Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Church welcomes Tony Blair

British Prime Minister Tony Blair is to be received into the one, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church shortly after leaving office. It has been said that the reason that he has waited until now to swim the Tiber is because as Prime Minister he does have a role in appointing bishops in the Church of England-but the constitutional bar does not exist as it once did to keep a Catholic from becoming Prime Minister.

First of all, no matter when someone decides to make the leap, it is a wonderful thing to welcome new converts to the Church. Anyone who has paid much attention to Mr. Blair might have seen this coming for years, as his wife and children are devout Catholics and the man regularly goes to Mass. Basil Cardinal Hume once had to scold Blair publicly for receiving Holy Communion since he is not a Catholic, combined with the fact that his very public positions on certain issues are not in harmony with the Church. In Catholicism, Communion is more than merely a symbol-orthodox Catholics believe that it is really, truly, and substantially the body and blood of Christ. To receive Holy Communion is not only a public signification that the communicant embraces that belief, but also that the receiver is "one with the Church," that he or she embraces the totality of Catholic dogma, doctrine, and magesterial teaching.

You have to wonder if the public scolding had an effect on Blair, and he came to realize that this is serious business-and now, free from the shackles of Number 10 Downing Street, he is equally free to embrace a faith he had already wanted to call his own.

There are questions, of course, with the conversion of such a famous public figure. Did Blair wait in part not because of his influence in appointing Anglican bishops, but because his departure from the leadership of the Labour Party means that he no longer feels some need to uphold a political platform that sanctions aborticide and seems to condone or tolerate immorality if it does not promote it outright? (Note: There are pro-life, pro-family Labourites, just as there are pro-life Democrats in the United States.) It does look suspicious, I must say, but I'll leave the details of this to Blair, his pastor, his spiritual director, and (most importantly) the Lord-for only these parties together are fully aware of Tony Blair's frame of mind.

Since he is such a public figure, I pray that his faith becomes a living example to the millions of people who have come to know him over his years of public life.

(Hat Tip: Stephanie Richer)


Friday, June 22, 2007

Educational inequity

In my radio podcast interview with Jason Mumpower, one of the things he discussed was the Basic Education Plan and how, in his estimation, the Governor was right to say that the BEP needed to be fixed-indeed that there needs to be such a thing as the Basic Education Plan in order to address educational inequities between wealthier and poorer school systems.

I certainly agree that the issue of educational inequities needs to be addressed, and I would also fully expect that Mumpower might be in favor of the BEP in general since areas in his district are slated to receive greater funds under the new plan. Support for the basic funding formula in the BEP is even higher in Knox County, where the legislative delegation supports the plan in general almost to a man or woman, with Senator Jamie Woodson really leading the pack on the plan's behalf. I would expect that to be the case for the same reason-Knox County is slated to receive a boatload of new money under the revised proposal. Hamilton County is also, and their delegation is really behind the BEP.

The new version of the Tennessee Basic Education Plan is supposedly designed to solve the problem of educational inequity, but I fear that the biggest inequity in our system will remain. The biggest reason that there is not great equity in Tennessee's educational system is not merely a matter of wealthy versus poor systems, but urban and suburban versus rural systems. The new BEP doesn't eliminate that divide, but may further widen it.

Here in Jefferson County, teacher pay is among the lowest in the State, and a day's worth of pay for a substitute teacher doesn't even cover the cost of the fingerprinting and background check. Despite lower per-pupil spending, many of Jefferson County High School's graduates go on to college either at Walters State, the University of Tennessee, Carson-Newman, or other nearby learning institutions. Jefferson County Schools miraculously finds a way to do more with less-though I am simply at a loss to explain how. Many other largely rural districts (especially in East Tennessee) such as Cocke County are not so fortunate.

While advocates of the present system point to the general increase in funding that will take place after this year due to the new tobacco tax hike, rural districts will see considerably less of that money-and when the money dries up, as it inevitably will under the hair-brained tax scheme that the Governor and General Assembly Democrats have foisted upon us, rural schools will be the first to get the shaft.

Until the funding disparity in rural schools is addressed, there will be no educational equity in Tennessee.


Thursday, June 21, 2007

Over-reaching at Brentwood

Back in April I spoke on one of our Sunday Sports Final radio podcasts about the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association's case against Brentwood Academy. Brentwood was accused of violating TSSAA's anti-recruiting rules. Rules such as this are common among nearly all state-sanctioning bodies of high school sports, and they are designed to protect those schools with lesser means against the recruiting and alumni power of wealthy schools (many of which are private but certainly not all).

