May 31, 2106

Hand in the till

Federal officials: Rutherford County sheriff pocketed over $66K

Rutherford County Sheriff Robert Arnold has been indicted on 13 federal charges accusing him of misusing his authority and operating a scheme in which he pocketed more than $66,000.

Arnold’s involvement with e-cigarette company JailCigs has been under scrutiny for more than a year by state officials. On Friday, he, Rutherford County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy of Administration and Finance Joe Russell and John Vanderveer, Arnold’s uncle, walked into a federal courtroom in Nashville to hear the charges against them.

Each wore handcuffs.     - Tennessean (subscription)

Country music history

Ken Burns turns focus to story of country music

For renowned documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, chronicling country music history, in some ways, is a race against time.

The genre’s legends — men and women who can recount the roots and the rise of the signature sound — have aged. Their toe-tapping has slowed. Their voices have become more gravely.

And their memories have, with each passing day, become more valued.

So, four years ago, as Burns and co-producer Dayton Duncan began the quest to capture and recount the story of the musical genre for their latest documentary series, "Country Music," they made a list of all the individuals who could offer an important vignette or verse. Few other projects in popular media confer as much clout as a film by Burns. His reputation is one of assiduous documentation.

Interviews were planned first with those who may have the least amount of time left.

Some they got: Cowboy Jack ClementLittle Jimmy DickensBilly SherrillMerle HaggardGuy Clark.

Some they didn’t: George JonesRay Price.

Through the filmmakers' journey, they have physically and visually delved into the genre's most iconic venues — the 1950s kitchen of songwriters Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, the progressive 1970s songwriting sessions in the home of Guy and Susanna Clark, the 1980s-era Bluebird Cafe. They have spoken to those who founded the sound, and those who now carry on its legacy such as Carlene Carter, the granddaughter of "Mother" Maybelle Carter, and Vince Gill, the grand master of Nashville.

Their intent, within the stories they tell, is to explore the evolution of the art form through song and experience from the 1920s through the mid-1990s.

"We want to bring that all alive," Duncan said.

They have set the industry abuzz with anticipation about what a documentary — specifically one by someone as acclaimed as Burns — may mean for Nashville and the genre. In her proposed budget, Mayor Megan Barry has committed incentive funds for the production of the documentary, with the idea that it will inspire tourists to visit Nashville's historic country music locations referenced in the film.

"He's Ken Burns," said Steve Buchanan, president of the Opry Entertainment Group. "He really provides the quintessential historical and cultural perspective on the many things that have been so incredibly important to American society.

The documentary will hearken back to origins buried by the dust bowl and found in ballads from the British Isles. It will explore the folk songs of the southern Appalachians and the western swing of Texas and Oklahoma. It will travel from California's honky-tonks to Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry. And it will taste the rich gumbo of music in Memphis, touring the time when blues and country collided and rockabilly began.

Burns and Duncan will take people places they never can be again — all to answer the question "What is country music?"   - Tennessean (subscription)

Outcomes matter

It’s time to rethink school voucher programs

Recent research shows that low-income students who receive vouchers to attend private schools are performing worse academically than their peers who remain in public schools -  The Brookings Institution reports

Executive summary

Recent research on statewide voucher programs in Louisiana and Indiana has found that public school students that received vouchers to attend private schools subsequently scored lower on reading and math tests compared to similar students that remained in public schools. The magnitudes of the negative impacts were large. These studies used rigorous research designs that allow for strong causal conclusions. And they showed that the results were not explained by the particular tests that were used or the possibility that students receiving vouchers transferred out of above-average public schools.

Since the nineties, public schools have been under heavy pressure to improve test scores. Private schools were exempt from these accountability requirements. A recent study showed that public schools closed the score gap with private schools. That study did not look specifically at Louisiana and Indiana, but trends in scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress for public school students in those states are similar to national trends.

A case to use taxpayer funds to send children of low-income parents to private schools is based on an expectation that the outcome will be positive. These recent findings point in the other direction. More needs to be known about long-term outcomes from these recently implemented voucher programs to make the case that they are a good investment of public funds. As well, we need to know if private schools would up their game in a scenario in which their performance with voucher students is reported publicly and subject to both regulatory and market accountability.

Recent research on statewide voucher programs in Louisiana and Indiana has found that public school students that received vouchers to attend private schools scored lower compared to similar students who did not attend private schools. This is the kind of research finding that generates a reaction of ‘wait, what?’ Negative effects are rare in education research.

The magnitudes of the negative impacts were large, too. In Louisiana, a public school student who was average in math (at the 50th percentile) and began attending a private school using a voucher declined to the 34th percentile after one year. If that student was in third, fourth, or fifth grade, the decline was steeper, to the 26th percentile. Reading declined, too: a student at the 50th percentile in reading declined to about the 46th percentile. In Indiana, a student who had entered a private school with a math score at the 50th percentile declined to the 44th percentile after one year.

In publicly funded voucher programs, many of the private schools that are recipients are religious organizations. This generates thorny legal issues in the 38 states that have so-called Blaine amendments to their constitutions (which prohibit direct government aid to educational institutions that have a religious affiliation and were originally intended to target Catholic schools in states with large immigrant populations).

Legal issues aside, the present rationale for vouchers—perhaps the rationale—is to help low-income students attend private schools because they will learn more. A recent study by Wong et al. used NAEP data to compare public schools to private schools from the nineties to 2011. The study reported that private schools started with higher scores in the nineties—this is the difference between private school students and public school students mentioned at the outset, above. By 2011, the gap had closed significantly, especially in math. The authors concluded that No Child Left Behind improved scores. 

But a broader conclusion is relevant here. Public schools improved relative to private schools, for whatever reason.

The figure showing national private and public school scores on fourth-grade math indicates some of what the authors found. In 2000, scores of private school students are well above scores of public school students, a gap of 14 points. By 2013, the gap had closed to 5 points. 

The same contrast of public and private schools cannot be done for Louisiana or Indiana per se. Their samples of private schools are too small to meet reporting standards of the National Center of Education Statistics. But Louisiana and Indiana public schools show trends on NAEP similar to national trends. The second figure uses the same national trends as the previous figure (the dashed lines) and adds score trends for Louisiana and Indiana. General improvements in the trend that were evident nationally also are evident in Louisiana and Indiana. In fact, by 2013, Indiana’s public school fourth graders scoreabove the national private school average.

Improvements in scores also are evident for the low-income population of students most likely to apply for vouchers. The next figure compares fourth-grade math scores for all public school students in Louisiana and students eligible for a free or reduced-price school lunch, which is a common indicator for poverty. It shows a lower score level for students in poverty but a nearly identical trend. Indiana score trends for low-income students also mirror its general trend.

It is at least plausible that Louisiana and Indiana public schools have surpassed their private schools (for low-income students). Without data for private schools in each state, we can’t know for sure. But to the extent that voucher programs are based on the premise that students from low-income families receiving a voucher will have access to private schools that are, on average, substantially better than public schools, the equity rationale for vouchers is in doubt.

In education as in medicine, ‘first, do no harm’ is a powerful guiding principle. A case to use taxpayer funds to send children of low-income parents to private schools is based on an expectation that the outcome will be positive. These recent findings point in the other direction.  - The Brookings Institution  

Wasting our time

Beth Harwell’s health task force ‘nibbling around the edges'

According to the most recent Vanderbilt Poll, which was released May 16, a majority of Tennesseans still cling to the hope that the state will adopt Gov. Bill Haslam’sInsure Tennessee plan to offer health care insurance to more than 280,000 working poor.

Support for the governor’s plan has remained essentially constant over the last three polls, 63 percent, and so has has staunch opposition, 17 percent.

Some numbers, especially in politics, can be deceiving.

The three-fold difference between supporters and opponents is an illusion in the eyes of those whose opinions ultimately count in this issue, and a deeper look at theVanderbilt Poll results illustrate why.

Unless the Tennessee General Assembly reverses its Republican trend in the November elections, Insure Tennessee, a gubernatorial nominative sleight of hand for Medicaid expansion, will not come up for a vote. Seventy-three percent of Republicans polled by Vanderbilt want to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which is the enabling federal legislation for Insure Tennessee to use federal funds for expanded insurance. Although half of those Republicans support an alternative from their party leaders to replace the repeal of “Obamacare.”

In the face of those numbers, no GOP legislator running for re-election is going to support Insure Tennessee, particularly when only 12 percent of Republicans want to build on the act to “improve affordability and access to care.”

Under pressure

While election politics provide little hope for the future of the governor’s plan to give the working poor access to health care with a modicum of dignity, the public pressure behind expanding access, in particular the pressure applied under the leadership ofMary Falls and Sally Smallwood, has kept a door open.

Falls and Smallwood’s statewide billboard campaign helped convince Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, to form the “3-star Healthy Project” task force in the closing days of the session to find alternatives to the governor’s plan.

The task force has, so far, held five meetings in Chattanooga, Memphis, Mountain Home and Knoxville, and its report is expected before the end of June.

How is task force faring?

Falls and Smallwood sent out an update this week on their take of the meetings. “We have attended the task force’s meetings and have listened attentively,” they wrote. “What we have heard makes us worried about the legislators’ direction.

“While we believe that the task force members are earnest in their desire to provide some help,” they added, “some members have suggested that there is no need for a comprehensive solution to provide health care coverage to everyone in the gap in the foreseeable future. In fact, key members have repeatedly stated that they are not focused on embracing the 100 percent funding offered by the federal government and Tennessee hospitals.

“Rather, they seem intent on continuing to relegate the uninsured to overstretched charity clinics, even though the clinics themselves have told the committee that they cannot substitute for comprehensive coverage. The same task force members suggest a pilot and planning at the TennCare 35 percent state, 65 percent federal match.  Because the state does not have those funds, that approach is a non-starter.”

“Nibbling around the edges of health care reform will not create better health outcomes for Tennesseans or create the healthy workforce our economy demands,” Falls and Smallwood concluded.

The two advocates are hardly alone in their criticism of the task force.

Laurence J. Best of Lenoir City in East Tennessee wrote a strongly worded Letter to the Editor to the Knoxville News-Sentinel after attending the task force meeting in Knoxville

“As a West Point graduate, it was one of the most shocking experiences of my life to hear public officials casually lying,” Best wrote.

“There are two possibilities for what the task force is up to. Perhaps they sincerely want to belatedly accept billions in federal money to save the lives of poor Tennesseans, as long as it looks sufficiently different from Insure Tennessee to evade blame for not passing it in the first place. The other possibility is that it's a sham to keep the heat off until the election, at which point it will die with a whimper.

“I hope it's the first but suspect it's the second,” he added.

I think Mr. Best has it pegged, whether supporters of expanded access to health insurance are willing to change the future will only be seen in the August primaries and November elections.    - Frank Daniels, III in The Tennessean (subscription)


Blackburn proceeds with Planned Parenthood investigation despite renewed criticism

U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn insists there's no partisan agenda behind the investigation she's leading into the medical procedures and business practices of abortion providers.

But the investigation has been roiled by partisan warfare for weeks, with Democrats charging that Blackburn and Republicans on the panel conducting the probe are abusing their authority and putting lives at risk.

Democrats ramped up their attacks last week when they sent a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan asking him to disband the panel.

"While the panel's investigation has never been fair or fact-based, its pattern of reckless disregard for safety has escalated over the past few weeks," said the letter, which was signed by 181 of 188 House Democrats.

The letter describes a litany of alleged abuses by Blackburn and GOP investigators, including misuse of subpoena power to intimidate scientific researchers, doctors, clinics, health-care providers, universities and others. The investigation reached "a new low" earlier this month, the letter says, when the panel issued a news release identifying an abortion provider and his clinic by name.

"The press release's hyperbolic rhetoric and misleading allegations pose a real danger to the doctor, the staff at the clinic and the patients of the named clinic," the letter says. "These recent steps are completely outside the bounds of acceptable congressional behavior. We disgrace ourselves by allowing this misconduct to continue."

The committee, made up of eight Republicans and six Democrats, was formed after a firestorm over undercover videos that accused Planned Parenthood of breaking laws by selling tissue and organs from aborted fetuses.

Planned Parenthood and its supporters argued the videos were deceptively edited, and a various state investigations have cleared the organization of any wrongdoing.   - Knoxville News Sentinel (subscription)



Haslam, other Republican governors want to meet with Trump

Gov. Bill Haslam said Friday he and a small group of other Republican governors are trying to set up a meeting soon with Donald Trump, their party's presumptive presidential nominee, to talk about state and federal issues.

"As governor I interact with the federal government all the time and there's issues that really matter and there are things that I know that I didn't know before I came into this office (in which) the perspective of the federal government matters. Obviously everybody looks at things like legislation and who you appoint to the Supreme Court and things like that — but who you put into (federal) departments and the philosophy of those departments really matters as well," the governor told reporters after a Memorial Day weekend ceremony. "I think it's probably underestimated both by people who are running for office and the rest of the citizens."

"It will just be a group of governors who want to express things that we think are important from a state standpoint in dealing with the federal government," Haslam said. "If he is obviously now going to be the nominee of our party, we think it's really important that he hear those issues. And of course we'd like to hear some feedback from him on things that matter to us. Obviously education and health care are at the top of that list."  - Knoxville News Sentinel (subscription)


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Even in victory, Donald Trump can’t stop airing his grievances

Donald Trump could have taken a victory lap last week. Instead, he went on a grudge tour.

During his first big campaign swing since locking up the Republican presidential nomination, Trump went after an odd and seemingly random group of people — Democrats and Republicans, famous and obscure. There seemed little to gain politically from the attacks, and his targets were linked by just one thing: Trump felt they had all done him wrong.

So he blasted Republicans who have yet to endorse him, including Jeb Bush, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and Mitt Romney, who Trump said “walks like a penguin.” He declared that Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton doesn’t look presidential, and he went after her allies, especially Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), whom Trump continues to call “Pocahontas” even after being told the nickname is offensive. He mocked those protesting him and slammed reporters covering his candidacy.

During the four-day, four-state tour, Trump also went after people who were probably unknown to his supporters until he brought them up: Barbara Res, a former employee quoted in an article about his treatment of women, and U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is assigned to hear a fraud case against now-defunct Trump University.

Trump’s cutting insults and simplistic attacks have been a hallmark of his candidacy, viewed by supporters as proof that he is fearless and willing to attack institutions from the Republican Party to the Vatican. During Trump’s fight for the Republican nomination, his calculated shots at rivals helped take them out, one by one.  - Washington Post (subscription)

Economic Scars Help Explain Bizarre 2016 Race

Polling suggests the recession scared and scarred the electorate in ways not understood until now

Republican Donald Trump, left, and Democrat Bernie Sanders, right, have both tapped into the postrecession concerns of many voters that have left them willing to consider alternative candidates.
The search for an explanation of this year’s bizarre political climate leads to a basic conclusion: The recession that started in 2007 and the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009 scared and scarred the electorate more deeply and more permanently than has been recognized before.

Yes, the economic statistics say there’s been a recovery—a relatively nice one at that. But mentally, many Americans have never recovered, and perhaps never will. The experience has altered their attitudes about the political and economic systems and their leaders, and left them willing to consider risky alternatives.

What the country is experiencing “is the difference between a car crash and having your house burn down,” says Democratic pollsterPeter Hart. “A car crash is something that fades as the three or six months mark goes by. Your house burning down is never forgotten. It is always there and there is no half-life.”

What’s new here isn’t that the recession was traumatic, of course, but a dawning realization that its psychological aftereffects have been so deep and long-lasting. Why is this becoming clear now, as opposed to four years ago, when an incumbent president was re-elected with relative ease? In 2012, Mr. Hart says, “Americans were still digging out.” Today, they have dug out, yet are still feeling a hangover the isn’t going away. They are acting accordingly.

This delayed effect explains how so many allegedly smart people failed so completely to see what was coming in the campaign of 2016. It explains the staying power of Sen. Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side, the parallel struggles of Hillary Clinton there, the demise of a whole string of seemingly strong but completely conventional candidates on the Republican side, and, of course the mind-bending rise of Donald Trump.

Here’s one way of reading where we stand: The country hasn’t so much chosen Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton—assuming she survives her primary challenge—as the two best alternatives, but rather has found itself left with them at the end of a primary process in which other alternatives were cast aside.

The deeply negative views of these two suggest Americans still aren’t finding the answers they have been seeking. Mr. Trump’s attitude fits the times but his temperament isn’t really right; Mrs. Clinton is plenty competent but also represents a bit too much the times and the system Americans want to move beyond. The scars may not be fully healed in 2016 any more than they were in 2012.

There is data to support this mega explanation of 2016. Nominally the economy has been expanding for 6½ years, well above the average for a post-World War II recovery. The economy has added jobs for 74 straight months.

Yet the Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll has found that Americans’ view of the path the country is on actually has turned darker as the economic recovery has unfolded. At the beginning of 2009, while the financial crisis was in full swing but tempered by the optimism that accompanied the coming inauguration of Barack Obama, 59% of Americans surveyed thought the country was off on the wrong track.

Two years into the recovery, views actually began to darken, at least as measured by this “wrong track” reading. By the middle of 2011, 67% said the country was off on the wrong track. By late 2013, that number had reached 78%. It has since moderated a bit, but last month stood at 70%.

A newly published survey of American households by the Federal Reserve helps explain this mix of anxiety and anger amid recovery. Some 69% of adults surveyed at the end of 2015 reported that they were either “living comfortably” or “doing OK,” up from 65% in 2014 and 62% in 2013. Americans were slightly more likely to say their financial well-being had improved during the year than to say it had declined.

Yet those numbers mask a sense of eroding confidence born of stagnant or declining wages and job insecurity. Just 23% said they expected their income to be higher in the coming year.  Almost half of adults said they couldn’t cover an emergency expense costing $400, or would have to cover it by selling something or borrowing money.

A Pew Research Center study offers a similar picture. At the beginning of this year, 70% of Americans were dissatisfied with the state of the economy, up from 61% at the beginning of 2007, before crisis struck.

Economic attitudes don’t fully explain the national unease, of course. Terror scares and culture wars play a part as well.

But whatever the precise causes, the depth of the scars, and the dissatisfaction with the alternatives, do little to suggest we should expect some feeling of satisfaction and national unity to emerge miraculously after the election of 2016, regardless of outcome.  - The Wall Street Journal  

Going green

Major environmental group backs Hillary Clinton in its first presidential endorsement

A major environmental group, the NRDC Action Fund, endorsed Hillary Clinton on Tuesday in its first political endorsement in a presidential election.

In a statement, the NRDC Action Fund, a political affiliate of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the unprecedented endorsement reflects a need for left-leaning groups to unite against Donald Trump, the likely Republican nominee.

“Hillary Clinton is an environmental champion with the passion, experience and savvy to build on President Obama’s environmental legacy,” Rhea Suh, president of the NRDC Action Fund, said in a statement. “More than any other candidate running, Hillary Clinton understands the environmental challenges America faces, and her approach to solving them is grounded in the possibility and promise our democracy affords us.”

Suh specifically cited Trump's recent energy speech in North Dakota as one of the main rationales for the announcement.

"Donald Trump, on the other hand, has recently outlined a disastrous and frankly nonsensical environmental agenda — suggesting that he would tear up the Paris Climate Agreement, and that there is no drought in California," Suh said. "His plan for his first 100 days would take us back 100 years, and America cannot afford to indulge his climate conspiracy theories."

The endorsement is a blow to Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who hopes to upset Clinton next week in the Democratic primary in California, a state where environmental issues loom large.

The NRDC Action Fund's move to endorse Clinton comes at a critical time for her as she seeks to dispatch Sanders and pivot to a general-election fight against Trump. Clinton may also be facing a tougher-than-expected challenge from Sanders in California. Her campaign announced Monday that she would spend more time than originally planned campaigning in the state this week.

It is the latest sign that Democrats and their allies are urging their supporters to unite behind Clinton, who is expected to clinch the Democratic nomination before polls close on the West Coast on June 7 after securing delegates in New Jersey's primary the same day.  - Washington Post  

The Donald's Daily Lie

Trump’s Misleading Attack on Martinez

Trump, May. 24: Now here’s a beauty that you’re gonna all love. Syrian refugees are being relocated in large numbers to New Mexico. If I was governor, that wouldn’t be happening. I couldn’t care less. They say the governors have no choice. If I’m governor, I have a choice, OK? Believe me.

Donald Trump took several verbal jabs at Republican New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez after she declined to attend his rally in Albuquerque. But his criticism of her effort to keep Syrian refugees out of New Mexico was way off base. 

Trump also missed the mark when he boasted that “if I was governor” the resettlement of Syrian refugees in New Mexico “wouldn’t be happening.” Governors have no legal authority to bar refugees from relocation to their state, as those who have tried found out. The resettlement process is guided by federal law.

