January 26, 2007
The Newest State Senator (-to-be): Beverly Marrero
The Democratic Party held its primary election to nominate a candidate for the state Senate in District 30, which had been represented by Congressman Steve Cohen.
The partisans overwhelmingly backed state House member Beverly Marrero (89th District), and that move pretty much guarantees that she'll win the general.
UPDATE: Adam Groves reminds us of the House District 92 results.
This news provides a good opportunity to ask you, the reader, what could make this site a better resource for information related to elections in Tennessee. I did receive some generous feedback regarding the content and layout for the 2006 cycle, but since we're in an off year I think it's time to evaluate and prioritize a few improvements.
My focus will continue to be informing voters about their upcoming choices over analyzing results or campaigns; but part of the aforementioned objective is to really watch current government and report/opine on its members' effectiveness. It also obviously involves identifying resources for information about candidates not now in any office. Fortunately, there are others apparently intent on doing these same things. I'd leave someone out if I tried to list you all here, but keep up the good work.
One thing I will be adding is a link from basically all Tennessee Ticket pages to Project Vote Smart ~ specifically to provide my visitors easy access to the function that identifies voting districts for a given ZIP+4. I'll also add a link to the USPS site that will give you the ZIP+4 code for a street address, because not everyone knows it. (PVS has one as well.) The Hamilton County Election Commission's website identifies a voter's precinct and local districts from an input street address, so there's that as well. (Other counties may be out of scope for my capacity to commit time.)
But then it's a matter of getting the visitor back here, and organizing her district/candidate info in a usable format that serves as a portal to all the websites (candidates/campaigns, blogs, online press, or other materials) a person could use to make the "right" decision in that district's election, which is to say "the most confident, knowledge-based decision possible."
January 24, 2007
Legal Sex Acts
Our legislators’ screwy plan to legislate morality
This first part of the legislative session is when lawmakers spend very little time reading each other’s bills, and a whole lot of time strutting in front of the camera about their own. None has come roaring out of the gate so proudly as that Dickson stallion, State Senator Doug Jackson. You couldn’t have missed his press avalanche; I hear it buried two cars out on Highway 48. But by far the most talked-about piece was the one that would ban late-night cable television advertisements for videos that purport to show girls having “gone wild.”
Another legislator who is no stranger to the journalist’s quizzical stare is state House member Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville. Representative Campfield is proposing a new tax on pornography, the proceeds of which would enable a reduction or elimination of the state sales tax on food.
Let’s take stock of this unusual situation, where a Republican is trying to erect a new tax while a Democrat wants Big Government to dominate bedroom activities and gag free speech. Then again, Democratic Sen. Rosalind Kurita had the support of many to the left of Harold Ford during last year’s U.S. Senate primary, yet she’s the one whose vote gave the Republican majority in the state Senate its long-awaited Speaker position. Surely the lone GOP U.S. Senate freshman, Bob Corker, can attest to Tennessee’s upside-down politics, so that’s not really the big deal.
The problem with this proposed legislation from Campfield and Jackson is that all of it attempts to regulate a moral current. Such is a noble intent, but let’s leave the business of societal steering to professionals. Do some have a problem staying morally upright? Let them hasten to the church, synagogue, mosque, tree, or whatever shrine has the biggest offering plate and/or best cup of coffee. Do not put the part-time citizen legislator up to the task of navigating this turbulent channel.
I’m claiming no originality to this, just echoing what many have said earlier and better, but: cable is a subscription service. If you subscribe, you are accepting all content unless you, the customer, are able to convince the provider not to transmit it. On top of that, the cable subscriber is responsible for what minors do and do not view in the home. It’s that simple. Your young child probably should not be watching what is airing at the channel and time “Girls” ads are placed anyway, but that’s your call — not the sheriff’s. By the way, Jackson is just fine with lowering the voting age so that 17-year-old kids can acquire carnal knowledge of our democratic process.
Pornography, though, on the scale of things that are and are not taxed in this state, was worth at least considering as a swap for the unconscionable tax on Cheeze Pufs. However, with advances in digital video and delivery systems, there’s less of a guarantee that offsetting revenues could be realized. Besides, people buy a lot more food than pornography. Come to think of it, there’s no way such a plan would work, even with a broad interpretation that includes escort services and exotic dancing.
