Long-Awaited Vanderbilt Pre-K Study Finds Benefits Lacking
John Jay Hooker Files Motion In Fight For End Of Life Choice
Tennessee School Districts Urged To Deny Conservative Group's Requests For Islam Info
Haslam Opens Door to Gas Tax Delay but Warns of Backlog
Ashley Judd to girls worldwide: We go from hurting to healing to helping
Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, said an article in The Tennessean newspaper on Sunday about the conflicting official reports on the death of inmate Elbert Thornton at West Tennessee State Prison raises questions about the "very integrity of the government and the Department of Correction's credibility." Thornton was found unresponsive in his cell on June 12, 2013, and he was pronounced dead later that morning at a Lauderdale County hospital.
Correction Department records reviewed by the Nashville newspaper indicated Thornton died a natural death. But an initial medical examiner's report later that day and an autopsy report the next day deemed the death "suspicious, unusual or unnatural" and listed an array of injuries found on his body, including "multiple blunt traumatic injuries to the head and neck, torso, and extremities" and "thermal injuries on his external genitalia and right and left thighs." Trauma included more than 65 abrasions, a broken breastbone and 19 ribs either broken or healing after being fractured, the newspaper reported, plus severe burns on the inside of both legs.
Yarbro said he hasn't been able to review the documents himself "but the facts laid out are troubling if not alarming. The department has reported that Mr. Thornton died of natural causes when the autopsy required by state law found he died of multiple blunt trauma to the head and torso and severe burns. Obviously a natural death is not typically accompanied by chest fractures, head injuries and severe burns of that nature.
"We need answers and we need them now. If the administration has covered up torture or homicide in a state prison, that is a problem of the highest magnitude. If The Tennessean reporting is inaccurate or incomplete or misleading, we need to know that too. … And so today I want to call upon the governor to order a full and complete investigation of both Mr. Thornton's death and the investigation that followed," said Yarbro, the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate.
David Smith, the governor's press secretary, issued a statement Monday saying, "As with any inmate death, a full investigation was completed, and the death was reviewed by the mortality and morbidity panel. The case was presented to the local district attorney's office for review, and it's my understanding charges were not pursued."
Yarbro said the questions about the inmate's death is but the latest in a series of negative reports about the Tennessee prison system since midsummer. LINK (Subscription)
Haslam Opens Door to Gas Tax Delay but Warns of Backlog
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam is opening the door to putting off a gas tax increase in an election year, but warns that officials need to stop "kidding ourselves" about Tennessee's growing list of unfunded road projects.
Haslam stressed to reporters after an economic development announcement last week that he has yet to make any specific recommendations about how to begin tackling the $6 billion backlog.
"I mean, nobody wants to have a gas tax," Haslam said. "But what I encourage folks is: Let's look and see what the proposal would be and the road projects that would be impacted by doing something or not doing something."
But with all 99 House seats and 16 of 33 senators up for election in 2016, the governor acknowledged that political considerations could make it difficult to pass the first gas tax increase in more than 25 years.
"If they want to say, hey, it's an election year, let's put it off, we can do that," Haslam said. "But everybody just needs to remember we have a $6 billion backlog of projects, and that's just putting things further back.
The list of prominent Republican opponents of raising the gas tax next year includes House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville, Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville, Senate Transportation Chairman Jim Tracy of Shelbyville and House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga.
Tracy told The Associated Press earlier this month that there isn't enough time to put together a comprehensive road funding proposal for the upcoming legislative session in January.
"I don't think it's doable," Tracy said in a phone interview. "Because we've got a lot of work to do to put it together.
Nevertheless, Haslam argues that many lawmakers are willing to give the issue serious consideration in the legislative session because they recognize "the problem is real and it doesn't go away." LINK
Tennessee School Districts Urged To Deny Conservative Group's Requests For Islam InfoThe Tennessee School Boards Association is telling districts to fight a records request from a conservative legal group that's trying to get school districts across Tennessee to divulge what they're teaching middle-schoolers about Islam.
