Saturday, January 24, 2015

Carol SWAIN: My side of the story

Dr. Carol Swain
Vanderbilt Hustler,  by Dr. Carol Swain, Friday, January 23, 2015 - As many of you know, I recently wrote an op-ed piece that appeared in the Jan. 16 print edition of The Tennessean. In it I criticized Islam for posing a worldwide jihad danger that continues to grow. I wrote the piece in the wake of the horrific attacks carried out on Jan. 7 by self-admitted al-Qaida jihadists that left 12 dead at the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine.

 Following the publication of my op-ed, I was inundated with criticisms labeling it as “hate speech,” “intolerance” and “bigotry,” and a particularly unflattering cartoon caricature, published in The Vanderbilt Hustler, that can only be described as a racial stereotype.

Perhaps I could have tempered my comments some, revisiting language that might have been perceived as an indictment of all 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide. I am, however, perplexed as to why there continues to be scant public outcry — certainly no campus rallies or protests of take-note significance — among Muslims when another Islamic jihadist attack hits somewhere in the world. Also, I don’t accept the position that these attacks are carried out by only a “few Islamic extremists.” Estimates say Islamic militant jihadists around the world number in the tens or even hundreds of thousands. That’s when you add up all the members of organizations such as Islamic State (aka ISIS or ISIL), al-Qaida, Boko Haram, Taliban, other affiliated splintered groups, etc. and who knows how many sleeper cells in semi-hibernation around the world. I’m not going to dance around the issue or those numbers. PC speech isn’t in my vocabulary. Nor will I tolerate it with my students in the classroom. A university should be a place that harbors the free exchange of ideas, on both sides of the aisle, across all spectrums of thought and culture. (This is very good. Please continue reading.)

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Congress unlikely to block use of hospital taxes to help pay for Haslam health plan

Jan. 24--NASHVILLE -- As Gov. Bill Haslam continues trying to build support for his Medicaid-alternative health insurance plan, he likely can take one major threat cited by its opponents off the table -- potential federal action blocking the use of hospital provider taxes to pay the state's share of the health plan.
Tennessee has been using "hospital assessment fees" since 2007 to offset some of the state tax revenue needed to pay the state's share of Medicaid/TennCare, which is about 65 percent federally funded and 35 percent state funded. The Tennessee Hospital Association came up with the idea, voluntarily, to offset more cuts to Medicaid under former governor Phil Bredesen, because many hospitals get back more in Medicaid payments than they pay in fees due to the federal-state Medicaid funding structure. The fee is now about 4.52 percent of hospital gross patient revenue. Now, Tennessee hospitals have agreed to foot the bill, through the fee, for any additional costs the state faces in paying for Insure Tennessee. (link)

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Art Break: A Polar bear adjusts ......

A Polar bear adjust to global warming as a spotted owl and two mutated chickens look on by Rod Williams

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Mark Winslow is still working to elect Democrats to public office.

Mark Winslow, "Republican"
If you are involved in Republican party politics or are a regular reader of this blog, you probably know who Mark Winslow is. If not, the name still may ring a bell since his activity in suing the Tennessee Republican Party and his other controversies have resulted in his name being in the news several times.  Mark Winslow is a member of the Tennessee Republican Party State Executive Committee.

In the last August election, Winslow worked to defeat a Republican candidate and elect a Democrat to the office of a judge in Davidson County. He first worked to help Melissa Blackburn win her Democrat nomination.  When he came under criticism for working for a Democrat, he claimed that he was only working for her during the primary and would not be doing so in the General Election.  He claimed he was doing so only because it was required by his employer, SmithWaterhouse Strategies.  However, he continued working for Blackburn in the general election.  He helped Blackburn beat our Republican candidate, Marian Cheadle Fordice for that office. Our candidate had much more experience in the field of mental health law and had a real heart for the job. After the election Winslow went to work for Judge Blackburn.

As a result of Winslow's campaigning to elect a Democrat and defeat a Republican, when he ran for reelection for a seat on the Tennessee Republican Party State Executive Committee, his eligibility to run for that seat was challenged. Unfortunately, Chris Devaney, Chairman of the Party failed to rule Winslow as ineligible to run for that seat and he did run and was reelected.

