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

Sen. Dolores Gresham now OK with the current Common Core standards or Sen. Gresham says she still wants to repeal Common Core

 Co-sponsor changes stance on bill to repeal Common Core

Sen. Dolores Gresham
The Tennessean, AP, 1-22-2015 - A co-sponsor of legislation to repeal Tennessee’s Common Core standards said Thursday the measure probably will change after discussions with teachers and other educators who say the higher benchmarks in English and math are helping students.

Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Dolores Gresham and Senate Government Operations Committee Chairman Mike Bell, both Republicans, filed the proposal in November. ....

“I have talked to teachers who have told me in so many words, at last, we are no longer dumbing down our children,” she said. “That kind of encouragement is very important when other people are not so enthusiastic.” (link)

The Tennessean, by Dave Boucher, 1-22-2015 - .....says she is committed to repealing Common Core in Tennessee, a day after reports came out that she had changed her mind on moving away from the controversial education standards.

“I reaffirm my commitment to higher academic standards through passage of Senate Bill 4, which sets our own Tennessee Standards Commission. In order to do this, we must clear the way by severing our ties with the current Common Core Standards.” (link)

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TN GOP to take up "closed primary" resolution

The Tennessee Republican Party Executive Committee is scheduled to meet in special session on Feb. 7 here in Nashville to consider a closed primary resolution. If the committee approves the resolution, it would be recommending that the Tennessee General Assembly pass legislation to require voters to register either as Democrat or Republican if they want to vote in a primary election.

If the legislation were passed it would mean that those registering as Democrats could vote only in Democratic primaries and those registering as Republicans could vote only in Republican primaries.

The arguments for party registration is that Democrats often vote in Republican primaries when they have no serious contest in a Democrat primary and they vote for the most moderate Republicans. Those who advocate for closed primaries say Democrats should not be picking Republican candidates. Both proponents and proponent of closed primaries agree that with a closed primary system you have fewer moderate candidates. There is also an argument that people may vote in the opposing party's primary to vote for the worst candidate of that party. I don't think that really happens very often, but it may. 

Those opposed to closed primaries say that the open primary in Tennessee has served the Party well. Over the years, Tennessee has went from mostly Democrat to mostly Republican. By having open primaries, people can gradually transition from Democrat to Republican in their voting habits without consciously making a decision to switch parties. It makes it easier for people to change their political identity. Another argument for the open primary is that it is good for voter participation. When people have a say in the nominating process, they are more likely to vote in the general election. I am not persuaded by that argument however and do not think that greater participation in elections necessarily makes for a better democracy. I would just as soon that uninformed people not vote.

No doubt there are many Republicans in Democrat strongholds of Nashville and Memphis who vote in Democrat primaries and no doubt many Democrats vote in Republican primaries in East Tennessee. If you live in Nashville and want to vote for the County Constitutional offices, such as judges, sheriff, County Clerk, Register of Deeds, etc, most of the time, the Republicans do not even run candidates and to have any say in these local races, you have to vote in the Democrat primary.  While I have always been a Republican, I used to regularly vote in the Democrat primary.  In pockets of East Tennessee there is no Democrat party and to vote for County Executive, judges and other county officials, one has to vote in the Republican primary. Maybe if Republicans could not vote in Democrat primaries and vice versa, we would see single party areas develop a two party system.

Fourteen states including Tennessee have truly open primaries. Here are the others: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Hawaii, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, South Carolina, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin. Three other states have primaries that are more open than "open" primaries. They have only one primary with candidates participating regardless of party. These states are California, Louisiana, and Washington. Several other states have some sort of hybrid system but are mostly open, in that one can declare their party affiliation the day of the election or can easily switch parties. These are Alaska, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, Mississippi, North Dakota, Ohio, and Texas. So, twenty-five have an open or mostly open primary system.

Twelve states have truly closed primary systems including Delaware, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming. Some other states have semi-closed primaries which may mean that registered Republican can only vote in the Republican primary and registered Democrats can only vote in the Democrat primary but independents may vote in either primary . These states with this semi-closed system includes Arizona, Colorado, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Rhode Island, and West Virginia.  This adds up to nineteen states with closed or mostly closed systems.

