Friday, August 31, 2012

Dirty Harvey: A possible explanation for Clint Eastwood's speech

Posted By on Fri, Aug 31, 2012 at 11:45 AM

Dirty Harvey
  • Dirty Harvey

Much has been made of Clint Eastwood's bizarre speech wherein the Dirty Harry star spoke at length to an invisible President Obama in what appeared to be an empty chair. It's hard to deny that Eastwood's risky choice begged for immediate parody, but the man's a world cinema scholar and anybody who loves Yojimbo as much as he does can rant at my furniture any day of the week.

Rather than piling on and mocking Eastwood, a conservative who's expressed some genuinely compassionate, libertarian views, but whose onscreen persona is seldom far away from the "angry white men" South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham said the Republican party needed to stir up, I'd like to offer a possible explanation. Perhaps Eastwood was simply referencing the great Jimmy Stewart who starred in both the populist political yarn Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Harvey, the beloved story of a man and his giant invisible rabbit.

Probably not, but I'd swear I saw a large-eared shadow following Eastwood off stage.

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The Man With a Plan: Did Romney Deliver?

Posted By on Fri, Aug 31, 2012 at 7:54 AM

The GOPs Fab Four: Romney, Ryan, and their wives
  • JB
  • The GOP's Fab Four: Romney, Ryan, and their wives

TAMPA BAY, FL — After Taylor Hicks, the nearly forgotten 2005 American Idol winner had channeled “Take It to the Streets,’, after movie icon Clint Eastwood took his strange, mumbling turn at the podium, after Marco Rubio, the boyish Florida Senator who had lost out to others as vice-presidential prospect and convention keynoter, got to make the key introduction, Mitt Romney was finally on stage alone Thursday night to make the case for himself as President of the United States.

Members of the Tennessee delegation to this 2012 Republican National Convention had been told at breakfast by noted GOP pollster/consultant Whitt Ayres that Romney needed above all to present his plan to rehab the ailing American economy. Senator Lamar Alexander had told members of the state’s press corps the same thing at a briefing later on. And numerous pundits had been hitting that note all day on national television.

So what was the plan?

It came eventually, but first Romney would do his variations on the basic Republican talking point of 2012 — that President Obama was a nice, well-intentioned man but had failed at national leadership and that something else needed to be done. It was the same point that Eastwood, in a whispery, almost indistinct voice, had made by saying, “When somebody does not do the job, we’ve got to let them go.”

 Rubio’s way of saying it, in his introduction of Romney, had been, “President Obama is not a bad person.’ He’s a good husband, a good father, and, thanks to lots of practice, a good golfer. Our problem is that he’s a bad president.”

And Romney himself would say, “He hasn’t led America in the right direction. He took command without the basic experience most Americans have.” I.e., he’d never had a real job.

The former one-term Massachusetts governor contrasted that with his own career — most of it spent in the worlds of business and finance. He reviewed his upbringing as the son of George Romney, a former governor himself, of Michigan, and the hugely successful head of American Motors in the ‘50s. The late senior Romney had earlier been seen in a warm-up video — a crusty, gravel-voiced up-from-nothing sort in contrast to Mitt Romney’s own smooth, refined, but almost affectless being.

“I wanted to be a car man myself,” Mitt Romney explained, but he had finally realized, he said, that he had to prove himself on his own terms. That turned out to be mainly at Bain Capital, the successes of which — Staples and Sports Authority among them — Romney boasted in an account that skirted the issue of whether he had been, as Democrats maintained, a “vulture capitalist” who had shut down as many businesses as he had rejuvenated.

The point was, he had made a success, both at Bain and in heading up a rescue mission of the 2002 Winter Olympics at Salt Lake City, experiences which would guide him in his plan to rejuvenate America.

So what was his plan?

Before getting to it, he touched some of the other bases — his life as a family man, able to be moved like Moms and Dads everywhere at waking up to find their children having crept in overnight to sleep on the bedroom floor; and his service to church (though he kept that the particulars of his heterodox Mormon faith out of the account).

As Ayres, Alexander, and the host of TV pundits had also said, Romney needed to make a personal connection to the electorate. They had suggested he should articulate the problem to be solved as precisely as possible.

This he did: “What is needed in our country today is not complicated or profound. What America needs is jobs. Lots of jobs.” Romney promised to create “12 million new jobs.”

So what was his plan?

Here it came, in five points:

First, he would make America “energy-independent” by letting the nation avail itself of its untapped natural resources. (The crowd dutifully whooped.)

Second, he would “give our fellow citizens the schools they need,” making sure that “every parent should have a choice." (More whoops.)

Third, he would “make trade work for America" by engaging in new trade agreements. (A little too abstract to get the same level of whoops, but still appreciated with applause.)

Fourth, “to assure every entrepreneur and every job creator,” he would “cut the deficit and put America on track to a balanced budget." (Unlike Greece, he said, in a near non-sequitur, but he was back on the whoopee train.)

Fifth, he would simplify a number of bureaucratic matters and, in particular, “rein in the skyrocketing cost of health care by”…wait for it…” repealing and replacing Obamacare!” (A veritable crescendo of whoops.)

That was the plan.

Romney then segued through such other desiderata as better schools and a return to “the bipartisan foreign policy of Truman and Reagan.” He defined that latter by contrasting it to what he said was Obama’s failure to deal with Iran and his throwing Israel “under the bus.” He also had some harsh words for the President’s offer of “flexibility” for Russia’s President Putin.

He ended on that relatively strident note, coupling a promise to “unleash an economy that will put America back to work” with another to create “a nation so strong that no other nation would ever dare to test it.”

Inside the arena the crowd was now whooping so loud that it drowned out the tag end of his peroration. He was done, and soon there was vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan out there besides him. And then their wives. And children and grandchildren. And balloons. And confetti.

