Saturday, July 28, 2007

Acting on that which we blog about

Everyone who reads my blogging work knows that I have a passion for this-I like to think that in some small way, what I am writing here is making a difference somehow, somewhere, and in some way for the better. I don't expect everyone to agree with me, but I do expect to be heard. One thing I have learned over the course of doing this for a good while now is that it helps to actually be involved in the community so that when you write about issues, people of influence actually read and "listen".

For my own part, I dispatch for our Volunteer Fire Department here in White Pine and handle logging all the calls into the national fire database (not easy work, mind you), I have also been involved in several political campaigns, and in addition to helping Mike Faulk win a seat in the State Senate next year, I just might be working on a small campaign of my own. I am also a member of Knights of Columbus Council 6730 in Morristown, where I serve as Deputy Grand Knight and (as a consequence) am involved in a myriad of community projects there.

I'm not saying all of this to toot my own horn, but am pointing out that because I do things in the community, when I say something on this blog, people read it and they hear about it-and there is some small level of notice because people who know me know that my words are backed up with everyday action.

That's one reason I have a tremendous respect for bloggers on the Left like Sharon Cobb, Sean Braisted, and the Cracker-and why those folks are proudly on my blogroll. Even though I profoundly disagree with their politics, these are people who have backed up their words with actions and they are doing things to try and serve their communities in a very active way. I know that Sean is involved with the Young Democrats and involved campaigns in spite of his busy work schedule. Sharon is a real woman-about-town in Nashville Democratic circles-if there's a cause she believes in and she can help, she's there. We have Jessica's Law in Tennessee today in no small part because of the persistence, stubborness, and hard work of Sharon Cobb. The Cracker is a former Executive Committeeman who still dives into Shelby County politics and Lord knows what else.

These people are doers.

Similarly, people on the right such as Bill Hobbs, Stacey Campfield, Terry Frank, Brian Hornback and Rob Huddleston, are also doers and not merely talkers. They don't just believe in the cause, they've stepped out and acted in some way for the community to try and make a difference. We do have a problem in the blogosphere on both the Right and the Left with people who want to say their bit in the blogosphere but do little to affect the reality of things in their community and in the wider world on the ground. This may be for a number of reasons: Everyone (myself included) is busy with the daily grind of life, and in my case, there are times when I have bitten off more than I can chew. I am also willing to concede when another person has had experiences that I have not that are going to alter their thinking on something or other.

We are fortunate to have a growing blogging community in Tennessee that is becoming more and more influential. Note that the most influential among them tend to be those who act on the convictions about which they proudly write in ways both great and small for people to see-and to know they mean business.

My challenge to all of our East Tennessee political bloggers would be to find a little time to act in the community on the things you write about. Not only does it make your blogging work more rewarding, it also really feels good to know that you are acting on what you believe and not merely running your computer.

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Friday, July 27, 2007

To understand the vote, you have to remember the history

Joe Powell is among those who are just torn to pieces by the recent vote by Congressman David Davis against a bill that tightened federal regulations on dogfighting. I understand that the disgusting and disgraceful actions of Michael Vick have brought the cruelties involved in dogfighting to light for many people. I fear that Powell is forgetting his history, as we tend to do in modern culture. I don't think David Davis is in favor of cruelty to animals, but he is opposed to more federal interference into our business here in East Tennessee.

I haven't seen eye-to-eye with Congressman Davis on everything, and when we have disagreed on something, I have been careful to let that be known. In meeting Congressman Davis on a couple of occasions however, I have come believe he has a keen sense of the history of federal abuse of power here (again and again and again), and is not excited about giving the federal government yet another opportunity to screw the people of East Tennessee over.

Congressman Davis understands that the federal government has not always been a friend to the people of East Tennessee, and they have used federal regulations and laws in a way not to punish those who truly endanger society, but to go after those who do little harm to their neighbor.

