Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Why Does Tom Ingram Hate Nashville's Tax Base But Love A Union of Millionaires?

Posted by on Wed, Apr 2, 2014 at 7:00 AM

Tennessee Republicans don't like unions and that's an established fact. We refer you to yesterday's case study if you don't remember.

So here's a question: Why is noted Republican kingmaker Tom Ingram lobbying for a union of out-of-state athletes to get a tax break that will directly affect Nashville's bottom line?

Ingram and his associates are lobbying hard on behalf of the NHL Players Association to repeal the so-called "Jock Tax," which takes a cut from NHL and NBA stars who play games in Tennessee. In Nashville, that's real money that we here in Metro are likely to have to make up. Here's the fiscal note on the bill, which comes up in the House today and the Senate tomorrow.

Officially, Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling says the city has no position, which is interesting considering that losing the tax kills a revenue stream that would have been used to help fund the big college football kickoff classic that was announced last week. They were obviously for the tax at some point ...

It's true that the tax is considered the highest of its kind. But considering the players don't even pay it — the owners pick it up, as per the terms of the recent collective bargaining agreement — why is Ingram working to take money away from Nashville? And why is a legislature full of Republicans going along with this big, wealthy union when it adversely affects Tennessee's two biggest cities?

Maybe Tom Ingram and the GOP really don't hate unions after all. Well, at least not the ones made up of millionaires.

UPDATE 9:45 a.m.: The House rolled their bill until next Monday.

UPDATE II, 11:15 a.m.: I had a good discussion with Sam Reed at the Ingram Group who, naturally, disagrees. His response after the jump.

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Intellectual Property Issues I Wish Would Go To Court

Posted by on Wed, Apr 2, 2014 at 5:30 AM

Steve Cavendish already posted about Sheriff Hall's bizarre "Get out of Jail Free" campaign materials. (When I got it in the mail, I briefly thought it was a genius mailer put out by Hall's opponent, suggesting Hall lets his friends out of jail. But no...) And I agree that Parker Bros. may indeed send the Sheriff a mean letter, but does that really mean Hall's campaign has done something illegal?

The tricky thing about copyright cases is that they pretty much have to be litigated in order to know if infringement has happened or not. Sure, if you publish The Sun Also Rises under your name, that's a no-brainer, but I'm talking about copyright infringement as it happens in the real world. Hall's campaign, say what they want about altering the look of the card, is directly ripping off the "Get out of Jail Free" card from Monopoly. The joke doesn't work if you don't know what that yellow card means. So, clearly illegal copyright infringement, right?

But not so fast. It's clearly a joke, in fact, one might argue that it's clearly a parody and Hall's clearly a politician. Parody is an exception to the copyright law and politicians are usually given a lot of leeway by the courts when using parody in political ads. MasterCard Int'l Inc. v. Nader 2000 Primary Comm., Inc. established that political ads aren't "commercial" in the sense that a politician using someone else's copyrighted material isn't benefiting from the use commercially and it established that politicians could do a really spot-on rip-off of copyrighted material and it fall under the parody fair use exception — in that case Ralph Nader had a political ad based on MasterCard's "Priceless" campaign.

So, it's plausible that Hall's campaign's use of Parker Bros.' intellectual property might also be seen by the courts as "fair use" since it's non-commercial and a parody. (Editor's note: The bad Photoshop job where they clearly scanned and then did a quick cutout of the Mr. Pennybags character is probably the issue here, just sayin'.)

More interesting is the Rocky Top issue. On Tuesday, the State House voted to allow the town of Lake City to change its name to Rocky Top, even though the rightsholders to the song "Rocky Top" are trying to stop them. On the surface, this would seem like a losing proposition for the rightsholders — The House of Bryant — because, in general, titles aren't copyright-able. Think of it this way, even though typing "Man in Black" into Google will get you Johnny Cash and Will Smith & Tommy Lee Jones (which proves that one could be confused for the others), a song title similar or the same as a movie title (or heck, as we saw with the Rock City marches, even other song titles) isn't a copyright issue.

