Saturday, May 09, 2009

Love Me Do

I thought it was time for a little of the Fab Four-music soothes the political soul, don't you think?


Friday, May 08, 2009

The Decline of the Daily

My favorite Knoxville News-Sentinel columnist, Greg Johnson, laments the decline of newspapers today:

The demise of newspapers has not been greatly exaggerated. The News Sentinel's sister paper in the E.W. Scripps chain, the Rocky Mountain News, folded its final edition recently. The Detroit Free Press has cut home delivery to three days per week.

Over the six-month period ended in March, average newspaper sales declined more than 7 percent.

The reason is familiar: People are reading online. So the shots in "State of Play" and "The Soloist" of that archaic, if fascinating, process of applying ink to paper seem a premature eulogy of sorts, early requiems for a time when we were able to smudge our fingers as we eased into the day while perusing our favorite rag.

As Johnson points out, technology has played no small part in this decline of the old news rag. It isn't really blogging that has brought about the demise of so many papers, but the fact that so many people are reading the papers online. Over the last couple of years, this space has lamented the end of The Cincinnati Post and The Rocky Mountain News, but the end of newsprint papers is not the problem with the demise of these media organs, but the end of two-paper towns and competative journalism.

Not everyone reads the paper on the internet, and not everyone surfs the blogs, or even knows what that expression means. Eventually, our society will likely get to a place where those ways of obtaining news and opinion are commonplace, but until they do, the loss of variant editorial voices to the reading populace has the potential to create a more serious information gap than exists between those with regular access to the internet and those without that capability.

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Thursday, May 07, 2009

Tycia's Trouble

This morning comes the news in the Jefferson County Standard Banner that the Jefferson County Election Commission voted on Tuesday to replace Administrator of Elections Tycia Kesterson along a 3-2 party line vote:

Operating under a new Republican majority, county election commissioners fired Administrator Tycia Kesterson Tuesday afternoon and quickly chose a successor. Democrat Commissioner Betty Watkins decried the move as a purely political one that represents a “step backward for the county,” but Republican Chair Phyllis Finchum countered that “many county residents are interested in a change.”

It must be realized that for all of the complaints of the Democratic Commissioners about partisanship, they certainly appear to have been partisan in that to an outsider it might appear that they were simply angry about the possibility of replacing Kesterson, a Democrat. Tycia Kesterson had at least 25 supporters at the Jefferson County Election Commission meeting Tuesday night, however, and most of them were Republicans. There is a good reason for that-Kesterson was doing a fine job as Jefferson County Administrator of Elections.

With the change in majority of the Tennessee General Assembly, the law allows the Republicans to appoint GOP majorities on every county election commission in Tennessee. The Democrats changed the law in the 70's from a system where the Governor had control over election commission appointments to one where the Legislature had control, and this was done solely to keep Republican Governor Winfield Dunn from remaking county election commissions, bodies which had been stacked with patronage-seeking Democrats. When the Democratic-controlled General Assembly took control of the appointment process for election commissions, they never believed the Republicans, who legislatively were still largely an East Tennessee rump party in those days, would ever control the General Assembly or have a joint majority.

Now the day has finally arrived, and with a new Republican Secretary of State (a legislative appointee under Tennessee's Constitution) the GOP is reforming the 95 Election Commissions with great urgency, as well they should considering that Democrats have controlled these bodies, and the ability to manipulate elections, for so many years.

The Administrator of Elections is appointed by the Election Commission, so the reasoning goes that we should replace Democratic Administrators with Republicans. In many jurisdictions, such as Shelby County (Memphis), Davidson County (Nashville), Hamilton County (Chattanooga), Knox County (Knoxville), and many other counties, this does need to occur. In many of those places, the office is either a tool of the Democratic machine (Memphis, Nashville), or is used to make things harder for more conservative candidates in areas where the Republicans have shown political dominance at the polls.

In some counties, however, it simply can't be argued that the office is a Democratic tool-Jefferson County is one such county. There simply aren't enough Democrats here to manipulate the system to favor a party which barely exists on an organizational level in the community. There are not enough bona fide liberals in the county to manipulate the system to keep the conservative wing of the GOP at bay in our county, either. This was personal on the part of the new commissioners, some of whom just did not like Ms. Kesterson (one excuse was that some office employees had a beer on their lunchbreak one day while attending a lunch hour party for a county colleague. A beer on their lunch hour! Alert the presses! Beer drinkers in the election office-oh, the humanity!)

As a candidate last year, I dealt frequently with Tycia Kesterson's office. She and her staff (especially Ms. Sharon Breeder) were kind, courteous, always friendly, and they literally bent over backwards to assist me in making sure that my campaign was on the up-and-up and that we operated within the confines of election law for the office that I was seeking. In no way did she act in a way that was unprofessional, or could be seen to benefit candidates who thought or believed one way or another. Kesterson could have operated just as well with Republican bosses as with Democratic bosses, and there was no good reason not to retain her. Some of her suporters can say what rock-ribbed Republicans they are-everyone knows that I am, so my saying that Kesterson should not have been dismissed might register with the Election Commission-some members probably aren't nearly as conservative as I am.

I am certain that our new Jefferson County Election Administrator-a banker by background, I believe-will do a very fine job. He certainly has some big shoes to fill.

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Legislating Ethics

Governor Phil Bredesen says that he doesn't like the proposal by State Senator Bill Ketron to merge the Tennessee Ethics Commission with the Registry of Election Finance:

Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen has spoken out against combining the two panels,
saying he doesn’t find ethics and campaign finance “a natural partnership.”

