally irrelevant department.

Ah, this brings back memories. It would be one thing if AT&T merely eavesdropped on people's phone calls, but they cannot even provide efficient customer service as an excuse to excuse their violations of privacy.

Why TVA is not trustworthy

R. Neal sums the credibility gap up nicely:

Today's front page KNS report says the EPA has found "very high" levels of arsenic in water samples, along with other heavy metals, one week after TVA said the water samples were fine*.

It says residents should avoid contact with the fly ash sludge materials and gives instructions on what to do if they get contaminated, one week after TVA said the fly ash contained no hazardous materials.

It says area residents who get water from springs or wells should not use the water, one week after other officials told them to just boil their water.

(*TVA still says on their website as of this moment that testing of stream water is within acceptable limits, and they do not mention well or spring water testing.)

UPDATE: Katie Allison Granju chimes in:

A very wise and experienced PR professional - a former government agency Public Information Officer herself -  told me the other day that she predicts that TVA will come to  regret the way they have handled the Roane County dam collapse disaster.

"Haven't they learned anything from the way companies and utilities have handled other environmental disasters? The way to land on your feet in a situation like this is to send your Public Information Officer out there to offer maximimum information with minimum delay," she explained.

All Tapper did was send out "thoughts and prayers" when a frank discussion was needed

With our country a week out from one of the worst fossil fuel disasters in our history and headed for the dead of winter when energy consumption becomes so important, both ABC's Jake Tapper and Tennessee Senator Bob Corker ignored the substantive issues yesterday morning regarding the Tennessee Valley Authority's storage of toxic coal ash. Senator Corker looked almost relieved when Tapper brought the spill up at the end of his segment and said, "We're out of time." Sen. Corker still has not addressed the matter on his website.

The Advantages of Blogging are Deep and Wide

Ezra Klein's homage to effective blogging is spot-on:
So figure out where you add value. Find something specific to follow and follow it deeply. That "something" could be health policy, as it has been for me, or urban policy, or telecom, or congressional procedure, or media structure, or a thousand things I can't name. That's not to say you have to create a niche blog. The specialized posts mix with the generalized posts -- in my case, health wonkery rubs elbows with garden variety political punditry -- and the two cross-subsidize each other. The rigor of the more technical work gives you credibility in the reader's mind and adds weight to the generalist posts. The generalist posts broaden the blog's potential audience and create access points that new readers wouldn't have if you let the blog become a repository of technical commentary.

The great comparative advantage of blogs is that we're freed from the essential scarcity of print: Space. Deep content need not fight for pages with broad content, and so you can have the advantages of both. You can go deep without alienating readers and go broad without sacrificing depth.

TVA Had Few "Concrete Answers," Offered Yard Sprinklers to Neighbors; EPA Finds Arsenic, Does Not Counsel Boiling Water

Knoxnews has more details on Sunday evening's Kingston City Council meeting about the TVA ash spill. TVA was long on assurances, but short on answers. They did offer sprinkler systems in Swan Pond neighborhood yards to keep the drying ash from going airborne (it hasn't already?). EPA found high levels of arsenic in the river and told residents not to drink or use well (and spring?) water until it was tested. The did not follow TVA's habit of telling people to boil their water before consuming it.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Resident of Swan Pond Neighborhood Blogs Details of TVA Meeting

The live journaler at Life on Swan Pond after TVA has a blow-by-blow account of this evening's Kingston City Council meeting with TVA CEO Tom Kilgore. According to the account, Kilgore was asked whether the cost of the spillage would be passed on to consumers, and he told the gathering that TVA insurance would pay, which, of course, means that the insurance company will pass costs on to consumers. How else do insurance companies function?

The journaler also says that Kilgore told the group that emergency plans were not in place for something of this magnitude of ash. Got that? TVA may store a huge amount of ash susceptible to release because of changes in weather patterns, but they only make emergency plans for something less than their huge amount of ash. If Kilgore did say that, then how is it he is qualified to be an executive again? Does being an executive no longer call for careful planning? Or did it ever without some form of government regulation?

And in spite of his executive status, Kilgore told the group that he does not know what is in the spilled ash, but TVA is researching to find out. The journaler wants to know how they can sell ash to cement companies without testing what is in it (perhaps a Gieger counter test of your local sidewalks might be timely about now). I just want to know how they get away with storing ash behind a vulnerable dike upstream from neighborhoods of families without being required to know exactly which elements are being dumped on site, and being transparent with their neighbors about those elements?

An expectant mother with ash heaps in her backyard asked if it was safe for her to stay on Swan Pond. Kilgore didn't give her an answer, but told her to come by the TVA office for answers. Wait a minute. Wasn't the community meeting supposed to be about answering questions? Why should a woman who is concerned about any health effects of exposure to ash on her 7-month pregnancy have to wait to come by the TVA offices? What's at the TVA offices that the CEO failed to bring to the meeting?