Trump’s barbs at Martinez, who is chairwoman of the Republican Governors Association, came after the governor declined to attend Trump’s first New Mexico campaign event in Albuquerque on May 24. Martinez, the nation’s first Hispanic female governor, has criticized some of Trump’s immigration remarks and has, according to the Albuquerque Journal, been “noncommittal as to whether she will support him.”

For starters, there has not been a large number of Syrian refugees relocated to New Mexico. According to statistics from the State Department’s Refugee Processing Center, there have been 2,540 Syrian refugees relocated in the U.S. from the start of the fiscal year that began Oct. 1 to May 24. Just four of them were relocated to New Mexico. Over that period, New Mexico ranked tied for 33rd among states in the number of Syrian refugees relocated.

In fact, over the entirety of Martinez’s term as governor, which began at the start of 2011, a total of 4,421 Syrian refugees arrived in the U.S., and just 10 of them were relocated in New Mexico.

‘If I was governor, that wouldn’t be happening.’

Experts tell is Trump is also off base with his boast that as a governor he could have stopped Syrian refugees from entering his state.

The Refugee Act of 1980 “makes clear that the federal government has the responsibility for determining who is to be admitted as a refugee,” Soerens told us via email.  While more than 30 governors said last year that they oppose letting Syrian refugees into their states, and several vowed to prohibit it, none followed through or had any success.

  -   FALSE

Thought for the day:

“There are seasons in every country when noise and impudence pass current for worth; and in popular commotions especially, the clamors of interested and factious men are often mistaken for patriotism. ”   - Alexander Hamilton



May 27, 2016

Cool for school 

Tennessee colleges show 4-year drop in need for remedial classes

Fewer students at Tennessee's public colleges need remedial classes to prepare for higher education, a new report shows, and officials are citing it as an early example that a program embedding extra support in high schools is succeeding.

 The data, released this week as part of the Tennessee Higher Education fact book, show a four-year drop in the percentage of first-time freshmen who arrived at college in need of remedial classes.

 In 2011, 77 percent of first-time college freshmen in Tennessee needed a remedial class, or structured "learning support," because they were academically unprepared for college. That number has fallen every year since, hitting a new low of 63 percent last fall.

 Although small increases in remedial needs in writing and reading were recorded from 2014 to 2015, a sharp decline in remedial math needs continued the overall downward trend. The percentage of college freshmen who needed math remediation went from 71 percent to 55 percent in the past four years.  - Tennessean (subscription)


More lawsuit lunacy - wasting your tax dollars to make political points

Lawmakers Eager To Get Started On Tennessee's Next Legal Confrontation — Over Refugees

Tennessee might not be done yet suing the federal government.

Earlier this week, the state joined Texas and nine others in a case that challenges the Obama administration's stance on transgender students. Now top lawmakers want state Attorney General Herbert Slatery to make up his mind about another lawsuit — this time over refugee resettlement. Slatery has been keeping his thoughts about whether to sue over refugees to himself. All a spokesman will say is that he's still weighing the options.

But Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, says he's spoken to the attorney general recently and believes he has some insight. Norris says the attorney general thinks the state has a case but wants to get it right. "He wants to take his best shot," says Norris. "He wants our sovereignty to be upheld in an appropriate court, so he doesn't take the decision lightly."

Critics of the lawsuit say it's hostile to refugees. They had pressed Gov. Bill Haslam to veto the measure that authorized the suit, to send a signal that Tennessee remains welcoming to everyone. Norris has been one of the biggest supporters of a lawsuit. He thinks Tennessee isn't getting the full picture about where refugees are coming from and who they are, and he wants to sue the federal government for more oversight of the resettlement program.

Gov. Bill Haslam, meanwhile, has reservations about suing, and he's leaving it to Slatery to decide. With the transgender lawsuit under way, Norris and other Republicans in the legislature hope to get an answer from Slatery on the refugee suit as early as next week.

But if the attorney general announces he isn't willing to sue — or procrastinates  — Republican lawmakers say they'll hire their own attorneys. The Thomas More Law Center, a Michigan-based group, has volunteered to represent the state in the case. There's some question as to whether legislators have the legal authority in Tennessee to retain their own lawyers. Haslam has also asked Slatery to weigh in on that question.

Norris says lawmakers are ready to assert their right to hire counsel, though they'd prefer it doesn't come to that. "We're hoping he (Slatery) just takes the case," says Norris.

Tennessee wouldn't be the first state to sue over refugees. Norris says at least two others, Alabama and Georgia, have already filed challenges to the resettlement program. But those states handle refugees very differently from Tennessee, raising new legal questions that Norris argues only a court can decide.  - WPLN  

More expensive fallout 

Third group pulls out of Nashville due to counseling law

A third group has decided to pull the plug on its plan to host an event in Nashville due to a controversial new law that allows counselors to deny service to clients.

The Human Rights Campaign Foundation on Thursday announced its plans to change the location for a 2017 conference, known as Time to THRIVE, for educators, counselors and other youth-serving professionals that is centered on addressing safety, inclusion and well-being for LGBTQ youth.

“When Tennessee legislators pushed a needless and mean-spirited counseling discrimination law, we knew that Time to THRIVE, which brings together professionals dedicated to the safety and inclusion of LGBTQ youth, could not be held as planned in Nashville,” said Dr. Vincent Pompei, Conference Chair and Director of HRC Foundation’s Youth Well-Being Project, in a news release. “Tennessee lawmakers have allowed professional counselors to put personal religious beliefs over the needs of LGBTQ youth, whose very well-being is Time to THRIVE’s focus.”

The conference will now be held in Washington, D.C. It is unclear how much money Nashville will lose due to the cancellation.

The move comes after Gov. Bill Haslam signed the law which allows licensed counselors and therapists to deny service to patients whose "goals, outcomes or behaviors” conflict with the counselor’s “sincerely held principles."  - Tennessean (subscription)

Open Road

Memorial Day drivers won’t be stalled by roadwork

Drivers won’t be slowed down by road construction as they travel Tennessee’s highways this Memorial Day weekend. The Tennessee Department of Transportation will suspend all construction-related lane closures on interstates and state routes beginning at noon Friday through 6 a.m. Tuesday.

“We’re expecting nearly 700,000 drivers to travel on Tennessee’s roadways this Memorial Day weekend,” TDOT Commissioner John Schroer said. “To help travelers reach their destinations safely, we are suspending construction-related lane closures to reduce congestion and delays on our major highways.”

Drivers may still encounter some lane closures or restrictions while traveling through long-term construction projects. Be aware that reduced speed limits will be in effect in work zones. Anyone convicted of speeding through work zones where workers are present face a fine of up to $500, plus court fees and possible increased insurance premiums.

“Our primary focus is to reduce the number of traffic fatalities across Tennessee,” Department of Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons said. “Currently, we are seeing an increase in unrestrained fatalities. We hope seat belt enforcement will help positively affect driver behavior and increase voluntary seat belt compliance across the state.”   - Jackson Sun 



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Mea maxima culpa

Hillary Clinton Defends Her Email Use After Critical Report

Says email setup was permitted at the time, but a mistake

Hillary Clinton, speaking a day after a critical report from a government watchdog about her email practices as secretary of state, said her use of a private email server for official business was permitted at the time, but was a mistake in judgment.

 “It was allowed,” Mrs. Clinton said in a Thursday television interview in Las Vegas, according to a transcript provided by ABC News.

 “And the rules have been clarified since I left about the practice. Having said that, I have said many times it was a mistake and if I could go back, I would do it differently.”

The inspector general noted that Colin Powell also exclusively used private email for government business when he was secretary of state, but added the rules had grown “considerably more detailed and more sophisticated” by the time Mrs. Clinton came into office.

The report said that while occasional use of personal email was widespread in the government, Mrs. Clinton’s exclusive reliance on a home-based server for all her official business was rare. The inspector general identified Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Powell and a U.S. Ambassador to Kenya as officials who exclusively used private email. 

Mrs. Clinton conducted the interview with ABC on condition that the network distribute it to other news outlets. Mrs. Clinton has declined to take questions on the inspector general’s report from other reporters covering her presidential campaign. She told ABC that “the report is consistent with what I have been saying, that the use of personal email was a practice by other secretaries of state, and the rules were not clarified until after I had left.”

She said that she hasn't been interviewed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation yet. The FBI is conducting its own investigation into the potential loss or mishandling of classified information through her email practices. That interview is expected to occur in the coming weeks.  - The Wall Street Journal (subscription)

 Read this from Dan Balz. He is perceptive and wise

Trump is borrowing the GOP brand. He’ll resist bending to party leaders.

It’s been called a hostile takeover of the Republican Party, but there’s little that has happened since Donald Trump became the GOP’s presumptive nominee to suggest he wants anything to do with the party. He’s borrowing the brand for his own purposes.

What has been apparent during Trump’s march through the primaries is how little he thinks or acts with the partisan — or party-building — instincts of typical politicians. The constituency he has attracted is certainly more conservative than liberal and far more Republican than Democratic. But the core issues that have brought him to this position — immigration, national identity, trade and jobs — which he projects with the posture of a strongman (or to his critics, a bully) speak to a candidate who looks at the electorate far differently than the typical Republican or Democrat.

Hillary Clinton’s campaign — like other campaigns in the past — sees the electorate as a series of constituencies to be wooed and won: women, Latinos, African Americans, millennials. Her messaging and advertising will target them one by one by one. Her overall message, that the country is stronger together, projects a desire for greater national unity, but she and her advisers have particular groups of voters in mind as they analyze how to win the popular vote and the 270 electoral votes needed to become president.

Trump, meanwhile, seems oblivious to all that. He certainly has a core constituency: white voters without college degrees. But through the primaries, his appeal was crosscutting, something that surprised and befuddled his opponents. Trump cut into the evangelical vote in ways no one had predicted he could. He did well among very conservative Republicans, among somewhat conservative Republicans and among the party’s moderate block.

He suffers from structural problems with the electorate, including a huge gender gap — strong numbers among men and lousy numbers among women — and apparent weakness among Hispanics. But when confronted with evidence that he’s potentially tanking among women and Hispanics, he’s dismissive. He predicts he will do better with those groups of voters than polling suggests, but he’s doing nothing to suggest he has a strategy for doing so. Quite the opposite.

If more evidence were needed that he is either oblivious or willfully disdainful of that approach to winning elections, Trump provided it this week when he attacked New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, the leader of the Republican Governors Association and one of the most important Hispanic women in the GOP. Trump claimed she hasn’t done enough to help her state’s economy. Her true sin is not treating Trump with the respect he expects.

The uproar over Trump’s comments about Martinez — how can he unify the party when he attacks someone of the governor’s stature, his critics ask — misses the point of where Trump is coming from. He is all about himself and sees no reason to change. After all, he became the last man standing in the Republican field, not one of the other 16 candidates, a group that included prominent governors, ex-governors, senators and others. Against a field of experienced politicians, Trump had the last laugh. Should he now bend to those telling him to run for president another way?

One key to Trump’s success in becoming the presumptive GOP nominee is that he has found ways to remain outside the existing political structure while running inside one of the major parties. Few saw it coming. He knew instinctively that there is a significant swath of the population to whom all politicians of whatever party are toxic and not to be trusted.

Trump didn’t create or even discover this condition. It’s been there for some years in survey after survey. But he found ways to exploit it that conventional politicians have been unable to do, primarily because they are part of the system that is despised by so many people. That’s why his candidacy seems authentic to those voters, why his supporters have been so loyal and willing to overlook the way he acts and the things he says that go beyond the bounds of what once was considered acceptable in politics.

No wonder he is resistant to calls for him to “evolve” to a different role or to modulate his rhetoric. At every turn, whenever there have been suggestions and advice tossed in his direction, he has responded by reminding everyone that he intends to be the bad boy of American politics. Can’t say outrageous things? Just watch me.  - Dan Balz "The Take" in The Washington Post (subscription)



RNC scrambles to calm state GOP officials

The Republican National Committee is scrambling to respond to increasingly frantic concerns from state GOP officials that the party has not provided enough field organizers and will be badly outgunned by Democrats in battleground states.

POLITICO surveyed nearly two dozen GOP chairmen, officials and operatives in key swing states who said the RNC hadn’t delivered on promises, imperiling their ability to launch the robust voter-turnout operation needed in the general election. It’s a development that could spell trouble for Donald Trump, who trounced his primary competition despite the lack of a traditional field organization but is now relying on the national party for its infrastructure, and it has implications for the fragile Republican Senate majority, which is also depending on the RNC’s ground game.

The source of the problem is a fundraising shortfall months in the making, as an unusually lengthy primary kept big donors focused on preferred candidates rather than organized around the nominee. And, going forward, things might not get easier: With many of the party’s financiers cool on Trump, how much money the party will raise is an open question. Now the situation, state GOP officials say, is critical.   - Politico  


 Oh, THAT Kenneth Starr?

Baylor Admits to Retaliation Against Rape Accuser in Bombshell Report

A shocking report reveals an administration led by Kenneth Starr that rarely investigated complaints and a football program that acted like a rogue state

Baylor University admitted Thursday that administrators discouraged reports of sexual assault on campus, even going so far as to retaliate against one accuser.

These details and more came from an independent investigation ordered by the school’s board of regents into how the Texas university handled reports of sexual assault, especially accusations against football players. The report found a “fundamental failure” by the school to obey federal laws to protect female students and a belief the winning football program was “above the rules.”

In response to the report, the board of regents fired football coach Art Briles, sanctioned athletic director Ian McCaw, and removed Kenneth Starr as president, effective May 31.

Starr, who gained national notoriety as the independent investigator looking into Bill Clinton during his affair with Monica Lewinsky, will stay on at Baylor as the chancellor and professor at its law school. 

The report found a complete failure by the Starr administration “to identify and train responsible employees under Title IX.” The “overwhelming majority of cases did not move forward to an adjudicative hearing, with only an extremely limited number of cases resulting in a finding of responsibility or significant sanction.”

The response wasn’t just passive to complaints but actively hostile to some.  - The Daily Beast  


Thought for the day:

"We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special."  - Stephen Hawking

The emperor's new clothes




May 26, 2016


FBI "smear?"

Corker Aide Calls Insider Trading Claims A 'Smear Campaign'

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker says a "politically-motivated special interest group" is behind reports of a federal investigation into his finances and those of a Chattanooga-based real estate company.

But the group, Campaign for Accountability, is standing by its allegation that Corker's trading of the company's stock is suspicious. It defended itself Wednesday by saying the Tennessee Republican has made a fortune in real estate and people should know "whether he came by that great wealth honestly."

Corker won't discuss the allegations directly. But spokeswoman Micah Johnson calls them a "smear campaign" that will eventually be discredited. The claim is that Corker and close relatives traded shares in CBL & Associates Properties, a shopping mall owner, shortly before announcements that moved the company's stock price.

"A politically-motivated special interest group that refuses to disclose its donors continues to make baseless charges against Senator Corker," she said in a email Wednesday.

Campaign for Accountability, which describes itself as a nonprofit watchdog, has previously tussled with Corker over his finances.

Last fall, it filed a complaint with the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Senate Select Committee on Ethics alleging may have engaged in insider trading of shares in CBL & Associates. Corker once worked for a CBL subcontractor and is friends with company president Stephen Lebovitz, who once served as an official on his campaign.

That complaint followed a Wall Street Journal report that Corker had failed to disclose some trades on Congressional reports. The newspaper found Corker had repeatedly bought the stock when it was low and sold it when it was high.

Now, the Journal and Politico quote anonymous sources as saying the FBI and the SEC are looking into the matter. The Journal adds they've found no evidence to suggest Corker did anything wrong, and Lebovitz told the paper nobody at CBL gave Corker or anyone else insider information.  - WPLN


Uh oh.

State Dept. watchdog: Clinton violated email rules

A State Department watchdog concluded that Hillary Clinton failed to comply with the agency’s policies on records while using a personal email server that was not — and, officials say, would never have been — approved by agency officials, according to a report released to lawmakers on Wednesday.

The long-awaited findings from the State Department inspector general, which also revealed Clinton expressing reluctance about using an official email account, were shared with Capitol Hill Wednesday, a copy of which was obtained by POLITICO. The report detailed how some employees who questioned the wisdom of the homegrown setup were told to stop asking questions, and the audit confirmed apparent hacking attempts on the private server.

It's the latest turn in the headache-inducing saga that has dogged Clinton's campaign. While the report concludes that the agency suffers from "longstanding, systemic weaknesses" with records that "go well beyond the tenure of any one Secretary of State,” it specifically dings Clinton for her exclusive use of private email during her four years at the agency.

Clinton Campaign spokesman Brian Fallon in a statement predicted that "political opponents of Hillary Clinton are sure to misrepresent this report for their own partisan purposes," but argued that "in reality, the Inspector General documents just how consistent her email practices were with those of other Secretaries and senior officials at the State Department who also used personal email."

"The report shows that problems with the State Department's electronic recordkeeping systems were longstanding and that there was no precedent of someone in her position having a State Department email account until after the arrival of her successor," Fallon continued. "Contrary to the false theories advanced for some time now, the report notes that her use of personal email was known to officials within the Department during her tenure, and that there is no evidence of any successful breach of the Secretary's server."

Investigators also concluded that former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who used a personal email as well, likewise did not follow record keeping laws. However, the report notes significant difference in their circumstances: During Powell's tenure, State's capacity to email people outside the department was limited. He said he needed it to reach people who didn't work at State. The IG also noted that he used email less frequently than Clinton and top technology officials were aware of his personal email use.

State Department officials who briefed journalists about the report would not say directly whether they agreed with the inspector general’s finding that Clinton’s use of email violated State policies.

“The policies on email evolved over time and our guidance to officials on how to comply with them evolved and improved over time,” said one senior State official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “There was no absolute prohibition [on use of person email] during this or any other tenure — administration.”  - Politico  

Call a plumber

Emails reveal frustrations among Tennessee House GOP over leaks

An ongoing discussion about leaked emails between House Republican lawmakers has led one member to say whoever provided them to the media has betrayed their own party, another to suggest a colleague should “grow up” and a third to raise the possibility of asking the attorney general to look into the matter.

On Monday, Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, sent out an email to the House Republican Caucus asking “whoever released our email discussion of whether or not to hold a special session” to out themselves.

Lynn’s comments came after The Tennessean obtained a series of emails between the caucus that revealed politics was factoring into the discussion about whether to hold a special session in response to the Obama administration's new guidelines directing public schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that match with their gender identity.

In an email sent on Wednesday morning, Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland, said he agreed with Lynn and expressed disappointment about the leaked emails, even suggesting the use of the state's public records laws to find out which emails were used to send out the initial correspondence.“Possibly, we should ask the TN (Tennessee) Attorney General to offer assistance to determine how this conversation or email was sent to the media outlets," Brooks said. "Just my thoughts. And possibly soon everyone else in TN will know them if this email is leaked too.”

Deborah Fisher, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, said, "Trying to find out the sources of a leak is clearly another way to try to shut down access to information about what government is doing."

In an email sent on Monday morning, Lynn rebuked the person who leaked the initial conversation. “Whoever did this – you know who you are – I implore you to act with more honor than that – to behave with Christian ethics,” she said. “I felt that I could trust each of you so I spoke freely and obviously so did others. I had no thought that one among us could not be trusted – but now you have let us know that we cannot trust you.”

Replying to Lynn on Wednesday, Rep. Rick Womick, R-Rockvale, said any information that lawmakers issue — whether it is verbal or written — should be expected to be made public.

“You better have the courage to stand behind those comments, rather than whine about who released them,” Womick wrote. “If I am opposed to an individual’s position and that individual is foolish enough to put it in writing, then they should expect it to be used against them.”

“Time to grow up and accept responsibility for loose lips … can’t handle that then maybe time to leave the political arena," Womick concluded. "People are fed up with whining, insincere politicians.”

When The Tennessean contacted Lynn on Wednesday morning to discuss the leaked emails, she simply said she was “shocked that the email about the leaked emails was also leaked.”  - Tennessean (subscription)

Tilting at transgender windmills

Tennessee Joins Texas In Suing Federal Government Over Transgender Bathrooms

Tennessee is one of at least 10 states suing the federal government over its new guidance on transgender students. The state's top lawyer says the Obama administration is effectively rewriting federal law and taking away states' rights, without going through Congress.

Texas is the lead plaintiff, and the suit was filed Wednesday with a federal court in Wichita Falls, Texas. A school district near that city is also a plaintiff, as are Alabama, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Oklahoma and the Arizona Department of Education. They accuse the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education of conspiring "to turn workplaces and educational settings … into laboratories for a massive social experiment." They add the government is trying to rewrite federal nondiscrimination laws by "administrative fiat."

