ADVENTURE RANCH

ADVENTURE RANCH
ADVENTURE RANCH

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Take A Survey On Politics and Online Activity

I was contacted by educators from the School of Journalism at University of Texas working with Barb Kaye, a professor in the Journalism and Electronic Broadcasting at University of Tennessee-Knoxville to share with you a new survey on online activity and political news and information. They've urged me to reach out to my readers and ask you to take the survey too, and I hope you do. Just click here to take the survey.

The purpose of this survey is to examine the uses and users of online sources for political information. We ask that only those individuals who access websites, blogs, social media sites, Twitter, and YouTube for political information participate in this survey. Additionally, respondents must be eligible to vote in the U.S.

The survey should take between about 15 - 20 minutes to complete. If you have any questions or would like access to past work, please email us at UT-Austin.politicalsurvey@hotmail.com

As part of the survey procedures we're including a "snowball" option - we're asking you to please send the survey URL to people you know who access websites, blogs, social media sites, Twitter or YouTube for political information and are at least 18 years old.

URL: http://survey.utk.edu/mrIWeb/mrIWeb.dll?I.Project=SOURCES2011

Please copy the URL into an email, onto a website or blog, or Tweet it to those you think would be interested in filling out the survey.

TN Legislature Pushes Forward on Bills Changing Public Record Laws, Foreclosures, Teachers Unions

As mentioned previously, a wide range of bills creating many changes to the state's laws on

-- Citizen requests for public records
-- Shorten the number of public notices for foreclosures
-- Eliminating collective bargaining for Teachers Unions

and many others remain under consideration, with some hearings to be held today. UPDATE: the House version of the foreclosure law (
HB1920) was passed today on a vote of 72 Yes and 19 No.

There was some lengthy and often contradictory debate this week on a proposal being pushed by the Tennessee Bankers Association to reduce the number of public notices of foreclosures currently required. This bill not only affects homeowners, but all commercial property mortgages as well.

The bill (SB 1299) was approved on a vote of 5 to 4. However, it is most notable that the Senate sponsor of the bill, Sen. Jack Johnson, and two members of the Senate committee considering the bill, Sen. Doug Overbey and Sen. Brian Kelsey, all invoked what's called Rule 13. Rule 13 requires that voting members must state if they have a potential "personal interest" in the legislation being considered.

Rule 13 does not require them to not vote, just to state out loud: "... it may be considered that I have a degree of personal interest in the subject matter of this bill, but I declare that my argument and my ultimate vote answer only to my conscience and to my obligation to my constituents and the citizens of the State of Tennessee."

If such personal interests did require them to abstain from voting, the measure would have died.

During the debate, one aspect of the bill received wide approval, that of defining specifically what information describing the property to be foreclosed. Current law simply says "a brief description" and over the years, that has turned into an often very lengthy legal description, which is costly to create and to publish.

But it's the issue of reducing the number of times the notice would be published from 3 to 2 (the original bill would have made only 1 publication mandatory) which has the biggest impact. The cost of the publication also is disputed. TBA officials claim the notices serve little function, as most mortgage holders already know if they are behind in payments and facing foreclosure. But mortgage attorney Steve Baker refuted that, saying more notices means more people will and do attend public auctions of foreclosed property, and further, that since the state does not require any court oversight of foreclosures, public notices insure the most possible exposure to attract buyers and creates a more robust market for sales.

"There's no compelling reason to shorten the time for public notice," he said, adding "Tennessee already has one of the fastest and least expensive foreclosure processes in the country."

The TBA also claims the cost of publication is around $3000, though they offered no average cost figures. Newspaper publisher Eric Barnes testified the cost was only $212 per notice, currently making the cost just over $600, and added that in his area of West TN, banks will often publish notices in publications which charge the banks more. Further, the shorter descriptions being considered will also drop the costs of public notice publication by 30 to 40 percent.

Senators Overbey, Kelsey, Campfield, Bell and Yager voted in favor of the bill, while committee chair Sen. Beavers voted no, along with Senators Barnes, Ford, and Marrero.

Other bills which continue to get legislative approval include:


SB0326: Opts out of Medicare and Medicaid and establishes state program funded by federal funds formerly spent on Medicare and Medicaid.

SB0932 Weakens wage and hour and workers' compensation laws, makes it easier for employers to deny future medical claims for workers' compensation settlements, establishes presumption of natural/aging cause for workplace injury unless proven otherwise by injured worker, with additional special requirements for proving work related hearing loss and carpal tunnel syndrome.