The journaler ends her report on a rather ominous note:

I have very huge concerns related to this spill.   I have an 18 month old (I am his custodial grandmother) who is a high-risk infant, born prematurely and was on mechanical ventilation for 7 weeks at birth... already compromised and with many medical issues......

The pulmonologist stated to limit his time outside... and report back to the office the Air Quality results including the particulate counts.... Wait untill I tell him that TVA hasn't done any yet.....

I wonder what their liability is related to him....
Heaven help her as she depends on TVA's good graces. This kind of exposure shouldn't happen in America.

VW Could Not Afford to Buy This Kind of PR

Positive puff piece after positive puff piece, the Chattanooga Times Free Press gives Volkswagen its own business page of free promotion. Shouldn't the German automaker be bankrolling some of those reporters' salaries in exchange for all that cushy writing?

TVA CEO Promises to Clean Ash Up "Right" at Kingston Community Meeting

According to Knoxnews he also says that TVA is reconsidering system of ash storage. According to one #coalash comment, he also told the audience, "with a straight face," that their property values would not be effected after they cleaned the deluged acreage.

Environmentalist Tells Tennessean TVA Knows What's In the Ash But Will Not Tell

Stephen Smith tells the Tennessean that after six days TVA has sampling data from their ash spill and that it is unacceptable that they will not share it with the public. He also points out that they sell part of the ash to cement companies, so they already have some grasp of what is in it. I guess transparency isn't high on TVA's priority list.

Women's Health News has news for Obama

Rachel is having a self-described conniption over the Kingston/Harriman coal sludge disaster and calls President-Elect Barack Obama to task for his support of "clean coal":
Coal, like oil, is a relatively finite resource that releases pollutants when used for energy. We blow the tops off of mountains and irreversibly wreck the local environment, or we send men underground to die. We try to reduce emissions we know are toxic, and end up with ponds of contaminated ash water that nobody bothers to regulate as a hazardous substance. When we worry about asthma, when we worry about the mercury consumed by children and pregnant women, we are worried about burning coal (or would be, if we knew enough). Clean coal is a myth.
I agree. It's time for Barack Obama to back away from the fable of clean coal.

Some worthy suggestions on who should get stuck with the bill for fossil fuel fallout

I refer you to Newscoma:

  • Let the oil companies pay for the autobailout. They made record amounts of money this year. it’s situations like the TVA coal incident that require money. Oil companies can give cash because they NEED the cars.
  • Let TVA’s budget pay for clean-up and the health issues that are going to come out of ash being everywhere. Let people see it for themselves. If they choose to go to Harriman and they are arrested/detained, it looks like a friggin’ coverup. Is it?

She also has some choice words for the mainstream media on their lackluster coverage of a monumental disaster that could become Tennessee's next Superfund project. Go see them for yourself.

TVA's Coal Ash Dump May Not Be Energizing Tennessee's Elected Officials

But Kentucky's General Assembly is mobilizing to make some changes. The Bluegrass State could easily be called the Coal Ash State, since they belch out more of the fossil fuel waste than any other.

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.'s Law Firm To Investigate Coal Ash Spill

The firm of environmental attorney and son of the 64th U.S. Attorney General, Bobby Kennedy, Jr., is joining with a Florida law firm to "investigate the Tennessee Coal Spill and will pursue claims on behalf of property owners living in the impacted area."

Media Quote of the Weekend

Glenn Greenwald while skewering Politico's Top Ten of 2008 list:
There's the central axiom driving coverage by our American media: the more significant a matter it is, the less attention it receives .... It's hard to know what's worse: journalists ... who know full well that their work is a frivolous and inane distraction yet continue to do it anyway, or ones ... who -- even in the face of all of this -- actually believe, or at least claim to believe, in the enduring, guffaw-provoking myth of the intrepid, adversarial journalist.
The criticism applies locally, too.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Heart of the Matter of TVA's Evasiveness

A Knoxblab member cuts to the chase:
If you said it was one pond that failed when it was really one failing and wrecking another, then you have a lot of spin control to do as your story unravels. And if you said there were no indications of toxicity when all you meant was there were no indications of anything because the tests are still being completed, it will be harder to explain reports of high levels of lead and thallium in the Emory River.

TVA Starting to Lose Its Composure?

A concerned east Tennessean relates his experience of being detained by TVA officials:
I brought 2 conductuvity meters for water testing down to the spill scene yesterday - along with Ph and dissolved oxygen testing equipment - I met up with United Mountain Defense members plus John Wathen of Riverkeepers (former chair of Citizens Coal Council)

We tried to drive back to the spill site but TVA became irate when we pulled off the road and tried to take some pictures - Matt and I were detained for almost an hour at a check point yesterday - TVA personnel appear to be under great strain, which is understandable but IMO they over-reacted. All we were doing was taking photos. This is a similar situation to what happened in Martin County - they block the roads for "public safety." Even the media is having trouble getting access now.

