Wednesday, January 30, 2013

We're No. 6 in Unfair Taxes

Posted By on Wed, Jan 30, 2013 at 12:54 PM

Tennessee might rank near the bottom nationally in education spending, per capita income and nearly every other quality-of-life category ever devised. But we remain near the top in one measure. Our tax system is really great at sticking it to the poor and middle class.

According to a new study by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, Tennessee's taxes are the nation's sixth most regressive.

In all the Institute's "Terrible 10" states, the bottom 20 percent pay up to six times as much of their income in taxes as their wealthy counterparts. Washington State is the most regressive, followed by Florida, South Dakota, Illinois, Texas, Tennessee, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Alabama. In these states, the study says, middle-income families pay up to three times as high a share of their income as the wealthiest families and low-income families pay up to six times as much. Low-income Tennessee families pay taxes at an effective rate that is four times the rate for the top 1 percent.

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Suffer the Little Children: Stacey Campfield's Latest Stroke of Genius Catches On

Posted By on Wed, Jan 30, 2013 at 10:23 AM

There is in every madman a misunderstood genius, the saying goes. Such is the plight of Stacey Campfield whose latest flash of brilliance—his proposal to deny welfare payments to the families of kids who do poorly in school—predictably brought new scorn to the senator. But now slowly, thoughtful observers are starting to come around . At the Memphis Flyer, for instance, Andria K. Brown writes that Campfield's not only onto something but he's clearly not going far enough. To truly break the cycle of poverty and energize these forgotten waifs of our state's slums, in her opinion, we should deny them access to publicly funded pencils, paper, desks and chairs.

Sitting on their classroom floors, committing all instruction to memory because they’re unable to write anything down, will force these underperforming students to really focus on their lessons. The physical discomfort and mental strain will surely crystallize their powers of concentration.

Yes, hardship is the key! And why stop with the denial of school supplies? The younger the mind, the more easily it is molded. So if the little welfare scudders are misbehaving at daycare, let's take away their bwankies and those little ratty dolls that their moms have rescued from the dumpsters. Focus, kids!

As Brown advises, "If we really want our children to excel in school—indeed, in life—we need to keep the empowering force of deprivation on them 24 hours a day."

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Tennessee's Virtual School: a Real Disaster

Posted By on Wed, Jan 30, 2013 at 10:03 AM

One of the Republican legislature’s first big steps toward privatizing our public school system—the for-profit Tennessee Virtual Academy—is performing so miserably that Gov. Bill Haslam has been forced to actually do something.

In its first year, K12 Inc.’s online school narrowly averted scoring in the lowest 10 percent of student achievement in the state. Before any more of these cyber disasters open for business, the administration has filed legislation to cap the enrollments of online schools at 5,000 students each.

Haslam sat back and watched in 2011 as the legislature authorized for-profit virtual schools. Apparently embarrassed by the results of this particular experiment in school choice, he has kept quiet publicly about his new bill so far, and it’s not clear how it will fare in the legislature.

The poor academic results of online schools nationwide are well known. But Senate Education chair Delores Gresham seems content to ignore our virtual school’s poor test scores.

“I think it’s too early to judge and too early to pull the plug on a program that already we know, at least anecdotally, is succeeding,” she said after a hearing this month.

K12 Inc.—a contributor to Republican election campaigns—is doubtlessly already lobbying against the administration bill. K12 Inc. flack Jeff Kwitowski told Andy Sher today that "arbitrary student enrollment caps negatively impact children and parents the most." They also negatively impact K12’s bottom line.

In Weird News: Marsha Blackburn Wants To Go on Vacation With the President

Posted By on Wed, Jan 30, 2013 at 6:50 AM

So on Tuesday, Tennessee's own Marsha "Congressman" Blackburn challenged President Obama to a skeet-shooting contest. I repeat: She challenged him to a skeet-shooting contest. From The Washington Post:

“If he is a skeet shooter, why have we not heard of this? Why have we not seen photos? Why has he not referenced it at any point in time as we have had this gun debate that is ongoing?” the Tennessee Republican asked CNN’s Erin Burnett.

