November 30, 2007
Governing while no one is looking
On Friday, November 16, the Chattanooga City Council added a new agenda item for the following Tuesday's meeting. The timing of the council session itself — two days before Thanksgiving — did not lend itself to a high degree of public attention, as people were busily readying themselves for the holidays. The agenda addition was announced at the traditional "bury it" time of Friday afternoon.
This week's Pulse features a look into why city government might not want to draw a lot of attention to the matter. The Council vote marks the city's first move onto the controversial homeless campus being championed by Mayor Littlefield. The Interfaith Homeless Network (IHN) was granted approval to move its operations across the street from their current location to the former Farmer's Market site.
Was there adequate time for public review of the proposal before a vote was taken? Of course not. The story has generated a strong reaction from blogger David Morton, who castigates the majority of council members for shrugging the matter off because it doesn't affect their districts, but instead affects the MLK neighborhood. (It should be, and has been, noted that the council member who represents the affected area, Leamon Pierce, cast the lone vote against the move.) Alice at 10,000 Monkeys and a Camera adds more thoughts.
While I often join those who moan against the length of time committees take to get anything done, the fact remains that the council had previously delayed action until the final recommendations from a homeless blueprint task force had been reviewed. This vote was a hasty, half-secret departure from that stated intent.
Another interesting fact, not covered in Angela Tant's article, is that a major donor, of cash, materials, and other resources, to IHN's relocation just so happens to be a major donor to Ron Littlefield's 2005 mayoral campaign: the Homebuilders Association of Southern Tennessee. (One wonders why, being homebuilders and all, and having all this money to throw around, they don't contribute directly to housing needs instead. But anyway..)
I don't in any way resent people for wanting to help the homeless, especially those that are children. That is, I hope, a given. My problem is with the processes by which the help is being provided. Our representatives, and powerful business interests with close ties to them, make it difficult to commend them for good deeds when those deeds do not adhere to the principles of open and honest government.
Finally, I want to apologize to readers for being just too busy to bring this up before it happened. Thanks to the Pulse, I did have the information on that Friday two weeks ago, and I failed to put it up here.
November 29, 2007
There was the Obama Girl, and then there was this
You be the judge.
November 28, 2007
Woman once jailed here as man again lands in jail for sex offense
No doubt you remember the story of Alexander/Elaine Cross, who spent a few days in the Hamilton County clink as a male inmate, only to be found out as a female when it came shower time.
A news website based in Northwest Tennessee has a new story about this same person—sadly similar to the earlier one. It turns out that there are new charges (aggravated statutory rape) filed against Cross, and she once again finds herself jailed, this time in Weakley County.
There are so many complex facets to this episode that I don't know where to begin, so I won't, other than to inform you of this latest chapter.
November 25, 2007
A left-libertarian's dream ticket: Kucinich-Paul in 2008?
This just popped up in my feed reader: Dennis Kucinich says that he would strongly consider fellow Congressman, but candidate from the opposing major party, Dr. Ron Paul as his running-mate, were he to win the Democratic nomination. (Link via TPW)
I most certainly realize the unrealistic nature of this proposition, but I don't find it silly, as some do. There is a strong message in all this, and that is that the American people, just you and me, you know, are hungry for something other than the status quo either major party is clambering all over itself to serve up.
A Kucinich-Paul ticket, though it might on its surface please left-libertarians like me, would be fraught with contradictions—but so is the populace. (It wouldn't, however, be without precedent: the nation's first few executive branch duos were from mixed ideological backgrounds.) My only issue with it is that Paul isn't quite as libertarian as some have alleged. He's more old-school right-wing, but even that is preferable in many ways to the rest of the GOP's current offerings. (Caveat: I like and respect Mike Huckabee as a person, even if I disagree with about 87% of his views.)
I mean, come on: with the President's ratings in the low 30's, and those of the Congress even lower, how is a government that consists of "more of the same" going to help improve anything? Some kind of change is in order; and if Kucinich-Paul sounds just too far-fetched (and I readily admit that it does), then let's take an honest look at some more realistic options.
I'm interested to know what you think those realistic possibilities are.
Did scientists really shorten the life of the universe?
[C]osmologists claim that astronomers may have accidentally nudged the universe closer to its death by observing dark energy, a mysterious anti gravity force which is thought to be speeding up the expansion of the cosmos.
The damaging allegations are made by Profs Lawrence Krauss of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, and James Dent of Vanderbilt University, Nashville, who suggest that by making this observation in 1998 we may have caused the cosmos to revert to an earlier state when it was more likely to end. "Incredible as it seems, our detection of the dark energy may have reduced the life-expectancy of the universe," Prof Krauss tells New Scientist.
I'm no cosmologist, nor am I an astronomer, but I do wonder if there is a fine line between science and hubris.
Then again, my very basic understanding of quantum theory would support the idea that Krauss and Dent have a valid question.
The NewsHour in ten minutes: my conversation with Jim Lehrer
On Saturday, November 17, veteran newsman, executive editor of PBS's "The NewsHour," and acclaimed author Jim Lehrer gave a friendly talk to fans at downtown Chattanooga's Rock Point Books, then autographed copies of his latest novel, Eureka (Random House, 2007).
Lehrer was also in town to celebrate the grand opening of local PBS affiliate WTCI's new broadcast facility just off Bonny Oaks Drive. During his introduction at the bookstore, WTCI president Paul Grove joked that, long ago when Grove worked at PBS in Washington, DC, Jim Lehrer had once said to him, "I owe you;" and that Grove had simply called in that IOU to get him to come down for the ceremonies.
Whatever all the reasons were for his agreeing to it, it was apparent that Lehrer is more than welcome here, as a large crowd gathered that afternoon for the book-signing. So many people showed up that the schedule got squeezed. It turned out that only ten minutes were available for me to interview the journalism legend.
