No Buyers To Preserve Office of Elvis Presley's Manager
Mystery still surrounds death of Inmate No. 81738
The Soaring Price of Political Access
Pay artists, songwriters fairly for their work
"We have all been so shocked and outraged by the videos portraying the grisly practices of Planned Parenthood," Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee, said in a recorded address Saturday.
In response to anti-abortion activists' undercover footage of Planned Parenthood officials discussing the use of fetal parts for medical research, Blackburn announced a GOP-led initiative to "establish a new select subcommittee that will focus its full attention, resources and subpoena power on getting to the bottom of these horrific practices."
The Tennessee congresswoman also promised that Republican leaders would activate a procedural budget tool called reconciliation, which would require only a simple majority for bills to pass the Senate.
"Twice now, Senate Democrats have blocked our efforts to restrict funding to Planned Parenthood," Blackburn said. "They defend the organization and its practices even though they freely admit they haven't watched the videos. And that's - that's wrong."
Planned Parenthood has become a legislative target for Republicans in recent weeks. The House voted earlier this month to block federal money from flowing to Planned Parenthood -- though the bill, which faces mounting Democratic opposition, has little prospect of passing through the Senate.
Republicans are also hoping to tie the defunding measure to a federal spending bill -- legislation necessary to keep the government operational. If the funding bill doesn't get passed by Wednesday because of Planned Parenthood riders, the congressional gridlock could mean a federal government shutdown.
"To protect all taxpayers, we will redouble our efforts to ensure that you are not forced to fund this organization," Blackburn said.
She further highlighted Pope Francis' recent visit to Congress, when he spoke of defending "human life at every stage of its development."
"The pope's words have strengthened our resolve to continue the fight for the protection of human life," Blackburn said.
In his own video, President Obama tackled another health issue and its ties to crime: prescription drug abuse. LINK
The Soaring Price of Political Access
Politicians busy soliciting ever-larger donations from eager millionaires epitomize the truth of a 12-year-old Supreme Court ruling on contribution limits: “Money, like water, will always find an outlet.”
This year, the political money is flowing more like overpriced wine, with the two national parties reported to be planning tenfold increases in the rates V.I.P. donors will be charged to secure the right to attend exclusive dinners and presidential convention forums with candidates and party leaders.
This means that top-tier Republican donors will pay $1.34 million per couple for the privilege of being treated as party insiders, while the Democratic Party will charge about $1.6 million, according to The Washington Post. Four years ago the most an individual could give to a national party was $30,800. This time, that top $1.34 million ticket for a couple in the Republican National Committee’s Presidential Trust tier, reserved for the “most elite R.N.C. investors,” promises “influence messaging and strategy” opportunities at exclusive party dinners and retreats, according to a description obtained by The Post.
The prices for getting into the inner sanctum are rising because of loosened restrictions on political money from the courts and Congress. These ended caps on donor maximums and expanded the party organizations’ ability to amass more of the big money that has engulfed politics since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, in 2010.
A result is that the national parties, which previously were constrained from raising outsized amounts of “soft money” by the 2002 McCain-Feingold law, are freer to compete with the new “super PACs.” These independent money gatherers have come to dominate presidential campaigns with their ability to raise unlimited funds. The traditional party machines are now making bids to hold their own in money and influence. LINK
Mystery still surrounds death of Inmate No. 81738When Elbert Thornton died, he died a mystery.
State prison records obtained by The Tennessean say the West Tennessee State Penitentiary inmate, No. 81738, died a natural death.
An autopsy and sources tell a different story.
They tell a story of beatings, of burnings, of broken bones, of deceit. They tell the story of a suffering 55-year-old man, dead as the result of multiple traumatic and thermal injuries. They tell the story of a loving father, of a doting grandfather, of a man eligible for release who didn't deserve to die.
A state prison official and the local district attorney tell a different version of the story. The prison official hints medical conditions may have caused the death of inmate No. 81738. The district attorney says there isn’t enough evidence to show criminal activity.
Others who may know more specifically what happened to Thornton before his death aren’t speaking at all.
