Monday, June 30, 2008

A Note on Comments

Posted By on Mon, Jun 30, 2008 at 5:00 PM

You may have already noticed that there is now a captcha in the comments. (In other words, you'll have to type a verification word in order for your comment to post.) Your comment may take a minute or two to publish, so please be patient. And as always, thanks for visiting Pith in the Wind.

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What's in the Water in Tennessee?

Posted By on Mon, Jun 30, 2008 at 1:42 PM

The Huffington Post poses the question today, "What's in the Water in Anti-Obama Tennessee?" and concludes that (a) there's a publicity craving nutjob occupying the position of state GOP communications director and (b) a fair number of ignorant rubes reside in the Tennessee backwoods and believe what they hear on FOX News. Beyond those two news flashes, there are a couple of interesting quotes in the story. Here's Bill Hobbs boasting about his YouTube attack on Michelle Obama:
"I think that [Michelle Obama] video, which we put up on YouTube, struck a nerve. It struck a nerve with Democrats and they squealed and they squealed really loud, and it caused a big storm in the media."
Hobbs doesn't seem to understand that causing a "big storm in the media" isn't necessarily the same as helping the Republican cause. In this case, Hobbs embarrassed Republicans (yet again) and turned off independent voters (yet again). But hey, at least Hobbs is having fun. The second item of interest comes from the Nashville Post's Ken Whitehouse, who is quoted in the story suggesting that Hobbs should keep his job resume updated. Here's Whitehouse:
"You've got the more centrist, moderate Republicans who are frankly embarrassed by Hobbs. I've got Republican members of the state legislature who are biding their time, keeping their mouth shut, but don't like what he's doing because he is drawing attention to himself and not the message. But at the same time you have people who want to fight and love him for it."

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Pith in the Waller

Posted By on Mon, Jun 30, 2008 at 12:14 PM

And another thing about our favorite law firm, Waller Lansden Dorch & Davis. Remember the Erin Brockovich movie and all those corporate lawyers who were so obnoxious? Well, meet Michael K. Stagg, a Waller Lansden partner and the treasurer for Mike Stewart’s supposedly Democratic campaign for the state House. As leader of the firm’s Environmental and Toxic Tort litigation group, the capable Mr. Stagg specializes in helping corporations get away with poisoning the environment, successfully defending polluters of the air and water against all those pesky citizen lawsuits. Did your company lose track of a few PCBs? No problem. No pollution is too toxic for this Waller Lansden man. From the firm's website:
He represented a major electric power producer in a Clean Air Act New Source Review enforcement action brought by EPA, and a large manufacturer against challenges brought by citizens alleging violations of various Clean Air Act permitting requirements. He also represents manufacturers and other commercial entities in toxic tort lawsuits alleging that the companies’ negligence caused personal and property damage. Mr. Stagg has defended private and public utilities that supply drinking water in Tennessee and California against lawsuits that alleged the companies served contaminated drinking water, contributed to the degradation of groundwater quality and quantity, and caused injuries to persons and property. Mr. Stagg represented a natural gas transmission company in a PCB personal injury lawsuit in which the U.S. Supreme Court eventually denied certiorari in favor of the company.
This may come as a surprise to loyal supporters of Stewart, himself a Waller Lansden tax attorney running in a heavily Democratic district, but Stagg also has contributed to Republicans—$250 to Bob Corker in 2006 and $450 to the state GOP the same year. All of which begs the question: Why is he Stewart’s campaign treasurer? As we reported in last week's Scene, Stewart says he’ll resign from Waller Lansden, stop representing corporations trying to dodge state taxes, and magically become a completely independent state representative if he’s elected. But that hasn't stopped us from wondering here at Pith in the Waller, if you earn your living by gleefully violating Democratic Party principles (or associate closely with those who do, taking contributions from them and making one of them your campaign treasurer), can you still call yourself a Democrat? Update: Sean Braisted thinks it's OK for Democrats to whore down for polluters.

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Raising Arizona

Posted By on Mon, Jun 30, 2008 at 9:48 AM

A City Paper story this morning on efforts to put an “English only” referendum on the Davidson County ballot this fall cites the state of Arizona as an example of a similar ballot initiative that passed easily. Yes, voters in Arizona did in 2006 approve a statewide ballot measure on the use of English by government entities. But unlike the one being circulated in Nashville, the Arizona measure, which amended the state constitution, sought to avert legal peril (namely, conflicts with the U.S. Constitution that might bring on a legal challenge) by incorporating specific guidelines on what kinds of government actions need not be in English. Let’s have us a wee look at Arizona’s approach after the jump.