We’ll just have to be careful if both Sen. Jackson’s and Rep. Campfield’s measures somehow happen go all the way. If fewer people buy the porn that would have had to pull out of late-night cable, there’ll be a reduction in essential funds. Never mind that virtually no one pays sales tax for online purchases. Sin taxes only work as long as people keep sinning — more importantly, sinning in the right market. Oh, and another thing: free speech is declared in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Let’s figure out if there’s a more dependable way to get rid of the food sales tax; and let’s keep low-class smut advertising off our sets by using the remote control.
Update on Open Government
The weekend’s big news (I can only hope you consider it big) is that both houses of the General Assembly have agreed to make floor and committee votes available to the public online and in a searchable format. One leader flinched, and both had to surrender. We the people of Tennessee won big, as long as we now use the information to inform ourselves.
[Cross-posted in The Pulse.]
January 23, 2007
Vegetarian Sausage-Rice Casserole
I've made this twice now, and it seems to be holding up. Tweaking still could occur.
It's not vegan, but if you're vegan you probably know of a good substitute for the cream of mushroom soup, plus vegan sausage and margarine. Otherwise, you're all set.
1/2 cup pecan halves, lightly toasted (you can do this one of several ways, but a 400° convection oven works in just a few minutes)
1 cup brown rice
2 cups water
1 Tbsp lite margarine
Boil water and margarine; add rice, bring to boil and reduce heat to very low. Cover well and cook for 35 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes. Remove cover and stir. Yields 3 or so cups cooked rice.
Preheat oven to 350°F.
4-6 veggie breakfast sausage patties
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup chopped celery
1/2 lb sliced white mushrooms
1 Tbsp cooking oil
1 Tbsp infused olive oil
1 can (10.5 oz) condensed cream of mushroom soup
3/4 tsp celery salt
1/2 tsp ground sage
fresh ground black pepper
fresh ground sea salt
In a medium frying pan, brown veggie sausages in cooking oil over medium heat. Lift from pan with a spatula and set aside. When oil has reheated, sauté onion and celery until onion is translucent. Add mushrooms and drizzle infused olive oil onto them. Stir frequently and heat until mushrooms release their juices. Turn heat off but leave pan on to let moisture reduce.
Dice veggie sausage patties. Combine cooked rice, sausage, mushroom mixture, cream of mushroom soup, celery salt and sage in a large casserole dish. Season to taste with pepper and sea salt.
Place casserole dish, uncovered, in heated oven and bake for 30 minutes. Top with pecan halves and bake for another 5 minutes. Serve hot.
January 22, 2007
I Have an Announcement to Make
I know I'm a day late and a few tens of millions of dollars short, but I would like to announce that, unlike the rest of the nation, I am not seeking the office of President of the United States in 2008.
The way I look at it, someone has to be the voter. That someone will be me. All of you who are running have nearly two years to convince me, the voter, that I should vote for you.
I'm glad, really, not to have to face month after grueling month of travel and meeting people and pesky reporters. This decision should free up most of my 2008, and a good chunk of my 2007 as well. After all, I don't have to decide anything until November '08.
I'll be building the blogroll to the left (if you're on the main page) with candidate and supporter blogs as I find them. As we near election time, I am certain to list a good set of blogs at the state campaign level as well.
Happy running for President, everyone; I wish you all the best. I'll do my best to make a choice among you.
January 18, 2007
In the Pulse: Three for One
First, read Angela Tant's article.
Then, read Bill's editorial.
Now, you done? Here's my stuff:
Rejecting FOIA - A look behind government’s closed doors
Something must be done about the tendency for local governments around the state to ignore open records law. Disturbing accounts by frustrated journalists indicate a widespread problem, as prevalent in urban centers as in rural counties. There is a certain likelihood that ignorance plays some part, but this cannot be a catch-all excuse. In fact, a lack of understanding is the easier deficiency to correct. Often, a request for public information is willfully denied by those who should know better. Legally preferable, but no less frustrating, techniques include providing so much information (related or not) that the requester simply cannot overcome resource constraints embedded in going through it all.