SB 1915: Increases campaign contribution limits, allows corporations to contribute to candidates; allows members of the general assembly and the governor to fundraise as candidates for other elective offices during session.

SB0940: Makes it more difficult for whistleblowers and victims of discrimination to prove their cases against employers.

*HB1875: Allows state officials to charge a fee for viewing or producing public records. (NOTE: The bill will create a new cost for public records requests based on the hourly wages of any and all employees who work to fill that request and for all the time they claim they require to locate, preview, redact, and copy the records being requested.)

HB 0130: Abolishes teachers' unions ability to negotiate terms and conditions of professional service with local boards of education. NOTE: has already passed Senate, this is a special committee hearing in House. (NOTE 2: House Speaker Beth Harwell decided to cast a vote on this bill in order to break a tie vote, which would have killed this legislation.)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Life In The Age of the Algorithm

An in-depth essay explores how what is written online may not be written by a person, but by a mathematical formula. Is it the end of writing, the start of a new age, or are some folks simply worried about change?

"
As computers have become faster and more powerful—and as the costs of storage and bandwidth have plummeted—there is virtually no limit to the specificity, size and complexity of computer algorithms. They are insinuating themselves into more and more areas of our lives: in the office, on trading floors and financial exchanges, even on movie screens. And the most ubiquitous and influential algorithm of the digital age is the one you encounter every time you type a few words into that rectangular bar on your computer screen: search."

Read the whole essay here.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

TN Legislature Voting On Changes to Public Records, Foreclosure Laws, Teachers Unions

KnoxViews has a roundup of new legislation headed for votes today and tomorrow which have been making headlines and offer a wide range of changes to state law, including making it tougher to gain access to public records and making it easier for homes to be foreclosed.

Just some of the items up for consideration:

SJR0221: Constitutional amendment banning income tax.

SJR0118: Requests Congress to propose an amendment to the US Constitution prohibiting unfunded federal mandates and programs except during declared fiscal emergency.

SJR0119: Requests Congress to propose an amendment to the United States Constitution that would authorize states to rescind certain federal laws.

SB0326: Opts out of Medicare and Medicaid and establishes state program funded by federal funds formerly spent on Medicare and Medicaid.

SB0932 Weakens wage and hour and workers' compensation laws, makes it easier for employers to deny future medical claims for workers' compensation settlements, establishes presumption of natural/aging cause for workplace injury unless proven otherwise by injured worker, with additional special requirements for proving work related hearing loss and carpal tunnel syndrome.

SB 1772: Legalizes moonshining in Cocke Co.

SB 1915: Increases campaign contribution limits, allows corporations to contribute to candidates; allows members of the general assembly and the governor to fundraise as candidates for other elective offices during session.

Senate Judiciary Committee

SB1299: Reduces requirements for publication of foreclosure notices in newspapers.

SB0940: Makes it more difficult for whistleblowers and victims of discrimination to prove their cases against employers.

House Finance Ways and Means Committee

*HB1875: Allows state officials to charge a fee for viewing or producing public records.

House Education Committee

HB 0130: Abolishes teachers' unions ability to negotiate terms and conditions of professional service with local boards of education. NOTE: has already passed Senate, this is a special committee hearing in House.

Dr. Evil Running Congress?


The talk flowing from Washington about the national debt sounds too much like the goofy comedy scenes of Dr. Evil demanding "one billion gajillion fifillion shapaduluullmeleleshaprenodlash mamillion dollars" from the nations of the world to halt a nefarious destruction of the planet.

House Speaker John Boehner and his GOP brethren (like my congressman, Rep. Phil Roe) are whipping up a scarefest about the status of the national debt - while avoiding the very obvious solution right before them. "Cut 2 trillion dollars!" cries Boehner.

Cutting spending by trillions of dollars is possible, nearly 9 trillion came from Bush era policies which were never paid for and should be eliminated -- As Peter Orszag, director the Office of Management and Budget said quite plainly:

"
You mentioned that $9 trillion projected deficit over the next decade. That basically reflects three things.

The first is the failure to pay for two policies in particular, the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts and the Medicare prescription drug benefit. Those were deficit financed. Over the next decade they account for $5 trillion.

Second, the economic downturn, because it triggers the so-called automatic stabilizers, which raise unemployment benefits, they raise food stamps, they cause -- revenue tends to decline during an economic downturn, all of which is beneficial because it helps to mitigate that GDP deficit that I was talking about. But it also over the next decade adds $3.5 trillion to the deficit.

And then finally, the Recovery Act accounts for less than 10 percent of that total. So basically, the $9 trillion projected deficit can be entirely accounted for by the failure to pay for policies in the past, the economic downturn, and the steps we’ve had to take to combat that downturn, which is not to say action isn’t necessary, it absolutely is. But it’s also important to realize we didn’t get here by accident."


