Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Twinkies and Pabst would be One Sweet Deal

Posted By on Wed, Jan 30, 2013 at 1:45 PM

It seems that one of the key ingredients in Food and Drink That Isn't Good For You is a dose of nostalgia.

Here's a squib from the New York Times this week:

"Hostess Brands, has named a pair of private equity firms, Apollo Global Management and C. Dean Metropoulos & Company, as the collective lead bidder for Twinkies and several other snack brands, two people briefed on the matter said on Tuesday. Apollo and Metropoulos appear to have beaten out a sizable number of competitors for the iconic snack brand, including Grupo Bimbo of Mexico, the maker of Arnolds bread.

"But as the “stalking horse” bidder, with an expected offer of some $400 million, the pair will have largely set a floor for a court-supervised auction that is expected to take place within weeks. But Twinkies have long been regarded as the bankrupt baker’s crown jewel, having drawn scores of potential buyers over the last two months. News that Hostess was shutting down its factories prompted a burst of nostalgia for the cakes."

Grupo Bimbo? Twinkies as crown jewels? You can't make this stuff up.

Same goes for investment bankers dealing in junk food instead of junk bonds.

I am pulling for the bidder that also owns Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, the low-cost alternative to overpriced and overhyped craft beers. A Pabst and a Twinkie, with a side of Slim Jims and Cheetos, would be junk food heaven, and about 2,000 calories too. Except you can hardly find a package of Twinkies anymore since Hostess shut down. Competitor Little Debbie has stepped into the void, with a faux Twinkie selling for $3.09 a pack, or twice as much as the tasty Valentine's Day offering pictured here.

A PBR and a snack cake. Sweet.

Continue reading »

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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Memphis Skate Park is a Big Hit

Posted By on Sun, Jan 27, 2013 at 7:09 PM

A little more than a year after it opened, the Memphis Skate Park is fulfilling the dream of its driving force, Aaron Shafer.

"This feels good," said Shafer, as he surveyed the scene Sunday afternoon when some 70 people were using the park that opened in November of 2011. Shafer, a California transplant who pitched the idea to the city and anyone else who would listen and would not take no for an answer even when sports traditionalists, including yours truly, were skeptical. It will be interesting to see if the lighted baseball fields in nearby Tobey Fields get good use come spring or if baseball and softball are strictly yesterday.

On Sunday Shafer was by far the oldest person at the park actually riding a skate board or a BMX bike. Most of the riders were under 20, and all were males. Helmets were scarce despite the warning signs and the arrest of a kid for not wearing a helmet shortly after the park opened.

"These parks evolve," said Shafer.

The newest attraction is "the wave", a curling ramp in shape of a breaking wave. Daredevils have slapped on stickers at the highest points of the curve before pivoting in midair and coasting back down.

The park is located behind the board of education offices next to a dog park that was also getting heavy use. Both investments looks like wise ones. The boys in the photo below are (left to right) Adrian Akin, Macrus Martinez, Zack Cronin, Wyndarius Gandy, and Doran Shafer.

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Friday, January 25, 2013

Wharton Speaks to Friends, Employees, and a Stuffed Polar Bear

Posted By on Fri, Jan 25, 2013 at 1:40 PM

How many times do you get to write a headline like that? Not many. Mayor A C Wharton gave his state of the city speech Friday in the foyer of the Pink Palace mansion where he stared down a snarling stuffed polar bear along with a bunch of television cameras.

Wharton, a master of such occasions after a decade of city and county mayoral years, managed to give an upbeat speech despite the bear, the rain outside, the cramped venue (the closet must have already been booked) and the crummy headlines about Pinnacle Airlines and police shootings in the morning paper. He talked for 36 minutes, or twice as long as President Obama last week in his inaugural address. He tempered that factoid by noting that his wife reminded him to slow down.

Wharton got his biggest round of applause when he appealed for a cease fire on gun crimes. "We won't rest until gunfire is no longer the accepted sound track for far too many of our citizens," he said. The mayor and Police Director Toney Armstrong scheduled a press conference Friday afternoon to tout a new program.

He didn't mention Pinnacle and the as many as 500 jobs that will be leaving downtown Memphis for Minneapolis. Instead he plugged Electrolux, Mitsubishi Electric, and "jobs coming on line this year." He said they were "real jobs for real people located in the real city of Memphis" lest there was any confusion.

"The best is yet to come when it comes to jobs for the people of our city," he said.

He also gave props to the City Council for reducing the city tax rate without going into the messiness of overdue bills to the former Memphis City Schools or the impact of shifting the city payment to county government after this year. As he has said many times, he supports a half-cent increase in the city sales tax if it goes into a trust fund for pre-K and property tax reduction.

