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/Ben Garrett

About Ben Garrett

Ben Garrett is a journalist and web designer from East Tennessee's Cumberland Plateau region. He and his wife, Melanie, reside on the edge of the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area outside Oneida, where he is the editor of the local newspaper and she is a fourth grade teacher. The couple have two children, twins Toby and Rachel, and a mutt dog, Scooter, who thinks he's a pedigree. Views expressed here are the author's and none other. Contact: bengarrett at highland dot net.

The stunning swiftness of the cable leader’s demise

As CNN moved consistently left in the 1990s, abandoning any pretense of unbiased TV journalism, a huge void was created in the cable news industry — one that Fox News Channel was all too happy to fill. And it filled it quite remarkably. From humble beginnings in the mid ’90s, FNC quickly became the king of cable news even before the Clinton administration had ended. And stayed there for nearly two decades.

Now it’s all crumbling.

If Sean Hannity is indeed on his way out, as developments in recent days seem to indicate, Fox News is done as a powerhouse in the cable news industry. Perhaps it can cling to some sort of fringe status, as MSNBC has done, but even that seems to be an optimistic goal. MSNBC, after all, has a clear identity. It delights in its liberal approach, and has a small but devoted audience of liberal views. In the post-Ailes, post-O’Reilly, post-Hannity world, Fox News would be without an identity. It would be aimless. It would be — dare we say it? — pointless.

The speed at which Fox News ascended to the top of the cable news industry was shocking. The speed at which it is crumbling is even more dizzying.

First, there was Ailes, the network chief whose genius made Fox News more than a household mainstay, but the cable news channel that played on televisions in airports, physicians’ offices and restaurants across America — a feat that would’ve been unthinkable in the CNN-monopolized world of cable news in the ’80s and early ’90s.

Then there was O’Reilly, whose stature among the larger-than-life cable news legacies made Larry King look like a mere midget.

Now, it appears, there’s Hannity — the last of the stalwart conservative originals in the Fox News fold.

It was sex scandals that brought down Ailes and O’Reilly. And perhaps, at the end of the day, Fox News had little choice but to cut ties with both men. Certainly, if the allegations were proven, the firings were justifiable — if not overdue. The allegations against O’Reilly, at least, don’t seem to rise to the level of criminality, even if substantiated. And the fact that O’Reilly and the network paid millions to silence such accusations is hardly an admission of guilt — not when public perception is everything, and not when those millions are merely a drop in the bucket. O’Reilly, after all, is worth more than any cable news personality has ever been worth, while Fox News is the richest TV news entity ever, raking in $1.5 billion in profits just last year.

That isn’t to say that O’Reilly is innocent; at the very least, he appears to be a bit of a sleaze-ball, whose views on women and sex are like those of too many rich and powerful men. (Is this the appropriate time to mention that O’Reilly’s views on women are probably not altogether different from Bill Clinton, the same man O’Reilly’s critics have spent so many years defending?)

Nor is it to say that Ailes is innocent. But the fact that two men at the same network were toppled by similar — but separate — accusations is interesting. It’s either a sign of a dark, pervasive culture at Fox News . . . or it’s an incredible coincidence. We’ll never know, because the Murdochs — the sons of Rupert — acted so quickly to wipe their hands of both of them.

There are those who would say that the allegations, whether founded or not, don’t matter. Once they’re made by credible women, the damage has been done and the network had no choice but to move on . . . even if the two men did happen to be the very two men who made the network into the cable news giant that it became.

But what about Hannity? His Fox News contract appears to be at death’s door. And over what? A discredited story about a DNC staffer. Never mind for a moment the assumption that Hannity acted irresponsibly in his pursuit of the story. That is going to topple the guy who’s currently (now that O’Reilly is out of the picture) the biggest name in cable news? The same sort of thing that would earn a reprimand at any other network or newspaper?

That’s even more stunning than the swift ouster of O’Reilly.

There is, of course, things at play here that reach well beyond the corporate offices of Fox News. Media Matters, the well-heeled liberal pot-stirring outfit that has attracted support from some of the biggest names on the left. Through Media Matters’ shush campaign, we’re seeing an orchestrated effort to silence conservative voices. The strategy is simple enough: convince lemmings to march lock-step against those conservatives’ advertisers. Inundate the advertisers’ email inboxes and voicemail, then wait for them to cave. And it’s working. It worked exceedingly well with O’Reilly. And announced today that it is pulling its advertising from Hannity’s show on FNC.

Whether you’re a fan of those conservative voices or not — and let me be the first to say that I can’t stomach watching Hannity’s program — it should scare the bejeezus out of any fan of free thought and free expression that this intolerant move to silence dissenting voices is playing out with such swift success before our very eyes. The left — sadly, even left-minded journalists, who are too short-sighted or blinded by idealism to realize that the shoe will eventually wind up on the other foot and it will be their voice that is being silenced — is cheering this strategy, but it has stark consequences for our nation and for our society.

Still, this strategy only works if Fox News is complicit in it, and the network appears more than eager to sign its own death warrant. There have been numerous reports in the past couple of years that the Murdoch sons are eager to move the network away from its conservative roots — even if it means losing profits along the way. Those reports were easy to dismiss as the stuff of groundless conspiracy theories until the past few months. Now it appears they were spot on all along. As Andrew Klavan wrote last month, “The way I hear it, the young Murdochs don’t like getting razzed for the O’Reilly-Of-It-All when they go to fancy cocktail parties in New York, London and L.A. They want to be part of the cool crowd and you can’t do that with the smell of conservative cordite on you. They care less about profits than about making Fox presentable to the liberal set.”

We’re already seeing it play out. Fox News’ ratings are in a free-fall. The network once dominated primetime. Now it’s getting beat by even MSNBC, which was hardly a blip in the radar as recently as during the Obama administration.

So what’s the future for Fox News? It isn’t a future as a conservative outlet, it would appear. So what? Do the Murdochs seek to make the network an MSNBC copycat — a voice for the left side of the political spectrum? That seems like a spectacular way to fail, with both MSNBC and CNN being so well-established. Do they seek a middle-of-the-road approach, similar to what Al Jazeera America aspired to become? It’s a noble idea, if true, but it would take years for FNC to retool and establish itself. It might never build a satisfactory audience, and it would forever be a shadow of its former self — both in terms of views and of profits.

Let the Murdochs worry about that. They’re making their bed; they’re gonna have to lie in it. For now, the spoiled sons of Rupert Murdoch appear to be among the very few people in this world who have so much money that they truly can throw some of it away in their pursuit of idealism. Conservatives have a much bigger problem to worry about: who is going to be their voice?

Say what you like, but Fox News aided the election of Donald Trump in 2016. The Megyn Kelly feud notwithstanding, FNC was more than an unaffiliated correspondent during the presidential campaign, and Trump was the happy benefactor. Just as George W. Bush was in 2000 and again in 2004. In fact, I think it would be foolish to argue against the idea that, if not for the presence of Fox News Channel in 2000, Al Gore would’ve been president.

