Tuesday, March 31, 2009

'Sexting' becomes the next big worry for parents

Giving older children cell phones is a way for parents to be able to communicate with them at any moment, particularly in an emergency.

But this device of communication has now become a menace in the hands of some young people with something called "sexting".

A friend told me the story last week of her son's girlfriend who decided to send a naked picture of herself over her cell phone to his. So both sets of parents had to get together for a discussion.

I really don't how to curb this kind of use, because parents don't have time to daily go through every picture on their child's cell phone.

Or perhaps they will now have to make time.

AIG isn't only place where taxpayer-backed bonuses are paid: Congress dishes out big bonuses to its own staffs, and you're paying for it all

All those lawmakers trying to shame AIG's top officer last week on Capitol Hill for giving bonuses during tough times are doing the same damn thing, reports the Wall Street Journal in a well-researched piece.

And a spokesperson for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi offers the same excuse as AIG -- bonuses are used to retain important personnel who could be working elsewhere.

Sometimes, I feel this nation is unsalvageable. The hypocrisy that's ripping off taxpayers is too prevalent.

The WSJ reports in this excerpt:

WASHINGTON -- While Congress has been flaying companies for giving out bonuses while on the government dole, lawmakers have a longstanding tradition of rewarding their own employees with extra cash -- also courtesy of taxpayers.

Capitol Hill bonuses in 2008 were among the highest in years, according to LegiStorm, an organization that tracks payroll data. The average House aide earned 17% more in the fourth quarter of the year, when the bonuses were paid, than in previous quarters, according to the data. That was the highest jump in the eight years LegiStorm has compiled payroll information.

Total end-of-year bonuses paid to congressional staffers are tiny compared with the $165 million recently showered on executives of American International Group Inc., which is being propped up by billions of dollars of U.S. government subsidies. But Capitol Hill bonuses provide a notable counterpoint to the populist rhetoric and sound bites emanating from Washington these past weeks.

Last year alone, more than 200 House lawmakers, both Republicans and Democrats, awarded bonuses totaling $9.1 million to more than 2,000 staff members, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of office-disbursement forms. The money comes out of taxpayer-funded office budgets, and is surplus cash that would otherwise be forfeited if not spent.

Payments ranged from a few hundred dollars to $14,000. Lawmakers, at their own discretion, gave the money to chiefs of staff, assistants, computer technicians, and more than 100 aides who earned salaries of more than $100,000 a year.

This has gone on for many years. There is no prohibition against handing out excess cash. The lawmakers say it is a nice incentive to get staff to conserve budgets, and it rewards hard work and long hours.

NYT's profile of country entertainer John Rich provides a great look at a passionate thinker

The New York Times has compiled an excellent profile of country music's John Rich, and how his passion and belief system has influenced the populist message in his songs.

And his latest song about "Shuttin' Detroit Down" provides a clear message to the bigwigs who have abused the working man and woman.

I'll provide an excerpt here, but go to The Times' website to read the complete profile. It is well worth the read:

There’s no screaming on the first great song of the bailout era. No audible rage. No tears. Instead, on “Shuttin’ Detroit Down,” the country star John Rich, singing evenly, sounds perfectly levelheaded, as if he’d thought through his position thoroughly and acquired the peace of the righteous:

I see all these big shots whining on my evening news

About how they’re losing billions and it’s up to me and you

To come running to

The rescue

“The song is not depressing,” Mr. Rich said last week, in an interview in the rooftop bar of a hotel in Gramercy Park. “The song is defiant.”

And for contemporary Nashville, shockingly topical. Mr. Rich, 35, conceived and wrote “Shuttin’ Detroit Down” in late January, in a fit of pique after watching news accounts of the $1.2 million office remodeling by John Thain, the Merrill Lynch chief executive. Within two weeks it had been recorded, mastered and released to country radio stations, as well as added to his new album “Son of a Preacher Man” (Warner Brothers Nashville), which had already been submitted to the label.

It reflects not only Mr. Rich’s songwriting gifts — he collaborated on the verses with the longtime country singer John Anderson — but also his acumen in gauging and channeling the mood of the country, aggressively striking a note of conservative populism rarely seen in any genre of pop since country music’s response to Sept. 11. (The video, which features Mickey Rourke and Kris Kristofferson, will be released shortly.)

But even though Mr. Rich’s subject matter is au courant, his tropes are familiar country tugs of war: urban versus rural, modern versus traditional, white collar versus blue. The most bracing moment on “Shuttin’ Detroit Down” comes not when Mr. Rich points a finger at those “living it up on Wall Street in that New York City town,” but when he reflects on the little guy: “Well that old man’s been working in that plant most all his life/ Now his pension plan’s been cut in half and he can’t afford to die,” his voice dropping a half-step on the last word to indicate where the real locus of tragedy resides.

Mr. Rich sees the song as being in the us-versus-them tradition of “Okie From Muskogee,” the 1969 semisatire of country life by Merle Haggard, with whom Mr. Rich recently crossed paths.

“He put his hand on my shoulder, and he looked me dead in the eye,” Mr. Rich recalled. “He said, ‘That new song you have out now, that reminds me a whole lot of “Okie.” As a songwriter, that is officially the highest compliment I’ve ever been paid.”

But in many ways “Detroit” has less to do with “Okie” and more to do with the left-wing protest music of that era. That it comes from the other side of the aisle seems a minor detail. “Shuttin’ Detroit Down” is skeptical of big business as well as big government — “D.C.’s bailing out them bankers as the farmers auction ground” — keeping a song that’s postpartisan, at least on the surface, consistent with right-wing thinking.

Those crazy Democrats just can't figure out how to pay their taxes; but boy can they spend ours

President Obama's nominee for HHS has disclosed that she and her husband could not figure out how to pay all their taxes from 2005-2007, reports The New York Times.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius is the second Obama nominee for HHS to forget to pay taxes owed. Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle forgot to pay all his taxes on his private driver provided by a financial firm. Who knew people from the Dakotas didn't know how to drive?

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner forgot to pay all his taxes, but he has had no troubled giving away an incredible amount of our money to bail out the nation's financial industry.

It is fortunate for Obama that Sebelius' forgetfulness did not amount to a lot of money. But it remains indicative of a political party that has been shown not to be so keen on paying all its taxes but anxious to spend everything we pay and so much more.

This is politics at its most disgusting.

Here is The Times' story:

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas, President Obama’s nominee for secretary of health and human services, said Tuesday that she and her husband had paid $7,040 in back taxes and $878 in interest after discovering “unintentional errors” in their tax returns for 2005-7.

Ms. Sebelius said she had erroneously taken tax deductions for certain mortgage interest and several charitable contributions. In a letter to the Senate Finance Committee, Ms. Sebelius said: “In July of 2006, my husband and I sold our home for an amount less than the outstanding balance on our mortgage. We continued paying off the loan, including interest we mistakenly believed continued to be deductible.”

Ms. Sebelius said she had been unable to locate records needed to document three of the 49 charitable contributions she and her husband, Gary Sebelius, had made. She is the latest of several Obama nominees to acknowledge underpaying taxes. Mr. Obama’s first choice for health secretary, Tom Daschle, withdrew after paying $128,203 in back taxes and $11,964 in interest, arising in part from the use of a luxury car and driver.

New GM exec says bankruptcy probable; that's good news for taxpayers who don't need bailout

GM's new top executive said today that bankruptcy is probable, which goes in line with yesterday's WSJ report that the Obama administration is intent on GM and Chrysler reinventing themselves in the courts or having their parts sold off.

Bankruptcy would save taxpayers mega billions of dollars to bail out these corporations and their unions that should have pay for the reprecussions of their greed and bad decisions.

The New York Times reports:

DETROIT — The new chief executive of General Motors, Frederick A. Henderson, said Tuesday that bankruptcy was “more probable” than ever for the automaker but that he still hoped to successfully restructure the company out of court.

“We will get the job done,” Mr. Henderson, who is known as Fritz, said in his first news conference since succeeding Rick Wagoner, who resigned at the request of the Obama administration over the weekend.

“We will either do it out of court or we will do it in court,” Mr. Henderson said, “but we will get the job done in terms of recreating and reinventing General Motors as a competitive enterprise, one that wins in the marketplace.”

Craig Moon retiring on top at USA Today; he will return to Nashville to explore new ventures

One of the last good guys in the newspaper industry is retiring. Former Tennessean publisher Craig Moon will return to Nashville after April 17, following his six years of leading USA today and maintaining its circulation.

It was pleasure to work for Moon during my tenure at The Tennessean. And unlike publishers today, he put the readers first, making investments in new reporters for new beats before considering the bottom line. He remains a man of integrity who demands the best from his people, not excuses.

