Saturday, January 07, 2006

TN-based Company Selling Your Phone Records

You can buy the cell phone records of any cell phone, as long as you're willing to pay a small fee, from a company based in Tennessee, according to press reports.

No court orders needed if you use the services and they report in hours, according to the company's website. The page can also link you to a service to search land lines too.

The FBI tried it and it worked for them. And according to the report:

Representatives of Data Find Solutions Inc., the Tennessee-based operator of, could not be reached for comment.

Frank Bochte, a spokesman for the FBI in Chicago, said he was aware of the Web site.

"Not only in Chicago, but nationwide, the FBI notified its field offices of this potential threat to the security of our agents, and especially our undercover agents," Bochte said. "We need to educate our personnel about the dangers posed by individuals using this site and others like it. We are stressing that they should be careful in their cellular use."

Law enforcement has been warning undercover operatives about the threat.

Thought you might like a heads up too.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Senate Candidate's Reforms Lost In The News

One candidate for the U.S. Senate from Tennessee promoted a plan to eliminate the problem of illegal lobbyist influence and bribery, such as the kind promoted by Jack Abramoff, but the press has ignored or forgotten her proposals and now hails New Gingrich as the Idea Man for Ethics Reforms.

The news media has plenty to say about how much money certain candidates are raising right now in the Tennessee Senate race, but why not focus on some of the ideas put forth last year by Rosalind Kurita?

Her (is that the problem, the candidate is female?) plan included these ideas:

-- End the revolving door. Once you serve in Congress, you shouldn’t be allowed to leave and become a lobbyist. No more 'cooling off' period, end the practice of Members of Congress using their public service for private gain.

-- Make Congressional districts fair. 98% of Members of Congress win re-election. We need and independent commission to guide the redistricting process so average citizens have a fair shot at winning a seat in the government.

-- Report "grassroots" lobbying. Currently, a loophole in the law allows so-called "grassroots" lobbying expenses to go unreported. Untold millions are spent influencing legislation and the public never knows about it. Reporting of grassroots lobbying expenses should be required.

-- Report lobbying more frequently. Current law only requires reports every six months. Lobbyists ought to report their expenses quarterly, and the reports should be more detailed. It should be easy for the public to find out what Member of Congress was lobbied, what legislation was discussed, and how much was spent.

-- End Lobbyist Funded Trips for Lawmakers. Millions of dollars are spent each year by lobbyists to give lawmakers free vacations. Under the guise of "issue-education," lawmakers take extravagant trips paid for by special interests.

-- Real penalties for breaking the law. Lobbyists regularly file late or inaccurate reports and little is done under the current system. Lobbying disclosure deadlines should be enforced and stiff penalties should be imposed for breaking the law.

"It’s time for real reform," Kurita said. "We deserve a federal government we can trust. Special interests won’t like these reforms, but I don’t work for them. My job is to fight for what’s best for the people of Tennessee. When it comes to ethics, my experiences as a nurse will serve me well. We need more Senators who have spent time taking care of patients, not just taking care of special interests."

As of 2006, her voice and her ideas seem to be ignored.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

"It's in the hole! A Cinderella story .."

It's amazing how many millions of dollars are tossed aside, as if it were only pocket change. I wonder what it must be like to shrug away a debt of nearly $20 million - just to say, well that's they way it goes, sorry 'bout that. Finding out about it hardly ruffles a single feather - we all shrug too, because we feel there is nothing we can do about it except shrug too and say "so it goes."

In the early 1990s, the state saw fit to post $20 million in bonds for something vital, crucial to the state, the economy and all the wee little folks who call Tennessee home. Health care? Education? Housing? Law Enforcement? Nope. Think Golf courses. Who better to get state financing than the ultra-needy folks who travel the nation and the world whacking balls into holes with sticks?

"The locations were very poor to draw the type of clientele they would need to charge the fees they proposed," said William H. Barnett II, an accountant in East Tennessee who opposed the building of the Bear Trace 10 years ago, predicting that it would go in the red.

