This summer has produced in East and Middle Tennessee a drought situation which borders on the moderate to extreme. White Pine, the little town that I call home, is presently under a no-burn order thanks to the local Fire Department, where I am a member of the all-Volunteer force. I happened to be at the Fire Hall for a little while yesterday when a call came through from officials in nearby Baneberry for our fire chief inquiring as to whether he thought they should enact a no-burn rule for the duration of the drought.
The drought has gotten so bad that the production of Tennessee's most famous export could be threatened. The cave spring where Jack Daniel's Distillery gets the iron-free water that serves as the base for the whiskey that is famous around the world threatens now to run dry. It might be a laughing matter were it not for the reality that Jack cannot be made correctly without this critical ingredient. Water with too much iron in it significantly alters the taste of any whiskey, so ordinary tap water, bottled water, or mineral water should not be used.
It should be remembered that while Jack Daniel's still is the most famous legal still in Tennessee, there is another in nearby Tullahoma. Considering the water situation in Lynchburg, I also have to wonder if the spring at Cascade Hollow is also running low. This is the water used by the George Dickel Distillery in making their whiskey. The folks at Jack are saying that they are taking measures to conserve water, but if the water runs out, they can't make whiskey until water returns. If the spring in Tullahoma is also low, George is in a similar situation. In about seven years, Tennessee whiskey barreled in 2007 could be at a real premium.
This may seem a novelty to some, but the federal and State governments are not laughing at all, I am sure, about the possibility of losing the billions of dollars of tax revenue that the whiskey barreled and bottled at these two historic stills provides. On top of that, I doubt Tennesseans will enjoy seeing one of our State's iconic exports run low, whether you are a whiskey drinker or not.
This is a severe drought situation that we are now laboring under, while other parts of the country are receiving rain by the ton (at least it seems). It is affecting our gardens, our lawns, our crops (which are going to be non-existent at the rate we are going), and now it is threatening our whiskey. When the tobacco, corn, soybean, and hay crops are gone, we shall not be able to drink our sorrow away.
There has been no small amount of talk among certain quarters in the blogosphere about whether or not Fred Thompson is a bona fide conservative. I do not have any doubt that Fred Thompson is a movement man. What people fail to realize who are making noises that he is not is the unfortunate reality of politics-that if you expect to get anywhere, you must make friends within the establishment (whatever "the establishment" happens to be at any given level). That doesn't mean you are a sellout or that you can't be trusted. The only way to know that is to judge you by your record. Since Fred Thompson has been a U.S. Senator, we can say with confidence that he has a good record on issues that matter to conservatives. Is it perfect? No. Is it better than any other major Republican candidate? Without question.
Much ado has been made, for example, of Fred Thompson's longstanding friendship with Howard Baker. Baker is seen as the epitome of the moderate, monied establishment of the GOP, and rightly so. However, if I were a young attorney interested in politics in Tennessee and in making headway for the Republican Party in the 1970's, Howard Baker is definately a man I would want to be in touch with. He is someone whose help I would certainly need if I intended to get involved in public life or run for high office at some later date.
One thing that is often forgotten about our establishment friends is that they have an interest that far exceeds their moderate ideology, and that interest is in winning elections. If they believe that a conservative can win an election, they will back him or her. In 1976 they went crazy over the idea that Ronald Reagan might get nominated by the Republicans. They could not possibly allow that to happen, and they did everything they could to help President Ford eek out a victory for the nomination. When Ford lost the General Election, they learned their lesson, and in 1980 they backed Reagan when it became clear that the establishment candidates were going to go nowhere and the people wanted Goldwater's vision 16 years later. Reagan did make a concession to the establishment in picking their man to be his number two-he had wanted someone more conservative.
Trying to say that Fred Thompson is not a conservative because he has had dealings with the establishment and made establishment friends is like saying Reagan was not a conservative because he dealt with the establishment and made establishment friends. It is an unfortunate reality of politics that if you intend to win, you do what you must do to get there.
It has never been a secret that the Wall Street wing of the Republican Party and the moderate Country Club crowd are not my cup of tea. That just isn't me, and it isn't me in a myriad of ways. I have always believed that the Country Club Republicans are as out-of-step with Middle America as the liberal intellectual elites who run the party opposite. I am not a Rockefeller Republican, and as far as a person-to-person level I would probably say that I have more in common with Harry Truman and his bourbon and poker train than I do with Thomas Dewey and his bridge and martini train. I am not stupid, however (contrary to the popular belief in certain quarters). The Republican Party would enjoy little electoral success and few conservatives would ever be elected at any level if the moderates were shut out of the party. The right wing of the bird may be stronger, but you need both wings to fly.