Something that struck me while reading and researching Lehrer's fiction is how themes and characters can travel from work to work. One of my favorite minor characters in Eureka is "Church Key Charlie Blue," who is a washed-up former pro football player who expectedly drinks beer and watches football a lot, but rather more quirkily makes and sells fresh fudge (his grandmother's recipe) for a living. I discovered (gotta love Wikipedia) that one of Lehrer's three plays is Church Key Charlie Blue, which explored more of, and a darker side to, this character's life. "You're one of the only people who realizes that this character is the same one as in the play," Lehrer told me. I readily confessed that I had "tried to do my homework" before meeting with him.
Another example is not a character per se, but is an icon that shows up in at least two books. In the town of Eureka's "world-famous" psychiatric clinic, "Silver Star" is a nickname given to a person who makes up false memories of past bravery in order to boost his current social standing. As it turns out, in Lehrer's last novel, the main character purchases a military medal at auction—yes, a Silver Star—and proceeds to concoct an imaginary personal history of how he came to win the honor. I asked the author how he goes about carrying these characters and themes over the bridges between books.
"Well, you know, there's no one way; it simply happens," he said, as he gently reminded his stammering interrogator of his sixteenth novel's title. "In the Phony Marine experience, I was giving a speech to a small National Park Service crowd on my book about the Battle of Antietam. And the guy who introduced me is a Vietnam veteran…he picked me up to take me to where the speech was [to take place], and in the car, he says, 'I didn't realize, Jim, that you were an infantry officer in the Marine Corps.' And he just finished saying 'during the Korean War' when we got there and had to get out of the car. So he's introducing me and he says 'you may know Jim Lehrer from television, and you may know him from his novels, but what you probably do not know is that he was a U.S. Marine infantry officer, in combat, during the Korean War.'"
"Now that was not true," Lehrer continued. "It was between the Korean War and the Vietnam War—and I didn't want to correct him. I did; but the instinct was there, and that stuck in my head. There's an understandable thing, you know, in that you want people to think the best of you." Later, actual news stories would surface about someone posing as a former Marine that provided more material for the novel, but the seed was planted during that event in his own life. "The looks on the faces of those people when he said that, I'll never forget. They looked at me like, 'oh my God!'"
I had to ask about another character in Eureka, named Roger Atchison, aka "The Cushman King." This is the man who sells Otis Halstead, the main character, his long sought-after motor scooter, and who, according to one of my favorite narrative lines from the book, "could have passed for a retired Coca-Cola bottler or mayor of Marion, Nebraska, both of which he was." I was curious if Lehrer had any plans to bring back this eccentric owner of one hundred thirty-four ("and still counting") antique Cushman scooters anytime in the future. "Who knows?" came the bemused reply.
But that got us talking about Church Key Charlie again, and the difficulties, given the schedule of a national daily television news anchor, of writing plays as opposed to novels. "Someday, if I leave daily journalism, I might start writing plays again," Lehrer informed. "Because when you do a play, you have to workshop, you have to spend a lot of time with actors. You don't know if it works until you hear it read. Now this [holds up the book], this is done; I can hold it in my hand. But a play doesn't live unless it's on the stage. So, anyway…I borrowed my own character."
I could feel the stopwatch ticking, so I segued as best I could into some of the other topics on which I had planned to inquire. I referenced a scene in Eureka where Otis is resting in a motel room, watching television, and is frustrated by the sense that the news has become inundated with entertainment. Otis thinks to himself, "[in earlier years], the reporting had seemed calm, straight, newsy, relevant, necessary to watch. Now it wasn't any of those things." I pointed out that it seemed to really be Jim Lehrer talking in the passage.
He laughed and exclaimed, "you really have done your homework!" I asked him if the fact that news has become more or less entertainment helps explain why newspaper readership is down, as are the ratings of nightly network newscasts. "There are still 30 million people who watch the nightly news programs," he countered, but then added, "I think the pendulum is swinging back…with the blogs, the talk shows, which I think are terrific. The more vehicles, the more voices that are heard, terrific. But in the beginning there has to be a news story. When Jon Stewart or David Letterman tells a joke, and everybody laughs—they're not going to get it if they don't know the original story."
"And I'm in the first stage of that, I'm in the 'story' part of that," he continued. "And we need to stay in that. There's a crying out for that, I notice. And it doesn't have anything to do with anybody wanting to return to the 'days of glory' of the 'old white man' anchormen; I don't mean that. It's just that they want people they can trust to tell them—I don't give a damn whether it's on a pink iPod, or wherever in hell, it doesn't matter where it comes from—just tell me what happened, please. And then you can blog me and you can shout at me and, you know, do whatever you want to do," he laughed.
"But in the beginning, what exactly did Musharraf do? Don't start with the screaming about this awful thing that he's done. And so I think the future—well, there are a lot of futures—one possible future, if I [were] the god of journalism"—here I resisted the urge to turn total sycophant and mutter something about his being in the pantheon, at least—"I would put this together: I would take a story like Pakistan, and I would do all the reporting I could possibly do on it. And then I would come right after that and say 'here's what the AP said about this story, here's what Reuters said about it, here's what the three networks have said, and the cable networks….'"
Lehrer's eyes flashed as he further relayed his vision of providing news consumers with expertly selected content: "Here's the initial talk show stuff that's happened, and, say, pick a sampling of the bloggers; in other words, do the whole thing, because folks don't have time to do all this crap all by themselves. It's the reason nobody watches cable television [news]." He was on a mission now. "Cable has minuscule audiences, especially during the day, and even some of the 'shout shows' don't have good audiences anymore, because people are weary of it."
His dream delivery method sounded to me like the perfect blend of good 24-hour television news (a theoretical concept only, these days) and a well-designed website, "with links everywhere," so that one could stop the broadcast at will and read the original content, such as, in his example, the whole statement by Musharraf; but that the same consumer could just as easily skip the corresponding statement by opposition leader Bhutto. In Lehrer's ideal news medium, the audience just needs someone to sort through it all, and present it on a menu, and keep that content continually updated.