Obama revealed in a lengthy profile in The New Republic that he and guests at the presidential retreat “do skeet shooting all the time.”

Blackburn told Burnett she is willing to give Obama a chance to prove his marksmanship credentials — she’ll even accompany him to the presidential retreat.

“I think he should invite me to Camp David, and I’ll go skeet shooting with him.” Blackburn said. “I bet I’ll beat him.”

America, let us count the funny parts:

1. Marsha Blackburn, whose whole schtick is getting up in front of the media and talking about how much President Obama sucks and is ruining the country (see here, here, and here), now wants to go on vacation with him?! What the fuck? You know who most people don't want to go on vacation with? The dude they've just spent the last four years ripping on.

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When Our View of Football Players Changes From Awe to Contempt

Posted By on Wed, Jan 30, 2013 at 5:12 AM

If you're at all interested in the long-term effects of football on players' bodies and whether players are making fully informed decisions to be playing, you should be reading Ta-Nehisi Coates over at The Atlantic. The other day he had a really informative timeline of what the NFL was saying about CTE throughout the last two decades. Then on Monday, he had a post and an interesting discussion about peoples' reactions to the growing awareness of just what players are doing to themselves for our entertainment, and what the costs for them will be for the rest of their lives.

I'm going to come back to Coates in a second, but first, let's talk about this article in the current issue of Esquire, which is about football players' pain and injuries from the perspective of the players. Here's our own Matt Hasselbeck talking about how he tells when he's hurt, if he's always hurting:

"A lot of times you don't know exactly when the injury happens, because you're taking drugs like Toradol or another kind of anti-inflam, so you're feeling good," says Tennessee Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. "Or maybe you're dealing with a previous injury, like an ankle, and you're taking Toradol, so you're feeling a little bit better, but now all of a sudden everything is feeling a little bit better. Plus, you have the rush of adrenaline — so the injury might hurt a little, but you don't really realize it. You might not feel it till the next day, or you may feel it that night. Because your mind-set is to play through everything you can, unless you cannot. And usually, it's been my experience that when you come off the field after an injury, the trainer or the team doctor is meeting you. They're like, 'You haven't moved your arm in thirty seconds. What happened?' And you're like, 'I'm fine, I'm fine, I'm fine — leave me alone.' "

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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Teachers' Union Questions Haslam's Commitment to Public Education

Posted By on Tue, Jan 29, 2013 at 3:14 PM

The state’s teachers’ union is throwing barbs at Gov. Bill Haslam today for proposing a school voucher program. The only surprise is that the Tennessee Education Association waited to launch its attack until the day after the governor announced his plan in his State of the State speech.

“Gov. Haslam spoke emphatically about his commitment to public education. Then his next point was about taking money from our public schools to give to private schools. To me, that sends a very mixed message,” TEA President Gera Summerford said, pointing out there is no evidence vouchers have worked anywhere in the country.

Haslam himself is having a little trouble explaining what he’s trying to accomplish with vouchers. Last summer, when the governor supposedly remained undecided about vouchers, he insisted to reporters that he’d propose a program only if he found proof that it would help children learn.

“What I think we have to be convinced of is that it’ll make enough difference, that we’re not just kind of working on incremental difference,” he said then.

Today, he seemed to be saying he’s willing to take a flyer on vouchers just for the hell of it.

“Let’s grow into this and see what happens,” he said.

Haslam wants to limit vouchers to children receiving federally subsidized lunches at schools performing in the bottom 5 percent of the state. In Nashville, that’s nearly all the children in five schools. But not for long will such a small program placate GOP ideologues who are bent on privatizing the state’s public school system.

Here's the full statement from the TEA's Summerford:

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To the Distress of Republicans, Sick People Intrude into State's ObamaCare Debate

Posted By on Tue, Jan 29, 2013 at 1:55 PM

Finance Commissioner Mark Emkes
  • Finance Commissioner Mark Emkes
Not wishing to look like a knuckle-dragging Obama hater, Gov. Bill Haslam insists he’s giving “careful thought and consideration” to whether to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Many Republicans want to reject ObamaCare immediately. But some of Haslam's allies, even knuckle-dragging Obama haters like Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, are down with his approach.

