Category Archives: East TN

It’s Our Rivers And Mountaintops, Not Corporations


There is a story coming out of North Carolina about Riverkeepers who have been watching a coal ash spill on Cape Fear River. (No, really.)

Here’s a little piece of history for you: regarding how Ned McWherter and NC got into a spat back in 1988.

The controversy centered around the Champion Paper Mill in Canton, NC located ten miles upstream from the Tennessee state line in Cocke County. For over 80 years, the paper mill had discharged industrial waste into the river, destroying wildlife habitat and recreational areas downstream. Residents of Newport, TN and Hartford, TN complained about the negative economic and health consequences of the pollution, including higher cancer rates in areas along the Pigeon River.

In the late 80’s, opposition to the Champion Paper Mill in Tennessee reached a political boiling point, with newspapers and elected officials calling on Governor McWherter to deny the renewal of a water quality variance needed by the paper mill to continue operations. During the debate, Champion threatened to close the mill and layoff over 2,000 workers, which sparked heated debate across state lines.

Early one September morning, Governor McWherter, legislative aide Billy Stair and an agent from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency loaded up in a canoe just north of the paper mill where the waters were vibrant and pristine. As they floated past the Champion operation, the clear headwaters turned into a black discharge that bubbled around their canoe. Just past the paper mill, a local sheriff stopped the group and informed them they were trespassing on “Champion’s River.” The sheriff did not realize he had stopped the Governor of Tennessee, but he did solidify Gov. McWherter’s decision to deny the variance request. On Christmas Eve of 1988, Gov. McWherter called on his Deputy Governor Harlan Matthews to deliver the news of the variance refusal to North Carolina Governor Jim Martin. Governor McWherter’s refusal of the variance request was met with much praise in Tennessee and solidified his legacy as a steward of Tennessee’s natural resources.

I realize that link is a presser but the altercation has been reported not only in Ned’s book but in Dark Waters.

We all need water and when we blow off the tops of mountains, they don’t grow back, campers. And the bottom line is that last week, a bill that would help Tennessee called the Scenic Vistas Protection Act, sponsored by Rep. Gloria Johnson and Sen. Lowe Finney had a few setbacks. I’ll let Johnson explain:

Last week, big corporate special interests unfortunately won another delay of the “Scenic Vistas Act.” This measure would protect our mountains — and thousands of tourism jobs — from the destructive practice of mountaintop removal. This legislation is supported by Republicans and Democrats, and according to polling, a vast majority of Tennesseans agree we should save our mountaintops, yet the supermajority refuses to hear our voices

Ned threw an awkward punch at NC, documented in the biography of his life in office by Billy Stair:

When the Environmental Protection Agency ordered Champion to upgrade the plant to meet Tennessee’s water quality standards, the company threatened to close the plant and lay off all 2,000 workers. East Tennessee residents held demonstrations, and asked that Governor McWherter not renew the plant’s water quality variance. Legislators from both states traded barbs, cars with Tennessee license plates were vandalized in North Carolina, and McWherter’s office was flooded with calls from angry North Carolina residents.[7] Following an unscheduled trip to Canton, where he was confronted by a sheriff who told him he was “trespassing on Champion’s River,” McWherter announced on Christmas Day, 1988, that would not renew the plant’s water quality variance.

The environment is important, folks. And having people actively watch corporate entities who are damned determined to milk our planet leaving nothing behind should be celebrated, not vilified.

It’s up to us to make our leaders accountable but to also support our elected officials fight the good fight when they are trying to take care of our state. Sadly, their biggest enemy now is that these issues aren’t always hitting the media, and the biggest enemy is not getting a bill out of committee for discussion.

Straight Out Of Bristol

That’s not a lot of voters.

While only a small fraction of Sullivan County’s registered voters are expected to  cast ballots in today’s election, it will  be an important test for ballot candidates and election officials, the county’s election administrator said Wednesday.

“It will definitely serve as a great warm-up lap for us as we prepare for the general election in November,” said Jason Booher, administrator for the Sullivan County Election Commission. “We’re ready to go and we’re looking forward to voters coming out.”

An estimated 6,000 to 6,500 out of a total of 86,000 registered voters are expected to vote on various ballot races – highlighted by the primary race for the Tennessee House District 3 seat being vacated by current Rep. Scotty Campbell, who is not seeking re-election. Four candidates are seeking the Republican nomination to face the lone Democrat in November.

Read the rest at

Fighting To The Bitter End In TN House District 31

Problems in the east side of the state are occurring. Andy Sher explains:

NASHVILLE — The latest development in the bitterly contested state House District 31 GOP primary is that incumbent Rep. Jim Cobb, R-Spring City, and Republican challenger Ron Travis, of Dayton, really do agree on some things.

Both men have reservations about school vouchers, and both say they back anti-abortion legislation.

Beyond that, though, all bets are off in a contest that has attracted statewide attention. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is probing challenges by election officials of Democrats and other voters who are trying to vote in the Republican primary, which can be done if certain criteria are met.

Read the rest of it as it is getting crazy in that race.