Tennessee isn’t uniquely victimized by this phenomenon. The Associated Press, together with newspapers in several cities, conducted an experiment last fall in Virginia. They had undercover reporters pose as “regular” citizens and request information from municipal agencies that should be available, by law, to anyone. In one paper’s experience, over half the requests were denied. A concurrent part of the experiment asked for emails that had been sent and received by government officials. Across the state, 42 percent of these requests were denied, though 100 percent of them were considered public information. My source for this bit of news was part of the so-called “alternative press” (a website named Martinsville Daily).
Here at home, a television anchor in Memphis confided on his LiveJournal page about the difficulty getting even routine requests for information processed. Here’s where we start finding some promising solution ideas. The station is taking a fantastic new approach: videotaping such encounters with officials, and showing the results to viewers on their website. I wonder if we could get any Chattanooga media to do the same? After what happened last year to a reporter who was “banned” from City Hall and then left undefended by his employer, I wouldn’t count on the daily paper; but what about one of the TV stations or our talk radio guys?
We have a duty to verify that the persons (s)elected to do a particular job are indeed on task; and our rights to information supporting such verification are enumerated by law. The average citizen may not have time to document the requests (not to mention to sift through the haystack that is returned), so we depend on journalists, of both Old and New Media, to access, compile, and present their findings.
I enthusiastically support the aforementioned television station’s method of publicly embarrassing officials who obstruct public awareness, whether deliberately or ignorantly, as neither is tolerable; and I hope the idea catches on here.
The General Assembly has time before the May bottleneck to get in a little schooling. They’re going to a class taught by the new ethics commission’s executive director, Bruce Androphy. It’s interesting, though: this is the body that created the new legislation and the new commission, yet they need to be taught a class on what it all means. Politics editor Jennifer Peebles, blogging at the Nashville Tennessean, wonders, “So, who will be forced to sit in the corner and wear a dunce cap?” and “Will anyone flunk out?” There’s little need to offer our suggested answers, though it would be mildly entertaining.
The other side of this is the agony suffered by the many honest legislators who are forced by the actions of others to sit through this remedial course. Perhaps they can spend the time figuring out a way to make the fancy legislative votes database they get to use accessible to the rest of us. You read about that, right? More potential abuses of open government laws are apparently being uncovered.
Done with Committees
An update on state and local government this week wouldn’t be complete without a reminder to watch what happens in the various committees and subcommittees where bills are first vetted. The House committee chairs are all filled, and some appointments are still being considered in the Senate. This isn’t the place to list all the names and responsibilities, but will serve as notice that anything that doesn’t look quite right as the session transpires will be vigorously discussed in these pages.
Investigative Journalism Supply Problem
I'm sure you read yesterday about reporter Michael A. Weber, who's known locally as "the reporter banned by Ron Littlefield from covering City Hall," and his quite short tenure at Gannett outlet The Tennessean. Man, I was really starting to get into his blogging at The Plaza. (Now I'm wondering, is there a way to filter the feed so I just get the Peebles posts?)
I find myself very curious about this latest development. Weber's departure from the Times Free Press seemed to be less abrupt, but anonymous sources told me that his remaining time at that paper (after the ban and non-publicized reinstatement) was miserable. This is pure conjecture on my part, but it's not a stretch to imagine that he was encouraged to leave by a hostile work environment that was calculated for both effectiveness and deniability.
I don't know if we'll ever know the whole story, but I am in search of some information. I will post updates as they are available.
January 15, 2007
All People, Everywhere
Unlike a non-essential government employee's, my Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is filled with the usual Monday-ness, but I feel that it's worth at least a pause here at the blog to remember the man.
I was born just months after his assassination, so my whole life has been lived in the shadow of that terrible day (sorry for the melodrama — it's for effect).
Luckily for me, my parents made a point of teaching the principles Dr King espoused, long before there was a federal or state holiday to honor his legacy. This was done even while many around us decried the establishment of "a holiday for the Blacks."
The latter sentiment, sadly, has not been eradicated — well, at least it hadn't a few years back, when I departed from my norm and actually asked someone out on a date. We were at the Chattanooga Symphony, and a Roland Carter première was on the program in honor of the MLK commemoration. This girl leaned over to me and shocked me with some comment about it being enough that "they" get "their own" special day, and that this musical dedication was over the top.