Missing was the ritual assembly onstage of as many ranking political figures as could be gathered together to represent the entire spectrum of the party in convention. This was a reminder of sorts that the Republican spectrum in our time has contracted a good deal — to a kind of litmus-test conservatism that permits of few variations, and certainly none that could go by the name of “moderate.”

Did Romney succeed in doing what his advisers and the pundits said he had to do — make the case for himself and for a plan that would reassure Americans looking uneasily at both him and President Obama in what was shaping up to be a 50-50 election?

That there were dissenters regarding Mitt Romney's pretensios to leadership materialized quite concretely Thursday night at the very start of the freshly minted Republican nominee's address. Several protesters who began screaming objections were physically ejected, their yells obscured by audience applause for Romney and choruses of "U.S.A., U.S.A." a ritual chant heard earlier Thursday eveing when former U.S. Olympic athletes were introduced on stage.

One thing is clear: The GOP base’s misgivings about Romney himself that were glaringly obvious at the beginning of the current political season — most of the doubts having to do with the winning candidate’s well-known chameleon ways -- had been put in abeyance. Romney seemed to have resolved that problem with his selection as his running mate of Ryan the Ayn Rand true believer.

The larger jury, of the whole nation, is out but will reflect on what it has seen and heard in Tampa Bay before reporting a final verdict in November. And meanwhile it will take more testimony next week in Charlotte from the President and his surrogates.

< /br>

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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Rick Santorum never cared about winning the Republican primary as long as Barack Obama was defeated.

Posted By on Thu, Aug 30, 2012 at 3:06 PM

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Rick Santorum addressed the Tennessee Republican Delegation on topics as diverse as barbecue, the French Reign of Terror, and beating Barack Obama.

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Light Moments at the Apocalypse: Tampa Bay Edition

Yes, from time to time we get optimistic and look at the fun side of things.

Posted By on Thu, Aug 30, 2012 at 3:05 PM

Visiting politicians have to eat in Tampa Bay. So do the natives:


Chris Davis of our team has made the most of his opportunity to make new friends.


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Republican Pollster Whit Ayres discusses race and American Politics

Posted By on Thu, Aug 30, 2012 at 1:23 PM

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This week the GOP has presented a strong slate of Latino, African-American, and female speakers who have addressed overwhelmingly white RNC audiences. But the illusion of diversity is hard to put over with prominent Republicans like South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham saying things like, "“We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.” Today at a breakfast for the Tennessee Republican Delegation pollster Whit Ayres laid out the demographic realities underpinning what appears to be a two pronged strategy of racially charged rhetoric combined with an attempt to cultivate more diversity — or, at least, that impression.

Continue reading »

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With the Warm-Up Acts Completed, the Stage is Set for Romney

After Ann Romney, Christie, and Ryan, the man of many faces will have his main moment Thursday night.

Posted By on Thu, Aug 30, 2012 at 9:17 AM

Romney applauds a Christie line during his Tuesday night sojourn in the arena
  • Romney applauds a Christie line during his Tuesday night sojourn in the arena

TAMPA BAY — After several warm-up appearances by members of his supporting cast, Thursday night, the culminating act of the 2012 Republican National Convention finds the main player himself, Mitt Romney, ready to take center stage.

Romney’s acceptance address will not be his first extended moment in the tableau. He has already broken with tradition by spending the better part of a prime time evening in a highly visible red-rimmed box of sears on the floor of the Tampa Bay Times Forum. That was on Tuesday night, during an address to delegates by Chris Christie, the rotund and resonant governor of New Jersey, whose star turn was one of the few that have come close to upstaging the principal actor.

The other contenders in that regard have been Romney’s wife Ann, whose self-presentation as a plucky, attractive, and unexpectedly warm helpmate had immediately preceded Christie’s speech, and Paul Ryan, the angular, somewhat Ichabod Crane-ish ideologue of the Right who was chosen by Romney as a vice presidential running mate and who comes far closer than the presidential nominee himself to representing the core thinking at the heart of today’s Republican Party.

On Wednesday night, Ryan did better than most with a script that emphasizes themes of sacrifice and austerity rather than vaulting ambition. The anointed heir apparent is well-known in Congress as the author of a budget plan and transformational economic prospectus that would largely scuttle not only what remains of FDR’s New Deal and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society but would significantly carve into the residual governmental apparatus left by Richard Nixon, creator of such add-ons as the much-denigrated Environmental Protection Agency.

“We can do this!” was the war cry intoned several times by Ryan to cheers from the GOP audience — the “this” being a dramatic regeneration of the American private sector, theoretically to be achieved by shrinking of governmental largesse and oversight coupled with increased incentives for a class that Republicans these days call “job creators” and whose members have historically been designated by various other names ranging from “captains of industry” on the high side to “malefactors of great wealth” on the low side.

With some justice, perhaps, Democrats at their party’s convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, next week will assail this GOP new-think as the same old trickle-down philosophy that ended in the financial debacle of 2008 that helped to usher in the tenure of Barack Obama as president.

Anticipating as much, Ryan was careful to suggest that the nation’s current troubled economy owed something to the big-spending ways of Obama’s predecessor, the unnamed George W. Bush, but, for obvious reasons, most of the blame was reserved for the current president, whom Ryan dismissed with patronizing scorn more than condemnations per se.

Ryan even posed as something of a tech-age hipster, gently mocking his ticket leader’s iPod preferences as elevator music and boasting, “My playlist begins with AC-DC and ends with Zeppelin.” (A thought: Inasmuch as this was generational outreach as much as true confessions, wouldn’t ZZ Top have gone over better with this crowd?)