Has Lamar Alexander already made his allegiance to the coal industry and to TVA coal ash clear?

Another day passes after the TVA's sludge flooded the neighborhoods of Kingston in Roane County, and Tennessee's Republican Senator Lamar Alexander has not made any sort of public statement about the risks of an industry he seems to have championed at the expense of greener others:
[GE] sold $1 billion of wind turbines this year, will sell $2 billion next year and just announced a 300 percent increase in their revenues in 2004 over their first year of operations in 2002. In a speech on May 9th, announcing a new campaign from GE focused on increasing commitments to clean energy technologies, Jeffrey Immelt GE's CEO mentioned possible future 'carbon constraints', which GE is trying to build technologies to prepare for.

"Four days later, on May 13th, Sen. Alexander gives a speech blasting the wind industry, and introduces a bill removing subsidies for all offshore wind, the area which GE's technologies lead the world," Kempton said. "It is either very odd timing, or the fossil fuel lobbyists are quick at running their bills and speeches through friendly Senators' offices."

Other indicators that Senator Alexander may be timid about alienating the coal industry: he also defends a recent pay raise for the TVA executive even as we sink further into recession, and he obstructed congressional appointments using TVA appointments as his rationale earlier this year.

Southern Environmentalist Group Urges More Concern for TVA's Neighbors

A regional organization on environmental concerns recommends greater concern for public safety after the sludge dump:
Stephen Smith, executive director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said officials should more strongly encourage residents to avoid the sludge that surrounds their homes ....

Smith said his group is not trying to create panic, but that federal and state authorities and the TVA should be erring on the side of caution in what he considers the largest coal-ash spill in the eastern U.S.

"I think all three agencies have been irresponsible in not accurately warning citizens," Smith said.

What a Shame

In the middle of a slow holiday news cycle it took the liberals at Think Progress until the publication of Johnny-come-lately stories in the NY Times and CNN to acknowledge the Kingston sludge disaster. Not exactly cutting edge or tuned into the Tennessee social network, are they? And what if big media had not responded after 48 hours? Would it have remained invisible at the Center for American Progress?

UPDATE: In fairness to Think Progress, I should say that Brad Johnson at the Wonk Room did say something about Kingston and post a video in a piece about how the coal industry is attempting to launch a "Blogger brigade" to counter netroots anti-clean-coal activists last Tuesday. Someone there was on top of this. Bygones.

Kay Brooks is in a show-me state

Kay Brooks is once again carrying the water for a council member who helped Davidson County Republicans assign her a seat on the School Board without consulting her constituents a while back:
Show me a 'major firm with diverse employees' that wants to move into Nashville. Just show me one who is seriously considering taking Nashville out of consideration based on Nashville requiring its official business be conducted in English. Just one. I'll wait

Oh yeah? Show me one onerous, expensive problem that is caused when Metro employees, who ought to be free from micromanagement, speak to immigrants in their own language, if they are able and they choose to. Just show me one major burden such a personal courtesy has placed on Metro taxpayers, particularly to the same degree that Eric Crafton has been burning through Metro resources for the past two years resurrecting English Only time after time. Just one. I won't be holding my breath.

UPDATE: Did I mention that Kay Brooks is also comparing herself to the Mayor? That is one flight of fancy.

Another one that slipped by me until now

As Enclave readers know, I strongly advocated the regulation of after hours clubs located in residential neighborhoods, given their propensity to be crime magnets and weekend nuisances. Yet, I completely missed this website of supporters of CM Anna Page's effort to eliminate BYOB in such establishments. I have no doubt that their educational and social networking efforts motivated Metro Council to pass CM Page's bill on December 16 (it was signed into law by the Mayor on December 19). Kudos to the webmasters and community organizers. It was a win for hyper-local netroots.

Deep Thought

It's clear that the Allies fighting against the Axis powers in WWII are considered "liberators" of the Nazi death camps in Germany after invading. But can Americans, Brits, and Russians legitimately be considered liberators given that they did not bomb or otherwise disrupt the concentration camp rail lines during the war, which could have saved so many Jews and other victims from being exterminated?

Knoxnews breaks with what we've already figured: TVA's Toxic Metals Found in Water

TVA finds lead and thallium in the water near the dike breach. Given their track record of downplaying the disaster, we should probably assume that more toxic metals have spread farther downstream, and we await independent, less-self-interested tests.

Katie Allison Granju underscores the risks of taking TVA at their word:

TVA continues to unwisely and clumsily downplay the ash spill, to which one environmental journalist replies:

Not surprising that they focus on the fact that no one has died, and ignore the potential impact to water supplies, and the poisoning of hundreds of acres of land with mercury and arsenic -- a swath of territory that may well have to be declared an EPA Superfund site.