Moon had discovered the secret to running a good newspaper or any other business, give the customers what they want and they will give you what you need --- credibility, trust and profits.

He proved that with his creation of Williamson A.M., which continues to be the most successful part of The Tennessean.

Moon said he will spend more time with his family here and explore business ventures with his partners. Let's pray that he looks at the disarray of the print business in Middle Tennessee and comes up with a hybrid to dominate the market and put the lesser publications out of business.

Here is the press release on his departure:

MCLEAN, Va.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Craig Moon, president and publisher of USA TODAY, today said he plans to retire on April 17 after more than 23 years at Gannett. Moon also supervises USA WEEKEND, the Detroit Media Partnership, Gannett Offset and the Military Times operation.

“Craig has been a steady hand, a defender of strong journalism and a true champion of the USA TODAY brand in his six years as president and publisher of our flagship newspaper,” said Craig Dubow, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Gannett Co., Inc. (NYSE: GCI - News). “He has combined his love of the newspaper business with a grasp of the digital future in ways that benefited not only USA TODAY but also the entire company. We will miss his counsel and his expertise.”

“While the challenging media environment has been difficult for this industry and its people, it also has created new opportunities which I plan to explore with partners,” Moon said.

"I will carry forward a multitude of memories and life experiences I would not have otherwise benefited from without my association with all the dedicated employees and the incredible USA TODAY brand," he added. He plans to return full time to the Nashville, TN area to spend more time with his family as he explores these new businesses.

Moon was named president and publisher of USA TODAY in 2003. At the time, he was executive vice president of the Newspaper Division, now U.S. Community Publishing. From 1991 until 2002, Moon was president and publisher of The Tennessean in Nashville. He also was president of the Piedmont Newspaper Group of Gannett.

Home prices slide to new record low in January; that represents greatest loss of wealth in nation

The factor that makes this recession different from others is the gigantic decline in home prices, and numbers released today show no end in sight for this record descent.

And without any sign of this descent ending, the economy cannot recover.

Houses represent the single greatest financial holding for any family. These kind of declines account for an incredible loss of wealth in society, and suburban places such as Williamson County are being hit hard. Forclosures are multiplying.

Western U.S. cities are being hit the hardest, along with Miami in the east. Atlanta showed a 14 percent drop, still precipitous.

The New York Times reports:

The decline in housing prices maintained its record-breaking descent in January, according to data released Tuesday.

Home Prices in Selected Cities Standard & Poor’s Case-Shiller Home Price Index, a widely watched measure of 20 metropolitan areas, fell 19 percent in January from January 2008. That was slightly faster than it dropped in December.

The worst hit metropolitan areas have now fallen nearly in half. None of the cities showed month-to-month improvements. Thirteen showed record annual rates of decline.

“There’s no daylight that I can see in this report,” said David Blitzer, chairman of the index committee at S.&P.

Phoenix is down 48.5 percent from its June 2006 peak, with Las Vegas not far behind. Dallas was the city with the smallest decline from its peak, 10.8 percent.

The 20-city index fell to 146.40, its lowest point since September 2003. The peak was 206.52 in July 2006.

It may be spring on the calendar, but analysts said it would remain winter on housing prices for a long time.

Consumers still set on not buying as their confidence in the economy remains poor; they were betrayed and their trust was violated

I had dinner with a couple the other night who should now be together every day as they approach their older years.

But he works in another state during the week and she works full time here. And one of the reasons for their separation during the week is the large amount of savings lost in the stock market to retire in comfort. And of course with the job market, no one knows how long his or her job is going to be around.

Some readers may sense the deep anger I have toward people like Dave Ramsey, and financial advisers and brokerage representatives.

This fine couple and many others I have met are the reason why. They were betrayed and robbed. And a lot of those people who betrayed them are still around offering the same advice with their stupid grins and without any reprecussions.

For example, the Williamson Herald last week featured Ramsey with a giant photo on its front page offering more advice and his economic forecast. When the market was at 10,600 last September, he was telling people that everything would be all right and for people to get into growth mutual funds.

Since then, they've lost 30 percent of their money. Yet Ramsey still is out there giving advice without any sense of remorse and no scrutiny by the media that still lets him ramble on without calling him out for being wrong and costing people a lot of money they could not afford to lose.

Today's Conference Board report on consumer confidence shows the American people remain in grave doubt, and they do not know who to trust for advice. And the numbers also show a drop in people who are going to buy cars and new appliances. That means more layoffs as people buy less.

Ultimately, some institution will need to step forward to make amends for the betrayals of the couples like the one I had dinner with Saturday night. It won't be the media that continues to feature Dave Ramsey as an expert. It won't be the financial advisers who can only make money if people get back into the markets, which they should not. The clergy have plenty of words of comfort to offer but perhaps it's time to sell some land and quit building so many big structures and share with the people -- as in the beginning Christian communities.

Someone needs to apologize and make reparations. Or at least commence the healing. Until then, the American people are not going to trust enough to spend any money in large amounts. They will not be fooled again.

Here is the Marketwatch report on consumer attitudes:

WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) -- Consumer confidence ticked up in March from a record low in February as severe worries about the economy and jobs in coming months slightly eased, according to the monthly Conference Board index reported Tuesday.

The March consumer confidence index rose to 26 from an upwardly revised 25.3 in February. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch had expected a March reading of 28.

"Apprehension about the outlook for the economy, the labor market and earnings continues to weigh heavily on consumers' attitudes," said Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board's Consumer Research Center. "Looking ahead, consumers remain extremely pessimistic about the short-term future and do not foresee a turnaround in economic conditions over the coming six months."

Given the persistent and widespread economic weakness, gloom among consumers is understandable. On Friday the government will report on nonfarm payrolls for March, and economists polled by MarketWatch are looking for a loss of almost 700,000 jobs, and an unemployment rate of 8.5%.

Last week, a survey from the University of Michigan and Reuters reported that consumer sentiment index rose slightly in March from February though it remained near record low levels as mounting job losses and depleted investments weighed down consumers.

Consumers' views of current conditions fell, with those saying jobs are "hard to get" rising to 48.7% from 46.9%. Those saying business conditions are "bad" rose to 51.1% from 50.5%.

Meanwhile, consumers' expectations rose, with those expecting fewer jobs in six months declining to 42.6% from 47%. Those expecting "worse" business conditions fell to 39.1% from 40.7%.

Those with plans to buy an automobile within six months fell to 3.9% from 4.7%. Those with plans to buy a home also dropped, to 2% from 2.3%. Those with plans to buy major appliances fell to 24% from 25%.

Monday, March 30, 2009

WSJ says that Obama is leaning toward bankruptcy for automakers; GM could be sold off in parts

The Wall Street Journal reports from sources inside the Obama administration that the president now is leaning toward GM and Chrysler filing for bankruptcy and coming out reorganized into smaller companies or their parts sold off.

While I find that contention difficult to believe, perhaps President Obama now realizes it will cost too much to bail out the automakers. Their reorganization plans submitted to his auto industry committee were obviously disappointing, from his comments today.

Still, he seemed committed to some sort of U.S.-based auto industry operating in this country. Perhaps Ford will be the sole survivor and can operate some of GM's plants. Ford has not asked for government money.

Letting a federal court take care of GM bond-holding creditors and UAW members on retirement first, then seeing how much money is left to operate a company, makes better sense. I sure hope the president has reached that conclusion.

What this strategy means for the Spring Hill, TN., plant is anyone's guess.

The WSJ reports:

WASHINGTON— The Obama's administration's leading plan to fix General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC would use bankruptcy filings to purge the ailing companies of their biggest problems, including bondholder debt and retiree health-care costs, according to people familiar with the matter.

The move would in essence split both companies into their "good" and "bad" components. The government would like to see the "good" GM to be a standalone company, according to an administration official. The "good" Chrysler would be sold to Fiat SpA, assuming that deal is completed, this person said.

GM and Chrysler have had bankruptcy attorneys devising plans for such a move in recent months.

President Barack Obama's task force has told both companies that the administration prefers this route as a way to reorganize the two auto makers, rather than the prolonged out-of-court process that has thus far frustrated administration officials.

GM looks increasingly like it will be forced into filing for bankruptcy protection, sometime in mid-to-late May, in a plan where the automaker breaks into two companies, the surviving entity a "new GM" that maintains key brands such as Chevy and Cadillac and some international units, say several people familiar with the situation.

Stakes in this new GM could be given to creditors and UAW members. It is also possible the new company could be sold whole or in parts to investors.

The auto makers could avoid bankruptcy in the next two months. And there is some brinksmanship still going on in GM's high-level talks with bondholders, union members and creditors.

American Bar Association is tilted toward liberal nominees, says NYT in reporting on studies

The American Bar Association -- the non-transparent arm of this nation troubling legal industry -- is biased toward giving higher ratings to liberal court nominees, The New York Times reports in citing a new, independent study.