Needless to say, after I expressed my disagreement with her comment, I only said perfunctory words to this woman for the rest of the evening, and never saw her again. I can only hope that she has learned something in the intervening years.
I can also thank my lucky stars that I found my beautiful wife, who shares my admiration for civil rights/social justice leaders and the goals to which they aspire, for all of us.
January 13, 2007
Who Hearts Huckabee? Vote in a straw poll here
A pair of bloggers talking something over can sometimes resemble a pair of speakers -- in order to hear in stereo, one must listen pretty much simultaneously to the Left and the Right. Sharon Cobb asks why more Republicans aren't excited about a potential 2008 candidacy for the White House by Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. Ned Williams answers.
To my ear, the pan setting is to the right in this mix, because of Williams' rather dedicated positions on things; but read both takes (and comments posted to each) and decide for yourself.
I only bring this up because I recently took the GOP Bloggers 2008 Straw Poll (pasted below for your convenience), and had honored Huckabee as my first pick among the candidates there. (It's nice of those GOP Bloggers to let me participate in their poll.)
Kiss-of-death warning: I tend to pick the definitive loser in primary elections. A ranking system like IRV would help me feel like my vote actually means something, whether or not it actually does.
January 12, 2007
Pace and Gates
I'm watching C-SPAN's rebroadcast of the Senate Armed Forces Committee hearing held today on the new plan for Iraq.
Words are a difficult means of expressing just how much of a mess this thing is. If there is no semblance of a stable government to which to hand the controls, how can we leave? We really can't.
But staying has its rising costs, too. We should never have gone, but we can't sit around and moan about that.
Smart people have to get a decent plan together, and fast. I don't want to think about what kind of pressure our Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are under, but they seem like able men who are doing the best they can.
That just might not be enough.
January 11, 2007
Candidate for Quote of the Day
"I anxiously await the name of the next Anointed One from the conservative activists out there so that I know who I'm supposed to support next year without having to think about it on my own." -- Roger Abramson
January 10, 2007
In the Pulse: The Glorious 105th - Immigration reform, cheaper food, and HOPE dollar-drooling mark Jimmy’s ninth term
While most of the attention given the new Congress is deserved—after all, how many Framers, regardless of whether they should have, imagined that the Speaker of the House would one day be named Nancy?—we have our own glorious legislative dawn just up Highway 41. The 105th General Assembly of the State of Tennessee has convened.
First, though, the party caucuses met to choose their respective leaders. The Republicans replaced a couple of posts: Rep. Jason Mumpower captured the House Minority leadership from Bill Dunn, and Sen. Mark Norris became the GOP Senate Caucus Chair instead of Randy McNally, but these turnovers presented but a shadow of the drama and political maneuvering that surrounded longtime Lt. Gov. John Wilder.
A Democratic caucus campaign by its chairman, Sen. Joe Haynes, to replace Wilder as the nominee ultimately failed, so the full Senate votes on a rematch between Wilder and Majority Leader Ron Ramsey. Wilder remains Speaker of the Senate not necessarily by receiving the most votes, but also if no other candidate were to get 17. All eyes are on two senators: Mike Williams of Maynardville, a Republican who supported Wilder last time around; and Jerry Cooper of McMinnville, the recently indicted Democrat whose vocal support for Haynes signaled a lack thereof for Wilder.
The outcome will hit newsstands the same day as this column, so you know by now whether or not John Wilder was able to remain Speaker. Here’s hoping something better happened, but I’m not holding my breath.
In the House, it goes without saying that Jimmy Naifeh will be Speaker for a ninth consecutive term.
Now that we basically know who’ll be in charge, what else is in store for the Legislature in 2007?
Don’t have to live like a refugee
The Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC) estimates that over 30 bills will be proposed this session that the group considers anti-immigrant. That could cause one to wonder how many will be introduced that seek to solidify or clarify immigrant rights. My guess is that there won’t be many. In our effort to take up federal slack on the complex issues surrounding eager workers who ill-advisedly forego the tangle of DHS paperwork, and the equally eager businesses that lust after the cheap labor, we’ll be wise not to forget that we’re actually talking about people, real human beings, when we bandy about the words “illegal immigration.” This is not to condone lawlessness, but all too often the concern over this, let’s face it, vital economic bloc takes on a bigoted tone, and results in undue hardships being placed on even perfectly authorized guest residents.