To Go Where No Mainstream Journalist Dares: Canoeing Up the Emory and Clinch Rivers

United Mountain Defense is at it again and they bring back some dramatic video of ground zero around the TVA sludge disaster:

I am amazed by the absence of media, government agency officials, or signs of vigorous damage control. Except for the mountains of ash and the muck that was once a river, it seems deceptively serene and pristine, as if nothing ever happened.

Friday, December 26, 2008

TVA's #1 Disaster Priority: Keep the Coal Flowing

Can I get a witness? How about Christian Grantham:
What it appears TVA is focusing more on (and you can see this in their own online accounts, news reports and releases) is clearing the way for more coal to reach the plant. The troubling fact that TVA is making a calculated decision to use their assets to clear the way for more coal rather than using 100% of their assets to prevent further ecological damage is noted.
I would even go further than Christian has and appeal to Naomi Klein's "shock doctrine" to argue that the disaster provides TVA the opportunity to drive out residents who face precarious conditions, to acquire swaths of local neighborhoods under duress, and to capitalize new transportation infrastructure to bring in more coal, and either transport or store higher levels of toxic wastes.

There is minimal threat to TVA's position here. The silence of Tennessee's elected officials indicates to me that TVA is actually in the cat bird's seat, and they are in little danger of being held accountable for these events. I fully expect Senators Corker and Alexander (as well as Governor Phil Bredesen) to get behind a new initiative under the pretense of clean-up to convert and to expand TVA's plant and political power in Roane County.

I'm not seeing any evidence so far that community leaders and neighborhood organizations there have the power themselves to overcome this disaster and to hang on against TVA and non-regulating government interests. The wild card is the environmentalist community; are they willing to contest the coming TVA expansion and the consolidation of their influence?

A dirty little secret TVA might not want to mention?

A commenter at NPR says that the Kingston ash sludge flood could contain a Pandora's box of nuclear wastes and that a savvy reporter with a Geiger counter might open it:
Your news piece on the coal ash spill in Tennessee had a laundry list of heavy metals that could be in the ash. I found it interesting that uranium and thorium were not listed as part of the heavy metals. That coal contains trace amounts of uranium leads to an annual release into the environment of 1,360 tons of uranium and 3,348 tons of thorium according to Oak Ridge National Laboratory. This is more uranium than is consumed by the nuclear power industry in a year. A typical coal plant emits over 5 tons of uranium in a year. ( It would be interesting journalism to take a geiger counter down to the spill area in Tennessee and measure the millirems at the spill site versus normal ambient radiation. 

Coal use for 50% of our nation's electricity comes with many environmental externalities not currently accounted for in its cost however the radiation danger is one of them not normally discussed as yet another danger. (
Instead of just uncritically passing along TVA public relations material, why can't mainstream reporters earn the title "journalists" and do some more snooping around to confirm or deny independently the toxicity of the ash spill?

Mountain Activists Report That TVA Did Not Touch Base with All of Affected Sludge Victims

In a report reprinted on The Small Axe, a group called United Mountain Defense says that one Kingston neighborhood resident--living within a mile of the sludge spill--maintained that neither she nor her neighbors have been contacted by TVA, which has asserted that it has contacted all affected residents. Also, according to the group, the NY Times was in error in one story in which it claimed that environmental activists themselves were going around encouraging neighbors to boil their water. Finally, the group paddled into the affected area by boat and could not find evidence to substantiate TVA's claims of the presence of erosion and debris controls, Coast Guard, or live fish.

United Mountain Defense says that they are delivering water to neighborhoods and taking donations for disaster relief.

HT: Jillmz

Where the heck are Alexander and Corker?

Why aren't the Tennessee Senators calling for an investigation of and more regulation over TVA in the wake of the Kingston disaster?

Joe Powell locates Alexander in October on the pay hike that the TVA executive received:

There are many questions about current safety, officials ever-changing stories and what -if any - health issues are being aggressively pursued. Since TVA's CEO just earned a record multi-million dollar salary, let's see if he is worth it. As Senator Lamar Alexander told the press in October when news of the massive pay raise was made:

The TVA board should be sensitive to keeping its costs down, especially at a time when Tennesseans are hurting,” he said. “But TVA is the largest utility in the country and it’s got to recruit competent people to run the agency, including its nuclear plants, and it need pay them a competitive wage in order to keep them."

Many people are truly in peril today due to this massive disaster, Mr. Senator. And let's hope like hell competence is the least of their virtues.
I would say that both Senators owe East Tennesseans an updated response on what they are doing in response to this major infrastructure collapse. Corker bothered to continue to milk his newfound celebrity with a Dec. 23rd website post on the Detroit auto companies. He has had 3 days to respond to the TVA mess, but where is a response?

