Tuesday, March 31, 2009

More Like a Second MetroCenter on Bells Bend

Scottsboro resident, Kathleen Wolff, who would be one of those most directly affected by the construction and congestion of May Town Center speaks out against a second downtown:
Inappropriate development will keep popping up if we don't do something. This community has spoken with a remarkably unified voice, but we have a modest per capita income and are struggling against immense outside wealth. Those deep pockets keep funding telephone push polls, glossy proposals and public-relations firms that try to rally support for MTC.

Should they be able to dictate a future of construction, traffic jams, noise and urban sprawl? Or should there be some mechanism by which this neighborhood's voice can be heard once and for all?

That is what Sen. Henry's proposal would do, with its "one-in-10, grandfathered in" and new provisions that allow current property owners to build on current lots regardless of size, or pass the land on to their children who can build on it or sell. Thereafter, development would be limited to one house per at least 10 acres.

The Beaman Park-Bells Bend corridor is a Nashville treasure, a spectacular community asset for all of us. The majority wants to keep it that way.

Senator Doug Henry Assures May Town Center Opponent

A Nashville Charrette commenter member attended last weekend's Tennessee Environmental Council fundraiser and crossed paths with the State Senator sponsoring legislation to protect all of Bells Bend from a second Downtown. Doug Henry told him that the fight to defend the Bend is not over.

Letting Homeless Alcoholics Drink in Shelters Saves Millions in Public Costs

JAMA report finds that sheltering homeless alcholics and permitting them consumption while sheltered not only keeps them out of prison and emergency rooms on the taxpayers' dime, but that long-term shelter living also decreases their consumption.

Sounds great if it keeps homeless imbibers off urban street corners in blighted areas. Let them consume in shelters, I say. Maybe beer companies could find more productive ways to help fund such shelters instead of subsidizing single-serve outposts that do nothing to help the homeless or the local neighborhoods.

And It Would Suck to Be Phoenix

According to the Christian Science Monitor, the housing price tumble continues:
According to numbers released Thursday, a 20-city average of home prices fell 2.8 percent in January, faster than the 2.6 percent drop recorded in December. Overall, the 20-city Case-Shiller index reported by Standard & Poor’s has fallen 19 percent in the past year and nearly 29 percent from its peak in 2006.

Bob Corker Returns White House Union-Busting Kindness with Posturing Hypocrisy

Tennessee GOP Senator Bob Corker must be jealous that the President is horning in at his anti-union whipping post, because he's telling the Tennessean that Obama's handling of GM is a power grab. That takes some nerve as Gail Kerr's favorite Senator has been attempting to oversee the makeover of General Motors for the last several months by helping the auto industry weasel out of union contracts.

I can't see anything but empty symbolism in Corker's overblown protest. His moves against unions and his protectionist advocacy of non-union shops (some of which are lined up for bailouts in their countries of origin; Corker's own beloved Volkswagen was the first German car maker to tap bailout Euros) make him look more like a kindred spirit to Obama's auto industry headhunter than an opponent.

The age-old art of moral equivalence

There isn't a single mainstream media outlet in Nashville expressing opposition to sprawling a second Downtown across rural Bells Bend, and while the Tennessean's Gail Kerr is not yet shilling and pimping May Town Center, today's column has me wondering what she's waiting for. A green light from Karl Dean?

Contemporary journalism tends not to rise above framing two sides in a controversy equivalently, so I'm not expecting much more critical lucidity about the facts of Bells Bend, Downtown Nashville, and CoolSprings. I suspect that Kerr will pick a side once a pet politician does, and most likely we will see the mainstream media in lockstep for development and automobilization of the Bend without any strict environmental or transportation limitations.

Pandering to the Anonymous Mob

PiTW demonstrates the more repugnant dimensions of blogging by listing and feeding Tennessee's internet trolls.

Aunt B suggests that the trolls may not be independent but beholden to mobilized-for-battle party factions. If that is the case, then PiTW is enabling some ugly partisan behavior rather than providing readers a forum to crowdsource news.

UPDATE: Southcomm looking to get in on some of that anonymous echo chamber action. Up those pageloads, boys.

How Barack Obama Will Help Bob Corker Realize a Dream

According to David Sirota, while the Obama administration is an advocate for contracts when they involve greedy AIG, it is digging the auto union's grave by appointing to auto industry oversight an investment banker/corporate raider (the President is buddied up to them, you know) who would just as soon shred union contracts into confetti and see retired autoworkers in abject poverty.

UPDATE:  captainkona takes exception to Sirota at ablogination.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Maybe the Wall Street bubble boy missed the memo

Matt Taibi dresses down another self-entitled commodities trader about the real world that most of us live in:
Out in the real world, when your company burns a house down, you're not getting paid by that client. It's only on Wall Street, where the every-man-for-himself ethos is built into an insanely selfish and greed-addled compensation system, that people like you expect to get paid in a bubble -- only there do people expect their performance bonuses no matter how much money the shareholders lose overall, no matter how many people get laid off after the hostile takeover, no matter how ill-considered the mortgages lent out by your division were ....

Only a person with a habitually overinflated sense of self-worth could think he deserves a $700,000 retention bonus, even if it has to be paid by taxpayers, when in reality no one "deserves" that much money. It may be that some people do get paid that much, but most people who make that much money have enough sense to realize their cushy lifestyles are an accident of fate, of birth, of class, not something that is "supported" by some unwritten natural law of compensation ....

Thanks to a completely insane, horribly skewed set of societal values that puts a premium on greed and severely undervalues selflessness, communal spirit and intellectualism -- values that make millionaires out of people like you and leave teachers and nurses, the people who raise your kids and clean your parents' bedpans, comparatively penniless -- you made a lot of money.

Peers of the Realm

Josh Marshall hazards some guesses on why the White House might terminate an automobile CEO while entertaining finance CEOs.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Good Question

David Sirota wants to know why Barack Obama fired an automobile CEO, but invites bank CEOs to the White House for photo ops.

Signs of Overcompensation

Charlie Tygard is about to reintroduce his effort to allow LED billboards into residential neighborhoods. So, what does he do? He rails in the Sunday Tennessean against the visual clutter of "illegal signs." This is not the first time CM Tygard has lead with a pro-"beautification" jab before pulling an unethical sign stunt of his own. During the 2007 council campaign, CM Tygard protested to the Tennessean about campaign sign clutter. Then he put up big campaign banners that encouraged people to "re-elect" him. CM Tygard, who was running as a first time at-Large candidate, had been term-limited out of his Bellevue council seat and could not legally be re-elected.

So, whenever Charlie Tygard sets you up in the mainstream media with distracting jabs about illegal signs, be on guard for an even bigger sucker punch, which will likely be re-introduction of his LED ordinance.

Words of Encouragement from Knoxville

At a time when spirits on the opposition side of Nashville's light emitting diode billboard battle may be flagging, one of Enclave's Knoxville commenters reminds us that the ban on LEDs and electronic messaging centers in that city was not instant or inevitable without a protracted fight:
This was a hard-fought battle that was finally won thanks to a group of dedicated folks at http://www.scenicknoxville.org/

There is currently a 6 month moratorium on digital billboards as well in Knox County. See more discussion here - http://www.knoxviews.com/node/10840
and http://www.knoxviews.com/node/6362

Keep fighting! Once people realize how intrusive they are, it will make it easier to rally neighborhoods.

Good luck.

More Bad Executive Oversight of Nashville's Economic Health

If you have not yet done so, you should add Brad Schrade's Tennessean piece on how Metro government has allowed developers to walk away from their obligations to build to your reading list of significant local stories this week.

These are bad problems that could turn worse for local neighborhoods and homeowners due to Metro Planning dereliction.

Witness the carnage and the $11 million that hangs in the balance:
The financial slump has made these unfinished developments a growing problem in Davidson County and across Middle Tennessee. They pose potential public safety and health issues, as areas become dumping grounds and roads sit incomplete. Residents are frustrated. And in Metro, the city in some cases has lost one of its key tools for remedy.

Metro auditors said last fall that a bonding program, managed out of the city's Planning Department, was lax and let certain securities expire that protected residents and taxpayers.

Developers are required to provide performance bonds or letters of credit issued by insurance companies or banks so that if they fail to complete roads, storm drains, sidewalks and other infrastructure in a new subdivision, Metro can get it finished at no expense to taxpayers.