But the story, no matter who tells it, illustrates larger issues within the Tennessee Department of Correction.
It comes amid staffing and security problems that have led to multiple legislative hearings and a controversial on-site review of several Tennessee prisons. State prison officials continue to downplay reports of an increase in violence within the walls of Tennessee’s prisons.
In every version of the story, Thornton is dead. And the circumstances surrounding the manner of his death are still officially unknown.
A ‘suspicious’ death
When Thornton died, he died with recently broken ribs, a broken breastbone and severe burns to his genitals.
Internal prison reports and a county medical examiner’s report obtained by The Tennessean say Thornton’s cellmate found him at 8:40 a.m. on June 12, 2013. Thornton was unresponsive in their cell at West Tennessee State Penitentiary in Henning, a small town about an hour’s drive northeast of Memphis.
Medical personnel tried to save his life, reports say, but Inmate No. 81738 was pronounced dead at 10:25 a.m. in Lauderdale Community Hospital.
Eric Newman, an assistant with the local medical examiner’s office working the case at the time, reported the death as a natural death of someone in the custody of the state, a June 12, 2013, narrative summary report shows.
But the doctor who pronounced Thornton dead at the Lauderdale hospital reported numerous bruises on Thornton’s head and what “appeared to be whip marks” on his upper abdomen and shoulders, the summary report shows. LINK (Subscription)
State Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, hosted a hearing this week at Columbia State Community College for Maury County officials, stressing the need for the General Assembly to start taking steps in transportation tax reforms.
According to projections based on current incoming funds, legislators will have about a three-year window to act before the Department of Transportation will be unable to fund new roads, Tracy said.
“I think we are in a crucial stage,” Tracy said. “We are going to get to the point where we are not even going to get enough revenue just to do the maintenance.”
Principal Legislative Research Analyst Susan Mattson of the Tennessee Comptroller Office and Tennessee Infrastructure Alliance Chairman Bill Moore gave presentations on the current state of Tennessee’s transportation network.
Mattson presented her recent report entitled “Tennessee Transportation Funding: Challenges and Options.”
According to the report, Tennessee has the 13th-lowest gas tax in the United States and the 7th-lowest diesel tax. The gas tax has remained untouched since 1989 at a rate of 21.4 cents per gallon and the diesel tax has not been altered since 1990 at 18.4 cents per gallon.
While the cost of road construction and maintenance has increased, the average Tennessean’s fuel consumption has lowered due to more fuel efficient automobiles, Mattson reported.
She presented a number of options that legislators could use to increase funds to TDOT, including raising tax rates of fuels, indexing the tax rates of fuels to the rate of inflation or the price of fuel and applying a sales tax to fuel purchases.
Other routes of creating revenue include installing tolls, developing a mileage-based tax system and the use of debt financing through general obligation bonds and public-private partnerships.
“Tennessee is one of five states that has no debt on our roads, and I think that is positive, real positive,” Tracy said. He told the officials 91 percent of TDOT’s revenue returns to the state in the form of construction, maintenance and grants, with the remaining 9 percent going to fees to other agencies, field operations and administrative costs.
A 1-cent increase on the current gas and diesel tax would increase revenue by $40.5 million, Mattson said.
TDOT’s total budget for both the 2015 and 2016 years is $1.8 billion, according to a report from Commissioner of Transportation John Schroer.
Moore, a former TDOT chief engineer, presented seven currently unfunded projects for road building and maintenance in southern Middle Tennessee taken from a list of about 250 across the whole state.
These projects included a relocation and reconstruction connecting US 412 from the Lewis County line to US 43 in Mt. Pleasant, a project estimated to cost $60.5 million, the reconstruction and widening of SR 246 or Spring Hill’s Duplex Road between Main Street and I-65 at an estimated cost of $13.5 million and the widening of a 1.9 mile section of US 431 in Lewisburg between Franklin Pike and Verona Avenue with a cost of $14.6 million.
Moor also presented a proposed reconstruction of the I-65 and US 412 interchange in Maury County.
