Friday, January 13, 2017

Briefs from the Political Week

Rallings downplays homicide numbers; Commission prepares legislative package, includes medical marijuana, not in agreement yet on MLGW issue; Cohen gets new leadership post in Congress

Posted By on Fri, Jan 13, 2017 at 11:48 AM

*Speaking to a pacled audience at the University Club for a Rotary Club of Memphis luncheon on Tuesday, MPD director Michael Rallings insisted that the city’s official homicide totals of 228 for 2016 are misleading, because Memphis’ homicide numbers account for "every single homicide," which includes justifiable homicides, negligent homicides and sometimes an old homicide wrapped in the number, leaving the city with a more accurate figure of 194.” Rallings said the average homicide figure in recent years has been 153.

* At its Monday meeting, the Shelby County Commission prepared a package of legislative desiderata to present to the General Assembly, including support for medical marijuana and division of the state's movie and film incentives equally between the state’s four largest cities. Amid city/county disagreement on the matter, the Commission is still grappling with a resolution seeking support from the state for expanding the MLGW board to include county representatives or, alternatively, to allow county residents to contract with another energy vendor.

* From a brand-new press release from U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen:

"Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) was appointed by House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi to serve on the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee. The Steering and Policy Committee sets the Democratic policy agenda and nominates Democratic Members for committee assignments. In 2008, then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi referred to Congressman Cohen as the “conscience of the freshman class.”

Congressman Cohen is the first Congressman from the Ninth District of Tennessee to serve on the committee since Harold Ford, Sr. served from 1988-1990 and the first Tennessean to serve on the committee since John Tanner served from 1996-2004."

Cohen was teasing a forthcoming "leadership" appointment at his annual "issues" meeting with constituents on Monday. That was the one at which he foresaw the United States entering into a new "Dark Ages" because of the Trump/GOP ascendancy in Washington.

*Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke will be having a "Beers wth Berke" fundraiser in Memphis on January 31 at levels of $50 and $100 a head. Some observers think Berke has a doujble purpose, to help fund his ongoing mayoral race and to scout out support for a later gubernatorial race.

In The Age Of Trump, Remember The Killian Documents

For media consumers, the lesson is, be suspicious of everything, especially if it confirms your biases.

Posted By on Fri, Jan 13, 2017 at 9:10 AM


As news organizations and the public struggle to come to grips with salacious new information about Donald Trump contained in a 35-page dossier released this wee by Buzzfeed, it’s a good time to think back to the 2004 campaign between John Kerry and George W. Bush.

Early in that year, The Memphis Flyer’s Jackson Baker broke a story alleging that then-President George W. Bush had, back in the 1970s, taken unauthorized leave of an Alabama Air National Guard unit that he had sought a transfer to from his regular Texas Guard unit in order to spend time working on a political campaign.

This information was an open secret among the former Alabama Air Guard members that Baker used as his sources. Indeed, several of them had heard of the forthcoming transfer to their unit of Bush, son of the prominent political figure and future President George H.W. Bush, and a Guard pilot whose well-deserved reputation as a hell-raiser had traveled far and wide in Guard circles.

These pilots had actively awaited his coming. But, three of them told Baker categorically and for the record, Lt. George W. Bush had never turned up at any point for the entire year of his supposed assignment to their
Guard base. Meanwhile, there was no dearth of Bush-sightings during the ongoing (and ultimately losing) U.S. Senate campaign, elsewhere in Alabama, of Bush-family friend Winton “Red” Blount.

Though rumors of Bush’s year-long no-show at the Alabama air base had been floating about the Internet, Baker’s Flyer story first put the concept, and the concrete first-person evidence for it, firmly into the public record, and thus set the stage for the remarkable series of events that followed.

As the 2004 campaign ground on, neither Bush nor Kerry was able to gain a clear advantage. Then, in September, Democrats got a gift: CBS TV’s 60 Minutes 2 obtained letters from Texas Air Guard commander Col. Jerry B. Killian that seemingly provided further documentary evidence of the allegations against Bush.

Democrats trumpeted the new evidence, presented by Dan Rather himself, as proof that the Commander-In-Chief was unfit for office. But within days, the story began to unravel. Commenters on internet message boards attached to conservative blogs Little Green Footballs and Powerline quickly produced convincing evidence that the Killian Documents were forgeries.

For weeks, the internet and news media were consumed with discussions of the minutiae of the command structure of 1970’s air units and the capabilities of vintage typewriters. Eventually, CBS acknowledged that the Killian Document were likely forged. Dan Rather lost his job, and George W. Bush was reelected.

After the election, not much thought was given to the provenance of the Killian Documents or what effect they had on the course of history. The source of the apparent forgery was never uncovered. But who would produce a forgery like this, and why? And how did semi-anonymous internet commenters know exactly where to look for proof of a forgery when experts CBS hired thought they were authentic?

Surely,Republicans argued, the forgery was done by political opponents of President Bush to discredit him during a tight election. But there was another interpretation of the story. What if the Killian Documents were forged by someone in the Bush campaign — a couple of famous (or infamous) Dirty Tricksters come to mind — and selectively leaked to Rather’s producers at 60 Minutes?

Then, when Rather took the bait, the debunking information was leaked to Bush’s supporters, who amplified it across their numerous media channels., eventually discrediting the campaign’s most hostile media source on television. Regardless, the reveal of the Killian Documents was to shift public debate away from Bush’s character — and the first-evidence evidence of his dereliction from Alabama Air Guard pilots — and onto the truth or untruth of the documents themselves

The publication by Buzzfeed of the new intelligence dossier filled with shocking accusations about Donald Trump’s financial ties to Russia and the possibility that Putin’s intelligence agency the FSB has sexually explicit blackmail material on the Republican has thrown the country into an uproar. But there are enough parallels to the Killian Documents incident to raise red flags for the news consumer and publisher alike.