At issue is officials' recent guidance to schools on how to handle requests for accommodation from transgender students.

The Obama administration contends that Title IX, which bans sex discrimination in educational institutions, applies to gender identity. That means schools can't require transgender students to use unisex facilities or the ones that match their birth sex. But Republicans in Tennessee have been pushing state Attorney General Herbert Slatery to resist the administration.

And in a statement released Wednesday afternoon, Slatery contends the Obama administration's actions violate the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. He also says decisions about how to accommodate transgender students ought to be left to state and local authorities. Slatery says Tennessee joined in the suit to protect its rights against federal encroachment.

"Our office has consistently opposed efforts like this to take away states' rights and exclude the people's representatives from making these decisions. ... As the complaint describes, it is a social experiment implemented by federal departments denying basic privacy rights and placing the burden largely on our children, not adults. Sitting on the sidelines on this issue was not an option."

Conservatives applauded the move. The Family Action Council of Tennessee had been pushing for a special legislative session to compel Slatery to challenge the government's directive in court. It issued a statement saying that need had been abated.  - WPLN

Andy Holt is at it again

Rep. Holt burns traffic camera ticket, urges others to do same

State Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, has taken to burning traffic cameras tickets and urging others to do the same or at least toss them into the trash. Holt posted a video of his own ticket burning on his Facebook page Wednesday — it’s HERE — and, as of Thursday morning, it had about 259,000 views. The lawmaker has a lengthy press release on the matter, which includes contentions that cities and traffic camera companies are violating the law. The full release is HERE. An excerpt is below:

This session, I passed legislation that requires all traffic camera citations to print on them, in large-bold letters, “NON-PAYMENT OF THIS VIOLATION CANNOT HAVE A NEGATIVE IMPACT ON YOUR DRIVERS LICENSE, CAR INSURANCE RATES, OR CREDIT REPORT”, which is already state law. Although this is already state law, cities and traffic camera companies have been telling people otherwise. Traffic camera companies have been threating legal and financial action against thousands of Tennessee citizens for years. In fact, to this very day, the Mayor of McKenzie, Tennessee takes to the local paper and regularly tells people that if they don’t pay the tickets, then the city will take them to court and the court will report the debt on their credit report. Well, it would be illegal for the city of McKenzie to do that, so yet again, more coercion and empty threats. It’s important to know that not one of those threats are actually credible. Therefore, I’m sure you can see why I wanted to ensure that the false threats were stopped by forcing these citations to have that disclaimer on them.  -KnoxBlogs, Humphrey on the Hill 


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Over the top

Donald Trump Hits Delegate Count Needed to Clinch GOP Nod, AP Calculates

Donald Trump on Thursday reached the number of delegates needed to clinch the Republican nomination for president, according to an updated Associated Press count.

It takes 1,237 delegates to win the Republican nomination for president. Mr. Trump has reached 1,238, the AP calculated. With 303 delegates at stake in five state primaries on June 7, Mr. Trump will easily pad his total, avoiding a contested convention in Cleveland in July.

Some delegates who confirmed their decisions to back Trump were tepid at best, saying they are supporting him out of a sense of obligation because he won their state’s primary. Cameron Linton of Pittsburgh said he will back Trump on the first ballot since he won the presidential primary vote in Linton’s congressional district. “If there’s a second ballot I won’t vote for Donald Trump,” Mr. Linton said. “He’s ridiculous. There’s no other way to say it.”

Mr. Trump entered a new phase of his campaign Tuesday night by holding his first major campaign fundraiser: a $25,000-per-ticket dinner in Los Angeles. -  The Wall Street Journal  

Once more unto the breach, dear friends

Clinton, Sanders storm into California seeking symbolic June 7 primary victory

The competition ahead of the June 7 Democratic primary in California continued intensely Wednesday as former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders barnstormed the state two weeks ahead of Election Day.

Clinton and Sanders are pulling out all the stops in a state that will be symbolically important — a primary that Clinton could lose on the same day that she is widely expected to clinch the Democratic nomination.

Their sense of urgency was reflected in the top-to-bottom stumping across the Golden State. Clinton held a rally in Orange County before jetting to Northern California for a rally in Salinas. Sanders worked large crowds in two of Southern California’s desert communities.

The senator from Vermont will spend at least three more days in the state, and Clinton will campaign in the Bay Area on Thursday.

The unexpectedly intense campaigning in California has surprised locals.  - Washington Post (subscription)


The Donald's Daily Lie

Trump Vitamins Were Fortified With B.S.

Would you give the Donald your urine and a stack of money? That’s what he wanted, in exchange for a customized vitamin regimen that a Harvard doctor deems a ‘scam.’

Call it “Vitamin T.” For several years in the late 2000s and early 2010s, Donald Trump encouraged people to take part in a pseudo-scientific vitamin scheme—all without expressing any concern about how it might potentially endanger people’s health.

Through a multi-level marketing project called The Trump Network, the business mogul encouraged people to take an expensive urine test, which would then be used to personally “tailor” a pricey monthly concoction of vitamins—something a Harvard doctor told The Daily Beast was a straight-up “scam.”

And when The Daily Beast asked a doctor for The Trump Network to defend the products, he wound up deriding the idea of “evidence-based” medicine.

The Trump Network ultimately failed, and its assets were sold off. But it was not just a marketing and business disaster—the actions of the all-but-certain GOP presidential nominee reflect his willingness to license his name to a product without fully vetting it: a casual endorsement of a serious matter, all with the flitting nonchalance that characterizes the many falsehoods he utters.

The project is just another example of Trump’s questionable business practices, from his Trump University (accused by many students of fraud) to his casinos (which went bankrupt so often) to his “tasteless and mealy” signature steaks. And it highlights an essential contradiction in his campaign for the White House. While politician Trump says that he cares about average Joe or Jane, his past shows a shocking indifference.

The doctor who worked with Trump said his disregard for the product was palpable, and ultimately led to the the company’s demise. Perhaps his disregard for “being presidential” will do the same.  - The Daily Beast  

Not toy soldiers

How Trump toys with veterans

Back in January, when he was still running scared from Megyn Kelly, Donald Trump bailed on a debate she was moderating, instead hosting what he billed as a fund-raiser for veterans — boasting immediately and repeatedly thereafter that that he had raised $6 million. But for months, no one really knew how much money was given out to veterans groups. Investigative pieces by a number of news outlets found organizations that were promised checks were still waiting for the funds.

This week, veterans like me discovered that Trump was overselling his efforts by around $1.5 million, maybe more. (Slightly chastened, the candidate posted an Instagram video on Tuesday claiming, “I raised almost $6 million, including putting up $1 million of my own money,” and adding that “I had no obligation to do anything.” That $1 million check was reportedly in the mail Tuesday, set to arrive by FedEx Wednesday morning.)

Trump claims that a lot of donors bailed on him — essentially saying the guy who mastered the “art of the deal” just couldn’t close the easiest sell of all time, donating to Americans who wore the uniform.

This continues a long pattern of the man saying one thing and doing another when it comes to veterans.

While Trump claims to have supported veterans through the years, when it came to supporting their right to make a living, he wanted them nowhere near his property. After nearly 100 years during which our veterans have been allowed to make money by becoming street vendors, Trump declared that they were “downgrading” the area in front of the Trump Tower on Fifth Ave. In a 2004 letter to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Trump declared, “Whether they are veterans or not, they should not be allowed to sell on this most important and prestigious shopping street.”

Thanks, Donald. Signed, The Veterans Downgrading Your Neighborhood.

Maybe Trump disrespects veterans because he never really understood what we sacrificed. He told a biographer that his time at a military-themed boarding school made him feel like “I always felt like I was in the military.” But when the time came to serve our nation in the real military, in Vietnam, Trump got four student deferments and a medical deferment for “bone spurs.”

We should now presume that he is lying about how much he claims he has given to veterans over the years — and that that’s part of the reason he won’t release his tax returns.

After trying for weeks to get away with giving less to veterans than he bragged about, the big man is now playing catch-up. Good. But that won’t make up for his lies or his disrespect. Nor, I fear, will it make him think twice about having his mouth write checks that veterans can’t cash.  - Jon Soltz, Co-Founder of VoteVets in the New York Daily News  

People of the book

Why Are So Many Muslim Refugees in Europe Suddenly Finding Jesus?

Whether out of conviction or convenience, thousands of migrants in Europe are converting to Christianity.

AMSTERDAM — Hundreds of Pakistanis and Afghans have been lining up at a local swimming pool in Hamburg, Germany, to be baptized as Christians. In the Netherlands and Denmark, as well, many are converting from Islam to Christianity, and the trend appears to be growing. Indeed, converts are filling up some European churches largely forsaken by their old Christian flocks.

All of which raises a question, not least, for the United States: If American presidential candidate Donald Trump gets elected and bars Muslims from entering the country, as he says he will, would the ban apply to Christians who used to be Muslims? How would one judge the quality of their faith?

For the moment, that quandary is a ways off for U.S. Homeland Security, but in Europe even now the phenomenon is fraught with echoes of the past, problems in the present, and omens for the future. Forced conversions of Muslims and Jews during the Spanish Inquisition were a dark page in Europe’s history. More than a little suspicion surrounds some of the current conversions, seen by some to be cynical bids to improve the chance of getting asylum. And, looking forward, it’s potentially quite dangerous for those who embrace the Gospel to return to homelands where abandoning Islam for another faith can be treated as a capital crime.

One young Iranian woman convert told the German news magazineStern, “I’ve been looking all my life for peace and happiness, but in Islam, I have not found them,” Another convert told Stern he had found in Christianity an element—love—that was missing from the faith he was brought up in. “In Islam, we always lived in fear,” he said. “Fear God, fear of sin, fear of punishment. But Christ is a God of love.”  - The Daily Beast  

Thought for the day:

"I have great faith in fools; self-confidence my friends call it."  - Edgar Allan Poe

. . . Trump speaks his mind!


May 25, 2016

Oh-oh Bob!

Report: Firm with ties to Bob Corker under investigation for accounting fraud

The Wall Street Journal reports that federal law enforcement officials are investigating CBL & Associates Properties Inc. for alleged accounting fraud related to their probe into investments by U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.

The Journal quoted sources who said the FBI and SEC are focusing their examination on whether CBL officials falsified information on financial statements to banks when applying for financing arrangements. The investigation stems from an ongoing review of investments made by Sen. Corker, who began his real estate career working at CBL and reported in Senate financial disclosures making numerous trades in CBL stock for himself and his children.

"Law-enforcement officials have talked to former CBL employees who allege the company inflated its rental income and its properties' occupancy rates when reporting those figures to banks," the newspaper said in a report published today. "The FBI and SEC officials have also separately asked questions about the relationship between the company and Corker, who is close with senior executives at the firm and has made millions of dollars in profits trading the company's stock in recent years."  - Chattanooga Times Free Press (subscription)

For-profit incarceration

New Tennessee CCA prison stops taking inmates amid 'serious issues'

The newest private prison in Tennessee, set to eventually become the largest prison in the state, has abruptly stopped accepting inmates amid concerns about "serious issues" ranging from inadequate staffing and solitary confinement problems to allegations of excessive force.

Corrections Corporation of America spokesman Steve Owen confirmed Tuesday that CCA and the Tennessee Department of Correction agreed to "pause the ramp-up" at Trousdale Turner Correctional Center in Hartsville. The decision was made in early May, said department spokeswoman Alison Randgaard.

Although Owen made no reference as to why the decision was made, a report from The Associated Press cited a memo Tuesday that outlines concerns about understaffing that led to questions about whether officers were in control of their units.

In the memo, also obtained by The Tennessean, Correctional Administrator Tony Howerton says there are "serious issues" with leadership at the facility. He goes on to state officers were not in control of the housing units and put inmates in solitary confinement for no reason.

He also says he saw video that, in his opinion, shows officers using excessive force when trying to subdue an inmate.  - Tennessean (subscription)

When you gotta go . . .

Politics drive debate over special 'bathroom' session

With as many as 57 Republican lawmakers in Tennessee signing onto an effort to call a special legislative session over the Obama administration's transgender bathroom directive, politics are playing a factor in their decision.

That became clear when House Republicans shared their thoughts about the potential special session last week, according to an email chain obtained by The Tennessean.

House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada began the conversation on May 17 when he sent an email to his colleagues, which included every single Republican in the chamber in addition to Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, who left the caucus in January. Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, responded that the federal directive was nothing more than “bait” and an attempt to “jerk us around.” Lynn sponsored — and later withdrew — legislation this year requiring students to use the restroom corresponding to the gender on their birth certificate.

“They want us to be drawn in,” she wrote to her colleagues. “All we have to do is ride out the clock. Next year we will have President Trump and he will not pursue us over this nor will his DOE (Department of Education) nor justice department make the same assessment.”

In the event that Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton wins in November, Lynn said “we should be all up in it all the time — we can be her worst nightmare but right now we have one chance left — let's elect our candidate.”

The emailed conversations came two days before the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education against Sumner County Schools over a transgender student's access to restrooms.

As of Monday afternoon, 57 House Republicans have agreed with the call for a special session, nine have said no and six are undecided, according to Cade Cothren, a caucus spokesman. In the House, Republicans will likely need Democratic support to call the special session.

The Tennessee Constitution stipulates that it takes two-thirds of both chambers — 66 signatures in the House and 22 in the Senate — for lawmakers to call themselves back for a special session.

Despite the push from Republicans, Haslam, House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, have questioned the need for a special session. Although the Senate has not formally started a similar signature gathering effort, they are expected to do so in the event that the House reaches the required number.  - Tennessean (subscription)

 Sour Tea Party

Wilson County GOP calls for firing state party chairman

Wilson County Republicans drew a line in the sand with their party on Monday by passing a resolution calling for the executive committee of the Tennessee Republican Party to consider holding a special session in an effort to fire party Chairman Ryan Haynes and two other party officials.

In the resolution, the 11-member Wilson County Republican Executive Committee called for the termination of Haynes; Brent Leatherwood, the state party's executive director; and Walker Ferrell, the party's political director. The vote was based on the state party leaders' decisions surrounding a political consulting firm, led by Ferrell's wife, that was working with candidates challenging GOP incumbents in this year's primary.

The move comes one month after 27 House Republicans called for Ferrell to be fired after it was revealed that his wife, Taylor Ferrell, the founder of Southland Advantage, a Hendersonville-based political consulting firm, had been working for two challengers of incumbent Republicans.  - Tennessean (subscription)


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Selling out

Ryan Said to Tell Confidants He’s Ready to End Trump Impasse

House Speaker Paul Ryan has begun telling confidants that he wants to end his standoff with Donald Trump in part because he’s worried the split has sharpened divisions in the Republican Party, according to two people close to the lawmaker.

Ryan aides say nothing has been decided about a possible Trump endorsement. But Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, told a small group of Republican lawmakers Thursday that he expects Ryan to endorse the party’s nominee as early as this week, according to two people in the meeting.

If Ryan were to endorse Trump, the move would end a nearly unprecedented standoff between the House speaker and his party’s presumptive presidential nominee, and remove the biggest remaining obstacle to Trump’s efforts to unite Republicans around his campaign.  - Bloomberg News  


Tax Fraud?

Donald Trump signed off deal designed to deprive US of tens of millions in tax

"Donald Trump signed off on a controversial business deal that was designed to deprive the US Government of tens of millions of dollars in tax ... The billionaire approved a $50 million investment in a company - only for the deal to be rewritten several weeks later as a 'loan'. Experts say that the effect of this move was to skirt vast tax liabilities, and court papers seen by the Telegraph allege that the deal amounted to fraud."

Independent tax accountants and lawyers said that the documents Mr Trump signed – copies of which were obtained by this newspaper as part of a three-month investigation - contained “red flags” indicating the deal was irregular.

But the Republican presumptive presidential nominee signed nonetheless. 

Bob McIntyre, director of the US-based Citizens for Tax Justice campaign group, said the disclosures raised serious questions about Mr Trump’s judgment as well as that of his advisers. 

Mr Trump’s tax affairs have come under scrutiny in recent weeks when he broke with US political convention and refused to disclose his tax returnsbefore this November’s presidential election.  - The Telegraph, London, UK


Trouble in Trump-opolis

Trump campaign rift gets personal

The fight for control among the candidate's top aides turns bitter, draws in others.  The internal struggle for control of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign is getting personal, with allies of feuding campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and chairman Paul Manafort increasingly turning to shadowy tactics to try to sully their rivals.

The battle, which was already toxic even by the standards of notoriously vicious internecine presidential campaign spats, escalated last week, even as Trump moved to clarify the official hierarchy atop his campaign by creating a new position — campaign chairman and chief strategist — for Manafort.

Lewandowski's enemies around the campaign, after months of circulating rumors about his personal life, had a hand in planting a suggestive item about his emotional argument with a campaign staffer in a New York tabloid, according a person with direct knowledge of how the item came to be. And Lewandowski's rivals also circulated a news report about him shopping a book, in an effort to raise questions about his commitment to Trump’s campaign, according to people familiar with the incident. (Lewandowski denied the report.)

Lewandowski’s supporters, in turn, have urged Trump and his representatives to examine Manafort’s personal life, as well as the lobbying done by Manafort and his associates, according to people on both sides of the Lewandowski-Manafort rift.

Perhaps fittingly, much of the feud has played out on the same social media battleground and using the same conspiratorial tone that Trump himself has exploited to great effect to belittle his rivals.

But the tug-of-war also has potentially serious implications for the presumptive GOP nominee’s general election matchup with likely Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Many individuals familiar with the Trump campaign — including campaign staffers and people who work with them on the outside — say the infighting has infected the campaign’s day-to-day operations, with little communication and mounting distrust among Manafort, Lewandowski, and their allies.

“It’s a total cage fight in there now,” said an operative close to the campaign. “Manafort tried to take out Corey, but he didn’t succeed. And now, everywhere Corey looks, he sees a threat, so he’s trying to neutralize those threats.”  - Politico  

  The Donald's Daily Lie:

No, Donald Trump, there’s nothing ‘fishy’ about Vince Foster’s suicide

Donald Trump “called theories of possible foul play ‘very serious’ and the circumsta
nces of [Vince] Foster’s death ‘very fishy.’”
— “Trump escalates attack on Bill Clinton,” The Washington Post, May 24, 2016

Donald Trump appears intent on dredging up every last bit of every Clinton controversy, including the 1993 death of the Clintons’ close personal friend, White House deputy counsel Vincent W. Foster Jr.

Foster “had intimate knowledge of what was going on,” Trump told The Washington Post. “He knew everything that was going on, and then all of a sudden he committed suicide.” The presumptive GOP presidential nominee said, “I don’t know enough to really discuss it” but “I will say there are people who continue to bring it up because they think it was absolutely a murder.”

Yes, there is a fringe minority of people who will believe in just about every conspiracy theory. There are hacks who believe that Foster died in the White House and that his body was moved. There was even a member of Congress whofired bullets into a cantaloupe (or was it a watermelon?) in an effort to prove that Foster was killed.

But there were also five official investigations into Foster’s death, conducted by professional investigators, forensic experts, psychologists, doctors and independent prosecutors with unlimited resources.

The Pinocchio Test

There is nothing fishy or mysterious about Foster’s tragic suicide. Anyone suggesting otherwise earns Four Pinocchios.

Four Pinocchios

- Fact Checker - Washington Post


Thought for the day:

"Before you criticize someone, walk a mile in their shoes. Then you're already a mile away . . . and you have their shoes."


May 19, 2016

Move along, nothing to see here

Haslam: No need for special session on Obama's transgender order

Gov. Bill Haslam indicated on Wednesday that he sees no need for a special legislative session nor a lawsuit against the federal government on the transgender restroom issue.

The governor said he’s not sure what either would accomplish because, despite the furor among Republican lawmakers and conservative interest groups, “there’s nothing new” in the guidance the Obama administration gave schools, colleges and universities last week over allowing transgender students to use the restrooms of their gender identity and that it's not an enforcement action.

The chairman of the state House Republican Caucus, Rep. Glen Casada of Franklin,said Tuesday he is surveying his members about the possibility of calling the legislature back into a special session to consider a state response on the issue. And two Republican state senators circulated letters earlier this week to their colleagues asking the governor and the state attorney general to consider legal action against the Obama administration.

Despite the governor's remarks, Casada issued a statement later Wednesday saying that, following his discussions with House Republicans, he is drafting a bill "in preparation for a potential special session." 

Haslam said it’s not clear yet whether the state would have any standing to sue the federal government because no money has been withheld from schools, the legislature didn’t approve the bill that it considered that would have required transgender students to use the restrooms of their birth gender, and no one has filed a suit against a school system.

