You've got to hand it to those clever little problem-solvers at the White House. What a bunch of brainiacs. They have resolved the entire problem of global warming: They cut it out of the report! This is genius. Everybody else is maundering on about the oceans rising and the polar icecaps melting and monster storms and hideous droughts, and these guys just ... edit it out. "The editing eliminated references to many studies concluding that warming is at least partly caused by rising concentrations of smokestack and tailpipe emissions, and could threaten health and ecosystems," reports The New York Times. Presto -- poof! What do they care about health and ecosystems? Think of the possibilities presented by this ingenious solution. Let's edit out AIDS and all problems with drugs both legal and illegal. We could get rid of Libya and Syria this way -- take Ôem off the maps. We can do away with unemployment, the uninsured, heart disease, obesity and the coming Social Security crunch. We could try editing out death and taxes, but I don't think we should overreach right away. Just start with something simple, like years of scientific research on global warming, and blue pencil that sucker out of existence. Denial is not just a river in Egypt. Inspiring as the remarkable Bush approach to resolving global warming is -- the simplicity of it, the beauty of it, I cannot get over it -- does it not suggest a certain cavalier je ne sais quoi about the future? What I mean is, is anybody there concerned about what happens to people? I realize the energy industry and auto industry and other major campaign contributors would prefer to think global warming does not exist, but how long do you think it will take before reality catches up with all of us? The White House editors (hi, Karl) instead chose to insert a new study on global non-warming funded by ... ta-da! ... the American Petroleum Institute. Dear old API, author of innumerable ringing editorials on the desperate need to leave the oil depletion allowance at 27 percent (certain Texas newspapers that shall remain nameless used to run those editorials without changing a single comma), is really swell at representing the oil bidness. Fond as I am of many of API lobbyists I have known over the years, I am not quite sure I want those bozos calling the shots on global warming. I have watched them buy law and bend regulations for decades now, and while I admire their chutzpah, I am impelled to warn you: They have no scruples, they have no decency, and they have no shame. (See 50 years worth of reporting on the industry by The Texas Observer.) Also, they lie. Well now, danged if that doesn't bring us to the subject of lying and the White House. Let us set aside the vexing case of the missing weapons of mass destruction and focus on a few items closer to home. Anyone remember President Bush's 2002 State of the Union Address? No, no, not the one where he said Iraq had a nuclear weapons program. The one where he said he was going to expand AmeriCorps by 50 percent, from 50,000 up to 75,000, because giving all those young people a chance to work their way through college by doing good for the community is so noble and effective. "USA Freedom Corps will expand and improve the good efforts of AmeriCorps and Senior Corps to recruit more than 200,000 new volunteers," he said. Last week, Bush and Republicans in Congress cut AmeriCorps by 80 percent. According to Jonathan Alter in Newsweek, Congress, under pressure, restored some of it, but it still leaves Americorps with a 58 percent cut and tens of thousands of fewer participants out there teaching poor kids to read, helping old folks in nursing homes, setting up community gardens, and a thousand other good and useful tasks -- many of which get the young people started on careers in that kind of work. Alter notes that restoring AmeriCorps to its current level would take $185 million, about one-half of one percent of the president's latest tax cut for the rich. The radical Republicans in Congress, apparently egged on by a Heritage Foundation study from April 2003, have decided AmeriCorps is (gasp, shudder) What have these people got against national service? Speaking of said same tax cut, too bad about the children of the working poor. Congress just announced it's too busy to get around to the restoring the child tax credit to 6.5 million low-income families (known to The Wall Street Journal as "lucky duckies" because, you see, they pay little or no income tax. They only pay 19 percent of their meager incomes in other taxes.). FYI: If you put "George W. Bush" and "lies" into the Google search engine, you get 250,000 references in nine-tenths of a second.
You remember the famous conundrum about the tree falling in the forest? It goes this way: If there's nobody around to hear the crash, does the tree really make a sound?
Something quite dramatic and noisy happened Saturday, and there were plenty of ears to hear it -- but some of the listeners would just as soon they hadn't heard what they heard.
That might even include the principals in the drama -- Memphis mayor Willie Herenton, Shelby County commissioner Joyce Avery, and the commissioner's husband, retired homebuilder Charles Avery.
