Saturday, November 03, 2007

John Stossel helps expose the real Inconvenient Truth

Note that Algore didn't offer to come on television to defend the rubbish he peddles.

Stossel points out that in Britain, they've put a disclaimer on the film explaining that there is still a real scientific debate and the movie should not be taken as fact.


Friday, November 02, 2007

The Chancellor follows the law

As we fully expected, Knox County Chancellor Daryl Fansler has ruled that the law does not allow for a special election to replace the 12 vacant Knox County offices left in that state by the term limits fiasco and by the Knoxville News-Sentinel's Open Meetings Act lawsuit.

The Chancellor is one of the few in Knox County Government of late who has actually followed the law.

If, as the Chancellor fears, he is made the scapegoat for the failings of everyone else in this matter (including the State Attorney General), that would be the worst injustice yet in the entire scandal.


The party hall and Porter

Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen is building a 13,000 square foot party room under the Governor's Mansion in Nashville and the neighbors whose lives will be disturbed have no say. The passing of Grand Ole Opry legend Porter Wagoner.

Oatney On the Air-November 2, 2007


The disinfectant of sunshine

Michael Silence has justifiably put out the clarion call for bloggers to take the lead in pushing the Tennessee General Assembly to reform the Open Meetings Act so that we have greater openness in government, not less. This is in the face of criminal State Sen. Ulyses Jones (D-Memphis) making an attempt to gut our State's laws regarding open public meetings.

Silence has suggested that Tennessee's blogging community respond appropriately.

Everyone that I have personal contact with who is on the Hill is opposed to any kind of change that would make State and local government less transparent. That doesn't mean that there are not legions of people who are trying to do just that. It behooves Ulyses Jones to want a less open government since bribery is an activity that he obviously finds to be acceptable behavior. This sudden move toward less open government in the wake of the Sunshine Law trial in Knox County ought to make us ask the question: How much of this reaction is due to the growing influence of the blogosphere?

Yes, it is true that we who write blogs tend to have an over-inflated perception of the importance of what we do. That's especially true in Tennessee, where there is a massive proliferation of political bloggers compared to other States and locations around the world. That tendency we have to strut ourselves from time to time doesn't take away from the reality that what political bloggers do is important in a time when people are demanding greater accountability in government, and bloggers often shine light on abuses where they need to be found. We are fortunate in Tennessee to have two State legislators (Representatives Stacey Campfield and Susan Lynn) who have blogs and who use the medium to expose what they see as wrong and share their views with us.

If you don't think there are people in Nashville (and for that matter, Washington) who would like to shut bloggers up, or at least keep us out of the information loop, then you truly are naive. The government does not like bloggers having greater access to information, lest bloggers do what the mainstream press will not-shine the light on them.


Thursday, November 01, 2007

All Saints Day

Catholics: Be reminded that today (November 1st) is the Feast of All Saints (Hallow Mass). It is a Holy Day of Obligation, on which all Catholics are required to attend and assist at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Failure to do so without being ill or having some other exceptional excuse places one under the pain of mortal sin, just as on a Sunday.

Now get thee to the Lord's house!

Find a Mass time where you live

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King Phil's party room

Anyone who reads my writing on a semi-regular basis knows that I have neither a lick of trust nor confidence in our popular Governor. The prime reason for this is not because he is a popular Democrat-Ned Ray McWherter was a popular Democrat and compared to the current Governor, Ned Ray needs some kind of commendation for integrity.

Phil Bredesen is one of the most uppity, prideful, arrogant elected leaders in the Union-if not the known world. His popularity, which only recently began to decrease to levels lower than that of Our Lord and Savior, has been based on the illusion that he is all things to all people. To many casual Republicans who don't follow the ins and outs of State politics, he sounds like one of them-after all, we have a hefty surplus, right? What many of them don't know is that Bredesen has already begun to spend it away because the tax schemes that he told us would lay the golden educational egg are proving to be a massive failure. So throughly ruined is the Governor's tobacco tax scheme that he threatened to station agents at our border crossings to try and seize legally purchased goods on which his taxes were not paid. George III has nothing on King Philip.