All the lottery tickets you can eat (but can you smoke ‘em?)
For ostensibly opposing reasons, conservatives and liberals alike support eliminating the sales tax on groceries. So will it happen? We shall see. We’re told that getting rid of this tax means a $450 million revenue reduction; but with a seemingly recurring budget surplus of late, the hit doesn’t seem to be so hard as that sounds. On top of that, several proponents encourage a gradual stepping down from one of the highest food tax burdens in the nation to zero, so that no single fiscal plan has to absorb it all.
Raising the tax on tobacco products to replace the funds seems like too easy a fix. When enough people finally realize that using tobacco fails the old cost-benefit analysis, and quit on their own, what tax will have to be raised to replace that on cigarettes? (We’ll discuss the potential health care offset another time.) Consider that, proportionally speaking, the households for which the absence of food taxes would actually mean something also are households with smokers. Can you sense the irony in lowering the grocery tax but raising taxes on tobacco? Well-to-do non-smokers definitely win that one. Then again, it’s not an implausible prediction that some with more money on hand due to food tax elimination would simply dump more of it into a different part of the state budget: the education lottery.
How do you spell “BEP?”
Speaking of the lottery surplus, education will be a priority this session as lawmakers struggle to maintain campaign promises and help fund their districts’ school systems. Over $300 million in leftover HOPE money hangs like an apple in Eden, and many legislators are reaching for it with the idea that it can supplement meager funds for K-12. Never mind that the lottery was established to provide for higher education and pre-K.
Others, notably Rep. Tommie Brown of Chattanooga, want to leave the surplus just sitting there. Even if I disagree with an intended use (for example, I can’t go along with former Senator Steve Cohen’s suggestion to lower the scholarship GPA threshold, as it kind of ignores the “scholar” part), the fact is that the money is there, and something could be done with it. Lottery money is “voluntary tax” revenue, so there should be no qualms about going ahead and spending it judiciously.
Watch for fireworks as urban counties such as our own wrangle for more funds, whatever their source, while current rural BEP beneficiaries dig in their heels to keep theirs.
These are going to be a fun few months.
[This column appears in the January 10, 2007 Pulse.]
January 09, 2007
"And There Was Much Rejoicing.."
I guess you know by now that, for the first time in about three dozen years, Tennessee has a new Speaker of the Senate, which constitutionally equates to Lieutenant Governor.
I've made it no secret that Ron Ramsey wouldn't have been my first choice, but also that he definitely lands well ahead of the man whose effective years in the spot were well behind him. Congratulations are due.
As a side note, I think "Kurita" is well on its way to becoming a verb. (Um, but you'd want to ask the Japanese about that.)
January 07, 2007
Colorblindness of Youth
The boy has a simple way of distinguishing people, their likenesses, and even anthropomorphic objects: he describes them by the dominant color of their clothing.
So, for instance, when he sees Will Ferrell in Elf, the label assigned, of course, is "green man." The wife's stepbrother is quite consistently robed in University of Georgia colors, and is quite tall, so he's "big red man."
I know this trait will likely lead to some awkward moments -- indeed, it already has, like when he was at a neighbor boy's Thomas-themed birthday party, and was loudly excited at seeing a model of the train engine known on the show as "Lady," which happened to have a black paint job.
I wasn't there, but I wish I could have been a fly on the wall near a couple of African-American women partygoers when the boy was crying out "Look, Mama, a black Lady!"
Ah, the innocence of children..
January 06, 2007
It's the 6th of January, Christmas Eve for the orthodox types, and there are gnats or some other type of flying insects "bugging" me as I sit and read blogs on my porch in short sleeves.
It's enough to make a person miss Michigan. Trust me: that almost never happens.
But around here, I depend on Winter to cool me off from the unbearable Summer. Spring and Fall usually don't help that much. And if winters are going to be like this, I'm going to have to do something.
I know it will cool back down in a couple of days, but this is ridiculous.
January 05, 2007
With Apologies to Pete Townshend, and to Libertarians Everywhere
I distinctly remember the looks on my college classmates' fresh faces as we sat around the conference table in the honors seminar course on Ethics, and I announced that, after having read the latest assignment, I was well on my way to being a Determinist.