As if fairly well know, the Republican rank and file of 2012 probably feels more comfortable with Ryan, the acolyte of Ayn Rand, than with Romney, the man of many masks, none of them thus far very revealing. The Wisconsin congressman’s task will be to broaden his message and his appeal, just as Romney’s will be to firm up his standing with the Republican base. (Obviously, his selection of Ryan was a large step in that direction.)

The opportunity for the Republicans has been harped on in every message from every speaker — the fact of a still stagnant economy and job market and the suspicion in many Americans’’ minds that the president doesn’t have a sure sense of what to do. That note was sounded by everyone who appeared from the rostrum.

The problem for the Republicans is how to make a message of sacrifice ad belt-tightening appealing. Much of the rhetoric at the convention has had a Valley Forge tinge to it, and the issue of more incentives for what Democrats call the privileged 1 percent is an unspoken anti-theme which does not speak its name here in Tampa Bay.

< /br> Ryan closes out his speech on Wednesday night.

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Lunching with Senator Alexander & Governor Haslam

Posted By on Thu, Aug 30, 2012 at 7:24 AM

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The Tennessee Republican Delegation enjoys lobster rolls, sushi, and a bit of the bubbly on a steamy Wednesday afternoon at the Clearwater Aquarium.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

About Last Night (and the next morning): The RNC launches with conversion stories and Conservative values

Posted By on Wed, Aug 29, 2012 at 4:45 PM

Ann Romney
  • Ann Romney

The GOP has figured out a clever and relatively gentle way to end Red State/Blue State politics. They’ve redecorated. Everything once red at the RNC, from campaign materials to temporary convention architecture, has been painted a rich shade of Obama blue.

Conservative America is working its way through an identity crisis, or so it would seem from overheard comments like, “Why is Janine Turner wearing that awful blue dress?” As Rick Santorum, the party’s boyish moral scold transitioned into another of his lectures about the awesomeness of traditional marriage, a young-looking blonde woman in the crowd got up and started screaming about money and politics. In the old days it would have been a safe bet she was a Democratic agitator making trouble for the opposition. This time she might have been a Ron Paul fan, angered by the decision not to seat members of Maine’s delegation, which was split between candidate Mitt Romney and Paul, the tenacious nominal Texas Republican whose libertarian views have won over a small army of young, politically active supporters, just not in the numbers it takes to win an election.

If there was a theme to this first night of the Republican National Convention, in addition to the obvious “We built it,” it’s that the party of Lincoln isn’t just for white people anymore. Although the crowd at the Tampa Bay Times Forum was, like the party itself, an overwhelmingly caucasian group, the speakers and performing artists on stage Tuesday night fairly represented the American melting pot. It was a good show, even if polls still show Romney receiving 0% of the African-American vote, and less than 30% of the hispanic vote. But it wasn’t a perfect evening either as tories quickly circulated about an African-American camera operator for CNN who was assaulted by an attendee who threw nuts taunting, “This is how we feed the animals.” When Zoraida Fonalledas, the Puerto Rican chairwoman of the Committee on Permanent Organization spoke portions of the crowd responded with a chant of “USA! USA!”

Former Alabama Congressman Artur Davis was better received, although his speech seemed to be constructed from little more than sour grapes and specious claims. The one-time Obama supporter who became a Republican after losing Alabama’s Gubernatorial primary to a more liberal Democrat, complained about President Obama’s Affordable Care Act — legislation modeled on a plan once popular among Republicans and passed by none other than Mitt Romney when he was Governor of Massachusetts—was created entirely without compromise or across-the-aisle a input. His ovation was considerable.

Bloggers were unkind. Andrew Sullivan tweeted that this is what a cold civil war looks like, accusing the speakers of vast duplicity in all things, especially descriptions of a boogie-man President who exists only in the collective unconscious of Republicans. Another commenter took issue with Janine Turner’s comment that America was built by working hands, not by people with their “hands out,” reminding the former Northern Exposure star that many of the hands that built America were in chains. At a breakfast for the Tennessee delegation Wednesday morning, a similar, but opposite idea was espoused by Vanderbilt Political Science professor Carol Swain. The African-American academic says she was “born” a Democrat but switched parties following a religious conversion and described public assistance programs supported by Democrats as being a less obvious but equally devastating form of bondage.

Throughout the evening conventioneers were treated to stories about hard work, overcoming adversity, raising special needs children, and the perils of big government and overregulation. In a less polarizing moment disarmingly personal Ann Romney spoke of love, recalling a time when she was a newlywed and the Romney’s lived, like normal college students, in something short of splendor. An equally affable Chris Christie advised that love, as wonderful as it may be, needed to take a back seat to respect.

While messages about tax cuts and small government remain unchanged it’s clear that the GOP is trying very hard to rebrand itself. It’s equally clear that some old, unsavory ghosts linger, making that job harder than it ought to be in an economy so unstable it’s hard to imagine how a sitting president could be re-elected.

In New York in 2004 emotions ran hot. But Republicans doubled down on President Bush, put their differences aside and marched shoulder to shoulder, like a great white river, from Times’ Square, through the culturally diverse landscape of Manhattan, and on to victory. St. Paul was every bit as electric in 2008 even though the GOP’s top ticket candidates were destined to lose.

But there’s something different about Tampa, and it’s not just all the blue. As a group the Republicans seem uncharacteristically uncertain, off their game and more interested in ousting President Obama than in electing Mitt Romney.

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Saying It Ain't So, Joe? Okay, Maybe I Can Help

In which I do my best, for both our sakes, to assist a Tennessee state representative in walking back some remarks on the Todd Akin situation.

Posted By on Wed, Aug 29, 2012 at 3:12 PM

State Representative Joe Carr
TAMPA BAY —Although my reference to a conversation with state Rep. Joe Carr (R-Rutherford County) in Tuesdays’ dispatch from the Republican National Convention, “GOP Delegates Spend a Day Hunkered Down at Home Base,” was minimal, it got maximized in further attention paid it in the Nashville area.
And God knows where else. Most recently, it had turned up on NPR.