Then there was TennCare. The State insurance program that many Republicans warned Ned Ray McWherter would bankrupt the State very nearly did. Bredesen ran on a platform of saving TennCare, then admitted after he was elected what most decent Tennesseans already knew-that TennCare had to go so that the State might be saved. Rather than work with Republicans and people of conscience to gradually wean people off of the government teet, Bredesen sought ways to shift the blame for TennCare's collapse to anyone other than himself. He started with his political opponents, and then eventually sank to the level of blaming sick people in the hospital, some of whom were on life support. The Bredesen solution for ending TennCare was to literally pull the plug on thousands of Tennesseans at once. In an odd reversal, it was Republicans led by State Senator Jim Bryson who crusaded not to keep TennCare afloat, but to keep the Governor from killing people with the stroke of a pen. People died because the Governor was not honest with the electorate from the beginning about just what needed to be done with TennCare.

Yet Philip seems aloof from the concerns of everyday folks, divorced from the realities of his neighbors and the larger community around him. The latest example of this comes in the desire of he and First Lady Andrea Conte (is she too ashamed of her husband to share his name?) to build a 13,000 square foot underground entertainment facility at the Governor's Mansion in Nashville's Oak Hill community. The proposed hall would be a giant basement twice the size of the mansion's footprint, and the Governor's neighbors are rightly worried about everything from the construction noise to the unneeded and unwanted traffic. Apparently, having a garden party-style gathering at the mansion isn't good enough for Phil, he wants dinners that will rival the White House. What would John Sevier, Willie Blount, or William Carroll think?

The Governor and First Lady have been working to restore the Governor's Mansion to grace and grandeur ever since Bredesen took office. This has been a largely worthwhile project, especially considering that much of the funds have come from private sources. I don't disagree with the First Couple in the least that Tennesseans deserve a home for the leader of our State that is a showpiece and a point of pride to be kept in good order and passed on to future generations. Nashville is not Washington however (thank God), and having a house befitting the dignity of the Governorship with lovely architecture and fine things inside doesn't mean that a party room twice the size of the house is needed. The Governor's Mansion should be a place of quiet but stellar awe and respect for the office and for the men who have held it for the last 212 years. If it is possible to have modest grandeur, that would be an atmosphere appropriate for Tennessee's Governor's Mansion.

Quiet dignity isn't good enough for Phil-he needs a 13,000 square foot addition to show off.

God Save the King.


Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The internet and sunshine on government

Our once and future House Republican Leader Bill Dunn is looking not merely for a way to bring local politics into the sunshine, but he wants our elected officials to be able to send instant messages to one another-and for us to be able to see them.

From a House Republican Caucus press release:

“With the technology available today, we need to update the Open Meetings Act,” Dunn stated. “We need to make it easier for officials to conduct business, while balancing the public’s right to know. I believe that this can largely be solved using technology to bridge that gap.”

Dunn is working on a bill that would allow elected bodies to set up websites where they can instant message one another. These “conversations” would be available for the public and the media’s viewing. Dunn says this method of letting the sunshine in is even more beneficial to the public since the average citizen often has difficulty attending called meetings.

“Two elected officials could carry on a conversation at their convenience and at the spur of the moment if needed, knowing that the public will have full access to their discussion,” stated Dunn. “Our main goal is to not burden one party or the other, but make it easier for all parties involved.”

This is actually a brilliant idea (something typical of Bill Dunn, though he is humble enough never to admit how good his ideas are) on several levels.

First of all, Dunn is quite right about the difficulty of the average person in attending called meetings of local government bodies. People have families and lives and responsibilities (if anyone understands this, it is Bill Dunn). The very things that keep the best people from running for public office also keep many of them from attending public meetings. For my own part, I follow local and State politics with a great deal of zeal, and yet I have to make time to attend what meetings I can-it is very difficult. The internet has made following State affairs so much easier when I live nearly four hours away from Nashville. Can't be at this morning's House Agriculture Committee meeting? That's fine, because I can tune in live via the internet and watch just as if I were sitting in the hearing room at the Plaza. Can't be at the Capitol for an evening session of the House? I can view the session as it is happening online, and if my schedule doesn't allow me to be there to watch it live, everything the General Assembly does in both Houses and in all committees is archived by date and is viewable.

It is a great system-so why shouldn't the same logic and a similar system be applied to our local governments in Tennessee?

The instant messaging idea is a really novel approach, because local officials can't then use the common complaint that the Open Meetings Act doesn't allow them one on one conversation that is sometimes vital to striking the deals and negotiating the compromises that make good government work. This would allow local representatives the freedom of discussion without compromising the openness and public scrutiny that both the law and the dignity of the democratic process require.

