Monday, December 15, 2014

If Electric Cars are to Blame, Why Do We Need a Gas Tax Hike?

Posted By on Mon, Dec 15, 2014 at 6:00 AM

As Republicans slowly learn that you can't have a functioning state without the money to make it run, Governor Haslam and his co-governor, Ron Ramsey, are tossing around the idea of raising the gas tax so that our roads don't completely fall apart. Great.

But check out what Ramsey told WPLN:

“This is a problem caused by the advancements in technology. Higher gas mileage, electric cars, the natural gas, if they’re on the road they need to pay their fair share, and apparently they aren’t right now. It’s going to take a very comprehensive bills and the question is, the timing is good, but can we have that comprehensive bill ready in time? I don’t know.”

This, to me, is just bizarre. People who are using alternative forms of energy for their cars aren't doing so in order to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. They're doing so because gas has been (and will be again) expensive and they're trying to cut costs. Raising the gas tax isn't going to "catch" people who drive electric cars.

Probably, if Ramsey is so concerned about everyone paying their "fair" share, he and the governor should just figure out how much more money the state needs to build and maintain our roads and add that to the fee to get tags for your vehicle. Everyone has to pay another x number of dollars a year, regardless of whether they need gas or not.

Punishing the people who still use gas because the people who don't aren't paying gas tax makes no sense.

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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Harwell and the 14 Folks on Her Naughty List

Posted By on Thu, Dec 11, 2014 at 6:00 AM

Beth Harwell retained her position as Speaker of the House by a vote of 57-15. Now, obviously, since Rick Womick was running against her, he didn't vote for her.

But what about those fourteen others? I can't help but wonder who they are and how much they're hoping no one figures it out.

My favorite thing about Harwell is her ability to be both sly as a fox and something of a mother hen to all the wayward chicks of the state house. A fox with chicks for children is never short of dinner, though, and I have to imagine she's already licking her lips at the prospect of dealing with her fourteen most recalcitrant representatives.

Ha ha ha. I guess I should say 'fifteen,' but I'm thinking she'll just leave Womick be, because it amuses her to watch him sweat while he waits to see what she has in mind for him.

We all know Harwell has a long memory and bigger ambitions. Any guesses on who would risk voting against her? More importantly, any guesses on what their penance will be?

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

TennCare's Wendy Long Speaks the Truth: There Never Was Going to be a Website

Posted By on Wed, Dec 10, 2014 at 6:00 AM

Y'all, this is ... I don't know ... I can't decide. I feel this weird mixture of euphoria and horror. Just this one paragraph. It's almost like a poem, it's so perfect.

Okay, let's back up. You all remember that we're supposed to have a website so that people can determine their Medicaid eligibility and do all kinds of fancy new Obamacare stuff and we paid a bunch of money, but there never was a website and there still isn't a website and then we had to pay another million dollars so that someone else could tell us the website doesn't exist, as if we hadn't noticed.

All along, we've been assured and reassured that the website is on the verge of existing. And now, WPLN is reporting that the website ain't gonna happen, at least, not without some new strategy for making it happen. I'm sure you're as shocked as I am.

But read this!

In a hearing with Governor Bill Haslam, TennCare chief medical officer Wendy Long said it has become clear the $38 million price tag was never going to be enough. Other states have spent $98 — $184 million on similar systems.

“It’s evident that our winning bid came in so far outside of the ballpark that the approach envisioned by our vendor likely had little potential for success,” Long said.

Long's sentence here is just glorious. Our winning bid didn't come in out of left field. It wasn't even in the ballpark. The vendor isn't even playing the game. They never had a real shot at being able to do this, but we still entrusted them with this job and our taxpayer dollars.

Is anyone going to be held accountable for this? Is no one responsible for hiring people who were utterly unqualified to do the job? Or is the "website" working exactly how it was intended?

I'm starting to suspect that the "website" was always like Haslam's Tennessee "plan," a thing that existed only in theory, to throw such a wrench in things that the Feds would just give up on us, but wasn't ever supposed to be a real thing in the world.

But I'm still surprised to see people in Haslam's administration finally admitting that there's nothing to show for the money we spent.