It can't justly be said that Thompson is not a conservative, his overall record simply does not lead to that conclusion.
While it is very easy for people to wonder why the Holy Father would choose to take Bishop Kurtz away from here when he has done so much to build the Catholic community in Knoxville, we must remember that it is precisely because of Bishop Kurtz' success here that this is happening. In a time when much of the rest of Catholic America is struggling with an identity crisis, Bishop Kurtz has insured that our parishes are filled with those in teaching positions who are orthodox and who proclaim the faith in its fullness. Indeed, as we have witnessed, selective application of the Magesteriumcan lead to being sacked around here.
When other ecclesiastical jurisdictions in the United States are suffering from a shortage of priests, Knoxville has an abundance of them-so many, in fact, that we have occasionally farmed them out to other dioceses in what Monsignor Xavier Mankel has called "Holy Lend-Lease." When other dioceses are closing parishes and schools, we are establishing new parishes and building new churches. While other places have cut down on the availability of the Tridentine Mass, Knoxville welcomes the old Rite and is looking for ways to celebrate it more frequently. As other local Churches shrink, the Church in Knoxville is growing.
It is little wonder, then, that the Holy See has taken notice of these developments and has chosen to send Bishop Kurtz to a larger diocese where his skills may be of great use to the universal Church.
For those of us in the Diocese of Knoxville, the inevitable speculation will turn now to who our new shepherd will be. We could have a new Bishop right after Bishop Kurtz leaves, or we could have to wait over a year if Pope Benedict XVI should grow unsure of the recommendations of the Congregation for Bishops. I am inclined to think that Rome will turn to someone outside of the Diocese in the end, and if that is the case it is anyone's guess who it could be.
Last night's concluding session of the Tennessee House of Representatives for the 1st Session of the 105th General Assembly turned out to be a marathon in spite of the fact that the monstrosity heretofore known as the 2007-2008 Tennessee State budget was passed yesterday. Both the House and the Senate were debating the Tennessee Lottery, and specifically whether the requirement that a student who received a lottery scholarship should remain that the student must have a cumulative 3.0 GPA to keep their State scholarship, or whether that requirement should be modified. Members in the House were complaining that the Senate did not want to deal with the issue. In the meantime, it was the last issue that the Senate took up in debate last night. Senator Roy Herron voted against adjournment (along with six other Democrats) because they thought that until the lottery issue was dealt with, the business of the General Assembly was not done. Several House members, mostly Democrats, complained that the Senate didn't want to deal with the issue. From watching part of the Senate session I got the opposite impression-many Senators in both parties did not believe they had sufficient time to come up with a product that would please the House majority.
From my own college experience, I can tell you that keeping a cumulative 3.0 is not an easy task, and I was a pretty good student. Several times during my college career I managed to make the Dean's List, but despite that I still did not have a cumulative 3.0 GPA when it was all over, though I did come painfully close. Unless you are like my youngest brother who has made his schoolwork his entire life (and I am sure he will end up a successful academician at some point, but this has been to the detriment of other aspects of life in his case, I think-he has little raw life experience), you will have a sub-par period at some point in your college life.
With that said, these dollars are coming from the taxpayers of this State-even if the lottery is the means whereby the money is obtained. When the people of the State of Tennessee amended the Constitution to allow for a lottery as a means to fund college scholarships for our youth, it was with the understanding that it would be done as it is done in the State of Georgia, where a 3.0 cumulative GPA was required. If we are now going to lower that standard, we ought not do so merely to lower the standard so that more young people can go to college. In my mind, our colleges and universities are flooded with young people today who do not belong there, but are there because they were told they needed to go to college. As a result of this phenomenon, a college degree has been significantly devalued in recent years.
I'm not saying we shouldn't help young people who want to go to college-quite the contrary, in fact. What I am saying is that we should not push the issue with them as we are presently doing. Many students are better suited for a technical school or a vocational school. Perhaps we also should consider increasing the value of apprenticeships. In the days of our grandparents and great-grandparents, you could learn a trade by apprenticeship and become licensed that way. There was even a time (as late as the early 20th Century) when you could learn the law that way and be prepared for the bar exam. While it may not work in all cases today, there are still many trades that could be learned through apprenticeship and some associations still allow for it. I think that, as a society, we need to seriously consider restoring apprenticeship as an acceptable way to get into an occupation or a situation.
I'm not sure if the present scenario is helpful to the kids who do belong in college, but if Tennessee is to revamp its lottery scholarship system, it ought not be with a view to merely lowering standards-the standard should still be set very high.