The American Center for Law & Justice is sending records requests to all 146 school districts in Tennessee. The organization says a seventh-grade history unit on the early Islamic empire amounts to indoctrination.
"Imagine your child or grandchild forced to recite the Islamic conversion creed in school," the group says in a video posted on its website. "It's happening in Tennessee, public middle school students are being taught to write 'Allah is the only God.'"
The TSBA isn't responding to those claims. But it is giving districts a sample letter to send to the ACLJ. LINK
Tennessee GOP released anti-Barry ad in final days of runoffn the final days of Nashville's highly partisan mayoral runoff election, the Tennessee Republican Party paid for a mail advertisement that attacked Megan Barry to counter a wave of ads from Tennessee Democrats that went negative on David Fox.
The Tennessee GOP had refrained from getting involved financially in the historically nonpartisan mayor's race for most of the five-week runoff, which Barry ultimately won by a comfortable 10-point margin.
But as the Knoxville News Sentinel first reported on Monday, the state Republican Party made its sole financial play with a mail-piece ad just days ahead of the Sept. 10 election that characterized Barry as a big-spending radical liberal who follows "The Obama Way."
The ad, which appears to have been directed at Republican voters in Bellevue, means that both Tennessee political parties activated resources in the local mayor's race.
"Your neighbors are voting to stop Megan Barry's radical agenda," the mail piece reads. "Why? Because it's The Obama Way."
The ad goes on to make cases against Barry that were similar to arguments made by Fox. It says that Barry "loaded debt onto our children," citing the $1 billion in debt pile-up during her time in the Metro Council, and "voted to increase Bellevue's taxes," referencing her vote for a 13 percent property tax hike in 2012. The mail piece, which goes on to cite Barry's absences from council committee meetings, also says that Barry's "radical agenda is more important than her job." LINK
John Jay Hooker Files Motion In Fight For End Of Life ChoicePolitical activist, John Jay Hooker, has begun his fight for the right to die with dignity, and has called for a ruling on the matter sooner rather than later.
Hooker was diagnosed with stage 4 terminal cancer in January.
Monday, he and his legal team filed a motion to expedite a ruling from Chancellor Carol McCoy.
The Chancellor heard his case in June challenging the constitutionality of a state law that makes it illegal for someone to take their own life with the assistance of a doctor.
Hooker has urged the judge to make a speedy ruling.
“We filed a motion today that respectfully says ‘let’s get on with it,’ because whatever she decides is going to be appealed,” said Hooker. “If she decides in my favor it’ll go up the other side and will be appealed and we’ll appeal and what we need is the next best answer to ‘yes’ is ‘no’ so that we can take it on up to the next level.”
Meanwhile, A Davidson County Grand Jury also heard from the longtime lawyer, political activist and civil rights leader because he claims that Legislators abused their powers when they passed the law prohibiting people to take their own lives.
The Jury issued a statement on Friday showing their support for Hooker's fight to get the state's law amended to give patients an end of life option.
Hooker planned to send a copy of that Grand Jury statement to all members of the legislature because he said the fight is not over.
“I’ve been fighting for civil rights and fighting against the judges’ way of electionv and I’ve been sticking my nose in the public business for a long, long time,” said Hooker. “This gives me a special thrill because so many people so deeply relate to it.” LINK
Long-Awaited Vanderbilt Pre-K Study Finds Benefits LackingA five-year study conducted on Tennessee’s voluntary pre-K program is leaving researchers scratching their heads.
Vanderbilt Peabody College professors followed a thousand students from pre-K through third grade and compared them to a control group who skipped pre-K. All of the students are considered economically disadvantaged.
Not only did students who missed pre-K catch up within a year or two. But researchers found, on the whole, students who attended pre-K fell behind their peers by the time they finished third grade.
“We’re pretty stunned looking at these data and have a lot of questions about what might be going on in the later grades that doesn’t seem to be maintaining, if not accelerating, the positive gains, professor Mark Lipsey, director of the Peabody Research Institute, said in a statement.
