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New General Motors ad is insulting

November 29th, 2010 1 comment

Magnolia Marketplace usually pays almost no attention to television commercials that take up obscene amounts of time interrupting our favorite programming, whether that’s football games or Seinfeld reruns.

One that began airing recently, though, caught our eye, for all the wrong reasons.

It’s the new General Motors spot that begins with a montage of failure. A boxer gets clocked. Evel Knievel crashes his motorcycle. The boys from Animal House begin to realize the damage Dean Wormer has done to their social careers.

The second part begins with Knievel being helped off the ground, the boxer standing back up, and Blutarsky giving his Germans/Pearl Harbor speech. If you haven’t already seen it, watch it here.

The gist of the ad, whose concept came from a San Francisco-based agency, is General Motors offering thanks for its rebound, just in time for Thanksgiving and the company’s IPO.

But who is the company thanking? Because it shouldn’t be the taxpayers, whose money kept GM from going under. The midterm elections made it pretty clear how most folks felt about the bank and automotive industry bailouts. GM’s gratitude should be aimed at the politicians who thought billions of dollars other people earned would be well-spent propping up a company whose arrogance and flippance toward quality nearly killed it.

GM’s notion that taxpayers had any say at all in its rescue is proof positive that the culture that made the rescue necessary hasn’t changed that much. Otherwise, such an ad would never have passed the smell test. That’s something folks should consider when it comes time to buy a new car.

Categories: Elections, News, Politics Tags:

Turkeys and a Golden Egg

November 23rd, 2010 1 comment

Apologies for the neglect over the past 10 days. Jury duty that took longer than we had planned to get excused from and a trip to Laurel to check on the progress of the latest Choctaw casino put quite a kink in our regular blogging schedule.

The Mississippi Business Journal goes to press today, and we’ll take the rest of the week off for Thanksgiving. We have some pretty good stuff planned for the next couple of weeks. We hope you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoy putting it together.

Until then, may your table be covered with only the finest holiday fare and may the Rebels lay a whoopin’ on the Bulldogs.

Be safe, be cool and be stuffed. Happy Thanksgiving from Magnolia Marketplace.

Counterfeit med retailers raided

November 18th, 2010 No comments

Federal and state law enforcement authorities served search warrants at 27 convenience stores and Hispanic grocery stores this morning, where they seized counterfeit prescription medications.

At a press conference in his office, Attorney General Jim Hood said one arrest was made and counterfeit antibiotics, steroids and birth control was seized, along with other prescription medications. The name of the person arrested and the charge(s) he or she will face was not disclosed.

The 27 locations raided were scattered across the state. They were primarily bodegas, or Hispanic grocery stores, that sold the fake meds.

Counterfeit prescription meds that are smuggled into the U.S. are a growing problem, said Ray Parmer, special agent in charge of the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations Office in New Orleans.

Since 2008, the number of intellectual theft cases Parmer’s office has investigated has grown by 38 percent. Theft cases have centered on counterfeit medications, counterfeit toothpaste laced with antifreeze, tainted animal food, counterfeit automobile airbags and counterfeit aircraft parts.

“These cases rob Americans of jobs, fuel organized crime and create public safety hazards,” Parmer said.

Hood added that much of the counterfeit trade business is subsidized by the illegal drug trade.

Thursday morning’s searches and arrest were the result of a nine-month investigation that included officials from Hood’s office, the Department of Homeland Security, ICE, the Food and Drug Administration, Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics and the Mississippi State Pharmacy Board.

Parmer said undercover agents made 78 purchases of counterfeit meds at the raided locations over that nine-month period.

“This stuff is dangerous,” Hood said. “None of these are legitimate prescription drugs. You just go in and buy them over the counter.”

The joint task force was funded by a $100,000 federal grant, and Mississippi was the only recipient of the money, Hood said. Another $100,000 grant was just awarded that will fund a website that will assist law enforcement officials and consumers in determining the difference in legitimate and counterfeit prescription medications and other fake goods.

Hood added that he expects more arrests related to the investigation.

Categories: Jim Hood, News Tags:

Barbour unveils his budget plan

November 15th, 2010 No comments

Gov. Haley Barbour presented his Executive Budget Recommendation this afternoon.

Under Barbour’s outline, most state agencies would receive a cut of 8 percent in fiscal year 2012, compared with funding for the current budget year, which ends June 30.

Education, Medicaid, Corrections and the Mississippi Development Authority are a few of the agencies that were granted level funding. Of course, Barbour’s EBR means little right now. The actual budget-writing process won’t start for another three months or so.

There were no major surprises. State revenue collections have stayed flat, and there’s a whole lot of stimulus money that isn’t available, so cuts were expected. No agency will ultimately be very happy with its funding, but that’s been the case for a couple years now. In sum, the loss of stimulus money and an increase in the state’s share of the Medicaid match will create a shortfall of nearly $700 million.