Several of them, most eloquently the college president's son (now a lawyer and general counsel to a related institution), gallantly argued their opposing viewpoints, but I could not be swayed. Several other "Free Willies" had no more sound argument than "God gave me free will, so therefore I have it." I don't remember which particular essay had been given us, but I do know it helped shape a major part of my thinking. (The name Immanuel Kant comes to mind, but I'm not sure.) It's been almost two decades, and I remain highly skeptical, to say the least, of the concept that we actually choose our own destinies.
But wait! you cry. Joe, how can you respectably describe yourself as a "liberal libertarian," a phrase that doubly invokes the concept of freedom? How, even, can you comfortably identify as an American, when the birth of our nation was, to many, the embodiment of individual liberty?
Well, first, it's not a simple thing to be me. But seriously, I think there is a pragmatic engine behind some of the apparent conflict. To participate in the free will illusion is to encourage behaviors compatible with evolution. Plus, we nihilists of a cheerful bent (or am I just postmodern?) are not out to destroy all hope and love. We want the creature comforts, including the social ones (some of us less than others) -- we just recognize that we don't choose what it is that we want. (And, for the record, I'm no Clarence Darrow. You may not have had much of a choice, but you are responsible for those unlawful acts. Sucks to be you.)
There's much more to write on this topic, but you'd get even more bored. I even like flirting with the concept of a "soul" and the idea that there is a cycle of life in which certain segments occur outside of what we know as the natural world. It makes for interesting thinking. When it comes right down to it, though, all of that mystical meandering is like the effects of of nitrous oxide: for the briefest of moments, one "sees" the meaning of the Universe in all its shimmering, interconnected glory; and then the vision fades again.
January 03, 2007
Twenty(-one) Ways to Improve the City
The Pulse's editorial staff should be commended for fomenting annual discussion on how to sustain our great city's arguably tenuous momentum. It's a terrific way to start the new year, and it gives me hope that a critical mass of like-minded citizens can keep us on a roll. I also hope my readers in distant climes pick up these suggestions and mold them to their own communities. Or, at least think about it.
Full disclosure: I did contribute a few of these recommendations, but I'm not touting the article for that reason. It's an important exercise, this municipal self-awareness, and the Pulse is playing a vital role by holding up a mirror for us to use.
Please read the entire piece, and pay close attention to the 21st item.
Government: Gluttons of Punishment? On Sin and Taxes
I must take issue with something A.C. Kleinheider posits in an oblique sort of rebuttal to Katherine Coble today.
Here's the background: Coble is against "sin taxes," because they represent, to her, the act by government (that unknowable, alien entity that, apparently, has nothing to do with the people it comprises) of manipulating behavior and thus exercising undue control over individual freedoms. So far, so good; right?
Kleinheider's all for sin taxes, on the other hand. He rightly acknowledges taxation as a "necessary evil" (unless anarchy is your bag, and I'm not here to preach that it shouldn't be) and concludes that we (They?) might as well impose higher taxes on those things that aren't essential, such as luxury imports and cigarettes. Fair enough, perhaps.
But in making his argument, he presents as foregone conclusion the notion that taxation is "punishment." What a pitiable stance this is. Just because paying taxes isn't the zenith of altruism doesn't make me feel punished for doing so. It's part of a contract I hold, as a citizen, with my fellow citizens; and, bonus, I get the chance to effect change on the contract's terms every single time there's an election.
Coble, too, animates the tax-bogeyman with her casting it as "having our money taken from us by force." Now I'm not stupid enough to think that one can't be forced to pony up, but it's again with the "our" money being taken -- by whom? By us, you silly! We tax us; it's not "Them." In what I readily agree is far too complicated and wasteful a way, I tax myself, and you tax yourself, and he taxes her, and she taxes those other guys. We all taxed poor Willie Nelson into hock.
There are plenty of current and historical examples where taxation (or tribute, it was often called) was really forced, where the taxed had no say in the matter. Jesus Christ is often quoted as admonishing, in his perfect Elizabethan, to "render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's" -- easy enough for him to say, because if you didn't, you'd be soon acquainted with the inside of a Roman (read: foreign occupier) prison. And you couldn't exactly vote on the person you wanted representing your part of the appropriations.
