Thursday, January 17, 2008

PETA Alleges Animal Abuse at Tyson Plant

Posted By on Thu, Jan 17, 2008 at 4:00 AM

A PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) investigation of a Union City, Tennessee, Tyson plant revealed widespread abuse of chickens, spokesman said today.

At a press conference in Memphis, PETA vice-president of campaigns Bruce Friedrich showed footage from hidden cameras worn by a PETA member working undercover in both the Union City plant and another plant in Cumming, Georgia.

On the black-and-white video, workers are shown throwing chickens against slaughter equipment, urinating in the live-hang area, and stabbing chickens in the neck. In one scene, a supervisor tells the undercover employee that it's okay to rip chickens heads off when they are stuck in shackles.

"We have found horrific abuse at every Tyson plant we have investigated," says Friedrich. "We keep thinking that it can't get any worse -- and then it does. Its time for Tyson and its major customers, like KFC, to sit down and take serious measures to stop the sadistic abuse that is taking place in its slaughterhouses."

PETA filed complaints with prosecutors in Obion and Weakley counties in Tennessee, and is asking Tyson to fire workers responsible for the abuse documented in the videos, implement new training for workers, and install cameras to monitor workers.

PETA is also asking Tyson to consider phasing in Controlled Atmosphere Killing, a slaughter method that replaces the chickens' oxygen with gases that painlessly euthanize the birds. Many European slaughterhouses have already implemented this method.

- Bianca Phillips

Congressman Steve Cohen Appears on The Daily Show

Posted By on Thu, Jan 17, 2008 at 4:00 AM

Congressman Steve Cohen was featured in a segment Thursday night on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on Comedy Central. The program will be rerun Friday throughout the day.

Longtime Daily Show correspondent Samantha Bee interviewed Cohen on November 5th for a segment about the use of so-called "line-standers" -- people who are paid hundreds of dollars by high-priced lobbyists to hold their place in line for Congressional hearings.

Cohen said, "I have been a vocal proponent of prohibiting line-standing, because I believe it robs the general public of its right to attend open, public Congressional hearings. Ethics reform has been one of my highest priorities since taking office, and this practice is a perfect example of the culture in Washington that I'm committed to changing." Bee smirked -- but Cohen held his own.

"We had a lot of fun with Samantha during the interview," Cohen said.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Phil Trenary on Pinnacle and Airline Mergers

Posted By on Wed, Jan 16, 2008 at 4:00 AM

Phil Trenary, CEO of Memphis-based Pinnacle Airlines, suggests we think of the airport as a manufacturing plant.

"We manufacture connections, and we can manufacture them at a lower cost than anyone else," Trenary told the Flyer in an interview about the possibility of a merger of Northwest Airlines and Delta Air Lines. Memphis is a hub for Northwest, and analysts have speculated that it could lose that status if the airlines merge and consolidate hub activity in Atlanta.

"One misconception about our hub is that it is a weak hub," said Trenary. "It was weak at one time. It is a small hub, but by having a mix of regional carriers and Northwest it has really changed the complexion and made it more successful financially."

Pinnacle, a regional passenger carrier, has ten-year contracts with both Northwest and Delta.

"Pinnacle is in pretty good shape," said Trenary. "I think we would fare pretty well."

Trenary said Pinnacle is a low-cost airline and Memphis is a low-cost airport, both of which could be advantages to Memphis even if a merger takes place.

In an environment of $100-a-barrel oil, the average taxi time here is six minutes," he said. "It's much higher than that at airports in Chicago and Atlanta. I don't think Memphis going away is a slam dunk at all. Memphis stands a decent chance of being around long term."

According to The Wall Street Journal, U.S. airlines as a group are expected to show a fourth-quarter loss for 2007 because of winter storms, fuel prices, and the early signs of a recession. Delta and Northwest were the last two major carriers to come out of bankruptcy protection. A merger would likely result in higher fares nationwide and fewer jobs in Memphis if it loses hub status.