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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Daily Links: Flash Boys, #CancelColbert and Old Chicago

Posted by on Tue, Apr 1, 2014 at 5:21 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 NYT Magazine: An adaptation of 'Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt' by Michael Lewis

From Reuters: Exclusive: NSA infiltrated RSA security more deeply than thought - study

From The New Yorker: Understanding the #CancelColbert Campaign

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Three Things to Know From Karl Dean's Amp Press Conference

Posted by on Tue, Apr 1, 2014 at 4:57 PM

Mayor Karl Dean announced two fairly significant changes to The Amp's design Tuesday morning, as well as a new committee that he says is aimed at increasing the community's involvement in the process.

The mayor has asked The Amp project team to look at nixing the use of dedicated lanes along two portions of the route where the design has raised concerns and vehement opposition. The proposed changes would make the western-most portion of the route between I-440 and White Bridge Road more like the BRT Lite systems currently in place on Gallatin and Murfreesboro Roads, and run The Amp in mixed traffic from the I-40 overpass downtown to the Broadway / West End split.

Dean said he wants "the neighbors in the Richland, West End, Woodmont areas, and everyone who has participated in the development of this project by giving us their questions and comments to know, you've been heard."

The resulting line, Dean said, needs to be "a system that works from a transit service perspective and from a neighborhood perspective" and one that's fast, convenient, and reliable.

"But if we can accomplish those goals with a BRT system less-dependent on dedicated travel lanes than what has been proposed to date, then that's what we should do. And that's what we will do."

Dean said Metro has discussed the proposed changes with the Federal Transit Administration and that they weren't "setting off alarm bells" with the agency that recently recommended $27 million in federal funding for the project and, which Metro officials expect will fund $48 million more over the next two years.

After the jump, three (more) things to know from the mayor's announcement:

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April Fools! It's a Copyright Violation By Daron Hall

Posted by on Tue, Apr 1, 2014 at 3:28 PM

Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall sent out a piece of campaign mail this week. On the front it read, "This gift may be kept until needed or sold ..."

Inside: "April Fools!"

Inserted inside the card was this fake Monopoly piece, a version of a "Get Out Of Jail Free" card.

DHCommunityChest.jpg

The problem with the card? Besides the fact that the guy who puts people in jail is joking about getting out easy?

That's a possible copyright violation of the Parker Brothers game and might get Hall and his campaign in trouble.

"We had that discussion before we produced it," said Melinda McDowell. "We had altered that quite a bit. It doesn't say Community Chest."

Trademark attorney Amy Everhart says that the big problem is in the characters, which have copyright protection. "I could see Parker Brothers sending a big, fat, mean letter" to the campaign.

Pith asked the Hall campaign about Mr. Pennybags, the character in question.

"It's not an exact likeness," McDowell said. "The graphic that we used is not the same as the one on the Monopoly board."

Here's the original card, you be the judge:

get-out-of-jail-free-card.jpg

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Riebeling: Metro Finances are A-OK Despite Credit Downgrade

Posted by on Tue, Apr 1, 2014 at 2:39 PM

Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling says not to worry about Metro's finances, despite news yesterday that Moody's Investor Services had downgraded the city's credit due to an "above average debt burden."

In a letter to the Metro Council, Riebeling says the decision was disappointing, but expected due to Moody's new rating methodology.

"I would point out that Nashville's bond rating is now exactly where it stood when Mayor Dean took office in 2007 as the rating was upgraded in April 2010 when Moody's undertook a ratings methodology analysis," he says. "I would strongly suggest that Nashville is in the same, if not better, financial condition today than it was in 2010 when the ratings upgrade occurred."