First, the Killian documents and the Trump dossier both told Democrats and other critics exactly what they wanted to hear at a time when they were most desperate to hear it. Accusations that Trump paid Russian prostitutes to pee on the bed President Obama had once slept in were like catnip to Democrats and the left. Left-leaning social media has been a golden shower of pee jokes for going on 48 hours now.

Second, claims that the dossier was forged popped up on the anonymous message board 4chan within hours of Buzzfeed’s publication. Third, as the story gets bogged down in minutiae and side avenues, the central topic of discussion—is Trump fatally compromised by Russian intelligence?—is being pushed aside in favor of profiles of Christopher Steele, the MI6 agent who allegedly compiled the dossier, amid speculation about the authenticity of the most malicious claims.

The dossier had been passed around to major media outlets for months, all of whom — perhaps having learned the lessons of the Killian Documents — decided not to publish before the issue of authenticity could be verified. After the existence of the dossier was mentioned in a footnote to the CIA/FBI/NSA briefing to Obama, Trump, and Congress on Russian interference in the election, CNN reported on the existence of the docs and Buzzfeed jumped at the chance for a scoop, thus opening the media floodgates.

If the dossier is indeed a black propaganda operation designed to take the heat off Trump, it’s well designed, as were the Killian “letters.” Col. Killian’s son described the contents and form of the apparently forged letters from his father as askillful mixture of truth and fiction.

Associating the really important information about Trump — that, inadvertently or otherwise, he’s a possible Russian intelligence asset about to assume the office of the Presidency — with false information appealing to the preconceptions of his political opponents could have the net effect of neutralizing the issue of potential treasonous behavior with his supporters and the media at large.

Even more dangerously, sewing doubt as to the authenticity of the mainstream news outlets reporting on the story opens up new lines of attack for the Trump team. Already, the President-elect has used the story to accuse CNN of being “fake news”, a term originally coined to describe amateur propaganda designed as Facebook clickbait

Strategic uses of forgeries is nothing new to the world’s intelligence agencies. The Protocols Of The Elders of Zion was a widely circulated fake manuscript produced by Tsarist Russia’s secret police to justify the prosecution of Jews at the turn of the 20th century, for example. In 2002, the Niger Uranium documents were proved to be forgeries designed to help push the US into invading Iraq.

Yet the media and the left remain in deep denial about the nature of CIA and KGB-derived gambits they are facing. The 2015 film Truth, based on an account by Dan Rather’s producer Marla Mapes, showed that the victims of the Killian scam still believe the letters to be authentic.

This article may sound like a paranoid liberal conspiracy theory, but this whole election cycle has exceeded the wildest dreams of even the most crazed of the tin-foil-hat brigade. The Killian Documents gambit is just one arrow in the quiver of the sophisticated and unscrupulous media operators who seek to control the national conversation in these dangerous times. For media consumers, the lesson is, be suspicious of everything, especially if it confirms your biases.

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Friday, December 16, 2016

Strickland Pondering City Action on Aquifier Dispute

The Mayor, an opponent of TVA’s drilling plans, had attended the recent Water Board hearing on well permits but was not permitted to speak.

Posted By on Fri, Dec 16, 2016 at 4:54 PM

The Sierra Club 's Banbury and Mayor Strickland (seated) at recent Water Board hearing - JB
  • JB
  • The Sierra Club 's Banbury and Mayor Strickland (seated) at recent Water Board hearing
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland is researching local water-permit procedures with an eye toward giving the city some power of approval over future permits — and simultaneously to ascertain the city’s wherewithal under existing rules.

Strickland, an opponent of TVA’s plan to use water from the Memphis sand aquifer, source of the Memphis area’s drinking water, to cool a new power plant, had prepared to speak at the Shelby County Water Quality Control Board’s meeting two weeks ago in which the Sierra Club’s appeal of well-drilling permits for TVA was unanimously rejected. But he was informed the night before that the Board meeting, chaired by special presiding officer Bob McLean, was “not a public hearing” but a judicial one with strictly formalistic rules.

The Mayor was allowed to attend the hearing but only as a spectator, along with other members of the audience.

The outcome of that hearing has not sat well with Strickland or with other local public officials, including state Senators Lee Harris, a Democrat, and Brian Kelsey, a Republican, who oppose the drilling and have announced plans for bipartisan action to hash out the matter publicly.

And a freshly incorporated Protect Our Aquifer organization, including the Sierra Club, whose members regard the TVA drilling as potentially contaminating to the Aquifier water supply and whose appeal had prompted the Water Board hearing, plans to challenge the board’s decision in Chancery Court.

Scott Banbury, conservation program coordinator for the Sierra Club in Tennessee, plans also to suggest to the Shelby County Commission new and stricter rules for granting well permits, including more advance public notice regarding applications.

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Friday, December 9, 2016

Dems' State Senate Leader Foresees Clashes with Haslam

But Lee Harris sees bi-partisan cooperation on other issues — including marijuana law reform.

Posted By on Fri, Dec 9, 2016 at 1:48 PM

Harris at NFIB meeting - JB
  • JB
  • Harris at NFIB meeting

If Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris has his way, Governor Bill Haslam won’t have his way in the forthcoming legislative session on some key matters without at least incurring some serious harassment from the small band of Senate Democrats.
One of the matters Harris intends to challenge Haslam on is the Governor’s announced plan to outsource more state functions than at present and to meanwhile conduct an investigation into that possibility.

In an interview with Memphis television station WATN-TV recorded for broadcast on Sunday, Harris complained about the authenticity of the probe, contending among other things that the “investigation” was not occurring at the state sites — parks, schools, etc. — in question and that the investigation was being led by individuals too close to the governor to be independent .