It began as a simple difference of opinion between Herenton and Charles Avery over such public issues as city/county consolidation and the FedExForum. It escalated into one of those running dialogues between a speaker and a heckler that take on a life and a momentum of their own. And it finally became a verbal duel so serious that it ended with sexagenarian Herenton's telling septuagenarian Avery, "You know, the world gets better when people like you leave here!"
The remark brought a collective gasp and several load groans from the audience of some 40 people who had gathered at the Piccadilly Restaurant on Mt. Moriah for the monthly Dutch Treat Luncheon, which featured Herenton as speaker.
The miracle is that the meeting was able to resume, with the mayor fielding more questions and even somehow reestablishing a rapport with the largely conservative audience.
Herenton, who is running for reelection this year to a fourth term and so far has no serious challenger, well knew the ideological tenor of his listeners and early on in his remarks paid homage to themes that could be expected to resonate with them -- including patriotism, religious devotion, and fiscal solvency. Toasting his achievements at building a substantial fiscal reserve for the city and holding the property-tax line over the years, the mayor even said at one point, "Now that calls for a round of applause!"
That and other such levities resonated with the audience, and Herenton's encounter with Avery at first seemed consistent with the general mood. But the commissioner's husband was plainly not amused as, speaking in a low and barely discernible voice, he uttered a series of criticisms of the mayor -- some of them evidently focused on a disagreement as to whether Herenton had forwarded to Commissioner Avery, as he'd promised, a breakdown on fiscal economies that city/county consolidation could bring about. The mayor is a strong proponent of consolidation, which the commissioner opposes.
"I know where you're coming from," said the mayor, who, as Charles Avery kept up his commentaries in a low, almost muttered rumble, said, "I can tell from your body language." Herenton then suggested that Avery -- whose wife was busily, and in vain, trying to quiet him -- "can't stand even to look at me." At some point, Charles Avery said, "No, I don't give a damn about you." Or words to that effect.
It was then that Herenton loosed his verbal thunderbolt.
Even though the meeting got back on an even keel, a buzz started among several different groups of attendees almost as soon as it ended. The thrust of most of the remarks was, "Can you believe he really said that!?" One or two supporters of city council candidate Jim Strickland even worried out loud that their man could be adversely affected, since Herenton has announced his support of Strickland.
Strickland himself, who spoke at both the Dutch Treat Luncheon and at a simultaneous meeting of the Shelby County Democratic Women at the opposite end of the Piccadilly, was unconcerned about that. Indeed, he seemed as intrigued by the turn of events as any other listener.
After the event, Herenton expressed surprise at learning that his conversational opponent had been Commissioner Avery's husband. But he said, "I don't give a damn who he was," insisting that Charles Avery had been confrontational and contemptuous. Gale Jones Carson, the mayor's press secretary, said this week that Herenton had been convinced that Charles Avery's attitude was "racist" -- though no one could remember any remarks that were explicitly racial, and Commissioner Avery denied that her husband nursed such attitudes. She did say, "He's got some strong opinions of his own."
Commissioner Avery, in any case, was doing her best to get beyond the incident, offering assurances that she would not hold it against Herenton, whom she would continue to deal with amicably and professionally. "I won't have any trouble shaking his hand," she said. (Charles Avery had left Saturday's meeting some minutes after his encounter with Herenton; his wife delayed her own departure for at least another 15 minutes.)
Like the proverbial tree falling in the forest, however, the incident left an aftershock among those who were there. It remains to be seen how much structural damage, if any, was inflicted on the surrounding political landscape. n
After a claim of divine inspiration from Marilyn Loeffel and an hour's worth of holding forth by John Ford, what else should one expect from a single afternoon meeting of the Shelby County Commission?
Well, a vote on rural school bonds, for one thing, or so thought proponents of the now-sputtering measure designed to do an end-run around the established 3:1 funding ratio favoring city over county schools and to finance construction of a new county high school at Arlington, along with renovations at various other schools.
Shelby County School Board president David Pickler, who with county schools superintendent Bobby Webb, fellow board member Anne Edmiston, and other interested parties waited around all afternoon for a last-gasp chance at passage, saw the bonds resolution, which had languished for months, be summarily deferred by a 6-3 vote that took less time to rush through than it took Chairman Walter Bailey, a declared foe of the measure, to gabble out the vote totals for the record. "Next item," Bailey then prodded reading clerk Brian Kuhn.