In addition to Haslam questioning the special session, Jay Brown, a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign said Wednesday, "Tennessee lawmakers should learn the lessons of what happened in North Carolina, where dangerous and shameful attempts to target transgender students have harmed countless North Carolinians, done millions of dollars of economic damage to the state, damaged the state’s reputation, and cost jobs. Tennessee lawmakers who go down this road are gambling with the lives and safety of real people and their economy. The hateful bill that passed North Carolina has drawn opposition from hundreds of major employers who have said that putting transgender people at risk for discrimination is not just wrong, but bad for business.”  - Tennessean (subscription)


Lamar Alexander Is No Fan Of Proposed Crossville Windfarm

Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander is focusing his disdain for wind turbines at a project planned for Crossville, which would be the state's largest. On Wednesday, he took to the floor of the U.S. Senate to lambast mountaintop wind farms. As many senate speeches are these days, Alexander’s 10-minute tirade was accompanied by a visual aid — a giant photo of Palm Springs, California, and the towering windmills clustered in an otherwise picturesque valley.

“My question is for the people of Tennessee is, ‘Do you want Cumberland County and Tennessee to look like that?'"

Alexander has also opposed efforts to erect wind turbines near the Smoky Mountains. He says he’s primarily concerned about permanently tainting the natural beauty with machines that can be seen from 20 miles away. The Republican senator, who has been a big champion of nuclear power, also believes wind energy is a waste of money.

The proposed Crab Orchard Wind Project was announced in January and would have 20 to 23 turbines. Virginia-based Apex Energy is pushing the project, which is supposed to create more than 100 construction jobs. There would be just seven positions to maintain the turbines long term.

On a project website, Apex says it's still gathering community input and conducting studies. There's also engineering and permitting work to be done, which means construction wouldn't start before 2017.

"We were disappointed Senator Alexander didn’t reach out to discuss the project with us directly, but we have greatly appreciated the local welcome we’ve received in Cumberland County and look forward to making this project a reality," Apex spokesman Kevin Chandler said in a written statement.

The $100 million investment has been welcomed by Cumberland County elected officials, who have said it could even become a tourist attraction since the turbines will be visible from I-40.

Senator Alexander says people may come visit, but only once. "Do you really think tourists—or most Tennesseans—want to exchange a drive through the natural beauty of the Cumberland Mountains for a drive along 23 towers more than twice as tall as Neyland Stadium, whose flashing red lights can be seen for 20 miles?" Alexander asked rhetorically. "If you do, just take another look at the photograph of what has happened to Palm Springs, California."   - WPLN

Memphis on cusp of losing distinction as state’s largest city, census estimates show

After nearly 120 years as Tennessee's largest city, Memphis is on the verge of surrendering that title to fast-growing Nashville, census estimates released Thursday show.

As of July 1 of last year, Memphis clung to a 1,160-person edge in population — 655,770 to 654,610, according to the estimates. The gap, which had totaled almost 12,000 just a year earlier, closed as Memphis lost 712 residents and Nashville gained 9,881. As recently as the 2010 Census, Memphis had about 45,000 more residents than Nashville.

The latest census numbers, which cover municipalities and other "sub-county" areas, reaffirm a continuing lack of growth not only in Memphis but in many of its wealthy suburbs. Four of the six suburban municipalities in Shelby County sustained slight drops in population, with only Bartlett and Collierville registering modest increases.

Today, comparisons between the two cities are complicated by their differing forms of government.

In 1962, voters in Nashville and Davidson County approved the nation's first fully unified metro government, meaning the city's and county's boundaries — except for a few satellite communities — became the same for population purposes. Memphis is one of seven municipalities within Shelby County, which remains by far the state's most populous county with more than 938,000 residents.

Nashville's metro area, with a population of 1.83 million, is much larger than the nine-county Memphis area, which has an estimated 1.34 million people. A 10-county region encompassing Nashville is expected to grow to a population of 2.6 million by 2035, according to projections by the local planning organization.  - Memphis Commercial Appeal (subscription)

House of Representatives approves bill prohibiting Confederate flags at federal cemeteries

The House voted Thursday to bar the Confederate battle flag from flying over some federal graveyards, the first time the chamber has cast a ballot on the issue.

The measure, offered by Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) as an amendment to a spending bill, passed 265-159 with the support of GOP leaders. It would bar the Civil War symbol from being flown at cemeteries run by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

A similar Democratic amendment last year - offered after the racially charged shooting of black churchgoers in Charleston, S.C. - tanked an entire appropriations bill after Southern Republicans objected to it.  - Politico



 Play nice, kids

Democrats sweat Sanders revolt

Hours after voters registered a split decision — a razor-thin victory for Hillary Clinton in Kentucky and a more comfortable win for Bernie Sanders in Oregon — top Democrats took to insisting that the seeming rift between Sanders supporters and the party establishment was no cause for alarm and no threat to an orderly national convention in July.

But with other Democrats alluding to the chaos of the 1968 Democratic convention, the Sanders campaign continuing to strike a defiant pose and even Donald Trump fanning the flames of Democratic discontent, the prospect of a hot landing in Philadelphia seemed more real than ever Wednesday.

Nevada Democratic Chairwoman Roberta Lange, the target of numerous threats of violence in recent days in the wake of her state’s unruly party convention last weekend, called for an apology from Sanders and warned that the intensifying fallout from her state’s convention is threatening the party’s ability to unite in time for the November general election.

Connecticut Democratic Chairman Nick Balletto didn’t have a lot of sympathy for Sanders’ position. “I think there's no choice but to at some point face reality. No matter where you stand, if you look at this on a realistic basis there is no mathematical way to get to the nomination at this point for Sen. Sanders. So I don’t understand the continuation of the direction it’s headed in. It just doesn’t make any sense to me because there’s just no mathematical way to figure out to get there,” said Balletto. “If you want to run again and go to the end, that’s fine, that’s your right. And you can certainly go to the end and go to the convention but to take a turn like has happened in Nevada just doesn't make sense for the campaign or the activists.”  - Politico    

Out of Order

Donald Trump’s Supreme Court Hates Gays, Loves Police-Dog Brutality

The Donald's picks for the nation's most august judicial body are just a nutty as his choices for, well, everything else.

Monica Lewinsky connections, Twitter celebrity status, relaxed views on police-dog brutality, and comparisons of gay sex to necrophilia - Donald Trump's potential Supreme Court nominees has it all. 

On Wednesday afternoon, the real-estate mogul rolled out eleven names of would-be members of the highest court in the land, and it was a veritable dream team of conservative judiciary icons: Steven Colloton, Diana Sykes, Allison Eid, Raymond Gruender, Thomas Hardiman, Raymond Kethledge, Don Willett, Joan Larsen, Thomas Lee, William Pryor, and David Stras. (The list closely resembles one published in March by The Daily Signal, the news site of the conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation.)

The court currently has a vacancy, and President Obama has nominatedMerrick Garland, chief judge of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, for the spot.  The Daily Beast’s Jay Michaelson notesthat he is “relatively conservative on issues of criminal justice, relatively liberal on issues of administrative and constitutional law.”

Trump’s potential nominees? Not so much. One potential justice is an expert on Trump’s favorite conversation topic: the scandals of Bill Clinton.  The progressive group People for the American Way pointed out that Colloton dissented from a ruling that a city violated the Constitution by having its police dogs to bite and hold suspects without warning.

Another name on the list is William Pryor, a federal judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. Pryor has stated that the right to have gay sex would lead down a dark path to legalizing bestiality and necrophilia. He has said that the government “should not be in the business of public education.” And he has called Roe v. Wade "the worst abomination of constitutional law in our history."

But it was the Trump’s inclusion of Don Willett, a justice on the Supreme Court of Texas, that drew the the lion’s share of snarky takes on Wednesday afternoon. For years, Willett has been a conservative Twitter icon for his oft-goofy tweets. Like this one:

"We'll rebuild the Death Star. 
It'll be amazing, believe me. 
And the rebels will pay for it." —Darth Trump


Crazy time

Donald Trump accuses Bill Clinton of rape

The allegations raised against Donald Trump in a recent New York Times article are nothing compared to the Clintons’ history, the presumptive Republican nominee said in an interview with Fox News’ “Hannity” aired Wednesday night.

“For example, I looked at The New York Times. Are they going to interview Juanita Broaddrick? Are they going to interview Paula Jones? Are they going to interview Kathleen Willey?” Hannity asked Trump, according to a transcript of the show. “In one case, it’s about exposure. In another case, it’s about groping and fondling and touching against a woman’s will.”

The Clinton campaign fired back at Trump's latest attack.

“Trump is doing what he does best, attacking when he feels wounded and dragging the American people through the mud for his own gain,” spokesman Nick Merrill said. “If that’s the kind of campaign he wants to run that’s his choice. Hillary Clinton is running a campaign to be president for all of America. It’s not surprising that after a week of still refusing to release his taxes and likening Oakland and Ferguson to the dangers in Iraq, of course he wants to change the subject. So while he licks his wounds, we’ll continue to focus on improving the lives of the American people. - Politico  


Donald Trump Profits In Private From The Companies He Trashes In Public

In public, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump rails against U.S. companies that outsource jobs overseas, like Nabisco, Carrier and Ford. He has called for a boycott of Apple and accused Disney of abusing the H1-B visa program to staff its resorts. 

But in private, Trump is profiting from investments in the very same corporations he trashes on the campaign trail.

According to Trump’s personal disclosure forms, released Wednesday, he earned between $150,000 and $1.1 million in the past year from investments in companies that he has publicly attacked.

Trump’s most frequent targets include Nabisco, the Carrier Corporation, and Ford. The parent companies of Nabisco and Carrier have both outsourced hundreds of jobs to Mexico in recent months. Ford plans to build a new plant in Mexico’s San Luis Potosí state, a plan Trump has called “a disgrace.” 

“Carrier and Ford and Nabisco need to know that there are consequences to leaving and firing people,” Trump told a crowd in Indiana last month. “You can’t just go to another country and make products to sell across our weak borders, because our borders will be so strong.” 

The mogul’s anger with outsourcing does not extend to his portfolio, however. Trump’s stake in Ford is worth between $500,000 and $1 million, according to his disclosure. He also pocketed as much as $20,000 in interest from his holdings in United Technologies and Mondelez International, the parent companies of Carrier and Nabisco, respectively.

In February, Trump called for a boycott of Apple after the company refused to break into the iPhone of the San Bernardino shooter. “What I think you ought to do is boycott Apple until such a time as they give that security number,” Trump told a crowd in South Carolina. “How do you like that? I just thought of it. Boycott Apple.”

Trump’s proposed boycott did not apply to his own business with Apple, however — nor his use of their products. Trump’s investments in the software and device giant have netted him between $100,000 and a million dollars in dividends and capital gains over the past year. 

A spokeswoman for the Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment about his investments.  - The Huffington Post


 Thought for the day:

"False words are not only evil in themselves, but they infect the soul with evil."   - Socrates

Trumped up justice


May 18, 2016

Knoxville News Sentinel Editorial: "Chill out."

Don’t panic over new transgender student guidelines

The Obama administration sparked a firestorm on Friday by sending guidance to school systems and higher education institutions across the country on how to accommodate transgender students. Impassioned advocates weighed in from all points of the political compass.

Americans collectively need to take a deep breath, tone down the rhetoric and discuss the ramifications in a civil manner befitting our democracy. Parents expressing sincere concerns about how the guidelines might affect their children are not bigots. Transgender students are not looking to prey on their peers; they just want to be treated like other students.

The guidance from the Departments of Justice and Education does not mandate any action. Instead, it simply explains to school systems that the agencies interpret Title IX, which bans sex discrimination at schools that accept federal funds, to cover transgender students. The document also serves as a reminder that the penalty for violating Title IX is the loss of federal funding — a part of Title IX enforcement since its passage in 1972.

The guidance states that schools must allow transgender students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity. They cannot compel transgender students to use private restrooms, such as those in teachers' lounges, though they can offer more private accommodations to any student — transgender or not. They also sent a compilation of best practices of school systems that have passed federal muster.

A majority of Tennessee lawmakers have called on Attorney General Herbert Slatery III to join North Carolina in its battle with the federal government. That would be an overreaction. If anything, the state should do no more than file amicus briefs in the existing lawsuits. Such "friend of the court" briefs outline a state's position without incurring the considerable costs of a lawsuit that could go to the U.S. Supreme Court. Brandon D. Harper wrote in the University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law that his analysis shows the Supreme Court places great weight on amicus briefs filed by states, especially in cases involving federalism.

While the courts resolve the legal questions, school systems would be wise to make plans for accommodating transgender students should the need arise. They also should communicate with parents to address concerns to the extent allowed by federal privacy laws. Common sense, compassion and respect would constitute a positive lesson to teach all Tennessee children.  - Knoxville News Sentinel (subscription)

Why bomb the Amish?

Belmont student, twin brother charged in Pennsylvania bombings

A Belmont student and his twin brother have been charged with multiple bombings in Pennsylvania that destroyed several buildings in two counties late last year, Pennsylvania prosecutors announced Tuesday.

Daniel and Caleb Tate, both 22, are charged with arson by explosion, arson by possession of explosive devices, conspiracy, theft and other felonies in connection with improvised explosive device bombings in five locations across Chester and Lancaster counties, according to Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan. Daniel Tate graduated from Pepperdine University earlier this month, according to the Daily Local News in West Chester, Pa.

On Dec. 30, the defendants exploded a pipe bomb in an Amish phone shed in Lancaster County. An Amish phone shed or phone shanty is an enclosed building containing a phone used jointly by multiple Amish families, who do not permit phones in their homes. 

Then on Dec. 31 the defendants detonated an IED in an Amish produce shed in Lancaster County. The shed was damaged in the explosion. Later that same day, the defendants detonated another bomb in a well pump shed  in Chester County.  - Tennessean (subscription)

Law of unintended consequences

Hall tax repeal could hurt city bond rating

Eliminating the state’s Hall income tax would not only remove millions of dollars from Knoxville’s budget, but it could have other unintended consequences — including threatening the bond ratings for cities across the state — city Finance Director Jim York warned Tuesday.The Tennessee Legislature’s intended six-year phasing out of the tax on income from certain stocks and bonds could also lead some residents to defer withdrawals and tax payments, creating even more volatility in the revenue stream.   - Knoxville News Sentinel (subscription)


Get well soon!

U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. says he has prostate cancer

U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., the senior member of Tennessee's congressional delegation, said Tuesday he has been diagnosed with prostate cancer.

The Knoxville Republican said the cancer was discovered six or seven months ago during a routine medical exam. Follow-up tests showed the cancer is isolated, he said, and doctors have decided at this stage no treatment is necessary.

"I don't feel sick," he said. Duncan said he underwent an MRI and other follow-up tests at George Washington University Hospital, which indicated the cancer had not spread. "I feel good," he said. "I haven't missed any work, other than to do the regular (medical) appointments."

Still, Duncan said, he took the diagnosis seriously because his father, former U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Sr., died of prostate cancer in 1988. Duncan Sr. was 69 at the time of his death, just a year older than his son is now.  - Knoxville News Sentinel (subscription)

One toke over the line

Tennessee Democratic congressional candidate facing indictment for growing pot

Despite facing an indictment for her involvement in a marijuana growing operation, an east Tennessee Democrat running for Congress is proclaiming her innocence while noting that the situation reiterates the need for the country to decriminalize pot.

Florence "Flo" Matheson of Crossville, who is running for the 6th Congressional District seat occupied by U.S. Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., and Stephen Harrington are facing criminal indictment after authorities discovered more than 180 marijuana plants, guns and cash while searching a house and a barn at 16536 Genesis Road.

The address is the same one Matheson, 77, provided the secretary of state when filing paperwork to run in the August primary election. This is the second time Crossville police found Harrington, who is serving three years of supervised probation, involved in a growing operation.  - Tennessean (subscription)

Ya think?

Religious counseling law could lead to lawsuit

The national group that recently canceled a Nashville convention as a result of a new state law that allows counselors to deny service to clients is considering squaring off against Tennessee in court, reports The Tennessean.

“I’m not an attorney, but I will tell you that we will be looking at whether or not there is a possible legal action to take against the state given this law being enacted,” American Counseling Association CEO Richard Yep told The Tennessean this week.

Yep said any potential legal action against the state could even expand beyond the ACA.

“There could be a challenge from the federal government based on the fact that the state obviously does receive federal funds through Medicare. Whether or not the Department of Justice wants to get involved because of the denial of services, we will see,” he said.  -KnoxBlogs


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 End game is near

Clinton declares victory in Kentucky primary; Sanders wins in Oregon

Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton declared victory in the Kentucky primary on Tuesday, potentially disrupting a string of expected primary losses this month that had threatened to weaken her even as she turned her focus to her likely matchup against Republican Donald Trump in the general election.

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, meanwhile, was declared the winner of Oregon’s Democratic primary.

The outcomes will do little to change the dynamics in the race. In Kentucky, Sanders had hoped to continue a state winning streak that began in Indiana and West Virginia this month.

Although Sanders had been favored to win Kentucky in recent polls, Clinton’s advisers sensed an opportunity to pull out a victory and invested heavily in the state in recent days. Clinton campaigned in Kentucky throughout the weekend and sent surrogates to appear on her behalf, including former president Bill Clinton.

Oregon also held Democratic and Republican primaries Tuesday, and Trump and Sanders were declared the winners shortly after the polls closed.

While those primaries were playing out Tuesday, Sanders was locked in a controversy with Democratic Party leaders in Nevada over the conduct of his supporters at the state convention over the weekend, which was cut short after security officials declared they could no longer contain the disruption.

The dispute raised the prospects for a contentious nominating convention in Philadelphia this summer — something that Democratic leaders say would be harmful to the party as well as to Clinton’s prospects for preparing to confront Trump.  Washington Post (subscription)

Tweet of the day:

An Oregon Democrat writes from out West: "Gas coming out of the Bernie Balloon. Oregon built to feel the bern -- and he was all over and spent a ton here. ... [9] pts doesn't feel like much of a win. There's a sense that maybe Bernie is getting out of his depth ... Time for him to get on board and stop helping Trump trash her."



Liberal allies turning on Bernie Sanders after Nevada donnybrook

-- Bernie Sanders won yesterday’s Democratic primary in Oregon by 8 points, and Hillary Clinton has declared victory in Kentucky. The AP says the Bluegrass State remains too close to call. The front-runner leads by about 2,000 votes out of half a million cast, less than one half of one percent. Asked whether Sanders would consider seeking a recount, spokesman Michael Briggs emails that they’ll “take a closer look at the numbers … and make a decision” later today. A Clinton victory would end Sanders’s mini-winning streak.

-- Sanders pulled no punches as he celebrated the returns in California last night. He blamed his losses on closed primaries and called on the Democratic Party to "open the doors” and “let the people in.”

-- The comments came at the end of a long day, during which Nevada’s Democratic Party filed a formal complaint accusing Sanders of inciting “actual violence” among his supporters at last weekend’s state convention. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid called the convention fracas a "test of leadership.” Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz told CNN that Sanders's response to the chaos has been "anything but acceptable."

-- Sanders is quickly becoming a figure every bit as divisive and polarizing among Senate Democrats as Ted Cruz is in the eyes of his Republican colleagues. He may not have forced a government shutdown, but his obstinacy may yet imperil HRC. His defiance is burning bridges, which will make it harder for him to be an effective member of the Senate going forward.

-- We’ve reached another pivot point in the race. The donnybrook at the convention has been a wake-up call for many liberal commentators, who have viewed Bernie positively because of his success at pulling Hillary to the left. But a new mindset has begun to take hold: If Trump becomes president, Sanders will deserve a big share of the blame. Take this sampling of commentary that posted overnight:

The New Republic’s Dana Houle: “It is Sanders’s prerogative to remain in the race. But exercising that prerogative makes it easier for mega-wealthy conservatives to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to lethally bludgeon both Clinton’s candidacy and the progressive agenda to which Sanders has devoted his career. This is not solely about combating the grave threat of a Trump presidency. It is also about the potential of a Democratic landslide and the progressive achievements that could follow, which is an opportunity too rare and precious to squander … The best way for Sanders to advance the progressive cause is to end his campaign and unabashedly ask his supporters to join him in helping to elect Clinton.

Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall: “Sanders is telling his supporters that he can still win, which he can't. He's suggesting that the win is being stolen by a corrupt establishment, an impression which will be validated when his phony prediction turns out not to be true. Lying like this sets you up for stuff like happened over the weekend in Nevada.

Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum: By all objective measures he did way better than anyone expected and had far more influence than anyone thought he would, and he should feel good about that. Instead, he seems more angry and resentful with every passing day.”

-- A number of top Sanders staffers have left the campaign in recent days, including his director of technology and three out of four members of his original California leadership team, Politico reports. The new departures come just a few weeks after Sanders let hundreds of field staffers go in an effort to slash costs.