By letting letters of credit expire, the city is unable to force money to be spent to finish such infrastructure in some stalled projects. That could mean even more waiting for residents.

At Keeneland Downs, for example, Metro allowed a $1.1 million letter of credit to expire last May.

Overall the city has about $11 million in surety bonds and letters of credit involving more than 60 projects that are incomplete or unresolved. About half the money involved relates to letters of credit that the city let expire through lack of oversight.
Ultimately, responsibility for the performance of Planning since 2007 falls on the Mayor's Office, but Schrade mentions several Planning Department problems that underscore the probability of top-down neglect: software and staff shortages and systemic communications barriers between Planning and other departments. Each of these deficiencies speak to Karl Dean's budget and administrative priorities.

The neighborhoods that are deteriorating and neglected are alarmed and they should be. The Mayor seems to have scaled back and demobilized the once prominent and responsive Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods (MOON), where Nashvillians could go and get some coordination. When was the last time you can remember seeing a quote from someone in MOON? I am aware of only two media articles that mention MOON since Karl Dean became Mayor: one from August 2008 and one from October 2007. That scant communication constitutes abandonment and benign neglect of neighborhood issues.

Neighborhoods should look at Schrade's report as a wake-up call and should start demanding to follow the pending expiration of letters of credit. Council members should not just be about promoting more developments, but tracking the status of projects to assure that their constituents are not put at greater risk by a government that is either supposed to regulate developers or required to following through with developments that go under.

But ultimately, the buck stops with the Mayor's Office. I cannot help but wonder whether Karl Dean has created a climate of leniency for developers with little or no regard for impact on neighborhoods.

Stepping into the Journalism's Investigative Breach

Witness the Huffington Post's new venture.

Nashville: Poorly Positioned Gateway in the Megaregion?

Facing South considers how Charlotte, NC is surging ahead of most of the Piedmont Atlantic Megaregion (PAM), but especially Atlanta, GA. Along with Miami, FL, Nashville is considered a "gateway" to the region.

Charlotte's rise in power is due to its commitment to infrastructure. Its new, well-planned light rail system set it up to pull in $8 billion in the Obama stimulus package set aside for development of railway transportation grids.

Nashville, by contrast, got some money for police, but nothing for mass transit that I know of. Is our Mayor too committed to private growth and not committed enough to public infrastructure to put us in a position to maximize available federal revenue?

Photo credit: Patriarca12

UPDATE: Christy and Freddie below assert against my ignorance that Nashville is getting stimulus money in millions for mass transit thanks to shovel-ready projects. So, I'll ask again: has this administration done everything possible to maximize available federal revenue? Billions (a billion equals 1000 million, right?) vs. millions seems like a huge disparity between Charlotte and Nashville.

UPDATE: Is my math correct here? If we got $14 million in stimulus for transit and Charlotte got $8 billion, did we actually receive less than one-quarter of 1% of Charlotte's haul for having an exemplary people moving system that the federal government wanted to invest more money in? Relative to what we could have received had we had a Charlotte-like grid, isn't our stimulus take inconsequential? If inconsequential is it not more likely to sustain Nashville's mediocrity?

CORRECTION: The math above is not correct because the $8B is the total Obama allocation to high speed rail nationally. Thanks to Freddie O for pointing out my error. I should have let common sense cue me that $8B is an incredibly high amount for one metro statistical area, let alone a state. According to another report, Charlotte is actually getting around $4 million more than Nashville for public transit, and transit officials there were disappointed that they did not get more to save some cancelled routes. Contra the rather rosy picture for Charlotte painted by the Facing South article, Obama's limitation of the $8B to high speed rail means that Charlotte's light rail and buses did not get any that went to North Carolina.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

City Of Buffalo under Scrutiny for Misused Block Grant Funds, Lack of Organization

A few days ago Birmingham provided an effective counter to the argument that states and localities are better judges for directing and overseeing federal block grant funds than the federal government itself. This morning the City of Buffalo, NY constitutes the latest horror story supporting the moral that federal subsidies better come with strings and obligations lest states and localities misuse and abuse them.

The Office of Housing and Urban Development defies anyone to grasp exactly what is happening to block grants that disappear down Buffalo's black hole:
  • "[T]he city’s approach to running the CDBG program is determined by a jury-rigged collection of draft memos, informal procedures, and guides generated within numerous individual departments."
  • There are no standards to judge whether Buffalo is in compliance with federal regulations, which opens up a Pandora's Box of deficiencies and abuses.
  • City employees not working on federal block grant projects are paid from block grant funds
  • $392,000 is being demanded back from HUD because it went to pay for employee paid leave categories.
  • While HUD sets the ceiling of salary expenditures from block grant funds at 20%, Buffalo is spending 50% of its block grants on employees.
  • Buffalo uses block grant funds to demolish buildings indiscriminately.
  • There is no strategy communicated on the use of funds to acquire and hold properties.
  • $2.6 million went to pay down a loan on construction of high-end loft developments.
  • $608,000 is stranded in accounts of loan-servicing neighborhood agencies that refuse to cooperate with HUD.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Operationalizing the Usefulness of Local Journalism

Jay Rosen asks you to help him keep count of how much local news is actually produced by ("originates at" may be a different question vis-à-vis local social media) newspapers so that he can quantify more precisely we're losing whenever local newspapers close.

TNDEM Party Treasurer Resigns

From the Tennessee Democrats:
Bill Freeman Resigns As Party Treasurer

Chairman Forrester Looks to Build Party Unity

NASHVILLE, March 27 -Tennessee Democratic Party Treasurer William H. "Bill" Freeman is stepping down effective immediately, Freeman and Chairman Chip Forrester announced today.

The decision comes as a result of several factors, Freeman said, including opposition to his appointment from some of the Democratic establishment.

"As I've made fund-raising calls in the last month, several long-time donors have expressed their concern to me that Governor Bredesen was not as supportive of me as I had hoped," Freeman said. "By resigning now, I hope I can take away some of the criticism the Party has faced recently and give Chip Forrester a better shot at rebuilding a relationship with the Governor and taking the Party in the direction that it needs to go."

Since his February 19th appointment, Freeman has been criticized for his past contributions to a few Republican candidates. Other commentators and Democratic activists have cited Freeman's support of FONCE (Family Owned Non-Commercial Entity) as a source of contention with the Governor, who is pushing legislation to close a tax loophole benefiting FONCEs.

Forrester, while reluctantly accepting his resignation, said he respected Freeman's decision.

"I think this has been a tough environment for Bill and a tough decision for him to make," said Forrester. "I appreciate him thinking about what is best for the Tennessee Democratic Party, and I sincerely hope to build a productive relationship with Governor Bredesen going forward."

Freeman is chairman of Freeman Webb, Inc., a real estate investment management and brokerage firm he founded with James A. Webb, III in 1979.

"Bill has done an outstanding job during his tenure with us," said Forrester. "Serving as a treasurer and raising money is a demanding role at any time, much less during a recession. Regardless, Bill proved himself to be a successful fundraiser. With his help, the TNDP has raised over $60,000 in March alone."

"My goal here at the TNDP remains the same: to build a strong organization that can help Democrats compete and win in 2010," Forrester continued. "The problems facing Tennessee are too great for me to lose focus that goal."

A replacement for Freeman has not yet been named. Forrester said he is beginning the search for a new treasurer immediately.

Council Candidate LaLonde Thanks Her Supporters

From the Kristine LaLonde campaign for District 18:
Yesterday was a big day for our campaign to bring dedicated, responsive, and inclusive leadership to Nashville’s Metro Council. Thanks to the efforts and support of hundreds of District 18 residents, we earned the most votes in a four-way race. Our campaign’s vision for District 18 and the larger community has resonated with many of you and I am both excited and humbled by your support. Thank you for making this initial victory possible ....

After a night of celebration and reflection, it is now time to continue with our campaign for our shared future. If I had the honor of your vote, I hope I will continue to earn your trust and support and that you will once again make it to the polls for the April 30th run-off election. Early voting will begin April 10th and end April 25th.

There will be further opportunities in the coming month to meet to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing our community and I hope you will be able to join me at one of our events. There will also be the chance to join our campaign team as we reach out to others through phone calls, meet and greets, and door-to-door conversations. If you would like to join the team, please email us at volunteer@kristineforcouncil.com.

If Amber LED Billboards are Permitted Now, Then Why Not Something More Animated & Vivid for Churches as Competition Stiffens?

