- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:

August 18

The Commercial, Memphis, Tennessee, on the Iraq culture:

The radical Islamic jihadists are good at many things - beheadings, amputations, terrorizing helpless schoolgirls, alienating populations - but public relations are not one of them.

They should have learned their lesson in March 2001, when they blew up, over the objections of most of the civilized world, including respected Muslim leaders and scholars, two massive sixth-century Buddhist sculptures in Afghanistan. Their argument, not supported by serious Muslim scholarship, was that they were pagan idols and thus under Islamic law had to be destroyed. Chagrined by the world’s hostile reaction, they revised their story to say that they, the al-Qaida-backed jihadis, were offended that the world would pay to preserve the statues while Afghan children were starving, due in part to the depredations and disruptions of the radical Islamists.

Having failed to learn, or at least remember, that lesson, the radical Sunni militias who recently overran the Iraqi city of Mosul set about destroying, on the grounds of idolatry, prominent religious sites like the tombs of the prophet Jonah, revered by three major religions; the prophet Seth, reputedly the third son of Adam and Eve; and Jersis, known to Iraqi Christians as St. George.

In all, according to a Shia website, the self-styled Islamic State of Iraq and Syria destroyed 30 shrines and 15 mosques. Since among ISIS’ first steps was to expel all the Christians, no one seems sure what happened to their churches and holy sites. The rebels had planned to blow up a beloved local landmark, an 800-year-old minaret known as al-Hadba, the hunchback, for its distinctive lean. The townspeople, according to accounts from Mosul, surrounded the minaret to keep the militants from initially demolishing it.

The destruction of thousands of years of religious treasures and Iraqi culture goes on. If conversion is the goal of this conflict, a visit by more U.S. F-15s and A-10s might make true believers out of these vandals.




August 16

The Tennessean, Nashville, Tennessee, on state agencies’ errors:

We’ve heard it a lot recently: Corporations are people. But did you know that governments are computers?

Big, error-ridden computers.

That apparently explains why the federal Healthcare.gov website experienced so many problems last winter and into the first half of 2014. It is why the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services could not make timely investigations into child-endangerment cases. It’s why applicants for driver’s licenses and vehicle registrations have to wait in line for the better part of a workday. And when low-income families and the unemployed cannot get signed up for benefits - well, it’s “404: not found.”

Of course, we know that in truth, governments are not electronic gizmos, but people - living, breathing, flawed people. And perhaps their biggest flaw is being unable to admit responsibility when something goes wrong.

Things have been going wrong across a range of Tennessee agencies for years, with malfunctioning computer systems playing a big role and costing taxpayers tens of millions of dollars every time repairs or a system replacement is deemed necessary.

When officials can blame their agency’s failures on “computer problems,” it does two things: allows those officials to continue in their jobs, making bad decisions; and allows them to plead for more time and more taxpayer money, neither of which provides a solution.

Gov. Bill Haslam, with his business background, has sought to introduce customer-oriented processes with an office of Business Solutions Delivery, established in 2012, to help with project management across state government. Departmental projects now must have detailed timelines for completion, and staffers have received more training in their jobs and on systems.

That is good as far as it goes, but as office director Stephanie Dedmon told The Tennessean, the state lacks experienced personnel in project management and has poor oversight of hired contractors.

The hardships of being a state official beset by computer glitches pale by comparison with the life experiences of their “customers.”

It’s time to stop blaming the computer and start answering the call of public service.




August 14

Knoxville (Tennessee) News Sentinel on a chemical plant:

After two years of fits and starts, US Nitrogen has cleared just about all the regulatory hurdles to finishing its chemical plant in Greene County, despite opposition from environmental groups.

Public confidence in the process, however, has been eroded by a possible Open Meetings Act violation and the decision to locate a pumping station on property owned by a public official. One lawsuit alleging violations of the state’s Open Meetings Act is nearing trial and another could be in the offing.

Still, the $200 million plant, which will employ more than 80 people in high-paying jobs, promises to benefit the local economy as long as the company adheres to environmental regulations.

US Nitrogen, a subsidiary of Austin Powder Co., will produce nitric acid, ammonia and ammonium nitrate at the plant for use in explosives. Environmental concerns raised by the Sierra Club and some area residents center on twin 8-mile pipelines to and from the Nolichucky River.

US Nitrogen officials insist the plant’s operations will not harm the river. Water drawn from the river will be treated at facility to be built by the Industrial Development Board for Greeneville and Greene County adjacent to the plant. Most of the water is to be purified for use in US Nitrogen’s production plant; what is not used for operations will be returned to the Nolichucky, plant manager Justin Freeark told the News Sentinel. Much of the water used in operations will evaporate through cooling towers, while effluent will be piped to the nearby Lick Creek wastewater facility for treatment.

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation has approved the plan for the plant, which is scheduled to begin production early next year. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Tennessee Valley Authority also have oversight responsibilities.

Meanwhile, a lawsuit alleging the Greene County Commission, the Greene County Planning Commission and the Greene County Partnership violated the Open Meetings Act prior to a 2011 meeting to rezone property for the plant is scheduled for trial in October.

Critics also point to US Nitrogen’s option on land owned by J.W. Douthat, who was a member of the IDB at the time of the transaction, for the location of the pipelines’ intake and discharge points, as well as a pump station. US Nitrogen officials say the location was selected to avoid discharges into mussel habitat.

The Nolichucky is one of East Tennessee’s treasures and must be protected.



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