Big, Big, Big Issues
Financial Regulation—It’s Finally Gonna Happen, Right?
Optimistic Prediction:The lessons from the housing and financial crisis of ’08-’09 are learned; Democrats and Republicans put aside their tidy philosophies about how markets work to pass comprehensive, pragmatic laws that prevent banks from becoming too large or betting vast sums of money they don’t have; bankers and mortgage originators are forced to retain a percentage of the products they create (i.e. keep some skin in the game), and the massive credit default market is brought into the light of regulation.
What’ll Really Happen:As the economy continues on its exhilarating path of being less shitty than it was a while ago, polls reveal there’s no longer enough rabid fear to shake the Wall Street money tree. This being an election year, Democrats want to pass something (lest they look, egad, spineless!), but they also badly need donations from the banking industry, which, having witnessed such a wonderful return on its investments last year, continues to be the largest single-industry donor to either party. In a bind, Democrats allow bank-industry lobbyists to write much of the new legislation, ensuring whatever they come up with will easily pass, as well as leave holes large enough for companies too big to fail to walk through.
Also: A new computerized-trading platform gains consciousness on July 5, 2010. Within microseconds it realizes how screwed we really are and sells off shares en masse, creating a chain of events that sets up Sarah Palin—herself a robot sent from the future to make liberals angry—to win the White House in 2012.
Health Care Reform—It’s Finally Gonna Happen, Right?
Optimistic Prediction: Despite a long, drawn-out, frustrating legislative battle, Congress passes and the president signs major health care reform for the first time since the 1960s, extending coverage to some 30 million uninsured Americans. The bill doesn’t do much to bring the skyrocketing costs of pharmaceuticals, procedures, and premiums in line with inflation, but the law helps build a broad consensus of Americans in favor of further efforts at reform.
What’ll Really Happen: Congress passes a bill that extends coverage but sacrifices cost control and doesn’t do much to rein in premium inflation. Republicans use the issue to campaign on a platform of fiscal conservatism, notably absent when they were in power, and argue the bill shows a wanton disregard for the free market and spending discipline (despite a CBO analysis to the contrary). Many Americans largely buy these claims because their memories are shorter than their attention spans, and decide to punish the Democrats with significant but not pivotal losses in both houses.
Cost controls are never imposed, so the country continues running massive deficits to pay for rising medicare liabilities and the two wars that were never included in the budget. China has slowly been leaking its massive dollar reserves and is about to dump U.S. debt, so around 2019 the government imposes massive taxes on citizens. The U.S. becomes a Socialist country, all because some crybaby Tea Baggers didn’t want to fix health care.
So Who Wants to Run UT? We Know Just the Guy.
Optimistic Prediction: The University of Tennessee needs a new president—the school’s been without one since John Petersen resigned in February. Former UT head football coach Phil Fulmer needs a job—he’s been working for an investment firm (and publicly pronouncing himself ready to coach for another 10 years) since getting fired in 2008. It’s a perfect fit. Lane Kiffin will stay cool.
What’ll Really Happen: Jim Murphy, vice chair of UT’s Board of Trustees, said the university doesn’t expect to have a new president in place before the fall of 2011. Fulmer probably still won’t have a coaching job by then.
Gun Rights for All—and That Means Everybody
Optimistic Prediction: The Tennessee Legislature, now firmly controlled by Republicans, no longer needs to prove its loyalty to gun-rights advocates by passing inane laws that extend rights to places like parks and bars. In fact, they leave the guns-in-bars law—struck down as unconstitutional because of its vagueness—alone, and the guns-in-parks law meets a similar fate for its many ambiguities. The time and money saved goes into fixing state finances and improving schools.
What’ll Really Happen: Like laws against sex-offenders, the GOP decides you can’t really have too many laws recognizing gun privileges. After the Legislature wastes more resources rewriting the parks and bars bills, and passes them, one Democratic state senator quips, “What’s next, fellas? Guns in prisons?” Republicans smile, but secretly decide that giving guns to inmates would really show the NRA and Second Amendment types where they stand. They pass the bill and personally oversee the distribution of handguns to Tennessee’s most violent offenders. That day, both the prison and politician populations are significantly thinned, freeing up cash to fix state finances and improve schools.
Icky Coal Ash Sticks to TVA
Optimistic Prediction: After the Kingston spill, the EPA proposes regulating coal ash at the federal level as a hazardous waste, forcing TVA to impose the highest quality of coal-ash disposal. Obama’s TVA appointments sail through confirmation, but the hearings allow the country to take a strong look at the federal utility. They decide to remove its federal immunity and allow private companies to compete with TVA in the Valley.
What’ll Really Happen: Following the EPA’s proposal, the industry howls and politicians worry about imposing higher energy costs on consumers during an election year, so the administration decides on some half-measure to placate conservative Democrats and Republicans and imposes very few costs on coal-burning utilities.
The Economy: It, uh, Gets... Better?