I'd take it a step further and say that our local governments need to make meetings viewable on the internet so that anyone can have access to them at any time of the day or night. While I realize that for some localities this would require a greater effort than for others, many places in Tennessee could accomplish this at very little expense to the taxpayer and yet they still have not done so.

It is time to bring local government into the sunshine for the world to see-in cyberspace.


It's not the Chancellor's fault

Knox County Chancellor Daryl R. Fansler hasn't ruled officially yet on whether Knox County can hold a special election to fill the vacancies of 12 county offices vacated after their original officeholders were ruled term-limited and the Chancery Court ruled that the Knox County Commission violated the Open Meetings Act on January 31. Judging by his comments from the bench, however, we may be able to glean which way he will rule:

After listing a series of foul-ups by a host of government officials, Chancellor Daryl R. Fansler warned that he will not add to it by ordering a special election to satisfy public demand if the law says he cannot.

Nor, the chancellor made clear, will he be a political scapegoat for the Knox County Commission, the panel whose violations of state law were at the root of the call for a special election.

"If it is within this court's authority to order a special election … then I will order it," Fansler said. "But I will not invade the province of the Legislature. I will not legislate from this bench. I will not order some remedy simply because it takes the burden off someone else's back."

The law says very clearly that he cannot, and Fansler is not stupid-he knows this. He is absolutely right, however, that he should not bear the political blame for everyone else's failure to follow the law or do their duty. Fansler's only job is to follow the law right now, and doing so will likely mean that a whole host of people-up to and including the voters of Knox County-are just going to have to live with the fact that there will be no special-called election.

This problem did not begin with him, Fansler points out. It began with the State Attorney General issuing an opinion in 1994 that the amendment to the Knox County Charter passed by the people in a referendum that enacted county term limits was unconstitutional. The Attorney General is a lawyer, not a judge-his words are not to be taken as law. Yet government officials all over this State rely on the Attorney General for legal opinions as opposed to judges and courts. We now see what kind of a mess that creates when the Tennessee Supreme Court says the Attorney General is full of bull.

"I didn't realize Nashville was so bad," she said. "The plaintiffs aren't happy with the remedy (for the commission's violation of the sunshine law). Instead, they want the court to ignore the state Constitution, to ignore state law. … There is no authority to grant a special election."

While I agree that the Constitution needs to be followed completely, we all need to remember that Nashville was the cause of this whole mess. If the Attorney General had stayed out of the term limits question in 1994 and let the courts handle it, poor Chancellor Fansler would not be in the position of being Mr. Meanie who now has to take candy from a political baby.

The Commission screwed up the process on January 31, and now they want a special election so that they can be absolved politically. Are some of them going to try and blame the Chancellor when he tells them that he can't legally do that?

The Chancellor is right: Other people created this mess and left him to clean it up. He should not be made the scapegoat for the problems created by everyone else.


Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Asking the Chancellor to ignore the law

We're now at the point when covering the crisis in Knox County Government where it relates to filling the seats of the twelve vacated county offices (including eight Commission seats) when I often feel like I am repeating myself on obvious questions of constitutional law. The Tennessee Constitution is quite clear that vacancies in county offices which occur in the midst of a term shall be filled by action of the county legislative body.

It cannot be denied that under ideal circumstances that a special election would be the optimum way to restore the public trust in both the Knox County Commission and in the governing authority of the County itself. The long-term problem is that the Constitution of Tennessee clearly does not provide the mechanism for such a poll prior to November of 2008 (with a February Primary).

Assistant Attorney General Janet Kleinfelter, who represents the state election coordinator argued that Fansler has no right to order a special election.

"There are a whole host of statutes you would have to ignore," Kleinfelter told Fansler.

"We would just respectfully submit there is no authority granting a special election."

The Assistant Attorney General is correct, of course. In a show of unity that of late has been extremely rare, both the News-Sentinel and the Knox County Commission are asking the Chancellor to call a special election. There is no constitutional authority for such a move, yet we find statements such as this from attorney Herb Moncier:

There's lots of things that can be done if we get rid of the can't-do attitude."

This "can't do attitude" Moncier speaks of exists not because the State is trying to suppress democracy, but because the law does not allow for a special election without an Act of the General Assembly. These words by Knox County Chief Deputy Law Director Mary Ann Stackhouse:

"We believe the court standing on the Tennessee Constitution can order there be an election," she said. "The commission is hopeful there could be an election."

