Recently in Politics and Government Category

The National League of Cities' website carries an item about Memphis Mayor AC Wharton's participation in a recent Mayors' Institute on Children and Families workshop on increasing college attainment among cities' adult workforces.

The four participating mayors and their staff and local partners shared similar concerns. Too few workers have the educational attainment and skills needed to obtain well-paying jobs in fast-growing industries, such as advanced manufacturing, bioscience, renewable energy and health care. Moreover, each city struggles with racial, ethnic and economic inequalities in access to postsecondary education.

Wharton has been on board on this issue most recently with a $1.7 million grant from between the Plough Foundation and a partnership with Leadership Memphis to help about 200,000 adults in the Memphis-area adults complete their degrees. The mayor himself provided another anecdote on his work in this area during the workshop, which also included Wharton's counterparts from Salt Lake City, Louisville and Berkeley, Calif.

Mayor Wharton held up the example of a local brewery struggling to find qualified workers that partnered with a Southwest Tennessee Community College to offer specialized training that met their employment needs. 

The article also mentions this appalling statistic, which helps explain why Memphis has so many adults who haven't completed their postsecondary education:

Of the 70 percent of students who graduate from Memphis City Schools, only four percent of those students are considered to be ready for college.
D.C. StreetsBlog points out another sign of progress toward making Memphis a more bike- and pedestrian-friendly city:

The Bikes Belong Foundation has chosen six cities to fast track physically protected bikeway designs that make cycling safer and more accessible to a wide range of people.

Austin, Chicago, Memphis, Portland, San Francisco and Washington D.C. will receive a leg up from Bikes Belong's new "Green Lane Project." The two-year, intensive technical assistance program is intended to help these cities develop protected on-street bike lanes and make this type of bike infrastructure a mainstream street design in the U.S.

Here's some background on protected bike lanes, which are a different animal than the basic lined bike lanes that are being installed in Memphis on roads like Madison. Think more along the bike lanes on Broad Avenue that are separated from moving cars by on-street parking. (A bid two years ago by bicycle advocates to install protected bike lanes in Cooper-Young was shelved as part of a compromise with the neighborhood's merchants.)

Protected bike lanes are widely employed in countries that have achieved high rates of cycling, such as the Netherlands. In America they were pioneered by the New York City Department of Transportation in 2007, and have since been implemented in Washington, D.C., Portland, and Chicago.

Protected lanes have been shown to be safer than ordinary bike lanes and more likely to encourage people to take up cycling. But they are considered "experimental" treatments in the gospel of traffic engineering, the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices, which has stymied their adoption throughout the United States.

The Washington Post checks in today on Memphis City Schools' efforts to adopt the IMPACT teacher evaluation system that was developed in the District of Columbia's public schools under former chancellor Michelle Rhee. Debate roiled over Memphis adopting the system, under which nearly 300 teachers were fired in D.C. However, IMPACT was the choice of Memphis' teachers over other, more popular systems:

Memphis teachers adopted the D.C. method -- in significant part -- over two alternatives that are better known and more widely used. They said IMPACT offers concise, concrete formulations of what effective teaching looks like.

"It really allows you to reflect," said Melanie Fleming, who teaches third grade at Richland Elementary, one of the higher-performing schools in Memphis.

But many of the city's 7,000 teachers are raising grievances about the new system and fears that school officials will use it to purge educators, not help them raise their game. Union officials say teachers feel betrayed, an echo of the D.C. tumult.

"What they are going to do is run some good veteran teachers into retirement," said Stephanie Fitzgerald, a longtime science teacher and former president of the Memphis Education Association.

The Post also points out to the non-Memphis reader that this major change in teacher performance evaluation comes amid a rather tricky political environment:

Teacher evaluations are just one element in a time of immense upheaval for the Memphis public schools, which serve a poor and heavily minority population of 105,000 students. The city is in the throes of negotiating a consolidation with majority-white suburban Shelby County schools, a move compelled by funding issues. The Memphis Education Association lost much of its power after state lawmakers outlawed collective bargaining by public employees last year.