Stacked and No Guts

An Enclave commenter discusses the vote results of the LED task force in passing CM Charlie Tygard's LED bill with CM Megan Barry's blessing:
The vote was 13 for, 1 abstaining, and 1 no.

Neighborhood leader Burkley Allen was the only one with the smarts to see through Tygard's master plan to get his LED signs everywhere, and the only one with the guts to stand up to him and vote NO.

This task force was stacked from the get-go. It did not represent the citizens of this city. The neighborhoods didn't even get to select their own representatives. They were hand picked by Tygard and Neighbors and now we see why. Didn't anyone ever wonder why the meetings were not televised or taped? On a decision with as much impact as this, citizens as well as council members were left in the dark if they could not meet downtown at 4pm when most people were still at work.

The task force was a charade created to give the illusion that the citizens gave their input regarding the issue and that they had a part in an unbiased decision making process. It was nothing more than great theatre with the final script written before the show ever started.

The recommendation from this task force should have no bearing on the decision that the Council makes regarding LED signs.

Considering this task force's recommendation as fair representation of the citizensof Nashville would be asking AIG executives to make a recommendation on the bailout money.

The citizens need to email all council members and tell them, "We do not want anymore LED signs period, and especially not near our neighborhoods."

Our council members need to have the courage to stand up for their constituents and vote on their behalf, not on behalf of a hand- picked group led by Tygard and sign industry executives.

Woodlawn Neighborhood "Dismayed" with Final LED Billboard Draft

Thanks to Belle Lowe Newton, President of Woodlawn Area Neighborhood Association, for CC'ing me her letter to CM Charlie Tygard protesting the final draft of his LED ordinance (not much different from the controversial first draft), which was rubber-stamped by the LED task force for introduction in Metro Council:

Dear Mr. Tygard,

The Woodlawn Area Neighborhood Association is most dismayed with the final LED draft ordinance and want to go on record with our strong opposition.

The fact that this ordinance will open up of every zoning district in Nashville to the possibility of LED signs is shocking and appalling. In reading Section 17.16.140, which describes the general conditions that all special exceptions have to fulfill, we now know that we would have to refer to these conditions to show the BZA how an LED sign negatively affects our homes, property and neighborhood. These include not adversely affecting other property to the extent that it will impair reasonable long-term use, and protecting persons and property from erosion, flooding, fire, noise, glare, or similar hazards. We are further disturbed to learn that although the BZA has the latitude to determine that an LED sign could be detrimental to a neighborhood, the fact that the majority of a neighborhood opposes such a sign would not be the determining factor in whether a sign of this nature is erected.

Of even greater alarm is that we feel you are so out of touch as to how the majority of taxpaying citizens feel about this extremely important issue. Stewart Clifton made the remark that you had convinced him that people really do want the signs. He said that "once they see it they will probably get used to it and ignore it. Since some signs look so bad now the LEDs would be an improvement." While this statement might be slightly paraphrased, it epitomizes what many citizens feel is wrong with Metro Government right now and that is an attitude of “we know what’s best for them” and that couldn’t be farther from the truth, especially with the LED issue.

Excuse me, Mr. Tygard, but it appears that many Metro Councilpersons are not voting the voice of their constituents and we urge you to reconsider this draft before taking it any further with the Metro Council.

The overwhelming majorities of many of our neighborhood associations believe that the city should be LED free, but, if you insist on having them, please resign these gaudy, atrocious signs into the remaining commercial, office, and shopping areas and allow agricultural and residential need to stay LED FREE.

We oppose LED signs in neighborhoods even with the protections described in the draft ordinance.

And, please know that we clearly understand the difference between these signs with all their protections and video signs. We know that you are not trying to put moving video screens on every street! I am attaching an example of a monument type sign that would be generally similar to what the proposed ordinance would allow. Even if it isn't as gaudy as the sign on I-65, it is still inappropriate in a neighborhood and even the less commercial areas around town.

We don't think a monument type LED sign with amber letters is appropriate for neighborhood even if it does turn off at 10 PM, and we are concerned about enforcement since there are over 50 signs that have been determined to be out of compliance with the existing ordinance.

To us, your way of thinking is like allowing a monster in our neighborhood. You think you can appease us by restricting the hours that the monster can live amongst us with his fiery eyes and restricted dress. Make no mistake, a monster of this nature, at any hour of the day or night, will not be welcome.

Listen to the taxpaying citizens, please. We don’t think you’re hearing us.

Thank you for all that you do for our fair city. We do appreciate your efforts very much, even though we strongly disagree with you on this potentially disastrous issue.


Bell Lowe Newton, President
Woodlawn Area Neighborhood Association
3950 Woodlawn Drive
Nashville, TN. 37205

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

City of Birmingham Ordered to Give Back Misused Federal Block Grant Funds

Here's another reason why federal oversight and control of federal funds sent to states and municipalities is not a bad thing (and why arguments that states and municipalities are always the best qualified to judge what federal funds should be spent on are ridiculous).

Birmingham, AL is required to pay back $780,000 in community development block grant funds, which were used to pay staff expenses and salaries while organizing events called "Neighborhood Fun Days" (unsanctioned by the Department of Housing and Urban Development). That's right neighbors: your infrastructure and quality of life may be crumbling around you heads, but Birmingham officials are paid to make sure you have fun amidst the ruins. Bread and circuses for everyone.

Concerns in the Black Church about the White House Office of Faith Based Initiative and Neighborhood Partnerships

A contributor to the Black Women's Roundtable asks:
Despite President Obama’s incredible national and global popularity, Black Church leaders may do well to ask a critical question. Will President Obama’s Faith Based Office seek to silence outspoken Black Church leaders through the enticement of social service grants? Or, will the President fund high quality service programs of even those Black clergy leaders who may at times disagree publicly with policy positions of his Administration.

And AT&T is regulated now?

R. Neal laughs at the TNGOP-backed AT&T bill designed to allow them to be even more inept than they already are. Why should regulations stand in the way of horrible telephone service?

Bad timing for this AT&T customer.  I just got off the third or fourth service maintenance call in the last few months due to malfunctions with our phone line, which they always warn us will cost about $90.00 if the problem is actually in our home (it never is). However, if we sign up for their maintenance plan, we won't have to pay the $90.00 in so many words (we probably would end up paying it over time anyway if we signed up for their service plan).

But objectively, why should AT&T be allowed to raise prices for directory assistance "in order to be competitive"? I thought the whole idea of being competitive was to lower prices. 1-800-Goog-411 offers free directory assistance. How is raising prices staying competitive with the competition? It sounds more like taking advantage of the customers who do not know about free directory assistance before the ignorance window closes on AT&T.

At Least One Tennessee City Council Unbowed to the Billboard Industry

Knoxville City Council goes where sign-industry-whipped Nashville Metro Council will not: banning both electronic message centers and LED billboards.

K-ville's ban opponents raise the same old tired arguments: they should be helping business. Wait a minute. In a "free" market, why should government be in the business of helping business?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The rabble's anger is not just "understandable." It's justifiable.

President Obama tries to strike a balance between ending "outsized rewards" of executives and discouraging "the rest of us" from "demonizing" every investor or entrepreneur:

I'm still trying to figure out when the rest of us demonized every investor or entrepreneur. I think the criticism of the extreme, even obscene degree of profit taking has been directly and properly leveled at AIG and other elites.

Metro Council Member Megan Barry Bails And Fails

A year or so ago when CM at-Large Megan Barry was still remotely interested in this constituent's opinion about developments that affect neighborhoods she asked for my response to Charlie Tygard's unabashed bid to bring LED signs to neighborhoods. I told her over the phone that I see a profound difference between putting an LED in a high-density urban neighborhood where the bright lights would be right on top of neighbors and putting one in a suburb like Bellevue, which is where all of Tygard's misfit ideas seem to start. I told her that the more pragmatic and winnable solution was to let density determine placement of LED signs, effectively drawing the line at urban neighborhoods.

Her response to me was that she believed that all neighborhoods should resist LEDs and she encouraged me not to draw the line between urban and suburban on the LED issue. She said that she intended to fight LEDs in all neighborhoods and that LED opponents needed to hang together to win. So, I abandoned my pragmatic solution of drawing a line at neighborhoods like mine and got on the bandwagon of opposing LEDs altogether because I trusted Megan Barry.