In the coming fiscal year, Metro expects to pay a little more than $209 million in debt service, around $20 million more than the $189 million it paid this year. The growing percentage of Metro's annual budget that goes to paying off $2.3 billion in General Obligation debt is concerning to some on the council, but Riebeling has maintained that the city's is in good shape, noting, for instance, that debt service payments accounted for a lower percentage of the budget this year than it did when the year Dean took office. Until now, he had also routinely cited the city's credit rating.

Read his whole letter to the council here, in PDF form.

Moodys_Rating_Announcement_memo_to_Council_040114.pdf

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April 22 Execution Delayed After Court Grants Stay

Posted by on Tue, Apr 1, 2014 at 12:15 PM

A stay has been issued for the April 22 execution of Nickolus Johnson, a spokesperson for the Department of Corrections confirmed on Tuesday.

Johnson was convicted of first-degree murder for the 2004 shooting of a Bristol police officer who responded to a domestic violence call.

The Tennessee Supreme Court had previously affirmed his conviction and soon after the state set his execution date for April 22 of this year.

This is the second execution to be delayed after Billy Ray Irick's January date was postponed.

Meanwhile, executions in Oklahoma, Louisiana and Texas have run into legal issues surrounding the drugs used for lethal injections.

Update 1:45 p.m.: Michele Wojciechowski, the communications director at the administrative offices of the courts said this was likely.

"When a case goes up on direct appeal, they have one year to file a motion for post-conviction relief," she said and passed along this piece of Tennessee Code Annotated:

(a) When affirming a conviction and sentence of death on direct appeal, the Tennessee supreme court shall contemporaneously set a date for an execution. The date shall be no less than four (4) months from the date of the judgment of the Tennessee supreme court. Upon the filing of a petition for post-conviction relief, the court in which the conviction occurred shall issue a stay of the execution date that shall continue in effect for the duration of any appeals or until the post-conviction action is otherwise final. The execution date shall not be stayed prior to the filing of a petition for post-conviction relief except upon a showing by the petitioner of the petitioner's inability to file a petition prior to the execution date and that the inability is justified by extraordinary circumstances beyond the petitioner's control.

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Dean to Announce 'Update on Amp' At Press Conference This Morning

Posted by on Tue, Apr 1, 2014 at 10:38 AM

Mayor Karl Dean will announce an update on The Amp at a press conference scheduled for 11:30 this morning, his office has just announced.

The announcement comes ahead of a House Finance Committee vote on Amp-related legislation, and amidst the mayor's annual Metro budget hearings. The administration release did not include any details about what the mayor would announce.

That said, there have been issues raised with various parts of The Amp's proposed route along West End / Broadway and into East Nashville, and speculation in recent months has pointed to a possibility that the project could be open to some alterations. Could that mean a reduction in the use of dedicated lanes along the route, or perhaps abandoning them altogether on the route's western end from 440 to St. Thomas? Both have been discussed in theoretical terms by people involved with the project.

Of course, pending state legislation could still have significant effect on the future of The Amp. Last week, the Senate passed legislation that would block the project as it's currently proposed. The Dean administration and The Amp Coalition are supporting the House version of that legislation, which is less strict and would effectively maintain the status quo.

More after Dean's press conference later this morning.

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Did Bill Haslam Lie About Pressuring VW Over Unions?

Posted by on Tue, Apr 1, 2014 at 8:50 AM

Scoopageddon strikes again.

Phil Williams has unearthed confidential state documents which appear to show the Haslam administration pressuring Volkswagen over the formation of a works council at their Chattanooga plant.

To recap: VW came to Tennessee in 2011. Last year they proposed a works council to manage the plant, the same as almost every other plant they run around the world. In order to do that, though, they needed a union partner. Enter the United Auto Workers, to apoplectic looks from every Republican in the state.

The Haslam administration had proposed an additional $300 million in incentives to VW in order to get them to expand their Chattanooga operation for a proposed SUV. But apparently those incentives came at the price of VW doing away with any plans to partner with a union.