(Harris did not mention any names in his intrerview, but in a follow-up conversation later he indicated that he had been referencing two employees of KraftCPA, a firm he made a point of praisingf overall but one with too many ties to the Governor to be appropriately involved in the out-sourcing investigation.)

“I don’t know where that investigation is happening,” Harris said, “but so far it is not being conducted at the facilities on the ground.” He questioned the rationale of the investigation: i.e., that further out-sourcing would preserve government operations at their current levels, at the very least.

“If that’s the case, let’s have a real independent investigation. It is not okay to hire a campaign fundraiser to do an investigation. It is not okay to hire an ally. It is not okay to hire somebody who, in a sense works for you as a state appointee….There are plenty of people out there we could hire, and we don’t have to undrmine the credibility of this process by doing what’s been done so far.”

*On a couple of other issues, Harris professed optimism that bipartisan progress could be made.
On decriminalization of marijuana, for example, he foresaw “some open minds in the legislature on both sides of the aisle,” and specified one such as “a new center of power,” Sen. Randy McNally, about to become the state’s lieutenant governor.

McNally, he said, had been “one of the first” to proclaim that possession of small amounts of marijuana should not be a felony. (See also "Medical Marijuana Coming to Tennessee?" )

On another issue of more specific relevance to Memphis, Harris said he and GOP state Senator Brian Kelsey intended to work together “on a bipartisan basis” to conduct public inquiries on the matter of TVA’s intent to drill wells into Memphis’ sand aquifier, source of the city’s drinking water, in order to provide coolant for the Authority’s forthcoming new natural-gas plant, slated to open in 2018.

Noting that environmentalists had raised questions about possible contamination of the water supply from TVA drilling, Harris said, “We have to say that some things are sacred, and our water supply is one of them.”

(The Shelby County Board of Water Quality Control recently okayed the completion of the TVA drilling process in a brief hearing, but the Sierra Club intends to mount an appeal to Chancery Court and will attempt to persuade the Shelby County Commission to tighten rules on permits for new wells, a process currently overseen by the county Health Department with minimal public notification.

In a “roundtable” session conducted by the National Federation of Independent Business in Memphis a day earlier, on Wednesday, Harris had also mentioned the prospect of some undefined joint action with Kelsey on the aquifier issue.

At the NFIB affair, he had also raised doubt that Tennessee stood to acquire block grants for health care under a hypothetical new program that might be authorized by the Republican congress under the Trump administration. “If Obamacare is redone and they institute block grants, we get nothing,” Harris averred, on the theory that only money for Medicaid expansion previously committed to participating states under the Affordable Care Act would be rerouted through block grants.

Since Tennessee had not participated in the Medicaid expension part of the ACA Act, it would be ineligible, Harris argued. (On that point. state Rep. Ron Lollar, another participant in he NFIB forum, differed, saying he believed the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled that no state could be denied its share of Medicaid expansion funds.)

Medical Marijuana Coming to Tennessee?

According to a variety of signals, remedial state legislation is on its way.

Posted By on Fri, Dec 9, 2016 at 12:13 PM


In the wake of a ruling by Tennessee Attorney General Herb Slatery that local jurisdictions cannot pass marijuana legislation that contradicts state policy, various local governments have gone their separate ways on the subject.

Memphis city government has suspended its application of the relaxed provisions of a new ordinance, Nashville is going ahead with its own, similar ordinance, and the Shelby County Commission has nixed the idea of doing anything at all.

But meanwhile some basic change might be stirring at the state level, after all.

An announcement from the state House Republican caucus on Friday suggested that state Representatives Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby) and Steve Dickerson (R-Goodlettsville) will announce forthcoming legislation next Wednesday on the subject of allowing the dispensation of medical marijuana in some form.

There have other hints of state action on the subject, as well.

One came during the Shelby County Commission’s debate last week on an ordinance to allow law enforcement in unincorporated areas to consider a $50 ticket as one alternative to prosecution for possession of a half-ounce of marijuana or less.

In speaking against the measure, co-sponsored by Commissioners Reginald Milton and Van Turner, Commissioner Terry Roland warned that passage of a local ordinance might cause backlash against a pending measure in the legislature to legalize medical marijuana. Roland mentioned state Senator Mark Green (R-Clarksville), a physician, as a likely sponsor of such a bill in the coming session of the General Assembly..

And in the course of an interview on Thursday with WATN-TV anchor Brandon Artiles, scheduled for broadcast on Sunday, state Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris (D-Memphis) foresaw “some open minds in the legislature on both sides of the aisle” on the matter of decriminlizartion and specified one such as “a new center of power,” Sen. Randy McNally, about to become the state’s lieutenant governor.

McNally, he said, had been “one of the first” to proclaim that possession of small amounts of marijuana should not be a felony.

9th District Congressman Steve Cohen (D-Memphis) was an early proponent of legalizing medical marijuana during his service in the state Senate and continues to support liberalization of marijuana laws as well as the commutation of strict sentences meted out in the past for persons convicted of simple possession.

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Thursday, December 1, 2016

Rep. Ellison, Frontrunner in DNC Race, to be Honored Here

Minnesota Congressman's visit, co-sponsored by numerous Democrats and Democratic groups, will occur on Friday, December 9.

Posted By on Thu, Dec 1, 2016 at 4:11 PM

Rep. Keith Ellison
  • Rep. Keith Ellison

U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), considered by many to be the front-running candidate to become chairman of the Democratic National Committee, will be honored next week at a “welcome reception” here co-sponsored by the Young Democrats of America and the Tennessee Young Democrats.

The event will take place at the Bluefin Restaurant, 135 South Main St., on Friday, December 9, at 7 p.m. Initial co-sponsors of the visit (listed in order of their appearance on the official invitation for the affair) are J.W. Gibson, Chris Anderson, the Tennessee Democratic Party, A C Wharton, the Shelby County Young Democrats, Brent Hooks, Hendrell Remus, and Vanecia Kimbrow.