I won't do that again, because CM Barry's statements in today's City Paper indicate that she is in retreat on LEDs. Not only is she no longer standing up to CM Tygard in the press, but she voted to support the latest LED task force proposal that will create conditions in any precinct where we live to erect light emitting diode billboards without the consent of the impacted neighborhoods; many churches that can have these billboards do not draw from the hyper-local communities in which they sit, and thus, do not have any obligation to them.

Here is Nate Rau's account of Barry's eroded, hedged, and triangulated position on LED billboards:
Fellow at-large Councilwoman Megan Barry reiterated her concerns about sign ordinance enforcement by the Codes Department, although she voted in favor of the task force’s recommendations.

“I think it gives the Council some opportunity to have some discussion about what they want to see go forward,” Barry said. “I do agree that… we may have created a bat to kill a gnat and that’s a concern. It’s definitely a concern for all the neighborhoods because they don’t want to see these things in their neighborhoods. The reality may be that they’re not going to see them, I don’t know. We need to have a good discussion on Council.”
That is one feeble and runny response compared to the stiff bravado that Megan Barry expressed to me when CM Tygard began playing the advocate of the sign lobby. Whether CM Barry played or betrayed this constituent is up in the air. All I know is I will be less likely to jettison my pragmatism next time around, and I'm going to once again advocate drawing the line at high density neighborhoods, which may fit the Nashville Business Coalition's interest of dividing and conquering sign opponents.

However, don't lay the blame at any neighborhood leader on that score. Megan Barry is failing neighborhood opponents on LED signage. She is the one choosing not to lead. Guys like me are just trying to keep LEDs as far away from our homes as possible.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Prolonging the Inevitable on Wall Street and Making Things Worse for Main Street

U. of Texas government/business relations professor James Galbraith predicts dire consequences ahead with Obama's current trajectory of helping banks buy toxic assets:
When a bank's insolvency is ignored, the incentives for normal prudent banking collapse. Management has nothing to lose. It may take big new risks, in volatile markets like commodities, in the hope of salvation before the regulators close in. Or it may loot the institution -- nomenklatura privatization, as the Russians would say -- through unjustified bonuses, dividends, and options. It will never fully disclose the extent of insolvency on its own.

The most likely scenario, should the Geithner plan go through, is a combination of looting, fraud, and a renewed speculation in volatile commodity markets such as oil. Ultimately the losses fall on the public anyway, since deposits are largely insured ....

The oddest thing about the Geithner program is its failure to act as though the financial crisis is a true crisis -- an integrated, long-term economic threat -- rather than merely a couple of related but temporary problems, one in banking and the other in jobs.

That is some counterintuitive stimulus

Houston development sector's push to build farther out from employment centers helped leverage stimulus money from an Obama administration that has preached the end of suburban sprawl. The money will build a toll road to increase long-distance commutes to and from Houston and mar a rural prairie-land environment. Obama can only preach the end of sprawl, because the states determine how federal stimulus money will be spent. If they practice sprawl, then sprawl it is.

Southern "war of attrition" in housing market continues

On a day in which increased nationwide housing sales were credited with giving the stock market lift, the south continues to slump. Existing home sales in our region fell 16% in February, with median home prices dropping 10%.

Can of Whup Ass

In his inimitable style, Matt Taibbi underscores why a few weeks of righteous anger at the corporate bozos should not be lumped in comparisons with decades of greed:
People are pissed off about this financial crisis, and about this bailout, but they're not pissed off enough. The reality is that the worldwide economic meltdown and the bailout that followed were together a kind of revolution, a coup d'état. They cemented and formalized a political trend that has been snowballing for decades: the gradual takeover of the government by a small class of connected insiders, who used money to control elections, buy influence and systematically weaken financial regulations.

The crisis was the coup de grâce: Given virtually free rein over the economy, these same insiders first wrecked the financial world, then cunningly granted themselves nearly unlimited emergency powers to clean up their own mess. And so the gambling-addict leaders of companies like AIG end up not penniless and in jail, but with an Alien-style death grip on the Treasury and the Federal Reserve ....

The mistake most people make in looking at the financial crisis is thinking of it in terms of money, a habit that might lead you to look at the unfolding mess as a huge bonus-killing downer for the Wall Street class. But if you look at it in purely Machiavellian terms, what you see is a colossal power grab that threatens to turn the federal government into a kind of giant Enron — a huge, impenetrable black box filled with self-dealing insiders whose scheme is the securing of individual profits at the expense of an ocean of unwitting involuntary shareholders, previously known as taxpayers.
The stark reality of our condition is that those who should be suffering in the ruling class are not. They've insulated themselves against risk and harm, and the insulation includes the workforce and taxpayers. Terrorists didn't have to fire a shot to threaten representative government. It is crumbling from within, thanks to the influence purchased by Wall Street.

Patently Ridiculous Spin at the WSJ

In the same article that states that bankers acknowledge that the Bush administration looked up to and admired Wall Street, the Wall Street Journal reports that the Obama is looking to tamp down populist resentment against callous bankers who keep credit markets closed in order to make friends with the financial industry (note: I'm not advocating that we return to the credit bubble days that got us in this mess, but freeing up sane credit for customers and infrastructure would be nice).

What's the problem with that you say? Banks were unwilling to open credit markets under a previous administration that venerated Wall Street. Banks are unwilling to open credit markets under an administration that initially tried to take a tougher stand. The problem is that it doesn't matter whether the banks have a kinder and gentler administration or not. They're only going to pass along the bailout largess from the government when they have first satiated their own desires, and then when they are good and darn well ready to do so (unless, of course, a bigger power calls their bluff).

Now that the media and the Obama administration are in reaction formation to the banks' hard line against popular resentment, both look like they're going to soften to the bluff rather than hold a line. The chance for real reform and regulation of our broken financial system looks as remote to me now as it did under Wall Street-friendly Dubya; and today's historic rise in the stock market counts neither as reform nor regulation.

So, shaming and stigmatizing greed looks pretty effective

Amazing what some public outcry, a 90% tax "claw back," and an Attorney General's investigation can do to motivate 9 out of 10 bonus recipients to give taxpayer money they did not earn back.

Doesn't allay concerns that Mayor is too cozy with developers

John "Raising McCain" Rich describing how Karl Dean is cool with his behemoth mansion on Love Circle:
Mayor Dean has thanked me multiple times for building my house in Nashville, not out in the country somewhere where no one could see it, because he feels like it's a good thing for the town. You're still buying your eggs down there at the Vandyland grocery store and you're out walking your dog, and whatever you're doing.

The Treasury's Version of the Flying Spaghetti Monster

Ezra Klein argues that the Obama administration's mortgage rescue plan involves guessing at the price of toxic assets and then laundering the guess through corporate investors demanding a huge payoff to participate. The Treasury is assuming that risk aversion will naturally lead to fair pricing. It sounds like another version of blind and misdirected faith in the market to me.

The people at the table are the ones who created the financial problem in the first place

Nobel Prize-winning economist Joe Stiglitz tells Josh Marshall that lending institutions treat our malaise as a crisis in confidence rather than a real economic crisis and they are doing nothing to produce positive results for taxpayers while hoarding federal subsidies for themselves:

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Maybe John McCain actually won after all

Paul Krugman maintains that the Obama administration essentially believes that the fundamentals of our economy are strong by launching a $1 trillion plan to buy toxic assets by offering low-interest loans. The Nobel Prize-winning economist begrudges the Treasury its plan and puts it in perspective:
In effect, Treasury will be creating — deliberately! — the functional equivalent of Texas S&Ls in the 1980s: financial operations with very little capital but lots of government-guaranteed liabilities. For the private investors, this is an open invitation to play heads I win, tails the taxpayers lose. So sure, these investors will be ready to pay high prices for toxic waste. After all, the stuff might be worth something; and if it isn’t, that’s someone else’s problem.

Or to put it another way, Treasury has decided that what we have is nothing but a confidence problem, which it proposes to cure by creating massive moral hazard.
You ready to risk some more of your money while the wealthy financial firms rake in the benefits?

UPDATE: And, as if getting no-risk, positive yield government assistance were not enough, financial industry executives are now threatening to demand guarantees that their compensation will be limitless and that they will be free from government regulation in exchange for going along. Honestly. Of all the arrogant postures to take. Who do these people think they are that they are entitled not just to government support, but to government support on their terms?