This study was highly anticipated by policy makers. Gov. Bill Haslam has said he waswaiting for the results before deciding whether to expand pre-K in Tennessee.
A previous study done by the Tennessee Comptroller found similar results, showing that the benefits of pre-K wear off by third grade, leading some early childhood learning advocates to suggest the study was flawed. LINK
On taxes? Not so populistOn Monday, Donald Trump released his tax plan—for the most part, a classic supply-side approach that would simplify the number of tax brackets and cut the corporate rate to 15 percent. Like other Republican tax plans, Trump vows to bring in additional revenue by putting a cap on the amount wealthy people can deduct on their tax returns.
But Trump makes one promise that sets his plan apart: It will be deficit-neutral. In other words, it would pay for itself, and all those tax cuts wouldn’t make the federal deficit worse.
I did some back-of-the-envelope math on Trump’s plan to see if that’s true. The short answer: There’s no way the plan is deficit neutral.
Even with the most optimistic assumptions, Trump’s plan will still significantly reduce the total amount of money the government takes in. That might appeal to a lot of conservatives, but it will also definitely increase the federal deficit.
Here’s how the plan shakes out—with the caveat that this is a very rough estimate. (Keep an eye on the Tax Policy Center and Tax Foundation, whose wonks will no doubt try to provide a more authoritative score.)
The first big bite comes from his change in the tax rates. Trump’s plan would reduce the current seven tax brackets to four, with a 0 percent rate applying to all those making less than $25,000 ($50,000 for married couples). Those making between $25,000 and $50,000 ($50,000 and $100,000 for married couples) would pay at a 10 percent rate, and those making between $50,000 and $150,000 would pay at a 20 percent rate. Americans making more than $150,000 would pay at a 25 percent rate.
So most Americans will be paying less tax, including 73 million Americans who, Trump says, will pay nothing. Determining the exact total revenue hit from this plan is challenging, but there’s no question the loss would be large. Consider: Sens. Mike Lee and Marco Rubio’s tax plan would have just two brackets, at 15 percent for people with incomes below $75,000 and 35 percent for those above that threshold—and those changes would cost more than $300 billion over 10 years. Trump’s plan doesn’t get close to their top rate. And he’d have fewer people paying the top rate than Rubio-Lee would. So it’s fair to say the revenue loss from his new filing brackets would significantly exceed $300 billion.
Trump would also eliminate the Alternative Minimum Tax (cost: $400 billion), the estate tax (cost: $269 billion), and Obamacare’s 3.8 percent surcharge tax on capital gains and dividends (cost: $123 billion).
Finally, on corporate taxes, he’d lower the rate from 35 percent to 15 percent. This alone would cost $2.5 trillion.
So how does he close that gap? Trump has four ideas. First, he would curtail tax deductions for the “very rich.” This includes eliminating the carried interest loophole that benefits hedge-fund managers, and limiting itemized deductions (though the mortgage interest deduction and the deduction for charitable contributions are exempted). Without further details, it’s hard to know how much money this would raise. But the carried-interest loophole, though it’s received outsized political attention, is fiscally minor. Closing it would bring in only about $15 billion over 10 years. And the change to itemized deductions is effectively just capping the deduction for state and local taxes. If Trump eliminated that tax break for the top quintile—a generous assumption—it would raise around $650 billion over 10 years. He’d also give the rich less ability to claim the personal exemption and close other unnamed loopholes.
Second, Trump would tax the more than $2 trillion of corporate income stashed abroad at a 10 percent mandatory rate, raising more than $200 billion. He’d also end the deferral of taxes on corporate income earned abroad, which costs the government over $800 billion over 10 years. Since Trump is lowering the corporate rate to 15 percent, the revenue effects from eliminating deferral would be far less than $800 billion.
(There are other difficult-to-estimate policies I’ve ignored here, such as allowing small businesses to pay taxes at the 15 percent rate, which would cost money, and phasing in a cap on the deductibility of business interest expense and closing unnamed corporate tax loopholes, both of which would bring in money. Without more information, it’s impossible to know how much.)