It is rare that The World will disagree with both Governor Phil Bredesen and the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, but issue must be taken with the idea that somehow the Ethics Commission and the Registry of Election Finance do not belong together. The ethical impairments which led to Tennessee Waltz (we can certainly call those former members of the Legislature ethically impaired, can we not?) were issues of money, most of it related to whether these people would be able to make more than their allotted salaries and perdiem through corrupt dealings with lobbyists, or whether they would have enough campaign money for re-election through the corrupt lobbying deals that they were making.

Combining these two agencies into one will likely not change the way that a candidate interacts with the Tennessee Ethics Commission. Every candidate for every office in the State will still have to fill out the same ethics form that they do now when they turn in their petition, the form which asks the candidate to disclose all things about their professional and even some of their personal associations which the State or the public may deem a conflict of interest. The all-knowing form even asks the candidate to disclose where his or her children may work, and to list all of one's personal investments and interests in almost anything that impacts their ability to provide for their family. The ethics form has the potential to get so detailed under certain circumstances that I know of people who have been discouraged from running for office not because they weren't qualified, or because they had any skeletons to hide, but they didn't believe that all of their personal affairs should need to be disclosed on a State form because it had nothing to do with their ability to do the job. Nonetheless, nothing about that procedure can change, because to do so would appear as though legislators were trying to run away from the prospect of an ethics watchdog.

Similarly, Bruce Andrphy (or some similar personage) will continue to give his little opening week presentation to each General Assembly about ethics and the Ethics Commission-you know, the public show that the General Assembly authorized in order to appear to be doing more about ethics, but which the vast majority of them laugh off. One legislator told me "that Yankee puts me to sleep."

None of these operations of the Tennessee Ethics Commission are likely to change, so why not merge two agencies dealing with similar subject matter and save the taxpayers a little cash at the same time?

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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

People Catch the Flu-PANIC NOW!

Yes, hundreds of people apparently died in Mexico from the H1N1 Influenza Virus-the Swine Flu. Furthermore, this is very similar to the strain of flu responsible for the 1918 worldwide pandemic which killed countless millions. Someone forgot to tell the press that this is 2009:

There were little more than 1,200 cases of swine flu confirmed worldwide as of Monday, with fewer than 300 in the United States. In Mexico, where the latest count is fewer than 800 cases, officials lowered the alert level in the capital on Monday and said they will allow cafes, museums and libraries to reopen this week.

School closings, the Vice President of the United States telling people not to use the local metro transit, and entire cities going into dead panic over-a case here and a case there.

It makes sense that H1N1 might be a major issue in Mexico because that country, while not Third World by any means, is nowhere near as developed as the First World West, including in its ability to respond to the spread of disease or to provide adequate medications to treat symptoms. In this country, we have access to anti-viral drugs, and medicines designed to deal with the symtoms of the flu, something we didn't have in 1918.

Everyone needs to take a deep breath and realize that what we are dealing with is an outbreak of the flu. If a massive percentage of people become sick with influenza, then it might be necessary to start closing facilities to prevent the spread of the disease. However, having had the flu numerous times in my life, I can verify that for most of us the advent of modern medicine means that if we catch the flu, we will be inconvenienced. It might even be the case that we'll be laid up in the bed or confined to the house for a few days, and will have to drink lots of tea, take coughdrops, drink NyQuil, and sleep a lot. The swine flu will not lead to the end of the world as we know it.

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Monday, May 04, 2009

Delayed Dealing With The Elephant

The Tennessean would like us all to know that illegal immigration is no longer an important issue to people in this State:

Republicans had high hopes for changing Tennessee's immigration laws after sweeping into power last fall.

But as the economy worsened and the session wore on, they've have had to change their focus.

"We came to ask ourselves, where could we … do the best thing for Tennesseans during the short time we had, and that was not coordinating a position on illegal immigration," Shipley said.

Of course, certain people at various Chambers of Commerce around Tennessee are pleased that immigration proposals that were initially slated to be voted on are now taking a back seat to economic concerns.

"We've worked really hard to explain to legislators that it's functionally very difficult for an employer to know if he's hiring someone who's legal," said Dan Haskell, chairman of the Tennessee Jobs Coalition and lobbyist for the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce.

It goes without saying that generally, my conservative philosophy causes me to take the side of the business owner in most cases, but frankly this kind of skirting around the question by saying "it is just to hard" is really a way of saying "we want to continue doing it, because we know the federales won't do anything, and you are going to let us do it, right?" The Chamber of Commerce is literally asking the Tennessee General Assembly to turn a blind eye and allow them to break the law and take no sovereign enforcement action, which Tennessee can do since the federal government refuses to.

Constituents, says Rep. Tony Shipley, do find the issue of illegal immigration important.

Shipley said his constituents want action now, but he and his supporters will have to wait.

Shipley said he's convinced that illegal immigration costs even more to Tennessee in health care and education; he is awaiting a comptroller's report determining the cost of illegal immigration to the state.

Despite the wishes of Chambers of Commerce around the State, as well as the editorial board of The Tennessean, the desire of citizens to have the Legislature address illegal immigration in some fashion is not going away. Illegal immigration is like the giant elephant in the room, something else (in this case, the economy) may cause you to ignore it for awhile, but it just won't go away. If Republicans ignore the concerns of ordinary constituents in order to placate the Chamber of Commerce, they will be guilty of the same thing Tennessee Democrats were for years-allowing lobbying groups to run the General Assembly as opposed to the Leadership running the Legislature.

While I agree that the economy is everyone's front-burner issue right now, if Tennesseans believe that their pocketbooks are adversely impacted by illegal immigration, many will demand action, and the General Assembly will pay for inaction at some later point.

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Sunday, May 03, 2009

Papal Regina Caeli

Last Sunday's Papal Regina Caeli audience in St. Peter's Square.

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