Not that Pickler and the other county school officials hadn't seen the handwriting on the wall. It didn't take 20-20 vision to read the meaning of Commissioner John Willingham's abrupt departure midway through the meeting. "There went our seventh vote. We're dead!" agonized Pickler, who looked for emissaries to send after Willingham, reportedly on his way to a medical office as part of his prep for some heart surgery scheduled for Wednesday.
Pickler also left voice mails for Willingham at the barbecue maven's publicly announced cell-phone number, 848-RIBS. All to no avail.
Though he acknowledged that a genuine health emergency might take precedence over what he saw as the desperate need to beat a deadline on accepting bids for the proposed school construction, Pickler had a hard time being philosophical. "He [Willingham] made sure he got his casino vote in, then we had to wait out an hour's worth of John Ford, then he goes before we can get our vote!" he protested.
A corollary to that pronouncement, of course, was the assumption that Willingham, who has vehemently denied being a party to any trade-offs with other members, had agreed to cast an "aye" vote for the school-bonds proposal in return for passage of his long-sought measure authorizing a study of the prospects for casino gambling at The Pyramid.
Willingham's pet project -- which, like the rural school-bonds proposal, had been bottled up and postponed for weeks -- had finally been voted on, and it squeaked through with the bare minimum of seven votes from the 13 commissioners.
The crucial vote evidently had been that of Joyce Avery, a suburban conservative who carefully specified that she was "not a gambler" but was willing to vote for a study of some means, any means of finding a profitable use for The Pyramid.
"I challenge you, if you are an opponent [of casino gambling], find something else!" Avery said. As she noted, when the FedEx Forum south of Beale Street is completed next year, the NBA Grizzlies will vacate The Pyramid, and so, it is believed, will the facility's remaining major tenant, the University of Memphis basketball Tigers.
Commissioner Tom Moss, another reluctant voter for the proposal, stressed similar considerations when critical audience members, whose cards asking to speak on the issue had somehow been overlooked until the vote was cast, were finally permitted to express themselves.
"We are not voting for gambling, just for the study," said Moss, who asked that Chairman Walter Bailey instruct the complainants to confine their comments to that point. (Bailey allowed as how he was powerless to impose such constraints.)
Asked point-blank afterward if her vote for the casino study had been conditioned on a commitment by Willingham to vote for the rural school bonds, the dutiful Avery (who, in order to be on time for a pre-meeting committee hearing, had dashed away early from the annual picnic of the Shelby County Republican Women, which she had been hosting) said forthrightly, "Yes."
That qualified her, ex post facto, for some invective uttered earlier by Commissioner Marilyn Loeffel, who broke -- or, perhaps one should say, parted -- new ground in criticizing her colleagues' approval of the casino study. Noting that at least one audience critic of the proposal had blamed "government corruption" for the vote, Loeffel associated herself with the sentiment, calling it "divinely inspired."
Making her own charge that "deals have been made," Loeffel then said she was "ashamed" to be a member of the board of commissioners.
(Although she evidently retains the loyalty of Chairman Bailey, whom she often votes with and hopes to succeed as chairman next year, Loeffel may have further estranged several Republican colleagues who have been privately critical of her often pious mode of expression. And she has begun to draw fire, too, from Democrats like budget chairman Cleo Kirk, who recently took her to task for opposing a variety of budget cuts while also rejecting the need for a tax increase.)
Perhaps Loeffel interpreted the follow-up to the casino vote as divine retribution imposed on Willingham, who -- along with Julian Bolton (notably), Chairman Bailey, and others -- had to engage in an hourlong verbal duel of sorts with state Senator Ford, who appeared on behalf of the Public Building Authority to contest a resolution, sponsored by Willingham, seeking funding and investigative power for an independent commission consultant to look into expenditures on the new arena.
The duel ended without shedding much light (though it showcased Ford's astonishing self-satisfaction and what Willingham conceded was the senator's "astounding" grasp of the arena issue) and with the passage of the resolution as another seven votes went Willingham's way.
But the debate ate up clock time, and not long afterward Willingham, who had evidently asked that both the casino item and the arena proposal be moved up the agenda for an early vote, was out of there -- to the chagrin of Pickler, Webb, et al., who saw their hopes for the Arlington school project departing along with him.