Add it all up and you have—approximately—$4-5 trillion in tax cuts with less than $2 trillion in new revenue. The total cost? $2-3 trillion. That’s an enormous gap. LINK
Ashley Judd to girls worldwide: We go from hurting to healing to helpingWhen she was only 15, her friends started coming to her for advice, and she found her own information about sexual health and reproduction. Four years later, she's a youth advocate, one of hundreds in New York to get the ear of the United Nations' General Assembly. And one of the few to share a stage with actress Ashley Judd, a powerful advocate in her own right.
Judd has been on the board of several NGOs that support the rights of women and girls, and she's particularly concerned about children's access to health.
As the UN puts its finishing touches on its Sustainable Development Goals — ambitious targets for humanity to eliminate poverty and create a sustainable world by 2030 — the actress puts a celebrity face on an issue many NGOs say is urgent: making youth central to policy planning.
"The youth cohort is the largest cohort in the history of humankind," Judd says. "It's equal to the population of India. If they were sovereign, they would be the second-largest country on the face of the Earth."
Judd moderated a discussion at the UN's Population Fund (UNFPA) in New York among youth activists such as Williams. They say they're heartened by a shift over the past few years to make their needs more central in the world conversation.
"Girls and women are still commodified and objectified. And the [Sustainable Development Goals] take the important shift of looking at us and regarding us as rights holders," Judd says.
But the commodification of girls is still a huge issue. Williams says it's all of a piece with the risk girls have in parts of her native Nigeria: first they're denied schooling, then married off early. "Parents think all the money and effort [of education] will go to waste since the girls will end up in a man's kitchen," she says. And so it becomes a vicious cycle, she says. The key is to reach families early, to teach the value of girls, but also to let girls hear that message from their own peers.
It's a journey Judd knows well. She spoke to the panel, organized by the International Center for Research on Women, about her own struggle as a girl, when she was sexually assaulted by a male relative. At first, no one believed her. But she found people who did, eventually, and that led to her own path to recovery.
"We go from hurting to healing to helping," she says. "The shame must be externalized and put back where it belongs, because that's what victims do — we internalize the shame, because the perpetrator is shameless."
Judd knows that as an actor, she's often scrutinized more for the color of her hair or make-up than the content of what she's saying — or she'll be criticized for speaking out at all. But humanitarian work is her passion, she says, and that's far more important. LINK
Washington Update with Bill Moore
House Speaker John Boehner will resign from the House October 30. Boehner's surprise decision means there will not be a government shutdown next week, but the risk of chaos later this year will increase.
Boehner had faced a choice of 1) working with Democrats to pass a stopgap funding bill and triggering a move to oust him from the leadership by conservative hard-liners or 2) including defense increases and a ban on grants to Planned Parenthood in the funding bill that would have made Senate passage impossible and forced a shutdown. By eliminating the possibility of a confrontation over Boehner's leadership, House and Senate leaders have a clear path to pass a "clean" stopgap-spending bill next week with Democratic votes. The bill will keep government open until December 11, 2015.
Another immediate impact of Boehner's decision is a no-holds-barred campaign for all four House Republicans leadership slots at the same time the House will try to address a series of postponed legislative priorities. Leadership elections usually occur in Lame Duck sessions before serious legislating begins. They almost always feature lies and double-dealing.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy will likely succeed Boehner by defeating a more conservative hardline Republican. The races for the other leadership positions will likewise feature ideological face-offs. The new leaders will face the same demands from hard-liners as Boehner to test the theory that Republicans must shut down the government to win concessions from President Barack Obama and Democrats.
The continued disagreement among congressional Republicans over the shutdown theory will frustrate the ability of congressional Republicans leaders to make and enforce compromises on defense and domestic spending, the debt limit, tax bills, a highway bill, the Export-Import Bank and a trans-pacific trade agreement. That raises the risk of a debt default or government shutdown later this year.
William K. Moore
Crockett Policy Institute