It's clear the House Republicans don't want to cut spending or reduce the debt - they want to scare voters today in hopes of winning elections tomorrow, no matter what the cost might be.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Human Trafficking Ring In Hamblen County

Local law enforcement and the FBI helped to break up a human trafficking ring this weekend following grand jury indictments last Tuesday.

Sheriff Esco Jarnigan says women were forced into prostitution and moved all across Tennessee and Kentucky to locations in Morristown, Johnson City, Knoxville, Nashville and Louisville, Ky. to prevent them from establishing ties to the community or formulating escape plans.

WATE filed this report.



This brutal slavery is on the rise in Tennessee - as recent reports from Chattanooga and Nashville show - and the state has been working to make the punishment for these crimes greater and to provide more aid to victims of the crime.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Officials Threaten Chattanooga Press

Reporting on the recent tornado damage in Southeast Tennessee draws a strange response, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press:

"
Last Thursday, one of our reporters, Kate Harrison, was following volunteers cleaning up debris in the heavily damaged Apison area when she was confronted by three veteran, high-ranking public officials who ordered her to stop taking photographs. The officials — Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond, Chattanooga Police Chief Bobby Dodd and Hamilton County’s director of emergency services, Don Allen — clearly should have known that Harrison’s work was constitutionally protected. That they could occupy such high positions and not know, or care about, or respect the nation’s First Amendment rights boggles the mind.

Harrison also was commanded by emergency services spokeswoman Amy Maxwell not to publish any of the photographs she had taken, and later was threatened with arrest. (We published one of Harrison’s photos.)

All these actions were an unconstitutional infringement on Harrison’s and this newspaper’s right and ability to serve the vital functions of a free press."

Foreclosure Law Changes Draws Fierce Debate

Tom Humphrey reports on the raging battle over a proposal to shorten the amount of times a public notice of foreclosure is published by newspapers.

I've offered several posts on this proposed legislation - and the views of those who crafted it, the Tennessee Bankers Association.

And even as the debate verges on a giant round of "did/did not" blamethrowing, there's a simple question which should be applied to most any legislation - What problem does it solve?

While the TBA maintains the cost of publishing public notices falls on delinquent mortgage holders, others in the field claim the cost falls on the banks. Makes sense, since if a mortgage can't be paid, they likely can't pay extra fees associated with foreclosure. Another claim is that newspapers are the ones making big bucks from notice publications. So what's the real target of this legislation?

It's a shame the press and the banks can't resolve this issue - but do we need changes to state law crafted to provide homeowners protection?

And the state legislature has some fairly useless debate on this topic, while ignoring the clear conflict of interest of the legislators pushing this bill. As Tom Humphrey writes:


"
Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, said the legal notices under current law amount to "government-mandated subsidies of newspapers," which receive more advertising revenue with more frequent publication and longer descriptions. He also said legislators hesitant to approve the bill are "scared of newspapers."

"I ain't scared," replied Rep. Gary Moore, D-Joelton, responding to Lundberg's remarks during a House Judiciary Committee hearing.

---


"Both legislators sponsoring the bill have ties to banks. Matlock served on a bank board of directors until four years ago, he said. Matlock also lists bank holdings on a financial statement filed with the state, though he said all but "less than $1,000 worth" has been sold since he left the BB&T bank board.

Sen. Jack Johnson, R-College Grove, who is Senate sponsor of the bill, has worked for Pinnacle National Bank. The current president of the TBA, House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley, is a co-sponsor of the bill."

---

"Eric Barnes, publisher of the Memphis Daily News, said a review of 50,000 notices showed the average cost as $212 each, or $636 for three publications.

Baker, the Nashville attorney, said that, as a practical matter, banks wind up paying the ad costs in all but "one in a hundred" cases simply because the homeowner has no money or is in bankruptcy.

And Henry Hildebrand, a bankruptcy trustee in Middle Tennessee, told legislators that he has seen "hundreds" of cases over the past 20 years of legally defective foreclosure moves by banks that were never detected until they reached U.S. Bankruptcy Court. He opposed the bill for reducing one of the few safeguards now benefiting homeowners in Tennessee."

---

As noted at KnoxViews today, many large national banks are mired in controversy over fraudulent mortgage practices.

In Hawaii, which like Tennessee, has non-judicial foreclosure laws, the state has totally revamped existing laws to give more protection and more time to struggling homeowners.

Tennessee legislators take up their proposal again this week.