I had reported that Carr was one of three delegates who responded no to an impromptu audience poll by consultant Frank Luntz as to whether Missouri Senate candidate Todd “Legitimate Rape” Akin should exit his race.

My next paragraph went as follows: “Carr would explain later on that he agreed with Akin that women did indeed possess certain biological means to close themselves off against pregnancy in cases of violent rape. He further thought that Republicans had no business telling a bona fide Republican primary winner what to do.”

I was not prepared for the attention that brief paragraph — an island, as it were, in an atmospheric account of a day at the RNC — would get. Much of my afternoon was spent fielding calls from media people in the Nashville and Murfreesboro areas.

In short, Carr was clearly getting the same sort of adverse attention that Akin had gotten after telling a local TV interviewer in Missouri that he thought women had biological ways of preventing pregnancy in cases of “legitimate rape.”

And I have no doubt that he was submitted to the same sort of hotboxing from fellow Republicans concerned about being stigmatized by such a view.

There are several ways in which a politician in that kind of scrape can respond: (1) He can, like Akin, stand by the incriminating remark and damn the torpedoes; (2) He can say, “I was a little imprecise. What I meant to say was….”; (3) He can say, “Well, maybe I misspoke myself;” and walk it all back somewhat, or (4) He can claim to have been misquoted.

Rep. Carr chose the latter course, but then, as he, too was barraged by several different media — mostly in his Middle Tennessee bailiwick — he began to walk that back as well.

When Carr was in his full denial phase, he contended that I had not identified myself as a reporter. I am certain that I did. And specifically I told him I had observed him on the House Education Committee while in Nashville to cover legislation affecting the Memphis suburbs’ ability to vote on municipal school districts.

Carr responded to that by bragging, as he remembered, about how he had put Memphis City Schools superintendent Kriner Cash in his place. (Actually, I think he misremembered; I don’t think it was Cash, but somebody else from Memphis, who testified about the over-numerous school districts to be found in the state of Pennsylvania, that being the subject of Carr’s riposte. (“I told him, ‘Well, don’t the schools in Pennsylvania rank pretty high?’”)

Carr’s first answer to me, when I asked him why he had voted the way he did, was an assertive
“He won the primary, didn’t he?”

“Yes, but….,” I said, but, I asked, wasn’t he both embarrassing to other Republicans (I mean, everybody from Romney and Ryan on down was demanding he be gone) and, er, a little bit crazy?

At this point, Carr began explaining to me, in the patient manner of an adult to a child or a professor to a dull pupil, how there was very likely a scientific basis for presuming a woman’s physiological ability to prevent pregnancy from a forcible rape.

I’m giving him his due by saying he disapproved of Akin’s term “legitimate rape,” which had ignited much of the firestorm. I am also cutting him considerable slack with the term “very likely” in the preceding paragraph. In fact, I found myself in the position of arguing against the thesis of a biological shield against impregnation by rape.

Carr kept insisting on such a possibility to the point that I had to protest, “Look, I’m not invested in this issue.”

Now, he may well have been arguing the point in the scholastic how-many-angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin manner rather than from the point of view of a true believer. But the point is, we found ourselves in a real back-and-forth. It became like one of those dorm debates over transubstantiation that certain kinds of earnest freshmen have in college.

Eventually, I backed off — as it is always wise to do when one is in the presence of someone propounding a thesis so vigorously. And we parted pleasantly.

My reference to the conversation in my Flyer post of Tuesday was really somewhat off-handed, I thought. I never dreamed that so much would be made of it.

Literally, I found myself being deluged by media inquiries about the matter. I wondered if it was on its way to becoming a baby version of the Akin affair. I sincerely hoped not.

As I told an NBC affiliate that wangled me a booth pass at the convention for the sake of having an interview done for their broadcast, “I’m sure he’s sorry he’s said it, and I’m right with him on that. I’m sorry he said it, too.”

I’d be happy to get the situation walked back to some relatively harmless middle point. And to that end, here is how I would be pleased to amend the brief paragraph from my Tuesday article quoted above:

“Carr would explain later on that he agreed with Akin that women might indeed possess certain biological means to close themselves off against pregnancy in cases of violent rape. He further thought that Republicans had no business telling a bona fide Republican primary winner what to do.”

“Might” instead of “did” — OK? And that’s the best I can do.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

GOP Delegates Spend a Day Hunkered Down at Home Base

High-and-dry Tennesseans in Florida hear Corker praise Ryan, Luntz talk horse race, and Lt. Governor Ramsey enthuse over the gift horse of Rosalind Kurita.

Posted By on Tue, Aug 28, 2012 at 6:31 AM

Pollster Luntz with portraits of Jefferson and Reagan
  • JB
  • Pollster Luntz with portraits of Jefferson and Reagan

TAMPA BAY, FL --Technically, Monday was an off day for the Republicans in Tampa. The threat of being wiped by some spoor of Hurricane Isaac had caused Reince Priebus, head of the Republican National Committee, to cancel all official events for what had been scheduled to be the first day of convention activity.

In effect, the Tennessee delegation was confined to quarters at the Safety Harbor Resort and Spa, some five miles away from Tampa proper, across the ever-roiling bay waters via a narrow causeway. Some Tennesseans made their way across for private convention-related events. Most, not wishing to end up stranded in case something swelled up of a sudden or not possessing independent means of auto travel, stayed close to home base.

There were two events in the hotel itself on Monday — the traditional group breakfast, boasting speeches from state office-holders and celebrity guests, and a dinner honoring Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey and other members of the Republican legislative leadership.

