May 12 2007
08:01 am

Billions are missing.

The corruption that seems to be a staple in Iraq is beginning to fray on my nerves. The contractors have made goodgollybillions over there, and the government we have installed to run Iraq is almost as corrupt, maybe more.

Our soldiers are dying in Iraq while pirates and rogue corporations steal the country (and us) blind. Is this supporting the troops? They'll be there forever if the rampant corruption is not stopped.

Siphoning gas off the pipeline means no revenue for Iraq to rebuild itself, which in the end means us taxpayers will have to work harder to defray the cost. Apparently, no one seems to know where the missing oil went. The huge amount of our money already spent on rebuilding the oil fields has not achieved what it should have. Why? Corruption. What else? The Bush administration of course blames everything on the insurgents, but contractors here and corruption by Iraqis themselves seem to play a major part.

"The discrepancies in the Iraqi oil figures are broadly reminiscent of the ones that turned up when some of the same energy department experts examined Iraq’s oil infrastructure in the wake of the oil-for-food scandals of the Saddam Hussein era. In a United Nations-sponsored program that was supposed to trade Iraq’s oil for food, Mr. Hussein and other smugglers were handsomely profiting from the program, investigations determined."

Now, because we need to know more about this. Shell Oil (oh, yeah, they're certianly a reliable ally of us little Americans) has signed a contract to "study" the problem. I wonder how much they will get paid for that?

Studying stuff has become an enormous industry. All you have to do is pick a topic and somebody is getting paid a lot of money to "study" it. Studies however are often totally unreliable. There are studies that prove it's okay to drill in the Alaskan oil reserves. A few years ago they proved taking hormones was a life-saving thing for women. Studies have often proved our military has not done anything wrong in cases of abuse overseas, and some studies show global warming is non-existant fantasy dreamed up by Al Gore for political purposes. How much did those studies cost?

This missing oil is truly a scandal, but I'm sure Shell oil will "study" it well. Shell will make a bundle just to speculate what goes wrong. It sounds like a nice job if you can get it.

May 11 2007
03:17 pm

A plot of land with the same single family home for 80 years or so on lovely Spence Place, in the wonderful, historic Island Home neighborhood, is apparently now up for a small subdivision. The land, approximately 1.9 acres, can now be divided into 6 lots, 3 of which are on the river/lake.

Is nothing sacred?

May 11 2007
02:42 pm

Some fat Welshman heaps big praise on Budweiser.

His case appears earnest, but I suspect it's really an anti-American manifesto in disguise. But he'd deny that, of course. I hope it earns the crafty bugger a spot on the no-fly list.

May 11 2007
01:51 pm

Some items of note from the Tennessee General Assembly...

• Sen. Roy Herron (D-Dresden) sponsored SB1566 that bans hunting while under the influence of drugs or a blood alcohol level of .08 (the same as DUI). A first offense will get you 48 hours in jail, a fine of between $350 and $1,500, and the loss of a Tennessee hunting license for one year. A second offense will get you 11 mo. 29 days in jail and a fine of up to $3500. The bill includes an "implied consent" provision for anyone hunting. The Senate passed the bill unanimously and it is now pending in the House. What's amazing is that this wasn't already the law.

• In related news, Sen. Tim Burchett (R-Knoxville) and Rep. Frank Nicely (R-Knoxville) sponsored HB2184 to allow carrying a handgun in state parks. The bill was passed by the House Judiciary Committee, and is on the Senate Judiciary Calendar for May 15th. Along the way, it was amended to eliminate prohibitions on carrying handguns on
"the grounds of any public park, playground, civic center or other property owned, used or operated by any municipal, county or state government, or instrumentality thereof, for recreational purposes," and a second amendment requires posting a sign to that effect at parks, playgrounds, civic centers, etc. What a bunch of yahoos.

So now, visitors to the beautiful State of Tennessee and our parks and our civic centers would be greeted with a sign informing that anyone and everyone there could be armed. How pleasant. I guess the gun nuts are happy, though, because they would be able to protect themselves from that guy peeing over there in the bushes who might be a terrorist or a child molester.

But wait. The commissioner of the State Department of Environment and Conservation says that out of 50 million visits to state parks in 2005 and 2006, there were only 12 reported crimes against state park visitors. And the Tennessee Association of Park Rangers says that handguns are not compatible with the family friendly atmosphere at our state parks.

