Saturday, April 14, 2007

Oatney's Republican Presidential Straw Poll

A disclaimer: I know there are more than seven candidates, but the poll only allowed me seven options, so I am afraid I was forced to choose the seven most likely to win. I also did not include a certain famous Tennessean who may choose to run because he is not yet a candidate. In the name of fairness, next week I will run a poll with some of the other candidates in it, and may include the famous Tennessean.

Here is the first Oatney World Republican Presidential Straw Poll of the 2008 election cycle.


Willard McBain

Here's a great bit of musical humor that just barely avoids the proposed porn tax.


Friday, April 13, 2007

Imus and the legislature

The firing of Don Imus from his radio show. The Tennessee legislature and legislative pay.

Oatney On the Air-April 13, 2007


Reform the calendar and reform the legislature

On Wednesday, Kleinheider used the dictatorial tactics of Speaker Jimmy Naifeh and his minions in the House Agricultural Committee to call for "wholesale institutional reform" of the Legislature. While I don't disagree with that on its face in the least, he also appears to give in slightly to the siren song for a full-time legislature. In no way should we have a full-time legislature in the State of Tennessee, for the longer the legislature remains in session the more mischief they will bring about. This is true no matter which party is in control-and yes, I would say this even if I were among their number.

It is vitally important that the citizen-legislature element of our system be maintained. The Plaza is a place with a culture all its own, with factions and cliques that develop in their own way. All parliamentary bodies in the world are like this, for such is the nature of the business of State. By itself this is neither good nor bad-but because of that reality, the longer that members are in Nashville (unless they are actually from the Nashville area) the more likely they will become disconnected from the people that they came there to serve. They do this without trying to do it, and might even do it with the best of intentions. For this reason the law must be maintained that guarantees that Tennessee has a part-time legislature.

The problems Kleinheider speaks of are very real, however. In my mind the biggest difficulty is with how the General Assembly handles its calendar. The legislature convenes in January and proceeds to spend entire legislative days on feel-good resolutions and relatively uncontroversial bills that pass 99-0 or 97-2. Committees roll important bills from one week to the next-sometimes for legitimate reasons, sometimes because certain members want to put off serious debate. The more that bills get rolled, however, the more bills get pushed off until closer to the end of a session when there is less time to debate them or have serious discussion about them. Members have less knowledge of what they are voting on, and the backs of legislators are against the wall when this point is reached because there are so many important pieces of legislation and so little time to deliberate upon them.

God forbid, after all, that a House floor session last three or four hours because there needs to be an honest-to-goodness debate over several pieces of legislation.

I generally agree with Jason Mumpower that this is a function of long-time Democratic control and the current calendar system is designed to maintain control over the process. Keep in mind that Ron Ramsey, much as he might like to run things differently, can't really do it because 16-16-1 doesn't really give him the numbers. On top of that, the House and Senate have to act in unison on calendar matters most of the time because both have deadlines to meet, especially where the budget is concerned. If the Republicans come to control both Houses of the General Assembly, we will be able to see how serious they are about reform by the changes they make in the legislative calendar.

On top of all that, I do think it needs to be made easier for the average Joe to run for our citizen-legislature. I must freely admit that I favor a reasonable increase in the legislative salary from the current $18,150 per year to around $21,000 per year. Why? Running for the legislature is hard enough, but if a real "Joe Sixpack" is elected, he has to interrupt his job and/or livelihood, leave his family and his interests at home, and in many cases travel half way across the State and be in Nashville, and make the trip several times a year. Yes, they get a very nice perdiem for showing up, but the perdiem just about covers the cost of a room and their meals (people who live in Nashville don't realize it, but Nashville is not cheap for those of us from East Tennessee, for example). With the new (and very justifiable) ethics reforms, no lobbyist will be buying them dinner-they are on their own. I do think, however, that a third party neutral group needs to be who has control over legislators' salaries and benefits, not the legislators themselves-that is the ultimate conflict of interest.

These are just a few of my ideas for reform-and they are just ideas, but the basic concept of a citizen-legislature really needs to be preserved.


Thursday, April 12, 2007

Running and budgets

Thoughts on my prospects for public office. The continuing debate over the Tennessee State budget.