Speaking at the breakfast were U.S. Senator Bob Corker, Chattanooga congressman Chuck Fleischmann, and, as a “surprise guest,” well-known pollster/consultant Frank Luntz. The latter worked the crowd like the political pro he is, mixing laugh lines and analytical nuggets. The highlight moment of Luntz’s remarks came when he asked the assembled delegates and alternates how many of them thought Todd Akin, the Republican Senate candidate in Missouri, should withdraw from his race.

Akin, it will be remembered, had made the breathtaking claim that women possessed the innate biological means to prevent pregnancy from what Akin, in an interview, had called “legitimate rapes.” Republicans from ticket leader Mitt Romney on down had called for Akin to step aside, and the delegation chorused its assent to that judgment.

All except for three naysayers— one of whom, State Rep. Joe Carr of Rutherford County, had previously made a $3,000 bid that won a brief auction held by Luntz for a large portrait of Thomas Jefferson. Looking straight at Carr, Luntz said, “I don’t know what you’re saying, but you can still have the painting.”

Carr would explain later on that he agreed with Akin that women did indeed possess certain biological means to close themselves off against pregnancy in cases of violent rape. He further thought that Republicans had no business telling a bona fide Republican primary winner what to do.

To no one's surprise, Luntz confirmed the consensus view that the presidential race between Romney and President Obama is a toss-up.

In his remarks, Corker made a point of addressing the issue of Medicare, simultaneously stroking vice presidential nominee-designate Paul Ryan, the Ayn Rand-loving congressman from Wisconsin who wants eventually for Medicare to become a voucher program. As below:

The dinner affair featuring Ramsey had originally been scheduled as a Tuesday lunch, but in the reshuffling of things had become a full-fledged evening banquet on Monday. Ramsey joked that his listeners, who originally would have been treated to a brief hour or so at lunch, were in for the whole ride now, and he gladly dilated on his prepared remarks.

A highlight of his speech was his recounting of how he came to be Lieutenant Governor in 2009 through the vote of former Democratic state Senator Rosalind Kurita of Clarksville:

Events scheduled for Tuesday, the convention’s official opening day now, include a showdown on some controversial rules changes and a prime-time address by Ann Romney, wife of the presidential nominee-presumptive.

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Monday, August 27, 2012

Storm Warnings in Tampa — and Not Just from the Weather

Posted By on Mon, Aug 27, 2012 at 12:24 AM

A Tampa lawyers billboard seems to name the moment.
  • JB
  • A Tampa lawyer's billboard seems to name the moment.

TAMPA BAY, FL: Having mistimed my ride to the airport for a non-stop Memphis-to-Tampa flight on Delta — partly because of a monsoon that came up of a sudden, harbinger of all the hurricane talk dominating the news this weekend (and partly because, let’s face it, I am no stranger to missing flights, especially morning ones), I am sitting in the Atlanta airport on a Saturday evening, waiting for a connect to Tampa that will get me there, the site of the 2012 Republican National Convention, relatively late in the evening.

One stroke of fortune, which will ring bells of recognition for all travelers familiar with the sprawling Atlanta airport, a place in which merely going from one leg to another of a connect flight can take upwards of an hour — up and down ramps and escalators, through tunnels on light-rail trolley compartments that manage to go slowly fast from terminal A to B to C to D:

This time my Memphis flight arrived at a B gate, and the connection to Tampa turned out to be at another B gate, no more than a minute’s walk away. Hallelujah! There is indeed a first time for everything.

On the plane to Atlanta, I had read a piece in the Wall Street Journal making it clear that the non-cable networks, the once-upon-a-time "Big Three," planned to bring only one hour each night of convention coverage, no more — both of the RNC affair in Tampa and next week’s Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. Both, of course, are coronations, theoretically devoid of the old-fashioned suspense and fireworks remembered so well in a piece by veteran pundit Michael Barone in the same WSJ issue.

On top of that the Democrats have decided to compact their convention into a mere three nights from beginning to end — show-and-tell affairs from Tuesday through Thursday, leading the selfsame networks to declare, ostensibly for reasons of fairness, that they would televise only those nights of the RNC’s convention — forcing the move of an address by Ann Romney, wife of nominee-designate Mitt Romney, from a Monday night slot to one on Tuesday night.

And now I see, via a news flash on my cell phone, that Reince Priebus, the RNC chair, has decided, ostensibly (and maybe actually) for reasons of safety prompted by the hurricane threat, to postpone the events that had been scheduled for Monday’s rump session of the GOP convention, until, guess what Tuesday, the first day of prime-time network coverage. What a coincidence.

Be this spin or be this reality, it is — as they say these days — what it is.

Waiting for the Tamps flight, still checking my cell phone, this time for email, I see that several political-junkie friends, members of a de facto debating society, are corresponding with give-no-quarter intensity about an article in the current Harper’s, “The Changeling,” by David Samuels, wherein the author documents in forlorn matter-of-factness President Obama’s cautious journey to what the writer sees as some safe and negotiable political center — a Dullsville of sorts, a place where nothing good can happen, even if, as a balancing corollary, the worst also happens to be avoided.

I defer my reading of that article, going instead to one in the same issue by Mark Halpern, entitled “Fifty Shades of Grey,” which essentially characterizes contender Romney in the same bleak light while assigning him far less redeeming social value.

This unusually readable issue of Harper’s, in effect, casts a plague on both men, one of whom a few short months from now will be guiding the destinies of what used to be called the Free World but which, the magazine’s contents suggest, is actually a Bought and Paid For place controlled by rival — and, to some extent, overlapping — special interests.

Once ensconced, along with the Tennessee delegation to the RNC, at Safety Harbor Resort and Spa, a rather homey and elegant place in Clearwater, some five miles or so across a causeway from Tampa proper, site of the convention, I let the two jeremiads constitute my bedtime reading.