Last night after Haslam’s State of the State speech, Ramsey said: “I’m with the governor. I try to make reasoned, thoughtful decisions,” producing guffaws in the Legislative Plaza pressroom. Ramsey then predicted Tennessee will go ahead and refuse to expand Medicaid once all this careful thinking is finished.

Republicans are framing the entire issue as strictly a budget problem, as if sick people without health insurance coverage don’t exist in this state. Introducing sick people into this debate only serves to make Republicans uncomfortable, so at no time during this week’s budget briefings has any state official—from the governor on down—ever mentioned them. That is until today when conservative Sen. Douglas Henry, of all people, brought them up while questioning Finance Commissioner Mark Emkes.

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Beavers Files Bill Telling Obama to Keep His Hands Off Our Guns

Posted By on Tue, Jan 29, 2013 at 1:07 PM

Not to be outdone by her fellow states’ rights Republicans in the legislature, Sen. Mae Beavers has introduced her own bill purporting to free Tennessee from the tyranny of President Obama’s crusade against guns.

Beavers announced today she’s overhauling her 2009 Firearms Freedom Act, which obviously needed reforming since it accomplished nothing. It supposedly exempted the state from federal regulation of guns and ammunition made in Tennessee and kept within our borders, but it was roundly ignored by the federal government as anyone with any common sense could have predicted.

“The purpose of this bill is to let people know we have state sovereignty and the federal government has no business telling us what to do,” the Mount Juliet Republican said of that law.

Her new legislation is just as meaningless. It purports to make it a crime—a Class B Felony—"for any person to attempt to enforce any unconstitutional laws or enforce infringements in violation of the Second Amendment in Tennessee," according to the Tennessee Firearms Association.

“This legislation is a significant move toward enforcing the Second Amendment in Tennessee, particularly against the tyrannical agenda of too many in the federal government acting under Obama's lead,” the association said in a news release.

Beavers was the Senate Judiciary Committee chair until this session when Senate speaker Ron Ramsey dethroned her for reasons he never specified. It's widely believed that she's too nutty even for Ramsey.

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Campfield Goes on Fox News to Defend Latest Cruel Jackassery

Posted By on Tue, Jan 29, 2013 at 9:25 AM

Sen. Stacey Campfield, arguably the legislature’s most outrageous grandstander, has hit the jackpot with his bill to punish children who don’t do well in school by cutting their mothers’ already paltry welfare checks. He landed an appearance on Fox News! As Campfield explains by phone how he’s not really a cruel jackass but actually a misunderstood champion of the poverty stricken, the former school superintendent taking the opposite side in this debate looks like she smells something really foul.

Critics of Wine in Grocery Stores Have Stopped Really Trying

Posted By on Tue, Jan 29, 2013 at 5:38 AM

It's hard for me to imagine what good reasons there could be for keeping wine out of grocery stores. But doesn't it seem like there should be some?

Usually, when someone proposes doing something, there are legitimate concerns that need to be weighed. But the anti-wine-in-grocery-stores folks have so far made two arguments this legislative session. Surely, you remember how Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch promised that wine in grocery stores would inevitably lead to more incidents of butt-chugging?

Well, Rep. Ryan Haynes (R-Knoxville) is opposed for a reason that's not quite as stupid — but it's still pretty darn silly. According to Erik Schelzig from the AP:

Republican Rep. Ryan Haynes of Knoxville says liquor store owners should be given three to five years to get out of their existing leases or to change their business models if they no longer have the exclusive right to sell wine.

Three to five years to get out of their leases?! This is the best argument that they've got? We can't have wine in grocery stores because of villainous landlords?

I have really mixed feelings about this level of doofusness. On the one hand, yes, I support wine in grocery stores, so I'm kind of glad to see that the opposition's best reasons to oppose it are butt-chugging and "but things will change."

On the other hand, though, I was really hoping that a benefit to having such a solid one-party majority would be that the dynamic of "one group tries to get things done, the other group throws up random roadblocks" would be somewhat subverted. But it seems like that's still not the case. And that's too bad.

If there are real, good reasons to oppose wine in grocery stores, it'd be nice to hear them.

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