Give some credit to former AG Alberto Gonzales, who called out the ABA for its bias and quit using the group's grading system during the Bush administration.

The Obama administration has now invited the body back to grade nominees. The ABA, like state and local bar associations, leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to ensuring that the courts represent the interests of the people and justice first.

The Times reports:

Two weeks ago, the American Bar Association’s eight-year exile ended. The Obama administration restored the group to the special status it had enjoyed since the Eisenhower years, and it will once again get early word about potential nominees to the federal bench.

The group says it is serious and diligent about evaluating candidates without regard to ideology. But there is reason to wonder whether Alberto R. Gonzales, who was White House counsel at the time, might have had a point when he told the group eight years ago that its help would not be needed.

The A.B.A. is, after all, a private trade association, not an arm of the government. It takes public and generally liberal positions on all sorts of divisive issues. And a series of studies suggest that candidates nominated by Democratic presidents fare better in the group’s ratings than those nominated by Republicans.

Kim J. Askew, the chairwoman of the association’s 15-member Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary, which performs the evaluations, said her group is independent, hardworking and completely divorced from politics.

“We are an impartial group of lawyers that bring a peer review to the process,” Ms. Askew said. “We are all lawyers. We are officers of the court. We speak the language of the law. We do not consider politics.”

But a series of studies have found indications that liberal nominees do better in the process than conservative ones. The latest, to be presented next month at the Midwest Political Science Association, found evidence consistent with ideological bias.

“Holding all other factors constant,” the study found, “those nominations submitted by a Democratic president were significantly more likely to receive higher A.B.A. ratings than nominations submitted by a Republican president.”

The differences matter, said Amy Steigerwalt, a political scientist at Georgia State and an author of the study, along with Richard L. Vining Jr, of the University of Georgia and Susan Navarro Smelcer of Emory.

“A nominee who has a higher A.B.A. rating is more likely to move through the process,” Professor Steigerwalt said. “When problems arise, a higher A.B.A. rating provides one piece of ammunition for the president and supporting senators about why a person should be confirmed to the federal bench.”

Dow drops 254 points; it is going to be a very bad week for investors with terrible economic news

Investors who were measuring all the financial ground they had made up the past two weeks in a Bear market rally found a lot of their profits erased today.

The Dow closed down more than 250 points after falling more than 140 points on Friday.

Look for the rest of the profits to be erased by week's end with a new unemployment rate of 8.5 percent for the country and President Obama receiving a global dissing for his policies(including protectionist ones) at the EU 20 Summit in London.

China's continuing push for a global currency to replace the dollar will soon deliver its own economic reprecussions. And remember, the Chinese now own us since our government is printing money for all the new spending. To continue purchasing our debt, the Chinese can demand very favorable terms.

Who knew that the Communists actually won the Cold War?

After those hurdles, first quarter corporate earnings will start coming out after the first week of March, showing the economy is in much worse shape than anyone imagined.

It is going to be a very depressing several weeks on Wall Street and proof that the financial markets are no place to leave your money for any sense of security or return.

Why would black Memphis lawmakers oppose a better education for black children? Follow the money to teachers unions and corruption

The most sure way for a lawmaker to be re-elected is to be able to do favors for his or her friends and supporters. And of course, those favors are financed by you the taxpayer.

In Memphis, the most accessible funds are those tied to public education. Yet schools there are failing children most in need such as those in Nashville. And the children are poor and black and come from violent environments.

Besides state money, a lot of federal money comes with these impoverished children. But it doesn't go directly to help them. It goes to the education bureaucracy, to ensure the jobs of members of the state teachers union, the Tennessee Education Association, or as it should be called the Tennessee Entrenchment Association.

And lawmakers in Memphis use all that money to curry favor from the TEA to get campaign contributions and votes. And the best way to get those contributions and votes is to protect the jobs of TEA members in failing schools -- of which Memphis has the most in Tennessee -- and to hand out school patronage jobs to constituents and union members.

So lawmakers and the Tennessee Entrenchment Association do not want anybody getting in the way of their neat money deal. And they sure don't want competition for this money, even when it means poor black children getting a better education to get out of the violent environments of Memphis.

If they break out, then the TEA and the lawmakers won't have control over as much money to ensure jobs and votes.

That's why these lawmakers and the TEA oppose legislation this session to allow more children to go to charter public schools.

Data already shows that these schools do a better job with these children. Data also shows that these schools spend more of the taxpayer money on the classroom and not the bureaucracy. There are no assistant principals and other overpaid support staff at charter public schools. The money is sent for the classroom and the teachers. And that's why children in these public schools score higher when than those in the traditional ones.

The TEA and their puppet lawmakers do not want taxpayers to see the truth that you're already paying more than enough money for the education of poor, black children. They want to keep using Tennessee's low per pupil funding ranking nationally as an excuse for their failure and to grab more from your pocketbooks.

Charter public schools cannot accept failure or they are put out of business by state law. Accountability is key. And it should be that way for traditional public schools.

This session's charter public school legislation begins in the Senate, where Republicans will approve it. The House subcommittee on education is where the trouble will come, not only for the children in need but you the taxpayer.

In the coming days, look for the names, phone numbers and addresses for the obstructionist lawmakers in the House to contact. If children and their parents of this state are to win with more school choice, then the Tennessee Entrenchment Association and these lawmakers must lose on charter public schools this session.

Obama lectures GM, Chrysler for not making tough decisions while still promising to bail them out; how can a president dictate business decisions?

As has become his trait before bailing out entire industries, President Obama today lashed out at automakers GM and Chrysler for not making enough tough decisions in their restructuring plans.

Despite that and asking for GM's chief man to step down, the president still promised that the auto industry would not disappear, signaling his intent to use more of your tax dollars to bail out the unsavable. His administration even told Chrysler to merge with Fiat or else.

How is it that the federal government is now so involved with private industry that it is making decisions for it on staffing and mergers? That is way beyond what any voter wanted last November in putting Obama into office.

Does he really want to be running private enterprise in this nation along with public policy?

Obama did the same with Wall Street, bashing it for its greed then unveiling such a generous bail out of toxic assets last week that the market went on a big rally.

Now the markets have returned to reality and are off almost 300 points today. Coupled with a 150 point drop on Friday, the Bear market rally has given up a majority of its gains.

Bailing out the unsavable ultimately is not good economic policy. Capitalism demands winners and losers. The automakers have lost over years and years of bad decisions and greed. The American auto industry deserves to die. With the exception of Ford, it will if Obama leaves well enough alone.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

State teachers union lies as usual: that's why charter public schools need more access to students for better use of your tax dollars

The Memphis Commercial-Appeal produced a good story today on the charter school movement in Tennessee and the obstacles faced by incredibly ignorant and selfish educators such as the president of the state teachers union.

Legislation will first be considered in the state Senate and will pass easily thanks to its sponsorship by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey. The problem has always been in the state House subcommittee, where the education bureaucracy such as TEA dictates policy that first ensures the jobs of its members, not the proper education of Tennessee's children.

And those members have the ear and votes of black Democratic lawmakers from Memphis, who line up for the bureaucracy against the children.

In the story below, the state teachers union, the Tennessee Education Association, says that charter public schools "cherry pick" the best students and most involved parents from traditional public schools.

That is an incredible lie, even for the TEA.

At charter public schools such as where I volunteer at Smithson Craighead Academy in Nashville, we take the kids that the TEA's members have failed to properly educate in traditional public schools. These human beings usually are black, poor children. And their parents are not educated enough to help them with homework. They, too, were failed by TEA members.

The TEA believes your tax dollars for the education of its children belong to it first, to make sure its members keep their jobs and keep getting higher salaries -- while failing to educate all these young people.

Consider if you could do the same on your job -- fail its primary objective but still keep it and even get paid more. You can't. So why do we allow our tax dollars to be used this way then?

President Obama has made charter public schools the centerpiece of his education agenda. So how can black, Memphis lawmakers oppose a black president on this issue? That's where the TEA and its campaign contributions come in. But the data is there that show charter public schools work. And there is even one located across from the White House.

Your support of charter school legislation this session, however, can promote the kind of competition that will make the education bureaucracy more accountable. At Smithson Craighead, we believe you as taxpayers are already paying enough for public education.

Please, just give us access to more students to show you that the money is there to properly educate the least of our children. Make the TEA and its members finally work for your dollars and educate these children properly or lose them. That's fair.

Below is the Commercial-Appeal story:

By Jane Roberts (Contact), Memphis Commercial Appeal
Sunday, March 29, 2009

Catch Roblin Webb on a busy day and her "parent line" cell phone crawls in a near-constant vibration across her desk.