Oatney On the Air-April 12, 2007


Attacking a way of life

Last night my wife and I watched WATE-TV's special report State of Tobacco with great interest. The topic of Governor Phil Bredesen's proposed Statewide smoking ban garnered the kind of reaction you would expect. The State Health Commissioner and representatives of the American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association strongly support the proposed ban. Representatives of the Smokers' Club of Knoxville and Leaf and Ale (a great store, by the way, for beer lovers as well as cigar smokers) were opposed, though the owner of the Leaf and Ale was not against a ban in certain places, but he felt it should be the decision of businesses to make-this is my own position.

What caught my ear, however, was not the discussion over the proposed ban, but the honest answer from a University of Tennessee Extension Agent about what crop was best to replace tobacco in East Tennessee. The UT doctor present didn't like his honest answer:

"The best crop to replace tobacco for farmers is more tobacco."

The Extension Agent was right on.

Those of you who have paid close attention to the song Rocky Top might remember the lines:

Corn won't grow at all on Rocky Top
Dirt's too rocky by far
That's why all the folks on Rocky Top
Get their corn from a jar.

In much of East Tennessee, especially Upper East Tennessee, the soil is entirely too rocky to grow anything in large quantities. Some farmers grow corn in small amounts, and Grainger County is particularly known for tomatoes, but nothing can be grown in quantities large enough to provide the small farmer with a decent income on such hard soil with the exception of one crop: Tobacco, which thrives even on this rocky ground.

Tobacco has given rural East Tennessee a measure of economy the area otherwise never would have enjoyed without the crop. The "leaf" has given families a livelihood, sent children to college, allowed families that would otherwise not have much to pass land down for generations, and even provided the money to start the public careers of some of Tennessee's best-known political figures. It has been the life-blood of Tennessee's agricultural economy in the post-Reconstruction era. In other parts of the State, it is very easy to tell farmers to switch to another crop-the soil and climate are more friendly to such a move. In the East Tennessee mountain country, however, it is pretty much tobacco or bust if you are into raising crops to make a serious living.

If you ever talk to anyone in East Tennessee who either raises tobacco or has a tie to tobacco (and the latter group encompasses a whole lot of folks in rural East Tennessee) no one is under the illusion that tobacco is the world's healthiest product. Old-timers, however, often point to the fact that either they or their families have smoked or chewed for years-and in some people you see the obvious health effects, while many others live to a ripe old age and are in perfect health. Doctors around here have never been able to explain this common phenomenon.

Perhaps the biggest concern about the Governor's proposals is his dramatic tobacco tax increases. He and his cabal seem Hell-bent on destroying tobacco as a way of life in this State. Grand if you want to turn our mountains and farmland into a giant industrial park, not so good if you want to preserve our heritage as a people. While I do not believe the Governor will be successful in his attempt to destroy East Tennessee agriculture, I think much of the problem comes from the fact that we have a man who went from being the Mayor of Nashville to being Governor. He has no idea (nor does he seem to care) who and what he is hurting. Whether the Governor's smoking ban and tobacco taxes pass or fail, tobacco and the tobacco industry in Tennessee will survive. The difference will be that as the taxes and prohibitions increase, tobacco will be more likely to become the purview of the major corporate farm processing operatives, somewhat like ADM. The higher the taxes, the more likely it will hurt the small farmer.

Not that the Governor gives a damn.


Smoking ban threatens seniors' rights

My wife came up with an interesting question about the proposed smoking ban that appears (unless someone should stop it) to be on its way to being enacted.

Nicole works as a Certified Nursing Assistant at Jefferson County Nursing Home. She enjoys her job very much, as well as the residents that she works with. In posing this question, it bears noting that she is a non-smoker.

If I am reading the bill correctly, nursing facilities would be one of the places (as with most) where lighting up would be outlawed. Of course, no one in the State has yet figured out how to keep individuals from lighting up in their own home. Nicole pointed out to me, however, that for the residents of the County Nursing Home (one of the best such facilities in East Tennessee, if not the entire State) that is their home. Current policy inside the nursing home designates certain special areas where residents may go to smoke. Many of these residents have been smoking all of their lives, and have never been told by anyone that they could not smoke. There are not a few of these folks, in her words, who will throw "a ring-eyed fit" if not allowed to smoke a cigarette.

It is a very good question. If anyone has the right to do whatever they bloody well please, it is these people who are in the sunset of their life-and this facility is the only home they have. Does the State of Tennessee have the right to tell these people, who have lived very full lives, that they can't smoke in their own home?