Mark Winslow is still working to elect Democrats to public office. Earlier this week there was a fundraiser for Kathleen Murphy who is a candidate for Metro  Council and Mark Winslow was listed as serving on the Host Committee of the event. Not always, but usually the host committee is made up of people who give a considerable amount of money to the the candidate.

While the Metro Council elections are non-partisan, it is nevertheless important that Republicans get elected to serve on the Council. The Council is often a stepping stone to one of the County courthouse offices or to serving in the State legislature. The Council is somewhat like a farm team. If we have a goal of making Tennessee "Red to the Roots," we need to be electing Republicans to the Metro Council. Also, we need to elect people to the Council who share our conservative values so we will be governed in a more conservative manner.

Kathleen Murphy is a Democrat.  She is a political operative and government lobbyist and is the daughter of former state Rep. Mike Murphy, a Democrat. If you look at the names of those on the host committee you will see the name of many prominent Democrats. I have added comments to those who I know who they are. If you are politically active in Nashville you will may recognize more names than I do. What is a member of the Tennessee Republican Party Executive Committee doing serving on a host committee with all of these prominent Democrats?

While I do not have an original copy of the invitation to the Kathleen Murphy fund raiser, I have a copy of the fundraiser notice which was included in an email which originated with Margo Chambers. The comments in light gray text in the fund raiser notice are those of  Chambers, Secretary of the Richland, West End Neighborhood Association. My comments are in blue typeface and the yellow highlighting is mine.

Please join us for a fundraising reception 
Monday, January 12th   5:30-7:30
At the Home of 
Greg and Susan Bailey 3608 Central Ave. 37205
$50 Suggested Contribution
To join the host comittee or to RSVP contact,
Greg Bailey  [Margo’s note -- Former RWENA Board member.  Worked at PR firm hired to collect Federal Public Comment cards for the Amp.  The Public Comment cards from community meetings on the western portion of the route went missing.  An Honest Mistake.  However – due to the federal process that the MTA was unfamiliar with:  that mistake permitted the next round of consultants to conclude the public was excited about the Amp.  That incorrect presumption resulted in the first round of federal Project Delays.  Those delays exposed the MTA & RTA to a host of other issues, creating further delays (and endangering employee benefits).  These include: operation funding issues, ridership miscounts, driver training & safety, employment hire/fire problems, and whether the MTA was properly funding the employee pensions (they’re not).  In 2014 the MTA lost the CEO (resigned), Amp project manager (resigned), the other grant manager (resigned), the DTO Board (4 out of 5 resigned or retired), and lost track of $50M at budget time.  This $50M was later discovered to be a duplicate funding request –already in the city budget incorrectly filed under Public Works – and that amount has not yet been returned to Council.]. 
Susan Bailey
Rep. Bill Beck Democrat
Gary Blackburn Husband of Democrat Judge Millisa Blackburn and member of the Davidson County Democrat Party Executive Committee. Mark Winslow picked up his qualifying petition when he ran for Ex. Comm. (link)
Hon. Robert Brandt Former Judge, a Democrat.
James Bristol
Austin Brown
Chairman Gary Bynum Chairman of the Davidson County Democrat Party
Kenny Byrd
   -- East Nashville.  Democrat,
Judith Byrd
Jonathon Carlton
Anne Carr Prominent Democrat, lobbyist  
Mark Chalos
Hon. Ty Cobb Former Democrat State Representative
Pat Cole