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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

I Screwed Up. We Shouldn't Be a 'Hate Tourist Mecca'

Posted By on Tue, Dec 9, 2014 at 6:00 AM

The Tennessean is also talking about our status as a "Hate Tourist Mecca" (you remember we laughed about this last week). And they have this part that kind of made me uncomfortable:

The Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization founded in 1971 to track the activity of hate groups, recently labeled Tennessee a "Hate Tourist Mecca" in an extensive blog post chronicling the white supremacist conferences.

[Heidi Beirich, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center] said she understands state parks must be open and allow people to express their First Amendment rights. A spokesman for the state Department of Environment and Conservation, which oversees state parks, echoed those comments in a statement to The Tennessean.

At the same time, Beirich said other events could also clearly deter or scare immigrants. Specifically, she noted the 2008 fire bombing of a mosque in Columbia, Tenn., and the 2013 bomb threat at another mosque and Islamic Center in Murfreesboro. The construction of the Murfreesboro mosque garnered considerable local and national resistance.

Okay, so this is true. Tennessee is not the most welcoming place to Muslims. And it would be more awesome if this were not so. So, what if we, who want Tennessee to be a more welcoming place to Muslims, were more welcoming to Muslims? I mean, we could do something very small — like not using important Muslim religious sites as short-hand in ways we don't use non-Muslim sites. If we think it's weird to say that Tennessee has become a "Hate Tourist Vatican" or a "Hate Tourist Canterbury" or, hell, even a "Hate Tourist Buckle-of-the-Bible-Belt-Nashville," maybe we shouldn't call Tennessee a "Hate Tourist Mecca."

Don't get me wrong. This is my fuck up, too. And I'm sorry. I shouldn't have used the term, even in a quote, without pointing out that a bunch of us are riding others about their behavior without making sure that we're not also contributing to an atmosphere that tells our Muslim neighbors that they're not quite welcome here, that it's not important to be as respectful of them as we are our Christian neighbors.

So, let's not do that. Let's act like we live in the place we want Tennessee to be and see what happens.

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Monday, December 8, 2014

If Phil Bredesen Loves Walmart So Much, Why Doesn't He Marry It?

Posted By on Mon, Dec 8, 2014 at 6:00 AM

Sweet Jesus! How long do we have to hear former Governor Phil Bredesen go on about fucking Walmart? I googled it and the earliest I could find is 2008. So, since at least 2008, Phil Bredesen has been trotting out this "I talked to a person at Walmart and now I understand things" bullshit.

Esquire, 2008: "I remember talking to a sixty-year-old woman at a Wal-Mart who was trying to put together the money to have an operation on her eyes. Her name was Mary, I remember her well. That one meeting with an honest, real person who was not being paraded out to tell me about her health-care problems, but just in the course of conversation talked about it, gave me more of a sense of reality than all the polls and conferences in the world. If it's easy to hurt someone when they're anonymous, it's an awful lot harder to hurt her."

Pith in the Wind, 2010: "I think has got to get reestablished as the party of people who shop in Wal-Marts and go to Waffle House. People have got to start listening to these people and not the advocacy groups and the unions and everybody else that we’ve had as these constituencies. I think if we can do that and really try to understand what the people I’m just describing, who have been over the years the heart and soul of the Democratic Party, what they’re really looking for and try to provide that, I think we’ll do fine."

Politico, 2014:

Bredesen said Democrats who are thinking about running for office need to adopt what he calls “the Walmart test.”

“When you think about what your platform is going to be, go to the nearest Walmart and stop someone in the aisle and tell them what you’re going to run on,” he said. “If that engages them and they’re interested, then you have a plan.”

Years! Almost a decade we've been having to hear about Bredesen's great love of Walmart and the people who shop there.

Continue reading »

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Thursday, December 4, 2014

We Have Racists in Our State Parks, and They're Hilarious

Posted By on Thu, Dec 4, 2014 at 7:30 AM

Hatewatch, the blog of the Southern Poverty Law Center, has a story about Klan supporters meeting in one of our state parks—"'Klanbly Friendly' Tennessee: State Becomes Hate Tourist Mecca."

Y'all read me, so you know that I'm sympathetic — to put it mildly — to the goals of the SPLC, but I just can't get that worked up about racists meeting in our state parks. I mean, we need the money, if they're in a lodge at the park, they're not out in public where I have to run into them, and this story is hilarious.