Fansler responded, "Everyone is hopeful, figuring out how to get there is the problem."

He then asked Stackhouse if she agreed that the charter orders commission to fill vacancies.

"The charter does say as state law says any vacancy shall be filled by commission," Stackhouse answered.

"I think what we have here is strong sentiment that we try something different."

What these folks seem to be asking, quite frankly, is that the Constitution of the State of Tennessee be completely ignored by the Chancery Court because it would be both popular and politically expedient in the short term to do so. This is an extremely dangerous attitude toward constitutional law, and smacks of the same kind of mentality that seems to exist within the federal government in the wake of 9/11-that the Constitution can and should be ignored when short-term expediency and popular sentiment would seem to call for it. If the State Constitution speaks so clearly on a matter such as how vacancies in county offices are to be filled and a Court ignores this provision in the name of expediency, then the reality is that the Tennessee Constitution is not worth the paper it is printed on.

Reform is sorely needed in the form of a constitutional amendment that would allow for special elections in situations such as has occurred in Knox County. Until such an amendment is passed however, the Constitution cannot be ignored as irrelevant-for if one part of the Constitution can be discarded, no part of it (including the provisions safeguarding civil liberties) is safe.


Monday, October 29, 2007

Paging Ron Ramsey for standby duty while Phil makes us an offer we can't refuse...

Our so-called Governor is being sued. The complainant says his First Amendment Rights were violated...but also that Phil the Shrill is guilty of racketeering, fraud, and breach of fiduciary duty.

We've not heard the last of this one, folks. We'll have more on it in the days and weeks ahead. In the meantime, we ought to make sure Ron Ramsey is on standby.

If Bredesen is impeached and convicted, Governor Ramsey should award the Volunteer Service Medal to Bill Hobbs and Sharon Cobb.


Bad for the process

I have real mixed feelings about the decision of the Iowa Democratic Party to move its precinct Caucuses up to January 3rd to match the date that the Republicans will also be meeting. On the one hand, the reason that this was done was that South Carolina and Florida kept jockeying for position and New Hampshire was moving their Primary back as a result. This in turn caused Iowans to feel the need to move their Caucus date up. I have enough respect for tradition to understand why Iowans feel the need to preserve their traditional role in the process.

On the other hand, the packed Primary schedule this election cycle and the early start to the 2008 campaign has devalued the candidacies of nearly every candidate in the race in both parties, and has left the race open only to the candidates that the elites in either party would prefer. The grassroots of both parties have largely been excluded from the nominating process, and this has actually been a natural consequence of the country moving from a caucus and convention-based nominating process to a direct-vote Primary. The system that was supposedly designed to hear from the grassroots has managed to exclude them-and I have often believed that this was the plan all along. The recent Republican Senate nominating convention in Virginia showed that where real conventions are held, the people who do the hard work of politics at the local level will choose the best candidate-not just the one with the most money to spend.

The 2006 campaign left me emotionally exhausted and physically drained, even though all of the candidates that I was personally invested in-with the notable exception of Ed Bryant- actually won. I suspect that there were those on the other side of the aisle who felt the same way. Yet we didn't seem to get a day's rest before the 2008 Presidential campaign started. The result is that people have real political burnout at a time when they probably should be very politically alert. The end result may be that the poorer choices of candidate are what we are handed as the nominees of both parties.

The system is a wreck, and no one in either party wants to do what it would really take to remedy the problem: We need party conventions that actually mean something again.


Sunday, October 28, 2007

College football bizarro world

Tennessee survives an overtime scare with South Carolina. By beating Florida, Georgia puts Tennessee in first place in the SEC East, while Kentucky gets beat in Lexington by Mississippi State. The Ducks humble Southern Cal. The bizarre world of the BCS, and how none of the so-called "normal" rules apply in 2007. The 2007 World Series flop.

The Sports Pack-October 28, 2007

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What a wild weekend

Well, the Vols survived a nightmare comeback and have Ryan Succop and his wide right kick to thank for it.

Georgia puts the Vols in first place in the SEC East by humbling Florida.

Southern Cal is officially out of the running for the National Championship (and from the beginning of the year, I said the beach bums were over-rated anyway). The mighty Trojans were defeated by a flock of Ducks.

There is also no doubt whatsoever about who is the Number One team in the land this week.


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