Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Chuck Fleischmann Is Upset With Obama. Too Bad a Sternly Worded Letter Is Out.

Posted By on Wed, Jul 31, 2013 at 4:48 AM

According to the Chattanooga Times-Free Press, Rep. Chuck Fleischmann is upset President Obama didn't specifically mention funding a replacement for the Chickamauga Lock.

Congressman Chuck Fleischmann, who has blasted Obama for policies he sees as unfriendly to business, said he would remain in the “believe it when I see it” category when it comes to the president’s promises to improve infrastructure and create jobs.

“In his past two budgets, the President has completely cut all funding to the Chickamauga Lock and his overly burdensome policies have continued to impede actual job growth,” Fleischmann said.

Part of the problem is that in situations like this, it's up to the congressman whose district such projects are in to advocate for them, and Fleischmann's still working on his communication skills. On Saturday, the Times-Free Press reported on a faux postcard Fleischmann "sent" Obama (or rather sent the media, but it was addressed to the president):

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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Bradley Manning Found Not Guilty of 'Aiding the Enemy,' Still Faces 100 Year Sentence

Posted By on Tue, Jul 30, 2013 at 2:02 PM

Breaking news this hour, in a story that is not local but nevertheless crucial for anyone who isn't eager to live in a totalitarian state.

Army Pfc. Bradley Manning — the man arrested three years ago and charged with leaking, among other things, a trove of diplomatic cables and the now famous video of a U.S. helicopter attack in Iraq that killed civilians, including a Reuters journalist, to WikiLeaks — was found not guilty on Tuesday of aiding the enemy, but guilty on other charges including espionage and theft. A report from the United Nations last year deemed the United States' treatment of Manning during his pre-trial incarceration was "cruel, inhuman and degrading." He now faces a possible sentence of more than 100 years in prison.

The not guilty verdict on the charge of aiding the enemy — the most serious charge, both practically and theoretically — is cause for some celebration, though. Many people who like the idea of a free press — count us in — feared that a guilty verdict on that charge would set a frightening precedent in which a person who shares damaging information about the government that "the enemy" might see (e.g., in a newspaper) is aiding the other side.

For now, anyway, your government does not consider the free press to be "the enemy." So at least there's that.

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Internet Sparring With Nashville Prep's Ravi Gupta: The Prequel

Posted By on Tue, Jul 30, 2013 at 2:00 PM

For someone who assumes his late-night Internet opponents must be drunk, Nashville Prep's Ravi Gupta sure seems prone to getting feisty online during the wee hours.

Across the street, Joey Garrison reports that the charter school leader was getting into it via email with Metro school board member Amy Frogge months before his Facebook slap fight with Frogge's board colleague, Will Pinkston.

Garrison has the full emails, but here's a snippet, in which Gupta likens Frogge's approach to questions about student attrition to ... birtherism:

Gupta wrote: “There is a difference between ‘being open’ to arguments about attrition and what you have been doing. What you’ve been doing is mentioning the attrition argument frequently in personal and public communication.

That’s like if I said ‘I am open to the argument Barack Obama was born in Kenya’ and then saying ‘Hey, I am not saying Obama was born in Kenya, but I am just asking the question’ every time someone says they like Obama. If you have been, as you say, ‘looking into’ this issue, then why has your search not taken you to Nashville Prep? After a while you no longer are looking into an issue and are instead feeding an impression.”

Frogge responded with an email of her own, denying allegations of a "whisper campaign," and Gupta followed up the next month with an apology.

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At Pilot: Another Two Bite the Dust

Posted By on Tue, Jul 30, 2013 at 5:19 AM

On Monday, Janet Welch (who wasn't even on my radar) and Scott Fenwick pleaded guilty in federal court to defrauding customers of Pilot/Flying J. The Knoxville News-Sentinel reports:

Scott Fenwick, a former regional sales manager, admitted to a charge of conspiracy to commit mail fraud in U.S. District Court in Knoxville.

Also pleading guilty was Janet Welch, a former Pilot senior account manager, who admitted to conspiracy to commit fraud.

Fenwick worked under Vincent Greco, the feds' confidential informant. One of the things that's interesting about piecing this together — since we don't have a good Pilot-provided organizational structure — is seeing just how gender-segregated the jobs we know about are. With the exceptions of Jacquelyn Pearl and Cathy Geisick, we haven't heard about other women working in sales at Pilot under John Freeman. And we've heard of no men working as account reps. Seems a bit old-fashioned.

Anyway, the most interesting part of the News-Sentinel article comes at the end. After reminding readers that Ashley Judd, who pleaded guilty in May, kept a second set of records showing what money customers got and what money they should have gotten, the last sentence reads, "Federal prosecutors haven’t said where those records and the testimony promised by defendants might lead."

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Monday, July 29, 2013

Facebook Fight: Why Is Ravi Gupta Apologizing to Will Pinkston?

Posted By on Mon, Jul 29, 2013 at 5:02 AM

Let me just say up front that the more I look into the matter, the more I think charter schools are problematic. And here's the problem: When something is fucked up in a child's public school, parents want change that will fix it. If they're going to put their kids through the turmoil of massive change, it needs to work.

The promise of charter schools is that if they don't work, you just chuck the leadership or chuck the school or chuck the teachers — change, change, change — until you hit on a combo that does work. This may be what parents say they want.

But in actuality — as we see whenever people talk about shutting down charter schools that aren't performing — there's always an excuse as to why changes shouldn't be made. (See Andrea Zelinski's recent City Paper story about Boys Prep, for example.) People do not really want to send their kids to schools where everything is constantly up in the air.

So I am not on Nashville Prep founder Ravi Gupta's side. I think his goals for education are a fad that will fade away.