Ed Cole
   --Former TDOT employee and former Transit Alliance Exec Director.  Played a critical role in bringing the Amp to West End, and ‘educating’ the public on land development.  Repeatedly informed the public of auto traffic impacts for the Amp that were radically different from what was filed with the FTA (by the MTA, using TDOT data).  That official MTA report was only given to the public through filing a federal Freedom Of Information Act request.  The public owned the report but the MTA would not release it (study cost $1.5M of public money).   Meanwhile the Amp project has run through more than $10M of pubic funds just for “Planning”.  Planning work which failed to produce copies of many important federally required reports (financial, project justification, social justice, environmental reports).  They sought exemptions and each change they submitted to the FTA brought on more federal scrutiny.  It is sitting in limbo at the federal level, awaiting a draft environmental review to conclude.  The State will likely tie up $174M in TDOT money this month, for a Transit project that is not “construction ready”.  That would be Road and Bridge money that could be used elsewhere, but our Metropolitan Planning ORGANIZATION (MPO) voted to tie it up in November 2014.
Kathleen Cullen
Stewart Clifton
  -- [Metro Planning Commissioner (MPC).  The MPC Executive Director (Rick Bernhardt) advocates high density/Smart Growth Planning Theory. This creates more property tax id’s/expands property tax revenue.  Per the Planning Dept: Smart Growth theory requires 12- 15 dwelling units per acre to support mass transit corridors.  Our local Planning Dept changed the land use in 2012 for a Transit corridor (conflicting with the requirements of a Transportation corridor).  MPC Ignored TDOT in that land use plan, too.  Made land use density decisions based upon the federally unapproved Amp project.  Downsides of that decision:  MPC planned auto gridlock & increased air pollution, create unsettled neighborhoods & upset voters.  Upside is all the Gulch and East Nashville construction.  “Smart Growth Theory” is the bones of Nashville Next (which is the input into the soon-to-be-voted-upon “2040 General Plan”). Enacting Smart Growth land use theory enables HUD grants to roll in to the city easier (because it means dramatic changes to the land that most other communities do not tolerate -  the loss of property rights).  A highly volatile, unproven land use theory.] A Democrat.
Larry Daugherty I assume this is the long-time editorial writer for the Tennessean, a Democrat.
David Ewing A Democrat political strategist and a lawyer.
Richard Exton I assume this is Richard Exton, member of the Davidson County Democrat party Executive Committee
Bobby Garfunkel
Pat Synder Democrat
Dave Garrison  
--former TN Dem Chair recently recovering from a heart attack Dec 29 (needs confirmation as links were unavailable)
Erica Garrison
Dave Goetz Prominent Democrat State Finance Commissioner under Bredesen.

Katy Varney Prominent Democrat, wife of Goetz.
Kathleen Harkey
John Harkey
      -- Bike/Walk Nashville committee member (advocates for TDOT to spend more dollars on Transit –not roads & bridges -for projects that reduce auto lane widths)
Hon. Penny Harrington A Democrat, former judge.
Tamara Hart
      -- East Nashville Democrat, big contributor to Dem causes.
Margaret Holleman  
Mary Beth Ikard
  -- Former MPO Communications employee – helped create social media which built public Amp support in East Nashville.
Bobby Joslin Joslin Sign comp. A Democrat
Carole Kenner Democrat
Benjamin L. Kuttler
Mary Mancini
   -- East Nashville.  Elected TN Democratic Party Chair Jan 10 2015.  Ran for State Senate against Jeff Yarbro.  Yarbro is a former MTA Board Chair & credited with getting the Amp study placed on West End.
Hon. Mike Murphy Former State Senator, Democrat
Jennifer Murphy
Kris Murphy 
John Norris
Chris Norris 
Emily Ogden A Democrat, former official in the Bredesen admin.
Bart Pickett Member of the DCDP Ex. Committee.

Bernard Pickney Prominent Democrats
Cheryl Pickney
Matia Powell Democrat

Randy Rayburn Restauranteur, Prominent Democrat
Robinson Regen
Rachel Schaffer
Rep. Mike Stewart Democrat
Bob Tuke Big Democrat, former candidate for U.S. Senate
Irwin Venick Big contributor to Democrat causes
Alice Walker
Phyllis Williams
Mark Winslow
Claims to be a Republican.
Vince Wyatt Democrat candidate for Judge
Paid for by Murphy for Metro, Bart Pickett Treasurer.

Our mailing address is:
Murphy for Metro
231 Orlando Ave 
Nashville, TN 37209


Kathleen Murphy to run for Metro Council District 24

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What to do about Nashville's Corporate Welfare?

Daniel Horwitz, a Nashville attorney and an occasional contributor to this blog,  and Mike Jameson, an attorney and former Metro Councilman  had a good op-ed in The Tennessean today entitled, "Nashville's corporate welfare habit will harm city."