Those who know a little something about American history know that during the Late Unpleasantness Union sympathy ran very high in East Tennessee. East Tennesseans were repaid for their loyalty by seeing federal soldiers turn Knoxville's Market Square into a massive powder and ammunition dump right in the middle of town. It was by the grace of God that the city did not burn to the ground, and the federals refused to remove the gunpowder from a public marketplace despite repeated pleas for them to do so. East Tennessee's native son Andrew Johnson was impeached (but not convicted) by radicals.

What really brought East Tennessee into the Republican camp permanently-perhaps more than any other thing-were the actions of the federal government in the formation of the Tennessee Valley Authority and the confiscations of many homes and farms in the name of bringing electric power to this valley. The TVA did dam up the Holston, the French Broad, and the Tennessee Rivers, and did bring electricity here-but did so in a less-than-honest way. After using eminent domain to seize many family properties, telling people that their homes were to be flooded by the newly-formed lakes, TVA held on to properties that did not flood at all. Rather than return the properties to their original owners or their heirs, TVA also kept these lands and began to sell them off (a process that continues to this very day). It did not endear many East Tennesseans to the federal government, and certainly not to the Democratic Party which many deemed responsible as the party of government at the time. Mike Faulk and I have discussed this, and we agree that while the old residual war vote may have been a factor in the early 20th Century, the TVA land grab did more than any other thing in the last 100 years to insure Republican political dominance in East Tennessee.

From the days of prohibition well into the 60's (and beyond), the federals came hither to apprehend the makers of the good ole mountain dew and to try and cut off supply of the happy juice. One thing that must be understood about this time period is that Sevierville and Pigeon Forge were not exactly tourist meccas in those days, and Gatlinburg was just beginning to be known as something of a resort town. The landscape was different. Running moonshine was a risky but effective way to make enough money to feed your family, pay the note on your land, and get ahead in life. It was not the least bit uncommon for local authorities to turn a blind eye when they knew that someone was making shine-especially since, in the eyes of many, these folks weren't interfering with their neighbors. The federals came because (God forbid) the moonshiners were selling cheap whiskey and the federals weren't getting any of that money. For the most part, the feds succeeded in stamping out the practice, but they tended to go after the small farmer who made a little whiskey on the side-it made a lot of people feel that the feds were simply out to get them.

Some people still use their homemade stills around here, however. The feds got Marvin "Popcorn" Sutton after a fire in his barn. What was the local reaction here? Well, I can't judge whether it was universal or not, but the fellas down at the drugstore here in White Pine thought the whole thing was a shame. "What harm did he do them," asked one. "They ought to just leave ol' Popcorn alone," said another. That was just the tip of the iceberg. It wasn't a popular arrest at the Sanitary.

That is generally what folks around here want-to be left alone. If I do you no harm, then leave me be. It is an especially widespead opinion here that the federal government has little or no business in our local affairs. Knowing that, it should come as absolutely no surprise that the Congressman for the Fighting First would vote against another regulation that would bring the federal government here yet again.

I think what Michael Vick did was horrible, and I say that as an animal lover who owns a dog, a rooster, chickens, and raises rabbits. If found guilty, the man should be punished severely. It ought to be the Commonwealth of Virginia taking the lead, however. It is up to local jurisdictions to decide how to punish this kind of thing-animal cruelty is not a Constitutional matter.

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Margie Loyd rats on Ragsdale

When it rains it pours in the County Mayor's Office in Knox County, Tennessee. For months here at The World, we've been covering the ethically questionable and possibly criminal behaviors of certain people who are either currently connected with Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale, or who have formerly worked for him. The trail of corruption goes right back to Ragsdale himself, as we have asserted.

Now, Mike Ragsdale's former Executive Assistant-a woman who was among the most trusted members of Ragsdale's inner circle-is firing back after she feels the blame was heaped on her for her use of a county purchasing card for lavish expenses. Margie Loyd says Ragsdale himself authorized much of the spending.

From a letter via Loyd's attorney, Greg Issacs:

"Ms. Loyd's employment duties required that she build and maintain relationships with community leaders, attend board meetings and other related matters. Many of the charges were de minimis and many were directly authorized and/or approved by you (Mayor Ragsdale). Specifically, when you instructed Ms. Loyd to schedule a luncheon with Commissioner Diane Jordan, Ms. Loyd was instructed that Commissioner Jordan was to be 'well taken care of' because of political considerations that were ongoing."