I am seeking clarification on this issue, so last night I called Frank Niceley, my State Representative. Frank said he was going to do some checking and find out just how the legislation would affect places like nursing homes. The Jeff County Nursing Home is also in Frank's district. He said he thought that was "a real good question."

I suspect, however, that there won't be much checking-the legislation seems pretty cut-and-dry. If implemented how it reads, it seems to me that the new law will affect nursing homes in the same way other places are affected. Nicole said that she wouldn't be surprised if a nursing home resident somewhere (or a person or group acting in their behalf) brings a suit and the smoking ban is overturned on Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment (equal protection) grounds. It would make for a really good court case, that's for sure.

NOTE (Fri:4/13): I received a message from Stacey Campfield. There will be an exception in the final bill for people in nursing homes and retirement facilities.


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

A Wilder couple of days

John Wilder, the Tennessee Senate, and illegal immigration.

Oatney On the Air-April 11, 2007

Note: You can now listen to any past recordings in the archives by going to the Oatney On the Air Talkshoe prompt in the sidebar of this weblog.


Sometimes I wonder why I contemplate running for the Legislature...

It is during weeks like this one up at the Legislative Plaza that my faith is shaken in the basic goodness of the people who are up there. In saying that, I still believe that most folks who go to Nashville to do the people's business go there with that intent-I am just not certain that they keep to that for very long.

The House Agriculture Committee voted to pass a bill that contained amendments that they weren't even sure about, in fact they didn't even know what was in the final bill. It is inaccurate to say that they passed the bill-House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh passed the bill, not only because he came in to the Committee and voted, but because it was conveniently arranged to swear in Beverly Marrero's replacement in the House early and put her on the Ag Committee to insure this bill got through. To top it all off, Naifeh insisted on getting Ag Committee Chairman Stratton Bone to ignore two different points of order and take the vote on the question. Under Robert's Rules of Order, which is the standard under which most legislative bodies in the United States are run-and the standard used in the Tennessee General Assembly, the only thing that supercedes a seconded call for the Question is a Point of Order or a Parliamentary Inquiry. Jimmy Naifeh chose to ignore those inquiries and insist that Chairman Bone call the question despite the fact that members from both parties were unsure exactly what they were voting on.

Some Democrats have told me that I am just being partisan when I criticize Speaker Naifeh. I daresay there are many Democrats on the Hill who think that Naifeh behaves like a complete and total SOB, but they are not free to do anything about it-if they try and fail, after all, the implications would be too terrible for their constituents. I don't criticize Naifeh because he is a Democrat-I criticize him because he conducts himself like a total horse's arse with no regard for anyone other than himself and his own power. After having met Naifeh, I can say with honesty that he strikes me as a man who can exchange pleasantries very well, but he has a snotty air about him that says "I shall speak one thing to your face and do you badly behind your back." That isn't a Democrat problem-I met many Democrats on the Hill who struck me as kind and genuine sorts who would make for a much fairer presiding officer than the current occupant.

I will say this much for Jason Mumpower: Yes, I strongly supported his opponent in the Leadership race. Mumpower, however, does not acquit himself as a jackass. I believe if he were Speaker that things would be different. He would not pull the shenanigans that Speaker Naifeh pulled the other day. He might do some things that people disagree with, but he wouldn't merely do things for his own benefit-that kind of reckless behavior strikes me as being completely beneath Jason Mumpower, just as it is completely beneath his predecessor.

Meanwhile, over in the Senate, as an illegal immigration bill is being debated, former Lt. Governor John Wilder rose to declare Rule 13, and confesses that he "couldn't run his cotton gin without Mexican help." He talked about what "good family people" and "good Christian people" his "help" were. I'd love to know what wage Governor Wilder pays his clearly undocumented (otherwise he would not have needed to declare Rule 13 on this bill) alien help. One of the reasons that employers do not document illegal aliens, aside from the obvious, is because they do not have to pay them the minimum wage. Now, I have admitted here in the past that I have great admiration for Wilder. My admiration would be lessened by some significant degree were we to learn that not only does Wilder knowingly hire illegal aliens to work his cotton gin, but that they work 12-hour days, seven days a week (as he admits) at an illegally substandard wage. If anyone should find that there is truth to this, my Catholic conscience tells me that isn't a very nice way to treat "good Christian people."

That our Lt. Governor of nearly 36 years might violate the law in this way is a disgusting commentary on corruption.

If you wonder why we are just now dealing with this issue seriously on the State level, perhaps Governor Wilder has part of the answer in his cotton gin.