They examine Metro's payment of millions of dollars in corporate welfare. It amounts to a lot of money, as they point out:

The current tally: $623 million for a new convention center. $70 million for a new Sounds stadium. $182 million to the Omni Hotel. $5.8 million to Gaylord Entertainment Co. $6 million to LifePoint Hospitals. $12.5 million to a downtown tower developer. $66 million to HCA. And, most recently, another $56.3 million to Bridgestone. All in a city that just had its credit rating downgraded and purportedly can't afford sidewalks.
I must take issue with including the convention center being included in the above list. The convention center is a publicly owned facility. One may oppose the convention center on other grounds and think we should not have built it, but I do not think one can call building the convention center "corporate welfare."  It is a different type of spending than money given to HCA or Bridgestone. It is not money being given to a single corporation. With the convention center, we did not forgive taxes because as a publicly-owned facility it would never pay taxes. The investment in the convention center does not help one company but supports a vast hospitality industry including lodging, food, entertainment, transportation, and retail. 

When serving in the Council in the 80's I supported Metro's first convention center and would do so again. Without Metro's first convention center I am convinced we would not have become the great city we are today. Had I been in the Council, when the Council was considering building the Music City Center, I would have supported it also.

I find the support for HCA and Bridgestone and similar deals problematic however, and agree that, that is corporate welfare and is more difficult to justify. When these deals came up in the Council for approval however, I have stated that I would have reluctantly voted for most of them had I been serving. 

Horwitz and Jameson say that the idea that these "investment" will ultimately "pay for themselves" is laughable. They may be right on that count.  If not right yet, then surely there is a tipping point at which giving away public money has a diminishing return and then no return at all but instead becomes a cost. I don't know were we are on that curve, but I think it is "laughable" to think this kind of corporate welfare will always pay for itself.

The authors point out that with the exception of a few conservatives and Councilman Josh Stites that this form of corporate welfare has had broad  support including support from  Republicans who would be screaming if this same level of  welfare was being provided to Nashville's poorest citizens. I think they are correct about that also.

I agree with the author's sentiment and agree in principle, but my reason for supporting these projects is pragmatic; if we don't do it and other cities do, we lose. We cannot unilaterally disarm. If other cities bribe companies to relocate to their city and we do not match the bribe, then the companies will not relocate here. If companies are being wooed to leave Nashville and relocate to Austin or Raleigh and we do not place a bid to convince them to stay, they will likely go.

I feel the same way about the bribes to Bridgestone and HCA as I do about using pubic money to pay a major league sports team to come to our city and building them an arena or stadium. However, other cities are doing it and cities who do not, do not get major league sports teams. The danger is that in a few years when the new stadium gets a few years on it and is no longer the newest and best, the team can be enticed to relocate to another city. The subsidy is never ending. Does the "investment" actually ever pay for itself?

With regard to corporate welfare such as the HCA and Bridgestone bribes, the authors say "with local politicians clamoring to hand over public dollars to any business that even whispers about leaving town, why on earth wouldn't every other corporation in Nashville make the same threat?"  That is a major concern. Giving a deal to HCA or Bridgestone encourages other companies to demand the same deal.

Agreeing in principle that corporate welfare is wrong, recognizing that paying extortion results in more demand for extortion and believing that these type "investments" has limits and eventually diminished returns, my question is, how to you get off the merry-go-round? Do we let other cities take our sports teams and HCAs and Bridgestones?

I asked this question of Daniel Horwitz and his response is that we need to provide sufficient value to businesses that doesn't come in the form of money or tax abatement.  He sited as an example, Governor Haslam's community college program which will equip a skilled Tennessee workforce to do 21st century jobs and give Tennessee a huge advantage over other states, and make Tennessee a much more attractive location for businesses to relocate or to stay.

He said  a business-friendly environment devoid of crazy licensing requirements helps as well, as does not having a state income tax.  A lower sales tax for goods and services sold in Nashville and Tennessee as a whole would help also he said.   Or, alternatively, a lower property tax for everyone, rather than just Nashville's biggest corporations.

He also said that another major problem with providing incentives to companies to stay or to relocate is that frequently, the bribes don't actually end up working, and taxpayers are left with the bill.

I think in the long run, Horwitz is right but when faced with a specific incident of a major company being bribed by another city to relocate and knowing the company is seriously considering relocating, should we just let them go without offering an incentive to get them to stay?  Should we just say, "Can I help you pack?"

In the long run, taking care of the fundamentals may be a better policy than paying companies bribes, but as some economist once said, in the long run we are all dead.

In principle I agree with Horwitz, but as a practical matter, it is still hard not to play the game. I am almost persuaded but not totally. In the future however, the bribe would have to be small and what we get in return would have to be very large before I could support it. And, occasionally we ought to call a companies bluff when they come with their hand out looking to extort money from the public.