This is also an issue that can afford to wait until next session, despite what some people say. Yes, I believe in education, but the world will not end because the General Assembly decided to put this off until January. This is not urgent business, and if the business is not urgent, the House and Senate were right to adjourn.
The arrogance of the Democratic majority in the Tennessee House of Representatives shows itself by the day. Yesterday, a Republican Representative was flatly told that his opinion didn't matter. Rep. Mike Bell of Riceville raised the point on the House floor that the proposed propane tax would affect the poor of his district worst of all. He was concerned, he said, because many people in his district-like tens of thousands of Tennesseans all over our State-heat with propane during the winter. Many of these folks are people of very modest means, and some are living in poverty.
As written here before, the propane tax is more than just an issue of taxing people who are grilling out. Were that all that was being done here, bad as that might be, it would be a tax on a luxury much like liquor or tobacco taxes. A tax on propane affects those who heat with it worst of all, and most of those people are just getting by in life. Mike Bell should know something about raking and scraping, he is raising five children who are home-schooled. If anyone can have a little sympathy for those who have to cut corners, I am quite sure that Rep. Bell can.
His views do not matter, he was told, for it is going to pass anyway.
What the Democrats really want, of course, is an income tax. They are quite aware that the people of Tennessee do not want an income tax. The last time the people of Tennessee believed that one was going to be imposed upon them, there was a near-riot at the Capitol. Knowing that any further talk of an income tax will likely bring about the demise of Democratic legislative control, the Democrats have turned to a new tactic: We cannot have our way, so we shall make the people suffer. They believe that if they pile on additional taxes on things like propane and funerals and tires-taxes that we do not need since we have one of the largest surpluses in the Union-that people will clamor for relief and simply be told that the only relief will be an income tax. This is their strategy-politics through pain.
The conduct of the Democratic majority is such that they daily prove themselves unworthy of the mantle of power. The Leadership of the Republican Caucus should take note because the Democrats' conduct this session has been nothing but a daily campaign advertisement for Republican control of the House. Session clips ought to be used in ads next year so that the arrogance can be plainly shown to the people. We have a majority that is content to make everyone suffer, rich and poor alike, and they care about no one or nothing in this State except for themselves and the maintenance of their own control. They are like swine in a mudhole when they are together at the Capitol.
Mercifully, I was told that the legislative session could end today. For the sake of all of us and our ever-shrinking wallets and bank accounts, I pray that the torture ends today.
There have been some critics of today's Republican promotional plan to give out grocery gift cards on Charlotte Avenue outside the State Capitol nothing more than grandstanding. The same people who call this grandstanding say that about any effort done to raise real awareness about any issue "grandstanding" or a "stunt." In this case, the Republican Leadership in the State House has come up with a winning way to show Tennesseans just what a little tax relief could mean to their budget.
Since the Democrats refuse to give Tennesseans any tax relief, the House Republican Caucus did it on their own today. From 7 to 9 am Central time, if you went to Charlotte Avenue outside the Capitol and brought a grocery receipt worth $100 or less, Leader Mumpower and Chairman Casada presented you with a grocery gift card for the amount of tax you paid on that bill. Even if only one person might participate in this promotion, I think this was a great way to drive home just how much working Tennesseans-especially the middle class and the working poor-spend on the grocery tax.
The Tennessean pointed out this morning that in this year of record surplus (the number in the article is misleading-it says the budget surplus is $350 million, but the total surplus counting past years is now between $1.2 and 1.5 billion dollars) taxes and fees imposed by the State of Tennessee are still going to rise. The increase will be felt not only by tobacco users, but by anyone getting a prepaid burial contract, changing their tires, or getting an auctioneer's license-and those are just a few examples of the tax increases that will take effect on July 1st in the year of the record high surplus.
On the face of it, the latest Republican proposal to decrease the grocery tax by a mere 0.5% seems like an insult, for such a total will decrease the average Tennessean's grocery bill by only a few cents when it is now well-established that the State can well afford to seriously cut the grocery tax without drastically affecting the bottom line. What is really telling is the reality that the Republicans have been backed into a corner because until now the party opposite has refused to budge on any lowering of the grocery tax. The so-called party of the working man and the poor and the indigent refuses to make a significantpermanent cut in the tax that most impacts the working family, the poor, and the indigent. A few of them even go so far as to mock our concern for working Tennesseans, pretend that they will do something but they do not.
At least the House Republican Caucus tried to do something today. As for the half-percent: Yes it is insulting because we could do so much more. That is exactly why we need a Republican majority.
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