In the midst of political challenges, Cash said he worried about the evaluations being seen as an assault on African American women, who comprise 75 percent of the city's teacher corps. He called it one of the "third-rail issues" of the kind that undid Rhee and former D.C. mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D). Of particular concern, he said, are about 800 mostly veteran teachers who have scored poorly on evaluations and may not be reachable by coaching or professional development.

Also check out the accompanying photo gallery of images by former Commercial Appeal photographer Lance Murphey. Winridge Elementary in Southeast Memphis and Richland Elementary in my old corner of East Memphis are featured.

CNN had a story today about the forthcoming name change of a portion of Linden Avenue to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The name change was unanimously approved by the Memphis City Council in January, and it is scheduled to go into effect in time for April 4 observances of King's death by assassin's bullet that day in 1968 in Memphis. CNN frames the move as Memphis finally moving to overcome its bad feelings about being the site of King's death.

Forty-four years after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was gunned down on the balcony of a Memphis hotel, the Tennessee city is overcoming what some call protracted guilt and embarrassment, and naming a street in his honor.

And here's an interesting factoid from CNN:

More than 900 U.S. cities have streets named after King. The largest concentration is in the South, led by Georgia, which has more than 70 roads named after the Atlanta native, according to the New Georgia Encyclopedia.
Fox News taps DeSoto County, Miss., as one of the counties to watch in tonight's Republican "Dixie Primary." Can former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum can continue the strong showing in Greater Memphis that he had in last week's Super Tuesday Tennessee primary? It's key to his continued viability that he not come in third in all six states of the old Deep South.

DeSoto County is a heavily Republican suburb of Memphis and Santorum did very well in Metro Memphis last week. This is the buckle of the Bible Belt, and should be good to the champion of social conservatism But, unlike the rest of Metro Memphis, this is a majority-Republican county. Results here will be revealing for Santorum.
Longtime Memphis provocateur, political candidate and misunderstood landscape artist Robert "Prince Mongo" Hodges has appealed a recent finding that his Daytona Beach, Fla.-area home is a nuisance, what with its "manmade sand dunes, sculptures, kitsch and clotheslines with panties, bras and other clothing."

Mongo, of course, is no stranger to this sort of thing. When last we heard about the Zambodian snowbird, authorities in Florida were excavating his uniquely decorated yard with heavy equipment while he was away for the summer. The latest alleged violation is a result of his "redecorating." Nor is he a stranger to lawyering up and making it very expensive for local governments to deal with him.

Hodges has been quarreling for several years over his yard with neighbors and county code enforcement. Similar issues over his yard decor have followed Hodges at his home in Memphis and former home in Fort Lauderdale.

"I call it decorating, art and landscaping," Hodges said. "They are like Hitler, like back in Germany. I have a house and I'm landscaping it, but this is all a political thing and totally irritating."

Black-Farmers-Rally-Memphis.jpg A column posted on the website, which covers "Political News and Opinion from a Multicultural Point of View," picks up on Martin Luther King Jr. Day appearance by members of the Black Farmers Association at the site of the Occupy Memphis protests on Civic Center Plaza. While acknowledging the significance of the demonstration on the national holiday -- "a symbolic show of force between two organizations (both loosely organized) fighting for similar rights with different approaches" -- writer Matt E. Stevens is not sold yet on the Occupy movement being able to enlist black America on a significant scale:

The larger issue still remains about the Occupy movement as a whole and its effectiveness. When the weather was much warmer, Americans saw a strong show of force in some cities in favor of Occupy. However, as soon as the temperature dropped, so did the outdoor activity in many cities. With a mission that has not been clearly defined at times, it seems that people have not stuck by some of the protests as planned.

When you drill down into the Black community, we honestly don't see many people occupying a local protest site and sleeping outdoors for economic equality. Occupy as a whole will need to show how they are affecting change for everyday people.  Camping out in a tent won't translate into anything meaningful.