The log of callers is the same day after day: parents who've heard one way or another about Freedom Preparatory Academy and want their kids in.

Mostly, they're calling from Whitehaven or Westwood or Walker Homes, where many of the public schools aren't making the grade and where Webb's been pounding the streets for a month now, playing a numbers game to fill 108 sixth-grade slots, the first class in the 6-12 college-prep charter she's approved to open this fall.

"We see kids out riding their bikes and I say, 'How old are you? What grade are you in?'" Webb says, laughing at the absurdity.

"We actually got two applications that way. The kids' mother came out and filled them out right there."

Tennessee has some of the most restrictive rules in the nation on who may attend charter schools. Under the law re-approved last year, only students already in a charter school, assigned to a failing school or who are failing themselves are eligible.

If you are Webb -- whose proposal sailed through a 500-page application process and was awarded a $250,000 grant from the Walton Family Foundation -- it means you have to find the parents of those students any way you can: in front of the grocery store, in community sessions or going door to door.

"We really formed our business plan based on the law," said Webb, who is a law school graduate, a member of the charter school movement called Building Excellent Schools and is single with no children.

"Of the 30 failing schools in the Memphis district, 20 percent are in the Westwood/Whitehaven area. The majority are middle and high schools."

Webb estimates 720 fifth-graders in the neighborhoods are eligible for Freedom Prep, a charter based on a national model of preparing low-achieving students to succeed in college.

A host of advocates, including local charter school operators, say the rules cripple children's chances, particularly in Memphis, which has both the largest number of failing schools and the largest population of at-risk children, based on the number receiving free or reduced school lunches.

"The most common thing we run into are parents that would like to come to a charter, but they can't because they have the wrong address," said Matt Throckmorton, head of the Tennessee Charter School Association.

"In order for our schools to have the student population it takes to run a school, we have to go to great efforts to recruit, which means going door-to-door, going to malls and grocery stores."

For leaders starting schools, it's time better spent hiring teachers, developing lesson plans and preparing data-driven instruction, he said.

Since charters were introduced in Minnesota in 1992, 41 states have passed legislation permitting them; 38 allow open enrollment in some form.

Charters are free, public schools given freedoms others are not. The teachers are not union members. The school day and year often run longer. Administrators can take creative license with curriculum.

But they must adhere to the goals of their charter. And if the school fails state exams two years in a row, it is shut down. Yo! Academy here lost its charter in 2007.

Webb and others say they want that level of accountability. What stymies the work is the restriction on who may attend.

Tennessee, like 19 other states, also caps the number of charters it authorizes.

In Memphis, with more charters than any city in the state, the cap is set at 20, based on population.

Memphis already has 19, including Soulsville, a college prep academy for students who excel in music, a handful of other career-specific middle and elementary academies, and four schools Memphis City Schools is opening for high school students two years over age for grade.

Unless the law changes this session, only one of the seven or eight applications in the works now will be approved.

Michael Whaley, completing a residency at K-8 charter in Brooklyn, N.Y., is submitting an application.

"We're confidently moving forward and fully expect to be chartered," he said.

As a Teach for America teacher at Getwell Elementary in 2006, "my eyes were opened to the scope of the problem," said Whaley, who is also with Building Excellent Schools.

"If students are not proficient readers by third grade, they're unlikely to graduate from high school."

Opponents say charter schools cherry-pick the most talented students with the most involved parents, weakening an already failing public school.

"I believe the legislature was very wise in putting a cap on the number and who can attend," said Earl Wiman, president of the 55,000-member Tennessee Education Association, including 7,000 Memphis teachers.

"The reason is because we truly do not have any substantial amount of research that says charters are better than public schools when you account for the fact that charters are essentially choosing the children they take."

According to research prepared by Hyde Family Foundations based on state test data, charter schools in Tennessee last year outpaced public school districts in the percentage of at-risk students scoring proficient and advanced in math and reading.

In math, 97.3 percent of students at Star Academy in Frayser scored proficient or advanced in math compared to 83.3 percent in the City Schools.

Wiman, principal for 15 years in "a high-poverty" school in Jackson, Tenn., winces when people assume children from poor homes are automatically risks for academic failure.

"The truly at-risk do not have parents involved in their lives," he said. "It's an enormous mistake in this state to think just because a child is getting free or reduced lunch means they are at risk."

Webb, supplied free office space by the Hyde Foundation, became an ardent supporter of charters when she volunteered to coach the Middle College High School mock trial team.

"They were not prepared to go to college because their ACT scores were 16 and 17," she said.

"But they had talent. It broke my heart that they wouldn't be attorneys because they couldn't get in college."

The civil rights lawyer quit law and got involved in school reform, first New Leaders for New Schools, then Building Excellent Schools, which recruits talented teachers and nonteachers to start charter schools from the ground up.

"I tell my parents their children are going to get in trouble a lot at first because our rules are very strong. We sweat every little thing they do. You've got to understand that and work with me. We are going to call you all the time."

Where the charter schools are in Tennessee

Nashville: KIPP Nashville, LEAD, Smithson Craighead

Memphis: Circles of Success, City University, Promise Academy, Star Academy, Soulsville, Memphis Academy of Health Sciences, Memphis Academy of Health Sciences (middle), Memphis Academy of Health Sciences (high), Memphis Business Academy (middle), Memphis Business Academy (high), Southern Avenue Charter School, Power Center Academy and KIPP Diamond

Approved for August start

Nashville: Smithson Craighead (middle), Global Academy

Memphis: Freedom Prep, City University Boys

Chattanooga: Ivy Academy, Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy

Note to the news media: Dave Ramsey does not know a damn thing about the economy, its future

The national news media has caught onto the truth that Dave Ramsey does not know a damn thing about the economy nor how people should invest their money.

Ramsey is showing up less on cable TV shows. But unfortunately, the Nashville area media still uses the guy way too much.

Ironically, this past week in the Williamson Herald, Ramsey was featured as offering hope. Yet early in the article, he noted that he was not prepared for the "September 2008" meltdown of the financial markets.

In fact, he was so unprepared then that he got on NewsChannel 5 on its Friday 6 p.m. newscast and told viewers there was hope then --- and put their money into growth mutual funds.

Then, the Dow was at 10,600. Now it is well below that mark despite a Bear rally of the past two weeks.

Look for stocks to lose that ground they gained. This week is supposed to deliver more bad economic news for this nation for the first quarter of 2009, with an unemployment rate rising to at least 8.5 percent. Marketwatch.com reports that companies continue to shed jobs at a fast rate.

Consider that Tennessee's jobless rate already is at 9.1 percent. So much for hope. The wings of the American people have been clipped. They cannot magically fly out of this situation.

So Ramsey's record when it comes to the economy and investing is quite bad. For the media to offer him as an authority is derelict. Ramsey did not predict this downturn and he should not be proffered as knowing when things will turn around.

We are in unprecedented economic times. This Great Recession cannot be compared to any other economic era. The Chinese own our future. This nation's future will be greatly determined in Beijing, not Washington. The loss of wealth in this nation is unprecedented, even when stacked against the Great Depression.

And Dave Ramsey will be the last person to know what's going on.

He should stick to telling people how to reduce their debt. Other than that, he is woefully unqualified and any media outlet that uses him for advice outside his realm should be avoided.

Once more into a disastrous economic breach: Obama to announce bailout of GM, Chrysler

One day very soon, someone with an important title is going to have to say that our government cannot just keep printing money to bail out the industry of the week.

And it may be someone in the Chinese government.

Last week, it was bankers with all the toxic assets of home loans they knew better to make who were given a most generous bail out by the Obama administration.

Tomorrow, it will be the auto industry, as President Obama keeps his promises to organized labor and bails out dinosaur corporations that should be allowed to die. Tonight, media are reporting that Obama has asked for the resignation of GM's top officer as part of the bailout for the industry.

Why isn't the head of the United Auto Workers also being asked to step down?
Economies must be treated as nature does its creations. Some things are supposed to die. Meanwhile in economies, some things can be done better, more cheaply and more honestly. Organized labor is not interested in things being done better, just the insurance of employment and spoils.

Pouring more money into the auto dinosaurs only ensure taxpayers will have another AIG to continually support with no end in sight.

The federal credit card cannot continue to run up without a major consequence. The Chinese have been given control over our fates because Obama is determined to spend more and more.

My father and my uncles did not fight for this nation during World War II to have it turned over to the Communists. The President is making some terrible choices for which a huge price will be demanded of each of us.

Obama again fails the honesty test

The Washington Post reports that President Obama's purported town hall meeting with the American people over the Internet last week was actually an event with selected questioners who backed his campaign.

Obama has promised a transparency to government, but his administration has been caught posting executive orders on its website instead of giving them to the press and hosting a second swearing in to office without notifying the media for coverage.