H/T Roane Views

R. Neal Chooses Haslam? Only In The GOP Primary, Relax!

R. Neal at KnoxViews lays out his reasons for getting behind his Mayor for the GOP primary, at least.  First, he smacks down Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey:

Ron Ramsey might be an appealing candidate for Democrats to run against, but as liberal, left-wing Democrats we cannot in good conscience recommend him. He would reduce the size of State Government, cut taxes, eliminate social welfare programs, and work aggressively with Tennessee’s Congressional delegation to fight federal involvement in such matters as health care, energy, and the environment. In short, he would be a disaster for the Obama-Pelosi agenda and everything liberals stand for.

So true, indeed.  He’s not done yet, though, he’s got some for Zach Wamp, too:

Zach Wamp seems like a nice enough fellow, although a little intense at times. But he’s been in Washington too long and gotten too much support for Tennessee jobs in the automotive and defense industries, which aren’t in line with our liberal, left-wing ideology. Not only that, he has voted to restrict abortions, voted against cap and trade, and voted against the stimulus bill. Wamp is clearly out of step with the progressive liberal agenda.

Again, preach it, brother Neal, you have the choir singing well.  So, let him speak of Haslam:

Haslam has brought millions of federal dollars to Knoxville to improve neighborhoods and appointed a known Democrat to oversee it. He has gotten millions more in federal funding for homeless housing and secured large development fees for non-profit builders to build it. He has gotten more federal funding plus committed millions more in future local property tax revenues to revitalize Knoxville’s blighted downtown and help out struggling real estate developers.

Although he recently joined the NRA, Haslam at one time supported more restrictions on gun ownership and only reluctantly allowed guns in parks and playgrounds out of concern that the laws banning them were too confusing. And he’s not afraid to raise taxes when it has to be done.

Raise taxes???  But, but, but, but how can he be a REAL Republican if he has RAISED TAXES??  Hmm, maybe Mr. Neal is trying to imply something here?

As best we can tell, the only reason he’s running as a Republican is because that’s what candidates in East Tennessee do to get elected. With recent endorsements by various Tea Party groups and all his anti-federal, states-rights posturing, Haslam is simply running hard to the right in the primary and will govern to the left if he gets elected. Democrats could do a lot worse. (See above.)

I won’t give away the ending, you need to read the rest of it, but this is brilliant, my applause to my mentor from the east!

Robin Smith Pushes the Very Bad Idea

Congressional candidate Robin Smith (R) addresses the Eagle Forum
via her campaign website

You know, after the financial meltdown that has put everyone’s financial future, except for the ultra wealthy, in jeopardy, I thought for sure that wackadoodle ideas like privatizing Social Security would die a quiet death.

Boy was I wrong.

Turns out, there’s a renewed push to create private accounts for Social Security by a candidate that hails from right here in Tennessee. Robin Smith, a candidate for the 3rd Congressional District is all over it according to an article in the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

From the article:

Speaking Monday with the Chattanooga Times Free Press editorial board, Mrs. Smith proposed that people younger than 50 could divert up to 40 percent of what they would have paid into Social Security and Medicare and put it in a pre-tax, interest-bearing account that would remain tax-free if spent after the person turns 65.

“This would be considered private property and, at the point of death, if anything remains, it’s transferable to a family member,” she said.

Chip Forrester, chairman of the Tennessee Democratic Party, called the proposal “harebrained” and said it would put people’s retirement funds at risk. He said people already have the opportunity to invest in private IRAs and 401k plans for retirement.

Dr. Richard Wilson, a professor of political science at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, said Mrs. Smith’s proposal is similar to other ideas floated to reform Social Security. Mr. Wilson added the caveat that he usually votes in the Democratic primary.

“That form of reform of Social Security does appeal to a significant section of the most-conservative wing of the Republican Party, so I assume her proposal will be popular for her in the primary,” Mr. Wilson said.

Her proposal probably would have less appeal outside of her party, he said. But he said Mrs. Smith is in a strong position in the race and she is a likely front-runner.

Is there anybody, outside of far-right wing ideologues and investment bankers that thinks this is a good idea? Seriously, the financial crisis that we’re still digging out of wiped out some 40% of the world’s weath in a very short time. Are regular income earners really prepared to take on that kind of risk?

In a 2009 Fortune article, Alan Sloan says no.

If, however, you were forced to buy a lifetime annuity with your current balance – when you buy such an annuity, you trade your cash for a series of guaranteed payments for the rest of your life – you’d be making your loss permanent. That’s how things could be worse.

That scenario is what could have happened to many people under President Bush’s proposed Social Security privatization program. It would have required people of modest and very modest means who invested their Social Security taxes in the market to turn some or all of those accounts into annuities when they hit retirement age. (Yes, Bush never proposed a specific plan – but annuitizing private accounts for some people is what his 2001 Social Security privatization commission proposed.)

Current Social Security benefits, of course, are set by a formula that isn’t affected by markets moving up, down or sideways.

I’m a big fan of individual initiative and saving – but a year like 2008 gives you an idea of how risky investing can be. If you have to cash out at a particular time, you might make out well (during market highs of October of 2007) or terribly (now).