I know this does not add up to 50 states. Some states have caucus and  not primaries.  Some have both a caucus and a primary. Also, some of the hybrids do not fit neatly into a "mostly open" or "mostly closed" category.  From information provided however, one can see that there are a variety of methods by which parties can choose their candidates and not a strong preference has emerged for one system over the other. Also, it does not appear that one system benefits one party over another. There are very "red" states in both systems and very "blue" states in both systems. Also, very ideological politicians have emerged from both open and closed systems or hybrid systems.

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

The AMP really is dead.

The following email was posted to

From: Bland, Steve (MTA)
Date: Thu, Jan 22, 2015 at 1:32 PM

Dear Amp Community Advisory Committee Member:
As you know, when the Community Advisory Committee process for the Amp Bus
Rapid Transit project concluded in late October, Mayor Dean asked that I
assemble the findings of this group as well as other relevant information
and formulate a recommendation on the project to him and our Board. I will
be delivering that recommendation at today's MTA Board meeting. For your
information, I am attaching a copy of those findings, as well as the
associated media release.

In that report, I am recommending that the Amp not move to construction as
currently configured, and that we shift our focus to an overall strategic
plan for transit services and facilities in the Nashville and Middle
Tennessee Region
. This plan will incorporate design considerations for
high capacity/high performance transit facilities such as that contemplated
in the original Amp proposals.

During the course of the CAC process, you became acutely
aware of the challenges inherent in designing a high capacity/high
performance transit facility in an already busy corridor. In my view, the
highly public and open nature of this process was absolutely crucial to the
long-term success of any project in that corridor, as well as for the
overall transit system in Nashville. I continue to believe that a high
performance transit system is necessary in the Amp corridor, as well as in
several other corridors in the Nashville region.

As we transition to an overall system wide strategic planning process, we
need you to stay engaged, and I hope that you will. I have no doubt that
Nashville is positioned for quantum leaps in transit thanks in large part
to your role.
Stephen G. Bland
Chief Executive Officer 
Nashville MTA 
430 Myatt Drive 
Nashville, TN 37115

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Senator Alexander introduces The American Liberty Restoration Act which would end the individual mandate in Obamacare

Senator Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and Senator Orrin Hatch, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, along with 20 Republican co-sponsors have introduced  The American Liberty Restoration Act which would end the
individual mandate portion of the Affordable Care Act. The individual mandate is one of the least popular parts of Obamacare.

For the 2014 tax filing season, individuals who did not purchase health insurance will face a fine of $95 or 1% of their income, whichever is more.  For the 2015 tax filing season, that penalty will increase to $325 or 2% of their income, whichever is more. 

“How can we continue to enforce the individual mandate when the law doesn’t clearly ensure that millions of Americans are allowed to receive subsidies to help cover the cost? How can we enforce it when Obamacare outlaws plans that fit family budgets?  Millions more Americans are in for sticker shock when they see how much they owe the IRS in April because of Obamacare. We need to focus on making health care plans affordable to Americans,” said Alexander.

There is pending a lawsuit before the Supreme Court, King v. Burwell, which challenges the validity of subsidies issued on the federal exchanges. Should the Court rule that subsidies are only available to those who purchased their insurance through a state exchange as stated in the text of the Affordable Care Act, then  million of people would have to pay the penalty for not having insurance but would not be eligible for the subsidy to help them purchase insurance.  

President  Obama has said he would oppose efforts to roll back his policies and is expected to veto this bill should it pass.  However, should the court rule that subsidies are not available to people who purchased their insurance thought the federal exchange, then many Democrats may join Republicans in overriding a veto. Without the individual mandate, Obamacare would not function.

“Forcing Americans to purchase insurance goes against our nation’s history of individual liberty. This legislation strikes Obamacare’s individual mandate and restores the freedoms outlined in the Constitution.  Washington should continue to work towards finding a way to equip patients with the tools needed to obtain access to health insurance, but not in a way that attacks the spirit of the Constitution and our treasured history of limited government,” said Hatch.