Accusations of it also having a Nixon-like hit list of critics have also clouded any new sense of integrity to the administration.

The Post reports:

President Obama has promised to change the way the government does business, but in at least one respect he is taking a page from the Bush playbook, stocking his town hall Thursday with supporters whose soft -- though far from planted -- questions provided openings to discuss his preferred message of the day.

Obama has said, "I think it's important to engage your critics ... because not only will you occasionally change their mind but, more importantly, sometimes they will change your mind," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs recounted to The Post's Lois Romano in an interview Wednesday.

But while the online question portion of the White House town hall was open to any member of the public with an Internet connection, the five fully identified questioners called on randomly by the president in the East Room were anything but a diverse lot.

They included: a member of the pro-Obama Service Employees International Union, a member of the Democratic National Committee who campaigned for Obama among Hispanics during the primary; a former Democratic candidate for Virginia state delegate who endorsed Obama last fall in an op-ed in the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star; and a Virginia businessman who was a donor to Obama's campaign in 2008.

Understanding some Scripture requires living it; in losing many things recently, I have saved my life

I always had trouble understanding the Scripture I heard last night at Mass.

Christ is preaching to the crowd and says that whomever loves their life, will lose it; whomever hates their life because of this world will save it.

I don't like to use the word "hates", but I do not love my life in this world anymore. I have lost so much in a short time: my health to almost dying, my career of 34 years, my marriage, my cat of 18 years and worst of all, my mother, my hero and best friend. She decided to break my heart and go to heaven last June.

But in losing, which God did not cause, he has provided me refuge, to be closer to Him than at any time of my life. And I am most blessed than I ever thought possible.

I used to only pray the Rosary when I was in trouble. I now pray it every day out of joy and gratitude. I now work full time for no pay for the most deprived children of this city. And now I am just two months from the greatest achievement of my professional career. I'll let you know when it has been accomplished.

I no longer follow a busy schedule and career and buying more and more -- the false gods of this world. I now have time to sing in the choir to God's glory at church, instead of just being an observer in the pews. God truly expects more of us and deserves as much.

And it is all because I hate my life.

Because in hating it because of this world, I love God more. And my ultimate goal is not how much money I earn or fame I gain, but to die as Christ did so I can be reunited with my mother, my aunts, my grandmother and of course Our Lady of Guadalupe and Christ for eternity.

Usually, we only think of this goal after the day is over and we say prayers, or on a Sunday morning. But that is not saving your life. It is forgetting about it. And one day your busy schedule will be stopped and you'll look around for support. You'll lose the things of this world that you thought so important and realize they're weren't. Not even close.

God will be there, though, but He shouldn't be. But he is always faithful, even if we are not. And I sure wasn't when the doctor told me I had terminal leukemia on Dec. 15, 2005.

Leukemia has turned out to be the greatest blessing of my life. Through it, God brought me back to Him. I was able to leave behind all those false gods that made me love the life of this world and now save my life for the hereafter.

I should be overjoyed that the chemotherapy I have taken since Dec. 2005 will end next month. My doctor calls me a walking miracle. Actually, I am a reaffirmation of Scripture, and God's remarkable ways in making us into who we should be, not who we think we should.

Am I cured from leukemia? I guess. But that really doesn't matter any more to me. The real threat to me was this world, and its false gods that I worshipped in my career and busy schedule and in owning a nice home on a hill in the 11th most affluent county in the nation. Country music stars and pro athletes abound there with their fame and fortune. I don't begrudge them that. It's just that one can get so far off track without even knowing it.

Now I live in an apartment without TV, and I have no intention of getting cable or Direct TV. Television really is not necessary. Internet is king. I live just with my kitty cat. I don't cook big meals anymore as I used to, so I am as slender as I was in college, which provides for great health and loose-fitting clothes. I delight in not suffering from the middle-aged man mound hanging over my belt.

There are many things we actually can do without in this nation to accommodate more difficult economic times. From generation to generation, we seem to layer on possessions. Now is a good time to start peeling them back and remember how our parents and grandparents lived -- and prospered. Indeed, they took us everywhere without an SUV with DVD players in the back for the children.

Yes, sometimes I get lonely. I am a people person as my mother. I have lost friends who do not understand the truth I have lived. If Christ's words cannot convince them, however, mine sure can't.

But I have saved my life, for the world to come. I have plenty of oil for the bridegroom whose return we wait. Maranatha!

O, Lord, thy ways are true. And now I have understood your Scripture -- by living it.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Here's hoping Tennessean's Issues section tomorrow joins 21st Century with its diversity

Besides Tennessean editor Mark Silverman's commentary that newspapers are alive and well, the most disturbing aspect of The Tennessean's Issues section LAST SUNDAY was the lack of a writer of color with picture.

Consider that America now has an African-American president.

Consider that Nashville is 25 percent African-American.

Consider the growing immigrant population in the Midstate.

Consider that nearby Vanderbilt University -- a shining city on a hill -- has a global student body and faculty.

Yet The Tennessean could not find or did not try and find a perspective on the issues of the day from someone who was not white.

Incredible. And despicable. Lazy.

A lot of people complain about people identifying themselves as people of color, or as minorities, or as hyphenated Americans. I can see their point. But when we -- in the year 2009 -- can still be excluded from the political dialogue, then the fault does not belong with us.

It belongs with institutions such as The Tennessean, still led by all white folks, to who diversity of voices really means nothing because they have few if any relationships with such people.

And their readers are the poorer for it.

Always pray for the President; we do not need Obama-haters like we had Bush-haters

I frequently write in opposition to the President's programs on the economy and the cost to taxpayers.

But I do not do it with any hate for the man, or even disrespect.

We had that for eight years from some quarters of this nation for President Bush. And that did nothing but make meaningful discussion impossible and any dialogue more personal than purposeful.

There are some people who seek to make a name for themselves by being personal and hateful. Ann Coulter and Maureen Dowd come to mind. Rush Limbaugh and Bill Maher also are cut from the same cloth.

But we as Americans who want the best for this nation must not follow their paths and way of thinking.

Even though I disagree with President Obama's programs in some areas, I pray that he is successful. Too many people here in Tennessee and across this nation have lost their jobs and a sense of hope for anyone to be pleased with any politician's failure. His success is their recovery of dignity and a livelihood.

I believe the President is right on the single most important issue in this nation: education. His call for open enrollment in charter public schools will provide a place for children that traditional public and Catholic schools do not want.

That we in Tennessee have to fight black, Democratic lawmakers from Memphis to get this right under state law defies all logic. But they are the obstacle we face here in Tennessee to do what the President wants on this top agenda item.

Education is the single most important determinant about whether a person will be a contributor or taker from society, an individual seeking the American Dream or a threat to hurt themselves and others.

So please pray for the President and hope for his well-being. Do not hate him if you oppose his policies. Stay in the public debate with thoughtful responses to advance dialogue, not stop it.

A divided nation helps no one, except the few who would profit from it.

Make your presence known Monday at legislative hearing for disabled Tennesseans being sent to die

A critically important legislative hearing is slated for 1 p.m. Monday for 1,000 Tennesseans being forced by the state into nursing homes to suffer early deaths.

This change of the rules by the TennCare Bureau last summer was unnecessary and cruel. Legislation has been proposed to overturn these rules and allow these Tennesseans to live in their homes with the support of loved ones and necessary nursing.

The hearing will be Monday at 1 p.m. in Room 12 at Legislative Plaza for lawmakers to hear from the public and the disabled themselves. Please show up and demonstrate that these citizens matter.

Russians looking for payback as Obama moves to escalate war in Afghanistan and into Pakistan

History tells us that Afghanistan is a land that has had so much blood shed for it -- for so little gain in return.

Its northern region is mountainous and unusable for any value. The rest of the nation is known for poppy plants turned into narcotics. I can think of no other nation unworthy of the blood of our men and women.

The New York Times reports today that there was fierce debate inside the Obama administration about escalating the war, as the president announced this week. And the president is now making deeper inroads into the sovereignty of Pakistan with drone bombings, which will force that nation's government into a corner with hardline Muslim extremists gaining more power.

Vice President Biden, who was brought onto the Obama team for his foreign policy experience, advised against escalation. Generals argued for it. Vietnam, deja vu.

While Obama's mistakes on the economy will only prolong the recession, his mistakes on foreign policy will cost lives. And that Biden's advice was rejected on the first big test for the administration bodes ill for this nation that was counting on his experience to compensate for that of the president's on foreign policy.

You can bet the Russians are licking their lips at the chance of payback, for all the support our government provided the Taliban to kill Russians in Afghanistan in the 1980s. We made it Russia's Vietnam. The Russians will do their best to make Afghanistan Obama's Vietnam.