Northwest and FedEx are the keys to the "aerotropolis" long-term plan for improving the area around the airport.

Trenary said a merger would have to happen "sooner rather than later" because of the change in the presidential administration this year and the difficulty of getting regulatory approvals once the current administration leaves.

"If they don't get it done, then it will probably be late 2009 or 1010," he said.

Mayors' Meeting with Bredesen Postponed

Posted By on Wed, Jan 16, 2008 at 4:00 AM

The scheduled meeting Thursday between mayors Willie Herenton and A C Wharton and Gov. Phil Bredesen to discuss school consolidation has been postponed.

Mayor Herenton's office sent out an announcement Wednesday. Wharton later confirmed that he concurred with the decision.

"The mayors feel that more research and consultation must take place prior to the meeting so that the governor may be presented with the best possible solutions to help our school systems. Due diligence and community support is important to this process," stated the announcement, which was sent out under City of Memphis letterhead rather than as a joint announcement.

In a telephone interview Wednesday, Wharton repeated his objections to school consolidation and his disagreement with Herenton.

"You don't get to see the governor often to ask his help, and when you do you don’t want to squander it by not having the specificity that he needs," Wharton said.

The proposed meeting was announced last weekend in the wake of Herenton restating his support for full consolidation of city and county government, including the school systems. Wharton subsequently said that he does not support school consolidation, but it appeared the meeting would go forward anyway until Wednesday's surprise announcement.

"Let the community be assured that all stakeholders will be involved in this process to determine what is best for our school system," the Herenton statement said. "These stakeholders will include the city, county and state government and education officials, as well as community leaders.

The goal of my proposal regarding the school systems is to empower government to take a more active role in charting the path of public education in Memphis and Shelby County."

One of the many controversial aspects of consolidation is Herenton's suggestion that state lawmakers make it possible for a city-only vote to be required to make it happen. County residents and elected officials have strongly objected to that. Bredesen spokeswoman Lydia Lenker said the postponement was apparently Herenton's idea, or at least it was not Bredesen's idea.

"They called for the meeting and it was to be held tomorrow," she said. "Then today we got word they decided not to hold the meeting. So it is coming from their end."

Wharton said he and Herenton "have some more work to do" on specific plans.

"On my end, I am burdened with the cost on the three-for-one funding formula," Wharton said. "I have made it clear throughout that I would not seek nor support any larger role by county government."

The county has to spend roughly $3 on city schools for every $1 it spends on county schools construction under the present attendance-based funding formula.

--John Branston

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Memphis Drug Kingpin Arrested

Posted By on Tue, Jan 15, 2008 at 4:00 AM

Thirty-one-year-old Craig Petties, who once headed a cocaine and marijuana distribution network, was arrested in Mexico on Friday, January 11th, according to U.S. Attorney David Kustoff.

Petties is charged with conspiring to distribute cocaine and marijuana and possession of cocaine and marijuana with intent to distribute. He was added to the U.S. Marshals Top 15 Most Wanted Fugitives list in August 2004 and was featured on an episode of TV’s America's Most Wanted.

The Mexican Government, in cooperation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and the U.S. Marshals Service, apprehended Petties, a female companion, and three others. Several firearms were seized. Petties is being held in Mexico pending his return to the U.S. for prosecution.

The conspiracy count alleges that Petties and several accomplices organized delivery of cocaine from Texas into the Western District of Tennessee. It also alleges that Petties' partners attempted to kill others to facilitate continued drug trafficking.

Petties was originally indicted by a federal grand jury in 2002. Last year, the case was expanded to include nine others for conspiring to distribute cocaine through the Petties drug organization. All of the defendants in the case have now been arrested.

--Bianca Phillips

Zippin Pippin May Find a Home at The Pyramid

Posted on Tue, Jan 15, 2008 at 4:00 AM

The Zippin Pippin may find a new home if Memphis, Shelby County, and their mayors approve a private consulting group's bid to build a downtown theme park.