UPDATE: In what must be a sign of the Apocalypse, SayUncle tends to agree.

• Sen. Rosalind Kurita (D-Clarksville) and Sen. Raymond Finney (R-Maryville) co-sponsored SB0116 which requires the Department of Economic and Community Development to establish energy and lighting efficiency standards to be enforced by local governments. It establishes the 2003 International Energy Conservation Code as the minimum energy conservation standards for new residential construction in Tennessee beginning January 1, 2008. Current law requires the usage of building codes established in 1992. The bill passed unanimously in the Senate, and is pending in the House. If she can get it passed and to the Governor, this would be some redemption for Kurita. As for Finney, it moves him up from around -9 to -8 on my approval scale of 1 to 10.

• "Tort Reform" proposed by SB2001 sailed through the Senate but hit a snag in the House when Rep. Rob Briley (D-Nashville) tried to amend it to change some rules regarding expert testimony. It's now back in the House Judiciary Committee. Here's our take on why this is bad legislation.

• A Tennessee minimum wage bill has once again failed, except this time it was pulled by its own sponsor in the Senate, Sen. Doug Jackson (D-Dickson), who said "I want there to be a loud discussion and debate in the early days of the next session." SB1668 doesn't even increase the minimum wage, it just sets it the same as the Federal minimum wage with provisions to change it if the federal minimum is not changed for five years. This is weak and embarrassing.

May 11 2007
12:42 pm

It appears Randy and I both are reviewing the budget. I am working line-by-line and this is a something of a midway report on the things that I must question further. By the way, it looks like I'll be one of the guests on this weekend's news analysis program on WATE.

The full budget files may be found at (link...)

Sec. C, p. 26. Why spend $130,200 on sheriff dept. auto allowance? None allocated in last budget. Sec. A, p. 41 has a $20,000 allowance for Mayor's office. Can we delete both and save $150,000?

Sec. C, p. 26. Why the ten-fold increase in fringe benefits?

Sec. B, p. 7. Why the increase in payment to the Tennessee Valley Fair, from $2000 to $16,000?

Sec. B, p. 6. Why $400,000 to the ChamberPartnership? Can't this be cut some or entirely? These guys could be weaned off some govt. dollars.

Sec. A. p. 50. Why the $2,385,000 increase in cost of the mayor's education summit?

Sec. A, p. 15. There's a jump in the county clerk office service contracts from just less than $400,000 to nearly $600,000. What justifies this?

I'm not ready to propose amendments, but will continue to explore, seeking answers to oddities. --Mark Harmon

May 11 2007
12:15 pm

Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale announced his proposed FY07-08 budget on Wednesday. Some highlights from the Mayor's budget speech (PDF format):

• Without question, this has been the most difficult budget I have experienced in my 13 years as either a County Commissioner or Mayor. [..] I am asking our County Commission to approve a $57 million bond issue to cover the initial cost of the Sheriff’s Pension plan. This is the best way to cover an expense of this magnitude. This needs to be addressed by July 1 to ensure it is fiscally sound for Sheriff Department employees.

• County employees work hard to meet the needs of our citizens. This budget includes a 2% raise for employees and a one-time $500 bonus for all full-time workers.

• Well, now the question comes…what about taxes? I am pleased to announce that we can accomplish each of these initiatives with no tax increase whatsoever!

• I want to personally thank Sherry Witt, Billy Tindell, and John Whitehead. These countywide officeholders agreed with my recommendation to freeze or reduce the size of their staff. I’m working with them and others to increase the fees turned over to Knox County government. Over the past 5 years, we have reduced the size of government by 159 employees. We will do more this year, without any reduction in services to our citizens.

• Our Chamber Partnership’s JobsNow! Program, combined with the efforts of the Knoxville Tourism and Sports Corporation, is producing, what I like to call, economic results. We have created over 22,000 new regional jobs. By creating better jobs, we have seen family incomes rise by nearly $4,000 per family. We have had $2.5 billion in capital investment, and it is great to continue to have one of the lowest unemployment rates that you will find anywhere in America.

• I am pleased to report that our children’s scores on the American College Test or ACT are now higher than the state average and the national average.

• Additionally, we have placed almost $6.5 million in the budget for the Great Schools Partnership. This will allow for additional programs for our birth to kindergarten initiative and Pre-Kindergarten classes. The budget allows for a new magnet program at Beaumont Elementary and an expansion of the advisor-advisee program. It allows for the expansion of the TAP program to another elementary school.