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Stopping the President’s Executive Overreach on Immigration Reform

Phil Roe
by Rep. Phil Roe, U. S. Congressman, 1st District TN - In November, President Obama took executive action to make controversial, unprecedented changes to our nation’s immigration system. Despite the outrage of the American people and warnings from myself and other members of Congress that he was poisoning the well for real immigration reform, the president moved forward with actions that allow certain illegal immigrants who have been in America more than five years to avoid deportation as long as they register, pass a background check and pay taxes. This is estimated to extend legal protection to nearly five million immigrants who came to the United States illegally. I am pleased to report that this week, I joined my colleagues in the House in voting to stop this policy through the appropriations process.
As I’ve said before, I am completely opposed to this irresponsible and unconstitutional approach to immigration reform. It is extremely troubling and infuriating that we have a president who believes he can change laws without congressional approval, but this is not new behavior from this Administration. I was proud to see Tennessee was the 25th state to join a lawsuit challenging the president’s actions, and was pleased to see a court in Western Pennsylvania rule his actions were unconstitutional. We must continue to fight these actions in every way possible—both through the courts and in Congress.
One of the first actions I took in the 114th Congress was to join 56 of my colleagues in writing to House Speaker John Boehner urging him to keep a commitment he made at the end of the last Congress for the House to move swiftly to eliminate funding for the implementation of this policy. The legislation we passed in December has given the new Congress, which is led by Republicans in the House and Senate, ideal conditions to fight the president’s policy, and I am pleased to report that this week, the House took our fight to the next level.

In December, we passed a bill that only funds the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) – through February because DHS is the agency in charge of implementing the president’s executive amnesty. This week the House passed a measure funding DHS operations for the rest of the fiscal year that blocks funding to implement the president’s executive amnesty; ensures no illegal immigrant receives any federal benefit; and stops the Administration from considering new, renewal or previously denied Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals applications—the policy that allows unaccompanied minors to stay in the country. Now the Senate must consider this legislation, and I hope they move swiftly to get legislation to the president’s desk that funds the important work being done at DHS and that blocks these irresponsible executive actions.

With a Republican-led House and Senate, President Obama has no choice but to work with Congress if he expects to accomplish anything in the final years of his presidency. And while I’d like to work with the president to find solutions to the many issues facing our country, we can’t accomplish anything meaningful if the president continues to try to ignore our laws and implement policies that haven’t been authorized by Congress. It’s up to the president. He can walk back his irresponsible governing tactics and work with Congress, or he can expect strong pushback from both chambers of Congress until the end of his presidency. I hope President Obama will choose effective governing, but if not, I’m ready to keep fighting for the American people.

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Senate rejects amendment stating climate change is real and that human activity significantly contributes to it, How they voted.

A proposed amendment to the Keystone pipeline bill sponsored by Sen. Brian Schatz (D., Hawaii) stating the sense of the Senate that climate change is real and that human activity significantly contributes to it was rejected by a vote of 50 for, 49 opposed and 1 not voting. The amendment needed 60 votes to pass. Lamar Alexander voted for the amendment. He was joined by Republicans Kelly Ayotte (NH), Susan Collins  (ME), Lindsey Graham (SC) and Mark Kirk (IL). All other Republicans voted "no." All Democrats voted "yes."

The overwhelming majority of scientist accept that climate change is real and that human activity significantly contributes to it. I accept that. I think we can disagree on how severe the threat is or what if anything to do about it and there certainly is a lot of alarmism and exaggeration. However if I were in the Senate, I would have voted for this amendment which simply affirms what is virtually a scientific consensus. I can accept the scientific theory of global warming and still support building the Keystone pipeline, which I do. 

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Senate votes that climate change is real and not a hoax. Alexander and Corker vote "yes."

The vote was 98 to 1 in favor of the amendment stating the Sense of the Senate that climate change is real and not a hoax. The only "no" vote was Roger Wicker of Mississippi. The amendment did not say "man-made" climate change so even critics of climate change could say the climate is always changing and conclude that climate change is therefor real. (link)

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Senate GOP to examine 'legal issues' of Insure Tennessee

The Tennessean, by Dave Boucher, Jan. 21, 2015 -  A Senate committee chaired by a staunch opponent of the governor's plan to extend health benefits to 200,000 Tennesseans will discuss potential "legal issues" arising from the proposal during a meeting next week.
......can the federal government change or reinterpret its agreement on the TennCare wavier; what additional changes are needed to state law to account for costs of the program or funding from hospitals; could the state discontinue the program if funding changes and other related questions. (link)

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Haslam’s ‘Insure Tennessee’ promo tour: "This is not Obamacare." “And it won’t cost Tennessee taxpayers another dime.”