That desolate country is not worth the sacrifice to come. What once was a mission to find Osama bin Laden has become a fight against an entire phantom force of terrorists who will always find a home and support in this world, be it in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria or Iran.

We can't keep invading and endangering both American and civilian lives. Obama promised restraint in his campaign for president. Committing more forces to Afghanistan and taking the fight more into Pakistan is madness.

History tells us so.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Pulitzer Prize-winning writer's comments show why newspapers must change or die for good of the people

Former New York Times' writer Linda Greenhouse -- who won the Pulitzer Prize for her coverage of the U.S. Supreme Court -- recently demonstrated why the newspaper business is in desperate need of an overhaul or extinction.

In this excerpt from the Poytner site: Greenhouse said she left the Times in part because she was asked to do additional, online-only reporting. The changing “news appetite” for immediacy, she explained, did not fit her personal approach to journalism.

Her personal approach to journalism!

That means what you the reader wanted did not mean a damn to her, only her personal approach to journalism, whatever the hell that is.

Perhaps since she won a Pulitzer Prize, Greenhouse merits such an elitist attitude. Yet many other journalists see it the same way. They could care less about the Web and its immediacy, even if it is something that better serves you.

I cannot think of another industry that deserves the ills befalling it than my former profession. It deserted you the reader long before you quit buying the product or advertising in it.

Krugman's warning worth heeding; nation's dependence on financial industry spells our ruin

Nobel Prize-winning columnist Paul Krugman delivered a necessary history lesson on America's overdependence on the financial sector and the myth of securization by spreading risk over many types of investment vehicles.

Ultimately, President Obama's plan on toxic assets is an attempt to return the financial markets to what they were two years ago, and that certainly was not healthy for the nation, Krugman writes.

In post-war America and into the 1960s, the financial sector made up just 4% of the Gross National Product. No financial firm was in the Dow 30 and the standard of living doubled in that era.

During the Reagan and Clinton eras of deregulation, however, the financial sector's part of GDP hit 8%. Now is it into the double digits, at 12 or 13%, and that's why all the mess with AIG and the fraudlent home lending spread across so many sources were able to drag the fourth quarter GDP to its worst performance since the 1930s.

It's also why Tennessee's unemployment rate is 9.1% and at least four states are in double digits. Some 6.65 million Americans are drawing unemployment benefits. And there are fewer available jobs out there.

Simply returning this nation's financial system to what it was before the Great Recession should give no one any sense of security. It just always keeps us at the edge.

For me, that is why I would like to see some big banks and some insurance corporations such as AIG fail, to reduce the size of the financial industry and serve as a warning to others about taking on too much risk.

If the sector is too big for our economy's health, then let it naturally reduce its size without government intervention. But Krugman believes in more intervention, just different from Obama's.

Still, Krugman's NYTIMES piece is a worthy read if only to build an understanding of the stakes at hand with Obama's toxic assets gamble.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Newspaper industry suffers a very bad week

Politico.com assesses the week for the American newspaper industry as going from bad to worse, with major cutbacks at the nation's franchise newspapers.

These new announcements are quite ironic considering Tennessean editor Mark Silverman's column on Sunday that the industry was doing just fine. So much for his credibility as an honest analyst.

The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal all took hits and The Christian Science Monitor will be publishing its last print edition. In addition, staffers at the WSJ learned that they would be judged by the breaking news they produce for the WSJ wire and not the days and week dedicated to projects.

Politico reports:

Is it Friday yet?

For staffers at The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, this week can’t end soon enough.

On Monday, news broke that The Wall Street Journal was losing two top investigative reporters. On Tuesday, President Barack Obama snubbed reporters from the big dailies at his primetime press conference. On Wednesday, Washington Post Co. Chairman Donald Graham signaled to shareholders that 2009 would be worse than the previous year.

On Thursday, the Times and the Post announced broad cost-cutting measures and plans for reductions in staff. And Friday will bring the final print edition of the Christian Science Monitor.

The Times handed out pink slips Thursday morning to about 100 staffers on the paper’s business side.

For those Times staffers who didn’t get the ax, there was still unpleasant news in memo form: a 5 percent pay cut beginning in April. The consolation: Staffers will now receive an additional 10 days off annually.

In a memo to staff, New York Times Co. Chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and CEO Janet Robinson wrote that the “economic outlook and the changes occurring in the media business” were forcing the company to “take even more steps to lower costs.”

At the Post, Graham offered a similarly grim view.

"The familiar problems of the newspaper industry — declining readership and the loss of classified — are now made worse by bankrupt advertisers," Graham wrote in a letter to shareholders on Wednesday. "The newspaper will lose substantial money in 2009. Some will be non-cash accelerated depreciation because we will be closing a printing plant. Most will be real losses."

Given expectations of a “substantial” loss, few were surprised when the paper’s top brass — Post publisher Katharine Weymouth and executive editor Marcus Brauchli — notified staff that they’d be offering another voluntary buyout package. It’s the fourth time since 2003 that the Post has offered buyouts.

Edward Atorino, a media analyst with Benchmark Co., said the cutbacks at the Times and Post “reinforc[e] the fact that business is getting worse, not better.”

The other shoe to drop: Commercial real estate values to tumble and put more pressure on banks

Billionaire and big Democratic Party donor George Soros says the value of commercial real estate in this nation will fall by 30 percent, putting new pressure on banks trying to get out from under their bad home lending.

As reported by Bloomberg News:

March 26 (Bloomberg) -- Billionaire investor George Soros said U.S. commercial real estate will probably drop at least 30 percent in value, causing further strains on banks.

“Commercial real estate has not yet fallen in value,” Soros, speaking at a forum in Washington, said. “It is inevitable, it is written, everybody knows it, there are already some transactions which reflect and anticipate it, so we know, they will drop at least 30 percent.”

U.S. commercial real estate values have fallen 30 percent from the 2007 peak as cheap financing disappeared and the recession reduced occupancies, RREFF, the real estate investment unit of Deutsche Bank AG, said yesterday in its 2009 forecast. Total returns in a commercial property index used by pension funds may decline as much as 11 percent this year, the group said.

God bless Rep. Ben West and may He provide speedy recovery: West is good lawmaker

State Rep. Ben West is a good man and lawmaker, and it was my pleasure to deal with him on legislation when I was writing for The Tennessean.

News of his heart attack is most distressing, and he is in my prayers for his speedy recovery and return to Legislative Plaza.

It needs him and his integrity.

No more waiting on the stock market; Bear rally is an illusion; Wall Street will be no dependable place to put your money for years, not months

I thought I could wait out the stock market's volatility to get back in this year after getting out last summer.

Despite the impressive and ongoing Bear market rally, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the stock market will not be the place to put one's money for somewhat safe harbor and good return for years, not months.

And while impressive in it structure, the Obama administration's toxic assets plan is only going to corrode the pocketbooks of taxpayers in what will become the most spectacular fiscal policy disaster in this nation's history.

Instruments outside of equities and commodities are the only place to go for security and a decent return. And that will require extensive individual research.

Stock brokers and financial advisers -- who are suffering economically from all the money on the sidelines -- are going to push you into instruments from which they'll receive a fee or commission. Don't depend on them to give you the right guidance.

And depending on the stock market to finally decide its direction is reckless.

Despite today's finalized Commerce Department determination that the GDP declined in the fourth quarter by 6.3 percent and mounting initial jobless claims filed, the market is up. That's representative of an institution out of control. And the only direction for it over the long term will be down.

AP reported these staggering figures: The total number of people claiming benefits jumped to 5.56 million, worse than economists' projections of 5.48 million, a ninth straight record and the highest total on records dating back to 1967.

I see no reason for the markets to be up, except that an insanity for new hope has taken hold. Wishing for recovery is not going to make it happen.

Marketwatch.com says that economists predict a similar decline for the GDP in the first quarter. Some economists are predicting even worse.

Economist Nouriel Roubini, who predicted the Great Recession, sees the Dow back down to 5,000 and home prices declining another whopping 20 percent.

He has yet to be proven wrong. Getting back into the stock market is now something off my radar for years, not months.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Where's Lou Dobbs when you need him? Debate over Mexico has now turned to negative influence of Americans and their huge hunger for drugs

After hearing from CNN's Lou Dobbs for years as to how bad Mexico and Mexicans have been to the United States, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today stated strongly that troubles plauging our Southern neighbor are the fault of Americans.

Drug violence has turned Mexico's streets into killing fields. The cartels have all the money because the American appetite for illegal drugs continues to grow in coping with hard economic times. And the druglords then buy weapons from American gun dealers with American money to kill Mexican police and army soldiers.