Sure, there are blogs like Instapundit, digital news orgs like Breitbart and aggregators like Drudge, but we’re still in many ways an old-school society, and no one is more old-school than your typical conservative. At the end of the day, Fox News is the cultural voice of conservatism. And while Klavan’s piece is ridiculously over the top, he nailed it when he closed like this: “Conservatives are soon going to find themselves facing elections with no cultural voice at all. Trust me, you’re not going to like it.”

Some argue that conservatives managed just well during the Reagan era without Fox News. Ah, but the war has changed. America won her independence with muskets. But those same weapons would’ve hardly allowed her to maintain her independence in World War II. As your opponent beefs up his arsenal, you had better as well. So the question begs asking, again: In a world where CNN and MSNBC are fighting for progressives, who will fight for conservatives?

Klavan is right: You’re not going to like it.

By | May 25th, 2017|Categories: Politics|0 Comments

Memorial Day weekend weather looks good, for the most part

It’s going to be a cool and wet start to the extended holiday weekend period, but most of Memorial Day weekend looks like it’s going to shape up nicely for outdoor plans, although there will be periods of inclement weather.

A storm system is currently impacting the Cumberlands; a tornado watch was even in effect for a short time this afternoon (and McCreary and Campbell counties remain under a tornado watch until 8 p.m.). We’ve lucked out on the rain so far, though, with periods of sunshine and comfortable temps that have been hampered only by very gusty conditions due to the low pressure system to our west interacting with high pressure to our east.

Tomorrow will be much cooler; the GFS forecast model currently indicates a high of just 64 degrees for our area, with very breezy conditions continuing. There will be a threat of rain, as well. The National Weather Service at Morristown is currently forecasting a 50 percent chance of rain on Thursday.

The good news? It gets better after that, although there will be rain chances for just about the entire Memorial Day weekend.

We could quickly see temperatures surge back to 80 degrees by Friday, as a southerly flow kicks in ahead of the next storm system, which should arrive here during the weekend. Ahead of that system, we could see sufficient conditions to kick off some scattered thunderstorms on Saturday; the NWS is currently forecasting a 40 percent chance of thunderstorms during the day on Saturday, increasing to 50 percent Saturday night. That isn’t good news for Brimstone’s White Knuckle Event, but Saturday isn’t gonna be a washout, by any means.

Then the main system will arrive on Sunday, with rain chances increasing to 60 percent. But, again, there’s good news. Even Sunday shouldn’t be a complete washout, and it looks like the storm system will quickly get out of the way, leaving Monday mostly dry (although the NWS is forecasting a 20 percent chance of rain for Memorial Day).

There is some question about the timing of this system. The latest run of the GFS shows about a half-inch of rain falling, mainly late Sunday night into early Monday morning. Either way, though, it should be gone by the time most folks begin their Memorial Day plans, although the VFW’s Memorial Day service in Oneida could be threatened if the system winds up being delayed a bit more than is currently anticipated.

Behind this system, daily high temps drop back into the upper 70s, which is about typical for this time of year.

Further out: The GFS forecast model continues to indicate the first 90-degree temps of the season arriving around June 5-6, but it’s also showing a wet pattern returning, too. As I’ve written previously, this progressive pattern looks like it’s going to continue through at least the first part of summer, which means an absence of really hot temperatures (at least for days on end) and above-average rainfall.

By | May 24th, 2017|Categories: Weather|0 Comments

Scott’s Perdue, Morgan’s Edwards endorse Boyd

Randy Boyd, the early favorite to win the GOP nomination for governor next year, has received endorsements from Scott County’s Dale Perdue, Morgan County’s Don Edwards, and 20 other county mayors across East Tennessee.

(Notably absent from the list of 22 is Knox County’s term-limited mayor, Tim Burchett, who has not ruled out his own candidacy for the Republican nomination.)

By | May 24th, 2017|Categories: Politics|0 Comments

For success-hungry Tennessee fans, 7.5 wins aren’t enough

My weekly newspaper column…

We’re nearing the 100-day mark on the countdown to college football season — when the number of days remaining until the first college teams take the field goes from triple digits to double digits and a ray of light appears at the end of the tunnel — and that’s never been more evident than on Monday, when a Vegan sports book released its odds for the 2017 season.

CG Technology placed the over/under on Tennessee’s win total this season at 7.5 games. That’s third-best in the SEC East, behind Florida (8) and Georgia (8). Other SEC teams ahead of the Vols included Auburn (8), LSU (9) and Alabama (10.5).

As we approach the 20-year mark since Tennessee last won an SEC championship — it’s the longest such drought in the program’s storied history, in case you’re wondering — and as we enter Year 5 of the Butch Jones era, 7.5 wins simply aren’t enough.

Continue reading…

By | May 24th, 2017|Categories: Football|0 Comments

The growing Trump problem

The surest sign that a sitting president has problems is when members of his own party start to turn on him.

And that appears to be happening with Donald Trump. First, Tennessee’s own Bob Corker said Monday that the Trump White House is in a “downward spiral,” following reports that Trump shared classified information on the Islamic State with Russia.

Two days later, Congressman Justin Amash, a Michigan Republican, said it would be an impeachable offense if Trump fired FBI director James Comey to end an investigation. His comments followed a report in the New York Times on Tuesday that alleged Trump had pressured Comey to stop an investigation of disgraced former national security advisor Michael Flynn.

It should go without saying that neither Corker nor Amash are part of the far-right coalition of the Republican Party. Corker is a Baker Republican, a moderate. And Amash was one of just two Republicans to side with Democrats in their request of an independent investigation into Trump’s ties with Russia.

Nonetheless, Trump has a major problem, and it’s only getting worse. His administration cannot continually dismiss bombshell revelation after bombshell revelation as “fake news.” The Washington Post’s story on the sharing of classified information and the New York Times revelation on the Flynn memo are potential game-changers, particularly the latter. Even stalwart conservatives who defend Trump’s decision to share the Israel intelligence will have a difficult time excusing the firing of the director of the nation’s top law enforcement agency because the agency dared to investigate a member of the president’s panel…if that is indeed what happened.

Republicans aren’t going to mount a serious investigation of Trump, and they’re certainly not going to undertake impeachment proceedings. The Nixon era is long behind us, and in these hopelessly partisan times, there is no Howard Baker to ask what the president knew and when he knew it.

But if Democrats win back control of Congress in next year’s midterms, Trump’s problems are going to get a lot worse in a big hurry — because no holds will be barred. Whether they’re successful in ousting the president, which will always be a very long shot in this modern era of politics, the backlash will almost certainly place a Democrat in the White House in 2020.