Moss and Commissioner David Lillard, the commission's drum major for the rural school bonds, were surprisingly charitable toward Willingham, opting instead to blame the administration of county mayor A C Wharton for scuttling the bond issue.
Some weeks back, Lillard had listened to Willingham express reservations at a committee hearing about some of the proposed Arlington school expenses and lambasted his colleague thusly: "John, you're always trying to find snakes where none exist. In fact, you're something of a professional in that field!"
But now he and Moss credited Willingham with sincerity and with being an honest broker on behalf of the administration's professed concerns about potential cost overruns. "When they finally got the costs down [from $49 million to an estimated $41 million], John was willing to go with it. It was the administration that was working against it," Moss said. Lillard nodded his assent.
In a postmortem (which could be just that) to the media, Pickler, too, eased up on Willingham -- concerning whom he had been near-apoplectic earlier -- and focused the blame in the direction of Wharton, who, as Pickler noted, had been referred to by Willingham as "the quarterback" and who had begun to backpedal on what had once seemed to be his acquiescence in the rural school-bonds initiative.
Had Bailey, whose resistance to the proposal reflected an aversion to breaking with the A.D.A. (average daily attendance) formula favoring city schools, been influential in dissuading the mayor? "No question that he has been a powerful opponent. We've had many powerful opponents to deal with," said the unhappy Pickler.
He did catch a break, however. Republican Loeffel, who had always been with the majority of the commission's Democrats on the Arlington issue, basing her objections on cost-cutting considerations, did not claim inspiration from the Ultimate Opponent on this one. The battle, if it continued, would evidently do so on ordinary human terms.
Though he is the least known of the candidates who have declared so far in the closely watched City Council race in District 5 (Midtown, East Memphis), Mark Follis notes that he was the first to file for the position (on April 30th) and has been the subject of some word-of-mouth boosting from some reasonably influential Republicans, Democrats, and independents.
And the lifelong Memphian and former Peace Corps volunteer might claim support among one of the city's most numerous (if non-voting) constituencies -- its tree population. Follis is a commercial arborist, concerned with tree preservation -- an issue which has gained him much of his human support base. He also maintains that, unlike the other candidates in the 5th -- lawyers Jim Strickland and Carol Chumney, physician/businessman George Flinn, and veteran political figure Joe Cooper -- he has no entangling alliances.
"The primaryemphasisof my candidacywill becommon sense, anindependence frompowerful and monied interests, modest fund-raising, anddaily contact with the constituents of District 5(75 percent of my customer base)," Follis says.
Opponent Chumney got a major boost last week when consultant John Bakke, whose batting average in a variety of major political races has been impressive, joined her team.
Bakke, who acknowledged that he had also considered offering his services to candidate Strickland, said Wednesday that he and Chumney shared "too much history" for him not to get involved in her campaign. Chumney's father, Jim Chumney, is a professor of history at the University of Memphis, where Bakke was for many years a professor in the Department of Communications.
Bakke will serve as general consultant for Chumney, now a state representative from a Midtown district largely overlapping District 5, and will do polling for her. His numerous previous clients, from both major political parties, include former U.S. Representative Harold Ford Sr.; his son and successor, the present 9th District congressman, Harold Ford Jr.; current Shelby County mayor A C Wharton; former county mayors Bill Morris and Jim Rout; and former Governor Don Sundquist.
Two other council candidates joined Flinn as official endorsees of the Shelby County Republican Party last week. On Thursday night, the local GOP steering committee voted to back Wyatt Bunker in the District 1 council race against incumbent E.C. Jones; and Scott McCormick in the race for the Super-District 9, Position 1 seat now held by incumbent Pat Vander Schaaf. -- JB
Give this to Steve Cohen: He knows when to hold up and knows when to fold up. Reluctantly but resignedly, the state senator from Midtown, locked in a struggle with Tennessee governor Phil Bredesen over the configuration of a state lottery, figured he had to do both late last week.
Having put up the stiffest fight of anybody in this late legislative session -- otherwise a virtual lovefest in honor of Governor Bredesen -- Cohen came down to the final week of the session still holding forth against gubernatorial dominance of a board of directors for the newly created Tennessee lottery.