One thing Magnolia Marketplace did notice about this year’s EBR press conference, though, is it lacked a lot of the bomast of last year’s, when Barbour recommended merging the Mississippi University for Women into Mississippi State, and Alcorn and Valley into Jackson State. Each recommendation was met with outrage from supporters of the affected schools.

Barbour did not explicitly make the same recommendations this year, but did note in his budget narrative that he continues to favor consolidation. He also reiterated his desire to cut the number of school districts statewide by a third. With elections next year, it’s not very likely either of those ideas will gain much traction once lawmakers return in January.

The budget — to go with job-creation — has been at or near the top of Barbour’s list of priorities since he took office nearly seven years ago. Election-year politics that he doesn’t have to engage in will drive the bulk of budget decisions, so how Barbour maneuvers within that — and how much he engages compared with years past — will be interesting to watch.

Anti-Brown forces need to be careful

November 9th, 2010 No comments

On Tuesday, other statewide media picked up the latest Butch Brown story Magnolia Marketplace first reported last Thursday and Friday.

But we’re not here to pat ourselves on the back.

And Brown’s political enemies should be careful not to do the same.

Anybody with a working knowledge of Mississippi politics knows that Brown’s leadership and his missteps will be the major issue in the race to succeed Northern District Transportation Commissioner Bill Minor, who died suddenly last week.

Candidates who align themselves with Brown, like Minor did, have lots of things to mention as examples of what has gone right under MDOT’s executive director — the sparkling new bridge in Greenville and the lightning-fast rebuilding of major bridges on the Coast post-Katrina come immediately to mind.

Likewise, those who align with Central District Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall, Brown’s biggest political enemy, have plenty of ammunition, too. There was Brown’s arrest for public intoxication at the Beau Rivage in July, and now there’s this latest incident, in which Brown made inappropriate remarks about U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, and got an admonishing letter from Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez afterward.

While the anti-Brown camp has plenty of reasons to build a campaign around ousting him, they had better tread lightly.

Brown told Magnolia Marketplace that his cancer is back for the third time since he was initially diagnosed a few years ago. Anybody who’s lost a loved one to cancer knows this is bad news all the way around. If he’s not already there, Brown is on his way to M.D. Anderson cancer treatment center in Houston, Texas.

North Mississippi voters, especially the country folks, won’t stand for somebody beating up on a sick man. Those sensitivities are no doubt heightened in the light of Minor’s untimely death. Politics is nasty enough without Brown having to defend himself from a hospital bed.

There are other issues a candidate could build a campaign around, and he or she should focus on those.

Butch Brown: Frustration led to outburst

November 5th, 2010 No comments

Magnolia Marketplace just wrapped up about a 20-minute phone conversation with MDOT Executive Director Butch Brown.

Brown told us a combination of things led him Monday night to offer some critical words about U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, who Brown said was scheduled to appear at the AASHTO Board of Directors Dinner before canceling. Two different deputies under LaHood’s supervision were subsequently scheduled to appear before both canceling.

Brown was frustrated with that, and has long been frustrated with LaHood’s push for high-speed rail and mass transit programs that are virtually useless in rural states, and with the fact that there still hasn’t been a highway reauthorization bill, which is the funding source for every state’s department of transportation, cleared by Congress. Here is Brown’s side of what happened Monday night.

“I was probably a little strong on the secretary,” said Brown, who would not tell Magnolia Marketplace exactly what he said. “The secretary, on many occasions, has not appeared at AASHTO events. AASHTO is known nationally and internationally as the voice of transportation. Mr. LaHood has said on many occasions that our system of highway transportation is built out. His emphasis has been on high-speed rail and mass transit programs. Our system is not built out. Our position nationally, and certainly here in Mississippi, is that we need more highways. We need more capacity. Truck traffic, for example, is expected to double by the year 2025. That’s right around the bend.

“It’s clear to us that we need more capacity, and that the system isn’t built out,” Brown continued. “I’ve differed with the secretary throughout my year as president of AASHTO. I chose hard words when I made my comments last Monday night.

“That being said, Monday morning, my chairman and one of my best friends in the world named Bill Minor died. I was there with him. I was the first man to him after I was alerted to go to his room. I was there when the paramedics arrived. Bill Minor was a good friend, and I’ve never watched someone die before. So I had that on my mind.

“I’d also been notified that my cancer is back for the third time – the third time — and I had to get immediately to M.D. Anderson (cancer center in Houston, Texas) as soon as they could take me. And, I was somewhat angered and frustrated because the U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary had canceled. His deputy was supposed to come, he canceled. And a third-level person was supposed to come, and he canceled. So I was a little annoyed that we didn’t have representation from the organization that we work with on a daily basis, and I said so.

