Saturday, July 22, 2017

Sen. Corker supports 'repeal and delay' of Obamacare

Sen. Bob Corker changes mind and says he will support 'repeal and delay' of Obamacare

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Friday, July 21, 2017

Progressives are frustrated with Mayor Barry

In the July 13th edition of the Nashville Scene in an article titled Progressive Frustrations Boil Over On Mayor Barry And Immigration, author Steve Hale says progressives are frustrated with Mayor Barry over her opposition to the recently withdrawn sanctuary city bill. He says progressive feel betrayed.

I can understand their frustration because Mayor Barry has surprised me by not being the flaming liberal I thought she would be. I don't doubt that she is liberal in her values, but she certainly has a pragmatic streak.  I would still support David Fox over Megan Barry in a heartbeat.  I will not be contributing to her reelection campaign any time soon, but I have been pleasantly surprised by some of her actions that I am sure are some of the same things that frustrate progressives.

Her coming out against the sanctuary city bills is the most obvious. Progressives (I don't know the difference between a liberals and a progressive, but I think a progressive is a liberal without pragmatism) wanted her to support the bill and the city to pass it even though it was not enforceable and would have been nullified by the State legislature in a special session. They wanted to make a symbolic stand on principle.

One of the first actions that disappointed progressives and was mentioned in the article, was Mayor Barry clearing of the homeless camp on the Fort Negley site. She worked with homeless advocate and social service agencies to find solutions for those illegally camping at Fort Negley and gave the homeless ample time to leave. I support the humane way she went about it.  In the end however, she cleared the site. She did the right thing.

Other actions that I am sure disappointed progressives was her handling of the so-called "local hire" charter amendment. Progressives got it on the ballot and it passed. The "local hire' amendment was pretty specific that on all Metro funded projects that 40% of the workforce was to be made up of Davidson County residents. Mayor Barry treated it more like a suggestion rather than a legally binding mandate. (See Megan Barry sees the light and flip flops on "Local Hire.")  I am pleased she did but I am sure some progressives were disappointed. (For much more on local hire follow this link.)

On inclusionary zoning which is a form of housing price-fixing, Metro, under Barry's leadership, passed a bill that was part carrot and part stick.  I oppose what passed and hope it is overturned, but I am sure progressives think it did not go far enough. Never mind, that it was probably pushing the limit of what the State would allow, I am sure progressives wanted a much more aggressive bill.

One area in which I am sure Megan Barry disappointing her more progressive supporters was in her welcoming and celebrating of Marine Week, an event in September 2016 that featured 80 events including display of Marine aircraft and weapons, and Marine led physical work-outs, and programs in schools, and seminars, and art and musical performances.  The Marines would not have had this event in Nashville, had the mayor not been welcoming.  She not only welcomed the event but was a gracious host.  Among many progressives there is a sneer at patriotism and a disdain for the military.

One thing Barry did that pleased me and I am sure displeased some progressives is that she did not raise taxes this year.  At a time of a general property reappraisal, a tax increase can be slipped in almost unnoticed since many people do not understand how the process works and will blame higher taxes on the reappraisal instead of a tax increase.  From a liberal point of view, there is always a need for more public spending.  Barry could have slipped in an unnoticed tax increase and spend more for mass transit, schools, sidewalks, affordable housing and everything else.  It was her most opportune time to raise taxes.

On other issues, Barry has certainly pleased progressives.  She is totally supportive of "gay rights."  Her support however does not challenge any existing laws.  She says all the right things for progressives about supporting the homosexual agenda and a  lot of other things but does not go out on a limb for progressive causes.  I wonder if Barry can continue to be a pragmatic liberal without losing her more progressive supporters. 

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What happened at the Metro Council on July 18th:$26M spend from 4% fund, bills dissaproved by the Plannng Commision pass the Council.

To access the council agenda, the council staff analysis of the meeting and my commentary on the agenda, follow this link.  This is a uneventful meeting with no controversy or drama. There is not much reason to watch the meeting. I watched it for you. As expected, the Council deferred action on the bill that would ban some forms of home-sharing (See The Tennessean's "Council delays short-term rental bill.)

RESOLUTION NO. RS2017-785,  which appropriates $26 million to various department from the 4% fund, including a million dollars to General Hospital, is approved with very little discussion by a voice vote with no recorded or audible "no" votes.