Associated Press, JACKSON, Tenn. — Gov. Bill Haslam on Wednesday kicked off a statewide tour to make the hard sell for his proposal to extend health coverage to more than 200,000 low-income Tennesseans.
“This is not Obamacare,” Haslam told reporters after the event. “This is a different program that puts incentives in there for healthy behavior both on the user side and on the medical care provider side.
“And it won’t cost Tennessee taxpayers another dime,” he said.
Hospitals have agreed to cover any extra costs to the state that Haslam’s Medicaid proposal would incur, and the governor said he will obtain guarantees from the federal government that the state can drop out of the program at any time. (link)

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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

What happened at the Jan 20, 2015 Council meeting: The lowering-the-bar-for-small-business-grants and the regulate-golf-carts meeting.

To access the agenda, Council staff analysis, and my commentary on the agenda, follow this link. At only 32 minutes long this is a short meeting. Not much of interest is on this agenda and there is no controversies or discussion of any legislation. You do not need to watch this meeting. The confirmation of appointees to Boards and Commissions passes, all of the resolutions pass on the consent agenda,  no bills are pulled off of first reading, and the two bills on 2nd reading pass.

BILL NO. BL2014-896 on third reading is deferred once again. It would rezones 238 acres in east Nashville to allow accessory dwelling units on properties in the rezoned area.
BILL NO. BL2014-990 on third reading passes without discussion. It modifies the eligibility requirements for obtaining small business economic development incentive grants. You are probably aware of the incentives we have provided to companies like Bridgestone and HCA. Metro also has a similar program for small business but it has been little used since most small businesses can't meet the requirement. This lowers the requirements. If a small business creates ten new jobs that pay at least 80% of the salary of the annual average salary for all occupations in Nashville, the city will pay the company $500 per job created.  I really do not like this, but since we do for big business it is argued we should do it for small business.
BILL NO. BL2014-991 on third reading passes. It modifies the metro code to remove the requirement that public construction projects pay Davis-Bacon prevailing wages.  This is to comply with a State law that prohibits paying that wage.  It is about time! We should not have been paying higher than market wages anyway.  This will save some money on future pubic construction projects. The Council earns no merit for doing what the State forces them to do.
BILL NO. BL2014-993 on third reading passes unanimously without discussion. It is more unnecessary regulations and restraint of trade. There is service downtown that moves people in vehicles that resemble golf carts. While this bill has some non-objectionable things like insurance requirement, it requires new people who want to enter the business to get a "certificate of necessity," as if there is ever a "necessity" for such a vehicle. My position is that anyone who wants to should be allowed to compete and let the market sort them out. It I were in the Council, I would have voted against this. I would vote against any bill that requires a certificate of necessity in order for one to enter a business. 
Here is The Tennessean's report on the Council meeting:  Nashville lowers bar for small-business incentive program.

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Majority of TN Voters Less Likely to Reelect Legislators Who Support Haslam’s Obamacare Medicaid Expansion

Foundation for Government Accountability press release - A majority of Tennessee voters stand against ObamaCare’s Medicaid Expansion once they learn the true impacts the program will have on the state, with almost 60 percent of them opposed, says a Foundation for Government Accountability poll released today.

The poll was conducted after Gov. Bill Haslam reversed his opposition to ObamaCare to support Washington’s goal of expanding the welfare state in Tennessee, in spite of the lessons learned by the state’s failed TennCare program. Not too long ago, the TennCare Medicaid expansion nearly bankrupted the budget and forced lawmakers to kick hundreds of thousands of people off of the program to keep the state afloat. When reminded of the TennCare Medicaid expansion disaster, 62 percent of Tennessee voters said they were less likely to support the ObamaCare expansion Gov. Haslam’s wants today.

With ObamaCare still toxic, and the nightmares of the TennCare expansion debacle still fresh in peoples’ minds, Gov. Haslam is seeking to rebrand his ObamaCare Medicaid expansion plan, calling it “Insure Tennessee,” to dupe voters and legislators into thinking his welfare state expansion is both Tennessee-centric and market-based.

“There is nothing Tennessee-centric about caving to the dictates of Washington’s health care takeover through ObamaCare. Call it what you want, but the federal strings will be the same, the budget crunches will be the same, and the risks to patients and taxpayers will be the same. Insure Tennessee is ObamaCare expansion in disguise,” said FGA CEO Tarren Bragdon.

“Tennessee was able to climb out of the hole it dug itself after the TennCare expansion, but that may not be the case this time around. After the ObamaCare Medicaid expansion raises premiums, after the feds renege on their promises, after truly needy patients are pushed to the back of the line, the state may have no legal way to back out.”