"We have agreed with Ericson Group to move the Zippin Pippin downtown," county commissioner Steven Mulroy told reporters Monday afternoon.

The Ericson Group has been in discussions with Mulroy's Save Libertyland!, Inc. group for a little more than three months regarding Pyramid Harbor. The proposed project, which Mulroy is backing, consists of two elements -- Pyramid Resorts and Harbor Island.

The project will redevelop The Pyramid as well as the neighboring Mud Island River Park into a "year-round indoor theme park, upscale retailing and dining venues, a 15,000 seat outdoor amphitheater and two hotels, according to Pyramid Harbor project announcements.

The project will cost Ericson Group $250 million, with another estimated $50 million from the federal government if the plan receives approval. One million dollars of total project costs will be used to relocate and renovate the Zippin Pippin, which has been unused since the fall of 2005.

Last year, the 2,865-foot-long, 70-foot-tall wooden structure was placed in the National Register of Historic Places and Ericson Group has agreed to cover the costs of buying and operating in addition to the relocation and renovation costs.

Mulroy and Ericson were asked if it would be cheaper to build a new version of the Zippin Pippin, but both said cost estimates were about the same.

"If we can't save Libertyland itself, we can at least save its two crown-jewel rides," Mulroy said.

At the next City Council meeting, Ericson will propose the Pyramid Harbor and hopes it will begin the approval process at least by February if not earlier.

"Our goal is to have two million visitors a year."

-- Yann Ranaivo

Monday, January 14, 2008

Kathryn Perry Thomas

Posted By on Mon, Jan 14, 2008 at 4:00 AM

Memphis lost a link to its history last week when Kathryn Perry Thomas died at the age of 92. Thomas, a classical pianist featured in an August cover story in the Flyer, was the last living Memphian to have played with jazz bandleader Jimmie Lunceford, who taught music in the Bluff City before going on the road in 1930. Thomas' brother Andrew Perry was a member of Lunceford's first band the Chickasaw Syncopators.

Thomas spent her career here as an educator in the Memphis City Schools teaching English and Spanish, first at Manassas High School in North Memphis, her alma mater, class of 1932, and later at White Station.

The Comrades N Community organization recognized Thomas as one of their Women of Stamina last year. She also received the Jimmie Lunceford Legacy Award from local culture activist Ron Herd at his educational Jimmie Lunceford Jamboree in October 2007.

Thomas donated her remains to science. If the secrets to kindness, vitality, and longevity lie in the human body, then we just got one step closer to learning them. "She was an educator the end," Herd remarked.

-- Preston Lauterbach

Friday, January 11, 2008

Director Craig Brewer loses Paramount Deal

Posted By on Fri, Jan 11, 2008 at 4:00 AM

The writers strike has provided Paramount, Universal, and Fox studios with an opportunity to "drop costly ['first look'] deals" according to Variety. Craig Brewer, the Memphis-based filmmaker whose breakthrough film Hustle & Flow prompted a bidding war at the Sundance Film Festival and resulted in a multi-picture deal for producer John Singleton, was dropped by Paramount as a cost-cutting measure.

Brewer, whose most recent film Black Snake Moan earned mixed reviews and underperformed at the box office was recently named as a "New Radical" by Radar magazine.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

"Black" Day at The Commercial Appeal

Posted By on Thu, Jan 10, 2008 at 4:00 AM

It's a dark day over at The Commercial Appeal. Guild members are wearing black today to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the newspaper not giving its employees raises.

Employees say it's been a bleak five years, especially in contrast to what editor Chris Peck calls "monetizing" the content. In October, the paper began finding sponsors for certain columns and stories. More recently, a gray Gateway Tire ad has found a home on the agate type stats page in the sports section.

"We wanted to find a way to show our solidarity as a group of employees and this is a very visual way to do that," said Dakarai Aarons, one of the guild's three vice presidents. "We are in mourning."