“Butch Brown is from the river town of Natchez, Miss. I’m a very outspoken person. I’m too old to change, I’m going on 68. I lost a good friend. I was annoyed that the secretary and his staff had canceled, and I was fearful of what’s lying ahead for me. I opened my mouth and I said things in a very undiplomatic way. I could have been diplomatic and had no consequences and no letter from Victor Mendez. Victor Mendez is my friend.

“I think my friend Victor Mendez felt like he could chastise me and say what he wanted to say. I’ve been critical of his boss before, and Victor and I have talked about it. I think perhaps the setting (Monday night) made him uncomfortable. I think he perhaps felt like he had to say something. We’ve talked and emailed and had conversations and apologies since. I agree with him. I told him I agreed it was distasteful.

“It was a group of words that were very critical of a man (LaHood) who doesn’t share the vision of me and most of my colleagues. I’m not mad at Ray LaHood. I’m disappointed with the fact that we don’t have the money to plan our program adequately and I disagree with his philosophy on the use of that money when we get it. It’s water under the bridge as far as I’m concerned. I hope it is with Victor and Ray.”

While Magnolia Marketplace was on the phone with Brown, a spokesperson for Mendez said in a voicemail that the Federal Highway Administrator would not comment on the letter.

“We really don’t have anything to say,” said Cathy St. Denis. “The letter is what it is.”

 

 

Categories: Butch Brown, MDOT, News, Politics Tags:

Wayne Brown: Mendez, B. Brown could have handled situation better

November 5th, 2010 No comments

As Magnolia Marketplace reported yesterday, Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez wrote a letter to MDOT Executive Director Butch Brown excoriating him over remarks and behavior Mendez deemed “offensive and inappropriate.”

We’re still waiting to hear from Mendez. We’ve left a handful of messages with his assistants  yesterday and this morning. We’ve also gotten word that Brown is traveling to Houston, Texas. We’ve left messages on his cell phone.

We did manage to reach Southern District Transportation Commissioner Wayne Brown (no relation to Butch) on his cell phone a few minutes ago.

Here’s what he told us: Brown was addressing the crowd at AASHTO’s Board of Directors dinner Monday night at the Imperial Palace, and he had some less than flattering remarks about Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, and LaHood’s obsession with high-speed rail transit, an obsession that has irked Brown and transportation officials in other rural states, where high-speed rail is neither needed nor in demand.

“Butch expressed his frustration with that,” Wayne Brown said. 

Wayne Brown could not remember exactly what Butch Brown said that drew Mendez’ ire, but did say there was a profanity involved that “rhymes with AASHTO.”

“He made some remarks, but I thought they were more in jest, but he was getting his point across about the direction that the federal department of transportation is going in.”

What made Mendez’ letter so surprising, Wayne Brown said, was the praise Mendez heaped on Butch Brown during an AASHTO meeting event on Sunday.

“Mendez had some wonderful things to say about Butch, how he provided the leadership he provided, and how he handled the hurricane (Katrina) recovery. So I heard that and then to get the letter that we got, it’s certainly a yin and yang. I thought the letter was going to be complimentary. I think Victor was a little too sensitive. We have a right to express our opinion in these rural states about the direction transportation’s going in. Did Butch do it with the best taste in the world? No, he did not.”

Wayne Brown has been an ally of Butch Brown for many years, and he said this latest incident does nothing to change that. Central District Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall has often clashed with both Browns. A spokesman for Hall said Friday morning that Hall did not attend the AASHTO Board of Directors dinner.

“Mendez had a right to say what he said in his letter; Butch had a right to say what he said,” said Wayne Brown. “Both of them could have done it with a little more sensitivity.”

Highway administrator: Brown “offensive, inappropriate”

November 4th, 2010 7 comments

Back in July, Mississippi Department of Transportation Executive Director Butch Brown attended the meeting of an economic development group at the Beau Rivage on a Thursday night, and got arrested early the next morning for public intoxication and disorderly conduct. 

The Beau Rivage, where Brown was arrested, quickly dismissed the disorderly conduct charge. Brown will answer to the public intoxication charge — which was filed by the Biloxi Police Department, after its police report said Brown was combative and uncooperative with officers on the scene — later in November at his trial.

A whole lot of people thought the Beau Rivage dropped the disorderly conduct charge so quickly because Brown is the president of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, whose annual meeting was at — you guessed it — the Beau Rivage. More than 1,000 people were scheduled to attend. At the time, a Beau Rivage spokesperson adamantly denied Brown’s position as AASHTO president had anything to do with the dropped charge.

The annual meeting ended Monday. And Brown’s behavior is an issue again.

Early this afternoon, Magnolia Marketplace obtained a letter Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez wrote to Brown and copied several others on. It’s only two sentences long, but it packs quite a punch.