Not everything about the Trump presidency has been bad. But the remarks of Corker, who hails from a deeply red state that voted overwhelmingly for Trump, are a sign of the times. This administration is in a downward spiral. If its course is to be reversed, Trump will likely have to check his ego. So far, that’s proven difficult for him to do.

By | May 17th, 2017|Categories: Politics|0 Comments

Study sheds light on urban vs. rural life expectancy

Those of us who live in rural America like to point out that our way of life — living in the country — is just better. We have less violent crime, less traffic congestion, more peace and quiet, and less smog than our urban neighbors. Simply put, the grass is greener on our side of the fence — and the sky is bluer, the air is cleaner, the water is purer, etc.

The problem is that these things aren’t helping us out-live our urban counterparts. However advantageous it may be to live in the country as opposed to living in a suburb or — even worse — in an urban environment, the fact is that our life expectancy is lower and our death rate is higher.

This chart, prepared by The Washington Post, is a good visual aid:


You don’t need overlays for population density or income per capita to realize that widespread, below-average life expectancy is largely in America’s poverty-stricken rural areas. Take away portions of the Dakotas and the South sticks out on that map like a sore thumb. Part of it is geographical, of course. There is plenty of rural America to be found in the northern Plains, the Rockies, and etc., and those areas — with some notable exceptions — are not only meeting but in many cases exceeding the national average.

But the combination of geography and income is evident. Take Tennessee, for example. There’s only one county in the Volunteer State with that nice deep teal color that signals a life expectancy of 80 years or greater. And that is Williamson County — by far the state’s most affluent county. And the areas with the lowest life expectancy are centered outside the metropolitan areas of Knoxville, Nashville, Chattanooga and Memphis.

All of this is based on a study released today by JAMA Internal Medicine. In its story on the report, The Washington Post spells it out: “People are less likely to live longer if they are poor, get little exercise and lack access to health care, the researchers found. Mokdad said the quality and availability of that health care — for example, access to screening for signs of cancer — has a significant effect on health outcomes.”

If it were just geography, the report might be easy to dismiss. But the fact that some areas have a difference of 20+ years in life expectancy from one county to the next indicates that this is an issue over which we have much control. As America debates the way forward for health care, that’s worth remembering — and it’s worth having rural-minded representatives in Congress who will carry the fight for those of us who live outside of suburbia (I’m talking to you, Congressman Fleischmann. You, too, Senator Alexander. And Corker.

Here’s the reality, according to the data: If you live in Scott County, Tennessee, the numbers say that you will die three years sooner than the average Tennessean, and six years sooner than the average American. The life expectancy here is 73.4 years, while the average life expectancy in the Volunteer State is 76.3 years and the average life expectancy in the U.S. is 79.1 years.

Does that alarm you? It should. Because, on the whole, the Upper Cumberland region has one of the shortest life expectancies in the entire southeastern United States — and, as the map above shows, the southeastern U.S. is lagging well behind much of the rest of the nation when it comes to how long we’re living. In Williamson County, meanwhile, life expectancy is a whopping 81.9 years. So why should a resident of Williamson County live nearly a decade longer than a resident in Scott County?

Or, perhaps another question is this: Is America not wealthy enough that we can build a health care system that transcends socioeconomic factors?

Behavioral experts would be quick to tell you that it’s not a black-and-white issue, because some of the same factors that drive lower per-capita income and higher poverty rates in rural America also drive poorer health. They’ll point to less education in rural America, which often fails to produce ambitious entrepreneurs that employ their friends and neighbors, fails to attract relocating companies that offer higher wages, and, unfortunately, also spurs a lack of self-health awareness. (Some of the more arrogant — if not downright misinformed — behaviorists would even suggest that laziness prompts both poverty and poor health.)

But there are also some truths that cannot be ignored. If you’ve been paying attention to the news, you’re aware of how Scott County and other rural counties with limited access to health care providers are being left behind by the crumbling status of Obamacare. And while politicians in Washington continue to bicker over whether Americans with pre-existing conditions should be entitled to health care coverage, as if America isn’t prosperous enough to care for all of its own, the situation continues to worsen.

At the end of the day, though, this is an issue that goes beyond the national debate over health care coverage. It is an issue that demands we ask serious questions — hard questions — about why our health care picture is what it is in our rural community. We know from previous reports that Scott County ranks at the very bottom among Tennessee counties when it comes to physical inactivity. That’s a good place to start, because it doesn’t matter whether you’re rich or poor, you can lace up your shoes and walk — or run, or ride a bike, or just do sit-ups in your living room floor. From there, a conversation needs to be had. Because the study indicates this: Among 95 Tennessee counties, only two have lower life expectancies than Scott County (Cocke and Grundy counties). And that should be unacceptable to us.

By | May 8th, 2017|Categories: Human Nature, Scott County|0 Comments

Update: An ugly start to May

The upper level low that is going to create an ugly start to the month of May is at work across the Volunteer State this afternoon, with cooling temperatures and rain for the northern plateau, and a mountain wave event for the foothills of the Appalachians.

The wind advisory that was in place for the Cumberlands has not really panned out today, but the high wind warning for the Smokies certainly has. Winds around Gatlinburg topped out at 90 mph, leaving thousands without power, most roads closed in the national park, motorists stranded on The Spur, and fueling a wildfire in Pittman Center that has grown in excess of 70 acres and is only 10% contained, despite a response from nearly two dozen fire departments.

This same weather-maker will very slowly move across the region, resulting in much cooler temperatures and rain the next couple of days.

The National Weather Service has upped temperatures a bit, and is now forecasting highs of 56 and 59 for Friday and Saturday in Oneida. And it now looks like rain chances will continue throughout the day on Saturday, as the winds pick back up. So the next couple of days are going to be ugly.

After the cool afternoons, it looks like a chance for frost could threaten the region as temperatures struggle to rebound with a trough in place over the eastern U.S. Currently, the NWS is forecasting a low of 39 on Sunday morning and 38 on Monday morning. Clouds and even a slight chance of rain should help to prevent frost formation if those temperatures bust on the low side Saturday night, but calm winds and clear skies could create concern Sunday night into Monday. Model output statistics latest run of the GFS forecast model projects a low of 37 on Monday morning, and raw data from the model is actually a touch colder, at 36.

For now, neither NWS office in Morristown and Nashville seem concerned about frost potential for Monday morning, which is good. We’ll see if that holds or if temperature expectations trend colder over the next couple of days. The good news is that Saturday’s temperature has trended slightly warmer than was originally expected, so hopefully that’s a sign of things to come. The output statistics from the latest GFS now warm us to 64 on Saturday, and NWS-Nashville is forecasting a high of 61 for its area of the northern plateau. Saturday afternoon’s temps may largely depend on how much rain and cloud cover we see as the upper low pulls away.