TVA employees go on beer runs and all I got was a $20 extra payment on my last electric bill

If the Tennessee Valley Authority can afford to use their business-related credit cards to purchase alcohol, TVs, and software, how come they can't afford to supply our house with electricity without charging us a "TVA fuel cost adjustment" each month?

Memphis Banker Gets Golden Parachute

If the unions can sacrifice their pensions, why can't Memphian Regions Banker G. Douglas Edwards sacrifice his $8.6 million severance package given the poor performance of the financial sector?

Would it really kill Banker Edwards to give up his golden parachute? After all, this is a guy who less than a year ago could afford to donate $5,000 to his trade industry's political action committee during the primary campaign cycle. That PAC donated to Tennessee Republicans like Bob Corker and Blue Dog Democrats like Jim Cooper (who ran unopposed). Edwards is now riding his golden parachute into his new position as Chair-Elect of that trade association to raise even more money to lobby for the interests of bankers in federal and state governments.

What do the peasants on Main Street know about running a financial system?

CNBC anchor demonstrates why those embedded in Wall Street culture assume that you require them more than they require you:

Saturday, March 21, 2009

O'Dubya on Detainees

Still no good news on the Obama Administration's detainee policy. I frankly don't see a huge shift from the president has the inherent right to detain to the Congress gives the president the right to dictate detention:
Conceding that the Obama Administration has made “a partial retreat” from Bush Administration claims of power to detain indefinitely individuals rounded up in the “war on terrorism,” lawyers for a group of detainees argued on Friday that the new government is still asserting too much authority. The President, they contended, is engaging in “impermissible law-making” by the Executive Branch, intruding on Congress’s powers ....

The new leaders of the Justice Department contended that, while no longer asserting “inherent” presidential power to detain without charges, the President has authority under the resolution Congress enacted after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

But, the detainees’ counsel responded, that resolution (formally, the Authorization for Use of Military Force, or AUMF) does not go that far. “Congress did not intend the AUMF as a blank check to the President,” they argued.

Bonus Babies Worse Than First Thought

Bank losses at the end of 2008 have been revised up to $32.1 billion from $26.2 billion. FDIC expects bank failures to cost us $40 billion over the next 4 years.

Friday, March 20, 2009

An Economist's Summa Theologiae & the AIG Principle of Double Effect

Not that he is attempting to mimic Thomas Aquinas, but Paul Krugman speaks to the gray necessity of sometimes employing a circumscribed evil to redeem some sort of good:
Preliminary thoughts on the tax bill:

1. It’s not the way you should make policy — it’s clumsy, and it will punish some innocent parties while letting the most guilty off scot-free

2. But — there wasn’t much alternative at this point. And for that I blame the Obama people ....

This was bad analysis, bad policy, and terrible politics. This administration, elected on the promise of change, has already managed, in an astonishingly short time, to create the impression that it’s owned by the wheeler-dealers. And that leaves it with no ability to counter crude populism.
I think that the ambivalence that the Obama people have shown towards populism going back to the campaign has boxed them into a corner of appearing to defend corporate interests. Their biggest challenge in the face of rising popular resentment is to develop a chastened populism that does not encourage pitchforks and torches, but also succeeds as a substantive advocate for ordinary Americans who will never see a bonus in their lives, let alone a government subsided bonus.

I can't stop laughing at this one

Christopher Walken makes it a feel good Friday via Twitter:
There's a kid on a Pogo stick in front of my house. It's nearly midnight so let's assume he's been drinking. This should end well for him.

A cost of Nashville's cushion from the country's housing market malaise?

We've been fed the "good news" from Realtors® and media about how the implosion of the housing market has only lightly touched Nashville. And now for gray cloud behind the local chorus's silver lining. Smell the coffee homeowners.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Today's Infamous Anniversary

6 years ago tonight we went to war in Iraq. Editor & Publisher's Greg Mitchell marks the anniversary with a reminder of how right a progressive and one of the few critics in the media was on that night a half-dozen years ago:
In his regular [NY Times] column, [Paul Krugman] hit nearly every nail on the head in predicting what would follow. Yet consider the scorn he has had to endure from so many in the years since, who got it nearly 100% wrong.

Here are some brief excerpts.

"Of course we'll win on the battlefield, probably with ease. I'm not a military expert, but I can do the numbers: the most recent U.S. military budget was $400 billion, while Iraq spent only $1.4 billion.

"What frightens me is the aftermath -- and I'm not just talking about the problems of postwar occupation. I'm worried about what will happen beyond Iraq -- in the world at large, and here at home.

"The members of the Bush team don't seem bothered by the enormous ill will they have generated in the rest of the world."


"Victory in Iraq won't end the world's distrust of the United States because the Bush administration has made it clear, over and over again, that it doesn't play by the rules ... nor, as we've just seen, is military power a substitute for trust ...

"Meanwhile, consider this: we need $400 billion a year of foreign investment to cover our trade deficit, or the dollar will plunge and our surging budget deficit will become much harder to finance -- and there are already signs that the flow of foreign investment is drying up, just when it seems that America may be about to fight a whole series of wars" ....

So most Americans have no idea why the rest of the world doesn't trust the Bush administration's motives. And once the shooting starts, the already loud chorus that denounces any criticism as unpatriotic will become deafening.

"So now the administration knows that it can make unsubstantiated claims, without paying a price when those claims prove false, and that saber rattling gains it votes and silences opposition.
I remember that I was at home in bed recuperating from a ghastly injury six years ago, and my generally depressed mood considering my personal circumstances made me a resigned realist about the powers and their wars for oil. I couldn't hear guys like Paul Krugman at the time for the din of sabers rattling to march off to the desert. I appreciate Greg Mitchell calling them to mind on this anniversary, especially now that the chickens are coming home to roost with the global economic downturn.

Nashville AIG Subsidiary Shamed by Reputation of Its Parent Company

A local insurance headquarters is no longer satisfied to be branded with the bailout equivalent of scarlet letters: AIG (a company that has been insisting that it pay its Gordon Gecko executives huge bonuses with taxpayer dollars). They have scrubbed and veiled the AIG trademark on their signs to boost their sales. Look for AIG to rebrand itself very soon, too.

Kudos to Jim Cooper

The Blue Dog Dem voted to support a 90% tax on bonuses of over $250,000 at bailed out businesses.

But, geez. Even a $250,000 bonus seems like a remote luxury to a common sap like me.

Don't Expect to Read This on CNBC's Masthead

From T. S. Eliot's Choruses from The Rock (1934):
All men are ready to invest their money
But most expect dividends.
I say to you: Make perfect your will.
I say: take no thought of the harvest,
But only of proper sowing ....

When the Stranger says, "What is the meaning of this city?
Do you huddle close together because you love each other?"
What will you answer? "We dwell together
To make money from each other?" or "This is a community?"

Not the Bonus Amounts, But the Driver's Seat in the Balance

Josh Marshall underscores why the AIG crisis is Obama's first significant crisis of leadership:
the real issue of who's in control, and whose interests are being served, cuts through every dollar we've dedicated to this project. And when you look closely at the much bigger AIG counter-party issue, the same disconnect is there every bit as much as it is with the bonuses.

Whether Geithner and Summers are too close to the people on Wall Street, either through interest or affinity, is an interesting and possibly important question. But fundamentally Obama needs to start showing that he's in charge, that he's operating as the American people's advocate and that he has the power to do it -- which these stories of getting jacked up by some Gordon Gecko wannabes in London just terribly undermines.
Past the issue of amounts of money is indeed the issue of power and who exactly is going to control the flow of our money. If Obama does not the Geckos of the world will.

Way Late Adopters

NYU's Jay Rosen with the media quote of the day:
More and more journalists are taking up blogging. But skeptics ask: can a few corporate newsies *replace* what hundreds of indy bloggers do?

UPDATE: Okay, we've got an honorable mention:
maybe people would be less likely to take a show on Comedy Central so fucking seriously if real news organizations, you know, the kind that tend to run for 24 hours, did actual reporting rather than let us know what their Twitter followers are thinking.

So much for mea culpa and come to Jesus

So, Jim Cramer did not authentically and honestly take the high road on the Daily Show? He was "brought up" that way and believes "all of us" should try harder? "All of us" did not mislead TV audiences on Bear Stearns or Lehman Brothers stock, Jim. "All of us" do not pimp stocks by any means necessary, Jim. The only thing I need to "try harder" to do is question CNBC without giving it a second thought.