Mexican citizens are finding the heads of murdered authorities in their schoolyards and town squares to intimidate the public from cooperating with authorities. So you might guess that Mexican popular opinion concerning this nation is not high. They can't understand why Americans need so much illegal drugs.

Here the bottom line to this situation: Growing discord in Mexico means danger for this nation in stopping terrorists threats from coming up from South of the border.

Injustice has always had a way of changing minds and the traditional positive image American has enjoyed among Mexican citizens.

The New York Times reports:

MEXICO CITY — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrived here Wednesday with the clearest acknowledgment yet from a senior Obama administration official of the role the United States plays in the violent drug trade racking Mexico.

“Our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade,” she said, using unusually blunt language. “Our inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border to arm these criminals causes the deaths of police officers, soldiers and civilians.”

Since last year, drug-related killings and battles between law enforcement authorities and the cartels have resulted in more than 7,200 deaths in Mexico, and raised doubts about the country’s stability. The violence has begun spilling across the border.

Senior officials said Mrs. Clinton would press the Mexican president, Felipe Calderon, to redouble his government’s effort to root out corruption in the police force and the courts.

“His commitment to the struggle for security and judicial reform, and the other elements of his agenda, to deal with lawlessness in Mexico, is full-speed-ahead,” she said. “I’m very impressed with his attention to these problems.”

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Wife of Senate Banking Chair Dodd formerly tied to AIG; Dodd make sure bonuses were in legislation that caused great public outrage

Senate Banking Chairman Christopher Dodd -- the congressional leader who made sure controversial bonuses to AIG executives were authorized in recent bailout legislation -- has a direct connection to this company via his wife.

She was a former outside director for a firm controlled by AIG.

RealClearPolitics provides the following column from the Hartford Courant:

No wonder Senator Christopher Dodd (D-Conn) went wobbly last week when asked about his February amendment ratifying hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses to executives at insurance giant AIG.

Dodd has been one of the company's favorite recipients of campaign contributions. But it turns out that Senator Dodd's wife has also benefited from past connections to AIG as well.

From 2001-2004, Jackie Clegg Dodd served as an "outside" director of IPC Holdings, Ltd., a Bermuda-based company controlled by AIG. IPC, which provides property casualty catastrophe insurance coverage, was formed in 1993 and currently has a market cap of $1.4 billion and trades on the NASDAQ under the ticker symbol IPCR.

In 2001, in addition to a public offering of 15 million shares of stock that raised $380 million, IPC raised more than $109 million through a simultaneous private placement sale of 5.6 million shares of stock to AIG - giving AIG a 20% stake in IPC. (AIG sold its 13.397 million shares in IPC in August, 2006.)

Clegg was compensated for her duties to the company, which was managed by a subsidiary of AIG. In 2003, according to a proxy statement, Clegg received $12,000 per year and an additional $1,000 for each Directors' and committee meeting she attended. Clegg served on the Audit and Investment committees during her final year on the board.

IPC paid millions each year to other AIG-related companies for administrative and other services. Clegg was a diligent director. In 2003, the proxy statement report, she attended more than 75% of board and committee meetings. This while she served as the managing partner of Clegg International Consultants, LLC, which she created in 2001, the year she joined the board of IPC. (See Dodd's public financial disclosure reports with the Senate from 2001-2004 here.)

Dodd is likely more familiar with the complicated workings of AIG than he was letting on last week. This week may provide him with another opportunity to refresh his recollections.

Kevin Rennie, a former Republican state senator, is a columnist for the Hartford Courant. He can be reached at kfrennie@yahoo.com.

Dodd, and House Banking Chairman Barney Frank, represent the Abbott and Costello of congressional oversight of this nation's financial industry. But the American people, who are getting stuck with the enormous bill for their shenanigans, are not laughing.

Democratic senator proposes non-profit status for newspapers; this country is headed down toilet

No other industry is more unworthy of taxpayer support than newspapers.

Yet that did not stop a Democratic U.S. senator today from proposing non-profit status for newspapers, leaving their advertising and other revenue untouched by Uncle Sam to survive.

This is madness. Newspapers have caused their own demise. And the Internet has liberated the people to get the full truth.

In Tennessee, newspapers already are unnecessarily exempt from the oppressive sales tax rate. Federal support would be further outrageous assistance.

But Marketwatch.com reports:

CHICAGO (MarketWatch) -- As a growing number of American newspapers halt daily publication or threaten to do so, U.S. Sen. Benjamin Cardin introduced legislation Tuesday that would allow newspapers to operate as nonprofit organizations, providing significant tax breaks to the struggling industry.

Cardin, D-Md., said the decline of newspapers represents "a real tragedy for communities across the nation and for our democracy."
Under the proposal, newspapers could operate as nonprofits, if they chose to do so, claiming 501(c)(3) status for educational purposes, similar to public broadcasting.

'It is in the interest of our nation and good governance that we ensure [that newspapers] survive.'

— Sen. Benjamin Cardin

Advertising and subscription revenue would be tax-exempt, and contributions to support coverage or operations could be tax-deductible.

Nonprofit-status newspapers would not be allowed to make political endorsements but would be allowed to freely report on all issues, including political campaigns.

In a statement, Cardin acknowledged that consumers now have many other sources for news but said the public relies on newspapers "for in-depth reporting that follows important issues, records events and exposes misdeeds. In fact, most if not all sources of journalistic information ... gather their news from newspaper reporters who cover the news on a daily basis ... It is in the interest of our nation and good governance that we ensure [that newspapers] survive."

It is NOT in the public interest for newspapers to survive. They quit serving the people long ago for their own political bias and the bottom line.

The people of this nation are smart enough to tap into various media sources to receive all sides of the news, or coverage of issues and the most vulnerable newspapers no longer care about. Then the people can make their own decisions to keep this republic vibrant.

President Obama certainly showed the Internet to be a most effective tool for a free people to be heard during his campaign.

Just as with the decline of dinosaurs to make room for new life, so is the departure of newspapers to make room for a more democratic form of a free press.

Criticism of Obama bad asset plan leaves deep worry that taxpayers will get short end of deal as will economy; Krugman says 'time is running out'

It takes a lot of reading WSJ and NYT stories and listening to a lot of TV and radio analysts to determine if the Obama plan to get bad bank assets out of the financial system is a good idea.

But there is one part of the plan that is fundamentally wrong: the government is putting up way too much money to make buying these assets attractive to investors. And that's why Wall Street shot up yesterday.

It didn't know that the president and his treasury secretary were going to be so generous in putting 82-cents for every dollar of bad assets an investor take a risk on.

The administration is hoping to boost the value of the assets with your money, instead of letting the marketplace do it. And that's very bad news. Hopefully, the White House press corps will have done its homework and grill the president on his plan tonight at his press conference.

Nobel Prize-winning economics columnist Paul Krugman puts it this way:

But the real problem with this plan is that it won’t work.

Yes, troubled assets may be somewhat undervalued. But the fact is that financial executives literally bet their banks on the belief that there was no housing bubble, and the related belief that unprecedented levels of household debt were no problem. They lost that bet. And no amount of financial hocus-pocus — for that is what the Geithner plan amounts to — will change that fact.

You might say, why not try the plan and see what happens? One answer is that time is wasting: every month that we fail to come to grips with the economic crisis another 600,000 jobs are lost.

Even more important, however, is the way Mr. Obama is squandering his credibility. If this plan fails — as it almost surely will — it’s unlikely that he’ll be able to persuade Congress to come up with more funds to do what he should have done in the first place.

All is not lost: the public wants Mr. Obama to succeed, which means that he can still rescue his bank rescue plan. But time is running out.

AIG is going to look like a picnic compared to this.

Pulitzer Prize Committee should consider "Rich dog, poor dog" project in Tennessean edition

Dear Pulitzer judges,

I have just come across a piece of journalism that I believe should be included in your ongoing judging of entries for distinctive newspaper work in America.

I get the Davidson A.M. edition of The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville weekly. It is thrown on my lawn for free.

And the March 18 edition had an extensive package of investigative journalism that showed the local plight of a dog still going to the groomers and one in the animal shelter. Called "Rich dog, poor dog", the project followed the plight of these animals in an economy amid a deep recession.

The obvious factor that makes the project so unique is that the newspaper was able to investigate and find this special story amid more visible signs of misery such as tent cities cropping up around Nashville for homeless human beings and long lines of people needing free food.

The two stories in the investigative project took up four-fifths of the entire front page and then had to jump to the back page, which was entirely devoted to doggies. And then there was a new piece back there.

The project represented quite a commitment by The Tennessean to the welfare of animals while so many human beings including children are suffering in Nashville and Middle Tennessee due to the economy.

It takes a different kind of newspaper under the leadership of Mark Silverman to avoid the full story of human misery for that of animals.