Long-term, the GFS model continues to stubbornly bring warm weather back to stay. We may see another quick shot of cold air late next week or next weekend, but the model is warm overall for days 8-15, despite atmospheric signs that the entire month could be cooler than average, which is what NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center has forecasted.

By | May 4th, 2017|Categories: Weather|0 Comments

Blackberry winter will pack a punch

Make sure the pilot light on your furnace is still lit, because you may need it this weekend, one last time before warm weather arrives for good.

After record-setting heat last weekend to close out April, it looks like we’re going to see very cool conditions this weekend — perhaps as much as 20 degrees below normal Saturday afternoon.

Forecast temperatures continue to trend downward, which is not surprising. Currently, the National Weather Service is forecasting a high of 52 for Oneida on Friday. That’s down nine degrees in just two days. But as I told you on Monday, when the NWS was forecasting 61 for a high, that was likely to happen. It continues to look as though temps will struggle to get out of the 40s on Friday, as an upper level low continues to impact the region.

Warmth won’t return on Saturday, either; the latest forecast from the NWS calls for a high of just 56 degrees then, even as the rain finally moves out and drier weather returns. In the aftermath of the upper low, a trough will have developed over the eastern U.S., and a stiff north breeze will continue to deliver cooler temperatures. The NWS is now forecasting a low of 39 degrees on both Saturday and Sunday mornings.

What happens after that remains less certain. We should see 60s return by Sunday afternoon, but the NWS says 70s won’t be back until at least Tuesday — and even then, the NWS is forecasting a high of just 69. The GFS forecast model, though, is running several degrees warmer than that, topping us out near 80 both Tuesday and Wednesday.

And while NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center continues to forecast below-average temperatures for all of the first half of May, the GFS is stubbornly holding to its projections that normal temps will return after this cold snap, and even above-normal temperatures will be in store as we get closer to the middle of the month.

In case you’re wondering, the record low temperature for Saturday is 37, and the record low for Sunday is 38, so we’re going to be close to setting some new records on the low side this weekend after setting records on the high side last weekend.

By | May 3rd, 2017|Categories: Weather|0 Comments

Norris spillover creates too much dam traffic!

My weekly newspaper column . . .

There was a lot of dam traffic in Norris last week.

Starting at mid-week, when the Tennessee Valley Authority opened the spillway on Norris Dam for the first time in four years, and continuing through the weekend, scores of folks — including yours truly — made the trek across U.S. Hwy. 441 to marvel at the wonder of water spilling over a manmade barrier.

It was a truly unique sight, and one we aren’t afforded to very often in our neck of the woods. But as I battled the dam traffic jam, I found myself grumbling that I should’ve just experienced it vicariously through everyone else’s Facebook pictures.

In fact, I found myself wanting to make the drive back into Lake City — I’m sorry, Rocky Top; old habits die hard — to pick up a couple of cases of beer. I figured I could’ve made a killing by rolling down my window as I crept across the dam at a snail’s pace — which was as fast as the traffic would allow — and yelling, “Cold beer! Get your cold beer here!” I’m no professional beer jockey, but I’ve been to enough baseball games to know the sales pitch, and I figured the profits would’ve added up quick at $5 per can.

Since it was Sunday, beer sales were off-limits, but I wondered why no one had lobbied TVA for a permit to place a t-shirt hut at either end of the bridge. “Norris Lake 2017 — I was there when the water spilled over.” Instant college fund for the little ones. Or a hot dog stand. Goodness knows folks who waited their turn to take a selfie in front of the water rushing over the spillway at 20,000 cubic feet per second surely developed an appetite as they stood in line. (After suggesting the hot dog stand on Facebook, a friend informed me there actually was a hot dog stand set up on the east side. I must’ve missed it, which was no surprise considering all the dam traffic.)

Norris Lake has long been a tourist attraction for Campbell County. Folks flock to the water for fishing, swimming, camping and boating. But a lake chews up a lot of real estate — well over 30,000 acres, in the case of Norris — and that’s a hefty price to pay if the sole purpose of the lake is tourism (it isn’t, of course). However, considering that there were probably more people rubber-necking at Norris Dam last week than there have been boaters on the waters of the lake in the past two years combined, I’m not sure one needs all that real estate to get maximum benefit from tourists. Just build a 265-ft. concrete waterfall . . . and they will come. The City of Somerset built a waterpark as a tourist attraction. Perhaps either Oneida or Huntsville would settle for just a giant spillway.

There are sacrifices to be had, though. Because with the dam comes the dam traffic. Just as Pigeon Forge residents suffer year-round traffic congestion as folks flock to the Great Smoky Mountains, residents of the idyllic village of Norris found out last week that their town’s peace and tranquility went out the window when the flood was followed by a flood of traffic.

On second thought, maybe I’m not quite ready for Scott County to build its own concrete dam, even if there are a few extra dollars to be made off the backs of tourists. Because I was one of the rubberneckers who flocked to Norris Dam last week. And after fighting through all that dam traffic, all I had were a few dam pictures and a dam headache.

By | May 2nd, 2017|Categories: Human Nature|0 Comments

More on the nasty start to May

Kentucky meteorologist Chris Bailey has some advice for you: enjoy the next couple of days, which will feature lots of sunshine and temperatures in the 70s.

In a blog post this morning, entitled “A lot of ugly on the way,” Bailey said this will be about as good as it gets for at least the first half of May.

“My advice to you is to soak up the weather we have out there today . . . it may be the best we see for the next week or two,” Bailey said. “We have a serious case of nasty May weather on the way, just in time for Kentucky Derby weekend.”

The start of this mess is going to be an upper level low pressure system that’s going to slowly slide across the region late this week. These systems are notorious for generating their own cold air, and this one certainly appears set to do that. I told you yesterday that the National Weather Service’s forecasted high of 61 for Friday would likely be adjusted downward as the week progresses, and it’s already been dropped to 55. Even that may be too high if some model projections pan out, although 55 is exactly what the GFS forecast model is showing for our high to end the work week.

Frost will not initially be a concern, even though temperatures could drop into the 30s by Saturday morning. A combination of clouds and breeze will likely prevent frost formation as we go through Friday night. Unfortunately, some models are showing frost potential and even a rare May freeze for early next week, as below-normal temperatures hang on for dear life.

It’s worth pointing out that the GFS forecast model is not showing freeze potential or even frost potential for early next week. That particular model has low temps of 44 on Sunday and Monday mornings and 49 on Tuesday morning, according to its output statistics. As long as the GFS isn’t showing it, I have a hard time buying into it. Still, it’s a possibility that’s on the table. And the bottom line is that NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center continues to forecast below-average temperatures throughout the first half of May.

By | May 2nd, 2017|Categories: Weather|0 Comments

Will May’s cool start be a sign of things to come?

First, we saw a weekend of once-in-a-generation flooding. Then, we saw a weekend of record-breaking temperatures.

So it stands to reason that next weekend will be anything but normal, right?