RESOLUTION NO. RS2017-786  and RESOLUTION NO. RS2017-787 both of which appropriates money to subsidize the development of what is called "workforce housing" are withdrawn at the recommendation of the Budget and Finance committee. Why, I do not know. By the time it gets to a resolution appropriating money, a developer and project has been selected.  If one were to watch the Budget and Finance Committee meeting, which I have not done, one could probably learn why this is withdrawn. I wish the reason for the withdrawal would be explained from the floor. The curious may want to watch the B & F committee meeting to learn why.

BILL NO. BL2017-800 on second reading, which would make a modest change to the juvenile curfew law is deferred two meetings. This bill would make the curfew more restrictive than it is now. 

BILL NO. BL2017-801  and BILL NO. BL2017-802,  on Second Reading, both of which deal with obstruction or closure of public right of ways are deferred to the second meeting in September.

Bills on Third Reading

BILL NO. BL2017-701  by Karen Johnson is a bill disapproved by the Planning Commission.  It would apply an Urban Design Overlay District on 11.25 acres on Moss Springs Rd and Bluewater Trace. An Urban Design Overlay is a tool to insure that future development or redevelopment is in character with what already exist in the neighborhood and addresses such things as height  of buildings and construction material and orientation of the front door and location of the garage. The Planning Commission says this would impose standards that are more stringent than what constitutes the current character of the neighborhood. It can take some effort to get a dissaproved bill passed. A bill disapproved by the Planning Commission requires 27 affirmative votes to pass. The bill won approval from the Planning Committee of the Council. The roll call vote was 32 in favor, 0 against, 1 abstentions and 6 not voting. I really do not care about the merits of the bill, but am surprised that no one voted against it.  In previous councils, there have always been some members who would simply not vote for disapproved bills. This passage speaks to the legislative skill of Councilman Johnson.  A cynic would say Councilmanic courtesy is alive and well.

BILL NO. BL2017-719 by Scott Davis  is a rezoning bill disapproved by the Planning Commission. This rezoning proposal is to SP zoning and would permit an accessory detached recording studio on the property. Councilman Davis makes the point that lots of people have recording studios in their home or teach piano or other music lessons in their home and are not properly zoned to do so.  He is attempting to properly zone a piece of property so his constituent can legally do what many in Nashville do illegally. He says this issue is something the Council needs to address.  This has been tackled by the Council before but an agreed upon bill was never passed.  I think if I served in the Council, I would be inclined to support this bill.  Disapproved, it would require 27 votes to pass.  The Planing Committee of the Council had voted 4 in favor, 7 against and one not voting. It is deferred one meeting.

BILL NO. BL2017-741 would require that private parking lots or garages post a sign listing the amount of any fines or penalties that may be charged by the parking facility and to post such information not only at entrances but also at each automatic pre-payment station for those with that type arrangement. Parking facilities must already post their parking fees at the entrance of the facility. This seem reasonable and it passes.

BILL NO. BL2017-782 by Councilman Roberts is another rezoning bill disapproved by the Planning Commission. It passes by a vote of 32 in favor, none opposed, one abstention and 6 not voting. 

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Thursday, July 20, 2017

Nashville Sounds stadium's rushed timeline blamed for busted budget, report says

 When the Metro Council approved building the Nashville Sounds stadium, it was to cost $60 million dollars.  It ended up $10 million over budget and costing an additional $21 million in ball park related expenses.  The $60 million project ended up costing $91 million. One of the reasons for the cost overrun is due to a rush to get it finished which resulted in paying a lot of overtime.  I suspect a lot of the ball park related cost were not included in the cost estimate in order to make the project more palatable to the public and the Council.  It was easier to sell a $60 million project than it was a $91 million project. To read The Tennessean story on this topic follow this link.

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Monday, July 17, 2017

What's on the Council agenda for 7/18/2017: $26 million from the 4% fund.

The Metro Council will meet Tuesday, July 18, 2017 at 6:30 PM in the Council chamber at the Metro Courthouse. There is not much of interest on the agenda.  There is nothing that I would expect to generate debate or passion. There is a large spending bill but it probably will not generate controversy and it probably shouldn't.  It is routine except it is for a lot money but it is a lot of request from different departments, all rolled into one bill. There is an anti-home sharing bill on the agenda but it is most likely going to be deferred.