That’s the point. It’s fine for you to take market and timing risks if your basic retirement needs are already being met with your own sources of income. It’s another thing to have to take those risks with your eating money, which is what Social Security represents for perhaps two-thirds of retirement beneficiaries.

If you want to supplement Social Security with private accounts, I’m all for it. But the disparity we’ve just seen shows why it’s wrong to force people to depend on the markets for eating money.

Someday, Social Security privatization will come back into vogue. When that happens, I’ve got two words that will remind you why it’s a bad idea: Remember 2008.

Sloan predicted it would come back around, though I’m not sure he thought it would be this soon. I’m sure this will garner some votes for Smith in the Republican Primary, but here’s to hoping that the good people of the 3rd Congressional district see beyond the sunshine and happy day rhetoric of this nonsense. This isn’t a good deal for anyone but the bankers.

Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery Opens In July

I have a sneaking suspicion that this story from WATE would make Popcorn Sutton role over in his grave.

When the Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery opens in July, it will be the first place in East Tennessee where you can buy moonshine legally.

In the past it wasn’t something a lot of people talked about, but many people made and drank it.

“My family has been really involved in the culture of moonshining for some time,” says Joe Baker, one of the owners of the new distillery. “I had a great uncle that was known for moonshine.”

Baker says it’s been a challenge opening the distillery.

“We had to show the government we could put out a product that was going to be done in a consistent manner,” says Baker. “That was going to be lawful.”

They plan to sell the moonshine in Mason jars like it has been done for many years.

They want to produce the moonshine as close to the original as possible. They buy the corn it is made out of from local farmers, and they plan to keep the prices low.

Ole Smoky Distillery will start selling moonshine to the public on July 2, 2010. At the grand opening celebration they will offer tours, free samples of moonshine to adults over 21, and moonshine for sale.

I realize that I shouldn’t be putting the antics of Popcorn up against the legitimacy of this new business that’s breaking ground, but it’s just hard not too.

And for extra goodness, look at this story on Popcorn at Gourmet magazine at the time of his death. Yes, I said Gourmet magazine.

Open Records Training In The East Side

From our pal R. Neal on training opportunities in East Tennessee.

Whether you’re in the mainstream media or new media – or are even trying to report on your own, you need access to information, and you need it now. What do you do when the custodian of those records won’t hand them over? How do you know what records you have a right to see in the first place? What kinds of stories can you do based on public records?

These questions and more will be answered in a training session Monday, May 17, presented by the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists and national SPJ.

Head to Knox Views for the details.

Internet Report From Roane County

As I also live in a rural county, I feel onetahita’s frustration regarding Internet service. A revelation occurred recently when it was realized that even one company didn’t understand that not only do users need to clear their caches, but so does the service they use, in this case Hughes.

Those of us in the rural areas of Roane County and environs, except the very lucky, must make do with dial-up Internet or, if we have the funds, satellite service from Hughes or WildBlue.

In our house we chose Hughes years ago. We noticed that many less popular sites would give us DNS errors if we hadn’t accessed them recently, or sometimes give a very old version of the pages instead of fresh content.

The issue came down to that despite all good intentions of many companies that supply Internet services to rural areas, we are still on a learning curve apparently. It may not seem like a big deal to folks who have access to Broadband, but for those of us who occasionally have sketchy service, it’s frustrating.

The issue of Broadband access is one that we are hearing from a lot of the candidates right now. For rural Tennesseans, it’s crucial. Assignments for students are now online (it’s not just us pesky bloggers), business is operating more and more online, even in less populated areas and spotty service can present challenges.

This is why spotlighting how we are all learning, despite our location, is very important.

What Are The UT Vols Thinking?

It’s pretty much a given that each and every industry is looking for ways to recoup devastating economic losses. I have to tell you though, it utterly and completely amazes me some of the decisions made.   DanceDivaM has the story that UT wants to make members of the media pay to watch football scrimmages.


UT, in its infinite wisdom, is attempting to recoup some revenue by charging members of the media fifty bucks for access to “an otherwise closed football scrimmage.”
scrimmage.  For $50.  For real.
Climer wonders,
If it’s $50 to attend a scrimmage, is a one-on-one interview after the Orange & White Game going to run you a couple of hundred?
And where exactly does this money go? Does it help cover the cell phone bills for UT’s three senior associate athletics directors, 10 associate athletics directors and eight assistant athletics directors?
Or maybe UT figured it needed a separate fund to help pay off all those buyouts to coaches that are no longer on the premises.

Yeah, I realize it isn’t a new concept or anything, and I realize that the money has to come from somewhere and they really don’t want to go back to the fans or season ticket-holders again.  But the media?  Really?
David Climer is right. Dooley is creating “billable hours” to the media. I wonder if that includes bloggers too? News, especially sports news, is big business and you would think that Dooley would want writers to be writing about the team instead of them writing about the financial aspect of the team. It’s a corporate-based decision instead of utilizing “free” coverage that will create goodwill for the Vols.
It never ceases to amaze me that corporations will throw community-building out the back door for a few dollars.