About the issue of the cruise charged to the county card, as well as Loyd's purchasing habits:

"This issue has been greatly distorted by the media. As confirmed by the chronology submitted to your office, Ms. Lloyd used the P-card to 'hold' a reservation. It was never Ms. Loyd's intention for Knox County to be responsible for this expense. Further, when the charge appeared on Ms. Loyd's card statement, she immediately notified the county finance department and reimbursed Knox County.

Ms. Loyd reiterates that she used the P-card within the policies and procedures that existed within the Knox County Mayor's Office. Further, her use of the P-card was consistent with other similarly situated Knox County employees. As you (Mayor Ragsdale) are aware, you have personally reimbursed expenses that were placed on your Knox County P-card."

According to Ms. Loyd, she was acting in accordance with what she viewed as the accepted practices and norms of Ragsdale and his staff. Mike Ragsdale's reaction is to send his lackey Dwight Van de Vate to release a statement to try and diminish Ms. Loyd's credibility.

Considering that we are dealing with a man who has sent his minions to hack into Republican Party e-mails to try and find cause or dirt on his political opponents, it is Ragsdale whose credibility is a matter of question. The more we learn about the purchasing card scandal, the more we see that the responsibility lies at the top, and corruption is not the sole perview of certain County Commissioners in Knox County.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Pay raises and public service

Governor Phil Bredesen told reporters for The Tennessean that the reason he approved such ungodly salary increases for members of his cabinet was to keep them in his second administration and, he said, give his successor an "easier time" picking a cabinet of their own. Apparently, Bredesen wants to make career government officials of these people.

Bredesen last week announced the raises that include creating a new top-scale pay grade of $180,000 for key commissioners. That means Finance Commissioner Dave Goetz will earn $32,412 more per year, while Economic and Community Development Commissioner Matt Kisber will see a $69,336, or 63 percent, hike.

In all, the announced raises for each commissioner and 38 other key officials whose salaries are tied to their bosses' pay make up $930,000 of a $3.1 million pay-raise package for executive branch officials.

The governor called the raises "one of my gifts to the next governor."

Unlike some people, I am not one who thinks that government officials-be they elected or appointed-should never receive a raise. Those who work for the State have families to feed and financial obligations to meet just as much as anyone else. Many of them work hard (whether I might agree with their politics or not) and deserve some kind of a payoff for that service. Expecting a raise is not unreasonable.

There is a different dynamic at work, however, when you receive a political appointment. You serve not only at the Governor's pleasure, but you also serve the people of the State who are paying your salary. When someone works in the private sector, they can expect a raise based on their performance as well as the profits the company is making. Government is not supposed to be in the business of making a profit, but of serving the people the officials in question were elected or appointed to serve.

There are some people who have served admirably in public service at every level of government for many years. While this is truly laudable, we should remember that America was not founded to be a nation of government employees. However long you may have served in government, and in whatever capacity, public service is not meant to be your only career. An important part of life, perhaps, and maybe even a stepping stone to other things-but a person's working life should not end with their public service.

The Tennessee General Assembly recently approved a 3% pay increase for all State employees. I am of the mind that everyone should receive the increase since the legislature approved it, but no one should receive any more than that. When the Governor has just signed into law a series of huge tax increases, and then gives his own staff raises that far exceed the originally mandated increase, where does it appear our tax money is being spent? The money is being appropriated on the Governor's cabinet, instead of by them.


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Knox county juntas

By now the entire State of Tennessee (and likely a good part of the outside world) is aware of yesterday's Knox County Commission meeting in which an ethics debate raged on and on, with Knox County Mayor Mike "I'm Squeaky Clean and You're Not" Ragsdale declared Commissioner Paul Pinkston "the poster child for nepotism." Pinkston succeeded his own brother and his wife and son work for Knox County.