Columbia Mayor Dean Dickey shared his opinion on the federal government’s involvement in building Tennessee’s roads.
“I’m a strong believer that the people in Washington need to fix their part first. You heard over half of our state budget comes from federal funds,” Dickey said.
- See more at: http://columbiadailyherald.com/news/local-news/senator-pushes-transport-tax-reform#sthash.tlKGTu6l.dpuf LINK
TNGOP had attack ad in Nashville mayor’s raceThe Tennessee Republican Party, which had earlier avoided involvement in Nashville’s recent mayoral race, has acknowledged sponsoring attack advertising in the last days of the campaign and blames the Tennessee Democratic Party for its decision.
The acknowledgment of an attack on Megan Barry, the winner, along with the previously disclosed Democratic attack on David Fox, the loser, apparently marks the first time the Tennessee parties have directly clashed in spending state-level advertising money in a local-level race.
Though all municipal elections are officially nonpartisan under state law, many contests have candidates widely known by party affiliation. In the Nashville mayor’s race, former Metro Council member Barry was known as the Democrat; former hedge fund manager and school board member Fox as the Republican.
The Democratic Party sponsored a direct mail piece that targeted black voters, declaring Fox a “partisan Republican” who could return Nashville schools to the era of segregation, citing a school board vote dealing with student assignment to schools. It said the “David Fox plan” would have “rolled back decades of racial progress and doomed the city’s poor black children to a substandard education in segregated schools.” The party sponsored a radio ad along the same lines.
The Republican Party direct mail piece denounced Barry for a “radical social agenda” that is part of the “Obama way” and apparently targeted voters identified as staunch Republicans. It says Barry “loaded debt onto our children,” referring to increased bond debt incurred by Nashville during Barry’s term on the Metro Council, and voted for a property tax increase.
“Instead of doing the job she was elected to do, she has been more focused on forcing a radical agenda on our community,” said the ad, sent to the News Sentinel last week after a column mentioned that the state Republican Party had not disclosed any spending in the Nashville race despite its statewide “Red to the Roots” campaign designed to elect more Republicans to local office.
State Republican Chairman Ryan Haynes said in an email that the party “got involved in the last week of the election because our consciences couldn’t allow us to sit on the sideline when the TNDP used a vile, disgusting attack that did nothing but divide Nashville along racial lines. … By following the Obama-Clinton playbook of division, what once was a proud party in Tennessee has been turned into a shell of its former self.”
Beyond saying it was a “limited expenditure,” the party’s executive director, Brent Leatherwood, declined to say how much was spent on the anti-Barry effort. Asked if there was any other TNGOP spending related to the race, he said there was “some message-testing on a specific group of conservative voters” that may be “very valuable” in future party efforts to motivate voters in Nashville. LINK
Trend breaker: Direct PAC donations were down in 2014Breaking a decade-old trend, Tennessee political action committees actually gave less money directly to political candidates last year than in the previous election year, according to the Registry of Election Finance’s official 2014 annual report, recently posted on the agency’s website.
But at the same time, PAC “independent expenditures” — money spent prompting or attacking candidates without coordination with the individual campaign — increased substantially, the report says.
Some figures from the 2014 annual report:
Direct donations to by PACs to candidates for state office totaled $6,820,079 in 2014, compared to $8,185,652 given in 2012 — a decline of $1,365,578.
“This breaks the trend that started in 2004 of rising PAC contributions when comparing election years (even numbered years) to election years and non-election years (odd numbered years) to non-election years,” says the report.
In 2014, PACs reported making a total of $3,257,980 in independent expenditures, which the Registry reports as “approximately $1.3 million” more than in 2012 without a precise figure. In other words, it appears that overall PAC spending was almost the same — perhaps down a bit — but with an increasing PAC preference for independent expenditures.
The actual number of PACs registering with the state regulatory agency in 2014 increased to 688, an all-time high.
During 2014, the Registry assessed civil penalties for violations of campaign finance laws against 42 individuals and organizations for a total amount of $46,150 — an increase in the number of assessments, but a decrease in the overall amount.