While the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion was optional—doing so would turn these new expansion enrollees into a so-called mandatory population—the court did not clarify whether a state can back out of an ObamaCare expansion after passing it without losing their federal funding for all Medicaid enrollees. Upon learning that the state may not be able to reverse its decision after it expands Medicaid, two-thirds of Tennessee voters said they were less supportive. 73% of voters said they were less likely to support Haslam’s ObamaCare expansion plan knowing it could rob funding for critical priorities including education, safety and roads.

“Tennesseans don’t want Gov. Haslam’s ObamaCare Medicaid expansion. It’s time for the legislature to stand up for their citizens and protect them from a massive expansion of ObamaCare,” said Bragdon. “Gov. Haslam may be captivated by the allure of allegedly free money from Washington, but leaders in the Legislature need to keep a clear head and fight for what’s right for the people of Tennessee.”

When Haslam starts talking with legislators about Insure Tennessee, someone should remind him that the people of Tennessee don’t want to see the care of their parents, their health care system, their taxes, and their state jeopardized just so he can win points with the President. That’s no way for a conservative leader to lead, and that’s why 57 percent of Tennesseans and 78 percent of Republicans say they are less likely to reelect a candidate if they support ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion, Insure Tennessee.

The FGA poll can be viewed here.

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Using race to inflame the charter school debate

Reposted from TN-Edu.Independent - Many here in Nashville and Tennessee continue to engage in mud slinging and innuendo campaigns against charter schools.

The latest attack strategy involves race and claims of segregation. One article now making the rounds is the following from liberal website Salon. The quiet whisper is "See, look, charter schools segregate, they're so terrible aren't they?"

The ugly segregationist history of the charter school movement 

What better way, at a point of heightened racial tension in our country, with Ferguson, MO and Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and others to capitalize on this tension and accuse charter schools of segregation?

I work in the state's charter school sector, and am continually disheartened by the attempts made to discredit the work and effort of school leaders and teachers. The overriding focus of the work in the charter sector is on raising the academic achievement level and future opportunities of students. At present, most of the students enrolled in charter schools are minority and/or students identified as eligible for free or reduced lunch. And that work and movement - to provide disadvantaged students with a stronger education and an opportunity for a brighter future - is strong and growing even stronger and expanding to more students as thousands of families continue to choose charter schools. Families continue to choose charter schools and demand more of them in Nashville and Tennessee because these schools are serving students well and delivering on the mission of providing a strong education and preparation for the future.

I'm disheartened not really because many of these people being attacked are my friends and colleagues, but mainly disheartened because it's such a huge distraction and waste of time and energy to dispel the misinformation being put out publicly from these critics.  Charters enroll about 6% of the student population in Nashville and a little less than 2% of all students statewide. I think "why all the attacks when we need to be figuring out how to better educate the 100%?"

Forget the "We Are the 99% campaign" (against the 1%). In education, I'm going to propose we have the "FOR 100% campaign" (and not continually attack the 6%).  We should all be working to further professionalize teaching and learning communities or figuring out how to improve instructional quality in all schools - charter and district alike - rather than spending time trying to spread a false narrative of how charter schools are out to re-segregate our country. It's not true. It's stupid reasoning and it's counterproductive to intentionally mischaracterize other people's motives.

I have found no charter school staff member or school leader or a governing board member or a philanthropic supporter of charter schools, I repeat absolutely nobody who has ever come off to me as segregationist.  Not even remotely close. In fact, my experience is the exact opposite. Many in the charter movement in Nashville and Memphis work exhaustively on issues of equity and justice for minority and disadvantaged youth, and have very intentional and deep desires to improve communities and neighborhoods.

A few things to keep in mind when articles like this come out:

1. Charter school laws and experiences are very unique to each state.

Generalizing things about charter schools - their successes or their warts - is somewhat a waste of time when done on a national level or simplistically across states. Critics do this often.

Every state that has charter schools has its own charter law. This means that each state has a unique set of guidelines around charter school issues, things like enrollment (who can attend charters), who can operate charters (for profit or non profit providers), things like charter school authorizer oversight and accountability or even who can authorize charters (many states let colleges and universities, state boards of education AND local districts authorize charter schools).

Tennessee passed its charter school law in 2002. The first charter legislation was passed in Minnesota in 1992. So Tennessee had 10 years to learn from other states before implementing its law. They crafted a strong law that was mindful of lessons learned based on mistakes and strengths of other state laws.  The law has continued to be updated.