Other co-sponsors will likely be announced subsequently.

Ellison was briefly profiled in a Flyer online article of November 13, which included the audio of a stirring address delivered by the Minnesota Congressman to a mixed Minnesota/Tennessee delegation at this year’s Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

Go here for that article.

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Cohen Introduces Amendment to Scrap Electoral College

Memphis Congressman and ranking member of key House subcommittee, proposes action to allow direct election of the President.

Posted By on Thu, Dec 1, 2016 at 2:32 PM


Memphis Congressman Steve Cohen, who is often in the vanguard of controversial or transformative efforts, has done it again, introducing an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would, in the words of a press release from his office, “eliminate the Electoral College and provide for the direct election of the President and Vice President of the United States.”

The action by Cohen, who represents Tennessee’s 9th congressional district (Memphis) and is the ranking member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, takes place amid increasing dissatisfaction — especially among Democrats — with the workings of the Electoral College, designed by the Founding Fathers at a time of much more primitive means of communication and transportation.

A case in point: The presidential election of 2016 presents an anomaly whereby the Electoral College loser, Democrat Hillary Clinton, actually out-polled victorious Republican Donald Trump by at least 2 ½ million votes.

Below is the Cohen press release announcing the Congressman’s action:

Ranking Member Cohen Introduces Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to Eliminate the Electoral College

[WASHINGTON, DC] – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, today introduced an amendment to the United States Constitution that would eliminate the Electoral College and provide for the direct election of the President and Vice President of the United States.

“For the second time in recent memory, and for the fifth time in our history, we have a President-elect, who lost the popular vote,” said Congressman Cohen. “The Electoral College is an antiquated system that was established to prevent citizens from directly electing our nation’s President, yet that notion is antithetical to our understanding of democracy. In our country, ‘We the People’ are supposed to determine who represents us in elective office.”

Congressman Cohen continued, “When the Founders established the electoral college, it was in an era of limited nationwide communication. It was premised on a theory that citizens would have a better chance of knowing about electors from their home states than about presidential candidates from out-of-state. The development of mass media and the internet, however, has made information about presidential candidates easily accessible to U.S. citizens across the country and around the world. Today, citizens have a far better chance of knowing about out-of-state presidential candidates than knowing about presidential electors from their home states. Most people don’t even know who their electors are.

Congressman Cohen concluded, “Since our nation first adopted our Constitution, we have amended it repeatedly to expand the opportunity for citizens to directly elect our leaders. We have Constitutional amendments that guarantee the right of all citizens to vote regardless of race, gender and age for citizens who are 18 years of age and older, as well as an amendment to empower citizens to directly elect U.S. Senators. We need to also empower citizens to directly elect the President and the Vice President of the United States. It is time for us to fix the anachronistic process of the Electoral College and make our Constitution better reflect the ‘more perfect Union’ to which it aspires.”


Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Water Quality Board Rejects Appeal of TVA Plans to Drill Into Aquifier

Vote of 7-0 against comes after all-day hearing; environmentalist appellants mulling over possible further action

Posted By on Wed, Nov 30, 2016 at 8:46 PM

Hearing officer Bob McLean (at microphone) spells out rules of procedure for Water Quality Control Board members. - JB
  • JB
  • Hearing officer Bob McLean (at microphone) spells out rules of procedure for Water Quality Control Board members.

It was a long day at the County Code Enforcement building at the Shelby Farms governmental complex, where TVA’s plans to drill into the Memphis sand aquifier were at stake, but the result — a 7-0 vote by the County’s Walter Quality Control Board against a Sierra Club effort to halt those plans — made unexpectedly short work of an issue that was expected to fester for a while.

Testimony at a Board hearing of an appeal that would have spelled quietus on the final two of five wells envisioned by the Authority began at roughly 9:30 and ended at 5 with a motion from Board member Tim Overley, utilities director for Collierville, to reject the appeal. The vote was by a show of hands at the direction of hearing officer Bob McLean. There were three recusals for various reasons on the 11-member board and one absentee.

The outcome apparently leaves TVA free to continue with its preparations to draw some 3.5 million gallons a day from the aquifier to use as coolant for its forthcoming natural-gas power plant, scheduled to open in 2018 as a replacement for the coal-powered plant it currently operates.

The Sierra Club’s Scott Banbury, backed by a coalition of environmentally minded citizens and organizations, had filed an appeal in September to reject permits issued by the county’s Health Department for the two wells. Three wells had already been drilled — before public notice had been given, said Banbury — but have not yet been outfitted with pumps.

TVA maintained that it needed the five wells to provide the plant’s core function of serving 1.5 million customers in the Greater Memphis area, that alternatives of using water from the area’s Maxson wastewater plant or the Mississippi River alluvial aquifier or even of purchasing water from the sand aquifier from MLGW were all considered but finally deemed insufficient for the purpose.

The environmentalists supporting the appeal via an organized “Protect the Aquifier” movement spearheaded by advertising executive Ward Archer have argued that the all of the discarded alternatives were feasible and that the Authority’s plan to drill into the sand aquifier was both unnecessary and endangered the famously pure drinking water with the prospect of pollution through rifts in the aquifier’s surrounding clay walls.

That case was made on Wednesday by Banbury, supplemented by supportive scientific documents placed on the record and by the videotaped testimony of Brian Waldron of the University of Memphis, but a rejection of the appellants’ motion for a continuance resulted in the exclusion of direct testimony from Waldron and other experts, all of whom were attending a professional conference in Ecuador.