To watch the Council meeting, you can go to the courthouse and watch the meeting in person, or you can watch the broadcast live at Metro Nashville Network's Government TV on Nashville's Comcast Channel 3 and AT&T's U-verse 99 and it is streamed live at the Metro Nashville Network's livestream site. You can catch the meeting the next day (or the day after the next) on the Metro YouTube channel. If can stand the suspense and just wait, I will post the video on this blog the day after or the day after that and provide commentary.

If you are going to watch the Council meeting, you need a copy of the Council agenda and the Council staff analysis or you really will not know what is going on. You can get the agenda and analysis at the highlighted links.

There are six appointment to Boards and Commissions on the agenda and you can expect all to be approved unanimously. One of the appointees is to the Hospital Authority. If the Council would do so, the approval of an appointee to this money pit would be an occasion for the Council to influence policy but the Council does not take advantage of this opportunity and will simply rubber stamp the mayors appointee.

There are two bills on public hearing, one revises and sets the tax levy rates for the central business improvement districts in the Gulch area and the central business improvement district for downtown. Properties in these two district pay an addition tax levy to support additional services provided in those districts. Following the recent reappraisal of property within Davidson County, including the property within the DCBID and GCBID, the special assessment rate for each district must now be lowered. This is routine and should not generate controversy. There are no resolutions on public hearing. There are only 5 bills on First Reading, and they are all lumped together and pass by a single vote. First Reading is a formality that gets a bill on the agenda. Bill are not scrutinized or considered by committee until after First Reading.

There are 18 resolutions all of which are on the consent agenda. A resolution stays on the consent agenda if it passed the committees to which it was assigned unanimously. Since the committees have not met yet, some resolutions which are listed as on the consent agenda may not be on the consent agenda when the council meets. Bills on the consent agenda are usually not controversial and tend to be routine matters, such as accepting grants from the Federal or State Government or authorizing the Department of Law to settle claims against the city or appropriating money from the 4% fund. Resolutions on the consent agenda are passed by a single vote of the Council rather than being considered individually. Any member of the body may have a bill pulled off of the consent agenda or have there "no" vote or abstention recorded. None on the resolutions on this agenda appear controversial.

RESOLUTION NO. RS2017-785  appropriates a whopping $26 million from the General Fund Reserve Fund, also called the 4% fund, for the purchase of equipment and building repairs for various departments of the government. I think this is one of the largest request ever made from this fund in a single bill. I hope the Council Budget and Finance Committee very carefully evaluates each of these request. The largest request are $1 million for General Hospital, $4 million for Police for mobile vehicle laptop computers and printers and a start on equipping police with body cameras, $1 million for Libraries and $1 million for Parks.

RESOLUTION NO. RS2017-786  and RESOLUTION NO. RS2017-787 appropriates money to subsidize the development of what is called "workforce housing." This is housing for those who make between 60% and 120% of the area median income.

Bills on Second Reading. These are the ones of interest.
BILL NO. BL2017-801  and BILL NO. BL2017-802  both deal with obstruction or closure of public right of ways.  801 says that says that if a right of way is going to be obstructed for six months or more that the applicant must also get approval from the Director of the Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods and Community Engagement and the Director of Transportation and Sustainability. Currently, the applicant must simply get the approval of the Public Works Department.  802 would impose a fine for obstructing or closing a right of way without a permit or exceeding the scope of what is authorized by the permit.  While I hate to make it even more cumbersome  for companies to do business, construction closing or blocking of a street can be an inconvenience to the public. I do not know how serious of a problem this is however, but these requirements seem reasonable.
Bills of Third Reading of interest. 
BILL NO. BL2017-608 would restrict all home sharing (Short Term Rental Property, AirBnB), in which the owner does not live on the property to areas zoned for multi-family.  This is likely to be deferred. An  ad hoc committee is still working on other proposals to take away property rights of those sharing their home and this will be considered by that committee to come up with a more comprehensive set of ordinances or one big ordinance that address the issue of home sharing.

BILL NO. BL2017-701  by Karen Johnson is a bill disapproved by the Planning Commission.  It would apply an Urban Design Overlay District on 11.25 acres on Moss Springs Rd and Bluewater Trace. An Urban Design Overlay is a tool to insure that future development or redevelopment is in character with what already exist in the neighborhood and addresses such things as height  of buildings and construction material and orientation of the front door and location of the garage. The Planning Commission says this would impose standards that are more stringent than what constitutes the current character of the neighborhood. A disapproved bill requires 27 affirmative votes to pass.