And I woke to a world in which more than acts of God or nature might be conspiring to alter the preordained script. Although it wasn’t obvious right away.

It turned out to be a day, overcast, with off and on rain, in which the elements performed a kind of protracted tease — never hinting at an all-clear, never threatening serious harm, never offering a clue as to what came next.

Driving back across the long causeway in daylight to get my week’s worth of credentials at the designated Tampa hotel, I was struck by the fact that the bay waters, which at spots seemed only a foot or so below the edge of an outer road, looked somewhat more than mildly roiled. It clearly wouldn’t take too much of a storm to put the causeway, and anybody along it, in jeopardy.

Back at Safety Harbor, some delegates were busy with pre-convention preliminaries, others were touching base with friends or making new ones, and others were whiling away the day. Scott Golden, an ex-Memphian who works for 8th District congressman Stephen Fincher, got in 9 holes of golf, but the wind and rain kept alternating enough little surprises to keep him out of any kind of groove. Shoot in the 40’s? “At least,” he said.

Golden had also been keeping up with the work of the Republican rules and platform committees, where an unsuspected drama had been developing through the previous week. Memphis lawyer John Ryder, a national committeeman for Tennessee who has been named assistant parliamentarian for the convention, would shed some light on that at a Sunday afternoon reception hosted for the delegates by GOP state Senate majority leader Mark Norris of Collierville.

As Ryder explained it, the forces of libertarian icon (and also-ran presidential contender) Ron Paul had rebelled against at least two revisions made by the party’s rules committee in the run-up to convention week. One — Article 12 —would give the standing RNC the power to make other rules changes between conventions. The other — Article 15, a complicated one — would in essence give established party organizations more power over the approval of convention delegates.

An organization calling itself the Republican Liberty Caucus was vowing to fight the changes on the convention floor, something that could disrupt the well-ordered itinerary and keep it from peaking in prime time on Tuesday night.

Even in the small talk that got traded by delegates at the reception, it became obvious that there was indeed a schism between Republican factions, one that had gone mainly unnoticed by the media.

And in ways surprising to the delegates themselves. Beth Campbell of Nashville, a well-remembered former Memphian, was jolted to realize that her brother Willis Ayers, attending his first convention as a Newt Gingrich delegate from Shelby County, was apparently a member of the dissident faction. Ayers had previously supported the failed challenge of Woody Degan, a Tea Party favorite, to Norris' releection.

Arnold Weiner, the eccentric but hard-working Memphis Republican who serves as president of the East Shelby Republican Club, the county’s largest, compared notes with another Tennessean who apprised him of the Paul faction’s challenge to GOP normalcy, leading Weiner to liken that situation to one within the last year in which he was able to mobilize virtually every living long-term Republican in Shelby County to turn back an organized Tea Party bid for control of the club.

Debra Maggart, the GOP caucus chair in the Tennessee House, famously defeated this year for reelection by a massive infusion of support on the National Rifle Association’s part for challenger Courtney Rogers, speculated that much of the damage may have been committed by restless, quasi-libertarian forces in opportunistic coalition with the NRA.

Kathleen Starnes, chairman of the Davidson County (Nashville) Republican Party, ticked off some of the components of that coalition: “9-12ers” (i.e., Glen Beck disciples); Tea Partiers; libertarians, Ron Paul libertarians (whom she regarded as a separate category); and, in cases like Maggart's, the NRA. But it was more than that, she and Maggart and Campbell agreed. They sensed the rising tide of something bigger even than those parts, a determined, revisionist force that had reared itself in Tennessee in the past year or two and was likely to do so again this week on a national scale.

Indeed, wherever Tennessee delegates gathered on Sunday, the conversation tended to run to anticipations of a suddenly swirled-up internal storm to match the external one that meteorologists were carefully monitoring as Tropical Storm Isaac, having savaged Cuba, made it way toward the Florida peninsula.

Would it blow over? Probably, but that remained to be seen.

TO BE CONTINUED. Meanwhile, here are further signs and signifiers of the occasion in Tampa, beginning with delegate Beth Campbell's own creation, a Romney-Ryan badge:

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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Luttrell Vetoes County Sales-Tax Hike, Setting Up Showdown

Posted By on Thu, Aug 23, 2012 at 1:52 PM

Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell
  • Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell
As expected, Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell has vetoed the resolution passed by the Shelby County Commission on Monday, August 13, calling for a referendum on the November 6 ballot authorizing a half-cent increase in the county sales tax.

Luttrell’s veto follows almost two weeks of non-stop lobbying of commissioners against the resolution from Memphis Mayor A C Wharton, City Councilman Shea flinn, and others. The county sales-tax referendum , if placed on the ballot, would pre-empt a similar half-cent city sales-tax referendum approved for the ballot by the City Council.

And, if the count tax increase should pass, it would take Shelby County’s sales tax to the maxximum permitted by state law and would nullify the half-cent municipal sales-tax ncreases passed earlier this month by five county municipalities.

Commission chairman-elect Mike Ritz, who proposed the county tax increase, justified it as the only way of dealing with a $60 million deficit confronting the county’s soon-to-be established Unified School System. Funds from the tax, if enacted, would be distributed to schools in the outer munucipalities as well, though not in the proportions which their own sales tax hikes would enable.

Anticipating a veto from Luttrell, who called the increase ‘premature,” Ritz has said he has assurances of eight votes in support of the county tax hike — enough to override the county mayor’s veto. The measure passed the Commission last week by a 7-5 vote, with one commissioner, Memphis Democrat Melvin Burgess Jr., absent.

The test will come on Monday at the next regular Commission meeting.

Text of the county mayor’s veto statement is as follows:

August 23, 2012

Mayor Luttrell Vetoes Sales Tax Resolution


Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell today vetoed the recent resolution by the Shelby County Commission to raise the sales tax county-wide by a half percent.