"We also felt, as we looked at it, that many of the locations were political. That's very powerful in this state. When you combine political motivation with an investment of that type and it's not successful - then the taxpayers pay."

Yes we do pay - the state's grand plan turned belly-up and as of Jan. 1, 2006 the state now owns 12 golf courses who failed to turn a profit and repay the taxpayers their investment.

It gets better - well, for some anyway - despite warnings of the failure of this project (shrug, shrug) it was endorsed and it failed and you are stuck with the cost. But at least one person got a nifty state job from the operation, according to the report cited above:

" ... the lawyer for Tennessee Golf, Nashville lawyer James L. Murphy, explained the dire straits in a Dec. 10, 2004, letter to Jim Fyke, who was head of the state parks system at the time.

"While The Bear Trace golf courses may or may not have been the best use of the $20 million in bond money that the state authorized in 1993, that decision cannot be reversed," Murphy wrote.

"The money has already been spent and ... it is impossible for anyone to generate the revenues required to meet the increased debt service obligations that will be required beginning in 2006."

The company lost plenty, too, including more than $17 million in investments it made in the courses, he said. Fyke, who is now the state's commissioner of Environment and Conservation, declined to comment through a spokeswoman."

Nice job. It's in the hole!

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

A Statewide Porperty Tax for Education?

Tackling the issues of how public education in the state should be funded, the state's Comptroller John Morgan has drafted a plan which he submitted to state officials late last month. Changes would create a statewide property tax and over 60 counties would pay more than half of their sales tax collections for the program (or increase sales taxes in their county), the remaining counties would pay only half - all part of a formula aimed at increasing dollars for education and increasing graduation rates -- sounds like a noble effort.

Local school boards would still decide how to spend the dollars and that begs several questions - if local policy has not been able to keep students enrolled until they graduate, will more tax dollars fix the problem? Each system currently creates their own funding priorities, don't they? Have their decisions been adequate for each system and how is their effectiveness reviewed? Will increased taxation bring higher grad rates?

Some quotes from the story mentioned above from the Memphis Commercial Appeal:

Local property taxes in many places could be significantly reduced if the state were funding operations. Some people would pay less; most would pay more probably since total funding would move closer to what other states spend," said Morgan. "As a state, we would still be way below the (Southern regional) average tax burden under any plausible scenario."

And some statistics:

In Tennessee, only 59 out of 100 ninth-graders go on to graduate from high school. Only 36 will enter college. And only 15 will graduate from college.

In the best-performing states, 91 out of 100 ninth-graders go on to graduate high school, 62 enter college and 28 get a degree.

Morgan said that data, combined with a 2005 National Association of Manufacturers survey that 80 percent of manufacturers have difficulty finding skilled workers, tell the story.

Morgan says part of the reason for submitting this report was to create public discussion about education in the state.

I've had this question on my mind for some time - do Tennesseans place a value on education? Is education simply a training guide for employment? Given the state's wide ranging unemployment figures, from 4 to 14 percent or higher, what happens when we have a 91 percent rate of high school grads? A higher number of college grads? Is manufacturing the only way to judge economic health?

It appears to me the state is utterly stagnant in education policies that foster commitment to the process of education. The federal education policies also seem inadequate, given the number of years the Dept. of Education has had to tackle these issues.

Voters are given the job of reviewing the effectiveness of school boards (but not superintendents) and they seem completely disinterested in most cases, and new residents to the state often look for work in areas where school funding is highest in hopes that will insure a solid education for their kids.

Is the solution just more money?

Monday, January 02, 2006

These Are My Answers

Well I've been tagged in one of these round-robin lists memes, which is an odd way to spend your time and I'm sure I'll distort it in my attempt to answer this list of four things, but like Mr. Silence who tagged me, I'll play along.