BILL NO. BL2017-719 by Scott Davis  is a rezoning bill disapproved by the Planning Commission. It will require 27 votes to pass.  I am only pointing out this bill because it is disapproved. Some council members will not vote contrary to a Planning Commission recommendation and doing so is often frowned upon as "councilmanic courtesy." I do not think the Planning Commission should never be overruled, otherwise why not just make the Planning Commission the final authority. On the other hand, I do not think the local council member should have any property he wants rezoned, rezoned without question.  Ideally when voting to override the Planning Commission, council members should carefully evaluate the rezoning on its merits.
BILL NO. BL2017-741 would require that private parking lots or garages post a sign listing the amount of any fines or penalties that may be charged by the parking facility and to post such information not only at entrances but also at each automatic pre-payment station for those with that type arrangement. Parking facilities must already post their parking fees at the entrance of the facility. This seem reasonable.

BILL NO. BL2017-782 by Councilman Roberts is another rezoning bill disapproved by the Planning Commission. 

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Sunday, July 16, 2017

What is “Fake News”?

by Bill Bernstein
The term “Fake news” or inevitably on social media "#FakeNews," became current largely with last year's presidential election and its coverage.  Famously Pres Trump dismissed a CNN reporter's repeated questions at a press conference with the comment “You're fake news.”

But what is fake news?  And why is this so popular now?  For starters fake news is not new, although the variations we are seeing are.  In the past, propaganda, deliberate misinformation, and “yellow journalism” were all common occurrences where governments, politicians or newspaper publishers all wanted something more than to report news. 

But fake news is not simply “facts or opinions I disagree with.”  Truth can be challenging sometimes.
There are many variations of fake news.  Some are obviously fake: stories about Prince Harry having a secret wedding in Las Vegas are simply fiction.  These are easy to spot, as are most “conspiracy” stories. So here are some tips to recognize FakeNews stories:

1).  Any story with “might have” or “could have” is speculation, and very likely #FakeNews. 

Here's a howler from CNNMoney online: The headline reads: Ethics watchdog says White House lawyer might have broken rules.

That sounds like a member of the Trump staff broke ethics rules or committed some kind of crime.  But you have to read in to the story to discover that 1) the “rules” of the headline were ones the administration itself created, 2) even those rules don't apply to people who don't actually work for the administration in any official capacity, in this case Carl Icahn, who was merely an unofficial advisor.  The entire case comes down to an interview the attorney alleged to have violated the rules gave where he stated Icahn was not an official advisor to the President.  And by the way, the “Ethics Watchdog”, Walter Schaub resigned about three weeks later.  Probably for getting into trouble pushing a fake sensationalized story like this.

2) Any story where the headline or lead is not supported by facts given in the body of the story is #FakeNews.

Sensational headlines that oversell the story in the article are by definition #FakeNews. Here's an excellent example of the genre from the Tennessee Star: The headline reads: Mayor Megan Barry Says The Constitution Does Not Apply Here in Nashville: ‘I Am Committed to Meeting the Goals of the Paris Agreement – Even if the President Is Not’

Now, if Megan Barry says The Constitution does not apply in Nashville then there should be a quotation or statement from Mayor Barry that says exactly that, or substantively that.  Read in the story and there is no such thing.  President. Trump decided to withdraw from the Paris Accord on climate change.  Mayor Barry condemned the decision, unsurprisingly, and affirmed her commitment to instituting policies that would follow the principles in the Paris Accord.  A mayor instituting policies in her own city is not a violation of the Constitution, however poor the policies are.  The only proof offered to support the headline is this statement in the story: Constitutional law experts around the country have stated that such declarations are in direct violation of Article 1, Section 10 of the Constitution of the United States.

The article cites no Constitutional law experts saying any such thing.  And the assertion is prima facie absurd.

3) Any story with George Soros in it that is not about George Soros is very likely #FakeNews.