Look, it's simple. A society, a state, is funded -- to provide to its denizens certain essential protections and welfare -- by its people all cordially agreeing (I'd rather, as opposed to being coerced) to pass the hat and collect a common kitty. The "honor system" doesn't exactly work, thanks to more than enough knaves who'd ruin it; so yes, there is the threat of the justice system facing those who don't comply with the rules. And again, when we don't like how much is taken, or how badly it is spent (hello, I don't think we needed a bazillion dollars' worth of protection from Saddam Hussein's Iraq), we are fortunate enough to have the opportunity to replace our fellow citizens in government with ones we deem better stewards.
As to income taxes, I just don't buy into the hysteria. I work; I pay a part of what I earn to uphold the structure that provides me, my family, and you, and your family, with a functioning country, state, county, city, whatever. If (hopefully, when) I earn more, I can buttress those structures more heartily; if I fall on such hard times that doing so would put me in harm's way, then I graciously, gratefully lean on the fortunes of others (until such time, of course, that I can resume my share). It's just not a punishment. No, it's not exactly a reward, either; it's simply a necessary part of living in civilization. Grow up and deal with it.
I realize that I will ruffle some feathers with this response, but the longer I resisted posting it, the more it ate at me. I don't have any codified New Year's resolutions, but a general goal is to avoid my erstwhile habit of letting things fester. It may not seem so from this blog entry, but I am very open to discussing the matter with those who hold differing opinions. We can all learn from each other, and more or less come to a confederated idea of how to proceed in this amazing experiment.
Parting thoughts: if you feel that your leverage, as a voting citizen, isn't what it should be, then we're already reading the same chapter, if not on the same page. There are way too many competing influences on our representatives -- chiefly corporations, and we all know that they don't pay any taxes. Any that they don't find loopholes for, they just pass along to you and me, and control our government, and laugh all the way to the bank. Or already are the bank. You want someplace to spend your hard-earned outrage? Start there.
UPDATE: Lest my words be misconstrued (I wasn't as clear as I could be), I am not "against corporations." Partnerships among individuals to do business are of course legitimate and worthwhile. What I am specifically seeking to decrease is the amount of influence these non-individual entities have on the workings of this democratic republic.
UPDATE 2: I found a concise and reasonable take on the matter at the TennEconomics blog.
It Isn't Always Nice to Be Noticed
The Center for Public Integrity has published yet another must-read article on the many ways lobbyists and legislators are (all too) connected. This time, they're specifically looking at state legislators' family members who happen to actively lobby said legislatures.
It is no surprise, but after leading off with the Creekmore story from next door* in Arkansas, the article then quotes Tennessee Center for Policy Research president Drew Johnson on our own most famous legislator-lobbyist connection: that of House of Representatives Speaker James Naifeh and his spouse, super-lobbyist Betty Anderson. Great. Out of fifty states, we get mentioned twice, the first time being right near the top of the story.
It's only fair to point out that the Naifeh-Anderson family is picked on far more than any other such arrangement in Nashville, perhaps because, often, those pointing out these conflicts of interest are of a Conservative/Republican persuasion, and Naifeh and (presumably) Anderson happen to be Democrats.
And it's also fair to give this story some added weight, simply because of the way Speaker Naifeh happens to run the House's agenda. It's an important story precisely because of his power, which in turn heightens the interest over which there is conflict.
But, as was recently pointed out on the Double-V, Tennessee politics is much less ideological than many would assume. To me, Tennessee politics bears an uncomfortable similarity to the caricature depicted in My Cousin Vinny's Mississippi.
That said, I have never once heard, say, Hamilton County Democratic Party chair Stuart James speak out about conflicts of interest -- whether legislator-lobbyist, legislator-commission member (hello, JoAnne Favors and Karen Lee), or any other. Except, of course, when it involved Republicans (Mike Walden and John Cupp). I usually read about such things from folks like Bill Hobbs, Terry Frank, or the aforementioned Drew Johnson. (Note: I am aware that Johnson's organization is nominally non-partisan.)
As an Independent, I humbly ask all officials to denounce conflicts of interest, regardless of which "side" they're on -- especially since the "sides" don't even usually count the same way, when it comes right down to it. And I am counting on the new Ethics Commission to help guide us away from such blatant subversions of due representation.