I support anti-recruiting provisions in principle, and I have no problem with the idea that schools should follow them. The catch in the Brentwood case is that the head football coach at Brentwood wrote letters to a few young men and invited them to football tryouts, and these boys were already enrolled at Brentwood. It would be one thing in my mind if the young men in question had been students at another school and the coach had done this. In a case like that, it would have been a blatant violation of anti-recruiting rules. In this situation, I failed to see the difference between what the coach did in writing letters to three already-incoming students and stopping the same students in the hall and asking them to go out for the football team. Coaches do the latter all the time-they certainly did when I was in school.

The United States Supreme Court saw it differently. I don't have the numbers, but considering that John Paul Stevens wrote the opinion of the Court, I am guessing that there was some conservative dissent here. This is over-reaching on the part of both the Court and the TSSAA.

NOTE: (8:09 pm) The Court decision was unanimous, 9-0-a fact that I find extremely surprising.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Mumpower On the Air

Tennessee State Rep. Jason Mumpower joins the program for a wrap-up of the 2007 session of the Tennessee General Assembly.

Oatney On the Air-June 20, 2007 (Legislative review and comment with House Republican Leader Jason Mumpower)

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Those who mistreat veterans won't get what they really deserve

Governor Phil Bredesen ordered all of Tennessee's State Veterans' Homes closed to new patients after serious quality of life and care issues were uncovered at the Murphreesboro veterans facility. Among the homes that have been ordered not to take new patients is the brand new Ben Atchley Veterans Home in Knoxville.

Officials with the State Health Department are adamant that no similar issues such as those found in Murphreesboro have been found at Knoxville, but the Atchley Home is being closed to new patients as part of the Governor's blanket order. State quality-assurance nurses are being sent to inspect each facility to insure that everything is on the up-and-up.

In spite of the public statements by State health personnel that all is presently well and fine at the Knoxville home, the reaction of Melissa Franklin, the administrator of the Atchley Veterans' Home, when reporter Fred Brown from the Knoxville News-Sentinel showed up to have a look around does not give me great reassurance.

A reporter was turned away from the Knoxville home Tuesday after making inquiries to Melissa Franklin, the Atchley Home administrator.

Asked if the doors to the facility had been closed to patients, Franklin said, "Does it look like it?" She refused to answer further questions and asked the reporter to leave.

Sounds like Ms. Franklin has something to hide, folks...what does Ms. Franklin not want the public to know about the nursing home she runs-a home designed especially for military veterans?

My wife works in a nursing facility. As is the case with any such place, even the nursing staff feels there could always be better care for the residents, even when they are doing their very best. The people who run that home have nothing to hide-State inspectors routinely give it the highest marks that can be given to a nursing facility. Locals here will tell you it is the best nursing home in the county. The State of Tennessee has recently rated it among the best in the State. The public is welcome to visit there, and I am certain the news media would be also. There is little reason to turn the press away when a facility is in good shape and residents are well-treated.

So why did the administrator of the Atchley Home turn the press away from the nursing home she runs? What is there to hide there that the press should not see? The State of Tennessee needs to find out. I have often been critical of Governor Bredesen, but here is a situation where he and the State Health Department have made the right move.

Maltreatment of our elders who are in long-term care facilities is a chronic problem and that is bad enough. Abuse or mistreatment of war veterans? Those who are guilty of this horrible business will lose their nursing or CNA certification and could be placed on a State or federal abuse registry-but they will never get what they deserve.

Those who mistreat or abuse our war veterans, or who stand idly by when they have the ability to stop such abuse-they deserve nothing short of a firing squad.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Squandering a legacy

George Will has an outstanding column for The Washington Post that ran in today's Knoxville News-Sentinel about Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon and his change of heart on Iraq. I suspect that many other Republicans in both Houses of Congress will follow Smith as becomes more and more clear how much of a quagmire the situation in Iraq is.

At this point in the war, I might be willing to cut the President some slack when it comes to the idea that Islamic terrorists may come to see the United States as weak and unwilling to fight if we withdraw. That argument might wash if the President had not started the war in Iraq unnecessarily while still waging one in Afghanistan against terrorists who were posing a real and legitimate threat. That war was going very well, we were winning and it was clear we were doing so. Our forces were doing what the President has said he wanted to do all along-defeating the terrorists who pose a threat to the United States of America.

When the War in Iraq began, it not only opened our thinly-stretched forces up to a second front, it gave the terrorists a second front to divert to in the wake of the invasion. Because of the opening of that second front, the Taleban is gaining strength and has already taken power back in some areas of the country. Rather than stave off the Taliban, we do not have enough manpower in Afghanistan to continue to press the enemy. This has resulted in a resurgence of both the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and the latter now operates in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

Rather than defeating the terrorists, starting a war in Iraq stretched our forces in Afghanistan so thin that the enemy is now enjoying a level of success with unconventional tactics not seen before the launch of the Iraq War.