Had there been time, I would have pulled up articles that describe the very system he outlined, and that furthermore declare in no uncertain terms that if traditional news outlets wish to stay relevant, they will adopt similar models; but I instead encouraged him to pursue it by asking if we'd see these transformations coming to the NewsHour in the near future. He wouldn't commit to it, but maybe a seed was planted; who knows?
I had watched a recent interview of Jim Lehrer by fellow PBS man Charlie Rose, and thus knew it was futile to try to get him to prognosticate on the upcoming presidential race, so I took a shot at another political story, and asked if he thought he would be covering any impeachment hearings in the next year or so. (Among Lehrer's big early stories at PBS was the Nixon impeachment.) He shook his head, and said that he didn't think that the current effort to impeach Vice President Dick Cheney is serious. "I know a little bit about impeachment. You can't get impeached for making the wrong decision."
And then, just as abruptly as they began, the ten minutes were over. I stopped being a novice journalist and fell into full-on fan mode. "If you wouldn't mind, just one more," I said, holding out my copy of Eureka. Lehrer obliged and, after getting my name again, signed the page. Then he did something I hadn't seen him do with any other autograph-seeker: he read his inscription to me. "You're gonna know what this means, Joe. It says, 'To Joe: Welcome.' Okay?"
I thanked him, and he was gone. The bookstore's audio system was playing Bob Dylan's "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again." As I climbed aboard the bus back home (read: drove the VW Jetta), my thoughts tumbled over Archimedes, revolutionary news products, Eureka moments, war stories, blogging—and that one word, "Welcome."
How much of what we are is what we believe others think us to be?
It may be late for allergy season, but don't tell my allergies that. Leaf dust is one thing that really gets them going; and guess what I've been doing this weekend?
A partial remedy is to take about half (at most; or one-fourth) the package-recommended dosage of pseudoephedrine hydrochloride, because the full dose is not sustainable over time without serious side effects, but the smaller amount keeps the sinus and ear pressure somewhat under control.
One side effect of even small doses of "Sudafed" is that it makes me a very light sleeper. I therefore spend much more time in REM sleep, and have vivid dreams that I can remember better than usual. I can even sometimes wake up, look at the clock, and slip back into the same dream I was having. That's unheard of (for me). (Another side effect is that my body tries to make up on lost deep sleep in the morning, which makes me sleep late, but I digress.)
Last night's main dream involved a music festival—sort of like Bonnaroo, but smaller, with maybe 15,000 dirty hippies instead of 80,000. I was there with two other guys (loosely based on real-life characters). The storyline centered not on the music, but on finding the best camping spot. My two companions were all about camping close to a main walkway, right near the center of everything. I don't remember all of their reasons, but I know one of them had to do with "babes."
I set up with them that night, but it was noisy, and there were too many visitors. The next day, I decided to look for my own spot. (My ideals concerning camping were formed pretty early in life, but were truly met on a solo trip into Olympic National Park in late September, seven years ago. I saw not a single human being for three days.)
The festival grounds were set at the foot of some rather impressive mountains, the lower flanks of which were covered mostly with just grass. Surely, I thought, I can just hike up a little bit, and find a secluded spot that's still within walking distance of the music venues, but that I can retreat to at the end of the day. I started up the hillside, through the row of vendors selling bead jewelry and corn dogs, and past what looked like a Buddhist monastery (hey, it's a dream), on the steps of which some kids were playing (cards? jacks?) and affectionately bragging back and forth about something. I paid them little attention, as I had a tent to set up before dark.
I needed to find a fairly level spot, so I turned to my right and followed the swell of land toward where it looked like it would flatten a little. I was almost there, when suddenly I realized that the spot I had picked from a distance was nestled right in between a church and that church's picnic grounds, and that there was, in fact, a potluck gathering taking place. People were seated at rustic picnic tables and eating, I don't know, potato salad and macaroni salad and such.
One of them spoke to me. He had dark hair and a smooth baritone voice, and acted like a pack leader of some kind. It was clear what his assumptions were when he said something about me being a little off course in terms of finding my concert. Several picnic-goers snickered, and I could tell that their minds had me wandering off, lost in a drug-induced haze, from the festival down below.
I started to explain that no, I was in fact sober, and was merely looking for a calmer camping spot away from the party types; but the strangest thing happened. I could not utter a word, and it was because my mind was suddenly awash in the listlessness and confusion of a pot-tinged acid trip. The force of the small church crowd's assumptions about me had actually altered my state of being, and I had become exactly what they thought me to be.
I turned away and started trudging back down toward the festival grounds. I'll just go sleep in the f---ing car, I thought. On my way to the parking lot, I passed a small grandstand filled with twentysomethings who eagerly awaited some favorite act. One of them—I'm sure my travel companions would have considered her a "babe"—sneered in some very specific detail about how I looked without a shirt on. I ignored her, and kept walking.
Then I woke up.
November 24, 2007
How a city can ruin a date
Some weeks ago, the wife and I made plans for the boy to spend the night at his Papa and Nana's house, and I ordered tickets for what was to be a great show at Rhythm & Brews by none other than Raul Malo, vocalist extraordinaire and former lead singer of that great band, The Mavericks. Another couple in our neighborhood also ordered tickets (they are how we found out about the show), and we planned a very nice evening with dinner, drinks and Raul Malo.
The week of the show, our neighbor went online to double-check the start time, and found, instead of a start time for Raul Malo, a cancellation notice. (The Heather Hayes Band was scheduled to play instead.)
Until yesterday, I did not know what had caused Malo to cancel. Not to wish his person any harm, but I had hoped it was because he was sick, or double-booked, rather than what I feared, which was that there was not enough interest. It turns out that my fears were not unfounded, and that the situation was even worse than I imagined.
According to yesterday's paper, only twenty-five tickets had been sold by the time Rhythm & Brews decided to cancel—and twenty of those were ordered from out of town. That means that, beside the four of us that I know of, only one other person here in town had ordered a ticket. This was not some bar band; it was merely one of the greatest voices in popular music, who sings in widely eclectic styles, and is a really professional act.