Though I would like to know why these things are called "memes". Seems a sort of high-tech-wistfulness to call a list a meme. I do remembering encountering the word for the first time in Neal Stepehenson's epic sci-fi comedy novel of the future "Snow Crash" a few years ago and his usage of it makes sense in a kind of "community-based virus of information sharing" way.

OK, fine here we go.

Four jobs you've had in your life: I've been a dishwasher, I've stacked books in a library, I once shoveled sand into a machine that mixed it with concrete and then came out a high pressure hose to form the shape of a waterslide which was in Jonesboro, and that was in summer for like 10 hours a day and I passed out the first day, so that would be Shoveler, I guess. And I've been paid cash money for writing plays and stories, which is a different kind of Shoveling. What I would really like to find is the Job that Wants To Stay WIth Me.

Four Movies You Could Watch Over and Over: Oh I suck at this. I've never been able to give anyone a list of my Ten All Time Favorites, so Four is insane. Let me try this approach - I can name Four movies I've seen more than one hundred times (I could probably name a few dozen), and that list would include "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly", "Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb", James Whale's "Frankenstein", and, oh, why not admit it - "Star Wars", which I saw in theatres over one hundred times at least. Nerd Alert!!

Four Places You've Lived: Ha! While I have lived in many towns, like Morristown or Monterey or Nashville - I have only lived in Tennessee, so that's my final answer. Check with me in a few years on this question and see if anything new has happened.

Four TV Shows You Love To Watch: I once played a game with a friend who owned a satellite system and we used to try and see how many consecutive hours of reruns of "The Simpsons" we could watch, so there's one. I have been rather glued to the new show "Lost", but man, I have grown to hate commercials and so I seldom have the TV off a movie channel these days. Ok,. two more. Well, I did watch a heap of "Monty Python" on BBC America over the weekend and never tire of those shows and the only DVD sets of a TV show I own are "Buffy The Vampire Slayer," and I've shown my nerdy affection for that show on these pages here before. So there's four.

Four Places You've Been On Vacation: I love traveling, despite my single-state residency status. Some of the best trips I've had were to New York, Miami, Jasper, Tennessee (i loved all those trips to see my dad's family and listen to them all tell stories and laugh), and Washington, D.C.

Four Websites I Visit Daily: I am always entertained and educated going to MetaFilter, and rarely a day passes where I don't go to the IMDb, the Internet Movie Database, I always enjoy Crooks and Liars, and ... oh boy ... so many ... I do stop and read thru all kinds of writers and writing via the Rocky Top Brigade more than once a day.

Four of Your Favorite Foods: Any kind of pizza, and I can chow on roast Turkey whether it's a holiday or not, I love a fresh salad, and ... is coffee a food? No? A Beverage? Yeesh! These lists. I'll mention a recent addiction - gimme that Eel Roll Sushi, baby!! (Since I'm Southern, I suppose potatoes and cornbread are obviously included).

Four Places You'd Rather Be: Sounds ominous. The first is at a job!! Where I get paid!!!! I don't much care for winter, so where it's not winter. By the ocean. Or, conversely, deep in some mountains. (Of course, I'd also like to have my own spaceship or villa or something ritzy). Is that more than four?

Four Albums You Can't Live Without: I suppose you mean CDs, right? This is worse than the movies list. Well, just about anything by the Beatles, and I can't list some without omitting others and this isn't fair. I do like several compilations I have. Oh this is impossible - I want rock and jazz and blues and some bluegrass too and some rap too, even. Is this over yet???


Oh I'm supposed to tag four others to do this - how about ... 10,000 Monkeys and A Camera, and also have to tag Juliepatchouli, and one of the brains at Six-Meat Buffet, who claimed once only they were supposed to do "sarcasm" on their pages and perhaps this may annoy them. and um ... oh ... I've been enjoying the pain and suffering at Atomic Tumor, so them too. And if you are not on this ridiculously short list or have no blog, then add your "memes" in the comment section.