Cohen, who pursued the cause of a state lottery for two decades and saw his efforts crowned by last year's voter referendum, had given in on various points during this year's debate on how to enact the lottery but drew a line in the sand on the issue of a board of directors -- insisting that, as "a creature of the legislature," the lottery should be overseen by the General Assembly. Early on this year, he and his co-sponsors in his legislature put forth a plan for a five-member board -- two members appointed by the speakers of either legislative chamber and one (count 'em, one) named by the governor.
Bredesen, who had just launched a budget-cutting regimen that proved popular on both sides of the aisle, said of that proposal, in essence, that Cohen and the others could fold it five times and put it somewhere dark and shady. Cohen went back to the drawing board and emerged with another plan -- for a nine-member board, divided three/three/three. Bredesen said no to that one too.
Thereafter the arguments went back and forth, and other controversies -- notably over the appropriate academic standards required of scholarship beneficiaries of lottery revenues -- affected the dialogue. Various plans were proposed, and Bredesen -- who, for reasons of his office, possessed more bargaining wherewithal than Cohen -- gained ground in the struggle, finally winning over enough of Cohen's support among key legislators to dictate a board membership favorable to himself.
Some commentators have argued that Cohen, whose verbal wit can morph into vitriol in time of adversity, became part of the problem himself.
Whatever the case, the senator entered what proved to be the session's last week in a state of virtual isolation. "I did my best to hold on to prerogatives for the House leadership, and they undermined me," said Cohen of such Democratic leaders in the other chamber as Speaker Jimmy Naifeh and Majority Leader Kim McMillan. Crucial allies like state Rep. Larry Miller -- who had earlier held the fort -- now sided with Bredesen. He still reckoned Lt. Gov. John Wilder, the Senate speaker, as a supporter but was disappointed when Wilder passed over such pro-Cohen senators as Jerry Cooper, "my best buddy in the Senate," in his appointments to a joint House-Senate conference committee.
The bottom line: Cohen was outflanked, former and potential allies having made their peace with gubernatorial dominance of the lottery board-to-be. In return for various trade-offs, including a specified number of appointments for the leadership of either house, they were prepared to accede to Bredesen's insistence on appointing a majority of board appointees.
However isolated, Cohen still retained enough clout to keep the fight going, if need be, past the consensus end-of-May deadline for adjournment. For his part, Naifeh indicated he was prepared to seek adjournment without a fully established lottery. Consulting with such longtime Memphis confidantes as developer Henry Turley and lawyer Irvin Salky, both of whom advised him to give in "for the sake of the lottery" if he could find a way to do so on his own terms, the senator arrived upon a way to do just that.
For months, Cohen, whose close relationship with former Governor Don Sundquist, a Republican, had permitted frequent one-on-ones, had sought in vain to hold a private conversation with fellow Democrat Bredesen. Making a last effort, he got one for the early hours of Thursday morning.
The outcome surprised everybody. Cohen now proposed that the chief executive be empowered to make not just a majority but all of the appointees, subject to ratification by the Senate and House. He and Bredesen would agree on the number of seven -- enough, Cohen said afterward, "to ensure that each of the state's grand divisions could be represented, with an African American from each grand division."
With that stroke, Cohen had played his trump card. Due to lose the power struggle anyhow, he had managed to concede fully and graciously -- and in the process to shortcut the remaining prerogatives of the legislative leaders who had failed to back him up. In the end, Cohen's isolation had served him well. The very fact of the early-morning summit between himself and Bredesen had secured the senator's legacy as father of the lottery.
Cohen shrugged off some of the invective he had hurled at the governor -- including skepticism concerning Bredesen's integrity. "That was just an effort to get him to the bargaining table," said Cohen, who declared that he and the governor had arrived at "a new relationship."
Some of Cohen's critics, in and out of the legislature, suspected the senator of having angled for perks, including a possible guarantee of future lottery-related employment for himself. Both Bredesen and Cohen made haste to spike such rumors. "I'm not getting anything out of this except the satisfaction of achieving something for the students of Tennessee," said Cohen.
That, plus the fact that in the final act of the drama he had adroitly changed places with his critics. In the end, it would be him, not them, on the inside of the event looking out. All in all, his 20-year gamble had paid off.