Appellant Scott Banbury talks with Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland before hearing. - JB
  • JB
  • Appellant Scott Banbury talks with Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland before hearing.
Meanwhile, both the Health Department and TVA were able to boast a full array of witnesses supporting the Authority’s contention that the aquifier wells were necessary, were harmless to the environment, and had been properly vetted through accepted county-government procedures.

Ironically, the Shelby County Commission is due shortly to consider changes in those procedures (a course called for as well on Wednesday by a member of the Water Quality Control Board), and the Memphis City Council has passed a resolution calling for TVA to employ a different method to acquire its source of coolant water. Memphis Congressman Steve Cohen had also weighed in for a change in course.

The appellants had discussed in advance the possibility of appealing a negative finding by the Board through Chancery Court but have not yet decided whether to pursue that avenue.

The hearing on Wednesday was conducted to make it as close to a pure legal process as special hearing officer McLean could make it — complete with formal objections that could be sustained or overruled — and as far as possible from anything resembling a pure policy discussion. The audience — which included numerous members of the “Protect the Aquifier” movement, some wearing identifying T-shirts — was expressly warned against any form of demonstrations.

(For the most part, that injunction held, though from time to time a female audience member in the back of the room would respond with a discernibly sardonic chuckle to what she apparently saw as unintentionally revealing moments of testimony from TVA witnesses.)

A participant on the Health Department/TVA side characterized the process as being one of “rules versus emotions,” and the result of that emphasis was that discussion was steered away, over and over again, from ecological matters per se to the more limited question of whether the Health Department had followed checklist guidelines in making its preliminary decision to grant permits for the proposed TVA wells.

McLean’s conduct of the hearing seemed generally even-handed, particularly in his predisposition toward overruling objections, most of them from TVA lawyers attempting to disqualify testimony or exhibits from the Sierra Club side.

But there were anomalies. Early in the proceedings, Banbury attempted to make a point about the nearness to the Presidents Island TVA plant site of an area pinpointed in a U.S. geologic survey as a weak point in the clay layer surrounding the Memphis sand aquifier.

Asked by attorney Webb Brewer to specify exactly how close, Banbury began to answer, stating as his educated “guess,” based on familiarity with the area, that the exact distance was something like a mile, but was sharply interrupted by McLean, who said, “No guessing, Mr. Banbury!” and discounted the answer.

Somewhat later, Ron Tibbs, general manager of major projects for TVA, was at the witness table, and more than once phrased an answer to a technical question as a “guess” without being similarly cut short.
(One answer by Tibbs, to a cross-examination question from Brewer asking his evaluation of the pollutant nature of coal ash, one of the byproducts of TVA’s current power plant identified by environmentalists as toxic, brought a gasp or two from the audience, along with an instance of the aforementioned stage laugh from the back of the room. “I don’t consider coal ash to be particularly dangerous,” Tibbs said. “I’m not aware of any major concerns.”)

Many of the issues discussed in Wednesday's hearing engendered Rashomon-like differences in perspective by the contending parties. The unusually large energy-producing capacity of the forthcoming new TVA plant — planned to be considerably more than sufficient for the needs of the target population — was explained away by Authority witnesses as being based on redundancy safeguards, while Sierra Club spokespersons have seen it as obvious evidence of TVA's desire to expand its potential energy market beyond the current confines.

And there were intriguing questions left short of full exploration — such as why it was that "gray water" (i.e., treated waste water) was sufficient to cool the Authority's Caledonia power plant near Columbus, Mississippi, but was regarded as out of the question for the forthcoming new plant here.

By and large, members of the Water Quality Board, many of whom held positions of engineering or environmental authority within Shelby County were respectful of the contending points of view at the hearing but, as their occasional questions to witnesses indicated, seemed inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to the testimony put forth by experts from the Health Department and TVA.

In any case, their verdict was, as indicated, more a statement of approval that established procedures were followed in the Health Department’s granting of permits for the proposed TVA wells than it was an evaluation of the Authority’s contention that no other alternative existed than the one of drilling into the Memphis sand aquifier.

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Sunday, November 27, 2016

Memphians Dominate Democratic Leadership Positions in State House

Six of 12 positions are filled by local representatives.

Posted By on Sun, Nov 27, 2016 at 3:03 PM

Towns (l), Akbari
  • Towns (l), Akbari

Memphis Democrats loomed large in the assignment of state House of Representatives party leadership positions for the forthcoming 110th session of the General Assembly.

Of the 12 positions voted on by the House Democrats’ caucus in Nashville on Saturday, six will be held by Memphis representatives.
Parkinson (l), Camper
  • Parkinson (l), Camper

The Memphis Democrats and their caucus positions are: Joe Towns, assistant minority leader; Raumesh Akbari, House floor leaders; Antonio Parkinson, caucus vice chair; Karen Camper, caucus treasurer; John DeBerry, leader pro tempore; and Larry Miller, one of three House Democratic members of the legislative joint fiscal committee.

Reelected by the caucus were Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley as House minority leader and Mike Stewart of Nashville as caucus chair.
DeBerry (l), Miller
  • DeBerry (l), Miller

Others elected were JoAnne Favors of Chattanooga, minority whip; Harold Love Jr.
of Nashville, caucus secretary; and Johnny Shaw of Bolivar and Brenda Gil more of Nashville, the other two Democratic members of the legislative joint fiscal committee.

There will be 25 Democrats in all in the state House of Representatives.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Keith Ellison, Early Leader to Head the DNC, in a Speech to Tennessee Democrats

Hear his remarks to a joint meeting of the Tennessee and Minnesota delegations at the Democratic National Convention in August.

Posted By on Sun, Nov 13, 2016 at 2:44 PM

Rep. Ellison with Bernie Sanders at the Convention
  • Rep. Ellison with Bernie Sanders at the Convention

In the aftermath of its unexpected and shattering defeat in the presidential race, coupled with a failure to recapture control of either chamber of Congress, the Democratic Party will be looking for new leadership to rescue its hopes.