A one-sided affair

They'll woo us on the ice, and stiff us off.

As for lack of oversight on contractual obligations: the buck stops with the Mayor, who took credit for a new contract in 2007. The Dean Administration has been citing the economic downtown for other recent policy changes; I would say hard fiscal times is sufficient reason to collect the $400,000 that the Dean/Predators contract says the hockey club owes the city. The Mayor owes it to us to be the enforcer on this score.

I understand that loyal fans don't want to risk upsetting Preds management, but we have got to put priorities like schools and infrastructure in front of sports and entertainment.

Nashville 22nd among Population Gainers

But the economy is stifling migration as suburban and exurban housing booms are now but a memory.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Riverfront Plan Blog Thanks West End CM for Assist

Reportedly, longstanding design plans for the Phase I Adventure Park of the Riverfront plan had been scrubbed from the Nashville.gov[ernment] website. The Riverfront Plan blog gives props after they return:
We are grateful to Councillady [Emily] Evan's efforts to get the plan posted. Although neighbors had noted its absence in comments to MDHA, it was only after Councillady Evans requested it that MDHA posted the Adventure Park schematics to the Parks website. Councillady Evans now stands with a united front of East Nashville councilmembers who support the original plan as well as councilmembers across the county who recognize that the Adventure Park benefits the rest of Nashville far more than renovations to the existing parks on the west bank.

AIG CEO Refuses to Guarantee that He Will Comply with Investigation

Yeah. I'm sure that he really hates to be evasive.

Arbitrary and Capricious Insurance

What sets millionaires apart from slumdogs:  insurance companies respond to some catastrophes by embracing legal obligations to contracts with the former; they respond to other catastrophes by shunning their legal obligations to contracts with the latter. 

Tennessee Attorney General Opines Bell Bend Conservation Bill Sound

Michael Cass blogs with the news that State Senator Doug Henry's bill is likely constitutional. One hurdle down for those opposing May Town sprawl. What doesn't hurt proponents of conservation on the Bend helps them.

Blue Dogs II, Electric Boogaloo

Conservative Indiana Democrat, Evan Bayh, who recently embedded sewer earmarks in the 2009 spending bill after fighting earmarks, is cloning a new Blue-Dog-style society of conservative Democrats in the Senate to oppose the liberals, but he won't divulge names.

Our tireless news team here at Enclave has obtained exclusive footage of the rites of this new super-secret society, which will no doubt put progressives on double secret probation once they finish their hazing rituals:

Okay. I made up that last part about the clip being exclusive footage of Blue Dogs II.

Metafilters to the Media Elite's Filters

Christopher Smith on the true voices-in-the-wilderness contra a media elite in decline:
The Daily Show succeeds because it is the only show on which views from outside the sphere of legitimate debate can be aired and find an audience. It’s comedic basis disarms the critics.

The people who regularly watch The Daily Show treat it as an end of the day metafilter for the news coverage they just consumed. Whether the views aired on The Daily Show are about shoddy financial reporting, corporate media complicity in governmental shenanigans or lazy journalism; the show serves as a cultural touchstone for people who know the whole media spectacle is a sham. Stewart has the only show on which there is even a mild analysis of those who deign to keep the “news” centrally controlled ....

The Stewart/Cramer discussion, as ancillary as it might seem to the greater crisis, was one of the first mainstream cracks in that veneer of always having the media define the boundaries of the argument.

Blogs and new media have been eating away at that veneer for quite some time and that’s why newspapers are suffering. Their inability to recognize the critical flaw in their coverage when the people are starting to demand more. Sure, they are having trouble with costs, scale and declining revenue, but the problem with their content precedes all of those things.
Blogs and new media have been corrosive on the media's pretense because they rushed in to fill vacuums left by media practice regarding critical questions, the local impact of politics, where money comes and goes, etc. Smith's critique is spot on, but I would add the caveat that social media did not necessarily set out with an eye to eroding the mainstream media's influence. They start out pragmatically to address problems that mainstreamers ignore. In my case, when the problems are pushed to the foreground and the mainsteamers continue to ignore them, then I begin to have an interest in throwing off the filters of the media gatekeepers.

HT:  Jay Rosen

She blinded me with science

TSU welcomes the "rural-urban interface" that sprawl on Bells Bend would bring with the May Town Center development. And who said that scientific research should be value-neutral, unbiased, and double blind? Science does maintain consequentialist values, that is, research by means practically at its disposal to serve academic ends. So, if developers commence with paving over and glutting rural farmland with sprawl-style auto traffic so that science can study the process of urbanization/suburbanization on agriculture, then Bells Bend serves as a proper petri dish for scientific gaze. "Just think about how much we will learn about conservation" becomes the justification of refusing to conserve rural Bells Bend. Science is not without its own irrational inconsistencies or its own economic self-interests that taint its claims to objectivity.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Council President Pro Tem Greg Adkins Redefines "To Regulate" as "To Punish"

Apparently, the writers of our Metro Charter should have held off several decades and talked with Council Member Greg Adkins before writing that the Metro Board of Health should exercise administrative functions pertaining to the regulation of privately owned institutions for the purpose of sanitation and public health. CM Adkins, who while filling in for Vice Mayor Diane Neighbors broke the tie to move an anti-regulation bill on to second reading, obviously has a better grasp of how the Health Department should function than did the writers. After all, this is what he just told the Tennessean tonight:
In this day and age of where we are with the economy, I don’t want to punish restaurants in any way, shape or form
Well, perhaps Metro should also stop doing those health inspections and scoring restaurants on hygiene and food storage. If regulation amounts to punishment, why ask the Board of Health to apply and enforce any rules?

Greg Adkins should have made a more presidential argument for his tie-breaker (which could eventually constitute a veto of Health Department rules, if this bill passes all three readings) than "regulation equals punishment."

Ah, the well-used wormholes between journalism and government communications apparatuses

Former Bush Administration deputy press secretary joins the CNBC Business News scheme.

Good times.

11 Millionaires Who Got "Retention" Bonuses Are No Longer at AIG

You know that executive logic that says they need to pay high bonuses to attract and retain while staving off brain drain? It's practically an urban myth. One of those who left did so with a $4.6 million bonus in his pocket. So, should we just shut-up and expect future bonuses to raise to a $10 million level?

UPDATE:  AIG did not buy into the brain drain hypothesis as late as 2003.

100% Tax to Reclaim AIG Bonuses?

A Harvard law professor insists to the Atlantic's blog that it would not be hard or unconstitutional for the federal government to "claw back" the London bonuses as long as the relevant legislation was general, regulatory, and nonretributional. I say go for it.

Goodpasture Christian Gets Its Spot-zoning for LED

Despite requests by opponents to defer the final vote for a week until the LED Task Force made its recommendations, Metro Council approved an LED billboard in a spot-zoning move that they usually criticize.

It is noteworthy that during the debate, CM Bruce Stanley told council tonight that he has received a legal opinion that zoning SP to allow LED signs would set a precedent for future actions by council members to spot-zone SP to allow LEDs even in residential neighborhoods.

Charter Fight Tonight at Metro Council Meeting

CM Erik Cole pulled Tim Garrett's bill to deny Metro Health's rule requiring restaurants with over 15 locations in Nashville to post the calorie count of its fare. Generally, bills are not pulled off the consent agenda on first reading.

Opponents of Garrett's bill (Cole and Jason Holleman) argued that the Metro Charter establishes the Health Department to appoint a board of medical professionals and citizens to write rules regarding the health and safety of Nashvillians. Garrett's supporters argued that Metro Health was "usurping" the power of Metro Council to vote on these rules. Michael Craddock called the rules an attack on personal responsibility and he criticized the burden that the rules would put on business.

Here's what the Charter says about the Council's authority and power:
The council is authorized to legislate with respect to the powers of the metropolitan government granted by article 2 hereof, except as otherwise provided in this Charter; and by ordinance to provide for the organization, conduct and operations of all departments, boards, commissions, offices and agencies of the metropolitan government, when the same has not been provided for by this Charter.
Here's part of what the Charter says about the Board of Health:
The board of health, through its chief medical director, shall exercise all the administrative functions of the metropolitan government pertaining to ....
The physical and mental health of the people .... The regulation of publicly and privately owned institutions for the purpose of sanitation and public health .... The enforcement of reasonable rules and regulations promulgated as herein provided.
It seems to me that the Charter already provides that Metro Health can regulate business for the purpose of public health, so claims that Metro Health is usurping Metro Council are exaggerated.