PICTURED: Thomas Burrell, far right, leads a rally against a proposed $1.2 billion settlement over discrimination toward black farmers near the Occupy Memphis camp. Walter Daugherty, left, handles horses Buck and Pat during the rally. (Photo by Alan Spearman/The Commercial Appeal)

NPR: Tea party, Occupy Memphis dialogue 'notable'

NPR's news blog The Two-Way picks up on The Associated Press' coverage of last night's Mid-South Tea Party meeting in Bartlett in which Occupy Memphis activists addressed and debated their counterparts on the right. As the AP report said, the two groups seemed to find common ground on some issues.

"It sounds to me that y'all ought to be joining us," said Jerry Rains, a 64-year-old computer programmer and tea party member. "You have a lot of the same goals we have, which is to take our country back."

By way of introducing a poll question -- "Do you think the Occupy and Tea Party movements have more in common than most people think?" -- NPR blogger Mark Memmott writes:

Reaching at least some consensus is notable given the suspicions before the meeting. The Mid-South Tea Party's website, for example, prominently displays side-by-side photos of Tea Party and Occupy rallies that note the many American flags at one (the Tea Partiers') and absence of them at the other.

The headline on a piece that ran over the weekend on DC.StreetsBlog shows that some observers are already impressed with Memphis' progress in implementing more sustainable transportation policies: "Who Knew? Memphis on Track to Add 55 Miles of Bike Lanes in Just Two Years." The article itself continues the theme, and gives a lot of the credit to the city's current administration:

It seems nowadays you aren't truly a bike-friendly city until you've had your first civic dust-up over bike lanes. And by that standard, Memphis, Tennessee has arrived.

Last month, this mid-sized Southern city fought back challenges by business owners to install a bike lane on one of its main major commercial thoroughfares, Madison Avenue. That street was just the latest in Mayor A C Wharton's ambitious plan to add 55 miles of bike lanes in just two years.


Wharton issued his 55-mile challenge in the summer of 2010, saying the plan "is critical to the livability and health of our city." Since that time, the city has been making laudable strides toward that goal. According to its bike planner, the city now has 30 miles of bike lanes, 70 miles of shared roadways and 40 miles of multi-use paths.

A transportation amenity introduced during the tenure of Mayor Willie Herenton gets a tip of the hat on Twin Cities Daily Planet, in a piece advocating a closer look at streetcars for public transit in North Minneapolis.

Lest we dismiss Toronto's system as a byproduct of the desire to get away from the insane cold and/or Celine Dion music, we can head south to Memphis, Tennessee.  In 1993 they started with a 2.5-mile line downtown.  Since then, another 4.5 miles were added and ridership has gone from 500,000 in 1993 to 1.5 million in 2004.  In Memphis ridership was a mix of workers and recreational users, but contrary to common perceptions about mass transit, ridership was heaviest on Saturdays.  Surveys showed that almost half of the riders could have made the trip by car, but chose streetcars "for the experience."  Eighty-three percent of riders said they did not ordinarily use public transit.  In an interesting contrast to Minneapolis, Memphis streetcars paved the way for a light rail system.

Rhodes professor John Copper: 'Why We Need Taiwan'

Via the History News Network: Rhodes College professor John Copper has a column for the conservative foreign-policy magazine The National Interest called "Why We Need Taiwan." Copper, the Stanley J. Buckman Professor of International Studies at Rhodes and author of dozens of books on China and Taiwan, argues that Taiwan is strategically important to the United States in its role of containing China's ambitions. He uses the analogy of the U.S. victory over the Native Americans at Wounded Knee: With its internal territory consolidated, the U.S. was able to focus outward and become a global power within decades. Likewise, he says:

China's reunification of Taiwan will be its Wounded Knee. It will no longer need to focus on territorial matters and will doubtless look to realize power ambitions further from its shores.
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