• Going forward, we are going to make certain that the quality of a child’s education is never determined by their zip code. (Ed. Note: They mayor recognized three teachers of the year. They are from A.L. Lotts Elementary, Holston Middle, and Farragut High.)

A summary of the Mayor's budget proposal is here (PDF format).

Among the highlights:

• Total budget is $613,997,237, a 5.6% increase over FY06-07.

• General Administration budget is increased 28.7%

• Public Safety budget (including Sheriff's Dept.) is increased 18.5%

• Public Library budget is increased 5.9%

• General Purpose School budget is increased 3.6%

• Public Health and Welfare budget is reduced (5.4%)

• Administration of Justice budget is reduced (10.1%)

• Other General Government budget is reduced (26.7%)

The Mayor also announced a hiring freeze. The requested headcount for FY08 was 8351 full time and 232 part time employees. This was a decrease of two full time employees and an increase of 32 part time employees compared to FY07. The Mayor's proposed headcount is 8309 full time employees and 213 part time employees, a decrease of 44 full time employees and an increase of 13 part time employees compared to FY07.

Some other notes from the budget…

• While increasing school funding by $12 million, or 3.6%, the Mayor proposes to increase Great Schools Foundation funding by 60% to $6.3 million while reducing the School Board's request from $350.6 million to $344.2 million, which is about $6.4 million. According to the Great Schools Foundation's most recent annual report, they spent the bulk of their funding (which came from TN Department of Education, United Way , and Great Schools) on targeted Pre-K and Kindergarten "intervention" programs to assist 900 children in 650 families and operate 13 pre-K classes. Some have criticized the program as a "shadow" school board, whose funding should be included in the School Board's budget and its operations managed as part of the Knox County School System.

• One of the curiosities in the Mayor's proposed budget is an 850% decrease in "Miscellaneous", a cut of $6.1 million. The requested budget was $1.6 million (over FY07's $726K), but the Mayor proposed $5.4 million decrease. Perhaps someone knows what this is all about?

• There is a 200% increase in Sheriff's Administration budget, of $5.5 million as compared to $2.7 million for FY07. There is a sharp increase in the proposed Sheriff's Administration headcount from 15 full time employees to 157 full time and 3 part time employees. Perhaps some employees are being reclassified?


It's pretty tough to be odiously evil in an administration that includes Dick Cheney, who skews the grading curve so wildly one is bound to look good in comparison. But Condoleeza Rice manages to hold up remarkably well. And because she's much slicker than Mr. Snarl, she generally gets away with it.

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May 11 2007
10:29 am

Ah, what a great week this has been. The Hairy / Downy woodpeckers are now bringing their baby to the tree next to our suet station. Right now a pair of mockingbirds and their sole offspring are right outside my window in the new flower bed. Boy howdee is that a noisy child! The brown thrashers still come several times a day but always together so I don't think they have nested yet. No sign of the female towee but the male feeds at the same time as the single dove. The RB grosbeaks have all moved on. The male cardinal continues to feed the little woman before she flys off to the nest.


May 11 2007
10:08 am

The Washington Post reports, "Members of a House committee charged yesterday that a five-year, $1.2 billion program to expand broadband Internet services to rural communities has missed many unserved areas while channeling hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidized loans to companies in places where service already exists."
"Congress created the rural broadband program in 2002. To date, according to Andrew, 69 loans for $1.2 billion have been approved to finance infrastructure in 40 states. Only 40 percent of the communities benefiting were unserved at the time of the loan, ..."

Earlier the Washington Post reported on the entire rural development program from the USDA.

Thomas C. Dorr, the undersecretary for Rural Development, describes the division's role as the "venture capitalist for rural America." The program provides "equity, liquidity and technical assistance to finance and foster growth" and preserve rural communities, the political appointee said in testimony before Congress

Provincetown, MA - "recently refurbished municipal dock that was built with the help of a $1.95 million low-interest loan from the" USDA

Martha's Vineyard - "the USDA guaranteed a $4.5 million loan for the popular Black Dog Tavern"...

..USDA has handed out more than $70 billion in grants, loans and loan guarantees since 2001... More than half of that money has gone to metropolitan regions or communities within easy commuting distance of a midsize city, including beach resorts and suburban developments, a Washington Post investigation found.