UPDATE: A Huffington Post commenter had some choice words for Senator Bob Corker and his Tennessee constituents yesterday:
It's Ironic that within just the last few weeks, Senator Bob Corker and his constituents in Tennessee were railing against loans for the auto industry. Screaming to let them go under for their own selfish economic interests.
I'll bet they get their hands out real quick asking the federal taxpayers to pay for the cleanup of this mess because if TVA is forced to pay for it , the customers are going to have to pay more for electricity.
Hopefully all of the "fiscally responsible" Republicans in Congress will have the backbone to say no to this bailout.
Call it karma or whatever you like, but you reap what you sow Tennessee.

TVA's new math, my ash

Go read the NY Times' latest reportage on the changes in TVA's estimates on the scope of the Kingston disaster, and then tell me that they were not soft peddling and covering their ashes (which is not nearly the same as being cautious and conservative in their estimates) in the wake of the calamity:
Authority officials initially said that about 1.7 million cubic yards of wet coal ash had spilled when the earthen retaining wall of an ash pond breached, but on Thursday they released the results of an aerial survey that showed the actual amount was 5.4 million cubic yards, or enough to flood more than 3,000 acres one foot deep. The amount now said to have been spilled is larger than the amount the Authority initially said was in the pond, 2.6 million cubic yards.

Authority officials offered little explanation for the discrepancy, telling reporters that the initial number was an estimate based on their information at the time. The aerial survey was done on Tuesday, but the results were not released until Thursday. Calls to an Authority spokesman on Friday morning were not immediately returned.
The Times also quotes residents stunned at the new numbers. I would be outraged for my family's welfare if I lived there and found out that the amount of the spill were actually larger than the original survey numbers. How can the spill be any more than what was measured within the contained and more easily surveyed confines of a "pond"? And how can the TVA's defense that the pond did not exceed allowable capacity have any merit now that the spill is estimated at three times the original calculations while the sludge was contained?

TVA Minimization Spin Begins to Unravel

It looks like TVA's attempts to contain the public relations damage by downplaying the magnitude of Tueday's environmental disaster in East Tennessee are failing:
  1. Knoxnews disclosed Thursday that the ash in the Kingston dredge cell storage area was 55 feet above the "pond" water level and that dredging continued after dike problems in 2003 and after a slope failed in 2006.
  2. The Tennessean reported Thursday that TVA's figures on the amount of sludge belched from their ash containment system have shifted three times since Tuesday, and the latest figure, 5.4 million cubic yards, is triple Wednesday's total.
  3. Sandranista tweets information--unconfirmed by the press--that one resident vomited for 12 hours after drinking coffee made from tainted water.

UPDATE: A United Mountain Defense report seems to be the source of the info on #3. It maintains that Kingston residents told their correspondents that TVA dealt with leaks in the ash pond wall in 2004, 2006, and a month and a half ago. TVA officials originally speculated that recent excess rain and abnormally low temperatures were possible causes of the breach.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

NBC Repeats Dubious Suggestion that Sludged Kingston Neighborhoods Should Boil Water for Home Use

Again, if water is contaminated with mercury, lead, and arsenic, then simply boiling it will do nothing to protect consumer safety, and NBC is responsible for spreading instead of questioning flawed information:

The TVA official expressed relief that no one was injured as a result of the disaster. Immediate injuries may not have been sustained, but long-term health problems like viral infections and cancer resulted from exposure to coal fly ash toxins should not be ruled out by TVA.

CBS Shows Up in East Tennessee to Report on Sludge Slide

UPDATE: Amy Gehran asks CNN's Rick Sanchez directly why he referred to the news of the TVA disaster as "just in" 48 hours after it took place.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Tennessean May Take a Mulligan on Controversial Salemtown Market Story

According to the Salemtown neighborhood association email list, the Tennessean may be doing a future story on neighbors' concerns about the activity around Volcano Discount Tobacco market at the corner of 7th and Garfield, given its proximity to a Metro school bus stop. Fortunately, Janell Ross is not said to be working on this story. Reporter Andy Humbles has already been corresponding with Salemtown residents.

"Edit and Sales": A Distinction without a Difference?

Is there a such a clear wall between journalists and sales professionals (other than literal drywall) when the bottom line of journalism is to make money and fulfill a corporate mission?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Mainstream Media Blackout on Tennessee Coal Ash Disaster

Amy Gahran underscores the silence of the major news outlets around the country in response to the Kingston Steam Plant ash spill disaster in East Tennessee, and the possible release of toxic mercury, lead, and arsenic. Neither the NY Times or CNN have picked up the story, although CNN does spend a 3-minute segment on a water main break in a suburb outside of Washington DC.