-- A Sanders superdelegate flipped his allegiance to Clinton,per Bloomberg. Emmett Hansen II, Democratic National Committeeman for the U.S. Virgin Islands, shifted his support. “There are no more windmills to joust against and no more mountains to climb,” he said.

-- The mainstream coverage is overwhelmingly negative. “He lost," writes Jon Ralston, the dean of the Nevada press corps. "And the reaction to the vanquishing was akin to the petulant mewling of a baby who had been pampered until the moment he first was told no, wailing with no purpose other than to be loud. And just like an infant, the Sanders folks wanted it to be all about them … I seriously doubt he can put out the fire he has set.”

“Clinton is now 96 percent of the way to reaching the 2,383 delegates needed for the Dem nomination. 94 delegates short," notes the AP's Ken Thomas.  -The Daily 202 - Washington Post (subscription)

Ivanka Trump on her father: 'He's not a groper'

The New York Times cited a deposition from a woman who claimed that Donald Trump groped her under the table decades ago, but the presumptive Republican presidential nominee is certainly not a groper, his daughter said Wednesday.

“Look, I’m not in every interaction my father has, but he’s not a groper,” Ivanka Trump said in an interview broadcast Wednesday on “CBS This Morning.” “It’s not who he is. And I’ve known my father obviously my whole life and he has total respect for women.”

The billionaire businessman launched a Twitter salvo the “failing” newspaper for its “false, malicious & libelous story,” catapulting the story to become the newspaper’s most popular of the year, according to assistant news editor Theodore Kim.   - Politico


 Thought for the day:

"The lady doth protest too much, methinks."  - Hamlet, Act III, Scene II

Legislature's ethics: Asleep at the wheel


May 16, 2016


Anything goes.

Tennessee lawmaker oversight lax compared to other states

The Tennessee House ethics committee hasn't met in at least six years. The Senate ethics committee has gone more than a decade since its last gathering. In that time, there has been no shortage of legislative troubles in Tennessee.

One lawmaker was forced to resign from his Senate seat as he faced allegations that he had an affair with a 22-year-old intern whose boyfriend tried to extort $10,000 from the legislator. Another is facing federal felony fraud and tax evasion charges. A third is the subject of an ongoing probe by the state's attorney general, who already has determined that the lawmaker potentially poses a "continuing risk to unsuspecting women."

The reason for the lack of ethics meetings, some experts say, is not that Tennessee lawmakers are more ethical than their counterparts in other states. Rather, it's a system the Tennessee General Assembly has established, one that is unlike many other states across the nation.

Tennessee's system faulted

Tennessee has two different approaches to handling ethics complaints against elected officials. First, there's the Tennessee Ethics Commission, which regulates lobbying activity and publishes lawmakers' financial disclosure statements. Although the commission is able to receive complaints from members of the public, they must confine them to lobbying or statements of economic interest.

"For us to handle a complaint it has to be in one of those areas," said Drew Rawlins, the commission's executive director. So that leaves the House and Senate ethics committees.

If a resident wants to complain about a lawmaker violating the state code of ethics or using their office for personal gain, Rawlins said, they need to go to one of those committees. But going there isn't so simple.

The Senate committee allows any Tennessee resident — including senators themselves — to file a complaint, said state Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, who has served as chairman of the committee since 2013.

The House committee only allows House members to file a complaint. That means a resident would have to convince a lawmaker to file one against a colleague. Any other person who believes the legislature's ethics code has been violated is "encouraged to contact a member of the committee to determine whether a complaint is appropriate," committee attorney Doug Himes said.

That setup is a significant problem, Tennessee Common Cause Chairman Dick Williams said.

"The committee as it's structured is not conducive to bringing forward complaints," he said. "A fellow member of the legislature who wants to get support from other members is not going to file a complaint."   - The Tennessean (subscription)

Stalling for time

Haslam Says He Won't Make Up His Mind On Trump Until They've Met Face-To-Face

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam says he's still making up his mind whether to support Donald Trump in the general election, and he plans to hold out until he can meet face-to-face and see where Trump stands on some key issues.

Haslam is about the only Republican leader in Tennessee who hasn't said yet if he'll back the GOP nominee. He's been able to avoid the question while traveling in Asia. Now back in Tennessee, Haslam says he still isn't going to take a position.

"This is a very winnable race for our party that we need to win," Haslam said. "I have a few questions that I'd love to talk about with Donald Trump. I think there's going to be a group of governors that's going to meet with him in the next couple of weeks, and I look forward to having those conversations."

Those issues include how Trump would approach education and health care if elected president. Haslam wants states to have more control over how those dollars are spent.

Haslam places those concerns ahead of Trump's often heated rhetoric, though the governor says he believes "words matter" and wants to talk to Trump about that too.   - WPLN  


Tenn. Democrats ready to move on to general election fight

In an essay published last week in Politico, a senior strategist for John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign argued the Vermont senator's attacks against Clinton may hurt Clinton's chances against presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump in the November general election. Other Democrats lament that Clinton, who is almost certain to secure the Democratic nomination, must spend campaign funds to fend off Sanders — money they believe would be better spent going after Trump.

In Tennessee, where Clinton easily won the Democratic primary in March, Clinton supporters aren't exactly screaming for Sanders to get out of the race. But they're ready to move on to the general election. 

"I think it would be best if we concentrated on Donald Trump," said U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, a Memphis Democrat and Clinton backer. "I understand where Sen. Sanders is wanting to drive his agenda further and further. He has shown there is a tremendous amount of dissatisfaction with the system. But he has made his points." Regardless, Cohen said, "He wants to campaign to the end, and it's going to cost Democrats more money — and it's going to be more money spent on primaries that should be spent on (defeating) Donald Trump."

Memphis political consultant Matt Kuhn, who headed Sanders' campaign in Tennessee, said he's heard other Volunteer State Democrats say Sanders should drop out and let Clinton concentrate on Trump.

But Clinton already has begun turning her attention to Trump, Kuhn said, citing a recent Clinton campaign ad released that uses footage of Trump's fellow Republicans trash-talking the GOP nominee. He said it's one of the best anti-Trump ads he's seen. Kuhn doesn't buy the notion that Sanders' barrage of attacks against Clinton — at one point, Sanders said she wasn't qualified to be president — will damage her in the general election. Sure, Trump's campaign probably will use some of Sanders' sound bites in its own campaign ads in the fall, he said.

"(But) there's no way the messaging the Bernie campaign is using will come back and haunt Hillary," Kuhn said. "It can only help her, I think, because it excites a part of the Democratic Party that wants to get out there and support the liberal message." Besides, he said, the squabbling among the two Democrats "pales in comparison to what's already out there on the Republican side."

U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, a Nashville Democrat and Clinton supporter, puts it another way. "We may have a rivalry in the Democratic Party," he said. "But they have a civil war in the Republican Party." What matters in the end, Cooper said, is that Democrats unite behind their nominee. And he's convinced they will.

"Right now, you could argue that Sanders' voters are energized and enthusiastic and reaching out to the base in a very important way," he said. "The key is whether we come together in the fall. Sen. Sanders has given every indication that his greatest fear is a Trump presidency. So I think you are going to see unity in November."

Kuhn is ready to do his part to restore party harmony. He said he'll "wholeheartedly" support Clinton in November.

"She has the experience," he said. "And there's probably no candidate ever more prepared to be president than Hillary."  - Knoxville News Sentinel

It all flows downhill

Accounting for lost state dollars no easy task for county

How much are Shelby County taxpayers spending on responsibilities that should be covered by the state?

As the County Commission grapples with budget requests for fiscal 2017 that include millions in budget increases for entities that the county isn't always legally obligated to fund, it's a question that has been on some commissioners' minds.

"If somebody asked me, 'Commissioner why are our property taxes so high?' I would have to say we are subsidizing what the state is not paying for," said County Commission Chairman Terry Roland. "And they're going to continue to do that as long as we allow it to happen."

County officials say they aren't able to pin the costs down to the dollar. With state mandates interwoven with county responsibilities, unraveling the amount the state could or should be paying requires intricate calculations.

"It's fairly complicated to come down to a real accounting of the right number," said Mike Swift, county finance director. "You have to determine what is mandated by the state and how much of our cost is related to the mandate."

But for county commissioners it is a simple of equation: Fewer state dollars coming in means more county dollars being spent. That's while Tennessee has a projected revenue surplus of about $1 billion for a two-year period and brought in $757 million more than was budgeted for the first nine months of fiscal 2015-16.  - Memphis Commercial Appeal


Hornet's nest

Southern conservatives blast Obama transgender order

Conservatives around the South blasted the Obama administration Friday for its decision directing public schools nationwide to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity.

One state lawmaker in Tennessee said the administration was catering to a "mental disorder" in an unhealthy way. A Louisiana congressman called the move extortion. Mississippi's governor said the decision was another example of federal overreach. And a leading figure in the Nashville-based Southern Baptist Convention said children shouldn't be pawns "on behalf of the latest fashionable 'right side of history' cause."

"Transgenderism is a mental disorder called gender identity disorder — no one should be forced to entertain another's mental disorder and it is not healthy for the individual with the disorder," wrote Tennessee state Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, on her Facebook page Friday morning.

The new guidance from the U.S. Justice and Education departments marks the latest battle in the ongoing war over legislating which bathrooms students must use. The guidance doesn't have the force of law but outlines how the Department of Education intends to enforce Title IX, the federal law that bar discrimination in education. Title IX is tied to federal funding, so the directive carries the threat of a loss of money.

The administration's letter is addressed to all schools that receive federal funding, including 16,500 school districts and 7,000 colleges, universities and trade schools. It also applies to charter schools, for-profit schools, libraries and museums that receive federal aid.

"This guidance further clarifies what we’ve said repeatedly — that gender identity is protected under Title IX," U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. said in a statement Friday. "Educators want to do the right thing for students, and many have reached out to us for guidance on how to follow the law."

But the decision is proving particularly controversial in the conservative South. North Carolina passed a bill mandating students and others using public restrooms to use the bathroom of the gender on their birth certificate. The U.S. Justice Department and the state sued each other this over the enforcement of the law.   - Knoxville News Sentinel (subscription)

But they're out of step with America

Real Americans Don’t Want to ‘Defend’ Toilets

Pretty much everyone is sick of phony culture wars and needless intolerance. Except for Republican elected officials.

Following the coverage from North Carolina, you might think that Americans are about evenly split on which restroom transgender people ought to use. You might even think, given the rage on the anti side, that most people support the restrictive bill. After all, let’s face it, for a lot of people out there, the whole idea of transgender people probably comes with a certain ick factor, as was the case for gay people 20 years ago.

You might think all these things, but it turns out that you would be selling your fellow Americans rather short. A heartening poll out from CNN this week shows that a substantial majority of Americans opposes HB2. It’s 57 percent against and just 38 percent in favor. Indeed, “strongly oppose” outpointed the combined “strongly” and “somewhat” favor by 39-38.

More: Fully 75 percent of Americans support laws guaranteeing “equal protection for transgender people in jobs, housing and public accommodations.” And 80 percent support such laws for people based on sexual preference, laws that we don’t yet have on the federal level. 

So America’s mind is made up on the question. Even Republicans in the survey were evenly split on the bathroom question, 48-48.

And yet the Republicans who matter, the official ones, the legislators and the governor, are 100 percent for the bill and 0 percent against. I mean literally zero—one ex-Democrat-turned-independent who caucuses with the Republicans voted against HB2, but other than that, every Republican who was present and voting backed the bill.

You might wave this away by saying “Oh, they’re from the South, what do you expect?” But there is very little reason to think that if a similar bill came up for a vote in Madison or Harrisburg or practically anywhere outside of New England, the results would be much different. They sure wouldn’t be much different in Washington, D.C., where maybe two GOP senators and three or four GOP House members would vote against such a bill. It’s more extreme down South, but across the country, the elected Republican Party is basically representing only half of the Republican rank and file. Those 48 percent of Republicans in that survey who oppose HB2 have no representation and might as well not exist.

This is a huge problem in our political discourse, and it’s made worse by certain media assumptions, one in particular. Ever since Reagan’s time, political journalism has collectively kind of assumed that Republicans represent “normal” Americans. The Democrats were granted that assumption, once upon a time. But then the Democratic Party became the party of African Americans and feminists and same-sexers and so on, and the white working classes went Republican.

And ever since, our political-journalistic discourse has operated from the default assumption that Republicans represent the real Americans. Republicans eat steak, drink beer, go to church, while Democrats eat tofu, sip sauvignon blanc, sneer at God—you know the sort of thing.

It’s time to re-examine this, no? I say the 57 percent who declare themselves to be on the side of our transgender friends are the real, normal Americans. They are, after all, the majority. The clear majority. That 57 percent includes 62 percent of Democrats, 58 percent of independents, and the aformentioned half of Republicans. They’re majorities in the Northeast (57 percent), the Midwest (56 percent), and the West (60 percent). They’re majorities of every age group, including 65 and over, who say they oppose HB2 by 51-41 percent! They’re majorities of every income group. They’re majorities of college graduates and non-college graduates. All these cross-tabs, by the way, are here (PDF).

These are today’s real Americans. I’m not saying they’re flaming liberals. Indeed, this is the very point: It’s not “liberal” anymore, one-eighth of the way into the 21st century, to be in favor of decency, a little understanding of difference, and the conviction that intolerance does all of us, even those not affected by it, a little harm. That’s not being liberal. It’s just being American.

And what are the other people? Well, Jon Chait just called people like them idiots. I don’t want to say that. And I don’t want to say they’re bad people. People are complicated; lots of people with enlightened politics are crappy human beings, and vice versa.

But I will say this. The idea of what it means to be American has changed quite a lot in the last 20 or so years. The “typically American” place, so long presented to us as nearly-all white town where everyone went to church on Sunday, is now a much more polyglot congeries of white, black, brown, yellow, straight, gay, in-between, religious, irreligious, religious but in their own idiosyncratic way; and of people who might fill this or that demographic slot but who are in other ways entirely unpredictable—the urban hipster with a soft spot for Carrie Underwood, the white working-class man who took Prince’s death really hard. That’s America today.

And one of our two major political parties will not acknowledge it. In fact Republican leaders fight the new reality tooth and nail, to the point that they have effectively chosen to represent just 12 percent of the population—that is to say, half of the 25 percent who identify as Republican. There isn’t anything that’s normal or real about that.

The media need to wake up. The Reagan-era dividing lines are long gone. And America isn’t bitterly divided about transgender people’s bathroom rights, or same-sex marriage rights, or climate change, or the need to do something about guns, or a dozen other things. Real Americans agree on all these things. The Republican Party will of course never reflect this new America. Can journalism ever find a way to?  - The Daily Beast


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The presidency is Hillary Clinton’s to lose

But here are 12 ways she could lose it


The elites in Washington almost uniformly believe Hillary Clinton will be elected president in November. The conventional wisdom underlying coverage of 2016 is that Donald Trump will go down in flames and probably take the Republican Senate with him.

The presumptive GOP nominee has a well-documented history of misogyny, xenophobia and demagoguery. He has alienated womenHispanicsMuslimsAfrican AmericansAsian Americans and Native Americans. He has mocked the disabled,prisoners of war and Seventh-day Adventists. The Speaker of the House and both living former Republican presidents are withholding endorsements.

It should be a slam dunk for HRC, right?

But, but, but: Six months is an eternity in politics, and a year ago no one in the chattering class – including me – believed Trump had any real shot at becoming the Republican standard bearer. With Clinton struggling to sew up the Democratic nomination against a socialist septuagenarian – she’s expected to lose tomorrow’s Kentucky primary – we cannot foreclose the possibility that she will botch the fall campaign against the billionaire businessman.

The presidency is hers to lose, but here are a dozen ways Clinton can snatch defeat from the jaws of victory:

1. Complacency

Remember the Michigan primary? Every poll showed Clinton up double digits, but she lost to Bernie Sanders. One reason is that supporters and field staffers believed she had it in the bag.

The campaign has been using last week’s Quinnipiac polls showing tight races in Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania to shake a greater sense of urgency into donors and activists.

Clinton is at her worst when she thinks she’s at her best. She tends to rise to the occasion only when her back is against the wall. Remember 2008? Or recall last summer, when Sanders looked like nothing more than a nuisance and polls showed her ahead by more than 50 points, how she joked about wiping her server clean with a cloth and how her handlers literally used ropes to corral journalists at a parade. Over time, she found herself neck-and-neck with Sanders, who is a weak candidate by most traditional measures. Under heavy pressure in the days before Iowa, when it looked like she could lose the caucuses, she temporarily became a much better campaigner – then backslid after her wins in Nevada and South Carolina.

2. Unforced errors

When Hillary goes off her carefully-scripted message, she has a tendency to gaffe. One reason she is expected to lose Kentucky tomorrow is her declaration at a town hall this spring that, “We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.”

Don’t forget about her other gaffes, like when she invoked 9/11 to defend her coziness with Wall Street, when she called Republicans the enemy or when she said she and her husband were “dead broke” when they left the White House in 2001.

And there was the time Clinton incensed the gay community by praising the Reagans for starting “a national conversation” about HIV/AIDS, prompting a quick retraction.

3. Not inspiring

Clinton cannot just make this election a referendum on Trumpism. She must outline a compelling vision for where she wants to take the country to fully activate the coalition that powered Barack Obama.

“I am not a natural politician, in case you haven't noticed, like my husband or President Obama," Clinton said at The Post’s debate in March.

The presumptive Democratic nominee campaigns in prose, not poetry. And she does not always try to be uplifting in her speeches.

It’s part of the explanation for why so many millenials, including young women, have spurned her for Bernie. While Sanders promises tuition-free college, she talks about extending an obscure tax credit. As my colleague David Fahrenthold explained in a story about Clinton’s wonkiness last week, this credit can be worth up to $2,500: “But only if students find their Form 1098-T, then fill out the relevant portions of Form 8863, then enter the amount from lines 8 and 19 of Form 8863 in lines 68 and 50 of their Form 1040.” That is not going to send a thrill up Chris Matthews’s leg…

4. Not being “likable enough”

My colleagues Dan Balz and Anne Gearan spoke with more than a dozen Clinton allies about her biggest weaknesses for a piece on today’s front page. “I bring it down to one thing and one thing only, and that is likability,” said Peter Hart, a Democratic pollster who has conducted a series of focus groups for the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. Hart said this is “about the lowest bar” for a candidate, and yet Clinton has lower likability numbers today than she did when the campaign began.

Balz and Gearan report that Clinton advisers are working to soften her stiff public image by highlighting her compassion and playing up her problem-solving abilities. “I mean, we can’t give her an injection to make her an energetic candidate,” one longtime Clinton family supporter and donor said on background. (Read the full piece here.)

5. Moving too far to the right

The Sanders campaign has circulated stories about Clinton forces reaching out to top Jeb Bush donors to convince them that “that she represents their values better” than Trump.

Clinton, who used to brag about being a Goldwater Girl in 1964, will be very tempted to appeal aggressively to moderate Republicans who are turned off by Trump. On paper, the Democrat will actually be more of a hawk and more willing to use military force than the Republican. The Donald is all over the place on policy, but Clinton is presently to his right on trade and campaign finance.

She needs Sanders supporters to unite behind her. If it looks like she’s shifting rightward to win votes, she will look inauthentic and many Bernie people will stay on the sidelines.

6. Moving too far to the left

Clinton has treated Sanders with kid gloves recently. She wants him and his people to fall in line after the July convention in Philadelphia, and she calculates that antagonizing him is not worth sewing up the nomination earlier.

The Vermont senator has made clear he wants significant concessions, including very liberal policy planks in the party platform. The Clinton people will be inclined to give on a lot because the platform is not binding. Just last week, for instance, she embraced several reforms to the Federal Reserve that are sought by the progressive wing of the party.

But, if Hillary continues to lurch leftward to satisfy the Bernie people, it will be harder to win those in the middle and woo disaffected Republicans.

You might think it’s unfair to say Clinton cannot go too far left or too far right. But everyone running for president has this problem. It is a difficult needle to thread, yet the Clintons have proven deft at triangulation. Now, Hillary needs to be Goldilocks.

7. Bungling her VP selection

There’s no perfect pick, and candidates who look great on paper might turn out to fall flat – or have skeletons in their closet.

Citing four people close to the campaign, USA Today reports this morning that “Clinton is considering a running mate who could make a direct appeal to supporters of Sanders, bridging a generational and political divide” and that “Clinton’s chief requirements include a candidate’s resume and a fighter capable of hand-to-hand combat with Trump. The campaign’s vetting also prioritizes demographics over someone from a key swing state as she seeks to unify the Democratic voting base.”