Although the field of candidates is sure to proliferate beyond the two of them, both incumbent Shelby County assessor Rita Clark and former assessor Michael Hooks will be on the ballot next year when the office is up for election again.
"I'm running," Clark made a point of volunteering last week. And Hooks conceded as much for his part. "I'll be running," he said, "not against Rita Clark but for the office of assessor."
Presumably, both Hooks and Clark will be candidates in the 2004 Democratic primary. Three years ago, Hooks was one of two independents opposing Democrat Clark and Tom Leatherwood, then the Republican nominee for assessor and later the winner in a special election for the office of Shelby County register.
Back then, there were rumors -- of the sort that proliferate in any multicandidate race -- that Hooks' purpose in the race was to divert Democratic votes away from Clark in Leatherwood's interest. It was, of course, at least as arguable that Hooks, who had held the office before losing it in 1992 to Republican Harold Sterling, harbored legitimate hopes of winning himself should the vote-spread fall just right.
By and large, Hooks' fellow Democrats opted for the former theory and shunned his candidacy -- one reason being another set of rumors concerning his unstable emotional condition and reported cocaine use. He had been the principal in a widely reported traffic altercation, which some said was really about a drug deal gone wrong.
Hooks would later be arrested and charged with possession of drug paraphernalia. He made what amounted to a public confession of his cocaine habit, took a tearful leave from his role as Shelby County commissioner, and underwent what was both a highly public and, seemingly, highly successful rehabilitation.
Hooks has long since returned to full and active service on the commission, and no one has seriously questioned his bona fides or recovery. "This time my head is on straight. I just want to prove I can do the best job for the people of Shelby County," Hooks said last week.
Another well-known member of the Hooks family, Ben Hooks, indicated last week he might enter the political process but not as a candidate. The eminent former jurist, currently president of the National Civil Rights Museum board, said he intended to support the candidacy of Jim Strickland, one of several candidates for the District 5 Memphis City Council slot being vacated by two-term incumbent John Vergos.
That would be the second big-name endorsement picked up by Strickland, who was endorsed by Vergos on the occasion of his formal announcement for the post last Thursday. Other candidates for the seat include state Representative Carol Chumney, veteran pol Joe Cooper, and physician/businessman George Flinn, last year's unsuccessful Republican nominee for Shelby County mayor and this year's GOP endorsee for the council post.
The local Republican steering committee is conducting pre-endorsement interviews this week with potential candidates in two other council races -- for District 1 and Super-District 9, Position 1. Retiring Shelby County school board member Wyatt Bunker is expected to get the party nod against incumbent E.C. Jones in District 1; businessman Scott McCormick is the likely GOP choice against incumbent Pat Vander Schaaf in the super-district race.
Meanwhile, Shelby County Democrats continued to play at the game of Hatfield vs. McCoy.
The faction which won the recent chairmanship race -- by a party executive-committee vote of 21-20 for state Representative Kathryn Bowers vs. Gale Jones Carson, the defeated incumbent -- staged a unity meeting at the Racquet Club Saturday, ostensibly in honor of both Bowers and Carson, as well as the former and newly elected party executive committees.
That meeting, formally hosted by 9th District U.S. Rep. Harold Ford and Shelby County mayor A C Wharton, was called by e-mailed invitations toward the end of last week, and the Bowers supporters who organized it acknowledged that it was put together virtually overnight. In a heated exchange of e-mails with the organizers, Carson contended that she had not been informed beforehand of an event which clashed with a Saturday "workshop" she was already committed to.
Charges and countercharges flew back and forth (see details at MemphisFlyer.com). Carson's simultaneous meeting on Saturday seems to have involved all or most of the 20 executive committee members who had voted for her and who continue to keep their distance from Bowers and her 21 supporters.
One of the attendees at the event hosted by Ford and Wharton was Democratic state chairman Randy Button, whose office had just issued an opinion formally validating the results of the local party election, which was under challenge from the losing side.
If bad feelings persist between the two factions, they could affect the District 5 council race. Though neither Strickland nor Chumney has evinced any personal interest in taking sides and both attended the Racquet Club event, Strickland has long enjoyed close relations with the faction close to Carson, and Chumney's candidacy has the active support of some of Bowers' core group of supporters.
The party executive-committee meeting at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union hall on Madison on Thursday night of this week could end up shedding light on relative degrees of party harmony and disharmony.