Why hasn't the City of Alcoa requested some of these funds (or have they?)? I bet Alcoa would fit the "rural" criteria.

May 10 2007
10:36 pm

Tonight the House passed a short-term funding bill for the Iraq war that would require a set of benchmarks to be reached before Congress would vote to release the remaning funds after July. But before that Massachusetts Congressman James McGovern offered up a full withdrawal bill that would have removed all US troops from Iraq in 9 months. The real shocker nationwide was that this immediate withdrawal bill got 171 votes in favor. The good news locally was that of the two Republican Congressman voting for this immediate withdrawal bill, one was our own Jimmy Duncan.

This is significant because Duncan voted against the last timetable bill. I thought that he was softening his antiwar position under pressure from GOP leadership. But I think he just didn't think the measure was strong enough. Duncan says "Get out of Iraq NOW!"

The Iraq War is the fundamental political issue of our time. I disagree with Duncan on many issues, especially domestic matters. But on this matter of utmost importance he has been dead right and steadfast all along. For that I say kudos to Congressman Jimmy Duncan. You have served the 2nd District of Tennessee with honor.

May 10 2007
08:46 pm

Comrades, greetings!

Under the 'can't bear to lose his identity' column, there's (link...) . At the top of the page, he still claims to be Knox County GOP chairman.

His most glorious reign (hey! no snorting your drinks up your noses or spittakes out there, Comrades!) ended March 10, some 2 months ago.

Why can't he update his own site? Maybe we need Tyler and Adam to swoop in and monkey with the site.

May 10 2007
06:58 pm
By: Rachel  shortURL

Just thought ya'll would like to know that we're all Communists now. And that's a "fair and balanced" assessment.

Fire up the Internationale.

May 10 2007
05:17 pm

In case you haven't been following, Mr. Cup of Joe went to Washington.

He files this report on his conversation with Thomas Jefferson, and this report on a Leonardo Da Vinci sighting at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum (Leo invented everything in there, you know). And Amelia Earhart, too, who looks pretty great in that aviator outfit (unlike a certain Commander in Chief).

And if that isn't enough, Joe's giving away some great CDs. (Deadline for entry is midnight tonight.)

May 10 2007
05:02 pm

Nashville is Talking and Volunteer Voters have been off the air most of the day. The station's main website is still up and running. Did the new management pull the plug after GM and online pioneer Sechrist's recent departure?

(Just kidding, of course. That would be pretty stupid. Wouldn't it?)

May 10 2007
02:23 pm

(Number umpteen in a series of umpteen.)

I am continually amazed by the lack of attention given to scandals like this one in the press, but still, this one's something of a whopper, especially if you've been following the DOJ story lately:

The Bush administration has withheld a series of e-mails from Congress showing that senior White House and Justice Department officials worked together to conceal the role of Karl Rove in installing Timothy Griffin, a protégé of Rove's, as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas.

The withheld records show that D. Kyle Sampson, who was then-chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, consulted with White House officials in drafting two letters to Congress that appear to have misrepresented the circumstances of Griffin's appointment as U.S. attorney and of Rove's role in supporting Griffin.

H/T Atrios.

These revelations ought to make Gonzo's testimony before the House Judiciary Committee a little more interesting. I hope.

May 10 2007
09:01 am
By: R. Neal  shortURL

Sources tell us Sen. Kurita is a little frustrated that she isn't feeling the love from fellow Democrats and may be helping out the other team.

Kurita allegedly told senior members of the Governor's staff and at least one cabinet member that she won't vote for the Governor's Schools First cigarette tax increase because she isn't sponsoring the bill. This is apparently not the first time she has complained about not being chosen to sponsor the bill.

Kurita has in the past been a strong supporter of raising the cigarette tax, and sponsored a bill in 2005 that would have raised the tax to 60 cents, similar to the Governor's proposal except the money was to be used for TennCare and the general fund. It was rejected by the Senate Finance committee.

Kurita has also apparently complained that she can't get any bills passed in the House (other than a resolution honoring the Vanderbilt Women's Basketball team) and has even asked Gov. Bredesen to talk to Jimmy Naifeh about it.