Sure enough, it looks like blackberry winter is headed our way for the first weekend of May, with below-average temperatures on the heels of a strong cold front that’s going to invade the region late this week.

We will see normal temperatures the next few days, with afternoon highs generally in the low-to-mid 70s. But things change in a big way late Thursday, as the cold front approaches the region. By Friday, the chilly air mass will be settling across the region, and if the GFS forecast model is any indication, we may struggle to get out of the 40s for a high on Friday as an upper level low pressure system spins across the region with more rain. The National Weather Service is currently forecasting a high of 61 for Oneida on Friday, but that’s almost certainly a few degrees too high and is likely to be adjusted downward as we get closer.

Temperatures will begin to rebound on Saturday, as the rain finally moves out and sunshine returns, but it remains to be seen just how much they’ll rebound. The NWS is currently forecasting a high of 65 but, again, that’s a little warmer than the models are suggesting. The latest run of the GFS tops us out at 60 on Saturday. Sunday should be warmer than Saturday but will likely still fall short of 70 degrees.

It’s going to be a far cry from this past weekend, when heat records were broken and we approached 90 degrees across most of East Tennessee. The good news is there doesn’t appear to be a threat of frost accompanying this cool down, as temperatures will stay mostly in the 40s at night. Saturday morning will be the coldest, and the latest run of the GFS drops us to 39, but a combination of cloud cover and wind should prevent any threat of frost even if temps turn out to be colder than the model is currently projecting. The low temp Saturday night into Sunday morning will probably be closer to 50 degrees.

So how long will the below-average temps stick around? That’s the million dollar question, with some indicators pointing towards a cooler than average month of May overall. The GFS model has fairly consistently pumped temperatures back into the 80s by Tuesday-Wednesday of next week, ahead of the next frontal system. And the latest run of the model shows no significant cool-down beyond this week’s cold snap. But that isn’t set in stone, and there are some indicators that the GFS could be wrong — at least with how quickly it brings back 70+ temps for our region.

Among the meteorologists calling for a cooler-than-normal month of May are Joe Bastardi, the forecaster who is well-known in most weather circles. He has suggested that this will be the coolest May in almost a decade. (In fact, Bastardi says the last time temps were as cool in May as they’ll be this May was in 2008 . . . which you might remember as the summer that wasn’t a summer.)

And while Kentucky meteorologist Chris Bailey doesn’t delve into specifics, he offered this tidbit this morning: “In looking at the overall pattern, this has a chance to be one of the ugliest months of May we have seen in a long, long time.”

Currently, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center is forecasting below-average temperatures across Tennessee for the Day 6-10 and Day 8-14 periods, which takes us into the middle of May. And the CPC’s monthly outlook, published yesterday, predicts below-average temperatures for the month as a whole for much of the eastern U.S., including Tennessee.

If that bums you out, take heart: the CPC is calling for a return to above-average temperatures for June and July.

By | May 1st, 2017|Categories: Weather|0 Comments

Strong storms Sunday night?

Severe weather is a headliner for parts of the Mid-South today, particularly in the Ozarks and some areas east of the Mississippi River — including northwest Tennessee. The Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., has an “enhanced risk” for severe weather outlined across these areas.

And while, technically, the northern Cumberland Plateau is on the edge of the SPC’s “slight risk” area for today, there’s only about a 20 percent chance of thunderstorms here this afternoon. In other words, if storms develop, they could be strong to severe, but there’s a low probability of storm development this far east.

There’s also about a 20 percent chance for storms tomorrow afternoon, and then attention will turn to an approaching cold front Sunday night. For now, the SPC only has our area in a “marginal risk” outlook for severe weather on Sunday. But the National Weather Service’s Morristown office has issued a hazardous weather outlook concerning this time period. Here’s what it has to say:

Thunderstorms area expected ahead of a cold front on Sunday night and Monday morning. The overnight timing of the storms should mean limited instability and a weakening trend as they approach, but there is a low threat of damaging winds. Locally heavy rainfall is also possible.

After this system, the next storm system looks like it will impact our region Wednesday and Thursday of next week, perhaps followed by a fairly substantial cool-down (blackberry winter?) to end the week. The 0z run of the GFS forecast model has us only in the 50s on Thursday, and dropping into the 30s by daybreak on Friday. The cool-down won’t last long, however. The same model currently has the first 90-degree temps of the season showing up five days later, around May 9.

By | April 28th, 2017|Categories: Weather|0 Comments

ESPN’s downward spiral

The Federalist delves into the reasons behind ESPN’s mass layoff on Wednesday. It isn’t a pretty picture.

The layoff reports came as no surprise to those who have followed ESPN and its on- and off-air struggles to profitably provide the kind of content that most sports fans want to watch. Shortly after the mass layoff reports were confirmed, the Internet hot takes began. ESPN is failing because of cord-cutting, because it has too much politics, because it has too little politics, because sports fans are racists, you name it.

So what’s the real reason the network felt forced to slash its payroll overnight? There is no one reason. There are a number of factors, each of which has been multiplied by poor strategic decisions. ESPN would have you believe that the network is a victim of circumstances, caught up in an industry whirlwind over which it has no control. Maybe, but that’s hardly the whole story. The real reasons aren’t all that complicated, but they’re not as simple as much of the social media hand-wringing would have you believe.

By | April 28th, 2017|Categories: Politics|0 Comments

Elderly couple distribute Bibles — just not the NIV

Bible CoupleThe elderly couple is about to leave my office when I ask her to remind me of her name.

“Sue,” she says. She gives me a look that suggests I should’ve known that, and she’s probably right. After all, we’ve had several conversations over the past 13 months, and her husband is actually related to me. (He’s my grandfather’s first cousin, or something like that. He tried to explain the link but I’m not good at genealogy.)

There’s a reason, though, that I didn’t know her name. Until recently, the couple insisted on anonymity, referring to themselves only as “The Bible People.”

I first sought out Willard and Sue Garrett in March 2016, looking to tell their story in the Independent Herald. I had heard of an elderly couple who had sold all that they owned and invested themselves into giving away Bibles. Through Jim Swann, who owns Oneida Book & Gift Shop, I was able to track them down. But they were so bent on not revealing their names that even Swann wouldn’t divulge their identity to me. Reluctantly, I agreed to tell their story without names, because it was too good a story to not tell.

Back then, the couple were concerned that revealing their names would cause people to question their motive. They didn’t want to be seen as attention-seekers. One year later, it was their turn to seek me out. This time, they were ready to reveal their identities — because they want to set the record straight.

Willard Garrett explains it with a story from a recent church service they attended. “This woman in front of us turned around and said, ‘That was a good thing you done for that fella down in Sunbright,'” he said. “I asked her what she was talking about, and she said that we had stopped and fixed his flat tire and gave him a bunch of Bibles.”