In a section of the report on the Registry’s future, the agency observes that its workload has been increasing over the years. It doesn’t mention that staff size has been basically frozen — actually reduced under a 2009 law that consolidated functions of the Registry and the Tennessee Ethics Commission under an umbrella called the Bureau of Campaign Finance and Ethics. LINK
No Buyers To Preserve Office of Elvis Presley's ManagerThe longtime headquarters of Elvis Presley manager Col. Tom Parker has been named to a list of endangered Nashville properties.
WPLN-FM reports the 80-year-old stone building in the Madison neighborhood is where Parker lived and worked. He managed not only Presley's career but also those of Hank Snow, Eddy Arnold and others.
Steve North, who owns the building, says he and his friends used to drive by to see if there was a pink Cadillac parked there. If there was, they knew that Elvis was in town, and they would hang around waiting to catch a glimpse of him. LINK
Tennessee minorities will benefit from Clean Power PlanFor the past year, a team of Tennessee State University students and I have been investigating the air quality in and around the Cayce Place community as participants in an Environmental Protection Agency research project.
Low-income and minority communities such as Cayce Place are often the hardest hit by the effects of air pollution and climate change.
The EPA’s new Clean Power Plan will, for the first time ever, limit power plant releases of carbon dioxide, particulate matter and related pollutants such as ozone.
Forty percent of the U.S. population living near power plants are people of color — so the plan will greatly benefit these communities. It will reduce incidences of asthma and other pollution-related illnesses, as well as create thousands of new jobs and save families money on utility and medical bills.
Yet, despite findings from several independent organizations showing how the Clean Power Plan will benefit low-income and minority communities, the National Black Chamber of Commerce released a report earlier this year misrepresenting its impacts. The report, funded by special interest groups seeking to preserve the bottom line for fossil fuel companies, alleges — wrongly — that the plan will harm African- American and Hispanic families. LINK
Tennessee Takes Steps to Utilize Federal Water-System Funds
Tennessee environmental officials say they've taken steps to utilize millions of dollars of unspent funds from a federal aid program for improving the nation's drinking water systems.
A review by The Associated Press shows project delays, poor management by some states and structural problems have contributed to nearly $1.1 billion in congressional appropriations sitting unspent in Drinking Water State Revolving Fund accounts as of Aug. 1.
The backlog is smaller than it once was, but federal data show that many states are not on track to meet a goal set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which wants any money dating back to 2013 to be spent by next year.
Tennessee received $194.2 million in federal funding as of fiscal 2015 from the federal fund, according to the AP review. Of that total, $30.4 million remained unspent.
However, Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation spokesman Eric Ward said after several discussions with EPA personnel, TDEC has implemented a new "spending strategy" that he says has resulted in "significant improvements in the pace of spending."
"Although we have more work to accomplish, we are continuing to improve our position with this ... strategy and anticipate additional significant reductions to unliquidated obligations in the coming year," Ward said.
TDEC officials didn't specify how the money will be spent. The state's top-ranked project this year is a $684,000 plan to replace leaking water lines in Gainesboro, according to the AP review. LINK
Pay artists, songwriters fairly for their work
Artists, executives and all those associated with the $45 billion global music industry have spent the past several years adapting to changes in technology and consumption habits that have disrupted them.
Meanwhile, U.S. laws and rules on copyright and royalty rates have stayed stagnant or nonexistent while the creators of the art are driven out of the business because they can’t make a living.
The Tennessean documented in its “New Dylans: Band on the Brink” special report last year the dwindling songwriter community in Nashville, which has fallen by 80 percent in the past decade.
Consumers’ main music option of choice these days is streaming, where they can often get music cheap or free, while artists get pennies on the dollar for their work.
Kevin Kadish, co-writer of “All About that Bass,” told the House Judiciary Committee, gathered at Belmont University in Nashville this past week, that he had earned only $5,679 on 178 million streams of the No. 1 song.
One of the things that makes Nashville unique is that it serves as a destination for creatives to fulfill their dreams. Except that’s the way it used to be. LINK
Crockett Policy Institute