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

They don't even know what they passed...

State Rep. Stacey Campfield on taxes and the budget, and the amendments legislators didn't even know that they voted on.

Oatney On the Air-April 10, 2007


Lamar! for re-election

I have not always seen eye to eye with Lamar Alexander. In my conservative, anti-establishmentarian universe, Senator Alexander is often too cozy with the forces of the moneyed moderate establishment to suit my taste. The man who beat out a hard core conservative in the 2002 Primary has long been an establishment darling.

I am reminded, however, that Alexander began his second run for Governor, the one where he replaced Ray Blanton, by walking across the State and logging 1,000 miles in a famous plaid shirt. By the time Lamar Alexander left office as Governor, nobody was selling pardons in the Governor's Mansion, and even though our State Government has a long way to go before we can say that it is truly bereft of corrupting influence, much of the progress that has been made in cleaning up government in Tennessee over the last quarter-century can be credited to Lamar Alexander's tenure as Governor.

Many people (myself included) have questioned Lamar Alexander's commitment to the conservative movement. A review of the record does reveal a stark reality: Tennessee and Tennesseans could do a whole lot worse than sending the teacher's son from Maryville to the federal Senate.

Lamar! voted for the federal Partial Birth Abortion ban. He voted that the Supreme Court should interpret the Constitution literally. NARAL gives Lamar Alexander a 0% rating. A big fat zero from NARAL. What the folks at NARAL don't realize, of course, is that when they give ratings like that to Republicans and conservatives, it is an advertisement that says "vote for me" in much of the South. He voted against federal contraception funding in so-called teen pregnancy prevention programs.

Senator Alexander is a three-out-of-four on immigration. He voted to allow "guest workers" a path to citizenship, but voted against the initial "Guest Worker" program, and no on allowing illegal aliens to participate in Social Security. He says he favors "enforcement against illegal immigrants, but appreciation of legal ones."

Being cozy with Howard Baker and having establishment support does not make someone a non-conservative, as some friends of mine have insinuated. Do Lamar's "family" ties make me uneasy? I'd be lying if I said they didn't, but it is important to remember that the Baker-ites are more interested in winning than in merely nominating moderates. Lamar Alexander is a winner if ever there was one. Yes, he is not as conservative as my favorite candidate (who he beat in 2002), but enough with the notion that Lamar Alexander is a closet liberal-he is most certainly not.

I would venture to say that Lamar's Junior Senator is more liberal than he ever thought about being. In no way do I think Lamar Alexander is perfect, and if you could meter conservative sentiments, I would be willing to wager that I am far more conservative than Lamar. I believe, however, that Lamar Alexander loves Tennessee and wants to do what is best for our fair State, right down to demanding that the recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton Commission be adopted as part of our Iraq policy.

Tennessee could do far worse indeed, and I am far less concerned with seeing eye-to-eye with Lamar Alexander than I am with this question: Has Tennessee been ill-served by Lamar Alexander's leadership? I do not believe that we have.

It is for this reason that I endorse Lamar! for re-election to the United States Senate.

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Monday, April 09, 2007

Thirty minutes with a Republican Presidential candidate

Today's radio podcast is an interview with little-known but very motivated Republican Presidential candidate John Cox of Illinois, who may have the most conservative message of any of the announced Republican candidates so far.

Oatney On the Air-April 9, 2007

NOTE: I apologize for the technical glitch. It would happen that my first Presidential candidate interview experiences a technical problem, but I don't think that takes away from the quality of the interview.


Global warming on Easter...

It was unusually cold in East Tennessee for Easter Sunday. Granted, it is normally colder than normal around here on Easter unless Easter should fall on the latest possible calendar date. Nonetheless, I would call the hard freeze we experienced last night cold in the most bizarre way.

So cold was it on Saturday evening that many of us gathered at my church for the Easter Vigil Mass actually huddled around the Paschal Fire after the priest lit it-to keep warm. It took nearly ten freezing minutes for the candle procession to wind its way back into the church from its starting point outside. I thought it would only take two or three minutes and I would move back into the church from behind the crowd, so I didn't take my coat-bad idea.

Before leaving for Mass, we had covered many of our flowers and even the dogwood saplings in our front yard. Our lawn froze in the winter temperatures of Saturday night. Even though temperatures were cold yesterday, freezing last night, and remained so last night, the Easter Sunday edition of the Knoxville News-Sentinel had a big front-page story and multiple-page spread on global warming.