This is nothing but embarrassing. I readily admit that with our schedule these days, I can't often get out and support live music (local or imported), and no one should be expected to be at every show; but this is ridiculous. There are over a half-million people in the tri-state area, so there can't be as many excuses as would prevent a couple hundred, at least, from getting out on a Friday night. The phenomenon has set up a very vicious circle, wherein artists usually refuse to come here due to low turnout, and that fact further depresses the community's willingness to show up even when someone takes his or her chances.
By the way, the four of us did enjoy a nice, low-key dinner at Los Compadres on Brainerd Road; and the boy didn't actually make good on his promise to spend the night, because when we got home, we found that he was, you know, crying for his Momma. So he would have cried longer had we actually had a show to attend. But that's not the point. He would have survived, and Chattanooga really missed out.
By way of this post, I hereby apologize to Rhythm & Brews manager Mike Dougher, to Raul Malo, and to every other artist (Rev. Al Green, I'm looking at you) who has had to cancel a show here due to desperately low ticket sales, on behalf of my adopted hometown. And to the people of the Tennessee Valley: come on, y'all. Let's do better than this. It was my birthday and everything. You owe me a date.
November 22, 2007
Redneck is Relative
The psychological and cultural milieu that is "redneckdom" isn't only inhabited by teeth-missing, bass-fishing rural Southerners. There is a spectrum, on which pretty much everybody falls somewhere, even people whom the likes of David Byrne find to be comparatively more sleek and hip. Granted, Byrne and people to his (dare I say "left"?) barely tip the scale, but the point is that there is a continuum.
Thanksgiving is a day when extended families typically gather around a large meal, and is thus an excellent opportunity for us to size each other up in terms of our respective redneck-ness. Do you have cousins or in-laws* that make you feel less than sophisticated? Or are you the effete, snobbish relative that gets frowned upon (likely behind your back) by your more earthy kin?
(*Note: if your cousins are your in-laws, there's not much point raising these questions, is there?)
November 21, 2007
District 6 candidate forum announced
The Brainerd Unity Group is inviting the public to a candidate forum to feature those who have qualified for the February 5, 2008 special election in Chattanooga's 6th Council District. The seat is open due to the resignation of former Council member Marti Rutherford after it was charged that she did not live in the district.
The forum will be held at the same location that hosted the District 10 Senate event last month: Friendship Community Church at the corner of N Tuxedo Ave and Brainerd Rd. It is scheduled for Thursday, January 24, at 6:00 PM.
Six candidates are in the running, and all have been invited. It will be interesting to see if all of them make an appearance.
I have been asked to moderate. I gratefully and humbly accepted, and look forward to assisting area residents in getting to know more about each of the candidates.
It's great for District 6 that there are presidential primaries scheduled on the same day as this special election, as that may boost turnout.
November 20, 2007
Mike Feely is interim City Council member
The Chattanooga City Council tonight selected Methodist minister Mike Feely to serve in District 6 until a special election is held on February 5, 2008 to replace former Council member Marti Rutherford.
Corker recaps first year as Senator, faces tough questions
U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) spoke to a hometown crowd estimated at over 500 today at the Chattanoogan hotel's main ballroom. The event was a luncheon organized by Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey and sponsored by the Community Foundation.
Sen. Corker announced his independence from the White House and the Republican Party early on, and several times, during his talk. Unlike R. Neal, who wrote about Corker's recent appearance in Knoxville, I'm not going to speculate too much on his reasons for that, but it is interesting. His three main topics today were the situation in Iraq, the nation's energy policy, and health care.
[not enough time in the day...see links at bottom of post for others' elaborations on those topics]
The most eye-opening part of the day came at question time. First, a man wanted to know if, when Corker stated that he was "underwhelmed" by White House approaches to Iraq, he meant the President, or just the staff. After all, as the questioner began, "everyone in the room" loves George W. Bush and thanks the President for protecting us from the "Islamo-fascists." Corker artfully gave proper respect to President Bush, but then frankly admitted that his statement referred to "all of the above" (meaning, the President and his staff). Corker had earlier displayed a fairly informed understanding of the consequences that will come from failing to pair a military success with a political one.
Then, and I really think this is due to the inverse ratio of the intelligence/relevance of one's question to one's propensity to lunge for the roving microphone, a man at the table in front of me brought up something he called the North American Union and his fear that large portions of our nation's sovereign territory were being ceded to "socialist" Canada and Mexico. So, he didn't really have a question at all, but grabbed the mic for a bit of paranoid rambling. Senator Corker calmly stated that he has seen no evidence pertaining to the erosion of American sovereignty, and referred the gentleman to a key staffer for follow-up.
I've gotta tell ya, folks, I've never been prouder of Hamilton County than I was after those two displays.
Senator Corker, only slightly fazed, bravely took one more question. This time, a woman at one of the reserved tables (I think it was the wife of UTC president Roger Brown, but I'm not sure) asked about the delicate balance Corker must exhibit as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and of the Energy Committee, when it comes to dealing with petroleum-powered Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez.
Finally, there was a decent (albeit far from easy) question, and Bob Corker, though he stumbled through it a bit, showed that he has somewhat proved his critics wrong — critics, that is, who said that his businessman background would not serve him well in a deliberative body like the United States Senate. He ended up basically saying that the way to work with Chávez is to get countries that are our friends, and are friendly with Venezuela's current leadership, to help us negotiate toward common goals.
While I will continue to disagree with Corker on a number of issues, I get the sense that he is taking this role seriously, and is doing what he feels is best to represent Tennesseans in Washington. Judging by the bipartisan (if heavily Republican) attendance, I get the added sense that many of our local and state elected officials and civic leaders feel similarly.
By the way, how I got invited is a bit of a mystery, but I won't complain. I would probably have gone anyhow, but more as a member (give or take) of the press. As it was, with an official invitation and a seat at one of the tables, I wasn't about to roam around the room with a camcorder, as is my wont. It is a strange life, this mixture of citizen and journalist. I think I'm more comfortable hanging out with the reporters and camera operators than I am rubbing elbows with the city's elite set, but I am nonetheless very thankful to whomever it was that decided I should be there.