Gahran opines:
This might not be surprising from CNN, which earlier this month cut its entire science, environment, and technology news team. Not surprisingly, the Society of Environmental Journalists and several other journalism organizations have formally protested the CNN cuts.

Of course, CNN Center in Atlanta is only about 200 miles from Harriman, TN -- just a three-hour drive... They could have thrown a regional news team on the story, but... On the bright side, the Knight Science Journalism Tracker notes today that the NY Times is forming a new reporting unit for environment and climate change coverage. So hopefully they won't keep overlooking stories like this.

The lack of national mainstream news coverage of this disaster isn't stopping the story from spreading. Tenn.-area news orgs and individuals from all over the US have been tweeting about this story, and many people have been blogging it. There are also videos on YouTube. Twitter is an easy way to find this coverage. Just search there for the hashtag #coalash, as well as for the terms coal ash and TVA.

TVA Ash Spill Victims Describe The Disaster

More on the costs to the environment and to a Tennessee neighborhood via Knoxnews, which is the best and perhaps only most comprehensive local red-state coverage of the tragedy:

Further Evidence that Lamar Was Himself Triangulating Obama

Televangelist and arch-neo/theo-con Pat Robertson just gave Obama the kiss of death with liberals by endorsing his cabinet selections. So, who is Lamar Alexander to question moderate-to-conservative credentials again? If they don't cause Robertson to light his hair on fire, why is Alexander concerned, unless he is merely posturing to get what he wants after inauguration?

Greenpeace Compares TVA Ash Spill to Exxon Valdez/Prince William Sound Oil Spill

From the Huffington Post:
Greenpeace is calling today for there to be a criminal investigation into the matter. “Every facility like this is supposed to have a spill contingency plan to prevent this kind of disaster,” said Rick Hind, Greenpeace Legislative
Director. “The authorities need to get to the bottom of what went wrong and hold the responsible parties accountable.”

"This spill shows that coal can never be ‘clean,’” said Kate Smolski, Senior Legislative Coordinator for Greenpeace. “If the Exxon Valdez was a symbol of pollution 20 years ago, the Tennessee Coal Spill of 2008 is the symbol of it today.”

Video Footage of Areas Affected by TVA "Pond" Breach

Via Chloe White/Knoxnews:

Net Passes Paper Newswise

According to Pew:
For the first time in a Pew survey, more people say they rely mostly on the internet for news than cite newspapers (35%). Television continues to be cited most frequently as a main source for national and international news, at 70%.
As late as 2007, newspapers lead the Internet as a main source of news by 10 percentage points.

Victims of the Coal Industry

Knoxnews has a story on the residents affected by the Kingston sludge flood of coal fly ash. One of those residents is Chris Copeland:
Copeland, a firefighter at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, said he's lived in the area for 40 years and grew up boating on the cove in front of his house, an extension of the Emory River.

The sludge has encroached 10 feet farther into his yard than the usual winter pool level, and the scenic landscape is replaced by 15-foot-high piles of ash.

"It's changed forever, I don't see how this can be brought back," Copeland said.

No injuries were reported after the deluge swept across the landscape, covering the area with water, mud and ash.

"We've got a mess," said Tom Hamby of the Roane County Highway Department. "The problem is, you don't know what's under this stuff."
According to a CDC report, exposure to coal fly ash may alter cellular defenses and promote viral infections. Kingston residents may be paying for this disaster with more than their money.

UPDATE: Knoxnews also has an exhaustive list of links to news on the disaster, including passage to tweets.

That media. They're just so liberal.

Paul Krugman writes of the double standard that allows wacko conservative conspiracy theories in the gate:
Why does such stuff flourish? Probably because there is no punishment for it — as long as you’re on the right, and I mean right, side. Let Michael Moore point out, entirely correctly, the close ties between the Saudis and the Bush family, and he’s blasted as a crazy conspiracy theorist. On the other hand, let Donald Luskin suggest, in 2004, that George Soros is planning to engineer a financial crisis to defeat Bush, and he gets to publish front-page articles in the Washington Post Outlook section declaring that there isn’t a recession.
It truly is a spectacle to behold.

It's "clean" coal: never mind that 500 million gallons of toxic sludge headed for the Tennessee River

Is it accurate to call 2.6 million cubic yards of toxic slurry--the by-product of burning coal--containing hazardous levels of mercury, arsenic and lead, "a pond"? It sounds so innocuous, maybe a little Thoreauean, until the dyke breaks and the sludge floods people's homes, leaves toxic residue across the land, and flows downstream to the mighty Tennessee River. The price of relying on the coal industry:

Of course, TVA is going to blame the elements for a failure to "hope for the best, but plan for the worst." Meanwhile, the coal industry wants you to take time out this holiday to remember that they are the cleanest and most affordable option:

Yeah, I can't think of anything more "adorable" than liquefied mercury powder seeping into the watershed.