Now whether you buy into the Al Gore version of global warming, or (like me) you think that the Earth is undergoing a radical temperature shift known to happen every few centuries, there is indeed evidence that the world as a whole is warming up. In East Tennessee the dogwoods are blooming sooner, and mountain wildflowers that normally do not make their appearance until the end of April are up and blossoming. Some local folks even told me that in advance of the freeze, their gardens were making significant growing progress for so early in the year. At least one of the scientists the News-Sentinel interviewed, however, pointed out that we've seen phenomena like this before:

John Christy, professor and director at the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, was a contributor for the IPCC and a lead author of its 2001 report.
"To say that 800 contributing authors or 2,000 reviewers reached consensus on anything describes a situation that is not reality," he said in a recent statement to Congress.

Some scientists believe threats are worse than the IPCC describes, but Christy said a minority of scientists disagrees.

"We haven't (east of the Rockies) had anything like what we had in the '30s and '50s in terms of heat and drought," Christy said. "We see some warming, but not the extent that people are being scared about."

Christy checks climate models against past data. He says models have problems, pointing to the fact that they predicted temperatures in the Southeast would rise over the last century. They slightly fell.

Temperatures rose in the United States as a whole, though, and they have in Tennessee since the '60s.

One of Christy's mainstay arguments is that the danger of CO2 increase is exaggerated and other causes of warming, like heat-absorbing concrete, should assume more blame. He says cutting CO2 emissions won't achieve the desired ends.

Scientists like John Christy are not quacks and they are being ignored by a political establishment that doesn't want to admit that there may be other explanations for global warming, and a scientific community that appears to be playing politics with scientific reality.

Is global warming happening? Almost certainly. Is this a reason to panic and rush to rash judgments about how to respond? Certainly not-especially when I am freezing on an Easter weekend in April.

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Sunday, April 08, 2007

Baseball on Easter

Baseball scores and standings. Easter Sunday thoughts.

Oatney On the Air-April 8, 2007


And they came to the sepulchre...

Luke 24:1-31:

And on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came to the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled back from the sepulchre. And going in, they found not the body of the Lord Jesus. And it came to pass, as they were astonished in their mind at this, behold, two men stood by them, in shining apparel. And as they were afraid, and bowed down their countenance towards the ground, they said unto them: Why seek you the living with the dead?

He is not here, but is risen. Remember how he spoke unto you, when he was in Galilee, Saying: The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again. And they remembered his words. And going back from the sepulchre, they told all these things to the eleven, and to all the rest. And it was Mary Magdalen, and Joanna, and Mary of James, and the other women that were with them, who told these things to the apostles.

And these words seemed to them as idle tales; and they did not believe them. But Peter rising up, ran to the sepulchre, and stooping down, he saw the linen cloths laid by themselves; and went away wondering in himself at that which was come to pass. And behold, two of them went, the same day, to a town which was sixty furlongs from Jerusalem, named Emmaus. And they talked together of all these things which had happened. And it came to pass, that while they talked and reasoned with themselves, Jesus himself also drawing near, went with them.

But their eyes were held, that they should not know him. And he said to them: What are these discourses that you hold one with another as you walk, and are sad? And the one of them, whose name was Cleophas, answering, said to him: Art thou only a stranger to Jerusalem, and hast not known the things that have been done there in these days? To whom he said: What things? And they said: Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet, mighty in work and word before God and all the people; And how our chief priests and princes delivered him to be condemned to death, and crucified him.

But we hoped, that it was he that should have redeemed Israel: and now besides all this, today is the third day since these things were done. Yea and certain women also of our company affrighted us, who before it was light, were at the sepulchre, And not finding his body, came, saying, that they had also seen a vision of angels, who say that he is alive. And some of our people went to the sepulchre, and found it so as the women had said, but him they found not. Then he said to them: O foolish, and slow of heart to believe in all things which the prophets have spoken.

Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and so to enter into his glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded to them in all the scriptures, the things that were concerning him. And they drew night to the town, whither they were going: and he made as though he would go farther. But they constrained him; saying: Stay with us, because it is towards evening, and the day is now far spent. And he went in with them. And it came to pass, whilst he was at table with them, he took bread, and blessed, and brake, and gave to them.

And their eyes were opened, and they knew him: and he vanished out of their sight.

Oatney Prays the Regina Caeli (O Queen of Heaven, Rejoice...)


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