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We put this brief on B1 today because it should be considered a a big deal that Columbia University historian (and Memphis native) Kenneth T. Jackson is speaking in town tonight. Given his scholarship on the history and growth of suburban America, it will be interesting to see if anyone gets him to address some of the recent rezoning decisions by the City Council, as well as the controversy over the Union Avenue United Methodist Church location that CVS wants to convert into a drugstore.

When I first read Jackson's remarkable book, "Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States," I had no idea he was from Memphis. The book really opens your eyes to the ways in which local, state and federal governments really subsidized the creation of American suburbia and primed the pump that led to so much white flight (and now, middle-class flight). Though some part of me may have known it took taxpayer dollars to create the interstates, roads, sewer systems and artificially cheap energy necessary to sustain suburban living, Jackson's scholarship lays it out in surprisingly accessible detail.

The brief is below:

Columbia University professor Kenneth T. Jackson, one of the nation's pre-eminent historians and an alumnus of Memphis City Schools and the University of Memphis, will speak at 7 p.m. today at the meeting of the West Tennessee Historical Society at Memphis University School's Wunderlich Auditorium.

At Columbia, Jackson is the director of the Herbert H. Lehman Center for the Study of American History and the Jacques Barzun Professor of History and Social Sciences. Jackson's seminal book, "Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States," is considered one of the most important works of history in the latter decades of the 20th century.

Reprinted 29 times in paperback and five times in hardcover, "Crabgrass Frontier" was the first full-scale history of the development of American suburbia and has been described as an often critical examination of "how 'the good life' in America came to be equated with the a home of one's own surrounded by a grassy yard and located far from the urban workplace."

Among Jackson's other major works are: "Robert Moses and the Modern City: The Transformation of New York," "The Dictionary of American Biography," "Scribner's Encyclopedia of American Lives," "Silent Cities: the Evolution of the American Cemetery," "The Ku Klux Klan in the City," "American Vistas," "Empire City: New York Through the Centuries," and the "Encyclopedia of New York City" (seventh edition due in 2010).

Can we get a local taxpayer receipt?

Speaking of taxes and explanations, check out this cool breakdown of where your federal tax dollars go -- a taxpayer receipt that some say the IRS should reproduce and send to everyone. What would be cool is if someone come up with a localized version of the breakdown -- maybe show us where each dollar out of $1,000 property-tax dollars goes, where each dollar of $1,000 of sales taxes goes, etc.? As City Hall reporter Amos Maki has oft reported, close to 70 percent of city tax dollars go to fire and police services -- so good luck finding cuts not involving the (rightfully) beloved first responders.

Here is a link to an example of a federal taxpayer receipt, which I am putting below. The idea comes from a group called Third Way.


When filibusters required a special bag

The filibustering on the filibuster brought the reminder of a maneuver attributed to former Tennessee Sen. Estes Kefauver back when senators really did have to go to great lengths to extend debate to obstruct, delay or otherwise kill legislation that otherwise had 50-plus votes. A Wall Street Journal article earlier this year on the filibuster mentioned how former South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond once dehydrated himself prior to taking the floor, so that he would not need to leave to use the facilities.

According to the article:
To avoid the same problem, Sen. Estes Kefauver (D., Tenn.) once rigged up a bag so he wouldn't have to leave the Senate floor.
One quarrel with that article, however -- the author unfairly lumped Kefauver and Thurmond together as southern senators who used the filibuster to stop civil rights legislation from going to a vote (the legislation had majority support but could not get past the filibuster). Kefauver and fellow Tennessee Sen. Albert Gore Sr. were among those rare southern senators most often opposed to filibustering civil-rights legislation; both deserve credit for taking courageous political stands, along with President Lyndon Johnson (a former southern senator himself), in favor of civil rights legislation.

This archived piece from TIME spells it out:
The entertainment was a filibuster, staged not by Deep Southerners−the most frequent filibusterers of recent years−but by liberal Democrats, notably Oregon's Wayne Morse and Maurine Neuberger, Tennessee's Estes Kefauver and Albert Gore, Texas' Ralph Yarborough. Some of them, over the years, had conspicuously denounced Southern filibusters against civil rights measures. Ex-Republican Morse (he quit the G.O.P. in the midst of the 1952 campaign) once called filibustering a "disgraceful and contemptible procedure," and has been one of the Senate's most vociferous advocates of rule changes to shut off filibusters, even though in 1953 he set a senatorial wind record with a speech lasting 22 hours and 26 minutes.
Last week's ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States significantly narrowing the use of the so-called "honest services" fraud law that prosecutors from around the country employed to fight corruption is one of those decisions that the public doesn't much follow but that will have a huge impact on how public business is done. It was used here to prosecute John Ford and was a key part of the federal investigation into whether former Memphis mayor Willie Herenton improperly mixed public and private business.

The CA's own Marc Perrusquia gave a nice overview of what that ruling may or may not mean. At the left-leaning muckraking political website, Talking Points Memo, the ruling was given not one but two treatments. And at the online magazine The Root -- which provides commentary from "a variety of black perspectives" -- a writer bemoaned the Supreme Court decision

Interesting Ag Extension story. Really.

County government writer Daniel Connolly's report on the County Commission continuing to keep the same level of funding for the local agricultural extension service brought to mind a national piece from December that drew a lot of attention. Atul Gawande, a practicing physician, provided a fascinating look at the impact of the federal government's creation of the agricultural extension program. Gawande described the creation of a system in which the federal government inserted itself into agricultural policy but stopped well short of nationalization, and asserted that health-care in the United States could benefit from a similar approach.

In 1914, Gawande points out, the Smith-Lever Act established the Cooperative Extension Service, and by 1930 there were more than 750,000 demonstration farms that spread the gospel of more efficient, effective practices, thereby reducing waste and increasing yield.

What seemed like a hodgepodge eventually cohered into a whole. The government never took over agriculture, but the government didn't leave it alone, either. It shaped a feedback loop of experiment and learning and encouragement for farmers across the country. The results were beyond what anyone could have imagined.

Agree or disagree with Gawande's overall thesis, the article is an eye-opening look at the important role the local agricultural cooperative services played in the United States. And puts into perspective the Commission's decision to keep funding at the same level for our local office.
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As the process for merging Shelby County's schools accelerates into action, we'll provide bonus coverage here at, with a particular focus on the 21-member transition team and the 23-member unified school board. Comment early and often. If you have any tips or suggestions you wish to share, contact Zack McMillin at or 529-2564.

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