UPDATE: East Tennessee's R. Neal criticizes the local media for misadvising victims to "boil" their water as if lead were a microbe rather than a toxic metal.

UPDATE: TVA denies knowledge of sudden mass fish-kill in the Clinch River and blames the weather. The Clinch is downstream from the ash "pond" and it flows directly into the Tennessee.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Taking a Little of that Polycrystalline Shine off Another Bredesen Medicine Show

There's always a flip side to Governor Phil Bredesen's wheeling and dealing that lays between the PR lines. R. Neal points out that the new deal to build a semiconductor factory in Clarksville foregoes 20 years of property tax obligations and it relies on coal-fired power to produce solar panels. Sean Braisted's post has me thinking that if the incentives either do not deliver as promised or they get rolled back by other powers, then factory workers might be vulnerable to wages that are not exactly sustainable. So, far, the industry looks only light green.

This is the same Phil Bredesen who as Mayor arranged for the local water department to pay the Tennessee Titans $4 million per year for several decades in exchange for relocating from Houston (I tend to believe that the Titans should be required to bring home a proportionate number of Super Bowl trophies, maybe 2 per decade, or else pay all of Metro Water's money back to them; it seems only fair). Nashville is struggling to bring its stormwater infrastructure up-to-date. With Mr. Bredesen every silver lining has a dark cloud.

What in the Sam Hill does this even mean?

Senator Lamar Alexander sounds a lot like he is minimizing the stature of Barack Obama's mandate in the November elections, his party's dramatic losses nationally, and the sincerity of voter expectations for clear change in Washington:
“The change that people voted for was a change in management,” he said in an interview. “If they think the change the country elected them to provide was a lurch to the left, they’re in for a big surprise.”
On the one hand, Senator A. does not seem to grasp the concept that expecting government to be run like a business with an office manager-president is exactly what has entrenched our nation in the current economic quagmire. On the other hand, Lamar! is not being entirely honest. Cue the Monkey Cage:
The evidence is pretty strong that the [Obama] administration lies considerably to the right of the Democrats in the House, but is reasonably representative of Senate Democrats. But only Solis comes from the most liberal wing of the party. The center of the party is well represented in powerful positions by the president, vice-president, secretary of state, and WH chief of staff while the lower cabinet is filled with more moderate Democrats and a Republican. No wonder Nancy Pelosi is worried about being triangulated.
Sounds to me like Mr. Alexander is saying that voters simply want a different guy implementing more of the same policies of the last 8 years. If that's what he is jockeying for, the GOP going to be a weak opposition party. If this is what the leadership believes, it needs a tighter grip on reality.

Now, which car companies are failing?

Alabama's Republican Senator Richard Shelby has been contrasting the "failing" Big 3 Detroit car makers to the "successful" right-to-work companies of the south, like Toyota, which has an engine producing plant in Huntsville, AL, in his attempts to fight any bailout of the American auto industry.

While it might be convenient for Senator Shelby to suggest that Toyota is doing and managed well, the Japanese car company is losing money and "facing an unprecedented emergency." Will Shelby be calling for 60% of management and 40% of workers to go in Huntsville as he called upon the Big 3 or if things continue to "go south" for Toyota will Shelby broker for some of those bailout dollars?

Maybe It's Time to Refinance Our Mortgage and Test BoA's Claims

CNN has had a heck of a time trying to pin the bailed out banks down on how they're going to spend their taxpayer subsidized windfalls. But Bank of America's response is putting me in a testing mood:
CNN contacted the banks that were given the biggest chunks of the bailout: Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo and Bank of America.

The latter received $15 billion as part of the federal Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP).

Where the money went is not clear.

"We are using the TARP funds to build our capital and make every good loan that we can," Bank of America said. The bank said it expects to release more information in its fourth quarter earning report.
We have a good credit record and the resources to qualify for refinancing. I'm tempted to go see if Bank of America is really interested in making "every good loan it can."

Seeing Things That Aren't There

Taxing Tennessee looks at the same Sunday Commercial Appeal article on Memphis' outmigration that Enclave does and sees taxes as the reason for outmigration in spite of the fact that not one Memphis refugee interviewed claimed that taxes were their reason for leaving, in spite of the fact that one of their favorite places to move was Nashville, where tax rates are not particularly low.

It's the same old anti-revenue mantra: leap to the conclusion that taxes cause outmigration, but fail to provide data to back up that assumption. Even the CA's references to the suburbs hemorrhaging Memphians to other metropoleis failed to keep TaxTN from insinuating a connection between city taxes and outmigrations (which happen for various reasons). One former Memphian told the CA she moved to Atlanta, which seems to have a significantly higher property tax rate than Memphis, because of the prospect of having more money!

It Ain't Eight Ladies Dancing, But It'll Do

AIG has one of the largest airplane fleets among all the government bailed-out corporations: 7 planes a-pimping.