Continue reading »

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Friday, June 27, 2008

Waller Lansden and the Belle Meade Country Club

Posted By on Fri, Jun 27, 2008 at 12:20 PM

So there's an interesting debate going on from our post yesterday about Mike Stewart, who is angling to replace disgraced state lawmaker Rob Briley. The question is whether he should have to answer for the behavior of his peers at Waller, Lansden Dortch & Davis. A lot of Stewart's friends are rushing to his defense, and I recommend you go back and read their comments. Now let me add one last point (for the week) about Waller. Bob Boston, a partner who serves on the firm's Board of Directors, also serves on the board of the notoriously discriminatory Belle Meade Country Club, which still operates like it's 1963. The club has no black members from Nashville and doesn't allow women to vote. Stewart himself doesn't belong to the place. (My guess is he realizes he can enjoy a more modern facility at the East Nashville Y.) But Boston's leadership role at the club raises more questions about Waller. Why would one of the pillars of your law firm join the board of such a backward place? (And that's not to mention that the club looks more like a two-bit bed and breakfast than a supposedly luxurious social institution.) Update: Read Sean Braisted's alternate take here.

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The Co-Ops Are Really Reaching

Posted By on Fri, Jun 27, 2008 at 10:12 AM

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Yeah, right, Congressional Boy Scout Jim Cooper is being investigated by the FBI. Uh huh. And Brad Pitt is desperately in love with me. Furious that Cooper is laying the wood to them for failing to return excess revenues to their members, the National Rural Electric Service Cooperative Association is claiming that the good government nerd of all nerds breached a members-only website and is now being investigated by the FBI. Cooper has said someone with legitimate log-on authority to the website shared a password, which seems plenty plausible. Besides, who really cares? If I log onto Lexis-Nexis under someone else's user name and password, are the feds going to come after me? Doubtful. The member just as easily could have accessed the site and printed off what Cooper wanted, then given it to the congressman. No harm, no foul. Granted, this congressional fight about rural co-ops—not exactly the talk of Cooper's 5th District—is good for little more than an insomniac's fatigue. But to suggest Cooper is a bad dude now in the sights of the FBI is ludicrous.

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Purcell: the Turncoat Pol

Posted By on Thu, Jun 26, 2008 at 3:22 PM

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So we haven't had a lot to say about former Mayor Bill Purcell ditching us for a cush job at Harvard, but doesn't it seem a little awkward? Here's a 10-year state lawmaker, and two-term mayor of Nashville who many tabbed as a candidate for governor, and now he's just packing his ratty bags and heading to Cambridge? Will we ever see him again? Should we be offended? Is it something we said? We elected Purcell twice to be mayor of our fair city and probably would have voted for him a third time—geez, if Dean could slip by Clement, Purcell wouldn't have had to campaign outside of Five Points—and he returns our love and affection by moving to a different time zone? Another thing: How is Purcell qualified for his new fancy-sounding gig as the director of the Institute of Politics at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government? So you outmaneuvered a Metro Council dominated by the likes of Eric Crafton and Charlie Tygard. How do you work that into a lecture about the art of negotiating a nuclear weapons treaty with North Korea? I wonder if Purcell is angling to run for mayor of Boston one day. I doubt it, but there's no real reason to rule it out. If our ex-mayor does have designs on that job, he might want to recall the wise words of William F. Buckley Jr. “I'd rather live in a society governed by the first 2,000 names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society governed by the 2,000 faculty members of Harvard University.” That's funny. I say the same thing about Vanderbilt.

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'That's Bullshit,' the Congressman Said