His second-biggest applause line, by my unscientific estimate, was a pledge aimed at the airport authority, on which his wife serves as a board member, that "we will succeed in bringing in other carriers and bringing down the cost of flying."

The rest of his remarks were about such chestnuts as Bass Pro (attention shoppers, half the space will be devoted to conservation exhibits), bike lanes, conventions ("our facilities are inadequate"), the river ("we need to reconnect") and job training.

As for the bear, it has dual significance as a big-game trophy and a reminder of the fate of Clarence Saunders, the entrepreneur who built the Pink Palace. He went broke after betting the wrong way in a big stock-market bet but his fame endures as one of the inventors of the modern grocery store and such names as Piggly Wiggly and Keedoozle.

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Campers Get Slots in Optional Schools

Posted By on Fri, Jan 25, 2013 at 10:03 AM

Parents who camped out at the school board last week could breathe easier Friday as they turned in their paperwork for cherished spots in the most desirable optional schools.

Those seeking spots in top schools fall into three categories: the locks, the lucky, and the late.

The locks got low numbers and assured spots because they camped out multiple nights, some of them sleeping in tents or bringing propane heaters to stay warm.

The lucky either wound up near the back of the line or will take their chances in a lottery that determines 20 percent of the slots. Jeanie Harrison, who was at the school board auditorium Friday morning, hopes to get her child who is now at Richland Elementary into White Station Middle School. Her husband got in line last Sunday, but the early birds got there three days before. Monday night the Harrisons opted for a propane heater and lawn chairs. Her number is 96. There are 100 slots at the school, and there were 68 parents seeking those slots in front of them. Because siblings get priority, the Harrisons, who have no children currently at the school, are on the bubble.

"I don't think we will know for four to six weeks," she said. "We will probably be in the lottery."

Candite Harbin got number 385 and also hopes to get her child into White Station Middle School. She did not camp out and instead came to the school board on Tuesday. She too is likely to wind up in the lottery.

The optional school game has a new wrinkle this year because of the merger of the city and county school systems and all the attention on public education. Bianca Williams was at the board Friday hoping to get her daughter, who now attends Harding Academy, into White Station Middle School. She was told that she will not know the outcome for another six to eight weeks.

An indication that the process is even-handed — one of the mothers at the board auditorium Friday morning who camped out last week was Maura Black Sullivan, deputy chief administrative officer for the city of Memphis. Also in line was attorney Lori Patterson, who is representing the Shelby County Commission in the schools cases.

Linda Sklar, head of the optional schools program, said final numbers on applicants would be available Sunday. I will update this post when I have more information.

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Senator Kelsey Wants to Protect Online Commenters

Posted By on Fri, Jan 25, 2013 at 9:25 AM

From the mailbox: State Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) has filed legislation in the Tennessee General Assembly protecting the privacy rights of readers who choose to comment anonymously on online news articles.

Senate Bill 106 shields news organizations or other individuals who post news online from having to reveal any identifying information about readers who post comments. Anonymous comments on stories in The Commercial Appeal on the school system merger were requested by attorneys for the Shelby County Commission.

“This legislation will safeguard the free and open exchange of ideas," said Senator Kelsey. “Political discourse should be encouraged— not discouraged through fishing expeditions by over-zealous lawyers.”

The Shelby County Commission filed a subpoena in federal court asking for the identities of all online commenters in the stories about suburban plans to create their own school districts. Judge Samuel. H. Mays denied that request. The commission has a pending lawsuit that argues that suburban systems would advance segregation and violate the Constitution.

"This issue will come up again and needs to be clarified in Tennessee law," said Kelsey. "News organizations themselves should determine how much identifying information of online commenters to make public."

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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

School Board Members Jones and Pickler Trade Accusations

Posted By on Wed, Jan 23, 2013 at 12:43 PM

Martavius Jones and David Pickler have been school board adversaries since the start of the debate over a unified school system, but now the disagreement is personal.

Both men are financial advisers. In December, Jones surprised members of the Unified School Board with a formal resolution (nine "whereas" paragraphs plus one "therefore be it resolved") requesting Pickler's immediate resignation "for failure to publicly disclose the apparent conflict of interest and direct or indirect benefit and/or personal gain" from his public office.

This week Pickler formally replied with a point-by-point rebuttal from an attorney he hired, Stephen Shields, plus a personal letter and a warning that "I am reserving all legal options to remedy the harm" to his reputation. The letter from Shields says "causes of action such as false light and defamation do exist, of course, but an assessment of the viability of such causes is beyond the scope of this analysis."

Pickler and Jones are holdovers from the old county and city school boards, and often appear in media stories and public forums. The charge and counter-charge have landed in the lap of the unified board's three-member Ethics Committee which, like all things board related, is newly created and finding its bearings. The upshot: one more thing to divide and distract the board as it tries to create a unified school system by August.