Aarons added that, as health care costs have increased for employees but salaries haven't, employees are actually losing money by staying at the CA.

Read more about the CA's monetizing, here.

More about the guild's recent struggles here.

Kyle Proposes Legislation to Replace Ophelia Ford

Posted By on Thu, Jan 10, 2008 at 4:00 AM

In response to the extended absences of Memphis' controversial state senator Ophelia Ford, fellow Memphis senator Jim Kyle has introduced legislation that would allow Ford to step aside and appoint a temporary replacement.

Kyle, who has not spoken with Senator Ford, and who doesn't know if she will cooperate, has repeatedly stressed the difficult situation she has created for Tennessee Democrats at a time when the Senate is divided 16-16 with one D-leaning independent.

"Senator Ford isn't the first legislator to be absent for a long period of time," Kyle told the Flyer. "We have had other vacancies, and this is something we need to address."

Kyle's bill is based on a similar measure adopted by the Idaho state legislature.

"If [Senator Ford] refuses to cooperate a member of the Senate has to propose a resolution to have her replaced involuntarily," Kyle says.

There has been no official response from Ford. A call placed to the number listed on Ford's official legislative website as "District Address" yielded the following response: "This isn't her office, it's the funeral home -- we can't tell you how to get in touch with anybody."

The person who answered the phone at Ford's Nashville address claimed to be a temp who was just "cleaning up."

"I don't think anybody even knows I'm here," she said.

Previously Ford's absences and her erratic behavior in committee meetings have been attributed to illness and anemia.

-- Chris Davis

Michael Hooks Jr. Pleads Guilty in Federal Court

Posted By on Thu, Jan 10, 2008 at 4:00 AM

Former school board member Michael Hooks Jr. pleaded guilty Thursday in federal court to taking slightly less than $3,000 in illegal payments from Shelby County Juvenile Court.

Hooks, 32, who was once described as "the hip-hop" school board member in a Memphis Flyer story, entered a change of plea before U.S. District Judge Daniel Breen.

"We almost went to trial on this, but Michael wanted to get his life back on track and move on," said his attorney, Glen Reid Jr., in an interview with the Flyer. "He is a very smart guy with a lot of good education and a chance to become a prominent citizen again."

Reid said that, contrary to some news reports and a press release issued by the Department of Justice in Memphis, the case was not part of Tennessee Waltz.

"This had nothing to do with his service as a public official and nothing whatsoever to do with Tennessee Waltz," said Reid, a former federal prosecutor.

A press release issued by United States Attorney David Kustoff, however, stated that "Mr. Hooks was indicted in this matter on June 20, 2006, as part of Operation Tennessee Waltz."

Under sentencing guidelines, Hooks could get probation and no prison time or up to six months imprisonment. His sentencing date is April 9th.

"We're hopeful that Judge Breen will consider alternative sentencing," Reid said.

According to Reid, Hooks was caught up in a scheme concocted by his father, former Shelby County Commissioner Michael Hooks Sr., and former Juvenile Court Clerk and former commissioner Shep Wilbun. They were going to get Hooks Jr. a job at Juvenile Court, but he already had a job and, in essence, said "no thanks." So they cooked up another deal involving consultant Tim Willis, and Willis gave legitimate and illegitimate work to Hooks Jr.

"His daddy was trying to help him the old Memphis way and that got him in trouble," said Reid.

Prosecutor Tim DiScenza said in court that, for unspecified reasons, it was "politically impossible" to bring Hooks aboard in a full-time job at Juvenile Court.

Willis got $60,000 for consulting business which he distributed to Hooks Jr. and others. Reid said Hooks Jr. admitted getting one illegal payment of $1,500 and other cash payments of $200 or $300. Willis later became a key undercover informant in the Tennessee Waltz investigation, but the events involving Hooks Jr. took place approximately three years before that.

Michael Hooks Sr., pleaded guilty to Tennessee Waltz charges of taking $24,000 while in office and is serving a prison sentence.

