Wednesday, August 27, 2014

What if TennCare Director Darin Gordon is Really a Performance Artist?

Posted By on Wed, Aug 27, 2014 at 5:30 AM

Can performance artists be funny? If so, then I'm beginning to suspect that we don't really have a TennCare director, but instead have some Monty Python-level prankster who's passing himself off as the TennCare director.

Because, really, there are only two possibilities for how to understand this story by Kate Harrison Belz over at the Times-Free Press about how the stupid TennCare website is still not working. Either it's almost unfathomably alarming, with the level of money wasted, blame shifted, and incompetence on display or it's a grand joke.

Check this out:

TennCare’s director acknowledged Tuesday that contractors have not finished even the first of four testing phases required to launch a new computer system that was supposed to begin handling Medicaid enrollment last October.

[...]

State lawmakers questioned TennCare Director Darin Gordon during a joint fiscal review committee meeting Tuesday, pressing him for details about the $35.7 million contract with Northrup Grumman to create the “Tennessee Eligibility Determination System,” or TEDS.

[...]

He said that the state had hired a third-party auditing firm, KGMT, to review how long completing the system will take. The review itself will take 14 weeks.

That's a joke, right? It reads like a joke. You've got the initial funny situation — that we're almost a year behind schedule and we haven't finished even the first testing phase. Then there's the build-up — that this late mess of a website is costing us $35.7 million. And then, the punchline, about how even the review to find out how long it will take to finish the system is going to take more than three months.

I'm considering asking Scene art guru, Laura Hutson, to weigh in on whether this works as performance art. Should we understand this as the state government actually throwing $35.7 million down the toilet in order to continue the farce of pretending to do something about bringing healthcare to most Tennesseans without actually doing anything? Or should we understand Darin Gordon as an artist attempting to draw attention to the the ludicrous lengths the state will go to fuck up healthcare?

Is Gordon one of the state's most incompetent villains or one of our bravest artists? I'm just not sure.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Daily Links: The Emmys, Uber, and Saturday Night Live

Posted By on Tue, Aug 26, 2014 at 5:00 PM

Every day we read a lot of stuff. If it's interesting, thought provoking, funny or being shared by everyone we know on the Internet, we share some of it with you. Happy reading.

From Grantland: The Emmys As Flat Circle: Why Last Night’s Show Felt Familiar

From Grantland: The Problem of the Black Cast Member on ‘SNL’

From The Verge: This is Uber's playbook for sabotaging Lyft

From The Independent: The Times' newsroom set to ring with the sounds of typewriters once more

Continue reading »

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Radley Balko And The Greatest Timing Ever

Posted By on Tue, Aug 26, 2014 at 10:14 AM

Ladies and gentlemen, there's timing and then there's timing.


Yes, a little more than two weeks after events in Ferguson have raised new awareness about the militarization of local police forces, the definitive book on the subject — Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces — hits the stands in paperback.

From the Scene's piece on the book last year:

Balko tackles a subject of growing controversy in communities across the United States: the militarization of police forces. Drones, enormous armored transports, Army-issued helicopters — equipment manufactured for and used by the U.S. military in times of war is finding its way more and more into the SWAT teams of police departments across the country.

"This is just gear that was not designed for use in a civilian, domestic environment. It was designed for use on a battlefield," Balko says. "When you put on garb that was designed for a soldier to wear, it can and often does give you the mentality of a soldier or encourage you to assume that mentality."

Rise of the Warrior Cop recounts instances of botched raids from across the country. For one of many shocking examples, see this excerpt from the book, courtesy of PublicAffairs. Balko also traces the evolution of policing as a profession and the rise of the SWAT team from its origins in the civil unrest of the 1960s. "In most cities, the percentage of the police force that was white was completely disproportionate to the percentage of the cities that were white," Balko says, "and so increasingly you had police departments that couldn't identify with the people they were policing and that were psychologically isolated, physically isolated." Black demonstrators were seen not as fellow U.S. citizens deserving of the same constitutional and police protections but as enemy combatants whom the SWAT teams were formed to fight against.

"Then you have these riots going on and the racial divide," Balko says, "so I think that really was the start of this kind of battlefield mentality."

Kind of eerie, no?

Pick up the book. You won't find more relevant reading today.

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Gibbons and Cates Need to Stop Looking for Absolution and Start Asking for Forgiveness

Posted By on Tue, Aug 26, 2014 at 5:30 AM

Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons and former General Services Commissioner Steven Cates are still apparently all hurt that they couldn't arrest Occupy Nashville protesters left and right without being regarded as power-mad lunatics. So, they're back in court trying to get a ruling that they didn't really violate the rights of the Occupy Nashville protesters.

Travis Loller at the Associated Press reports:


In briefs filed with the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, state attorneys argue that Gibbons and Cates should be granted qualified immunity for their actions to disperse the protesters.

They say it was the job of the two officials to protect state property and maintain order. The curfew and arrests were necessary to deal with reports of crime, sanitation problems, trash and damage to the plaza in front of the state Capitol, they say.