Among the first imperatives facing the party is the selection of a new chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Whoever holds that position will be responsible for clarifying and overseeing the Democratic agenda for the next several years, leading up to mid-term elections in 2018 and another go at the Presidency in 2020.

One of the all-but-declared frontrunners for the chairmanship is U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, who, insofar as his name rings any bells at all, is mainly known as the only Muslim serving in the Congress or,  as a leader of the congressional Progressive Caucus, having been one of the chief supporters of the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign.

Tennesseans who went to the Democratic National Convention in early August got a more close-up sense of Ellison and his views during a joint breakfast of the Tennessee and Minnesota delegations mid-way of the Convention.

In the course of his quite animated remarks at the breakfast, Ellison had some interesting things to say about Tennessee and its folkways and Memphis in particular, and he recalled one of the painful memories in our local history.

Here, to be heard as he said them, are his remarks to that delegation breakfast:

Friday, November 11, 2016

Dwayne Thompson’s Upset Win

Winner of the District 96 state House was the only Tennessee Democrat to unseat a Republican incumbent lawmaker.

Posted By on Fri, Nov 11, 2016 at 12:19 AM

Artiles (l), Thomson on the WATN set - JB
  • JB
  • Artiles (l), Thomson on the WATN set

It wasn’t just in the presidential election or in the nation at large that surprising results occurred. Republican dominance of public office in Tennessee is virtually complete and become so in the three successive statewide elections of 2010, 2012, and 2014, resulting in a seemingly unbreakable legislative super-majority.

Given that fact, and considering that the 2016 election cycle will have put Donald Trump into the presidency and given the Republicans control of the U.S. Senate and House, it is downright astonishing that Democrat Dwayne Thompson, a likeable longtime party activist in his ‘60s, should have won election to the state House from a suburban Shelby County district. It is doubly astonishing that he unseated an incumbent Republican to do so.

Yet that is exactly what Thompson did in the election ending on November 8, knocking off the well-established GOP state Representative Steve McManus in District 96 (Cordova, Germantown), by a total of 351 votes out of almost 28,000 cast.

“It was a close election, and I expected it to be close,” a relaxed Thompson said on Thursday to WATN-TV anchor Brandon Artiles as they recorded an interview for this Sunday’s Local 24 show, following the regular segment of ABC’s This Week show with George Stephanopoulos.

Thompson’s diffident manner belied the phenomenal nature of his upset win. In the decade of the 2010’s in red-state Tennessee, Republicans do not lose many races to Democratic candidates, and certainly GOP incumbents, like McManus, the long-serving chairman of the House Insurance and Banking committee, don’t lose to Democrats.

And, in fact, McManus didn’t lose to Thompson during the Democrat’s first challenge to his incumbency in 2014. This year’s race was expected by most to be a replay of that one in every respect.

Except it wasn’t. Thompson was the only Democrat to upset an incumbent Republican legislator in Tennessee, and, as he told Artiles during their interview, “maybe in the South.”

It is a truism that once somebody performs an act previously thought undoable, it sets an example for others to follow suit; so Thompson’s feat makes it inevitable that other Republicans, in Shelby County and elsewhere in Tennessee, are liable to get a run for their money in 2018.

Speaking of money, McManus’ war chest, totaling $155,754.59 as of the third-quarter financial-disclosure deadline, dwarfed Thompson’s $5,088.20 as of that date. To be sure, Thompson would later receive an infusion of financial aid from the Tennessee Democratic Party, enough to fund some modest Internet advertising that pointed out, among other things, the fact that he had a military record.

But what really did the trick for Thompson was hard campaigning. In a campaign managed by super-activist Diane Cambron, with assistance from veteran consultant Bret Thompson and a bevy of dedicated supporters from local Democratic ranks, candidate Thompson estimates that his team knocked on 12,000 doors in the district while he alone did 4,000. His campaign had phone banks going full-time, and he greeted early voters at the Agri-Center on a daily basis.

As Thompson explained to Artiles, his immediate objectives in the legislature will be to work on funding for public education, which he regards as under-funded and vulnerable to become more so in an age of charter schools and proposed vouchers to private schools. He hopes also to help revive prospects for Governor Bill Haslam’s dormant Insure Tennessee proposal for Medicaid expansion and to do something about what he sees as Cordova’s serious traffic problems.

And, he said, he wants to spend time getting to know legislators “in the other party and in other parts of the state,” so as to lay the basis for cooperative endeavors.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

In Huge Upset, Trump Defeats Clinton

Posted By on Wed, Nov 9, 2016 at 7:56 AM

The President-elect
  • The President-elect
In what amounts to a greater political upset than the 1948 victory of underdog Harry Truman over Thomas E. Dewey, New York billionaire Donald J. Trump, the Republican nominee for president, defeated the heavily favored Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who had been widely expected to become the nation’s first woman president, a generation after her husband, Bill Clinton, served two terms as the nation’s chief executive.

Instead, it will be Trump, who has never before held political office, who will occupy the white House as the 45th President of the U.S.

Trump’s triumph came via unexpected strength in key states, not only the much-mentioned “battleground states” of Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, and Iowa, but in a tier of Midwestern rust-belt states — Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania — that had been regarded as an impregnable Democratic “blue wall.”

Equally surprising was the fact that Republicans won enough seats to maintain control of the Senate, with at least 51 seats versus no more than 47 for the Democrats in the Congress that will be sworn in, along with Trump and his vice-presidential running mate Mike Pence, in January.

Though the first returns on Tuesday from Florida were ambivalent, auguring a tight contest between Democrat Clinton and Republican Trump, the GOP nominee soon began to pull away finally in the race for that state’s 29 electoral votes. Trump would then be declared the winner in Ohio and North Carolina.