Reid said Hooks Jr., made no agreement to cooperate in other investigations and "has no information about anybody else whatsoever."

Kustoff said in his press release, "The investigation and prosecution of public corruption in the Western District of Tennessee remains a top priority of the FBI and the United States Attorneys Office."

Karl Rove Says Memphis is a "Smart Buy"

Posted By on Thu, Jan 10, 2008 at 4:00 AM

Memphis got a plug of sorts from an unlikely source Thursday.

Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Karl Rove, former senior adviser to President Bush, said Memphis "may be a smart buy" for candidates in the "Super Tuesday primaries on February 5th. Tennessee and Arkansas are both Super Tuesday states, and Memphis television stations reach audiences in both states.

Candidates, Rove said, "will spend their limited dollars on TV stations that deliver the largest number of likely supporters at the least cost."

Let the record show that the Memphis Flyer also reaches a wide audience and welcomes the dollars of Republican and Democratic candidates alike.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Elvis Harley Sells for $58,000 on eBay

Posted By on Tue, Jan 8, 2008 at 4:00 AM

The last of the limited edition Harley-Davidsons specially tricked out to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley sold Tuesday morning on eBay for $58,816. Although eBay doesn't disclose the names or locations of buyers, his (or her) eBay handle was "elvissparky."

Bruce Rossmeyer is CEO of 13 Harley dealerships, including Graceland Harley-Davidson and the world's largest H-D dealership in Daytona, Florida. Earlier this summer, he commissioned 30 FLH model Harleys with custom paintjobs and other features designed to re-create as closely as possible the 1957 FLH Harley once owned by the King of Rock-and-Roll. Each bike was specially numbered, and 1-29 have already been sold.

The reserve price -- the minimum price the bike can sell for -- was set at $58,816, and the bike received just one bid. Anything over and above that price was to be donated to Presley Place, which offers transitional housing for homeless families in Memphis. Since the bike sold for the reserve price, looks like Presley Place lost out.

Check it out here.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Two Memphians on David Letterman Tuesday Night

Posted By on Mon, Jan 7, 2008 at 4:00 AM

The band MGMT, led by Memphis' own Andrew VanWyngarden, along with fellow Memphian Hank Sullivant on guitar, will appear on Late Night With David Letterman Tuesday.

MGMT was recently named one of Rolling Stone's "Top 10 Artists to Watch" for 2008. Their album, "Oracular Spectacular" is available on iTunes now and will be released by Columbia Records on January 22nd.

For a sample of MGMT's music, click on the rather tribal image below. It's a version of MGMT's interactive video for "Electric Feel."

For more about the band, check out their MySpace page. (And yes, Andrew's father is Flyer editor Bruce VanWyngarden.)

Friday, January 4, 2008

Cybill on Broadway?

Posted on Fri, Jan 4, 2008 at 4:00 AM

According to various reports, Cybill Shepherd may be headed to Broadway this spring in a role described by novelist and occasional playwright Gore Vidal as an alcoholic nymphomaniacal billionairess.

All mean-spirited jokes about typecasting aside, last month The New York Post reported that Vidal had completed Masks Outrageous and Austere, the unfinished play Tennessee Williams was working on in 1983 when he choked on the cap of an eye drop bottle and died. Although no theatre has been booked, Peter Bogdanovitch, who directed Shepherd in The Last Picture Show, has been tapped to helm the project.

Williams' early, minor, and unfinished works have received quite a bit of attention in recent years. Not About Nightingales, a "lost" work from 1938 was nominated for six Tony Awards after its Broadway debut in 1999, and has since been revived all around the country. Also, writer, actress, and former Memphian Jodie Markell finished shooting the previously unproduced Williams screenplay The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond in September 2007.

Vidal, who abandoned playwriting in the 1960s, says that Williams had only completed 10 pages of the script before he died but it was clear where things were headed.

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