Links to additional info:
November 16, 2007
Who is setting the expectations?
The Chattanooga Times Free Press has a story out today with a curious headline: "Turnout for District 10 race higher than expected." Higher than expected? Turnout was at about 17%.
Now, before you start railing at me, I understand why expectations were set the way they were. I've been through a few election cycles here, and I know the disappointing facts.
However, it is my position that Election Commission officials—whether they be appointed Commissioners or hired administrative staff—ought to set higher expectations. How high they should go, in light of historical reality, is up for discussion. But ideally, the expectation from a county election commission should be that every eligible person is registered and votes. Period. And their public comments on the matter ought to reflect at least some measure of that goal, rather than "hey, we got a little closer to 1 in 5 than the 1 out of 10 we thought would happen."
(P.S. If anyone's looking to retire from the Election Commission or from its administration, I know an independent, civic-minded guy who'd love the chance to serve.)
Former rivals support Oscar Brock on election night
At least two GOP candidates who ran against Oscar Brock in the October 4 primary for the District 10 seat won yesterday by Democrat Andy Berke were on hand to lend their support for their party's nominee as the election results were being tallied.
During his concession speech, Mr. Brock pointed out Mark Albertini of Chattanooga and Basil Marceaux of Soddy-Daisy, both of whom were in attendance at the celebration-cum-commiseration. Brock heaped praise on Albertini in particular for the amount of effort he said his former political foe poured into the general election campaign.
I am not aware that either of the Marion County GOP primary candidates, Oscar Brown and Travis Layne, was at the event. I also wonder whether any of the Democratic candidates who were beaten last month made it to the Berke festivities. (Those would be Ken Jordan, Lee Whitaker, and John Wolfe.)
November 15, 2007
Brock concedes in District 10
Calling the last 90 days or so "an amazing experience," Republican candidate Oscar Brock spoke to a few dozen supporters at his campaign headquarters on McCallie Avenue as election results showed that rival Andy Berke, the Democratic nominee in the special election in state Senate District 10, had won.
Brock appeared in good spirits, and issued grateful thanks to his campaign's volunteers and staff, as well as to friends and family, and to the state party. He reiterated his campaign promise to avoid negative attacks on his opponent, and said that, even in defeat, the campaign had been able to advance ideas in the public sphere.
Check back tomorrow for updates on the election outcome and reactions to it from the Brock campaign's election night event.
See also: Chattanoogan.com
Kimball voters, go to Jasper
Due to last night's tornado (which I "watched" on my computer screen in the form of severe-weather radar, and thus knew Kimball was in trouble before the TV said so), the polling place for Kimball voters has been moved to Jasper.
Thankfully, no one was seriously hurt or killed in the storm; and I hope voters are able to make the short drive up to Jasper to cast their ballots.
Election night plans
I'll be covering the Brock campaign as GOP supporters watch the returns come in tomorrow night. The full story will appear in next week's Pulse (news editor Angela Tant will be at the Berke event), but watch for some tidbits to hit the internet sooner than that. (UPDATE: looks like I chose the wrong celebration. Oscar's is at his real estate company's site on McCallie Ave, which is also his campaign HQ; Andy's, on the other hand, is at Sugar's Ribs. Maybe the Brock party will have candy.)
Brock's supporters have maintained a consistent lead over those clicking for Andy Berke in the Chattanoogan.com's latest online (unscientific) poll. Right now it's at
1,630 1,706 votes, 52% of which are for Oscar Brock. Man, if only this many people would vote (for either) in real life!
(No need to explain cookies and what-all to me. I'm just ranting about low turnout.) (UPDATE on that: I cast ballot #14 at my precinct this morning, after it had been open for an hour. Based on that, I think this election could be very close.)
November 14, 2007
Senate 14: Jerry Cooper's future
You no doubt know by now that the largest campaign finance penalty in Tennessee history was leveled at Senator Jerry Cooper of Morristown. Another corrupt politician has been caught (even though he escaped the federal charges against him in a land fraud case) and was punished.
The fine of $120,000 sounds very steep, but readers should bear in mind that Sen. Cooper took approximately $95,000 from his campaign account and transferred it to his personal account. So, for stealing from his donors, he really got fined a net amount of about $25,000.
Cooper still faces DUI charges stemming from a freeway accident in his SUV earlier this year. So, the question is: is he finished, politically? A.C. Kleinheider wonders the same thing. The 14th district in part borders the 10th, which undergoes a special election tomorrow to replace a different corrupt Senator. What will the citizens of Bledsoe, Coffee, Franklin, Grundy, Sequatchie, Van Buren, and Warren counties decide, since nothing so far has required Cooper's resignation?
Unlike Bill Hobbs, whose full-time job it now is to point out things like this from a partisan perspective, I don't care that the majority of dirty politicians in these most recent chapters in Tennessee history have been Democrats. Whether the offenders are named Ney or DeLay, Ward or Ford, Marti or Scoobie, I'm for ending the mockery that has plagued elected office at all levels for far too long. Of course, they've all gotten away with as much as they have because an apathetic public fails to even show up at the polls on election day, and some of those who do bother to vote don't take the relatively small step of educating themselves about just who it is on the ballot.
Will Jerry Cooper run for re-election? I hope not. I don't relish the risk that the incumbency charm will place his constituents under four more years of corruption. It's all fine and good to say "well, if they vote for 'im, they deserve 'im," but remember that his votes in the Legislature affect you, too, even if you don't live there.
A side note: I'll bet there's one politico who might not mind seeing this particular fellow Democrat disappear off the press radar: too-similarly named U.S. Representative Jim Cooper (D-Nashville) has endured several instances of mistaken identity due to state Senator Jerry Cooper's painfully public antics.
In closing, I must say that I do not mean to sound unsympathetic or unkind toward a human being who, like the rest of us, has problems. I simply think it is time for him to work on solving those problems without the burdens of public office. And I don't care if the next senator from District 14 is a Democrat, a Republican, or an Independent, as long as he or she possesses the integrity that the people demand and deserve.