2. It's worth examining actual history and experience in Tennessee charter schools

Critics capitalize on the fact that most people are into the one minute news cycle. Read 1 article on Salon or a social media opinion post and you've got all the facts.

Not quite.

Tennessee passed its charter school law only in 2002 largely because there were many years prior of very strong opposition to charter schools by the TEA, one of the most powerful forces year in and year out at the State Legislature. Look just south of us for something similar. Alabama still does not have a charter school law mainly because of the very very powerful teacher's union in Alabama.

TEA's fervent opposition to charter schools has continued over the years and continues today (although it's a bit ironic when you think about it because charter schools give their teachers more coaching and support and often better pay, core issues the TEA is regularly supporting).  When the law did pass in 2002, TEA opposition was still heavily present, and so the original charter law contained a cap on the number of charter schools that could exist statewide, and charter schools were only allowed to enroll a very small subset of the overall student population in Tennessee.

Charter schools could only enroll students assigned to schools that failed to meet AYP (remember NCLB?) or enroll a student that failed to test proficient or advanced on TCAP math or reading. The law was later amended to allow students who qualified for free and reduced price lunch to enroll. Only in 2011 did the law change to allow any student in Tennessee to attend a charter.

So for nearly a decade - charter schools served those students that the TN charter law said they could serve. Students that went to schools that didn't meet AYP, weren't proficient or advanced on TCAP or those that qualified for free and reduced price lunch. And you guessed it, those students were and are predominantly minority students. It was these students, and only these students, who could attend charter schools in Tennessee for a long time.

So if we remember actual history from our local context, and understand the effects public policy has on school enrollment patterns, it's fair to say that the legislative efforts backed by the TEA over the years in Tennessee were a driving force in concentrating a higher population of minorities and free and reduced lunch students in the state's charter schools.

It's true that today TN charter schools serve a higher percentage of minorities and students eligible for free and reduced when compared with traditional district schools.  Again, that largely reflects the legislative constraints in the law that existed on charter school operators for many years, and not Tennessee charter school operators intentionally trying to cordon off poor and minority students into charter schools.

In the few years since 2011, charter schools on the whole are becoming less concentrated with minorities and high poverty students. Or put another way, charter schools have become less "segregated" with a fully open enrollment policy. This is a good thing, as many education policy studies and research show that concentrating poor and minority students in any type of school - district run or charter - concentrates the challenges of educating this subgroup of students and on the whole, achievement levels are often lower when disadvantaged students are highly concentrated in the same school.

I'd also make the case that when we see segregation of race in our schools (it exists in a number of traditional district schools), that is largely reflective of housing patterns and city zoning policies (not charter operators trying to segregate students).

Concentrating minorities or high poverty students into schools, district run or charter, via public policy at the state or city level is often a recipe for low student achievement. In spite of this experience and very damaging effect, many Tennessee charter schools have been able to defy the odds over the years even while serving concentrated minority and high poverty student populations. These charter schools have shown strong graduation rates and very high achievement indicators. Students leave these schools more rounded and better prepared for their futures. Yes, there have been low performing charters, but the charter school concept and the key element of accountability associated with charter schools has allowed these low performing charters to be shuttered or quickly reformed.

Charter schools are not out to segregate students. They are in fact out to prove that demography is not not destiny.  So let's move on from empty arguments and inflammatory race based claims, and focus our work and efforts on improving all of our schools for 100% of the students that need to be served.

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Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam Is New Billionaire, Richest Politician In America

Forbes - FALLING PRICES at the pump are typically good for politicians, and that’s doubly true for Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam. An heir to truck stop chain Pilot Flying J, Haslam has seen his net worth more than double since August–from $980 million to an estimated $2 billion–thanks to cheaper gas. He’s now the richest elected official in America.

Cheap unleaded means more people filling up–and a greater chance for gas stations and truck stops to profit off fuel, plus ancillary goods and services. “In a declining fuel market, these operators do much better,” says John R. Lawrence, managing director at investment bank Stephens.(link)

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Mayor Announces Fourth Session of MyCity Academy

Applications Being Accepted for Free Program That Empowers New Americans, Neighborhood Leaders to Understand, Participate in Metro Government

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Mayor Karl Dean today announced that MyCity Academy is now accepting applications for its fourth session. This program, which is free to participants, helps New Americans and neighborhood leaders gain a better understanding of how Metro government works. Participants are chosen as part of a competitive process. MyCity Academy is the first program of its kind in the nation.