Posted By on Thu, Jun 26, 2008 at 12:01 PM

When he’s not crusading against those evil rural electric co-ops and denying Nashville its fair share of pork-barrel spending, Congressman Jim Cooper is railing against the national debt. His not particularly original idea to save us from ourselves? Let’s form a bipartisan commission to decide how to cut spending! We can all agree on that, can’t we? Bipartisanship is a good thing, right? We are saddened to report that yesterday, the House Appropriations Committee shot down Cooper’s proposal by a vote of 32-31 after—you guessed it—a partisan pissing match. The story from CongressDaily:
The debate was turned up a notch by Rep. Steven Rothman, D-N.J., who argued that Republican economic policies, including tax cuts for the wealthy, are responsible for turning a budget surplus in 2000 into a deficit of about $317 billion during the first eight months of FY08, according to CBO. "Take responsibility for the economic philosophy that you espouse," said Rothman, who added that the upcoming presidential election will be a referendum on Republican economic policies. Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, was not impressed by Rothman's argument. "That's bullshit," he responded. Later, Simpson, who voted to attach the provision to the appropriations bill, explained that Rothman's remarks were partisan and distracted from an attempt to seriously debate an important matter. "We were having a legitimate debate about how to solve the issue ... and Rothman gets up and turns it into a partisan debate. ... That doesn't solve the problem and what we have to do is solve the problem and get away from all the partisan horseshit; that is why I said it," Simpson said.
Does this mean we can have our pork back? Update: This is what happens when your congressman stops bringing home the bacon. He has too much time on his hands. He winds up hacking into somebody's website and the next thing he knows he's under investigation by the FBI.

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Can You Be a Democrat Only at Night?

Posted By on Thu, Jun 26, 2008 at 10:00 AM

So can you honestly call yourself a Democrat if you make a good living aggressively thwarting Democratic values in the courts and in the legislature? I ask that after reading Woods' column this week on Waller attorney Mike Stewart, who is running in the August Democratic primary to succeed state Rep. Rob Briley. As Woods points out, Stewart's firm lobbies for a motley cast of bullies and polluters, including the Tennessee Road Builders Association, Wal-Mart and Bells Landing Partners, which is aiming to bring the tacky commercial culture of Cool Springs to a pristine corner of Davidson County. These are not the types of interests that typically ally themselves with the Democratic Party. Stewart himself is not a lobbyist, but his law practice puts him in the trenches alongside some of the most powerful interests in the state. His most notable client happens to be a little outfit called Eastman Chemical Company, and he recently won this corporate client a sweet tax refund. It seems like Waller is full of proud, active Democrats who attend goo-goo Green Hills fundraisers at night while avidly sucking on the Republican teet by day. Our good friend James (The Dream) Weaver sits on the finance council of Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate Bob Tuke, even though he boasts on his website of representing "responsible parties at over 40 Superfund sites." He also offers his sage counsel to power plants, mining facilities and pipelines. Meanwhile, Weaver's Waller colleague, the ubiquitous Tom Lee, recently helped a gaggle of commercial real estate barons keep a fat tax break, which came at the expense of a state fund that protected the wetlands and funding for needy children. I don't begrudge Stewart, Weaver and Lee for vigorously representing their clients, but it seems a little disingenuous for them to play active roles in the Democratic Party when their economic existence comes at the expense of the party's supposed principles. If you're a Democrat, you're supposed to care about the environment, or at least pretend to. That commitment could be fleeting, convenient and symbolic, if you so choose, but you can't pay for your Mercedes representing “responsible parties at over 40 Superfund sites.” That's pushing it. Let's flip it around: Could you call yourself an active Republican and work as a paid consultant to the SEIU? A pro-life architect and design the national headquarters for Planned Parenthood? Or am I just being a bit too innocent? Maybe one's political values are just a conversation starter at a Belle Meade cocktail party.

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

MNPS Disconnect

Posted By on Wed, Jun 25, 2008 at 12:30 PM

There is a noticeable and important disconnect in the report released yesterday by the consulting firm helping Metro find a new public schools director. The report (pdf), based on interviews and surveys, lists MNPS strengths and weaknesses by stakeholder group (board, faculty, staff, parents, students). The disconnect concerns perceptions of the effectiveness of MNPS’s central administration. The board seems to think it's going quite well, to judge from this board-mentioned “strength” in the report:
"Strong administrators and cabinet."
Meanwhile, the report has MNPS faculty mentioning a number of “issues/concerns/challenges” that present a markedly different view of the central administration's effectiveness:
“Poor communication from central office to individual schools; unresponsive to questions.” “Lack of support for day-to-day teaching.” “Culture in which principals and teachers are discouraged from making decisions and solving problems unique to the needs of their specific schools.” “Improve relationships between parents and central office administrators.” “Need for district-wide training in diversity/cultural sensitivity.”
Teacher and principal frustration with the competence and efficiency of Bransford Avenue is hardly new, and perhaps the recent state-directed administrative shuffle will help. On the other hand, it’s hard to be a sunny optimist if the board is satisfied with central administration, especially given that most key curriculum posts in the reorganization are being filled from within.

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