The big surprises would come in the domino-like succession of apparent victories for Trump in Michigan, site of last-minute Hail Mary efforts by Trump, the neighboring Midwestern state of Wisconsin, which had been regarded as safe for the Democratic nominee, and even Minnesota. Contests in such other battleground states as New Hampshire and Arizona also seemed to be going Trump’s way.

It remained to be seen whether Trumpiiu or Clinton would end up ahead in the very close national popular vote.

At some point after midnight, Central Standard Time, Clinton reportedly made a concession call to Trump, who responded with a relatively gracious victory speech to his supporters in Trump Tower, his signature building in Manhattan, several blocks from the Javits Center, from which dejected Clinton supporters were even then streaming.

In his speech, Trump said it was "time to bind the wounds of division....and come together as one people." He said the nation owed Clinton, a former First Lady, U.S. Senator, and Secretary of State "gratitude for her years of service." Clinton planned public remarks of her own for Wednesday morning.

Further details to follow.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Harris, Cohen, Bill Freeman in 3-Way Love-Fest

The three Democrats were principals in a GOTV rally last week that had relevance to the politics of 2018.

Posted By on Mon, Nov 7, 2016 at 11:50 AM

Nashville Democrat Bill Freeman, a potential gubernatorial candidate, greets David Upton and Kathy Ferguson at last week's GOTV event and Lee Harris fundraiser. - JB
  • JB
  • Nashville Democrat Bill Freeman, a potential gubernatorial candidate, greets David Upton and Kathy Ferguson at last week's GOTV event and Lee Harris fundraiser.

As the presidential campaign comes to an end in Tennessee as elsewhere, at least local Get-Out-the-Vote event for Democrat Hillary Clinton functioned simultaneously as a prelude to the politics of 2018.

This was a fundraiser for state Senator Lee Harris last Thursday night at the Memphis residence of Linda Sowell. The event, which drew a decent-sized crowd of Democratic activists, doubled as a GOTV rally for Clinton, but it had a third purpose as well: It was a coming-out event for the likely forthcoming gubernatorial race of Bill Freeman, a Nashville Democratic eminence and one of the party’s chief donors.

Besides Harris and Freeman, a chief speaker at the event was 9th District congressman Steve Cohen, who bestowed compliments on both of the other principals — and would receive some as well. The event could accurately be described as a three-way political love-fest.

Introduced to the crowd by Harris as “our very own Congressman…the father of the Tennessee scholarship,” Cohen would say of the state Senator: “I’ve supported Lee in all his elections, except the first. When he ran against me in 2006, I was against him…..But he ran an issue-oriented campaign, and he impressed me greatly…. Lee’s a star up there [in Nashville], and is right on the issues.”

The Congressman described Harris as the “voice in the wilderness” in Nashville that Cohen thought he himself had often been as a state Senator.

An interesting sub-text of this was that Harris had flirted seriously with the idea of opposing Cohen in the 9th District primary this year before deciding against it in January.

The Congressman would also brag on Freeman, a near finalist in last year’s multi-candidate mayoral race in Nashville and a state co-chair for the Clinton campaign whose ulterior motive for being in Memphis was to scout out support for the aforesaid 2018 gubernatorial race. Cohen would say of him, “Bill Freeman might have further plans, and if he offers himself, he’ll be a fine candidate to be the head of the ship of state and do Tennessee proud and the Democratic Party proud.”

When Freeman spoke, he stroked both Memphians. He talked of how, in separate appearances at fundraising events in his Nashville home, Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton made a point of asking, “Where’s Steve Cohen?” (Cohen, in Freeman’s telling, was either unavoidably in Washington or at some other event in Memphis.)

Of Harris, Freeman noted the state Senator’s status as Senate Democratic leader and said, “He has risen to the top…. There’s nobody better thought of in Nashville than Lee….The future holds great things for your state Senator. There’s no limit.”

In a summing-up for the evening, Harris mocked Republicans and said of both his special guests, Cohen and Freeman, “They don’t have talent like that on their side of the room.”

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Rep. Cohen Calls on FBI Director Comey to Resign

Memphis congressman and Civil Justice ranking member says that FBI Director had "no basis for action" in reopening Clinton email case and that his injecting a volatile issue into the presidential campaign had been "misuse of an official position."

Posted By on Sun, Oct 30, 2016 at 11:25 PM

The fallout keeps growing  from Friday 's bombshell announcement by FBI director James Comey that the FBI would be reopening its investigation of the Hillary Clinton email affair in view of a reported discovery that a laptop shared by Clinton aide Huma Abedin and her disgraced husband Anthony Weiner might contain emails "pertinent" to the seemingly closed Clinton case.

Both presidential campaigns — and their respective supporters — are treating the matter as something 
Director Comey (l); Rep. Cohen
  • Director Comey (l); Rep. Cohen
much more than the proverbial "October Surprise" — rather, it would seem, as something that could wrench the election one way or the other from its seemingly inevitable course. Both Republicans and Democrats seem to believe that while emotional reaction to the matter might or might not open up a pathway for a Donald Trump victory, it could have a drastic effect on the so-called "down-ballot" races for contested House and Senate seats.

Memphis congressman Steve Cohen, an enthusiastic supporter of Clinton's presidential candidacy, is the latest public official to go public with anger over the development. The 9th District congressman is calling Director Comey 's action improper and demanding that he resign.

