- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:


Aug. 28

The Tennessean on global literacy in Tennessee:

Understanding the world helps elected leaders and residents make better informed and educated judgments and decisions.

The Global Action Summit held at the Music City Center in downtown Nashville in November created a call to action for citizens to improve world food security, health and prosperity for all nations.

CNN commentator Fareed Zakaria and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon were among those delivering these messages in Music City.

The summit returns to Nashville on Nov. 14 and 15, and what is significant is that the event places the community in the spotlight anew and creates a responsibility among Tennessee residents and their elected leaders to become better informed about what is happening around the world.

This is not about trivia but about making educated judgments and decisions in a world where terrorist attacks, trade pacts, refugee migration and climate change are affecting work, demographics and quality of life every day.

Global literacy is essential today to creating an educated, informed and engaged citizenry.

Tennessee’s elected leaders have been visionary about having a global perspective for some time.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander courted Japanese industries in the 1980s when he was governor and brought Nissan’s North American headquarters to Middle Tennessee. Today, about 180 Japanese companies operate in the state and Japan’s consul general for the South resides in Nashville.

Gov. Bill Haslam has taken trade trips to places such as South Korea, China, Japan and Israel in the past year to expand or develop commercial relationships with businesses in those countries.

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and has been instrumental in bringing electricity to Africa, championing anti-human trafficking legislation and being a thoughtful critic on the Iran deal.

In a 2015 op-ed for The Tennessean, U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn argued that free trade makes Tennessee’s economy stronger.

The Tennessee World Affairs Council, a 10-year-old nonprofit dedicated to promoting public education and the study of global affairs, is based in Nashville and hosted by Belmont University, and offers extensive and excellent programming to help develop global literacy in the community and in the school system.

The council, one of nearly 100 nationwide, is looking to expand its offerings of public affairs programming and engagement, and among the members of the board of directors is former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean.

Middle Tennessee is becoming more international. More than 12 percent of Nashville’s population is foreign-born. In Tennessee, that figure is 5 percent, and immigrants have a purchasing power of $5.9 billion, according to a recently released report by the Partnership for a New American Economy.

The conversations surrounding global affairs are important because they also help create understanding among people of different cultures, nationalities and religions.

Tennessee has been no stranger to Islamophobia, and some uninformed legislation or proposals have popped up to target Muslims through asset forfeiture and fictional “no-go” zone bills as well as efforts to stop Syrian refugees from coming to the state.

Local Muslim communities have suffered due to the actions of terrorists who hide behind religious zealotry to commit their evil acts.

Interestingly, an Associated Press report released in August exposed leaked Islamic State documents that showed that only 5 percent of the terrorist organization’s recruits had an “advanced” knowledge of Islam.

In the United States’ own backyard, the nations of the Americas are incredibly important to Tennessee.

Canada is the Volunteer State’s No. 1 trading partner. The Atlantic Council and Engage Cuba hosted a panel in December on Tennessee-Cuba relations about establishing commercial and cultural ties with the communist country. Mexico’s national soccer team will be playing against New Zealand at Nissan Stadium on Oct. 8.

Take advantage of the programming offered by the Tennessee World Affairs Council, consume more news about the world, and seek to meet neighbors who have roots in other countries.

That level of understanding can go a long way to reducing conflict and creating model citizens who are the envy of the world.




Aug. 31

The Knoxville News Sentinel on a Tennessee Supreme Court case over a judge’s appeal on firing:

The Tennessee Supreme Court made an unorthodox move recently to put itself in a position to rule on an employment matter.

The justices last week agreed to hear an appeal by Knox County Circuit Court Judge Bill Ailor of an appellate court ruling that he does not qualify for judicial immunity in a lawsuit filed by former judicial assistant Judith Moore-Pennoyer.

Ailor, a Republican, defeated Democratic Circuit Court Judge Harold Wimberly in August 2014. After the election - but before he was sworn into office - Ailor fired Moore-Pennoyer, who had been Wimberly’s longtime assistant. Attorney David Dunaway sued Ailor on Moore-Pennoyer’s behalf.

The Tennessee Attorney General’s Office filed on behalf of Ailor a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, contending judges are immune from lawsuits over employment decisions - and just about everything else arising from their duties.

Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood, who has since retired, ruled Ailor was not yet a judge when he fired Moore-Pennoyer and was entitled to neither judicial immunity nor a state-provided attorney. Ailor appealed, but the Tennessee Court of Appeals sided with Moore-Pennoyer.

“The Constitution provides that Judge Wimberly’s term was not subject to expiration until his successor was elected and qualified,” the appellate court opinion states. “Further, Judge Ailor’s term could not begin until Sept. 1, 2014, unless specifically provided by the Legislature.”

Moore-Pennoyer, who was a state employee, spent 18 years of her 24-year career as a judicial assistant working for Wimberly. Dunaway alleges in the lawsuit Ailor fired her without the authority to do so and because he wanted someone younger and free of health conditions. Moore-Pennoyer has multiple sclerosis. The lawsuit stated she had no history of excessive absences from work despite her illness and had always received good evaluations.

The Supreme Court, however, does not appear to consider Ailor’s status the primary issue, even though it lies at the heart of Moore-Pennoyer’s lawsuit.

The justices have asked both sides to argue whether Moore-Pennoyer in particular and judicial assistants in general are “at-will employees” who can be fired at any time for any reason.

Tennessee is an at-will employment state. That means private employers can fire anyone without cause, though there are some exceptions such as discrimination. State employees like Moore-Pennoyer enjoy some civil-service protection, including an appeals process.

The high court also wants to address whether judicial assistants’ jobs are dependent upon the judges who hire them and therefore would have to surrender their positions when the judges leave the bench.

Ailor clearly did not have the authority to fire Moore-Pennoyer at the time, though if he had waited a few weeks until after he was officially sworn into office, he likely would have avoided the lawsuit. The Supreme Court’s desire to shift the focus of the case to the status of judicial assistants is puzzling, but the justices apparently think it is a question in search of an answer.




Aug. 31

The Commercial Appeal on the Affordable Care Act:

After the second Tuesday in November, “Repeal Obamacare!” will lose its utility as a battle cry in the political wars, and Republicans and Democrats will have an opportunity to perfect the Affordable Care Act.

It has become abundantly clear that the ACA has not reached its potential.

People who need private health insurance plans but don’t qualify for ACA tax credits are getting hit with enormous premium increases. In Tennessee, the Department of Commerce and Insurance has approved average rate hikes for individual health insurance plans of 62 percent for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, 46.3 percent for Cigna and 44.3 percent for Humana policies.

Tennessee is not alone in granting huge increases to keep state exchanges from collapsing as insurers threaten to bolt or, in fact, pull up stakes and leave some counties around the country without coverage.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has offered reforms that include the introduction of a private option among the plans offered through state exchanges.

Liberal commentators such as former Labor Secretary Robert Reich say a single-payer system financed by taxpayers is inevitable.

Sen. Lamar Alexander says to continue electing Republicans to Congress so they can “(give) states more flexibility to give individuals and their families options to purchase lower-cost private health insurance plans outside of Obamacare.”

But Congress should not abandon the most important goal of President Obama’s signature legislative achievement: making health insurance accessible to everyone, including those with pre-existing conditions.

Enrollment in Obamacare insurance exchanges has fallen far short of the initial forecast. Several major insurance companies have suffered financial losses that have prompted them to bail out of some of their markets. Unexpectedly high premiums and deductibles have driven some potential clients to pay the penalty for not enrolling rather than pick a policy and move on.

Price hikes have been particularly onerous for the 15 percent of Obamacare enrollees who do not qualify for the tax credit that makes health insurance possible for the other 85 percent.

But the ACA has brought 20 million Americans into the health insurance fold, reducing the number of uninsured Americans to 9.1 percent.

Which means that universal coverage is within reach.

Instead of repeating the repeal mantra, the leadership in Congress should address the root causes of the ACA’s problems.

It must find ways to expand the risk pool, spreading the costs among a larger number of enrollees. For the ACA to be effective and fair, stronger incentives must be in place for participation by healthy individuals as well as those with chronic illnesses.

The unlimited freedom ACA gave pharmaceutical companies to charge whatever they please for prescriptions must be reversed.

The Nov. 8 election presents an opportunity for statesmanship over slogans, practical solutions over partisanship.

Congress and the new president must seize the chance to make America a healthier nation.



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