“In a city that has one of the fastest-growing immigrant populations in the country, we need programs like MyCity Academy to help ensure that all Nashvillians are able to understand and access government services,” Mayor Dean said. “It's not just the right thing to do — it's the smart thing to do. Diverse communities are the ones that have the best chances to thrive in today's world, and Nashville is proud to be one.”

Over the course of seven months, MyCity Academy participants meet with Mayor Dean, leaders from Metro departments and tour Metro facilities. Upon graduation, participants become part of an extensive and diverse alumni network.

The first meeting for this year's session will be on March 19 and will focus on the formation of Metro government and Nashville's history. Individuals who are interested in applying should review the course information and fill out the online application by Feb. 13. Questions may be directed to

Some 25 countries have been represented so far among MyCity participants. Nearly 12 percent of Nashville's population was born outside of the United States, and nearly half of those people are recent immigrants who entered the country since 2000.

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Alexander. Corker, Blackburn, and Cooper Statements on State of the Union Address

Alexander Statement on State of Union Address

WASHINGTON, Jan. 20, 2015 – U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today released the following statement after President Obama’s annual State of the Union address: “Unfortunately, much of what I heard from President Obama tonight are partisan proposals that don’t have any chance of becoming law – and that he intends to pursue despite the message the American people sent him in November by electing a Republican Congress.

“We need to hear more about proposals that Congress might actually work on with the president: to expand free trade so we can sell more Tennessee products overseas, simplify student aid forms so more community college students can take advantage of Tennessee Promise, preventing cyberattacks and fixing No Child Left Behind.

“I’d like to hear talk more about 21st-century cures, helping to get treatments, medical devices and medicines through the U.S. Food and Drug administration more rapidly, which would help virtually all Americans. This is something that both Republicans in Congress and the president believe is important. “There are plenty of opportunities – if the president really wants to – to work with the Republican majority to get things done that the American people want done.”

Corker Statement on Tonight’s State of the Union Address

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) today released the following statement in advance of President Obama’s State of the Union address.

“While I know it is the tradition for presidents to address the nation in this way, I always pay closer attention to actions after these types of speeches are delivered,” said Corker. “Tennesseans are ready for both the Congress and the White House to govern responsibly and finally focus on growing our economy, repairing our fiscal house and strengthening our nation’s role in the world. It is my hope the president will recognize that the only way to solve some of the big issues we face and create a stronger, more prosperous nation for future generations is to roll up his sleeves, provide leadership and work with this new Congress. If he does that, I think we can begin to deliver real, long-lasting results for hardworking American families.”

Blackburn Responds to President Obama’s State of the Union Address

Blackburn Responds to President Obama’s State of the Union Address - See more at:
Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) issued the following statement in response to President Obama’s address to the nation on the State of the Union.

“President Obama’s proposal to increase taxes is not a serious solution to the challenges facing our nation. The President’s plan is misleading because it hurts many seniors who aren’t wealthy, but depend on capital gains,” Blackburn said. “President Obama has increased our debt by $7.6 trillion over 6 years. Last year the federal government collected a record amount of $3 trillion dollars in revenue. Now he wants even more money to expand his dysfunctional government. The American people are tired of it. I have not talked to one person who thinks that more money should be sent to DC for the bloated, over grown, overreaching federal government to waste.

“Let me tell you something – we don’t have a revenue problem. We have a spending problem. Sending more money to bureaucrats in Washington is not going to solve the underlying problems. We need to work on real solutions like my proposal to cut just one penny out of every dollar from discretionary spending. By cutting one percent in discretionary spending, we could save taxpayers an estimated $4 billion in just one year.

“The President also talks about his initiatives to protect personal data online and yet today we learned from the Associated Press that data firms may be tracking people as they use Depending on technology, they may be able to determine age, income, zip code, and whether you smoke or are pregnant. These findings raise new privacy and cyber security concerns. If President Obama can’t protect data on then why should we trust him to lead us on other cyber and privacy issues?”

Cooper Statement on State of the Union Address 

WASHINGTON—U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper (TN-5) attended President Obama’s State of the Union address and issued the following statement:

“The President gave an optimistic, energetic speech urging Congress to behave and put America first. I am proud he praised Tennessee’s education reforms. He spoke well tonight and there are positive signs that Congress will do less bickering and more work.”

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