No, seriously. As a favor to the nation, we should invite all racist hate groups to use our parks with the understanding that the media is going to cover what happens.

Because check this out:

Described as hollow-eyed and frail, Black, 62, walked with a cane and claimed his back problems prevented him from sitting comfortably in one of the “awful” chairs event attendees were charged $85 to sit in to hear speeches by so-called “movement celebrities.” Praised as a “legendary WN” [White Nationalist] on his own website, Black demonstrated what a former staffer jokingly called his legendary initiative while solving his uncomfortable chair problem at the conference. “One of the womenfolk in my party managed to bring me a chair from our cabin, carrying it up two flights of stairs,” he wrote.

I don't know about the rest of the ladies, but when I read a sentence like "One of the womenfolk in my party managed to bring me a chair from our cabin, carrying it up two flights of stairs," I laugh. Being a female white nationalist must suck. The men are all sitting around complaining about the furniture while the women have to haul chairs up and down stairs? I guess chivalry is dead.

Continue reading »

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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Women Need Arresting, Too

Posted By on Wed, Dec 3, 2014 at 6:00 AM

I've been kind of troubled by the response to the story of Shia LaBeouf saying that he was raped during his performance art installation earlier this year. It's not so much the people who don't believe him. That I get. But check out some of the comments on, say, this Jezebel post on the subject and you'll see that there are a lot of women who think that what he claims happened did happen. They just don't think it rises to rape, since the point of the performance was that the audience could do anything to him.

I guess that means that, if someone stabbed him, that'd be okay?

It seems to me that there's two things going on here. One is that we, as a society, kind of don't believe that men can really be raped, at least not by women. Part of this is because we act like men want sex from what ever woman they can get it from, so, if you're in a constant state of "Oh, hell yes!" how can you ever really say "no"? And part of it is for sure the idea that, if a man's penis is erect, regardless of what he says, he's really saying "yes." The other, though, is that we don't take crimes committed by women very seriously. We don't really take women as criminals very seriously. We just aren't seen as scary.

So, I was heartened to see that Davidson County Drug Court coordinator, Nancy Derrick, was arrested for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. The story over at News Channel 5 outlines what happened:

A Davidson County affidavit said Derrick got into an argument with a man at his Elaine Avenue home early Monday morning. The argument turned physical, the affidavit said, with Derrick allegedly hitting and scratching the man.

The man allegedly pushed Derrick off of him, causing her to fall down and hit her face on the ground.

At one point, Derrick allegedly retrieved a .380 semi-automatic pistol from the man’s nightstand.

The affidavit said she opened fire in his direction. The man was not hit, but suffered some scratches as well as a couple of bruises.

The victim told police he did not want to prosecute, but Derrick allegedly admitted to pushing him first so police prosecuted on his behalf.

Obviously, this is a terrible situation and we don't know all of the circumstances. But you fire a gun at someone — or admit to firing a gun in someone else's house, as is the case here — you should be arrested. If it turns out later it was self-defense, it is still good that the police removed you from that situation.

But I think even five years ago, if a man said he didn't want to press charges against a woman who allegedly abused him, the police would have gone along with it. After all, how can a man really be abused? How terrible could abuse at the hands of a woman really be? The attitude LaBeouf is facing is still too common, but it used to be incredibly common.

I'm glad to see signs that those attitudes are fading.

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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Stay Away from Boilers, Mines, and Carnival Rides in Tennessee

Posted By on Tue, Dec 2, 2014 at 6:00 AM

So, I'm reading along in this story over at the Tennessean about how the U.S. labor secretary would like Tennessee to consider raising its minimum wage and it seems pretty ordinary. Someone at the national level has an idea for how to make life better for Tennesseans. Governor Haslam pretends like he'll consider it, nothing ever happens. Wash, rinse, repeat for all our news.

But then I get to this part:

While there might not be a state-driven push for a minimum wage increase, the Department of Labor and Workforce Development acknowledged Wednesday it has a problem with how it calculates prevailing wage.

Specifically, the state has miscalculated prevailing wage — the typical pay and benefits for a particular job or sector — for the past three years. Some workers have earned as much as $3.32 less an hour than they should have earned.