Nepotism is a real problem in government not only in Knox County, but in many county governments in Tennessee and across the South (and the Union at-large). The problem with Ragsdale raising the issue in the self-righteous way in which he did toward Pinkston is the fact that he is trying to pretend that he is not ethically challenged and is using the very real problems of the Knox County Commission to deflect attention away from the improprieties in his own office-everything from spending taxpayer money on lobster lunches at Regas, to the ever-present allegation that Ragsdale's agents hacked into the personal e-mails of some of his intra-Republican political opponents with his implicit blessing. Ragsdale is not only far from clean, his hands are filthy dirty.

It was doubtless with that reality in mind that Commissioner Greg "Lumpy" Lambert said:

“We’ve got to have a real committee with no politicos,” Lambert said. “We need a clean, independent body. This Ethics Committee is not snow-white folks. There are some politicos.”

I understand what Lumpy meant, but the "average" person may not. Lumpy was trying to let it be known in a way that was entirely too diplomatic that the Ethics Committee has too many Ragsdale flacks, and that body is most likely to take whatever action Ragsdale wants. While I believe that this supposition is likely true, the Knox County Commission is itself lacking in legitimacy, with many of its members appointed in a process that lacked public input or scrutiny. It would have taken very little on the part of the Commission to allow for the public to speak on January 31 when the appointments took place-just a few hours of the Commissioners' time. Their unwillingness to give it meant that however well-meaning they might have been as individuals, every one of them collectively has perverbial blood on their hands.

Because of the catastrophe of January 31, we can rightly say that Knox County does not have any entity that can rightly be called a legitimate government. Its County Executive governs only to advance his agenda, his seeming opposition to nepotism and cronyism existing only in an attempt to exorcise governing bodies of his personal and political opponents. County Commissioners take actions to bring the executive branch to scorn in a never-ending back-and forth. Political parties in Knox County are not Republicans and Democrats, but pro-Ragsdale, pro-Sheriff, or anti-both. Knox Countians are not governed, but dictated to by opposing juntas vying for power. The only thing which likely keeps the whole business from degenerating into shooting in the streets is the overarching threat of State or federal intervention, which is likely what keeps the various factions from engaging in Brooks-Sumner-like behavior.

When the Wikipedia entry for Knox County details not its beauty and history, but the corruption of its government, this is a signal that the whole place is becoming famous for corruption. Knox County, Tennessee is diseased beyond immediate cure.

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Monday, July 23, 2007

The rights of fathers

The one thing that is often not considered when it comes to the way that courts deal with children and the rights of children are the rights, responsibilities, and important role that can and should be played by the child's father. We all know that there are many deadbeat Dads in our society today who don't want to step up and take responsibility for the children they help bring into the world. There are many more in Tennessee who are told they must pay for these children's lives and education, but they are lucky to see their child once or twice a month.

Yes, there are men out there who would be poor examples to their children if they could spend more time with them, but there are plenty of others who would be fine fathers if the courts and the law would simply give them that chance. Then there are those forgotten men who have been told that a child is theirs-in fact have been made to support these children, only to learn via DNA testing that they are not the child's father at all.

What about the rights of men? State Representative Stacey Campfield has been leading the crusade in Nashville for the rights of fathers, non-custodial parents, and men who have been made to pay support for children who are not theirs (leading to the larger question of whether kids actually see the benefits of this money-they often don't, even when the support is quite valid).

This is the same Campfield that many have accused of not listening to his constituents, but as he himself points out, the whole issue came to light in his mind when a constituent who had been wronged by the system approached him. This is an issue important enough for The Tennessean to do a two-part story, but not important enough for the Democratic House Majority in Nashville to seriously consider.

Campfield discusses the importance of Fathers' rights on today's Oatney On the Air.

Also: Legislative accomplishments of the past session. How the 2008 Presidential race could affect Republican strategy in the Tennessee General Assembly election.

Oatney On the Air-July 23, 2007

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

British Open, Baseball, and Michael Vick

Discussion about the federal charges filed this week against Atlanta Falcons; quarterback Michael Vick. Reviewing the 2007 British Open.

Sports Pack/Stat Man Show- July 22, 2007

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