The crux of the complicated complaint is that Pickler and/or his firm, Pickler Wealth Advisers, benefited from commissions for a $12 million school board investment in the Tennessee School Board Association Trust at American Funds, a mutual fund company. Pickler is former secretary/treasurer of the TSBA board of directors and an investment advisor to the trust since 2009.

"It is the opinion of legal counsel that allegations made by Mr. Jones are simply inaccurate," Pickler says in a letter to board member and committee chair Teresa Jones. "If I had any conflict of interest at all, it was at best indirect in nature and that in any event my outside interests were the subject of disclosures that fully met the requirements of state law and board policy."

He asks the board to request that Jones withdraw his "ill-conceived" resolution and apologize for the distractions and discomfort to Pickler and his business partner.

Jones zeroed in on a June 26, 2012 vote of the school board on the general fund budget for Memphis City Schools. In his self-described "independent legal analysis," Shields says the contribution to the trust fund was from the 2011-2012 budget, not the budget that was voted on in June, and therefore Pickler did not vote on it and no disclosure was required.

Pickler made disclosures to the Shelby County Board in 2009 when there was a trust item on the agenda. And he disclosed his role as a broker during a unified board committee meeting in November, 2012 and again as part of a board audit in September.

Jones said he would not have learned of the alleged disclosure problem but for a letter from the TSBA finance director in July on which he was mistakenly copied.

The only certain outcome of this is an end to the veneer of collegiality and mutual respect that marked the first two years of the Pickler-Jones relationship. The charge is a serious one, and the gloves are off now.

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Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Al 'Jazeera' Gore, ADA, RGIII, Webb-cam, and Nashville

Posted By on Wed, Jan 9, 2013 at 2:32 PM

Did you see where the New York Times this week did a big story on Nashville as possibly the hottest city in the United States? And with a picture featuring a mannequin of Elvis — ouch! This after Outside magazine in 2011 named Chattanooga "Best Town Ever." Think their gain is partly our loss? I do. So what do they have that we don't? Manageable rivers, hills or mountains, car manufacturing, and fill in the blanks.

The Memphis City Council had little choice but to vote in favor of spending another $12 million on Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium after Robert Lipscomb played the "shut down" card. The Flyer has filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the specific documents in which the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department says that in regard to compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act. Meanwhile, news organizations — guess which one — that failed to report that the agreed upon 564 wheelchair and companion seats are "additional" seats to the accessible seats already there are willfully negligent.

A 1984 Memphis magazine cover with a picture of Al Gore ("Born to Run") used to adorn the wall behind my desk at work. Since our office was remodeled, the mag cover is gone, and I won't miss it, or him. Gore always struck me as someone that, had he been around during the Old West, would have sold used blankets to the Indians if he thought there were some bucks in it, and then proclaimed himself a humanitarian. I say this as one who voted for every Democratic Party presidential candidate from McGovern to Obama but switched to Ralph Nader in 2000. I liked Gordon Crovitz's column on Gore and Al Jazeera the other day. And nobody has better lines about Clinton and Gore than my colleague Jackson Baker. Clinton gives you 15 seconds but it's a good 15 seconds. Gore gives you a perfunctory handshake and a thanks for your help in Shelby County. Those were the days in the 1990s when the Memphis vote mattered and the Democratic ticket stormed into Shelby County and piled up a big margin and carried Tennessee and locked up the election. With a big assist from third-party candidate Ross Perot, of course.

Silliest debate of 2013: whether too much camera coverage and commentary was given to the Alabama quarterback's gorgeous girlfriend, Katherine Webb, during the big game. It's football, people! And she was a Miss USA competitor, in a bikini. And the game was a rout.

Serious debate of 2013: When teams should shut down star players. Washington D.C. is ground zero, with a baseball pitcher whose arm was saved by limiting his innings and a quarterback, RGIII, whose knee is a mess. It's easy now to say he should have been benched sooner, if not held back the entire game, but the pressure to play him, from RGIII himself among others, must have overwhelming. I hope the success that he and Russell Wilson and other multi-threat quarterbacks in the NFL had this year gives hope to Michigan's Denard Robinson. The Wall Street Journal this week ranked Michigan as the second most valuable football program in America. Without Robinson's heroics the last three years, an otherwise mediocre team would have had losing records, no bowl appearances instead of three of them, no national interest and tens of thousands of empty seats at the Big House. He wasn't the nation's best player, but in that sense he was the most valuable.

One more item of interest from the national media. Tennessee ranks fourth most attractive in a survey of 650 business leaders by CEO Magazine about business climate in all 50 states. Low taxes and low regulations.