If Tennessee deals with trash being strewn everywhere by arresting people, I invite Gibbons, Cates, and State Troopers out to my neighbor's front yard, where the garbage men regularly toss the trash from our bin and sometimes the bin itself, instead of, for whatever reason, placing the garbage in their truck and returning the bin to the side of the road. I live on a state highway — this special 'state property,' so come on and protect my neighbor's yard from my garbage, boys.

Joking aside, this is some acting-like-a-big-baby action here. Gibbons and Cates are arguing that they don't believe that the Occupiers' occupation of Legislative Plaza was a First Amendment issue. First, of course it is. Second, it's fucking weaselly to act like the issue here is solely freedom of speech and Gibbons and Cates damn well know it. What's at stake here is the rights of citizens to petition the government for a redress of their grievances and the right to peaceably assemble. The protesters were peaceful. They did have grievances they wanted redressed and so the government has to shut up and listen. The limits placed on the first amendment have been things like the famous "You can't yell 'fire' in a crowded theater." Not "You can't demand the government listen to you after the government is bored of listening to you."

And even though I know it seems unlikely that day will ever come, I wish Gibbons and Cates would ask themselves how they'd like it if the tables were turned. If we had an Democratic administration, do Gibbons and Cates really want to live in a state where conservatives can't honk their horns for hours at a time in protest?

Today I read a story about an Arkansas police chief, Michael Yates who resigned after an ugly run-in with a reporter. In his letter of resignation, he said, "...as you know, a man must take responsibility for his mistakes and I am prepared to do just that. I let my anger and pride over-ride my judgement and wisdom by saying a number of things that are unacceptable given my position." This is a man who knows what the right thing is and who takes responsibility for falling short of his ideals and of the requirements of the job.

I'm not calling for Gibbons to resign or anything that dramatic. I'm just asking that he and Cates be the kind of honorable people who, when they find themselves responsible for reporters being arrested and judges keep letting the people they had arrested go, they don't spend years trying to prove that what they did wasn't really that bad, but admit that they were over-zealous and crossed a line that, in our society, isn't good for the people in power to cross.

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Monday, August 25, 2014

The Daily Links: Solitary Confinement, Monster Groupers and Ferguson

Posted By on Mon, Aug 25, 2014 at 5:27 PM

Every day we read a lot of stuff. If it's interesting, thought provoking, funny or being shared by everyone we know on the Internet, we share some of it with you. Happy reading.

From The Oregonian: Oregon prison tackles solitary confinement with Blue Room experiment

From Ars Techina: British man sentenced to nearly three years in prison for movie piracy

From Grantland: Bill Hader’s Day Off: Cinephilia and ‘Saturday Night Live’ memories with one of the show’s greatest utility players ever

Continue reading »

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You Had One Job, Jim Tracy

Posted By on Mon, Aug 25, 2014 at 11:39 AM

Dr. Scott DesJarlais is a "family values," pro-life conservative who had extramarital affairs with patients, and was party to two abortions (plus one that never happened but which he claims to have encouraged as part of a trap set for his mistress. It's complicated.) He once held a gun in his mouth for more than two hours during an argument with his ex-wife. He also lied about some of this as it was becoming public.

If that doesn't make him unlikeable enough, he is also a U.S. congressman.

And yet, as of this morning, he is once again the Republican nominee for the Fourth Congressional District.

State Sen. Jim Tracy should have been able to keep this from happening. He may well be a raging hypocrite and frightening man in private, but if he is, no one knows about it yet. He is from Murfreesboro, where there were plenty of votes for the taking. And he is a conservative. He wasn't trying to sell voters on the notion that DesJarlais is so bad they should vote for a Democrat — that's Lenda Sherrell's mission starting today. He was simply trying to sell them on a different conservative. A conservative who hasn't violated his professional ethics and public morals at the same time on multiple occasions.

We are baffled to report that he failed. Again. Just as he did in 2010 when he ran for U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon's spot in the Sixth District. Here's what he had to say for himself.

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Will Congress Address Police Militarization?

Posted By on Mon, Aug 25, 2014 at 11:00 AM

Earlier this year, every member of Tennessee's U.S. House members, save Jimmy Duncan, Jr. voted against an amendment to an annual defense appropriations bill that would have blocked the program through which local police departments obtain surplus military equipment.

That would be the program that gifted Shelby County with grenade launchers and Davidson County with a mine-resistant vehicle. The program which, along with federal grants that also serve to beef up local police arsenals, has been getting new attention after its fruits were displayed night after night in Ferguson, Mo. this month.

Police here have been working to persuade Nashvillians that they're not the type of law enforcers we've been seeing on TV. Metro police spokeswoman Kristin Mumford told the Scene last week that she couldn't "imagine a scenario in which our armored vehicle would be deployed against citizens protesting in the street." Police Chief Steve Anderson took questions at an open and wide ranging town hall on Thursday. And police provided water for local protesters on Saturday.