It wasn’t the part about the flat tire that made Garrett cringe. It was the part about the Bibles. Because the Bibles received by the “fella down in Sunbright” weren’t King James Version Bibles. They were New International Version. And Garrett is having none of that.

He’s heard other stories of NIV Bibles being distributed by people who are being called “The Bible People.” He’s never met them and doesn’t know who they are. But he wants to make it clear: They aren’t Willard and Sue Garrett.

‘Funny Bibles’

“Funny Bibles.” That’s how Willard Garrett refers to the NIV. “I don’t know what anybody else thinks about the NIV and the revised versions where they change everything, but I don’t have any use for them,” he said.

Garrett makes it clear: he and his wife are KJV only. And if it isn’t clear, it’s plastered on the side of the old Jeep Cherokee that is the only earthly possession the couple own. The sign reads, “The King James Bible is God’s perfect word.”

“We don’t give nothing away except the old King James Bibles,” Garrett said. “They’re trying to get us to give out those NIV and revised versions and we’ve refused.”

Garrett knows his stance doesn’t always sit well with people, and that’s okay by him.

“The atheists hate us, and the people who use this new do-what-you-want-to Bible, they don’t like us,” he said. “I tell everybody there’s three of us in our organization — me, my wife, and God. God’s the boss, and if you don’t like what we’re doing, go talk to the boss.”

At one point, Garrett pauses to ask me the question that I know is coming.

“You ever look at one of those NIV Bibles?”

I admit that, yes, I have. And, yes, I use the NIV. The only physical Bible I own is the KJV, but I mostly use my iPad, where I have the KJV and the NIV translations side-by-side, and can switch back and forth with the touch of a finger to the screen. When he says that the NIV leaves out the last chapter, I don’t have the heart to tell him that isn’t true. And when he says the NIV says you can drink in moderation if you want to, or that it’s okay to cuss if you smash your finger, I stop short of telling him that I sometimes have a glass of wine with dinner. Or sip something a little stronger on the beach. Because this is his story, not mine. And, he admits, I’ll be okay using the NIV . . . as long as I didn’t start out as a child reading the NIV and being misled by it.

A Winding Road

Willard and Sue Garrett were childhood pals. They grew up just miles apart, both of them attending Armathwaite Primary School in Fentress County. They even dated as young adults. But when he returned from the Korean War, he found that she had married his friend. And, as it turned out, he married her friend.

The two did not see each other again for 45 years. Then they met at a reunion for students of the old Armathwaite school. They didn’t recognize each other, but both were single. Her husband had died in 1978; his wife had died in 1991.

The two soon married, and hit the highway in his RV. They figured they would go wherever the winding road took them, which turned out to be Montana, where they were managing a campground 6,000 feet up in the Rocky Mountains. There was no cable TV, no cell phone towers. Their job was to keep the toilets free of pine needles and collect campsite fees on behalf of the federal government.

“Basically, they were paying us to watch the river run by,” Garrett said.

But when it snowed a foot on the 4th of July, Willard and Sue started wondering just what they were doing. The northern Rockies were awfully lonesome. But the isolation wasn’t the worst of it. The worst was when groups of naked people started showing up — daredevils hitting the whitewater that flowed by the campsite.

Enough was enough, Garrett decided.

“I asked God, ‘What am I doing up here, on top of the mountain where it snows in June, July and August, and I’m having to run naked people off the campground?” he said.

But he had given his word. The couple were committed until Sept. 1, when the heavy snows began and the campground closed for the winter season. And he didn’t want to break his word.

Then Garrett had an idea: if he got himself fired, he wouldn’t be breaking his word. So he called up the federal government and told them that nudity would no longer be tolerated so long as he was around. He was running them off and that was the end of it.

“I told my wife that they would run us off,” he said. They even began packing their belongings, preparing to leave the campground.

Sure enough, the high sheriff soon rolled up in a pickup truck. But it was not to order the couple off the premises. They were surprised when the sheriff climbed out of his truck and tacked up a sign — no nudity allowed. He told the Garretts that a judge had agreed with them, and that anyone who broke the rules would be prosecuted.

That was that, and the couple stayed put until Sept. 1.

Eventually, though, they wound up back in Tennessee, back in Fentress County, and ready to do God’s work.

“We promised him wherever he told us to go, we’d go,” Sue Garrett said.

As it turned out, God wanted them in Scott County.

Willard Garrett tells the story like this: he began having dreams of a home along the railroad. Odd, he said, because he had never lived by a railroad. Then one day, while traveling through Scott County, they saw a small home along the Norfolk-Southern Railroad, near Oneida City Park. “It was the home from my dreams,” Garrett said.

So they stopped to inquire about it. Wouldn’t you know that the home’s tenant was moving out that very day, and it was available for rent? At 1 p.m. in the afternoon, the couple signed a contract on the house. They stopped for lunch on their way home, and by 6 p.m. had sold their home in Fentress County.

Talk about trusting God. “People told us it would take years to sell our place,” Sue Garrett said. “It took us just hours. Tell me God wasn’t in that.”

Getting Into The Bible Business

Garrett doesn’t remember exactly what prompted him to get into the “Bible business.” But he recalls a conversation he had with a missionary from East Africa, which was one of the first places the couple shipped Bibles. There was only one Bible in the entire province, the man told them, and the locals were so eager to read it that they eventually resorted to cutting pages out of it and passing them around amongst themselves.

Eventually, Garrett decided that there was no excuse for anyone to not have a Bible. And that’s how they got started.

Ironically enough, one of their first Bibles was given to their pastor, Charlie Golden.

“Charlie is always losing his glasses and he couldn’t read the tiny print of his Bible,” Garrett explained. “I went and bought him a giant-print Bible and said, ‘Preacher, I’m going to give you this Bible.'”

It wasn’t long before Golden had loaned out his Bible to a jail inmate during a ministry visit to the Scott County Justice Center.

“So we went and bought another large-print Bible and told him to give it to the jail inmate and get his Bible back,” Garrett said.

From there, things just sort of took off. When Oneida High School’s cheerleading squad made national headlines for refusing to give in to a school mandate to stop praying before football games, the couple decided to buy the squad Bibles as a way of lending their support.

That’s where the couple hooked up with Swann and Oneida Book & Gift. They needed 18 KJV Bibles, and Swann just happened to have a box in stock. He had gotten them 10 years earlier, but they were so expensive that no one would buy them. He had stored them away, almost forgetting he had them. And they were orange — the school’s primary color.

Sue Garrett also tells a story of a friend in Michigan who was losing her eyesight. “She called me crying one day, and said, ‘Sue, I haven’t been able to read my Bible in two years,'” she said. “I told my husband that I was going to send her a Bible. So I bought a giant print Bible and mailed it to her. She called me and was so happy. She said she had been reading that Bible all day and as soon as she got off the phone she was going to go back to reading it.”