Money from the tax increase, if approved by voters in Memphis, Millington and the unincorporated areas of Shelby County, would have generated money for the newly created Shelby County School system, which begins next year.

“I felt the commission’s action was premature. As I’ve stated many times, I believe we must review all options regarding the school budget before initiating a tax increase,” said Mayor Luttrell.
The Transition Planning Commission for Shelby County’s new public school system recently called for a thorough review of the school budget for cost-saving measures.

The school budget is still under discussion by the Shelby County School Board and is months away from being submitted to the Shelby County Commission for approval.

“With a close review of the school budget, we may be able to make recommendations that could prevent a sales tax increase. It’s important that we look at every aspect of the schools budget before we create an additional tax burden for the citizens,” added Mayor Luttrell.

The Shelby County Commission can still override the mayor’s veto. Should eight of the 13 commissioners vote to raise the sales tax, the issue would be ultimately decided in November by voters in Memphis, Millington and the unincorporated areas of Shelby County.

Citizens in Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown and Lakeland have already voted to raise the sales tax in their communities to pay for their municipal school systems.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Administrator Holden Survives Stormy SCEC Meeting

Posted By on Tue, Aug 21, 2012 at 1:19 AM

As SCEC chairman Robert Meyers (left) and other listens, EC member George Monger demands changes in the glitch-plagued public agency.
  • JB
  • As SCEC chairman Robert Meyers (left) and other listens, EC member George Monger demands changes in the glitch-plagued public agency.

At a meeting of the Shelby County Election Commisson Monday that had to be excruciatingly painful for SCEC administrator Rich Holden, the two minority Democrats on the Commission called for Holden’s firing and for more Commission oversight on procedural reforms.

Holden, who for the most part kept his head down stoically and scribbled away on a note pad throughout a prolonged assault from Commissioners Norma Lester and George Monger (and earlier from audience member Jo Lynne Palmer), was rescued from immediate danger by the three majority Republicans on the Commission, but indications were that even they were merely biding their time, pending receipt of a report on the local situation from state election authorities.

Before any member of the Commission had even weighed in, however, Palmer, an experienced local thespian, delivered herself of some royal fustian: “I believe this Republican-dominated Election Commission , due to redistricting and deliberate misdirection, has denied the right of many registered voters in Shelby County….Exactly who is the Republican Party trying to “give America back” to? It looks like just the rich white Anglo-Saxon Protestant male ….And if that is the case, Mr. Holden, I say to you, by paraphrasing Charlton Heston…you will have to pry this voter registration card from my cold dead hand.”

Commissioners themselves got into the act later on , after some relatively uneventful discussions about adding the category “Hispanic” as a racial classification to voter registration forms, the establishment of filing and withdrawal deadline for the November 7 election, and, finally, the certification of the August 2 election results. That last issue, especially, went down unexpectedly smooth, but the tension level in the room had risen almost palpably.

It began to simmer and finally explode when chairman Robert Meyers referred to his recent decision to have the Commission’s database and general operations reviewed by “outside vendors” (from ESS, the Election Systems and Software Company, proprietors these days of Diebold election machinery). That, as everyone knew, was a step prompted by the sequential glitches that have plagued Commission efforts, most embarrassingly the fact of some 3,000 voters having received erroneous ballots for the August 2 election.

The vendor matter conflated into further heated discussions regarding ongoing investigations by state officials of SCEC ‘s serial problems. Both Monger and Lester complained that “the administratior” had attempted to blame everyone but himself for the problems (“the slave hands,” as Monger put it). They asked for a vote on a resolution to give the Commission per se, rather than Holden or other administrative figures, authority for overseeing and approving reforms, procedures, and internal modifications.

That resolution failed on a party-line vote, but it was followed by an even stronger one from Lester asking for the resignation of Holden. This, too, would fail by the same 2-3 vote. But, tellingly, GOP commissioner Steve Stamson made a point of noting that his vote came down to a matter of waiting on the completion of an official audit of the Commission’s efforts by the state Comptroller’s office . He would say later that, pending it, he was keeping “an open mind” on issues regarding the administration of the Commission.

Lester said she was contemplating writing a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice it to intervene. .. Monger cited what he said was a pattern of disrespect for “the Election Commission and the Board under this administration, “and Meyers was kept busy denying that the Election Commission administration had “misled” the public or state authorities about responsibility for the spate of problems or that it had tried to pass the blame onto the commissioners.

On the latter point, Lester pointed out that the SCEC board had not been informed of important decisions — such as the fateful decision to delay precinct assignments , pending County Commission reapportionment — much less had it approved them.

A final point of dispute came when Meyers announced his intention to hire a management consultant group, Caissa Public Strategies, whose proprietor is former Republican election commissioner Brian Stephens. The Democratic members suggested that consultancy should be bid out instead, and the matter was deferred until the Commission’s September meeting.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Ready for “Great Things,” a Subdued but Still Upbeat John Ford Returns to Memphis

Posted By on Mon, Aug 20, 2012 at 8:21 PM

John Ford talks to media from federal vehicle outside his new home, a halfway house
  • Courtesy of WMC-TV, Action News 5
  • John Ford talks to media from federal vehicle outside his new home, a halfway house

After almost five years in prison, former state Senator John Ford, looking slightly older and acting modestly subdued but otherwise looking not much the worse for wear, came home Monday — sort of.

Actually, his home for the moment isn’t exactly his, and it’s only temporary, though it’s right across the street from somewhat familiar surroundings — the Joe Ford Funeral Home, operated by his brother Joe, who, like the once legendary state senator and other members of the Ford clan, is a former public official and an undertaker by trade.