The full text of the letter, which was dated Nov. 3 and addressed to Brown: “Your remarks as a public official were highly offensive, inappropriate and unprofessional. Your behavior was shameful and brings discredit to your department (the Mississippi Department of Transportation), the citizens of the great State of Mississippi and your peers at AASHTO.”

Wow.

Mendez was referring to Brown’s behavior during AASHTO’s Board of Directors dinner, which was listed on the letter’s subject line, on Nov. 1. According to the AASHTO meeting agenda, the dinner took place at the Imperial Palace, was invitation only and started at 6 p.m. Here’s the interesting thing about that: Northern District Transportation Commissioner Bill Minor died the morning of Nov. 1. He was attending the AASHTO meeting.

So whatever Brown did that night, hours after his friend and colleague’s sudden death, was deemed so “offensive, inappropriate and unprofessional” by Mendez, he fired off a letter and copied the other two members of the Transportation Commission (Dick Hall and Wayne Brown), AASHTO’s executive director, AASHTO’s incoming president, and the deputy director of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

We have left a message with Mendez’s assistant, in an effort to find out exactly what Brown did and said. Brown and other MDOT officials are attending Minor’s funeral in North Mississippi this afternoon, so getting any of them on the phone will be impossible. But we’ll start first thing Friday morning.

For a refresher, here’s video of Brown in July discussing his arrest.

NE Miss.’s rural voters turned on Childers

November 3rd, 2010 2 comments

If there is a surprise among Mississippi’s congressional elections, it’s that Gene Taylor lost. It’s not a huge surprise, but a surprise nonetheless.

It’s not at all unexpected that state Sen. Alan Nunnelee defeated Democratic incumbent Travis Childers in the First District. What Magnolia Marketplace didn’t see coming was Nunnelee’s margin of victory, which will end up in double digits once all the certifications are done. 

Looking at how Nunnelee and Childers fared in the 24 counties that make up the First District, it quickly becomes clear that Childers lost by a big margin because the same rural voters who put him in office two years ago turned on him Tuesday.

Nunnelee, as of Wednesday morning, carried at least 17 of the 24 counties. Among those were Alcorn, Choctaw, Calhoun, Pontotoc, Monroe, Itawamba, Pontotoc, Tippah, Tishomingo, Union, Webster and Yalobusha. All of those are considered rural counties. Nunnelee winning Lee, Lowndes, Tate, DeSoto and Grenada are expected. While not exactly urban areas, they do represent the most metropolitan counties in Northeast Mississippi.

Childers kept the rural vote in his home county of Prentiss, Panola, Marshall, Chickasaw, Clay and Benton.

Northeast Mississippi is the state’s last bastion of rural Democrats. The region has kept lawmakers like Billy McCoy and Steve Holland at the Capitol for decades. The region’s Public Service commissioner is a Democrat. Its transportation commissioner, Bill Minor, was, too, until his sudden death Monday morning.

We’re pretty familiar with Northeast Mississippi, having grown up there and with relatives scattered across the region. Our family farm is still in Choctaw County. When Marty Wiseman says there are people in the First District who think there would be no electricity if not for Cousin Jamie Whitten, he’s not kidding. There are lots of them, and they’re all fine folks who have voted Democrat almost on the whole.

But their generation is getting older, and their numbers are dwindling. The replacement generation was raised on Republican Roger Wicker, and this election they made it clear the First District will stay in the hands of the GOP for the foreseeable future.

You ask us, Childers sealed his fate when he voted for Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House. Even though he bucked his party too  many times to count — including on the healthcare bill — Childers never could run quite far enough from Pelosi, and Nunnelee and his campaign staff never gave him a chance to do so.

Barbour will set special election for MDOT post

November 1st, 2010 No comments

Mississippi’s political community got a double shot of sad news today.

Northern District Transportation Commissioner Bill Minor died suddenly of what appears to be a heart attack at the Beau Rivage in Biloxi. Minor was attending the annual meeting of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

Sam Waggoner, who once represented the Central District on the Transportation Commission, passed away at his home in Flowood this morning.

Minor, 68, served in the state Senate before being elected to the MDOT post in 2003.

Minor’s death leaves vacant one of three spots on the Transportation Commission. According to Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, Gov. Haley Barbour will have to issue a proclamation within 15 days that would set the date for a special election. The election would have to occur within 60 days of that.

Hosemann said in a press release that he would recommend to Barbour that the qualifying deadline be at least 45 days before the special election, so officials would have adequate time to prepare ballots. Barbour is not bound by Hosemann’s recommendation, but it’s very likely he would follow it.

Minor was popular with his constituents. Magnolia Marketplace’s direct interaction with him was limited to a handful of times, but he was polite, accessible and never dodged a question. His successor has big shoes to fill.