There are parts of every would-be number two’s record that will upset at least some portion of the Democratic Party. Take this story that just posted on Politico: “Targeted by progressive activists hoping to kill his chances of being picked as Clinton’s running mate, Julián Castro is set this week to announce changes to what’s become a hot-button Housing and Urban Development program for selling bad mortgages on its books.”

8. Allowing herself to get defined as an insider

Clinton lost to Obama in 2008 by underestimating the electorate’s hunger for change. Once again, Hillary risks coming to represent the status quo in the eyes of voters who want a renegade.

“Right now, about 6 in 10 Americans have an unfavorable view of Trump … But the country is faring even worse. … 64.9 percent think we are heading down the wrong track,” The Post’s Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt noted last week in a column warning Democrats not to celebrate Trump. “So what if even voters who respect Clinton’s competence reject her as the embodiment of business as usual? And what if even voters who do not like Trump’s bigotry or bluster care more that he will, in their view, shake things up? … I do have faith in the American voter, I really do. But when two-thirds of the country is unhappy, a rational outcome can’t be taken for granted.”

9. Not directly engaging with Trump’s attacks

In trying to stay above the fray, Clinton could find herself defined by Trump. Remember the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth? John Kerry didn’t push back forcefully enough early on, and he paid a price.

Last week, Trump called Clinton an “enabler” of her husband’s behavior. While objectively offensive, the Democratic front-runner steadfastly refused to respond. “I’m going to let him run his campaign however he chooses,” she told reporters. “I have nothing to say about him.”

Trump gives a whole new meaning to term “bully pulpit.” And there is very conventional logic in not responding to every insult and attack: it leads to more repetition of the original charge and keeps it in the news.

Hillary dislikes the media. Her impulse is to keep the press away, to only give theappearance of access and to focus her attention on friendly outlets that will engage in puffery.

Trump, to his credit, talks to basically everyone. It gets him in trouble, like when he told Chris Matthews that women who get abortions should be punished. But the tradeoff is that he has often gotten to set the terms of the debate. If he repeats something enough times, however preposterous, some may come to believe it.

10. Bill going “off the reservation”

“I have a lot of experience dealing with men who sometimes get off the reservation in the way they behave and how they speak,” Hillary recently said on CNN. A few days later, she clarified on MSNBC that she was not referring to her husband – but Rick Lazio and Vladimir Putin.

The former president has caused fewer headaches for his wife’s campaign than he did in 2008, when he called Obama’s bid “the biggest fairy tale I’ve ever seen,” said the other side was playing the “race card,” and downplayed a loss in South Carolina by noting Jesse Jackson Jr. had won there too.

That does not mean he has not ruined news cycles for his wife in 2016 – or has the ability to.

Remember his outburst on the eve of the New Hampshire primary when he accused Sanders of being dishonest and his supporters of being sexist?

Or when he got into an on-stage argument with Black Lives Matter protestors in Philadelphia last month, defending his crime bill and his wife’s 1996 comment about brining “super-predators … to heel”? The next day, he said: “I almost want to apologize.” But then didn’t.

The campaign must manage WJC appropriately. It’s hard to control any spouse; a former president – especially “The Big Dog” – is even harder.

Trump will try to make Hillary own all the unpopular elements of the Clinton era. Expect to hear a lot about Marc Rich’s pardon and the Lincoln Bedroom.

Hillary will take credit for the popular elements of her husband’s tenure and take umbrage when Trump tries to pin the unpopular parts on her, as she already has with the crime bill and Wall Street deregulation.

11. Being overly secretive

Clinton is not widely seen as trustworthy. Her refusal to release the transcripts of her speeches at Goldman Sachs will continue to dog her. Asked during a debate why she received $675,000 for three short appearances, she replied: “Well, I don't know. That’s what they offered.”

But Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns – along with his evolving answers and lame excuses – neutralizes this potential problem for the Clinton campaign.

12. Getting indicted

It is unlikely, but the FBI investigation into Clinton’s possible mishandling of classified information hangs like a cloud over her campaign.

“Investigators have found scant evidence tying Clinton to criminal wrongdoing, although they are still working on the case and charges have not been ruled out,” my colleague Ellen Nakashima reported last week. “They have also been interviewing former aides to Clinton, including Cheryl Mills, who served as chief of staff while Clinton was secretary of state. Prosecutors and FBI agents hope to be able to interview Clinton as they try to wrap up the investigation.”

Among other potential problems identified by supporters in Balz and Gearan’s story today: “Clinton’s unpopularity with white men, questions about whether her family philanthropic foundation helped donors and friends, and lingering clouds from her tenure at the State Department, including … the Benghazi attacks in which four Americans were killed and her support for military intervention in Libya.”

-- Don’t forget, history is not on Hillary’s sideSince World War II, only once has a party controlled the White House for three consecutive terms. (George H.W. Bush succeeded Ronald Reagan by beating Mike Dukakis in 1988.)

-- Bottom line: Clinton is more likely than not to be president at this time next year, but the election will probably be closer than you think and Trump could actually win if she doesn’t play her cards right.    -The Daily 202, Washington Post

Listen for yourself  

Donald Trump masqueraded as publicist to brag about himself

The voice is instantly familiar; the tone, confident, even cocky; the cadence, distinctly Trumpian. The man on the phone vigorously defending Donald Trump says he’s a media spokesman named John Miller, but then he says, “I’m sort of new here,” and “I’m somebody that he knows and I think somebody that he trusts and likes” and even “I’m going to do this a little, part time, and then, yeah, go on with my life.”

A recording obtained by The Washington Post captures what New York reporters and editors who covered Trump’s early career experienced in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s: calls from Trump’s Manhattan office that resulted in conversations with “John Miller” or “John Barron” — public-relations men who sound precisely like Trump himself — who indeed are Trump, masquerading as an unusually helpful and boastful advocate for himself, according to the journalists and several of Trump’s top aides.

In 1990, Trump testified in a court case that “I believe on occasion I used that name.”

In a phone call to NBC’s “Today” program Friday morning after this article appeared online, Trump denied that he was John Miller. “No, I don’t think it — I don’t know anything about it. You’re telling me about it for the first time and it doesn’t sound like my voice at all,” he said. “I have many, many people that are trying to imitate my voice and then you can imagine that, and this sounds like one of the scams, one of the many scams — doesn’t sound like me.” Later, he was more definitive: “It was not me on the phone. And it doesn’t sound like me on the phone, I will tell you that, and it was not me on the phone. And when was this? Twenty-five years ago?”

Then, Friday afternoon, Washington Post reporters who were 44 minutes into a phone interview with Trump about his finances asked him a question about Miller: “Did you ever employ someone named John Miller as a spokesperson?”

The phone went silent, then dead. When the reporters called back and reached Trump’s secretary, she said, “I heard you got disconnected. He can’t take the call now. I don’t know what happened.”

Trump has never been terribly adamant about denying that he often made calls to reporters posing as someone else. From his earliest years in business, he occasionally called reporters using the name “John Barron.”   - The Washington Post

The Donald's Daily Lie

Trump’s claim that ‘young, strong men’ dominate the European migrant crisis

“Look at what’s happening all over Europe. It’s a mess and we don’t need it. … When you look at that migration, you see so many young, strong men. Does anyone notice that? Am I the only one? Young, strong men. And you’re almost like, ‘Why aren’t they fighting?’ You don’t see that many women and children.”
— Donald Trump, campaign rally, April 28, 2016

Trump often points to the ongoing migrant crisis in Europe to make a case for tough immigration policies along the U.S.-Mexico border and, of course, to build a wall. Migrants and refugees from the Middle East and North Africa continue to arrive in droves in European Union nations, fleeing war and poverty in their home countries or seeking economic opportunities.

During a Republican presidential debate earlier this year, Trump said there were “very few women, very few children” among Syrian refugees arriving in Europe. We found that men and women were split evenly among registered Syrian refugees at the time.

At a recent rally, he spoke more generally about the migration flows into Europe. What do the latest data show?

The Pinocchio Test

The overall flow of migrants and refugees into Europe was dominated first by men, including younger men, when the numbers began spiking last year. But since the middle of 2015, the demographics began to shift and more women and children started making trips across the Mediterranean Sea. Of note is the sharp increase in unaccompanied children in 2015.

In particular, the breakdown of men, women and children arriving in the main entry point of Greece has shifted dramatically. This March, there were more women and children (62 percent) than men — a reversal from June, when 73 percent of arrivals were men. But Italy continues to see far more men (73 percent) than women and children. Trump says there are “so many young, strong men.” Among recent arrivals in Greece, there wasn’t a clear massive influx of Syrian or Afghan men ages 15 to 24. For Syrians (the biggest group of arrivals), 17 percent fit in that age range. For Afghans, 26 percent fit in that category.

Trump exclaimed during the speech: “When you look at that migration, you see so many young, strong men. Does anyone notice that? Am I the only one?” We don’t notice that — because, well, the numbers don’t show it.

Three Pinocchios

It's Monday in America, so here's a little Baseball for you.

Why Joe DiMaggio’s 56-Game Hit Streak Is So Enduring

Changes in baseball, particularly the handling of pitchers, diminish chances of matching the Yankee Clipper’s feat

Seventy-five years ago Sunday, Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio bashed the first hit of his record-setting 56-game hitting streak. No one else has come close to his mark, and changes in Major League Baseball make it less likely that anyone ever will.

“If anybody could have done it, it would have been Pete Rose, and he didn’t get there,” said Keith Hernandez, a commentator for the New York Mets television network and a former slick-hitting first baseman. “I don’t think it will ever happen.”

Mr. DiMaggio, who played for the New York Yankees, began his streak on May 15, 1941, and hit safely in each game afterward until July 17,when his sizzle at the plate was doused by the Cleveland Indians.

Mr. Rose, who holds the record for most career hits, went on his own tear in 1978, getting at least one hit in 44 consecutive games. That’s a dozen less than Mr. DiMaggio, but it’s the closest anyone has come to the Yankee Clipper’s total.

Experts disagree on which changes in the game might make it more difficult for a hitter to break Mr. DiMaggio’s record—and baseball historian and statistician Bill James cautions against considering any variable in isolation, noting that some have benefited hitters—but a number of things are different from Mr. DiMaggio’s day.

“The one thing I think is enormous is familiarity with pitchers,” said David W. Smith, founder and president of Retrosheet, a website that archives historical play-by-play data.

In the course of his 56-game streak, Mr. DiMaggio confronted 54 different pitchers, facing a dozen of them in three or four different games. “Not only did DiMaggio see fewer pitchers, but the ones he saw, he saw later in the game when it’s more and more the batter’s advantage,” Mr. Smith said.

To test his idea, Mr. Smith once analyzed 1.69 million Major League at-bats and found that batting, on-base and slugging averages increased each time a starting batter faced a starting pitcher in a game. For example, in the American and National leagues combined, batting average increased from .259 to .276 between the first time starting batters faced starting pitchers and the fourth time around the order. “The overwhelming data is that when a new batter and a new pitcher come together the first several times, the advantage is so strongly for the pitcher, it’s scary,” Mr. Smith said.

Today, starters often pitch no more than six innings. They almost never see batters four times, and some don’t see batters three times. Instead, fresh arms come in from the bullpen, with some throwing heat for a single inning—or a single batter—before handing the ball over to another specialist.

On the flipside, Mr. James points out that having more pitchers potentially gives individual batters more chances at the plate, and a possible run at a streak, because there are fewer bench players competing for game time. “Teams in 1941 carried eight or nine pitchers on a 25-man roster,” said Mr. James, who coined the term sabermetrics for the application of statistical analysis to baseball records. “Now they carry 12 or 13. You’ve got a four-man bench when you used to have eight.” 

Working against them are better field conditions, improved gloves and padded walls in the outfield. Mr. James surmised better gloves contribute to fewer fielding errors, while padded walls and carefully tended turf reduce the risk of injury and encourage more aggressive defensive play.

“If you could see a 1941 game live, you’d be shocked at the condition of the field,” Mr. James said. “Potholes, rocks, clumps of dirt, long grass in the outfield.” On manicured fields, outfielders can run as fast as possible without fear of turning an ankle or missing a ball that takes an odd hop on uneven ground.

Mr. Rose, who doesn’t believe 56 games in a row is untouchable, said four ingredients are required for a batter to conjure a streak: The ability to hit for contact. Enough speed to leg out a weak hit or bunt. A knack for hitting to all three sections of the outfield. And a heavy dose of luck.

Batters who might have a shot today, he said, include José Altuve, a speedy second-baseman for the Houston Astros who has led the American League in batting and hits and had a 14-game streak last year, or Michael Brantley, an outfielder for the Cleveland Indians who previously has hit in 22 consecutive games. “Guys like that are capable of going on a hitting streak,” Mr. Rose said.

But after 75 years of missed opportunities? It’s not likely. “DiMaggio hit in something like 75% of his games,” Mr. James said, “so his chance was toward the top end of the spectrum, which is still a 1-in-10-million-type chance.”   - The Wall Street Journal 

Billy Moore's Report from Washington

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell washed the bad taste out of the Senate's mouth last week, engineering a face-saving vote on an amendment that would block the U.S. from purchasing heavy water from Iran and endangering the multi-national Iran nuclear deal. After the vote failed, Senators approved the first fiscal 2017 appropriations bill by a vote of 90 to 8. Two more appropriations measures are on the Senate's agenda for next week.

Representatives voted through 18 bills to fight opioid addiction and assembled them into one measure to take to conference with the Senate. The legislative success was overshadowed by a breakdown among House Republicans to secure consensus on a budget resolution. Leaders promised conservative holdouts everything from $140 billion in mandatory spending cuts, a balanced budget amendment and cut backs on spending on programs with lapsed authorizations. But the package was not enough to satisfy the Freedom Caucus and next week's House agenda aims to bring appropriations bills to the floor, signaling failure by the House, for the first time since the Budget Act became law in 1974, to approve or deem a budget.

As both chambers get into spending gear, hope recovers for money to combat the Zika virus. Senators plan votes on amendments that would provide between $1.1 billion and $1.9 billion in emergency funding to address the virus. The House plans to vote on a freestanding Zika supplemental spending bill and the Defense authorization bill.

While poison pill amendments could derail the appropriations process, bipartisan House and Senate coalitions are poised to reassert Congress's power of the purse.

A federal judge on Thursday ruled the Obama administration has been improperly funding an Obamacare subsidy program, a victory for the House of Representatives in a lawsuit against the White House. The program will be allowed to continue pending appeal.

Billy Moore is a partner at ViaNovo, a strategic consulting firm with offices in Washington, DC, Austin, Dallas and Mexico City

Thought for the day:

"You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life." - Winston Churchill

What's on the agenda for today?


May 13, 2016

Sad Farewell

Longtime Tennessean political reporter Larry Daughtrey has died

Larry Daughtrey, a legendary political reporter for The Tennessean known as a tenacious watchdog at the Tennessee State Capitol who always broke the story first, died on Thursday afternoon, his friends and family confirmed.

Mr. Daughtrey died at St. Thomas West Hospital Thursday afternoon following complications with lung disease, a family member said.

He was 76.

Mr. Daughtrey worked as a political reporter at The Tennessean from 1962 to 1997, helping solidify the newspaper’s reputation for crusading journalism while becoming a mentor for dozens of young reporters. He converted to writing a political column for the newspaper after his retirement.

Former Tennessean editor Frank Sutherland, who oversaw the paper during part of Mr. Daughtrey’s tenure, called Mr. Daughtrey a writer of consummate detail, one whose attention to the craft of writing was as respected as his dedication to fairness.

“Larry Daughtrey was a great reporter because he had the best sources of anyone on Capitol Hill,” Sutherland said. “He had the flair of language to tell the stories he had researched.

“His kind of reporting will be missed.”

Mr. Daughtrey, a native of Texas and graduate of Vanderbilt University, was respected on both sides of the political aisle for being tough, but truthful, Sutherland said. Inside The Tennessean, Mr. Daughtrey was a source for the right adjective and the definitive sources.

Daughtrey’s first major contribution came shortly came as a young reporter in 1962, when he was part of a Tennessean investigation that reported on voting fraud that led to the election of Richard Fulton to Congress.  He would go on to cover state politics that spanned eight governors, from Frank Clement, the rise of Ned McWherter, to Phil Bredesen.

He also held the distinction of covering every presidential convention from 1964 to 2000.

“It brings me great sadness to hear of the passing of my good friend and former colleague Larry Daughtrey,” former Vice President Al Gore, a colleague of Daughtrey at The Tennessean, said in a written statement. “Larry’s devotion as a reporter, as well as his ability to understand and explain the complex political issues of our time, remain unmatched.

“His work commanded the highest respect from both sides of the aisle and his voice of reason will be missed. My heart goes out to his wife Judge Cissy Daughtrey, daughter Carran and their family.”

Mr. Daughtrey’s final guest column for The Tennessean, a take on the Nashville mayoral runoff between Megan Barry and David Fox, was published last September.

Mr. Daughtrey is survived by his wife Judge Martha “Cissy” Craig Daughtrey and daughter Carran Daughtrey.

Haslam keeps quiet

Legislative leaders don't expect more vetoes

The top two legislative leaders said Thursday they don’t expect Gov. Bill Haslam to veto any of the controversial bills still awaiting his review, including repeal of the Hall income tax, defunding the University of Tennessee’s diversity office and a lawsuit to restrict the federal refugee resettlement program in Tennessee.

House Speaker Beth Harwell and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey said the governor hasn’t signaled any intention to veto them but said it’s possible he might allow one or more of the bills to become law without his signature.

Haslam was on an economic development trip to Korea, China and Japan from May 2 through Wednesday and has not been available to talk with reporters. Ramsey and Harwell were in Nashville for the monthly meeting of the State Building Commission and spoke with reporters afterward.

“I don’t think he’ll veto them. That’s just my gut feeling. He hasn’t told me that,” said Ramsey, R-Blountville. “Are there some he may let become law without his signature? Possibly, but we haven’t even talked about that. Just from the relationship we have, I think if there was going to be a veto I’d have heard about it by now, and I haven’t. I could be surprised.

"Before we left (after the legislature closed for the year April 22), I got the strong hint we wouldn’t need a veto override session. Whether he signs them or not, that’s a different story,” Ramsey said.

Harwell, R-Nashville, also said Haslam gave her no indication he would veto anything.

“He indicated toward the end (of the legislative session) that he didn’t see anything that would cause us to need an override session, so I’m anticipating that means he’s going to sign them. Or at least allow them to become law without his signature,” she said.

The House last month rejected a proposal to reconvene later this spring to consider overriding potential vetoes by Haslam. His last veto occurred before the legislature ended — a bill designating the Bible as “the official state book of Tennessee” — and an attempt to override the veto failed in the House.

Since then, he has allowed one bill to become law without his signature: a measureallowing full-time employees of the state’s public colleges and universities who have handgun-carry permits to go armed on their campuses, provided they notify the police agency with jurisdiction over the campus.

A bill to reduce the state’s Hall income tax on certain stock and bond dividends and interest from 6 to 5 percent effective with the current tax year — and to totally eliminate the tax in 2022 — hasn’t arrived on the governor’s desk. When it does, he’ll have 10 days, counting Saturdays but not counting Sundays and holidays, to sign it into law or veto it, or it automatically becomes law without his signature.

Haslam favored the tax cut but expressed concerns about its elimination in six years, saying that should be left to future state leaders depending on the state's finances.

The bill to reallocate about $436,000 from UT Knoxville’s diversity office and into minority engineering scholarships for one year arrived on the governor's desk Monday, giving him until May 20 to act on it. A resolution directing the state attorney general to file a lawsuit against the federal government to force compliance with the federal Refugee Act of 1980 and seek state approval for resettlement of refugees in the state also was transmitted to the governor Monday.  Rick Locker in The Tennessean (subscription)

Ignoring the Elephant in the Room

Hillary Clinton — Not Trump — To Be Focus Of Tennessee GOP's Statesmen's Dinner

Stop Hillary.

That'll be the refrain as a thousand Tennessee Republicans gather in Nashville tonight for their biggest fundraiser of the year — the Statesmen's Dinner. It'll be their first major gathering since Donald Trump appeared to sew up the Republican nomination, beating out 16 other candidates.

Many Republicans are still coming around to their party's nominee, and even tonight's keynote speaker has wrestled with how to handle Trump. South Carolina Gov.  Nikki Haley has called Trump "dangerous" and "everything a governor doesn't want in a president." Now she says she'll support the Republican nominee.

Tennessee GOP Chairman Ryan Haynes says there's a reason so many are changing their tune. "It's an opportunity for us to coalesce and focus on beating Hillary Clinton in the fall," he said.

The evening will also include a tribute to the late U.S. Senator Fred Thompson, as well as speeches from current Sens. Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander and from Gov. Bill Haslam. It'll be the governor's first public appearance since he departed for a business development trip to Asia two weeks ago.