That seems pretty bad. But there's a link in the story (this here link) to the audit that uncovered the miscalculation. That's literally the least alarming thing the audit uncovered.

More alarming? The state's crappy system forces boiler inspectors to falsify records if they want to report that someone has repaired his boiler in the inspector's presence. Two percent of boilers in the state are NEVER inspected and the system in place to make sure that inspections are done is so inadequate that the "central office does not have any method to verify the inspector’s visit at the inspection site and the data entered." In other words, someone could just sit at his desk and say he went out to look at boilers and no one would ever know.

Continue reading »

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Monday, December 1, 2014

Representative Fincher's Aide is Mean to Children

Posted By on Mon, Dec 1, 2014 at 5:30 AM

When I saw the first tweets about Elizabeth Lauten's mean and bizarre Facebook diatribe about Sasha and Malia Obama, I thought, "Wow, she's a jerk." And then someone mentioned that she was a Congressional aide and I thought, "Man, what kind of dink would have this person on staff?" And then I was like "Please don't be someone from Tennessee. Please don't be... oh, damn it."

Yes, Elizabeth Lauten, who looked at a picture of two teenagers dressed better than most teenagers in America dress for church, and said, "Dress like you deserve respect, not a spot at the bar" (thus leading America to wonder what kinds of boring and prudish bars Lauten goes to), is Stephen Fincher's communications director.

Over at Gawker, they have the whole text of Lauten's scolding rant and of her hilarious apology. She decided to apologize "After many hours of prayer, talking to my parents and re-reading my words online," because "I can see more clearly how hurtful my words were. Please know that these judgmental feelings truly have no place in my heart."

What does this even mean? If these judgmental feelings have no place in your heart, why were they there in the first place? Why did it take many hours of prayer to get rid of them?

I swear, this is the thing that scares me the most about the approach so many Tennessee politicians, and apparently their staffers, take. They get to do or say whatever terrible thing they want and then, when the pressure of the terrible thing they've done finally gets to them, they just pray and ponder and get forgiven only to move on to the next terrible thing.

But they don't extend that same compassion to the people they govern. I'm not talking something as blatant as Scott DesJarlais spending much of his life treating abortion like it's the greatest thing since sliced bread—because it solved his problems—and now turning around and trying so hard to deny the rest of us the same options he had. I mean just at the level of what Lauten is doing here.

Look at her initial criticisms of the Obama daughters:

Dear Sasha and Malia, I get you're both in those awful teen years, but you're a part of the First Family, try showing a little class. At least respect the part you play. Then again your mother and father don't respect their positions very much, or the nation for that matter, so I'm guessing you're coming up a little short in the "good role model" department. Nevertheless, stretch yourself. Rise to the occasion. Act like being in the White House matters to you. Dress like you deserve respect, not a spot at a bar. And certainly don't make faces during televised, public events.

If showing class and respecting the part you play is important, why doesn't Lauten feel it's important for her to show class and respect the part she plays? If it's important for people to have good role models, why doesn't Lauten act like a good role model? Even if she genuinely thought they were doing something wrong (and I'm sorry, but I just cannot believe that she genuinely thinks they were dressed inappropriately. I think she was just being snide.), why does she get to pray and talk to her parents and have a change of heart, but the Obama daughters have to be scolded by a stranger who doesn't respect their parents?

Why can't the rest of us get the same chances that they reserve for themselves?

Update 8:45 a.m.: Elizabeth Lauten has resigned her position in Fincher's office.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Oh, I Guess It Was No Weight

Posted By on Wed, Nov 26, 2014 at 7:00 AM

Remember when I said, "A kid is dead. A man has to live with the weight of taking that life, assuming he's not a sociopath."?

ABC’s George Stephanopoulos reports that Darren Wilson says he has a clean conscience.

All righty then. That makes no sense to me. At all. I don't know any police officers who've taken a life, but I know my share of veterans and the ones who killed people—people who were trying to kill them—live with the weight of it. Even if they know it was justified. I know people who've killed people on accident—in accidents where the person who died was at fault. They still feel... if not exactly guilt... a deep and profound wish that things had gone differently.

I don't understand how you take a life and have no regrets. Even if you believe it was completely justified.

But this, like a lot of things about Darren Wilson's account of himself, seems unbelievable.

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