Soros is a billionaire hedge fund manager who has a charitable foundation and gives heavily to left wing causes.  But in the conservative world Soros takes the position of “International Banker” (or “International Jew Banker” to hold up an old stereotype) and is always a mysterious shadowy figure intent on harming America and its way of life. In this, Soros replaces “the Rothschilds” (the prototypical International Jew Bankers) and “the Rockefellers” (often identified erroneously as Jewish by anti Semites) in the role of conspirator against American values. Here's a particularly egregious example: Vartan Gregorian: Islamic Trojan Horse.

Side note: Any article signed with a pseudonym (here “Politically Incorrect”) is almost certainly fake news as real journalists want their names known. Now Vartan Gregorian is a well known academic and while he was born in Iran he comes from an Armenian Christian family and is not, as the article alleges “an unassimilated Muslim.”  The article starts with an unflattering description of George Soros and then asserts an association between Soros and Gregorian.  Unfortunately there is no evidence, in the real world, much less in the article, that the two men even have met each other, much less have some kind of evil relationship.  Soros is trotted out simply because he is a known “bad guy” so guilt by association helps paint Gregorian as a threat.

4) Any story pushing an affiliation not directly relevant to the story is likely #FakeNews.

Speaking of guilt by association, use of the term “affiliate” is always suspicious.  Anyone active in public life who belongs to organizations and/or donates to them could be said to be “affiliated” with anyone else belonging to or donating to the same organization.  It is meaningless in judging a person's intent or character to assert an association, especially with a known bad guy.
An especially egregious example again comes from the Tennessee Star: La Raza Affiliate That Randy Boyd Gave $250,000 Is Holding Another Anti-Trump Event in Nashville.

You'd be hard pressed to recognize from this headline the article is about an upcoming “Biscuits and Tacos” event put on for Independence Day by Conexion Americas, an organization that helps and advocates for Hispanics in Nashville.  But that is the topic. Sort of.  Note the dog whistles here: La Raza (a national organization often tied to Hispanic nationalism), Randy Boyd (a bad guy in the Tennessee Star's world), and “anti Trump” which connotes disloyalty or being on the wrong side of issues. The article of course has nothing to do with Boyd, La Raza or even “anti Trump”.  Their presence is simply meant to create an association among them that amounts to a smear.

5) Any story relying on anonymous sources is likely #FakeNews.

While “Deep Throat” helped break open the Watergate scandal and anonymous sources do often break stories, more often they are cover for fake news.  An especially amusing example is the continuing story that Reince Preibus, the White House Chief of Staff, is getting fired.  That story was reported in the “Palmer Report” on March 30 2017, citing an unlinked Politico story.  CNBC on April 7th relied on a story on Axios, citing “a top aide” to Trump to state Preibus would be fired shortly. On May 27th the Washington Post, relying on “some Trump associates”, reported Priebus would be named ambassador to Greece to remove him from Chief of Staff.  The Post's story concerned an upcoming shake up in the administration and establishing a “war room” to deal with the Russia crisis.  Of course no such thing happened. On May 31st NBC news, citing “multiple sources close to the administration” reported Priebus would be fired and likely replaced with Gary Cohn. And on June 11th Politico, relying on “two administration officials and three outside advisors familiar with the matter,” reported Trump had given Priebus until July 4th to “clean up the White House”.  Of course Priebus is still there.  I should note that all of these stories contain flat denials by the White House itself that there was any truth to them.  People should remember that not every staffer is loyal to his immediate or ultimate boss and many have their own agendas to push.  They do so by providing anonymous “tips” to further one narrative or another.  When these tips confirm a narrative the particular news organization wants to believe, like the Trump White House is chaotic and disorganized, then they are likely to be aired as news.

In all fake news is so not because the facts reported are incorrect.  In almost every case what is reported is “true”.  They are fake because the writers and editors stack fact and opinion, editing to create a false impression by leaving out key pieces of information, or substituting opinion for fact.  To recognize fake news requires asking questions, whether the facts given are relevant, whether there are key pieces of information not being reported, whether the source of the information is reliable or not, and whether the story is really a disguised attempt to push an opinion rather than report news.

Bill Bernstein first came to Nashville in 1980 as a freshman at Vanderbilt. After finishing he spent time in graduate schools in Classics. He returned to Nashville in 1992 and has been a firearms dealer and Second Amendment advocate for over a decade.

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Beth Harwell enters 2018 governor's race

The Tennessean: Beth Harwell enters 2018 governor's race touting experience and leadership

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