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Reducing Lanes on 51st Avenue is Not the Answer

Posted By on Mon, Aug 25, 2014 at 9:00 AM

Over at NewsChannel 5, Jason Lamb has a somewhat odd story about how the Nations Neighborhood Association has decided, in the wake of the tanker truck explosion that happened there two weeks ago, that the solution is to reduce 51st Avenue from four lanes to two.

Residents with the Nations Neighborhood Association said there’s no doubt that part of town is growing, and they said by cutting 51st Avenue down from four lanes of traffic to two, everyone can use the roads safely — from commuter cars to pedestrians and the tanker trucks that frequently drive down the road.

I don't know when, in the history of urban planning, reducing the number of lanes on a main thoroughfare has ever made things safer. Otherwise, wouldn't we all love road construction? That part of town is growing and changing. That much is true. But a busy neighborhood needs an easily navigable main thoroughfare. Ask yourself this — would you rather try to drive down 8th Avenue South from Wedgewood to Woodmont or to try to drive down 12th Avenue South that same distance?

The problem on 51st Avenue North is that the streets — 51st and Centennial Boulevard especially — serve as both neighborhood streets and industrial streets. The width of the street isn't going to magically fix the issues that come up from it serving two very different purposes. If you have tanker trucks driving through your neighborhood, you always run the risk of something bad happening in the neighborhood with that tanker truck.

The way to solve the problem is, in the short term, to put more cops out on 51st and Centennial to break truckers of the habit of speeding through that part of town. The long term solution is to move the industrial stuff out of the Nations, the rest of North Nashville, and Bordeaux. We've already unofficially designated Cockrill Bend as the place we stick stuff we need but that we don't want to have to regularly acknowledge exists. So, move that stuff over there and then DO NOT ZONE any part of Cockrill Bend north of Centennial for residential.

This would improve these neighborhoods immensely. And, for those of us who don't live in those neighborhoods, it would remove the one flaw from Nashville's most beautiful river crossing. If you come south on Clarksville Pike and look to the west as you cross the river, you will see one of the most beautiful sights there is to be seen in our fair city. Trees as far as the eye can see with church steeples peeking through the leaves, the river shining like an antique mirror, the old train bridge reflected in its surface, the far hills in the background. It's perfect, except the dingy fuel tanks along the river.

It would make neighborhoods safer and more beautiful to move that crap out of them.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Letter From Haslam To Teachers Not Very Well Received

Posted By on Fri, Aug 22, 2014 at 2:55 PM

Bill Haslam sent a letter to teachers on August 14th as a welcome back for the new school year and to thank them for their hard work.

Some teachers, remembering Haslam's punt on teacher raises after promising to lead the state to "have the fastest increasing teachers’ salaries in the country,” were not pleased.

Tennessee Education Report compiled some of the responses, like this one:

I appreciate your attempt to understand the inner workings of a classroom and appreciate your words of appreciation for those of us who chose to serve others through teaching. However, I am highly disappointed at the turn of events in which you announced that teachers would not receive pay raises. We already make much less than other TN State employees and much less than teachers of other states.

It is easy to make promises and to break them.

I am personally insulted in your lack of support for the teaching profession. My colleagues and I work hard for the families we serve. A normal day for most of us is 7:45 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. Though we are only paid to work 8:00 until 3:15, our jobs cannot be completed in those hours. Many times we take student work home with us and are constantly looking for ways to improve our teaching on our own time.

Read the full story here.

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Tough Questions, Frank Answers at Town Hall Meeting On Ferguson

Posted By on Fri, Aug 22, 2014 at 9:42 AM

“This is your police department," Metro Police Chief Steve Anderson told a packed house at Mt. Zion Baptist Church Thursday night. "Make no doubt about it, myself, the commanders, the other captains here are being paid to manage it for you.”

Over two hours of a town hall meeting with police, local lawmakers, and community leaders, called in the wake of the killing of Michael Brown and the ensuing crisis in Ferguson, Mo., it was clear that's exactly how the largely African American crowd expects it to work. Speakers mixed praise for the chief and his department with a forceful airing of difficult truths about a city that has perhaps been blinded by positive national attention in recent years.

With precinct commanders and captains seated like a choir behind the pulpit, a panel of black community leaders including pastors and legislators answered questions from Mt. Zion senior pastor, Bishop Joseph Walker, before taking questions and comments from the crowd. 2015 Mayoral candidates Megan Barry, Jeremy Kane, David Fox, and Charles Robert Bone were in attendance but did not address the crowd. Other legislators in attendance included state Sen. Thelma Harper, state Rep. Harold Love, Jr., and Metro Councilwoman Erica Gilmore.

Mayor Karl Dean was invited but couldn't attend due to a previously scheduled event. He was hosting the last regularly scheduled Walk 100 Miles With Nashville community walk at Bells Bend Park. Dorinda Carter, who will soon take over as a spokesperson for the District Attorney's office, was there representing DA-elect Glenn Funk.

Early on, the town hall provided a chance for the first response from a local official to the events in Ferguson, when Walker asked Anderson directly: “People want to know. What about Nashville, what about our police department, would have been different?”

Continue reading »

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