There are also reports that she tipped off Republicans about Senate Democrat plans to amend the rules so that committee membership and leadership reflect the actual make up of the Senate (16 Democrats, 16 Republicans, 1 Independent) and told Republicans they should reinstate the rule requiring a 2/3 vote for rule changes in order to stop this. She supposedly told them they needed to do it while Senators Cooper and Ford were absent so that she could vote with the Democrats, giving her cover.

May 10 2007
08:23 am

The KNS has an update on their lawsuit involving alleged sunshine law violations that occurred during the appointment process to replace term-limited county commissioners.

KNS editor Jack McElroy, the plaintiff, was asked if he had any personal knowledge of deliberations taking place outside public view. He responded with this interesting timeline (PDF format), which is the basis of the complaint. Here's a sampling:

During the same recess, reporter Ferrar observed a gathering that included Commissioners Moore and Lambert, as well as Tramel. When Commissioner Schmid noticed the gathering. he said: "They’re trying to sneak in Richard Cate behind my back. They’re trying to swear in Richard Cate. They’re trying to get my vote out." A short while later, reporter Barker went to the area in front of the Small Assembly Room, where Judge Wheeler Rosenbalm, in his robes and carrying a Bible, stood near Richard Cate. Schmid, Lambert, Tramel and Cate were arguing. Rosenbalm was preparing to swear in Cate, although commissioners had agreed earlier to hold off on swearing in the new appointees until 2 p.m. "If you want to keep that spot in '08, you better not do this," Schmid yelled at Cate. Cate eventually replied angrily, "Don’t accuse me of that any more." Tramel told Schmid he was a "part-time" commissioner. "You’re never here for committee meetings,” he said. Schmid turned to Barker and said, "Let’s call a spade a spade. They’re wanting to get my vote out so they can get Lee Tramel in." Lambert angrily called Schmid a "peckerhead." Later, Schmid added, "This is typical of the way these people operate." Cate, who chose not to take the oath of office, said someone in the back of the Main Assembly Room had suggested he take the oath of office early. "I don’t even know who it was." Photographer Cary observed and photographed a portion of the gathering involving Schmid, Lambert and Cate.

The timeline also discusses the details of Jonathan Wimmer's claim that he was offered a deal by Lumpy Lambert if he would agree to be sworn in and vote for Tramel.

May 10 2007
07:58 am

In case you missed it (it wasn't mentioned in today's Knoxville News Sentinel), eleven Congressional Republicans went to the White House and told Bush and other top administration officials that he will no longer have the support of the GOP if the war goes on much longer.

Pundits are comparing the rather historic confrontation to Goldwater's famous meeting with Nixon that ended his presidency.

House Republican leader John Boehner attended the meeting, which was organized by Rep. Charles Dent of Pennsylvania and Rep. Mark Kirk of Illinois representing a group of moderate Republicans.

In what was described as a "remarkably candid" and "blunt" meeting, Bush was told that the no longer has any credibility on the war, and that it is time for "candor" and "honesty." Here is the NBC News video report by Tim Russert.

Bush acknowledged that the war is causing political problems for the GOP and expressed concerns about upcoming elections.

One would think he heard that message loud and clear in Nov. 2006, but his actions since suggest otherwise. Pressure from Democrats in the new Congress, along with some Republicans who are wising up, seems to finally be working. This could be the beginning of the end, especially if Democrats can put together a veto-proof coalition.

What's frustrating is that it has to come down to politics. The fact that we were led to war based on a pack of lies, that we have damaged our reputation around the world, that we have seriously weakened our military, and that we have failed to shut down the terrorist network that attacked us are all irrelevant. It's the number of "R" seats in Congress at stake and the threat of a "D" in the White House that gets Bush's attention.

Whatever it takes to end this thing is OK by a majority of Americans at this point. It's time to declare victory and bring our troops home.

May 10 2007
06:02 am

Sunday's News Sentinel will feature part one of UT's Howard Baker Center report on the structure and functions of local government. The report will use mostly graphics to present an overview of the governments of Knox County, the City of Knoxville and the Town of Farragut. The second part of the study will be completed in mid-summer. It will be a report of best practices in government structure and functions in communities similar in size to ours. The reports are being prepared to support the Knox County One Question process. In addition to the Baker Center reports, information will be gathered from citizens in at least five public input sessions. The first session is Monday at Halls High School. To read an executive summary of the Baker Center plan of work and for a list of all public input sessions visit: (link...).


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