As their Bible business took off, the Garretts were in for a bit of a surprise. They knew Bibles were scarce in non-Christian nations, like East Africa. But they assumed that everyone around home had a Bible. After all, they had grown up in a different era. Willard Garrett talks about the circuit-riding preachers who visited churches in Fentress County when he was a kid. In those days, churches met just one weekend each month, but that didn’t stop the congregation from getting together for singings in between services. And everyone had a Bible. It was usually among the first gifts given to newlyweds.

The Garretts didn’t realize times have changed.

“I thought everyone had a Bible,” Garrett admitted.

So when their first 50 Bibles were given away in no time flat, the Garretts realized they were going to have difficulty keeping up with the demand.

Usually, they buy every KJV Bible that Swann can get his hands on from the publishers he purchases from. When they get a few extra Bibles in stock, they’ll find new churches to visit and distribute them. They’ve only been turned away at one church, they say. Sometimes they just get in the old Jeep and drive through the mountains, finding new churches where their Bibles might be welcomed.

Last fall, they were shocked to hear that amid all the donations that were headed to Sevier County in the aftermath of the deadly wildfires, Bibles were in short supply. So they sent their entire inventory, about 150 Bibles, to Gatlinburg to be distributed at relief centers.

Keeping On Keeping On

“We’re enjoying it,” Garrett said of the work he and his wife have undertaken. “That’s all we do: go to church and haul Bibles. That’s our whole life. We go to the doctor once in a while and to the grocery store once in a while, and everything else is Bible business.”

He’s not getting any younger; he’ll be 84 soon. He realizes he won’t be able to continue his Bible ministry too many more years. But Garrett insists that as long as he’s able, he’s going to give it a try.

Sue Garrett doesn’t let her husband forget his age. When he tells a story about an “old man, about as old as I am,” in church, she quickly interjects, “There isn’t nobody as old as you.”

Garrett admits with a wry smile that she’s mostly right. He points out that even his old Jeep, which just turned 21, isn’t as old as him. But, in real years, he and the old Cherokee have a lot in common — an old man and his old Jeep, plugging along, distributing Bibles one box at a time, one church at a time.

And that’s the way it’ll be for as long as they’re able — as long as the Bibles say KJV on them, and aren’t those “revised, modern versions that say you can do whatever you want to.”


By | April 26th, 2017|Categories: Human Nature, Religion|0 Comments

More rain lurks

The northern Cumberland Plateau experienced what was likely the worst flood of my lifetime (which only dates back to 1979, but still…) over the weekend. The floodwaters have receded, but recovery has just begun. A number of roads remain closed across the region as they await repairs, and many residents are still dealing with flooded basements and other damages after as much as 10 inches of rain fell in a 48-hour period across parts of southern Scott County and northern Morgan County.

Unfortunately, this week’s dry spell won’t last long, with several chances for additional rain in the forecast. In fact, what had once appeared to be a fairly dry week now looks like it could be wetter than average, even for this time of year, as an active spring weather pattern continues.

The next chance for rain will arrive with a frontal boundary on Thursday. Meteorologists aren’t predicting anything that will be anywhere close to what we experienced over the weekend — when the Big South Fork River crested at nearly 30 feet (the norm for this time of year is 5 feet) — and it may not be a complete wash-out on Thursday, but noteworthy rain is still likely, and as is always the case with convective precipitation, heavy rain is possible.

The next frontal system will arrive late Sunday, with a chance for more significant rain. And if those are the only two periods of rain over the next six days, it won’t be too bad. The problem is that models are becoming increasingly “wet” for the weekend. With plenty of moisture still around (Saturday may be the most humid day we’ve seen this year), and plenty of instability around, it won’t take much of a trigger to get storms to popping on both Friday and Saturday. And while the nature of the setup both days lends itself to widely scattered storms rather than organized weather, it is this type of scenario that can dump heavy rain in localized areas, and if those localized areas happen to be along the northern plateau, that could be problematic. For now, Friday and Saturday have gone from sunny in the forecast to carrying 40% and 20% chances for rain, respectively. Don’t be surprised to see those rain chances go up as forecasts are refined over the next several days.

For now, it appears the heaviest rains over the next 7-10 days will be in West Tennessee. The ECMWF model is showing up to 10 inches of rain for the greater Memphis area for that time period. And while that region certainly doesn’t need that much rain in such a short period of time (no region does, for that matter), it’s better them than us, given the amount of rain we received here over the weekend. Currently, that same ECMWF model is showing only about 3 inches of rain for the northern plateau region over the next 10 days, but the heavier rainfall totals are slowly creeping east.

The GFS model is a bit less robust with precipitation totals. For the northern plateau, it has about 1.3 inches of rain for the next 7-8 days . . . but, again, that total is slowly increasing.

By | April 25th, 2017|Categories: Weather|0 Comments

Norris Dam to release water

For the first time in nearly four years, water will be released from the spillway gates at Norris Dam this afternoon. Can we safely assume that the drought has ended?

By | April 25th, 2017|Categories: Weather|0 Comments

Instapundit 1, Howard Dean 0

Writing for USA Today, Glenn Reynolds took former presidential candidate Howard Dean to task for his recent “hate speech” remarks, and in the process thoroughly chewed him up before spitting him out:

In First Amendment law, the term “hate speech” is meaningless. All speech is equally protected whether it’s hateful or cheerful. It doesn’t matter if it’s racist, sexist or in poor taste, unless speech falls into a few very narrow categories — like “true threats,” which have to address a specific individual, or “incitement,” which must constitute an immediate and intentional encouragement to imminent lawless action — it’s protected.

The term “hate speech” was invented by people who don’t like that freedom, and who want to give the — completely false — impression that there’s a kind of speech that the First Amendment doesn’t protect because it’s hateful. What they mean by “hateful,” it seems, is really just that it’s speech they don’t agree with. Some even try to argue that since hearing disagreeable ideas is unpleasant, expressing those ideas is somehow an act of “violence.”

There are two problems with that argument. The first is that it’s idiotic: That’s never been the law, nor could it be if we give any value to free expression, because there’s no idea that somebody doesn’t disagree with. The second is that the argument is usually made by people who spend a lot of time expressing disagreeable ideas themselves, without, apparently, the least thought that if their own rules about disagreeable speech held sway, they’d probably be locked up first. (As Twitter wag IowaHawk has offered: “I’ll let you ban hate speech when you let me define it. Deal?”)

By | April 25th, 2017|Categories: Politics|0 Comments

Simply being anti-tax doesn’t work

Gov. Bill Haslam’s IMPROVE Tennessee Act has finally cleared the state legislature, setting the stage for the state’s gas tax to increase by six cents per gallon (and diesel fuel to increase by 10 cents per gallon), beginning July 1.