It might seem like organizers are trying to change the subject away from Trump. But Republican strategist Bill Phillips says there's logic behind it. "I think if they're not excited about the nominee, you talk about the opponent," he said.

Phillips knows something about messaging. In 1988, he was the manager of the Republican National Convention, helping to unify the party behind George H. W. Bush. That year also featured a wide primary field, with 10 candidates initially vying to succeed President Ronald Reagan.

For his part, Phillips remains a Trump skeptic. He jokes that he plans to put off the decision on whether to vote for the real estate tycoon until mid-November — in other words, after the general election.

But Phillips knows one thing for sure: Even if he doesn't choose Trump, he won't be voting for Hillary Clinton, either.   -WPLN


Judge strikes down Obama health law insurance subsidy in victory for House GOP

A federal judge struck down a portion of President Obama’s signature Affordable Care Act health law Thursday, ruling that Obama exceeded his authority in unilaterally funding a provision that sent billions of dollars in subsidies to health insurers.

In a 38-page decision, U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer of the District put her ruling on hold pending the administration’s certain appeal. Her decision sided with the U.S. House of Representatives, which brought the lawsuit challenging more than $175 billion of spending after a party-line vote by House Republicans in July 2014.

The House GOP argued that the administration’s decision to subsidize deductibles, co-pays and other “cost-sharing” measures was unconstitutional because Congress rejected an administration request for funding in 2014. Obama officials said they withdrew the request and spent the money, arguing that the subsidies were covered by an earlier, permanent appropriation.

House Republicans have tried repeatedly, without much success, to repeal parts or all of the health-care law, holding dozens of votes on the matter over the past five years. Thursday’s ruling may represent their most significant victory in trying to dismantle the ACA. The ruling, if upheld, could undermine the stability of the program because of the added financial burden it would place on insurers, health policy experts said.

The judge’s logic drew a quick rebuke from White House press secretary Josh Earnest, who called the lawsuit a new low in the battle over the controversial health-care law and predicted that the ruling would be overturned by the courts because it charted new ground in the separation of powers between presidents and Congress.

“This suit represents the first time in our nation’s history that Congress has been permitted to sue the executive branch over a disagreement about how to interpret a statute,” Earnest said.

He criticized Republicans for using taxpayer money to “re-fight a political fight that they keep losing.”

“They’ve been losing the fight for six years, and they’ll lose it again,” Earnest said.

“If the decision ultimately sticks, which I think is unlikely, it will be a pretty big deal,” said Timothy Jost, an expert on the ACA and professor emeritus at Washington and Lee University law school.

Insurers will still be legally required to provide those discounts to low-income individuals, “but insurers won’t be able to get reimbursed for that expense unless Congress appropriates the money,” he said.

Many insurance companies would probably stop participating in the insurance exchanges, some experts say, because of the uncertainty and the fear of having to absorb those expenses. This, in turn, would reduce the competitiveness of insurance marketplaces and result in higher premiums.

“There is a long judicial process ahead before a final decision is made,” said Marilyn Tavenner, president and chief executive of America’s Health Insurance Plans, an industry trade group, in a statement. The judge’s ruling will not affect coverage for now, she said.

While the ruling may be a near-term win for Obamacare opponents, other analysts said it puts Republican members of Congress in a tough position if they fail to appropriate the funds.

“If you’re a senator and up for reelection in a district that may not be solidly Republican, you’re faced with a real problem,” said Joseph Antos, a health policy analyst at the American Enterprise Institute. “You’re hurting low-income people who presumably need that help.”

Those politicians will face pressure not only from insurers, he said, but other health-care industries that will want to “keep the money flowing,” he said.  - The Washington Post

Republican establishment hearts Insure Tennessee

Former GOP leader/lobbyist leads new Insure TN promotional campaign

The Tennessee Hospital Association earlier this year formed a spinoff group – named Tennesseans for a Responsible Future — to promote Gov. Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee proposal, a Medicaid expansion move that failed in the 2015 legislative session. Now, the group has chosen Adam Nickas, a former political operative for the state Republican party and more recently a lobbyist, as executive director.

Over the next several weeks, Nickas will lead a TRF kickoff tour across the state to begin meeting with business, community and faith leaders to educate them on the benefits of increasing access to affordable healthcare coverage for hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans. Community meetings and events will continue throughout the summer.

Nickas brings more than 10 years of campaign and political experience in Tennessee to TRF. In addition to his role with TRF, Nickas will continue in his role as a consultant for Capitol Resources where he specializes in government relations and communication strategies on a broad spectrum of public policy issues. Prior to joining Capitol Resources, Nickas served as Executive Director and Political Director for the Tennessee Republican Party, where he worked with legislative candidates across Tennessee to successfully build supermajorities in the Tennessee General Assembly. Previously, Nickas worked on Republican campaigns in Mississippi, Iowa and throughout Tennessee.   - KnoxBlogs

Nashville cancelled

Nashville Officials 'Incredibly Disappointed' As ABC Drama Canceled reports the show’s ratings were not consistent through its four seasons, so it will not be back for a fifth.

The state’s economic development department poured millions of dollars into subsidizing production. The city also offered incentives to keep the show from being filmed elsewhere, including money from the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corporation. "We would have liked to have squeezed out one more season, but all in all it has been a tremendous asset for this city," CVC president Butch Spyridon said in a statement. "We hope the cast decides to call Nashville home. They are family to the real Nashville!"

The Season 4 finale, which looks like it will become the series finale, is scheduled for May 25.

"Nashville" is in syndication in more than 100 countries, according to Ryman Hospitality Properties, which is one of the show's original producers. Ryman is still taking many of the cast members on a European tour that just began.

"Many of the cast members have become fixtures on the Opry stage, and we look forward to continuing our relationship with these talented artists," Ryman CEO Colin Reed said in a prepared statement. "As a company, our focus will be on the next chapter of tourism for this wonderful city and state.”

It was like losing a group of friends, for some fans. "I'm devastated! I watch it every single time and have since it started," says Terri Watson. "I'm a native Nashvillianand a big fan, so it's breaking my heart."

But Maura Lee Albert says the show didn't deserve the more than $40 million in financial incentives offered by state and local governments over the course of the show. As for its cancellation?

"I'm totally fine with that," she says. "I feel like we spent a lot of public money on a soap opera. I'm fine with it."   - WPLN   


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Say what?
Trump: My tax rate is 'none of your business'

The presumptive Republican nominee gets testy when pressed about releasing his tax returns

Donald Trump is digging in his heels when it comes to his tax returns, stating on Friday that voters don’t have a right to see the documents before November and snapping back during an interview that his tax rate is “none of your business.”

The presumptive Republican nominee has become increasingly combative about his tax returns, which he claims have been audited by the Internal Revenue Service each year since 2002.

Trump and his allies have staked out a range of positions on the potential release of the apparently voluminous documents, but the real estate mogul has generally stuck by his contention that he’ll release them once the latest audit wraps up, hopefully before November.

On Friday morning, Trump was on the defensive, ripping into ABC's George Stephanopoulos as the "Good Morning America" host pressed the billionaire on why he seems to be dragging his feet.

Trump remarked that while every presidential candidate has released his tax returns since 1976, he would continue to wait until after the IRS audit is completed.

Stephanopoulos asked whether voters had a right to see his tax returns before making their decision in November.

"I don't think they do. But I do say this, I will really gladly give them -- not going to learn anything but it's under routine audit. When the audit ends I'm going to present them. That should be before the election. I hope it's before the election. But when the audit ends I've had even journalists say that, no, nobody should give until audits are over, I've had journalists say that," Trump said.

When Stephanopoulos tried to get the billionaire candidate to reveal his tax rate, Trump bristled, saying it was "none of your business," adding that will be available when he releases the tax returns.

The controversy over Trump’s reluctance to reveal his tax documents is shaping up to become a central issue in the forthcoming general election battle between Trump and Hillary Clinton.  - Politico

Just Weird

Donald Trump masqueraded as a spokesman to brag about himself

The voice is instantly familiar; the tone, confident, even cocky; the cadence, distinctly Trumpian. The man on the phone vigorously defending Donald Trump says he’s a media spokesman named John Miller, but then he says, “I’m sort of new here,” and “I’m somebody that he knows and I think somebody that he trusts and likes” and even “I’m going to do this a little, part-time, and then, yeah, go on with my life.”

A recording obtained by The Washington Post captures what New York reporters and editors who covered Trump’s early career experienced in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s: calls from Trump’s Manhattan office that resulted in conversations with “John Miller” or “John Barron” — public-relations men who sound precisely like Trump himself — who indeed are Trump, masquerading as an unusually helpful and boastful advocate for himself, according to the journalists and several of Trump’s top aides.

In 1990, Trump testified in a court case that “I believe on occasion I used that name.” He did not respond to a request for comment for this article.

In a phone call to NBC’s “Today” program Friday morning, Trump denied that he was John Miller. “No, I don’t think it — I don’t know anything about it. You’re telling me about it for the first time and it doesn’t sound like my voice at all,” he said. “I have many, many people that are trying to imitate my voice and then you can imagine that, and this sounds like one of the scams, one of the many scams — doesn’t sound like me.” Later, he was more definitive: “It was not me on the phone. And it doesn’t sound like me on the phone, I will tell you that, and it was not me on the phone. And when was this? Twenty-five years ago?”

Trump has never been terribly adamant about denying that he often made calls to reporters posing as someone else. From his earliest years in business, he occasionally called reporters using the name “John Barron.”

From the start of his career as a builder in New York, Trump worked the press. He believed in carrots and sticks, showering reporters with praise, then pivoting to a threat to sue them if they wrote something he considered inaccurate. He often said that all publicity, good or bad, was good for his business.

He made himself available to reporters at nearly any time, for hours on end. And he called them, too, to promote his own projects, but also with juicy bits of gossip.

“One thing I’ve learned about the press is that they’re always hungry for a good story, and the more sensational the better,” Trump wrote in his bestseller “The Art of the Deal.” “The point is that if you are a little different, or a little outrageous, or if you do things that are bold or controversial, the press is going to write about you.”

Trump did not describe using false identities to promote his brand, but he did write about why he strays from the strict truth: “I play to people’s fantasies. People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That’s why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration — and a very effective form of promotion.”    -The Washington Post

The Daily Donald Lie (a new whopper every day)

Donald Trump’s unsupported claim that crime is ‘through the roof’ because of illegal immigration

“People that shouldn’t have been here, people that should’ve never been allowed to come over the border, and they come here like it’s nothing. … You know, I’m looking at statistics where your crime numbers are so crazy, they’re going through the roof, so we can’t have it anymore.”
–Donald Trump, rally in Costa Mesa, Calif., April 28, 2016

Trump started a recent rally in California by bringing onstage members of The Remembrance Project, which advocates for family members of those killed by undocumented immigrants. Trump asked the father of Jamiel Shaw to share the story of his son, a 17-year-old football star who was killed in 2008 by a gang member who was in the country illegally.

Shaw has appeared in an ad for Trump, and supports Trump’s proposal to deport all “criminal aliens,” who are noncitizens convicted of a crime. Another case Trump often points to is that of Kate Steinle, a young woman in San Francisco who was shot and killed by an undocumented immigrant and a repeat felon who had been deported five times to Mexico.

Clearly, stories like this exist. But Trump uses anecdotes as evidence to connect illegal immigration and violent crimes, and to propose deporting the approximately 11 million undocumented believed to be living in the United States. Just how likely are Americans to die from homicide by undocumented immigrants?

The Facts

Trump cited homicide, rape and aggravated assault figures from the Los Angeles Police Department to say that crime in California is “going through the roof.” Violent crimes — including homicides, rapes and aggravated assault — were up across the board by the end of 2015, compared with 2014. L.A.’s numbers mirror the trend in other major cities that saw an uptick in violent crimes in 2015 compared with the previous years.

But as we’ve warned at The Fact Checker, criminologists look at crime trends over at least a decade, because so many factors — even weather — can influence short-term crime numbers. The overall trend for California, according to the state Office of the Attorney General, looks like this below. Violent crime rates, specifically, also have steadily declined from 2005 to 2014.

Let’s recap — yet again — that illegal immigration flows across the Southern border in 2015 were at the lowest levels since 1972, except for in 2011. The presumptive Republican nominee doesn’t seem to bother to read our fact checks about this, so here’s a visual representation:

How many undocumented immigrants are convicted of murder and other violent crimes? The short answer: The vast majority of unauthorized immigrants do not fit Trump’s description of aggravated felons, whose crimes include murder.

The Pinocchio Test

Trump’s wild rhetoric over deporting all unauthorized immigrants for bringing crimes like murder into the U.S. underscores a common public misperception that violent crime is correlated with immigration, especially illegal immigration. He continues to assert that crime is spiking because of illegal immigration, this time in California, but this claim remains unsupported.

Clearly, there are plenty of isolated incidents where an innocent American was killed by a known criminal who was in the country illegally. But let’s put this problem into perspective. In 2014, Americans were 159 times more likely to die from falling, 15 times more likely to die from auto accidents involving distracted drivers and four times more likely to die from injuries from a construction job than an undocumented immigrant was to be convicted of homicide, then released.

Trump’s claim highlights the problem with using anecdotes as evidence to guide policymaking. He can point to victims’ families all he wants, and their stories are compelling. But the underlying data suggest that other causes of death, like car crashes, are far more dangerous to everyday Americans’ lives than criminal noncitizens. Those are the facts, whether he cares to consider them or not.

 Thought for the day:

"How much easier it is to be critical than to be correct."  - Benjamin Disraeli


May 12, 2016

 Pharisaic moralizing costs Tennessee again. This time with a CHURCH convention!

Second convention pulls out of Nashville over state therapist law

A second organization has canceled a convention scheduled for Nashville next year because of a new law in Tennessee opposed by gay rights advocates that lets therapists turn down patients because of their principles.

Colorado-based Centers for Spiritual Living had expected to bring more than 550 people to the Sheraton Music City Hotel in February for its three-day annual convention, which is considered on the small end of conventions Nashville attracts.

But the religious group — which represents 400 churches, ministries, study groups and teaching chapters, including two churches in Nashville — confirmed on Wednesday it will look for a new city because of the legislation signed into law two weeks ago by Republican Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam.

The decision of Centers for Spiritual Living to cancel their convention in Nashville comes as the American Counseling Association announced on Tuesday that it had pulled out of an event at Nashville's Music City Center for their annual conference in April 2017.

That event, expected to draw 3,000 people, is significantly larger than the Centers for Spiritual Living conference.

The Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp. earlier this week had said a second group made the same decision, but it declined to name them. Centers for Spiritual Living is the second group that the CVC was referencing.

The group's Nashville convention had been expected to generate $301,000 in direct spending from conventioneers in the city and $55,000 in combined local and state tax revenue, CVC spokeswoman Bonna Johnson said Wednesday.   - Tennessean (subscription)

Pleasant surprise

State’s April revenues $185M above estimates

News release from Department of Finance and Administration

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee tax revenues exceeded budgeted estimates in April. Department of Finance and Administration Commissioner Larry Martin today announced that overall April revenues were $1.8 billion, which is $185.0 million more than the state budgeted.

“Total reported revenues in April reflect significant improvement over this time last year in both sales and business taxes,” Martin said. “While franchise and excise taxes and income tax revenues are typically large in the month of April, much of the state’s revenue growth is a result of strong sales taxes, reflecting consumer confidence in Tennessee.”

On an accrual basis, April is the ninth month in the 2015-2016 fiscal year.

General fund revenues were more than the budgeted estimates in the amount of $165.9 million while the four other funds that share in state tax revenues were $19.1 million more than the estimates.

Year-to-date revenues for nine months were $757.1 million more than the budgeted estimate. The general fund recorded $698.4 million more than budgeted estimates and the four other funds were $58.7 million more than the budgeted estimate.

The budgeted revenue estimates for 2015-2016 are based on the State Funding Board’s consensus recommendation of December 16, 2014 and adopted by the first session of the 109th General Assembly in April 2015. Also incorporated in the estimates are any changes in revenue enacted during the 2015 session of the General Assembly. These estimates are available on the state’s website at  - KnoxBlogs

Middle Tennessee’s Best Hope For New Commuter Rail Is Taking Shape; Here’s What It Looks Like

Details emerged Tuesday about what could be Middle Tennessee’s best chance to add a new commuter rail line. For an estimated $525 million dollars, it would run roughly 40 miles between Clarksville, Ashland City, and Nashville.

This train would make the full trip in 43 minutes, compared to what experts say could take two hours by car by the year 2040.

And trains would run every 20 minutes during morning and afternoon rush hours, which would be far more frequent than other regional routes now run by the Regional Transportation Authority, which commissioned the months-long study public input process.

Consultant Shawn Dikes, with WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff, says the line could attract 3,000 daily riders.

“There’s other corridors — maybe other alignments — that had more congestion, perhaps, than I-24 going to Clarksville,” he said. “But this particular project has half of the right-of-the-way already existing.”

Dikes explained that this commuter train could run on a little-used Nashville and Western freight line that’s already built from the Nashville Farmers’ Market to Ashland City, with remnants of an old line running most of the rest of the way to Clarksville.

“Of the big time capital investments, this one really makes the most sense,” Dikes said. “It’s not cheap but it has the highest ridership potential. … And it has the most opportunity to do transit-oriented development, because it has the most stations.”

Not ‘Turning Dirt’ Yet
Such a project could take a decade. That’d be a tough wait for state employee Sonia West-Rowson. She rides the bus from Clarksville, but says it breaks down, sometimes once a week.

“If that is something that’s in the works, I would definitely prefer it. I know I could get to work a lot quicker and it would probably be a lot safer,” she said. “I know he said it’s future, way down the road, but I’m hoping it’s very soon.”

While transit officials say commuter rail is the top option from Clarksville, there are bus upgrades possible at a lower cost. And the study team says bus service should be improved in the short-term, including by giving buses permission to drive on the interstate shoulder during heavy congestion.

Final recommendations are expected this summer.  - WPLN  

Because it works

Insurers to stick with Obamacare in Tennessee — for now

A trio of health insurers announced Tuesday that they plan to sell plans under Obamacare in 2017 — however, uncertainty remains about the future of the exchange as losses continue to mount.

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, Cigna and Humana had filed to sell plans on the exchange as of press time on Wednesday. Filings can come in until 11:59 p.m. Aetna, a fourth insurer, and BCBST both filed to sell off-exchange insurance plans — a type that doesn't qualify for federal subsidies — statewide. 

"BlueCross has been committed to this market since the beginning when we were the only health plan to offer coverage to people in every county of our state," said Roy Vaughn, vice president of corporate communications, in a statement to The Tennessean. "We intend to file rates for Marketplace plans statewide next year but must also keep our options open as we continue to explore ways to make this line of business sustainable."

A subsidiary of UnitedHealthcare also filed with the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance, although it formally informed state officials in April it doesn't plan to sell on-exchange plans in 2017.

The filings are a prelude to the formal rate requests due on June 11 — a round of documents that will shed further light on the health of the federally run exchange in Tennessee.

To date, consumers who bought plans have been sicker and heavier users of medical services than expected. BCBST's enrollee mix for 2016 was largely unchanged from the year previous, leading the Chattanooga-based insurer to expect similar financial outcomes.

“We’re not going to charge any more than we absolutely have to," Vaughn said. "We’re conscious this is a significant investment for anyone, individual or group, and we’re not going to charge more than we have to for a line of business.” “For months, we’ve expected insurers to again seek rate increases and, unfortunately, that prediction looks to be accurate, based on early filings," said insurance commissioner Julie Mix McPeak in a statement. "No one wants to approve rate increases because we know that Tennessee families would rather spend their money on groceries and housing instead of insurance. However, we would rather have solvent companies that are able to offer coverage (albeit with higher rates) than have insolvent companies who leave the marketplace and offer no coverage.”  

Rate requests, and approvals, may be a sticker shock to consumers, but federal officials and grassroots navigators note that many don't feel the increase because subsidies also increase.   - Tennessean (subscription)

Shrink wrapped cop cars

Tennessee officials find clever way to save money on Highway Patrol's black-and-cream cruisers

State officials figure they can save nearly $300,000 a year on Tennessee's distinctive black-and-cream colored Highway Patrol vehicles. And no, they're not doing away with the decades-old color scheme. They're simply getting rid of the paint.

The same effect can be achieved by applying adhesive vinyl instead of the cream-colored paint now used to paint the black patrol cars, according to officials with the Departments of General Services and Safety and Homeland Security.

Cost savings are projected to be at least $1,910 on each marked Tennessee Highway Patrol vehicle, said Bob Williams, General Services' assistant commissioner for vehicles and asset management. "This is money that can be used for vital programs and services for all Tennesseans rather than on administrative costs of government," Williams said today in a news release.