President pro tem Greg Adkins, who is filling in for Vice Mayor Diane Neighbors, first called for a voice vote to approve or deny the bill on first reading. CM Adkins is a co-sponsor of Garrett's bill. Another CM called point of order and asked for a roll call vote, which CM Adkins granted after getting agreement from 5 CMs. The roll call vote was split 14-14-1 on first reading, which left it to the Chair to break the tie. CM Adkins voted to approve Garrett's bill on first reading.

Jim Cramer Just the Stock-Picker Tip of Business Journalism's Tainted Iceberg

Last Friday on The Newshour, two journalists tried to use CNBC stock picker Jim Cramer, who did not have the best week last week, as a foil and distance their brand of business news from CNBC's notorious reputation for unreliable stock market coverage. The guy from Business Week maintained that they wrote critical stories on the financial sector rather than merely hawking financial stocks. The syndicated columnist agreed and complained that when newspapers act as "a voice in the wilderness" nobody pays attention, so they give up.

Leave it to the Columbia U. professor, whose academic journal is monitoring journalists. For him the problem boils down to one of power:
There were good stories about warning about housing bubbles, also good stories about dangerous mortgage instruments, consumer-type stories.

But I think, when you look back at the record, you'll see that confronting powerful institutions about their lending practices, not to mention Wall Street, was inadequate.

"Washington Mutual is using creative retail approach to turning the banking world upside down," Fortune in 2003. "Sachs Appeal: Goldman Sachs has Emerged from the Market Bust as a Trading Colossus," Forbes, 2007. You could really pick any number of these stories.

And what you're looking at there are stories that aren't really warnings, but, in fact, is the opposite. They're basically saying, hey, these institutions are all clear.
I thought that the academic put journalism's problem in a larger context than that of the journalists, who were strictly focused on cherry-picking counter-examples to CNBC's coverage and complaining about how hard critical reporting is. Of course it is. If it weren't it would not matter so much.

Exactly what are they hanging on to again?

Treasury-picked AIG Chairman Edward Liddy did not just defend $100 million in bonuses to go to the London office that brought the insurance company to its knees at the very precipice of bankruptcy because they were contractual. He actually had the nerve to defend them by saying that they need the big bonuses to retain that big talent they have over there in London. Only in laissez faire la-la land can you justify hanging on to the big talent that you got your company sacked by paying them extra for nearly getting your company sacked.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Those Tiny Little Piggies

For all of Tennessee Democrat Jim Cooper's righteous indignation about earmarks and his refusals to bring any more to Middle Tennessee, it sure looks like the teeth-gnashing is much ado about little. That legislative pork makes up 1% of the entire federal budget. It's like a sensationalist, distracting sideshow to pay so much attention to such a tiny fraction of the budget.

So, one moderate blogger has a proposal:
Instead of forcing legislators to hide earmarks inside their various legislative efforts, let’s just agree to put them all into one annual bill called “Special Spending.” The bill’s total would equal about 1% of total federal spending for each fiscal year and would be passed only after all other budgetary legislation has been completed.

All Congressional members would be free to bargain, cajole, trade, and negotiate the types and amounts of all their specific projects in this one piece of legislation. The Press and American public would finally find earmarks all in one place and eventually could reward or punish their legislators in the next elections. Each “earmark” would also have to list all its Congressional sponsors in order to be inserted in the total bill.
I could get on board with this proposal, but I do not see many conservatives going along with this because they get so much more mileage out of exaggerating the size and effects of pork brought back to constituent districts. It seems like Blue Dog Democrats would cease to exist if there weren't any earmark-laden non-earmark-related bills to get all hot-under-the-collar about.

Bailing Out Peter to Subsidize Paul

The details on the financial black hole that AIG's London hedge fund betters are pulling us down:

SC Electric Company Leaches Toxins into Environment with Fly Ash Road

South Carolina's Santee Cooper Utility Company used 425 tons of coal ash on an unpaved road leading to the leaching of carcinogenic arsenic and selenium at rates high above EPA standards. What are the chances TVA has done likewise here in Tennessee?

And 54 Possible Tennessee-Style Coal Ash Spills on the Same Drawing Board

15 states have plans to build 54 new coal-fired energy plants (Texas has 8 on the drawing board), which would generate 18 million tons of the same coal ash that the Tennessee Valley Authority flooded Kingston with in December. They all must be thinking it could never happen to them.

Do Not Pass Hubris. Do Not Collect $200.

A former reporter at DMI blog insists that the financial effectiveness of newspapers carried the seeds of their own demise:
As information gatekeepers, newspapers decided what stories to sell each day and those decisions were often driven by forces other than editorial judgment. Ads were sold at exorbitant rates because space was scarce and demand was high. Newspapers grew from family businesses to public companies; in the process, they succumbed to typical market demands, catering to advertisers and investors and ignoring the less lucrative needs of readers.

Publishers who lived through the corporate heyday of newspapers viewed the Internet’s power to transform news reporting and news consumption as a direct threat, something to challenge and defeat, but as monopolists they weren’t fully prepared for the competition.

The mainstream media adopted online news only after the information gatekeepers begrudgingly filed their own stories of failed monopoly capitalism. For many papers, like the Rocky Mountain News, this revelation has been too little, too late.

“Why a once-profitable industry suddenly seems as outmoded as America's automakers is a tale that involves arrogance, mistakes, eroding trust and the rise of a digital world in which newspapers feel compelled to give away their content,” Washington Post media columnist Howard Kurtz wrote the other day.

You Can't Pay for that Kind of Advertising and the New York Mets Won't Either

I think municipal authorities should capitalize off corporate profits connected with naming sports stadiums. Take the New York City's refusal to rename a subway station at the Mets new ballpark after "Citi Group," which paid $20 million for naming rights. It's bad enough that Citi is both bailed out and splurging on the naming rights. However, if publicly subsidized companies are going to benefit from free municipal advertising every time trains pass through the station or someone looks at a subway map, then the public should get a cut for providing that service. If sports franchises like the Mets refuse to cough up a percentage, then cities should find creative ways to write corporate sponsors out of the free advertising.

Deep Thought

The chances that a Tennessean columnist would describe the Riverfront design plan as "cooked up" by an internationally renowned designer is inversely proportional to the chances that she actually witnessed the public forum process with the designer two years ago.

Milking the Clock on Nashville's Riverfront Plan

The Riverfront Plan blog found Mayor Karl Dean's pronouncements on the plan in Gail Kerr's Sunday column lacking and ponders what the Mayor was really doing asking for more time to look at the proposals without having to deal with heated online commentaries outside of those he sanctioned at nashville.gov[ernment]:
Frankly, Mayor Dean, the only reason our community was willing to give you the space you asked for to consider the original plan was because you committed to completing all 19. If you're willing to acknowledge now that you don't have the money for the projects at the bottom of the list, doesn't that make your true intentions about the Adventure Park insultingly clear? If there is not enough money to do the whole plan, you need to prioritize the parts of the plan that attract the most new tourists, raise the most revenue and impact in the most positive ways the environment you promised us you'd prioritize when we elected you Mayor.

The Mayor's Office can't seem to remember why it was that they called for changes to the plan. At first, they said that the economic downturn required the change, an argument that doesn't stand given that the Plan B they've recommended is more expensive than the original Riverfront Plan. Then, on March 7th at the public meeting, Owens said that it was because the west bank allowed for MDHA to link to buried phone lines. Last week, Owens told a reporter that MDHA wanted to change the sequence to make sure they weren't just offering the Mayor a "variation on a theme."

There is a difference between a real assessment and what increasingly looks like an effort to find reasons to defend the decision the Mayor has already made: to disregard 16 months of public input, the efforts of a thousand Nashvillians and the recommendations of a professionally-designed plan for which we paid a half-million dollars in exchange for something that he just likes a little better.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

How Mayor Karl Dean's Water Fee Increases Unfairly Burden Small Businesses in Nashville

To get a grasp on what exactly happens to residences and small and large businesses in the Mayor's proposed water fee increase bill up for its third and final vote on Tuesday, go read blogging CM Emily Evans fine essay chocked full of details and analysis. The approach that she favors--ERU, which essentially means, "the more you pave, the more you pay"--was rejected both by the Mayor and by 24 council members (including 4 of 5 at-Large members) on second reading.