This is not a case of simple diminishing popularity such as Harry Truman experienced in the wake of the situation in Korea in his day. There was a clear threat of Communist expansion in Korea that was met and thwarted, even though the situation appeared to be a stalemate. Many of Truman's popularity problems stemmed as much from disagreements over domestic policy as from the war in Korea. Nearly all of Bush's political problem in this country has to do with Iraq. The economy is not in shambles, the judges he has appointed have been solid picks-indeed his Supreme Court picks have heretofore been the high point of the Bush Presidency. The problem is the conduct of the war, and the domestic policy decisions associated with the war, such as the PATRIOT Act.

It is on this war that the President has chosen to spend his political capital, and he has squandered it mightily on a disastrous policy that has destroyed a legacy that instead could have been marked by a restoration of conservatism in the national consciousness such as was seen in the days of Ronald Reagan. The President chose to wage war on an assumption built on a fabrication (WMD's), and sacrifice the success of one campaign for the sheer ability to wage-not win-another.

We are now in a no-win situation in Iraq. If we pull out, it sends the message to our enemies that we are soft, weak, and do not have the stomach to fight. This is a notion that is hateful to any real American. If we remain in Iraq, our men and women will be subjected to a situation where there can be no military victory, and they will be asked to spend their blood and toil for heathens and infidels who no more appreciate their sacrifice than a rat appreciates table scraps.

Even though these words were spoken in 1968, there are at least parts of them that ring as true today for our present situation as they did for Vietnam. Mr. Cronkite speaks to our honor as a nation.


Monday, June 18, 2007

Legislative success

What makes a successful legislator.

Oatney On the Air-June 18,2007


U.S. Open, DEI, and Barry Bands

An Argentinian wins the U.S. Open. Hendrick Motorsports and DEI negotiate over the future of Dale Earnhardt Jr's #8 car. Barry Bonds approaches a steroid-laden 755 home runs.

The Sports Pack-June 18, 2007

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Defining success in the legislature

Tom Humphrey, who is widely respected as the best correspondent on the Hill in Nashville, has named Stacey Campfield the "least successful" legislator of the just-adjourned session. The reason for this grade is because Campfield introduced 50 bills and not one of them passed.

Consider that Campfield had a perfect zero batting average in bill passage, despite such creative - if arguably unconstitutional - ideas as taxing pornography and exempting Tennessee-made guns from federal firearms regulations. So did Kelsey, but he had just 25 failing bills. Campfield had 50.

And when it comes to attack floor amendments, Campfield won hands down. A personal favorite was his proposal to increase the cigarette tax beyond the 42-cents-per-pack level to create a fund to fight online child predators. That never came to a vote, with House Republican leaders calling off a filibuster just before it came up, raising suspicions that it might have been a bit too vicious, even for colleagues in the GOP gang.

I don't see anything unconstitutional about any of that, but that is beside the point. By the definition of success that Humphrey is proposing (and which, granted, is the commonly accepted definition in legislatures today), my own State Representative would not be considered very successful either. Frank has co-sponsored a number of bills that have passed (as has Stacey) but his real opus this session was his legislation on fluoride in drinking water, as well as his animal ID bill-neither made it to the floor. The expanded firearms carry bill also didn't see the floor in the House

We seem to have a twisted definition of success legislatively as opposed to what the founders of this country intended. Today, legislative success is defined by passing as many bills as possible and expanding the codex of legislation to such vast levels so as not to be understood by the common man. If a member of the General Assembly can actually pass a good and needed piece of legislation, that is a wonderful thing. The problem is that the legislation being considered by the General Assembly is increasingly not good, and the vast majority of it is unneeded.

In Frank Niceley's case, he is doing perecisely what his constituents elected him to do-raising important issues that the majority are uncomfortable dealing with. In so doing, he provides the added service of showing us just how arrogant House majority is and just how much of a sense of entitlement they think they have. The truth of the matter is that Stacey Campfield is doing the very same thing. He is a thorn in people's side because he is among the most accessable Representatives in Nashville, and the man says what he thinks and acts according to the dictates of his conscience. God forbid elected representatives have a conscience.

Success should be defined not in passing many bills, but in passing as few as possible-only what is absolutely necessary-and in having the courage to raise issues and fight for them when others refuse to do so.


Sunday, June 17, 2007

Elvis On Ed

Elvis on Ed Sullivan


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