November 13, 2007
District 10 candidates sprint to finish
The Democrats had their Kefauver Dinner last night. How did that go? Surely a couple of TT readers went. State Senator Roy Herron, who's apparently also on a book tour, preached to the choir about voting for Andy Berke.
Governor Phil Bredesen was the headliner. UPDATE: Thanks to a kind fact-checker, please disregard that bit about Bredesen. Roy Herron gave the keynote. (I misread this Chattanoogan article. "Invited" definitely doesn't mean "confirmed." My fault. See also: Hamdems.org.)
Today, I got a late-breaking presser, too late to put an announcement on here, but as of right now, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey is speaking at the Country Place on behalf of Oscar Brock (12-1PM). On the way home from work yesterday, I waved at a couple of guys who were outside Brock's campaign headquarters as the campaign geared up for a triple-bill by both of Tennessee's U.S. Senators (Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker), and one former Senator (Bill Brock). (I wanted to stop in and take some pictures and whatnot, maybe get a chance to meet some of the folks, but, alas, I had too many things to do.)
The polls will be waiting for your presence all day Thursday (8AM-8PM). The whole state is talking about this little special election, so make sure to do your part.
By the way, Tom Humphrey's column on Sunday was so good. Do check it out.
November 11, 2007
Bob and Bill — and Lamar!
Last week, I commented on the fact that while Democratic candidate Andy Berke, one of two men seeking to replace Ward Crutchfield in the Tennessee Senate's 10th District, had lined up the support of big party names in these final days of the election, while the Republicans had not announced any such support for their candidate, Oscar Brock.
Well, that seems to have changed suddenly. In what was described as a "last-minute visit," U.S. Senator Bob Corker campaigned with Brock yesterday, 11/10; and also, word came recently that Corker, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, and former U.S. Sen. Bill Brock (Oscar's dad) will appear at a special event on Monday, 11/12.
Also of note is that both Bob Corker and Phil Bredesen are in town for other reasons. Gov. Bredesen is the featured speaker at the Hamilton County Democrats' annual Kefauver dinner on Monday evening (also where, it should be pointed out, Mike McWherter is being billed as "US Senate Candidate"); and Sen. Corker is speaking at a luncheon Tuesday. (UPDATE: My mistake, the luncheon isn't until a week from Tuesday.) I'm not saying that they wouldn't have come to support their respective parties' nominees without those other engagements in place (after all, Lamar Alexander is), but the calendar is a tough thing to manage, and so it was undoubtedly convenient to have these other events lined up nearby.
November 9, 2007
Open Meetings score: Littlefield 1, Ramsey 0
Want to know how our local elected officials feel about the state's Open Meetings Law? Thankfully, TFP reporter Matt Wilson has a story in today's paper on just that topic. I have to give Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield a point for his stance:
"We need to leave the Tennessee law alone," Mr. Littlefield said in a statement. "While somewhat cumbersome at times, we have learned to work within the framework that exists. Allowing discussions and deliberations outside of announced public meetings will create more questions of public trust than it will answer."
Great answer, Mr. Mayor. Super, in fact. However, his counterpart, Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey, did not score so well:
Mr. Ramsey said he believed members of legislative bodies often meet by accident, and he explained instances in which he said the law has been an obstruction.
"It'd make it easier to do business," he said of the possible changes.
Meeting "by accident" is not what the law is about. It's about deliberating public matters without public oversight. I am of the opinion that most infractions that have occurred over the past three decades or so have not been critically damaging in nature (Knox County '07 being a notable exception). However, the appearance of the thing is what is harmful. Public trust is perhaps the most important asset a government holds. When conversations that affect policy decisions are held in secret, even if technically harmless, that trust is indelibly scarred, thus rendering said asset as worth far less.
As far as the example cited by Mayor Ramsey goes: why couldn't his staff simply have invited all 9 commissioners, and the public, to a single meeting about changes to the insurance plan? If there are valid reasons, I would like to know them.
Additional area leaders' stances are also captured in the article. Not that we need proof that this is not a partisan matter, but South Pittsburg Mayor Mike Killian, a Democrat, feels similarly to Claude Ramsey, who is a Republican. I don't think anyone is trying to hog-tie local governments by keeping this rule. I think there are ways to get business done and have the public be aware of how it got done. That's all we're asking for.
UPDATE: Ben Cunningham weighs in.
Knock, knock for Brock
If you get a knock on your door this Saturday, November 10, your visitor might be a supporter trying to drum up votes for GOP state Senate candidate Oscar Brock. The campaign plans to knock on some 5,000 doors.
If you're interested, by the way, organizers ask that you meet with them at the Brock campaign headquarters at 1400 McCallie Ave at 9:00 AM. They plan for a full day, and will feed you lunch, according to the e-mail I received.
Whichever candidate you support, please do your part to get out the vote. My main goal is to do something about the extremely low turnout we've seen so far. As I've stated before, this website is not endorsing a candidate in this election; it's just pleading for your participation in it.
The opposing party's event with Governor Phil Bredesen and candidate Andy Berke begins at 10:30AM across from the new Election Commission building on Amnicola Highway.
November 8, 2007
Governor to campaign with Berke Saturday
The Democrats are pulling out all the stops to get their nominee elected to the state Senate in the upcoming special election. Last week, former U.S. Rep. and current DLC Chairman Harold Ford, Jr. came to stump for Andy Berke; and this Saturday, according to an e-mail received today from the Berke campaign, Governor Phil Bredesen will be on hand to help gather a crowd on the last day of early voting. (UPDATE: a commenter at VolunteerVoters reminds me that U.S. Rep. Lincoln Davis also recently campaigned with Berke in Marion County.)
It makes one wonder if polling shows the race to be tight in what has traditionally been considered a Democratic district. Special elections have that uncertain air about them.