My Nominee for Best Local Media Quote of 2008

Former Nashville Scene reporter Matt Pulle's was head and shoulders above the rest:
I'm feeling very City-Paperish today. So let's do some speculating, even though I may not know what I'm talking about.
The Southcomm Set's coverage of the May Town Center proposal has not been exactly award-winning this year, but thank goodness a fellow-journalist called the CP out (as if getting called out by a Planning Commissioner weren't enough).

Whoopers Return to Bells Bend

2 of only around 400 existing whooping cranes are spotted again in one of America's last urban farmlands. Both the birds and the backcountry are likely to go away if developer Tony Giarratana and investor Jack May follow through with plans to build a "second downtown" on the Bend. However, Tony G. is having trouble executing plans to build a record-setting tower in the "first downtown," so maybe they should leave the Bend to the Whoopers.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Suburbs Hire "Lawyers, P.R. People, and Lobbyists" to Keep Trains Locked in Urban Neighborhoods

Here's a story about more suburban residents who demand the benefits of living in a service society without shouldering the responsibility.

Suburban neighborhoods tend to be NIMBY about homeless shelters, halfway houses, and government service delivery centers even as the economic diversity of the suburbs grows each year. With many suburban areas also becoming more urbanized and evolving into commercial nodes, it only makes sense that they should be willing to accept the transportation infrastructure that goes with such growth. Cities should not have to bear all of the costs of commerce. Unless they organize into those dreaded "community organizations," urban residents do not have the disposable wealth to challenge their suburban counterparts.

I would like to suggest that if wealthy neighborhoods do not want the burden of railways through their neighborhoods, then maybe their resources would be better spent on alternative and more expensive means of shipping goods and services straight to their enclaves.

I am sure it is because Bedford Falls had no house flippers or after hours clubs

Keep in mind that it did take supernatural beings from the outside of George Bailey's life to stop him from completely unraveling:
"It’s a Wonderful Life" is a terrifying, asphyxiating story about growing up and relinquishing your dreams, of seeing your father driven to the grave before his time, of living among bitter, small-minded people. It is a story of being trapped, of compromising, of watching others move ahead and away, of becoming so filled with rage that you verbally abuse your children, their teacher and your oppressively perfect wife. It is also a nightmare account of an endless home renovation.

Economists Caught with Their Pants Down

It appears that the academic field of economics is neither a hard nor an exact science:
Some [economists] warned of a housing bubble, but almost none foresaw the resulting cataclysm. An entire field of experts dedicated to studying the behavior of markets failed to anticipate what may prove to be the biggest economic collapse of our lifetime. And, now that we're in the middle of it, many frankly admit that they're not sure how to prevent things from getting worse.

As a result, there's a sense among some economists that, as they try to figure out how to fix the economy, they are also trying to fix their own profession.
I've taken heat here in the past from an academic economist who argues that my musings on economic relationships have little to do with what he does in the field of economics. If the Boston Globe writer's analysis is on target, it seems that his field has little to do with reality, because economists assumed that practical economic questions were answered. In a crisis, practical matters count as so much more than abstract games.

If by "Main Street," you mean "Top Executives"

That's how much banks paid their executives in salaries, bonuses and other benefits while handed taxpayer funded bailout capital despite their poor performance. One of the more frustrating disclosures is that some executives received up to $20,000 to defray cost of financial advisers, who provide a market advantage no one else gets in hanging on to windfalls the executives never earned. $20,000 is higher than the highest minimum wages in the country (Santa Fe and San Francisco).

No Love Lost for Rosa Parks at the Nashville Charrette

A Werthan Mills resident assumes there is a devaluing "minority stigma" associated with the name change of 8th Av. to Rosa Parks Blvd. His argument looks like a variation on the "black people lower property values" meme. I've lived in a mostly African American neighborhood adjacent to Werthan Mills for going on 5 years now and my property values have consistently gone up, and if they go down lately I believe it has more to do with the policies of George W. Bush than the name of Ms. Rosa Parks.

Full disclosure: I have not been uncritical of the renaming of 8th Av., which I believe was mishandled and not thoughtfully implemented, but I can find no hard evidence to suggest that naming streets has any affect on changes in property values.

Metro Memphis Losing Taxable Incomes to Nashville & Dallas-Fort Worth

It's not so much urban-to-suburban outmigration as metro-to-metro outmigration. The Commercial Appeal cites reasons for people leaving the greater Memphis area: lack of opportunity, ethnic divisions, lower wages, inflated prices, and cultural issues.

White House Cocktail Poison to Housing Market

George W. Bush paired faith in home ownership with the myth of an unregulated market to put us in the crisis we wake up to today. As a chaser, he hired a prep school friend to regulate the mortgage giants, but that regulator failed to wave a red flag as they were going down.