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Monday, January 7, 2013

My Wife Is Going to Eat My Brains

Posted By on Mon, Jan 7, 2013 at 10:09 PM

My New Year's resolution was to cut cable to the bare minimum, and I did it just in time for the biggest television event of the season. I am not talking about the National Championship game between Notre Dame and Alabama, going on as I write this, with Alabama up 28-0 at half time. I am talking about the new season of "The Walking Dead" on AMC, another casualty of my resolve.

A resolution should hurt to do some good, and this one looks very promising. My wife has not spoken to me in two days. She sets the television to Channel 602, ESPN, just to show the "You are not subscribed to this channel" message. Taunting. This is only a taste of what I am in for if I don't wimp out by February, assuming we stay married. She and her brother in Mississippi talk about zombies the way football fans talk about Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide. Zombies must be watched in real time, not on tape. They're zombies. They deserve that.

Part of me thinks I would have been better off resolving to do something fantasy-like, such as running a four-minute (or 10-minute) mile, or wimpy, like losing five pounds. Part of me thinks my wife is going to eat my brains if I do not recant and get right with ATT-U-verse by February and re-up for the 200-channel package. And a tiny part of me thinks, come on, be a man, stay the course for at least a month and see what comes of it. No pain no gain. These are the times that try men's souls. There are books to be read, friends to visit, places to go, blah blah blah.

Cable, of course, is a huge scam, run by ESPN, which is gobbling up all the major sports events, with another 150 channels of junk — preachers, reruns, foodies, Ultimate Fighting, and screaming commentators thrown in as part of the "bargain." Screw it, I said, and save $53 a month in the bargain. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

If you cancel a newspaper or magazine subscription, they keep it coming for days, weeks, even months. And then they beseech you to renew your subscription at a lower rate. Not so cable. They cut you off one milli-second after your subscription runs out. I bet if I change my mind I will get a ten-minute phone tree, an operator in Bangalore named Tim, and a special offer to reinstate my old channels package at the special price $20 a month higher than the old price, plus a reconnection fee.

Courage, man, courage. I watched the first half of the football game at Jack Magoo's sports bar on Broad, had a very good cheeseburger and two Fat Tires, and met an old acquaintance from Meridian, Mississippi who told me a touching story about meeting a Mississippi Miss America 50 years ago at the Neshoba County Fair when he was eight years old and she patted him on the head, and when he ran into her at a Memphis art gallery opening a couple years ago he told her the story and, God bless her, she did not tell him he was crazy but smiled and said "thank you". You can't make this stuff up, and you can't get it on cable.

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Robert Lipscomb Explains Heritage Trail Plan

Posted By on Mon, Jan 7, 2013 at 6:39 PM

Clayborn Temple
  • Clayborn Temple
Reacting to concerns of downtowners last month, Memphis Housing and Community Development and MHA Director Robert Lipscomb has issued a detailed explanation of plans for Heritage Trail, the blighted area south of FedEx Forum.

In a letter to city officials and downtown stakeholders, Lipscomb said there have been "misunderstandings" and inaccurate accounts of the proposal that would use Tax Increment Financing (TIF) to pay for improvements with future tax increases from higher property values.

The document is here in PDF form.


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Thursday, January 3, 2013

Sammons Willing to Replace Perl at Airport Authority

Posted By on Thu, Jan 3, 2013 at 3:14 PM

Jack Sammons
  • Jack Sammons
Former Memphis City Councilman Jack Sammons could be in line to replace Arnold Perl as chairman of the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority when the board meets later this month.

Perl announced his resignation as chairman and board member last month with four years remaining on his five-year term. The board chooses the chairman and is scheduled to meet on January 17th.

"I'm sure interested, but I have not talked to other board members," said Sammons, president of Ampro Industries. "I'm willing to serve."

The board's six members are Sammons, John Stokes Jr., Ruby Wharton, Jon Thompson, Jim Keras and Herb Hilliard. Sammons was appointed by former Shelby County Mayor Joe Ford.

Sammons said he "lives in the air" a good part of his time and was leaving Thursday to fly to Miami for $1,248 round trip.

Sammons would bring political experience, close ties to FedEx chairman Fred Smith, and a plain-spoken style to the job. He has played pinch-hitter for the city before, serving as chief administrative officer for interim mayor Myron Lowery when Lowery succeeded Willie Herenton.

"One thing I know how to do is sell," he said.

He would also bring continuity, for better or worse, as the board deals with cutbacks in service and high fares from dominant passenger carrier Delta Air Lines. In an interview with The Flyer in 2011, Sammons said, "We have more air service on a per-capita basis than any city in America, and there is a price for that. The authority has been aggressive for a generation in chasing low-cost carriers. It brought in Frontier Airlines, but they didn't last because Northwest matched their fares. The potential game-changer is Southwest buying AirTran. That is going to change Memphis prices in 12 to 24 months."

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