*It's strange, over here next to GA and NC, to consider AR as "next door," but had I gone through with plans to attend law school in Memphis a few years back, I'm sure I'd be more comfortable with the concept.
[This column, edited, appears in the January 3, 2007 Pulse.]
January 02, 2007
Arts & Education Council Chooses Coptix
Press release follows:
Chattanooga, TN (January 2, 2007) -- For more than fifty years, the Arts & Education Council of Chattanooga (AEC) has provided opportunities for members of the Chattanooga community to participate in arts programs. Through the Conference on Southern Literature, school literacy outreach initiatives, the Chattanooga Festival of Writers, Culture Fest, TheatreExpress, the Back Row Film Series and Independent Film Series, Future Focus Literacy through Photography and current affairs television shows “Point of View” and “First Sunday,” the nonprofit organization instructs and delights Chattanoogans of all ages through the arts.
When the Council wanted to recreate its online presence to inform and inspire the public about opportunities to participate in their programs, they turned to Chattanooga’s leading web development and marketing company, Coptix, Inc.
"The Arts & Education Council needed an innovative company to design our web site,” said Susan Robinson, Executive Director of the AEC. “Coptix, with its creative energy and top-notch designers, fit our needs perfectly. We are sincerely grateful to Coptix for its technology and branding expertise, and in helping AEC improve its presence on the internet."
Coptix designed and built www.artsedcouncil.org to be easily navigable, featuring programs and upcoming events along with an impressive back-end content management system that helps the Council to manage all of its projects and programs. Because of Coptix’s experience with search engine optimizations, the site is not only simple and useable, it is easily found online by community members and visitors alike.
“The Arts & Education Council raises the bar for everyone in our hometown,” said Coptix Vice President Josiah Roe. “The focus, dedication and passion that the AEC exhibits is contagious, reminding us all of the value of the arts to our everyday lives. Even more, the AEC’s events and programs enable us, as Chattanoogans, to aspire to shape our city by taking part in its creative endeavors.”
Coptix, Inc is a full service provider of design and web services, creating meaningful and proven results through a holistic development approach in branding, graphic design, internet marketing, e-commerce, and software development. Coptix has partnered with companies large and small, including Olan Mills, Rock Creek Outfitters, Chattem, UnumProvident, Stray Dog Designs, Thinking Media, Hardees, The Chattanooga Technology Council, Coker Tire, Waterhouse Public Relations, Louis Wamp Architecture, Widgets & Stone, Chalmers Chocolate, Zumfoot, Publius Press, Clumpies Ice Cream, St. John's Restaurant, and The Arts and Education Council of Chattanooga.
January 01, 2007
Transylvania Joins EU
честита нова година! Un An Nou Fericit! Happy New Year!
Two former communist nations are proud new members of the European Union today. I first became interested in Bulgaria when cast as Nicola in a college production of George Bernard Shaw's Arms and the Man. Back then, all sorts of places I had a hankering to go were behind the so-called Iron Curtain: Poland, Lithuania, Yugoslavia, Hungary, and, according to some, Massachusetts. Wait -- I was in Massachusetts. Three years there, and I could probably count the number of communists I met on one hand. (I did meet fascists in New Hampshire, but that's another story.)
Last year a young door-to-door salesman named Gyorgy stopped by with some decent children's learning aids, and so we purchased a set of books and posters. He was gratefully surprised that we had heard of his home country, and that we even knew that its capital is Sofia. He seemed to have experienced more than a few blank stares when presenting this information to other Chattanoogans.
I've had less experience learning about Romania, but it's a fascinating place as well. I was just mentioning to my sis-in-law that the former dictator there was executed after being deposed, yet coverage of that event paled in comparison to that of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's demise. She kindly reminded me that one reason could be that the US didn't have such a direct role in events leading up to Nicolae Ceauşescu's execution (but don't tell Ronald Reagan that).
In a very selfish way, I hope these two nations' inclusion in the EU further strengthens the possibility that we can someday travel there, and visit Sofia, Bucharest, the Black Sea coast, the rugged interior mountains, and, of course, Count Dracula's castle. (Note to eager commenters: I'm aware that it's a tourist trap. Sometimes these kitschy things can be fun.)