Yet, the governor had emphatically denied rumors heard by Democratic lawmakers that state incentives were tied to Volkswagen rejecting the UAW.

"This is exactly what we was looking for," said House Democratic Caucus Chair Mike Turner when we showed him the evidence.

But while the state refused to give the documents to the Nashville Democrat, NewsChannel 5 Investigates obtained a summary from last August for what the Haslam administration called "Project Trinity."

Marked confidential, it offers Volkswagen incentives of some $300 million — in exchange for 1,350 full-time jobs at a new SUV facility.

The catch?

"The incentives … are subject to works council discussions between the State of Tennessee and VW being concluded to the satisfaction of the State of Tennessee."

Turner's response: "Looks like to me they put a gun to their head and said, 'Look, this is what we are going to give you if you do it our way and we are going to jerk it away if you don't.'"

"Do you feel like the governor lied?" we asked.

"I'm reluctant to call anybody a liar without talking to them," he answered, "but the proof's in the pudding."

Ultimately, the unionization vote narrowly failed.

But Williams' story raises at least two questions: Was Bill Haslam lying about threatening VW or not? And if the state really was leaning on VW, does it give momentum to the UAW appeal of the failed vote because of tampering by state Republicans?

Read the story. Watch the video. It's a helluva scoop.

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Tennessee's Pro-Life Policies Strike Again

Posted by on Tue, Apr 1, 2014 at 5:30 AM

You can read all the heartbreaking details of Anita Hendrixson's death over at USA Today. There's plenty of blame to go around — doctors who basically dismissed her as being hysterical or who just didn't know how to help a patient with a severe mental disability, to start with, and all the programs we used to have to help people like Hendrixson, but we've gotten rid of because the government is evil and taxes are bad.

Among the programs eliminated:

• A psychiatric intervention service known as TN-START, launched in 2004 to prevent or decrease psychiatric hospitalizations, emergency room visits and police interventions.

• The highly praised Vanderbilt University Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disabilities Clinic.

• Crisis intervention teams at the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities' predecessor agency aimed at helping intellectually disabled people when they had undiagnosed behaviors or symptoms.

"Tennessee offers fewer mental health services for people with intellectual disabilities today than it did 20 or 30 years ago," said Don Redden, executive director of Developmental Services of Dickson County. Meanwhile, the need for such services continues to grow, with up to half of the more than 15,000 people with intellectual disabilities who are receiving or waiting for state services suffering from a psychiatric condition.

Yes, we're so pro-life that we cut the programs that might have saved Hendrixson's life. Worse yet, we know cutting these funds is actively harming people, but we're still not fully funding these programs. In what must be the most embarrassing paragraph written about the state today (though let us be clear that nothing could ever be more embarrassing than the fact that we have to have doctors come in here and provide free medical care to people who otherwise can't get it, like our state is some war-torn hell-hole modernity hasn't reached), we learn:

The state has budgeted $71,000 for this and other training that used to be part of the TN-START model, while not restoring the full program, which cost about $800,000 a year to run. About 20 other regions across the nation have adopted the full program, based on data showing the successful outcomes of Tennessee's now-defunct program.

We had a program so successful that 20 other regions adopted it. We eliminated it. Because we picked cutting taxes and tightening the budget over people's lives. As I'm writing this, the Pith in the Wind Twitter account is holding church on the House Republicans bragging about cutting taxes — "So @tnhousegop is pimping Gerald McCormick's record on cutting $46 million in taxes last year. Meanwhile, Haslam announces $150M budget cut." That's no raises for state workers, tuition hikes for college students, the continued defunct-ification of these vital programs, and they're bragging about it.

People can't get the help they need and these fools are bragging about cutting taxes. I sincerely hope each and every one of the the Republicans in this state someday need a state service. Because apparently their "sincerely held" pro-life beliefs aren't enough to encourage them to aid the living in this state. So, if we can't appeal to their morals, we have to hope we can appeal to their self-interest.

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