But reading this story about Gupta's run-in on Facebook with MNPS board member Will Pinkston, I am completely flummoxed about how Gupta ends up apologizing to Pinkston at the end of this.

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Sunday, July 28, 2013

State Rep. Lois DeBerry Has Passed Away

Posted By on Sun, Jul 28, 2013 at 4:40 PM

Long-time Democratic state Rep. Lois DeBerry, of Memphis, died Sunday afternoon, at 68, after facing pancreatic cancer for nearly five years. She was the longest serving member in the state House of Representatives.

From the Associated Press over at The City Paper:

DeBerry continued to fight the disease for nearly two more years. Even when her doctors told her there was no more they could do, she still attended legislative meetings and worked to address the needs of her constituents.

House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh said her resilience in her final days was "unbelievable."

"We'd say, why is she doing this? It's got to be painful, it's got to be very stressful on her," the Ripley Democrat said. "She was one of a kind, there's no question."

DeBerry was the second African-American woman to serve in the General Assembly. She was preceded by the late Dr. Dorothy L. Brown, who was elected in 1967.

Rep. Karen Camper, D-Memphis, said women like Brown and DeBerry inspired other African-American women to run for office.

"Lois DeBerry ... made us feel like it was possible to be in politics and that you can be a strong voice in a male-dominated world," said Camper, who is black.

Read the entire piece here.

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Friday, July 26, 2013

The Hippodrome: The Year of the Cat

Posted By on Fri, Jul 26, 2013 at 9:52 AM

This Week In The 'Drome, we do stunts for money.

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Opening Face-Off

Chris Johnson vs. Cheetah: Apparently, National Geographic wanted to know if Chris Johnson is faster than a cheetah.

They are being cagey about the answer — spoiler alert! — but no, he isn't (Tim Hasselbeck with the finest joke about the whole thing).

From Wyatt's piece:

“This is most incredible challenge I’ve ever faced,” Johnson told The Wrap, an entertainment web site. “I wanted to go up against the fastest in the world and test myself, and this was it!”

I suppose CJ did this, as his publicist he told The Wrap, for the challenge, but in the olden days, athletes — who, especially if they were black and prohibited from the pro leagues, did not make much money — did this kind of thing to put food on the table. Check out Jesse Owens racing a horse during a break in what appears to be a baseball game.

Johnson, of course, doesn't need the money, as evidenced by the comments nearly everywhere the Instagram pictures and tweets of CJ rolling with his friends in his new Maybach.

We love to criticize athletes — and to some degree, celebrities — for their ostentatious displays of wealth, tut-tutting that they should be wiser with their wages (and, in fairness, profligate spending leading to bankruptcy has an epidemic quality). But 90 percent of the people who put on very concerned faces and furrowed brows don't care if the athletes go broke.

"That's a stupid way to spend your money" is just another way of saying "that is not the stupid way I would spend my money." The fact is, there are tons of incredibly stupid things we'd all do if we had the millions Johnson has.

Let the man live his life and spend his cash and drive his cars. Just be happy he doesn't have to race animals to feed his family.

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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Metro TCAP Scores Improve, Still Lag in Reading

Posted By on Thu, Jul 25, 2013 at 12:29 PM

Test scores for Metro Nashville Public Schools are in, and while students improved in science and math, reading scores declined in all grades.

Andrea Zelinski reports at The City Paper:

Director of Schools Jesse Register said he is largely pleased with this year's boost in TCAP test scores, but is concerned about a drop in reading. Metro students, like those across the state, improved in both math and science but struggled to advance in reading, which declined in all grades.

However, the district has managed to close the achievement gap slightly faster than the state, according to district officials. Gaps between scores for minority, low-income and special-needs students compared to other students were smaller than those measured across the state.

Read more here, where the CP's story will be updated.

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The Pilot Flying J Lawsuit Date Crawl

Posted By on Thu, Jul 25, 2013 at 4:31 AM

The Associated Press is reporting that Pilot Flying J has revised the starting date for the settlement in the class action lawsuit against it.

The original settlement required Pilot Flying J to pay back all money owed with interest. But it only covered the period between Jan. 1, 2008, and July 15, 2013. The revised settlement covers overcharging that occurred as far back as Jan. 1, 2005.

So what's interesting is that Pilot is conceding that the scheme had been going on not just five years, but at least eight. Why is that interesting? Because someone in this state would have some mighty uncomfortable questions to answer if the scheme had been going on much longer than eight years ago.

Remember this story from the Times Free Press about Gov. Haslam facing grilling from The Washington Post about the Pilot scandal from back in April?

It says, in part:

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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Jim Cooper Defends His Vote Against Restricting NSA Tracking

Posted By on Wed, Jul 24, 2013 at 9:14 PM

Today the House of Representatives voted 217-205 to defeat an amendment to the defense appropriations bill that would have restricted the National Security Agency's collection of phone records — a practice that has troubled civil libertarians. Among the 217 who voted against the amendment was Democrat Jim Cooper, the only member of the Tennessee delegation to do so. (To give you an idea of strange the bedfellows were — here's the roll call — Cooper's vote put him in the same camp as Michelle Bachmann and House Speaker John Boehner.)

Asked to explain the reasons for his vote, Cooper sent along this email statement, through a spokeswoman, to the Scene's Steven Hale:
The first duty of Congress is to keep America safe, which we have largely been since 9/11 and the start of these limited programs that have been ruled constitutional by every judge who has examined them. I am the only Tennessean on the Armed Services Committee. It would be a mistake to let Edward Snowden's leaks weaken our defenses.
This seems to suggest that something in Cooper's experience on the Armed Services Committee informed his decision, though a quick scan of mentions directed at his Twitter account (such as this one) suggests that not all his constituents are pleased.

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