Cohen's complete statement follows in a press release from his office:

October 31, 2016

House Judiciary Constitution and Civil Justice Subcommittee Ranking Member Cohen Calls for FBI Director Comey to Resign

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, today called on James Comey to resign as Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

"FBI Director James Comey’s recent public comments on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her emails, apparently before seeing any evidence, and against the advice of the Justice Department according to press reports, and even, some have suggested, in violation of the Hatch Act, make it clear that for the good of the FBI and the Justice Department, he should resign his position effective immediately,” said Congressman Cohen. “In the past, even quite recently, I have expressed my appreciation for Director Comey. I appreciated his courage as Deputy Attorney General when he stood up to President Bush’s Chief of Staff Andrew Card and White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales when they attempted to persuade hospitalized Attorney General John Ashcroft to reauthorize Bush's domestic surveillance program, which the Justice Department had just determined was illegal. When, in July of this year, Director Comey recommended no criminal charges against Hillary Clinton for her handling of classified information while she was Secretary of State but added his own sidebar of opinions to the announcement, I gave Director Comey the benefit of the doubt, despite the fact that his making such highly unusual remarks was called into question by many."

Congressman Cohen elaborated, "While I cannot know Director Comey’s reasoning for his recent letter to House members notifying them about the FBI’s review of emails that he deemed 'potentially related' to Hillary Clinton's personal server, it was plainly premature, careless and unprecedented in its potential impact upon a Presidential election without a speck of information regarding the emails in question, their validity, substance or relevance. Director Comey stated in the letter that he had no idea of 'the significance of this newly discovered collection of emails' which makes his decision all the more disturbing.

"There is a reason that FBI investigations are not usually made public until they are completed. To do so gives an impression of guilt before all the facts have been determined. That was the case during the FBI’s investigation of Secretary Clinton’s emails that led Director Comey to state that there was no evidence that Secretary Clinton intentionally transmitted or willfully mishandled classified information and that 'no reasonable prosecutor' would bring a case against her. In light of that finding and the Department of Justice’s prohibition and practice against influencing elections, it is clear that Director Comey’s actions, no matter his motivations, have called into question his judgment and ethics. That is unacceptable as the FBI Director must, like Caesar’s wife, be above suspicion. I agree with CNN's Paul Callan who, in calling for Director Comey to resign wrote 'Trashing the Justice and FBI rule books in the interest of "openness" is likely to put the FBI front and center in one of the most contentious presidential races in recent U.S. history.’ "

Congressman Cohen continued, "Additionally revelatory is the New York Times opinion written by Richard Painter, chief White House ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, in which he states:

Absent extraordinary circumstances that might justify it, a public communication about a pending FBI investigation involving a candidate that is made on the eve of an election is thus very likely to be a violation of the Hatch Act and a misuse of an official position. Serious questions also arise under lawyers’ professional conduct rules that require prosecutors to avoid excessive publicity and unnecessary statements that could cause public condemnation even of people who have been accused of a crime, not to mention people like Mrs. Clinton, who have never been charged with a crime.

Congressman Cohen concluded, "The fairness of our electoral system is like the fairness of a trial, and no justice official should act in such a way to potentially influence an election whether intended to or not. Standards must be upheld and an FBI Director needs to investigate, not inject issues into a presidential election when no investigation dictates action or basis for action. At a minimum, Director Comey’s actions are, to use his own verbiage, 'extremely careless' this close to the election and without any apparent substance. If Director Comey cares about the Bureau and the rule of law, as I have felt he has in the past, I'm sure upon reflection of this action, he will submit his letter of resignation for the nation’s good."

Friday, October 28, 2016

The Justin Timberlake Selfie Affair: A Recounting

All things considered, the way the native son pop star did it is cooler than an "I Voted" sticker.

Posted By on Fri, Oct 28, 2016 at 9:30 AM

As most of the Western world knows by now, Justin Timberlake cast an early vote on Monday at New Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Germantown. And he posted it a selfie of his vote on Instagram with this message: 
The now famous selfie
  • The now famous selfie

“Hey! You! Yeah, YOU! I just flew from LA to Memphis to #rockthevote !!! No excuses, my good people. There could be early voting in your town too. If not, November 8th! Choose to have a voice! If you don't, then we can't HEAR YOU! Get out and VOTE! #excerciseyourrighttovote.”

It didn’t take long for the media at large to take notice. At some point, Adam Ghassemi, a spokesperson for Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett in Nashville, had this to say:

“We’re thrilled Justin can’t stop the feeling when it comes to voting so much that he voted early in person and is promoting voting to his millions of fans. In Tennessee, using electronic devices inside polling locations to take pictures, videos or make calls is not allowed.

“We hope this encourages more people than ever to vote, but Tennesseans should only use their phones inside polling locations for informational purposes to assist while voting, like our free GoVoteTN mobile app. If polling officials discover someone violating this law they will ask the voter to put their phone away.”

As for taking it to native son Timberlake (who hails from the Memphis suburb of Millington), Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich seems determined to look the other way.

Technically, what the pop star did is a class C misdemeanor and punishable by a 30 day sentence and/or a $50 fine. And someone in the D.A.’s office had issued the following incautious statement: “The Shelby County DA’s Office was made aware of a possible violation of state election law. The matter is under review by the D.A.’s Office.”

But Weirich, who was out of town when the story broke, hastened to put the quietus on that, saying that the statement was issued without her knowledge and adding, "No one in our office is currently investigating this matter nor will we be using our limited resources to do so.

Apparently free of any real possibility of legal retribution, revved-up voting activist Timberlake is entitled, if he chooses, to sing a chorus of “Can’t Stop the Feeling.” And, apropos the message of his Instagram, he certainly got himself heard.

    • Cohen to Introduce Articles of Impeachment against Trump

      Ranking member of House Judiciary subcommittee, says, apropos Charlottesville and Trump's apparent defense of the white nationalist fomentors there: "There are no good Nazis. There are no good Klansmen."
    • Cohen Tells It!

      In which Memphis’ Democratic congressman Steve Cohen, addressing an apparent GOP effort to muddy the waters on the Russian inquiry, not only takes no crap but gives it back where it came from. This is worth watching from beginning to end -- even for those who might disagree on the politics of the matter.

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