It also makes one wonder where people like Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, and other big GOP names are. Have they been showing up too, and I've just missed the announcements? Robin Smith? Bo Watson? Anyone?
Oh, and local party chair Connie Weathers sort of hung Oscar Brock out to dry over the dumb DUI flap. Don't the Republicans want this seat too?
November 7, 2007
Effective campaign ads for the younger set
Well, I can say this: this political ad plays very well to the 3-year-old crowd. The boy appears to think that Andy Berke has cute daughters. Good lord, what are we in for? And he now knows the name "Andy Berke," which is what campaign media is all about.
Endorsements (and not)
Two notable endorsements were announced today in the presidential campaign.
Former GOP candidate and current U.S. Senator from Kansas, Sam Brownback, threw his support to fellow Senator John McCain (R-AZ). I am a little surprised by that, because I might have thought former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee to be the recipient. I still have a lot to learn about politics.
Former Christian Coalition president and one-time U.S. presidential candidate Pat Robertson endorsed Rudy Giuliani. I'm actually less surprised (or disturbed) by this than are a lot of observers. A believer in authoritarianism such as Robertson would naturally try to suck up to the perceived frontrunner, who, even though his views on social/cultural issues are different, is still the boss. Or something like that. Call me out (just not angrily, please) if you think I'm off base. (After writing this, I found a comment to pretty much the same effect here.)
Turning to more local matters: I have decided that I will not make a public endorsement in the Tennessee Senate, District 10 race. My vote will be a private matter. I will continue to try to help inform my fellow 10th District residents about each of the candidates, and I consider them both to be worthy of holding the position.
When I was out doing my candidate interviews, I glibly offered to one of these guys that he, his likely general election opponent, and I will have to get together for a beverage after this is all over. The candidate didn't miss a beat and retorted (but with a smile), "when this is all over, I'll invite you and [the other guy] to Nashville to have a beverage with me."
Sure, each man wants to win, and only one of them will. But my point is that both Andy Berke and Oscar Brock are likeable, and more importantly (from all I can tell), trustworthy individuals who will serve the district and the state with honor and respect, even if each would cast certain votes with which I would take exception.
It is critical that you, if you're registered in District 10, get out and vote. Throw those hit pieces you get in the mail from the state parties into the recycling bin, but pick a candidate and vote. Vote early if you have to; even though I'm not early voting's biggest fan, I am glad it is provided for exceptional circumstances. But I hope to see you out a week from tomorrow (that is, on November 15), because that's when I'll be voting.
Reception for Oscar Brock from 5-7pm today
I'm just passing this along as an announcement. From the e-mail:
Tonight - Wednesday, November 7th
5:00 -7:00 PM
VFW Post 4848, 1491 Riverside Drive
Next to the Boathouse
The public is invited!
Veterans urged to attend
Catered by Moss Place II
November 6, 2007
Ron Paul's next move?
A very substantial statement hit the airwaves yesterday, and the aftershocks continue today. Congressman Ron Paul, a libertarian who is running for the Republican nomination in next year's presidential race, took in $4.3 million from online supporters in the largest ever single-day haul for a candidate. The fundraising drive was not initiated by the campaign itself.
Rep. Paul, a medical doctor, has been largely treated as a fringe candidate by the mainstream press, but that has to change after yesterday's outpouring. Or does it? You tell me.
I don't quite yet believe that Ron Paul will win the GOP nomination, but, like Kleinheider, I do wonder what his next move will be.
Get well, Commissioner Adams
As much as I have criticized, and probably will continue to criticize, Hamilton County Commissioner Curtis Adams (R-8) on a number of items; and as much as I supported his opponent, John Bailes, in the last county elections, it does not give me any pleasure whatsoever to hear that Mr. Adams suffered a heart attack recently.
The word is that he is at home and is recuperating well. I hope you will join me in wishing him a full and speedy recovery.
November 5, 2007
I thought it was a bad idea to put sugar in your gas tank
And yet the FedGov is set to spend lots of money to do just that. Furthermore, the sugar industry is, er, sweetening the deal for members of Congress who represent areas that contain no sugar fields, nor any sugar refineries, in order to gain influence in its favor. From the Washington Post:
So far this year, nine sugar farm or refinery groups have made more than 900 separate contributions totaling nearly $1.5 million to candidates, parties and political funds, according to federal election records and CQ MoneyLine.
Four days after she voted against a measure that would have derailed the new subsidy plan, [Rep. Carolyn B.] Maloney [edit: who represents Queens and Manhattan's East Side, a district not known for its sugar cane] hosted a fundraising event at Bullfeathers restaurant on Capitol Hill that netted $9,500 in contributions from sugar growers and refiners, according to Federal Election Commission records and Maloney's election attorney, Andrew Tulloch. Tulloch called the timing of the July 31 fundraiser -- dubbed a "sugar breakfast" on the campaign finance report of one group -- a "pure coincidence."
Here's the part about your gas tank:
To keep [NAFTA-induced Mexican] imports from depressing domestic prices, the Agriculture Department would be required to buy equivalent amounts of U.S. sugar and resell it to ethanol refiners at a deep discount. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated the cost at $1 billion through 2017.
The Agitator, to whom the hat is tipped, spake thusly:
Here's a clue, gang: If an "alternative energy" source is so efficient that it needs massive government subsidy to event [sic] exist, much less survive, it's not a viable long-term source of energy.
Read the rest of his comment.
November 4, 2007
Currying favor with the people
It's uncanny, really: in just the past day or three, I have had the same thought as Billy Blades posted today. If hiring Marti Rutherford for 2 or 3 days so that she can qualify for taxpayer-subsidized retiree medical benefits is "the right thing to do," even if Ms. Rutherford knowingly falsified election documents to run in a district in which she clearly did not reside, then why would it not also be "the right thing to do" to offer the same gesture to former city employee Kenardo Curry, who has been indicted on charges of theft of city funds?
Whose bank account ultimately gained the most as a result of his or her respective actions? Does it really matter? How can the mayor extend a "we'll let it slide" to Rutherford, and a "see you in Hell" to Mr. Curry, under these* circumstances?