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Friday, January 23, 2015

Justice for NashVegas Cab. Metro needs to stop protecting the powerful from competition.

When "black cars" first made their appearance in Nashville, the Metro Council's response was to impose a minimum fare and other onerous regulation to drive them out of business in order to protect the established limousine companies and taxi services from competition. As time has passed we have seen peer-to-peer livery service such as Lyft and Uber make their appearance in our city and the Council removed the minimum fare requirements that would have kept them from operating. New reasonable regulation have been written to provide protection to the public but that does not protect providers of livery service from competition. 

I am pleased that the black car services such as Metro Livery and the peer-to-peer services such as Lyft and Uber can now provide their services without Metro trying to drive them out of business. There is still injustice occurring in the transportation sector however. 

Until 2011 all cab companies were owned by a few big companies who got a certain number of permits from the city. The cabs you see on the street were not owned by the cab companies but by the individuals who drove them. The cab owner was usually the cab driver and he had to pay a weekly fee to the company under whose name he operated and had to cover all of his own expenses. The driver owned the car and provided the labor and paid the overhead; what he did not own was the permit.

That year a group of Ethiopian drivers got together and formed a new company, Volunteer Cab, that would be a cooperative, actually owned by the drivers. For doing the same amount of work, the drivers could make a descent living instead of just barely getting by. Now, there is another company, NashVegas Cab which is also owned by the drivers. This company would like to provide service to a greater area than is now served by companies. The company had 133 drivers but only has been awarded 35 permits by Metro. 

Metro needs to stop being an impediment to innovation and stop functioning to protect the established from competition and get out of the way and let competition determine who wins and looses. Metro's treatment of NashVegas is unjust. If the Transportation Licensing Commission does not issue NashVegas the permits they need, the Council should intervene and correct this injustice.

Below is a fact sheet from NashVegas Cab. The highlighting and underlining are mine. Rod

NashVegas Cab Deserves More Permits!

On January 27, 2015, the Metro Transportation Licensing Commission will decide whether the 133 drivers/shareholders of NashVegas Cab deserve more permits. 

·         In January, the 133 drivers/shareholders of NashVegas Cab received only 35 permits in our attempt to serve the transportation needs of Davidson County.  Additionally, we received only one permit to serve airport commuters. 

·         Uber & Lyft have operated in our city for over a year without regulation, which has created an uneven playing field for NashVegas. Furthermore, Uber/Lyft even signed an agreement with the Airport Authority to provide transportation services. 

·         The decision of the TLC to grant permits to other companies who do not even have drivers for them, while not providing us with enough permits for all of our drivers/shareholders seriously impacts our business model for countywide transportation service. 

·         As a result of the action taken by the Commission, the remaining driver/shareholders of NashVegas are forced to continue driving with other taxi companies that require them to purchase and maintain their own vehicles and pay all of the expenses related to their operation, such as fuel, repairs, maintenance and liability insurance. In most cases, these drivers are also responsible for repairs to GPS dispatch technology provided by the taxicab company.

·         A further injustice exists as taxi drivers are forced to pay a weekly fee of between $200-$350 ($10,400 - $18,200 annually) for the right to use a permit issued to the company by the TLC, while the company merely pays a yearly permit fee of $255.00. Additionally, as we operate with only 35 permits, we are forced into unfair competition from the established companies who currently hold unused permits and continue to request more, while our drivers wait to serve Nashville.

·         A remedy to this situation exists if TLC exercises its authority to reallocate any unused permits toward our request of 120 permits to allow all of our shareholders to drive. Under Rule #3 of the TLC Rules and Procedures:     3. RETENTION OF TAXICAB PERMITS

All cab companies presently operating ten (10) cabs or less shall be allowed to retain one extra permit only; all cab companies presently operating more than ten (10) cabs shall be allowed to retain extra permits in a number equivalent to ten percent (10%) of the number of cabs in operation; all permits in excess of these quotas as defined above shall automatically be canceled thirty (30) days from the date of their issuance. Any permit cancellation executed by the staff of the Transportation Licensing Commission may be appealed to the Commission only on the basis that the staff’s action was made using inaccurate vehicle insurance and registration information.
NashVegas has complied with the rules and regulations to achieve the American Dream. Please ask the Metro TLC to grant us permits so we can compete on a level playing field. Thank You!

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