CM Evans underscores the issue of unfairness in the Mayor's bill:
Small businesses in the first two tiers [of the Mayor's proposal] occupy about 5% of the non-residential impervious area in Davidson County but will pay over 17% of the stormwater fees. Large property owners like Western Express, Opryland Hotel, Opry Mills occupy 15% of the impervious area but will only pay 3% of the stormwater fees. Under the ERU approach all property owners would pay in direct proportion to the amount of impervious area they owned. So, the folks in those bottom tiers would pay 5% of stormwater fees for 5% of impervious area and the folks at the top of the heap would pay 15% of stormwater fees for 15% of the impervious area ....

In another departure of accepted practice, the administration determined that how you own your non-residential impervious area should be major consideration in determining your stormwater fee. So, if you own your impervious area in multiple parcels because you have acquired it over many years or because your business is spread out all over town, then you pay more than if you owned it in one parcel. A business like Aerostructures will pay $400 a month because they have 3.5 million sf of impervious area on one parcel while SCI North Carolina will pay about $1,500 a month for the same impervious area on 10 parcels. Dupont in Old Hickory has about the same impervious area as Opry Mills but will be paying twice as much because their property is divided into 8 parcels.

The administration defended abandoning the ERU recommendation in favor of the tiers because they did not want to saddle large businesses that were laying people off with big stormwater fees. Of course, institutions like Fisk and Meharry will pay more under the administration's plan but hey, at least they were being honest.
So, the Mayor and 24 council members (including progressives Ronnie "Nashville's-Best-Days-Are-ahead-of-Us" Steine, and Megan "I-Will-Be-Your-Voice-on-the-Metro-Council" Barry) appear to accept that endangering the livelihood of small and diffuse businesses by disproportionately saddling them with the highest maintenance charges for upkeep of the stormwater system is preferable to layoffs at big businesses. I'm sure it does not hurt that big businesses are capable of kicking in greater campaign donations next election time.

UPDATE: Looks like I was wrong about the giving potential of big business at campaign time given that most of them were actually supportive of the "more pave, more pay" approach to stormwater fees. CM Emily Evans wrote me to say that most of the big businesses in town like Gaylord, Vanderbilt, and the Airport did not balk at the ERU fee. She believes that only one big corporation lobbied against the ERU approach, and that most of the big ones "could not have been more helpful and encouraging."

And the government shall be upon his shoulders

While Senator Bob Corker thinks it was plain common sense for auto workers to vote to eighty-six their bonuses, AIG executives giving up their bonuses seem to look to the Tennessee Republican more ethically gray, hazy and dependent on nuanced factors. If Sen. Corker is demanding sacrifice from the people who do most of the working in the market, why can't he demand that those at the top of the power pyramid agree to sacrifice their bonuses with the same lack of regard for conditions that he showed auto workers?

UPDATE:  More on Bob Corker's brand of hypocrisy, Gail Kerr notwithstanding, at TPM:
Have Richard Shelby and Bob Corker held their press event demanding that AIG break their contracts with their overpaid Financial Products workers for their shoddy work?

Gail Kerr Transmits Mayor Karl Dean's Persistent Waffles

Have you ever been in a conflict with someone who says, "Look, this is just a miscommunication," while all the while you had this gnawing sense that there was something more fundamental, going beyond communication, that was wrong with the relationship? That is sort of the way I feel this morning reading Gail Kerr, who gives Mayor Karl Dean the mainstream media's megaphone to make his case about the motives behind changing the Riverfront plans.

Kerr seems to want to assure us that this is just miscommunication on the Mayor's part and nothing more to be alarmed about. Her interpretation of the Dean administration--who, she gushes, "has done a lot of things right in his first term in office"--seems designed to blunt and dilute any criticism that it is either inept or imperious on balancing growth with infrastructure that is in the common interests of Nashville's neighborhoods.

Keep in mind that this is the same Gail Kerr who christened Republican Senator Bob Corker a savior for scapegoating the Big 3 auto unions without considering the possibility that nonunion auto companies were also listing and looking for bailouts from their homelands. So, whenever Ms. Kerr gushes, you have to take it with a grain of salt. My sense is that the Mayor's office badly botched handling some control that he unilaterally decided to assert over the Riverfront plan, but the problem here is not just the handling of the process, but the imperial pose this Mayor strikes about issues involving regular Nashvillians.

And Ms. Kerr misleads readers when she spins this into an "East Nashville" controversy. The intention clearly stated at three forums held two years ago was to develop the Riverfront in such a way as to erase the distinction between the Downtown and East Bank sides of the Cumberland River. The stated purpose was to draw the two sides closer to the concept of an organic whole. And those forums were not held exclusively in East Nashville, and the perceived stake-holders were not strictly East Nashvillians. The participants came from all over Davidson County. I attended them myself.

By using the cover of economic slump to suggest that the East Bank may have lesser priority than the Downtown side, the Mayor is effectively prising the concept of a Riverfront whole into its constituent parts once again. I am concerned that he is sundering the unity between Nashvillians--whether bearing east, west, north, or south--that came out of those forums. By portraying the blowback that the Mayor is getting now as hurtled from a bunch of outraged East Nashvillians, Gail Kerr seems to be carrying the Mayor's water, even as it looks like she is criticizing him for mere "miscommunication."

In the end, there is nothing in Kerr's column that suggests to me that Karl Dean is making a responsible attempt to clear up confusion and divisiveness that his administration engendered last week. It all still looks posturing and evasive.

Representatives had already made two contradictory public statements on which I chewed last week.
The riverfront redevelopment plan was completed over two years ago. [The Mayor's MDHA appointee] is now going through a public process of determining if what was set out two years ago still fits the needs of our community today. That was the purpose of the community meeting at East Park.
Mayor Karl Dean is committed to each of the projects envisioned by Nashville's original riverfront redevelopment plan but believes some may have to be built later than expected due to the economic recession, a city official said today.
To those you can add these statements in this morning's Kerr column:
Dean says he understands [CM Mike Jameson's point that East Nashvillians are angry that they participated for months in a process that may be overruled by the Mayor]. His announcement, he said, was not that the plan was changing. It was that he intends to include $20 million to pay for it
The mayor said [East Bank development] still may be built first, but it may not.
If we accept Gail Kerr's premise that Dean's mistake is a mere bump in the road of communication between Mayor and constituents, then we have no reason to be alarmed by the ambiguous, confused, and mutable conditions that he is creating on the Riverfront. But I have this gnawing sense that the problem here is more fundamentally about fiat and concealment than it is about dissemination of information.

UPDATE: The Riverfront Plan blog looks at the Mayor's latest back track via Gail Kerr (that is that his announcement was not of a change but of the $20 million) and asks some obvious questions:
If that's the case, why did MDHA ever call the public meeting? Why did MDHA ever propose an alternative, more expensive sequence which just happens to push to the bottom of the list the project the Mayor has been bashing at wine&cheeses around town? If Mayor Dean is committed to all 19 projects, if his office is really just concerned that the current plan "still fits the needs of our community," and if all he was going to announce was that he was putting $20M into his capital budget to fund it, why has he asked for more time to consider it? Why hasn't he just come out and publicly committed to implementing the original Riverfront Plan?

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Ludye Wallace at MIT

I just discovered this op-ed by in the MIT newspaper The Tech by former Vanderbilt math professor and Green Party presidential congressional candidate, Jonathan Farley. Dr. Farley writes of the travails he faced in Nashville after taking on a Nathan Bedford Forrest statue and the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

One of the difficulties he relates to his MIT audience was getting help in 2002 from the president of the Nashville chapter of the NAACP, Ludye Wallace, who committed to write a letter of support to the Tennessean for Farley, but then begged out. That's the same Ludye Wallace who used to be the abysmal council member representing my district, 19.

The Tennessean article that blew back on Farley in 2002 was also posted at blackcommentator.com a few weeks ago with embedded editorial comments by the author.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Filling the Media Void: Jon Stewart Takes off the Comedy Gloves and Speaks the Truth to Business Reporters

I cannot remember a seeing Jon Stewart at a stronger moment than during this set of serious comments to CNBC's Jim Cramer:

Indeed. If the media would hold up its end of the probe-and-investigate deal instead of promoting power and money cartels or building personal friendships with executives, then comedians could go back to comedy rather than having to be government watchdogs.

UPDATE: MSNBC is deliberately ignoring the water-cooler subject du jour.