Even with a Republican-dominated legislature debating a Republican governor’s proposal, it was never a foregone conclusion that the gas tax increase would pass. In fact, the proposal was once figured to have an uphill battle to approval, with conservatives members of the state legislature standing firmly against the tax.

But enough Democrats and moderate Republicans (“establishment Republicans,” if you read the propaganda of those who were opposed to the tax) sided with Haslam to help push the tax increase home, resulting in $350 million in new funding for TDOT, as well as increased highway maintenance funding for local governments across the state.

The fight is hardly over, with opponents of the tax increase — led by the conservative Tennessee Star — vowing to wage war against its supporters in the looming 2018 election cycle.

The problem with opponents of the gas tax increase is that they opposed it as a matter of principle, and anti-tax principles rarely work — not in our system of government or in any other system of government that is sustainable. It’s noble to be fiscally conservative — something every government should strive for. And it’s wise, for the long-term health of the economy and as a matter of moral fortitude, to avoid the tired tactic of overtaxing the wealthy to fund the services that are used by everyone. But the bottom line is that we must have taxes to sustain growth and prosperity. I’ve seen elected officials who campaigned on the promise of never supporting a tax increase — ever — and it has almost always come back to bite them on the butt. When you have to explain to constituents that you could not support a new school building to replace the old, asbestos-infested building because you would be going back on your promise to not increase taxes, that’s a hard sell. A local elected official last week criticized an Independent Herald editorial, which I authored and which called the gas tax increase a fair way to fund Tennessee’s highway infrastructure needs, based on the premise that taxes should never be increased. That remark will likewise come back around, because if she is in office long enough, she will eventually be forced to support a tax increase or vote to deny services to constituents.

It’s the proverbial rock-and-a-hard-place for elected officials, but it’s also why we pay them to make tough decisions.

For Tennessee, the problem was simple enough to understand. The Volunteer State is one of only a handful in the nation that is a pay-as-it-goes state for transportation needs, holding no transportation debt. The state’s gas tax has not increased since 1989. And fuel efficiency is much greater today than it was nearly three decades ago.

When you put it on those terms, it’s a no-brainer that Tennessee’s gas tax needed to increase. Opponents of the Haslam plan railed against the state’s $2 billion budget surplus, saying those excess funds should be used to pay for the state’s transportation needs instead of increasing the gas tax. It’s a noble idea, but it isn’t sustainable. Transportation costs are recurring, and so the state needs recurring funding to address them. The budget surplus is non-recurring — meaning Tennessee would exhaust its surplus (let’s think of it as a rainy day fund, since that money won’t be there when economic growth slows) and still have no long-term plan in place to address transportation needs. The gas tax has long funded the state’s highway maintenance and if that is going to continue to be the state’s funding model for transportation, the gas tax must increase. That’s the only way the state can achieve long-term sustainability for its transportation backlog.

Opponents also complained that the tax cuts on groceries weren’t really cuts at all, because groceries and everything else will go up as a result of the gas tax increase. That’s a dubious claim, at best. Much of the merchandise you will find on the shelves of your local grocer is imported from outside the state. Those wholesale prices are set by the seller based on factors that do not take into account the fact a single state raised its diesel tax by 10 cents per gallon.

You can’t help but grin when the Haslam administration attempts to spin the IMPROVE Act as “the largest tax cut in state history.” The bottom line is that the average Tennessee family of four will save around two dollars a month. It’s hardly a tax cut worth writing home about.

But there’s also no denying that the net affect of the IMPROVE Act is, in fact, a neutral one. You would have a difficult time finding a stauncher opponent of higher taxes than Americans for Tax Reform, and even that organization admitted that this legislation cuts taxes rather than raising them.

The impact is obviously going to be different on different Tennesseans. Someone who drives 100 miles a day as part of his job and has take-out or visits a drive-thru a couple of times a day is going to spend more money out of pocket as a result of the legislation. Someone whose longest drive in an average week is a 10-minute trip to the grocery store to purchase $200 worth of food is going to save money as a result of the legislation.

But all Tennesseans will benefit. In Scott County alone, there are nearly a dozen projects that TDOT says will benefit from the $350 million in additional revenue that it expects from the tax increase. Among them are an effort to improve the bottleneck of U.S. Hwy. 27 through Oneida, a re-building of U.S. Hwy. 27 between Glenmary and Robbins, and improvements to S.R. 52 between Rugby and Elgin, along with several bridge projects on county roads, including Black Creek Road, Niggs Creek Road, O&W Road, Grave Hill Road, Stanley Creek Road and Angel Valley Road.

Granted, all of these projects were on the drawing board well before the gas tax was ever discussed. Granted, all of these projects are years away from becoming reality. But the longer the state maintains a $6 billion backlog of projects, the longer it will be before these projects are shovel-ready.

And while all of the talk about the IMPROVE Act has been about the state transportation projects, there’s also a less discussed but equally important aspect to consider, and that is increased funding for local governments.

Again using Scott County as a reference, the local road department is funded almost exclusively by the local share of the state gas tax. The county government does not supplement the road department budget with local tax revenue, contributing less than $500 each year to its own road maintenance needs. As a result, the community’s roads are deteriorating at an alarming rate. While no exact figure has been disclosed, the Scott County Road Department will receive increased funding from the state, which will help address the county’s road repair needs. Ultimately, the onus is going to be on local government to make tough decisions if it truly wants to put its transportation infrastructure on equal footing with other communities, but the state has at least taken that first step.

If making efforts to move the state forward makes Republicans like Haslam, Yager and others “establishment Republicans,” as the Tennessee Star claims, that’s probably a badge they can wear with honor. The Trump movement, and the Tea Party movement before it, may have made the phrase “establishment Republicans” a subject of shame and scorn, but there’s something to be said for looking forward rather than falling into a rut due to stubborn ideology.

By | April 25th, 2017|Categories: Politics|0 Comments

Gas tax hike becomes reality

Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposed gas tax hike has become reality, passing both chambers of the Tennessee General Assembly on Wednesday.

The proposal, which was Haslam’s signature legislative initiative this year, was once thought to have an uphill battle to approval, but passed the House with 22 votes to spare.

By | April 20th, 2017|Categories: News|0 Comments

Fentress County sheriff faces federal charges

Fentress County Sheriff Chucky Cravens, who resigned last week amid an FBI probe, will face federal charges, as investigators allege that he had sex with inmates.

Information released by the Department of Justice on Thursday indicates that Cravens had inappropriate contact with four different inmates at the Fentress County Jail. Allegedly, Cravens used his position as sheriff to provide additional benefits to three of the inmates in exchange for sexual relationships.

Specifically, the U.S. Attorney’s Office alleges that the sheriff personally transported the inmates from jail to visit relatives, allowed them outside of jail to smoke cigarettes, and provided money to relatives to be deposited in the inmates’ commissary accounts.

By | April 20th, 2017|Categories: News|0 Comments