The possible answer is twofold:
1) Curry backed Littlefield's rival in the runoff election of 2005, Ann Coulter. Rutherford supported Littlefield.
2) Rutherford has some information pertaining to Mayor Littlefield that she has threatened to disclose if she didn't receive this special treatment.
Watch for updates on the latter in the coming weeks. Let it be clear as of this posting that the statements above are mixed as to certainty. Number 1 is factual; and number 2 is a hunch, though more and more people are openly discussing their belief that this must be the case. (By the way, what the heck did Littlefield say to Roy Exum the other day?)
*Note: I am not aware of Kenardo Curry's retirement status, his age, nor his length of service with the City of Chattanooga. If, however, those data are similar enough to Ms. Rutherford's, then I propose that we start a petition to formally request that he be given the same treatment, i.e., temporary employment, or the equivalent thereof, to make him eligible.
November 2, 2007
They can't get no satisfaction, but their audience can
A brief time-out from politics and elections ensues:
Leticia Wolf's latest Pulse column takes us to a place I haven't been for a few name changes — you know, that place on MLK that used to be Jacob's Ladder, and before that, Chameleon, and before that, something else...and in another sense, her article takes me to a place I haven't been since I first came to the Chattanooga area in 1989.
The year was — oh, right, I already said that. It was October, I think; Fall, anyway. Being new to town, I had no idea what went on around here musically. As I was just under 21, I hadn't yet discovered a place called "Yesterdays" and its legions of fraternity brothers and its mediocre cover bands. A friend had invited me to an outdoor, free concert of "alternative" music, which sounded good to me.
I think it was my first trip to downtown Chattanooga. Remember: back then, downtown was still in the early stages of its rebirth. This whole town seemed to be focused on Hamilton Place as a mecca of some sort. (What were y'all thinking?) Anyway, I found Miller Plaza to be an enticing urban feature, and the alternative mini-festival I attended on that drizzly, cool Saturday afternoon seemed to bode well for my (temporary, I thought) stay in this area. How often does one see a guy dressed exactly like Robert Smith walking around in broad daylight, in this region of the country?
Some of the bands were forgettable. In fact, as I wrack my brain trying to remember eighteen (gulp) years ago, I can't remember very many at all. There was a Living Colour-esque group of funk-rockers, an older folkie from Asheville who sang derogatorily about then-Senator Jesse Helms, and there were others.
But the one band I have never forgotten is The Unsatisfied. Their lineup has changed pretty extensively over the years, so we're really talking about frontman Eric Scealf. He was — and, according to Leticia, is — an electrifying showman. The other band members at that time? I wouldn't know where to begin, except that the lead guitarist was a woman. That stood out to me. And that she played blisteringly loud, fast punk-metal riffs, and was thus, in my young mind, amazingly hot based on that fact alone (and was not that hard on the eyes, either). (My friend, to whom I confided this instant micro-crush, told me to relax, that she wasn't into dudes. I have no idea whether or not he said so with any authority on the matter, lest someone thinks I am attempting any gossip or slander.)
But, yes. The Unsatisfied. They were the highlight of the evening, for sure. And, though I don't get out much these days, I'm glad they're still out there highlighting other evenings.
Here's a question, though: with all the tourist-friendly gentrification that's gone on downtown, how likely would it be that one could catch this band on a Saturday evening in Miller Plaza today? And another question: whatever happened to that festival?
November 1, 2007
Bloggers (and traditional journalists) on Open Meetings Law
Here's a roundup of any and all I can find on this very important topic. It will be updated as I go. As you'll see, the opinions come from those on the political left as well as those on the right, in addition to those who'd call themselves libertarians.
The first thing to go through my mine was that [Rep.] Ulysses [Jones] had gotten too close to a fire and the chemicals had rotted his brain. Second, how much he had gotten paid, easily dismissed as these are the days of upstanding long term Memphis politicians who learned the lessons of Main Street Sweeper, and Tennessee Waltz. Finally, I just came to the conclusion that Ulysses needs to go, he has overstayed his time in office and should to retire. This bill just proves it.
Michael Silence (blogger at Knox News-Sentinel)
Bloggers. You are the 21st century's new watchdogs. The General Assembly goes back in session in January 2008. Do us all a favor and keep a close eye on any attempts to cut you out of public decisions and the decision-making process at the local and state levels. If you post something on this topic, e-mail me the link and I'll post it, too.
Frank Cagle (columnist at MetroPulse)
(Don’t blame the lobbyists. They’re doing their best for their clients. They play the game by the rules we establish.)
Joe Powell (blogger in East TN)
The legislative committee organized to strengthen the Open Meetings laws have instead gone in the opposite direction. They approved a plan to increase the number of elected officials who can meet, debate and create public policy away from any public view or oversight.
Angela Tant (News Editor, The Pulse)
One panel member who voted for the quorum change is Rheubin Taylor, the attorney for Hamilton County. He has said that the changes would help make government efficient and operational, citing issues like land purchases.
"Newscoma" (blogger and editor)
Politicians, hear me now, an informed citzen is a scary thing to you, I get that. But it’s not your government. It’s ours.
David Oatney (blogger and podcaster)
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.
Brainerd: Don't miss the Mayor tonight
A little "BUG" in your ear:
Mayor Littlefield will meet w/ Brainerd residents Thursday night, Nov. 1, at 5:30 at the Brainerd BX, at Belvoir & Mayfair. Hope to see you there.
Well, I won't be there, as it's a school night. But I hope there is good turnout. Mayor Littlefield stated at the last BUG meeting that this is your chance to have a venting session.
Will Marti be off work in time to make it?
In this week's Pulse
Do not miss news editor Angela Tant's cover story on the changes that are currently being planned to the state's Open Meetings Law. The piece brings the issue right home with illustrations about how a weakening of the act could play out in deliberations over how to replace former council member Marti Rutherford.
I have a Senate District 10 election guide, complete with a prediction. Yep. It was time to put the money down.