Ford, who once was chief operating officer of N.J. Ford Funeral Home, may re-enter the family business. All he said Monday about the future was that he planned ”to do great things.”That was uttered that with a hint of the old cocky John Ford smile, and he said, “You watch what I do. I am not down. I am not out.I am way out front.”

Ford spoke briefly with television reporters from the back seat of the federal vehicle that delivered him from a federal confinement facility at Yazoo City, Mississipi, to his new domicile, Dierson Charities halfway house on Winchester. He’ll live in the halfway house for at least the next week before entering a period of house arrest, presumably at one of his former residences.

Before his downfall, which stemmed from his arrest in 2005 and later conviction on charges of bribery and extortion relating to the FBI’s Tennessee Waltz, Ford maintained several residences for the multiple households inhabited by the wives and children of his serial marriages and relationships. He drove expensive automobiles, affected a Beau Brummel wardrobe, and indulged in lavish other tastes of various kinds.

But, in addition to these trappings of fame and position, the need to maintain which almost certainly contributed to his downfall, Ford was also a respected and powerful legislator, courted and depended on by the needy and deserving as well as by the unscrupulous and self-serving. And, history will doubtless tell, responsive to each.

He couldn’t be faulted Monday for a lack of positive outlook. “All I can say is, a minor setback to a great comeback,” he said. He had gone through “you know, an incredible bad experience, but I do not look back. I look forward.”

Ford talked fondly and proudly about his children in college and the love and encouragement he’d got from them.” I have a story to tell. I can’t tell it right now. We don’t have the time. But I have a tremendous story to tell." And, as the car began to move out of idle to take Ford to the doorway of his bare-bones new digs, he promised the media scrum, “We’ll talk later.”

And there’s no doubt. They’ll — we’ll— be listening.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

State Sen. Jim Kyle: Tennessee Gun-Carry Restrictions May Soon be Extinct

Posted By on Sat, Aug 18, 2012 at 11:34 AM

State Senators Jim Kyle (left) and Mark Norris
  • State Senators Jim Kyle (left) and Mark Norris

Tennessee may soon be a wilder place than the legendary Wild West was when it comes to people openly packing sidearms.

State Senator Jim Kyle (D-Memphis), the Democrats’ leader in the Senate, said this week on the WKNO-TV program “Behind the Headlines” that a radical loosening of traditional firearms restrictions and regulations may be just around the corner. “It’s really gotten to the point that I think it’s realistic to expect that you’ll see a bill brought to do away with the gun permit law and just let people carry guns,” Kyle said.

Should such legislation be passed and become law, Tennessee would become a more open environment than were the supposedly wide-open towns of America’s Western frontier in the time of legendary lawmen like Wyatt Earp, when cowboys were expected to put their guns away before entering public establishments and visitors to a town were often required to leave their weapons with the local sheriff.

Kyle, who appeared on the show with his Senate Republican counterpart, majority leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), also saw the National Rifle Association, which maintains a powerful lobbying arm in Nashville, re-evaluating its political strategy. “The NRA is now taking a second look at Democratic candidates,” Kyle said, noting that the legislature’s dominant Republicans split in the last session on a bill that would have allowed guns to be stored in cars on the parking lots of businesses.

State Rep. Debra Maggart of Hendersonville, the GOP caucus chair in the House, kept the bill from coming to the floor for a final vote, reflecting the opposition to the bill of several of the state’s power business interests. The NRA sent a well-noticed signal of sorts when it heavily subsidized Maggart’s Republican primary opponent, Courtney Rogers, who defeated the incumbent.

And now the NRA, which has traditionally allied itself with the GOP, may be broadening its outlook, Kyle says. “They’ve spent the last several years putting all their eggs in one basket, and when the leadership said no vote, they didn’t have any place to turn.”

As a case in point, Kyle said, his Democratic colleague from Clarksville, state Senator Tim Barnes, who has a well-financed Republican opponent, had just been informed of a forthcoming endorsement by the NRA.

Though Norris did not hazard a prediction as to its fate, he said the parking-lot bill, which he termed “The Safe Commute to Work” bill, was “very important to us” and would get another look-see in the next legislative session.

Noting the sea change whereby Republicans, once a distinct minority, now control the Senate by a 20-1`3 majority,Kyle said the Democrats could influence several issues where there wasa clear division in the majority party.

The two legislative leaders each attested to their good working relationship but acknowledged disagreements on several key matters, notably education policy, with Norris, the primary author of legislation allowing municipal school districts, reiterating his belief that such districts should have been integrated into the plans of the Transition Planning Commission, and Kyle pointing out that much of the opposition to such districts came from citizens elsewhere in the county who were wary of having to subsidize them in relation to school buildings and other matters.

On the issue of voucher legislation, establishing conditions whereby public money could be used to pay for tuition at private schools, Norris cited parents’ “overwhelming support…for flexibility,” while Kyle said using state funding to send a child to elite private institutions like Hutchinson in Memphis “just would not be right.”

Kyle was also critical of new laws allowing public funding of “virtual” instruction by electronic means. “Every dollar we send out of state undermines public education,” he said.

Kyle and Norris seemed to agree that there was little the state could do to resolve issues between Delta Airlines and residents infuriated over high fares and questionable service to Memphis, a hub for the airline.

In a conversation after the WKNO program was recorded, both Kyle and Norris expressed reservations about the current length of early-voting periods in Tennessee elections, with Norris saying that the intensity of campaigns pointing up to election day had been diminished and Kyle saying that public interest in the election process has increasingly been lowered as early-voting periods have increased in duration.

The "Behind the Headlines" segment was first shown on WKNO, Channel 10 at 6:30 Friday night and will be repeated at 8:30 Sunday morning. Questioning Norris and Kyle were moderator Eric Barnes of the Daily News, Andrew Douglas of WMC-TV, Action News 5, and myself, Jackson Baker of the Memphis Flyer.

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