I hope your committee could find time to review this work and respond with the appropriate comments.


Tim Chavez
Tennessean reader(when it's free)

Seigenthaler was a giant; newspaper leaders now are so many midgets with no vision but for profit

I got the following response from a reader to my piece on Carpetbagger Tennessean Editor Mark Silverman's testimony to his newspaper's greatness because it is profitable:

Wish you'd been around when John Seigenthaler was running things. There was newspaper excitement back then. Dru

I wish I would have around, too. But I did get to meet the great man on several ocassions, and each time he left me more impressed.

The first was when I wrote a critical column of a forum he hosted with then Nashville First Lady Andrea Conte. Seigenthaler wrote back with such a gracious reply that still let me know how he believed I was wrong.

The second time when he provided me the great honor of bringing the late David Halberstam over to me at a Freedom Forum gathering. It still hurts to think of the incredible loss to my former profession and the craft of writing with the loss of this great man in a car accident a year or so ago.

The third time was when Seigenthaler called me at my home to praise me about columns I was writing about the unfair education of immigrant children in Nashville schools. For me, the call was an overwhelming compliment.

That's because the man when it came to projects and efforts to make a difference -- from my limited knowledge -- was morally and courageously out front for his community, state and region. Jerry Thompson's infiltration of the Klan remains one of the most heroic newspaper projects of our time. And it stopped the spread of the Klan in its tracks.

NewsChannel 5's Phil Williams used to work for The Tennessean. And he produced a Pulitzer Prize-winning finalist project.

There are more examples I can cite. But when you think of the journalists who came through The Tennessean under Seigenthaler's tenure, you realize why the newspaper had such a great reputation.

Seig even had employees at one time standing out in the streets collecting money to keep Fisk University from closing.

It seems the era that produced Seigenthaler and so many great leaders in journalism and politics has never returned. The greatest politician to come from that time was Bobby Kennedy -- not because of his power but due to his compassion.

When you would see the then senator carress the knapes of the necks of poor black children in Watts and poor white children in Appalachia, you knew the guy cared. And when talked tough to crowds like he did at Kansas State University at the start of his presidential campaign, people responded enthusiastically.

We don't have that kind of honesty anymore. No one is really willing to take the chance. There are flashes in President Obama. But great leaders take great chances -- not for profit -- but for progress.

Of course, that era also produced our greatest American, Dr. King, who knew that each time he appeared in public he was targeted for death. He was stabbed once. And then in Memphis, he got to look over into the Promised Land before being assassinated the next day.

Even though we have elected a black president, we still are not to that promised land. I know, because I regularly see the poor, black children of Nashville and Tennessee who are still wandering in the desert. They need a quality education from educators and schools that want them.

That's why the president's call for open enrollment in charter public schools must be followed. We have such a bill before the state Legislature to do so, but it is Republicans who are backing it and Democrats who are blocking it.

How can that be?

Some people look on the late 50s and 60s as a time of great turmoil. I instead see them as a golden era of American leadership in all the four estates, and cross over between the estates by people such as Seigenthaler.

Yes, I do wish I would have worked at or knew The Tennessean under Seigenthaler. His kind is rare. And so are the quality of the difference-making newspapers they produced.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Help right the wrong against our most vulnerable neighbors; support bill to keep disabled out of nursing homes and maintaining productive lives

One of the most cruel and senseless decisions I've ever seen at the state government level was last year's cut of support to 1,000 disabled Tennesseans that enabled them to stay out of nursing homes and stay alive with their loved ones in their residences.

The TennCare Bureau and Gov. Bredesen, however, thought it was fiscally and morally responsible to send these human beings to their deaths. Their only crime was that they were disabled and needed nursing help.

Thankfully, legislation has been introduced this session to stop this inhumanity. A vote could be taken Tuesday in a House committee and Wednesday in a Senate committee to stop Bredesen and the TennCare Bureau.

Here is how your voice can be heard, according to this alert from a coalition of concerned Tennesseans:

The Open Doors Home Health Care Act will face its first votes next week in the TN General Assembly.

On Tuesday morning, House Bill 1114 will be up in the House Professional Occupations Subcommittee and on Wednesday morning Senate Bill 851 will be up in Senate General Welfare.

Your calls, letters, and emails are needed by Tuesday morning to help ensure passage through these committees. If you have a legislator on one or both committees, then please take a few minutes to contact them and ask for their support. If they are a sponsor, then please thank them. A list of committee members and their contact information is below.

What is the Open Doors Home Health Care Act?

In 2008 new TennCare rules went into effect that essentially closed the door to the community and world for many people with disabilities. The rules, in most cases, prevent certain home health care providers from accompanying people with disabilities to:

Doctor appointments
School and other educational endeavors
Employment, and other normal activities of daily living that most take for granted

The Solution - Rescind the new TennCare rules that prevent private duty nurses/home health nurses (PDN) and home health aides (HHA) from accompanying service recipients outside the home as they have historically done. This bill would simply allow them to accompany service recipients outside the home, thus ending what amounts to state mandated isolation for many persons with disabilities who have no where else to turn.

House of Representatives - Professional Occupations Subcommittee - HB 1114

Mike Harrison - District 9 - Hancock and part of Hawkins Counties
Phone: 615.741.7480 Email: rep.mike.harrison@capitol.tn.gov

Joanne Favors - District 29 - Part of Hamilton County
Phone: 615.741.2702, Email: rep.joanne.favors@capitol.tn.gov

Joe Armstrong - District15 - Part of Knox County
Phone: 615.741.0768, Email: rep.joe.armstrong@capitol.tn.gov

Dennis Ferguson - District 32 - Roane and part of Loudon Counties
Phone: 615.741.7658, Email: rep.dennis.ferguson@capitol.tn.gov

Joey Hensley - District 70 - Lawrence, Lewis and part of Wayne Counties
Phone: 615.741.7476, Email: rep.joey.hesley@capitol.tn.gov

Sherry Jones (Bill Co-sponsor) - District 59 - Part of Davidson County
Phone: 615.741.2035, Email: rep.sherry.jones@capitol.tn.gov

Debra Maggart - District 45 - Part of Sumner County
Phone: 615.741.3893, Email: rep.debra.maggart@capitol.tn.gov

Jason Mumpower - District 3 - Johnson and part of Sullivan Counties
Phone: 615.741.2050, Email: rep.jason.mumpower@capitol.tn.gov

Gary Odom - District 55 - Part of Davidson County
Phone: 615.741.4410, Email: rep.gary.odom@capitol.tn.gov

Bob Ramsey - District 20 - Part of Blount County
Phone: 615.741.3560, Email: rep.bob.ramsey@capitol.tn.gov

Barrett Rich - District 94 - Fayette and parts of Hardeman and Tipton Counties
Phone: 615.741.6890, Email: rep.barrett.rich@capitol.tn.gov

David Shepard (Bill Sponsor) - District 69 - Dickson and part of Hickman Counties
Phone: 615.741.3513, Email: rep.david.shepard@capitol.tn.gov

Tony Shipley - District 2 - Part of Sullivan County
Phone: 615.741.2886, Email: rep.tony.shipley@capitol.tn.gov

Mike Turner - District 51 - Part of Davidson County
Phone: 615-741-3229, Email: rep.mike.turner@capitol.tn.gov

Senate General Welfare, Health & Human Resources Committee - SB 851

Rusty Crowe - District 3 - Washington and Carter Counties
Phone: 615.741.2468, Email: sen.rusty.crowe@capitol.tn.gov

Bo Watson - District 11 - Part of Hamilton County
Phone: 615.741.3227, Email: sen.bo.watson@capitol.tn.gov

Beverly Marrero - District 30 - Part of Shelby County
Phone: 615.741.9128, Email: sen.beverly.marrero@capitol.tn.gov

Diane Black (Bill Sponsor) - District 18 - Robertson and part of Sumner Counties
Phone: 615.741.1999, Email: sen.diane.black@capitol.tn.gov

Ophelia Ford - District 29 - Part of Shelby County
Phone: 615.741.1767, Email: sen.ophelia.ford@capitol.tn.gov

Douglas Henry - District 21 - Part of Davidson County
Phone: 615.741.3291, Email: sen.douglas.henry@capitol.tn.gov

Roy Herron - District 24 - Benton, Decatur, Henry, Henderson, Lake, Obion, Perry, Stewart, and Weakley Phone: 615.741.4576, Email: sen.roy.herron@capitol.tn.gov

Randy McNally - District 5 - Anderson, Loudon, Monroe, and part of Knox
Phone: 615.741.6806, Email: sen.randy.mcnally@capitol.tn.gov

Doug Overbey - District 8 - Blount and Sevier Counties
Phone: 615.741.0981, Email: sen.doug.overbey@capitol.tn.gov