Adhesive vinyl has for years been used to place advertisements and logos on motor vehicles, officials said. More recently, advances in technology have allowed whole-car wraps to begin replace painting for entire cars.

Col. Tracy Trott of the Tennessee Highway Patrol said that "with the savings of the wrapping the cars, General Services is planning to replace THP cruisers sooner." That's important "as we try to lower our vehicle trade-in mileage and serve the public with new and safe equipment for our troopers," Trott said.

Williams said with THP vehicles making up about a quarter of state's entire motor fleet, officials began exploring the cost of the vinyl wraps in a search for cost savings.

Tennessee purchases its THP vehicles in black and applies the cream paint to create a two-tone color scheme. It costs $2,300 per vehicle.  - Chattanooga Times Free Press


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 Head to head

Trump, Ryan to meet over the future of conservatism and Republicanism

WASHINGTON — Donald Trump's presidential nomination is going to change the Republican Party and the conservative movement that has fueled it more than a half-century. The only question is how.

A struggle to define conservatism and the GOP itself is at the heart of Trump's high-profile meetings Thursday with Republican congressional leaders — notably House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., whose reluctance to endorse the party's presumptive nominee has roiled the presidential race.

While Ryan said he wants to eventually back Trump, he told reporters Wednesday that the party should not "pretend" to be unified ahead of what looks like to be a tough battle for the White House against Democrat Hillary Clinton.

"This election is too important to go into an election at half strength," Ryan said. "That means we need a real unification of our party — which ... after a tough primary, that's going to take some effort."

Trump, who has challenged Republican orthodoxy on issues like trade, immigration, taxes and military commitments overseas, said he wants to unite the party behind his movement but is also confident he can put together a winning coalition against Clinton regardless. "If we make a deal, that will be great," Trump told Fox & Friends a day before the Ryan sit-down. "And if we don’t, we will trudge forward like I’ve been doing and winning, you know, all the time.”

Prominent Republicans, including 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney, are refusing to back Trump for a variety of reasons; many fear he could cost the GOP control of the House and Senate, another topic of Trump's meetings on Thursday.

As for issues, the indictment against Trump includes his proposals on immigration (massive deportations and the proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexican border), trade (tearing up existing agreements Trump says are unfair), social policy (a proposed ban on most Muslims entering the U.S.), and a variety of foreign and domestic policies that the New York businessman said should be "unpredictable" and "flexible."

One-time Republican primary rivals like former Florida governor Jeb Bush and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham have made it clear they will remain in the "Never Trump" camp. The last two Republican presidents — George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush — have pledged to stay out of the race, including the July 18-21 convention in Cleveland that will formally nominate the real estate mogul.

Trump's attacks on critics and protesters as "losers" and worse have also drawn criticism from fellow Republicans who say he lacks the judgment and temperament to be president.

Deborah DeMoss Fonseca, spokesperson for an organization called Conservatives Against Trump, said the businessman's "only ideology is self-promotion, the dollar bill, and authoritarianism." If Trump becomes "the voice of conservatism," she said, then "the liberal Democrats will stay in power for many, many years to come." 

At this point, Trump faces the prospect of the most intra-party opposition for a Republican presidential nominee since Barry Goldwater in 1964. As he led a conservative movement against what was then known as the "Eastern Establishment," Goldwater faced many attacks from fellow Republicans, including then-Michigan governor George Romney, Mitt's father.

Goldwater lost to President Lyndon Johnson in a landslide 52 years ago. But one of his most prominent backers, the actor-turned-politician Ronald Reagan, picked up the pieces and led conservatives to victory in the 1980 presidential election.

Henry Olsen, a senior fellow with the Washington-based Ethics & Public Policy Center, noted that the current GOP includes different types of conservatives — fiscal, social, national security — who sometimes clash with each other. Many others don't think in terms of ideology, or consider themselves only "somewhat" conservative. "He'll make deals with some of them, and some of them will stay out," Olsen said of Trump.

The co-author of a book called The Four Faces of the Republican Party, Olsen said the real test is how Trump does with Republican voters as a whole, especially those who don't consider themselves committed conservatives. He cited polls showing that the nominee-in-waiting is picking up more and more support from the GOP rank and file.

"I think most Republicans will end up backing Trump," he said.   - USA TODAY

Shock and awe

Donald Trump is descending on Capitol Hill Thursday from his perch in Manhattan’s Trump Tower, but for many lawmakers, he might as well be coming from a different planet.

They are sticklers on the Constitution’s checks and balances — he once gave North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un props for wiping out his rivals. They’re calculated, on message, obsessed with keeping their Congressional majority — he riffs at packed rallies known for their violent clashes. Some sleep on their couches in their offices rather than pay rent in Washington — he lives in a gold-and-marble penthouse and flies around on a private jet.

The reality TV star is not a complete stranger to Washington. He’s walked the corridors of power a few times throughout the years, testifying on the regulation of the National Football League in 1985, on the credit shortage in 1991, and on Native American affairs and casinos in 1993 — sensationalizing with his remark that the Mashantucket Pequot tribe “don’t look like Indians to me.”

But Trump’s ability to make jaw-dropping comments — seemingly without repercussion — is certainly foreign to most in Washington’s establishment set.

When Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) yelled "you lie!" at Obama during a health care speech in 2009, both parties condemned his behavior as deplorable heckling. Hours later he issued a statement apologizing for his "lack of civility." Likewise, both parties condemned Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy's suggestion that the Benghazi panel was created to bring Hillary Clinton down in the polls. It helped cost him a bid for the Speaker.

For Trump, that’s nothing. “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I still wouldn’t lose voters,” he once exclaimed.

“We have an up-front type of politics in New York, so the Trump style isn’t as alien to us in New York,” explained Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), who has warmed to Trump over the past few months and now thinks it’s time to get behind him.

What’s more baffling to King is that so many Southern voters in the Bible-belt part of the nation are drawn to him.

“People from the South aren’t usually crazy about people from the City — and Donald Trump is New York lifestyle times 1,000,” he mused. “He’s everything you would think a rural conservative from the South would be offended by — yet he’s swept all these counties in the primaries… yet another example of him defying gravity.”

Trump also has his ace-in-the-hole: money.

Republican lawmakers, like their Democratic counterparts, are used to constantly begging for money for elections. But Trump is the billionaire normally doing the giving.

They’re already talking up how they can tap his celebrity to make bank, according to Rep. Chris Collins, a Trump supporter from New York.

“That’s an olive branch that they’ve already extended — to be part of fundraising,” he said.  - Politico

Squeezing the Middle 

The middle class is shrinking just about everywhere in America

The great shrinking of the middle class that has captured the attention of the nation is not only playing out in troubled regions like the Rust Belt, Appalachia and the Deep South, but in just about every metropolitan area in America, according to a major new analysis by the Pew Research Center.

Pew reported in December that a clear majority of American adults no longer live in the middle class, a demographic reality shaped by decades of widening inequality, declining industry and the erosion of financial stability and family-wage jobs. But while much of the attention has focused on communities hardest hit by economic declines, the new Pew data, based on metro-level income data since 2000, show that middle-class stagnation is a far broader phenomenon.

The share of adults living in middle-income households has also dwindled in Washington, New York, San Francisco, Atlanta and Denver. It's fallen in smaller Midwestern metros where the middle class has long made up an overwhelming majority of the population. It's withering in coastal tech hubs, in military towns, in college communities, in Sun Belt cities.

The decline of the American middle class is "a pervasive local phenomenon," according to Pew, which analyzed census and American Community Survey data in 229 metros across the country, encompassing about three-quarters of the U.S. population. In 203 of those metros, the share of adults in middle-income households fell from 2000 to 2014.

The shrinking middle class is in part a reflection of rising income inequality in America, and of the same underlying and uneven economic forces that have fueled the rise of Donald Trump. And as the middle class has been shrinking, median incomes have fallen, too. In 190 of these 229 metros, the median income dropped over this same time.

 Thought for the day:

"It is never too late to give up our prejudices."   - Henry David Thoreau

Congratulations, Graduates!



May 11, 2016

Bigoty has real dollar costs for Tennessee

Counseling association cancels Nashville conference over therapist law

In protest of a state law they say is an affront to the profession of counseling and the worst legislation the group has tracked in decades, the American Counseling Association has canceled its annual conference scheduled for Nashville next year.

The decision, announced by the Virginia-based organization on Tuesday, comes two weeks after Gov. Bill Haslam signed into law a controversial bill in Tennessee that allows counselors to cite principles to reject patients. Gay rights advocates and the ACA had opposed the legislation.

For Nashville the loss of the convention at Music City Center could cost the city more than 3,000 visitors next year, $4 million in combined local and state tax revenue and a local economic impact of up to $10 million. Figures come from the ACA, which had warned weeks ago that it might take its convention elsewhere because of the state bill.

he ACA announced the decision on its website with a statement and video from CEO Richard Yep.

“Of all the state legislation impacting counseling during my 30 years with ACA, the new Tennessee law based on Senate Bill 1556/House Bill 1840 is the worst,” he says in the video. 

Yep said the law is “in clear violation” of the ACA’s code of ethics, adding: “No other state has a law like Tennessee’s.”

“If the new law is allowed to stand, we cannot in good conscience bring business to Tennessee,” he said. “It is an affront to our profession and we must stand firm to prevent other states from enacting a law like HB 1840. Therefore, our annual meeting will be rescheduled for another venue outside of Tennessee.”           - Tennessean (subscription)

Trouble in Tea-Party Paradise?

Wilson Co. GOP Reagan Dinner cancellation rankles Republicans

This year’s annual Wilson County Republican Party Reagan Day Dinner has been canceled following a perceived spat involving state Sen. Mark Green, R-ClarksvilleU.S. Rep. Diane Black and the campaign of her GOP primary challenger Joe Carr.

Green claims it's all just a miscommunication, but it could foreshadow political battles ahead of an open governors race in 2018.

The Wilson County Republican Party Executive Committee voted late Friday to cancel its June 7 Reagan Day Dinner, the county party’s largest party gathering and fundraiser each year, and instead hold a “Statesmen’s Unity Event” in September.

Green said the assertion cited that ultimately led to the event's cancellation — that he refused to speak at an event that Black was also speaking at — is completely false. He said he was misrepresented by a Republican aide working for Carr who lacked authority to speak for him.

“I did not say I did not want to appear with Diane Black,” Green said. “I would never say that.”

Green, a military veteran and doctor elected in 2012, was scheduled to be the event’s keynote speaker. But Wilson County Republican Party chairman Tom Hoffman, in an email last week to executive committee members obtained by The Tennessean, said that it was his understanding Green would not appear at any venue in which Black was also present.

Hoffman also wrote in an email that Carr — a former state representative challenging Black in the Republican primary this August and also slated to speak — would not appear if Green doesn’t show up.

The county party’s executive committee members voted 5 to 3 cancel the event instead of holding a Reagan Day Dinner without Black, Wilson County’s representative in Congress.   - Tennessean (subscription)

Oak Ridge approves

Secret City residents applaud Obama’s trip to Hiroshima

In this former secret city where the atomic bomb was born, longtime residents and officials Tuesday applauded the announcement thatPresident Barack Obama will go to Hiroshima, Japan, where the world's first nuclear weapon was detonated.

Uranium enriched in Oak Ridge as part of the Manhattan Project during World War II was used in "Little Boy," the bomb dropped on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945. More than 129,000 people were killed by the Hiroshima attack and the "Fat Man" bomb dropped three days later on Nagasaki. Japan soon surrendered, ending the war.

Obama's visit to Hiroshima, the first by a sitting U.S. president since the bomb was dropped, is to "highlight his continued commitment to pursuing the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons," according to a White House spokesman.

The president and Shinzo Abe, the prime minster of Japan, will visit the Peace Park in Hiroshima on May 27.

"I think it's good that he (Obama) is going to Japan and visiting Hiroshima," said D. Ray Smith, the city historian, who's also historian at the Y-12 National Security Complex, which is still involved in nuclear weapons production. "I'm glad he doesn't plan to readdress the decision to drop the atomic bomb."  - Knoxville News Sentinel (subscription)

You can't be serious?!

Health Care Task Force: Going to a Charity Clinic Should Count as Insurance.

Over 300,000 people in Tennessee don't have health insurance, because Republicans won't expand TennCare. But hey, you guys, guess what? The heath care task force has figured out how to expand health care to poor people, and the answer is low-cost charity clinics with pro-bono doctors!

House Speaker Beth Harwell's task force, the 3 Star Healthy Project, met in Memphis on Monday, and clinics were one of the top options they discussed. As the Commercial Appeal reports

Summing up his takeaways from the meeting, [state Rep. Cameron] Sexton said the task force — which includes Rep. Karen Camper, D-Memphis — could try to ease restrictions on faith-based health care organizations like the Church Health Center, which connects patients with volunteer doctors for a flat $35 fee.

Dr. Scott Morris, CEO of Church Health Center, told the task force that state law should be changed to allow citizens to claim health care coverage to satisfy the requirements of the Affordable Care Act and avoid costly fines for being uninsured.

I think we can all pretty much agree that free and low-cost and other charitable health clinics across the state are doing important and necessary work. But to this reporter, who has spent years uninsured, has had acute emergencies like a broken leg on a Saturday night that required an ambulance, and who has had cancer and continues to deal with all the follow-up care involved, years later, it is somewhere between laughable and devastating that one of the people in charge of the future of health care in our state has so little concern for anything that might happen after hours or outside the scope of a clinic's capability. The Memphis clinic quoted above closes at 6 p.m. most nights, so what happens when those patients have other issues? They have to pay, out of pocket. Which doesn't seem to bother Sexton, as he told me in an interview for the Post.

"There are certain circumstances you can have, you know, where even your insurance, your BlueCross BlueShield, isn't going to pay for everything, either," Sexton said.

If you're interested in what else the task force will or won't do, you should read the rest of the piece. But the most important thing Sexton told me was at the end of the interview:

Sexton added that the true challenge is increasing the number of doctors who will see TennCare patients, and he hopes the task force will be able to provide that encouragement. But he remains firm that there will be no expansion of TennCare. 

"We just don't  think that putting 300,000 people on insurance is doing anything," Sexton said.

Giving people insurance isn't "doing anything." Giving 300,000 people insurance isn't "doing anything." I can't even. I just can't.   
   - Cari Wade Gervin in The Nashville Scene


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Hillary Clinton will almost certainly clinch the Democratic nomination on June 7 

Bernie Sanders's back-to-back wins in Indiana and West Virginia give the Vermont senator both bragging rights and increased leverage at July's Democratic convention in Philadelphia. As scolds (like me) insist on pointing out, though, what it does not give him is any increased ability to actually win the nomination. Barring an enormous catastrophe -- not a small catastrophe -- Hillary Clinton will clinch the party's nomination after votes come in on June 7.

There hasn't been much change to the math underlying that assumption in months. The Republican contest isn't over because Donald Trump clinched a majority before Clinton; he'll do so on June 7 as well. It's over because his opponents dropped out while Sanders hasn't. Trump's hold on his nomination continues to be less secure than Clinton's, but because of the way the Democrats give out delegates, it seems as though the opposite is true.

After last night, Bernie Sanders needs about 66 percent of the remaining pledged Democratic delegates in order to pass Clinton's total. Even though he won most of the delegates last night, he won fewer than he needed to stay on track to pass her. So his magic number -- the percentage of delegates he needs to win going forward -- once again went up.

What about those superdelegates, you ask? This is the linchpin of any argument that Sanders can win the nomination, that he'll get them to change their minds. It's certainly the case that Clinton has a lopsided advantage among those superdelegates, but even if they were divvied up according to the vote margins in the states they represent, Clinton would have an edge -- and would have enough superdelegates for her to clinch the nomination on June 7, even under the dramatically pro-Sanders scenario above.

Sanders would need to convince the superdelegates to back his candidacy disproportionately if he wants the nomination. (It's not clear that Sanders's actual campaign thinks this is an actual viable strategy, mind you.) If he runs the table as in the second scenario, that gets a bit easier, though it requires that the superdelegates essentially ignore the will of Democrats who voted before May and June. It's simply not feasible.

Which is why we say that Sanders's West Virginia win offers bragging rights more than anything else. Clinton is (and has been) the de facto presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party, just as Barack Obama was in 2008. On June 7, it will almost certainly become official.   - The Fix, Washington Post

 House of Cards

Republicans Divided Over Trump Nomination Ahead of Capitol Hill Visit

As Donald Trump prepares to meet with top Republicans in Washington, House and Senate lawmakers are grappling with the new reality that the controversial New York businessman is the GOP's presumptive nominee.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, who will meet with Trump on Thursday along with his leadership team, has offered a muted endorsement of Trump’s campaign, telling reporters he won “the old-fashioned way.”

But he did not say whether fellow Republican senators should back the nominee, a position shared by Trump’s onetime opponent Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida. 

Speaker Paul Ryan's Election Year Advice for Young Republicans

Speaker Paul Ryan Looking Forward to 'Straight Conversation' With Donald Trump

“Everybody will have to make their own decision,” Rubio told ABC News in a brief interview atthe Capitol today. Asked by ABC News later in the day if he would vote for Trump, Rubio did not directly respond. “Sorry guys, I’m late for my 2 o’clock,” he said.

In his return to Capitol Hill Tuesday, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, refused to say if he’d endorse Trump or tell his supporters to back the campaign, but said he had "no interest" in a third-party run.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations chairman who praised Trump’s recent foreign policy address, said he plans to support the GOP nominee, and has offered to help the campaign on foreign policy. Asked about his colleagues who continue to reject Trump, Corker said, “Let’s chill.”

“I haven’t understood people’s rush to get to a certain place,” he said, adding that the campaign is evolving. Corker said he has “no reason to believe” he’s being considered for vice president by Trump, but did not fully rule himself out.

Trump will return to Washington Thursday for the first time as the GOP’s presumptive nominee, in an effort to patch up strained relations with party elders after a contentious primary.

Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, who has withheld his endorsement for Trump over concerns about his campaign, tamped down expectations for his meeting with Trump in a series of interviews Tuesday.

“We need to start talking about how we unify the Republican Party,” Ryan told the Wall Street Journal. “We shouldn’t just pretend our party is unified when it’s not.”   - ABC News

The Daily Donald Lie

Trump’s false claim that the National Enquirer story on Cruz’s father was not denied

“What I was doing was referring to a picture reported and in a magazine, and I think they didn’t deny it. I don’t think anybody denied it.”
— Donald Trump, in an interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America,” May 4, 2016
“I just asked about stories that were appearing all over the place, not just in the National Enquirer, about the fact that a picture was taken of him and Lee Harvey Oswald. They didn’t deny that picture.”
— Trump, in an interview with NBC’s “Today” show, May 4

Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican Party presidential nominee, refused to apologize for citing a thinly sourced National Enquirer article alleging that Ted Cruz’s father, Rafael, worked with Lee Harvey Oswald, the assassin of President John F. Kennedy. Part of the reason, he said, was because it had not been denied.

The claim was based on a photo image from a half-century ago and the Enquirer’s assertion that it had found two photo analysts who thought a man passing out pro-Cuba leaflets with Oswald looked like Cruz’s father. The man in the photograph has never been identified, but the Warren Commission said he had been hired by Oswald in 1963 to earn a few dollars by passing out pro-Cuba pamphlets. Cruz’s father at the time was vehemently anti-Castro, making him an odd choice for taking such a job.

Never mind that Cruz himself denounced Trump’s claim, calling the businessman a “pathological liar.” Never mind that the Cruz campaign dismissed the story as garbage when the Miami Herald published an article on it on April 22 — 11 days before Trump gave it national currency on Fox News.

“This is another garbage story in a tabloid full of garbage,” Cruz’s communications director, Alice Stewart, told the newspaper. “The story is false; that is not Rafael in the picture.”

We’re are puzzled why Trump would not think those are denials.

PolitiFact, giving a Pants on Fire rating:

The sole “evidence” for this claim is a grainy photograph that shows Oswald with a man who may bear a resemblance to Cruz. But experts tell PolitiFact that the image is too degraded to offer much confidence. At the same time, multiple experts about the world of early 1960s pro-Castro advocacy said they have never seen evidence of Cruz associating with Oswald and consider Trump’s claim implausible at best and ridiculous at worst.

The Pinocchio Test

Trump is once again making a ridiculous claim. The story he touted was denied in print — and then repeatedly debunked. By claiming that it was not denied, he continues to suggest there is some possible truth to a claim that is flat-out false.

Four Pinocchios


 Thought for the day:

"When I was a boy I was told that anybody could become President; I'm beginning to believe it."  - Clarence Darrow

High on Trump!



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