Optimistic Prediction: Following Wall Street’s recovery, the larger economy finds a bottom to unemployment and foreclosures, and slowly but surely begins adding jobs. The Fed cautiously begins raising interest rates to soak up the vast amounts of money pumped into the economy in the past year, and a lower dollar, coupled with new health-care legislation in the offing, allows the manufacturing and tech sectors to better compete with foreign firms. The remaining stimulus money kicks in, giving a further boost to job growth and state budgets, and the economy grows at 4-5 percent a quarter. Deficits remain high but begin to climb down as new tax receipts are tapped from innovation in energy, high-end manufacturing and telecommunications.
What’ll Really Happen: The unemployment rate bounces along the bottom for a couple of months while the economy continues to grow at 2-3 percent a quarter. Credit becomes more available to households who still can’t afford it, but they take it anyway because they’ve got to get by somehow and bills don’t pay themselves. On the bright side, as the economy improves citizens will no longer be able to use it as an excuse for not doing the things they weren’t going to do anyway.
Wanted: Probation Officer, Must Like Sports
Optimistic Prediction: Finally acknowledging certain realities, after years of recruiting players who have developed football skills at the expense of character traits, UT opens a new office, that of staff probation officer, officially termed Defensive Probation Coordinator. A halfway program allows “competitive visits,” described by UT attorneys as a gridiron version of conjugal visits, in which imprisoned players may play when needed, but only in SEC games.
What’ll Really Happen: Go Vols!
Business & Development:More, If We’re Lucky
Henley Street Actually Becomes Safe for Those Who Walk
Optimistic Prediction: The Henley Street Bridge reconstruction project commences, with plans for barrier-protected sidewalks and a good bike lane. Better yet, during construction, without all the Henley bridge traffic, Henley Street itself flourishes as a safe, quiet pedestrian boulevard, with sidewalk cafes and piano bars and Ethiopian and Afghan restaurants and street musicians and open-air chess tournaments, as you might expect of any avenue between a major university and a central business district. Even UT professors wander across Henley and discover that this Knoxville place has a quaint downtown. Meanwhile, motorists discover there’s this other bridge called the South Knoxville bridge that actually can bear automobile traffic. They become so accustomed to taking that detour that they’ll actually use the South Knoxville Bridge, permanently relieving congestion on Henley, which thrives and becomes famous as the Champs d’Enlee.
What’ll Really Happen: Where’s the state money to pay for bridge repair? Engineers say the 80-year-old bridge is unsafe, but unless there’s more federal stimulus money coming our way, it will be put off another year.
Broadway Flea Market Franchises
Optimistic Prediction: The North Broadway flea market, condemned as an eyesore by its neighbors, pulls up stakes and moves to Halls. The property, sold to an ambitious developer, becomes the site of Frank Gehry’s last monumental work of architecture, the Guggenheim Museum of Artistic Hats.
What’ll Really Happen: The flea market stays put as a visible triumph of property rights and the quest to provide inoperable TVs to the poor. It becomes a chain, opening locations in Bearden, Rocky Hill, and Farragut.
We Really Are an Urban Center!
Optimistic Prediction: The U.S. Census registers more than 400,000 in Knox County and 190,000 in Knoxville proper, a record high for both. As center of a metropolitan area with about 1 million, Knoxville attains urban credibility for the first time since 1910.
What’ll Really Happen: The Census Bureau will determine that after decades of sprawl, Knoxville has spread itself out so thinly, it no longer exists as an actual city or town, but as a new phenomenon known to scientists as a “demographic mist.”
Downtown North Becomes Downtown Downtown
Optimistic Prediction: New development on North Central pushes downtown’s revival north, with more restaurants, nightclubs, residences, and retail north of Interstate 40, making old Happy Holler a sort of mini-downtown patronized by pedestrians from the Old North and Oakwood neighborhoods as well as a destination for affluent globe-trotters, touted in the next New York Times “36 Hours: Knoxville” feature.
What’ll Really Happen: No one’s ever ready for the backwash. As Downtown North thrives, old Downtown will become a ghetto of empty parking lots, appliance warehouses, junk shops, and rough-looking women in shorts. The Original Freeze-O goes upscale after purchasing the former S&W. Star Sales merges with Mast General Store to become a superstore of cheap outdoorsy imports, trendy novelties, and candy. J’s Mega Mart continues as if nothing happened.
Our Newest Dog Park: Knoxville Center
Optimistic Prediction: PetSafe Village relieves Simon Properties of a major headache by transforming the under-leased Knoxville Center into an off-leash dog park for weather-sensitive dogs, named Ambassador to Poland Lee A. Feinstein Park. Conflict arises over a proposed law to allow properly behaved and tethered owners to accompany their dogs to the food court, but it eventually passes.
What’ll Really Happen: Protestors will refuse to allow the 10-Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness to convert the now empty retail spaces into permanent housing units, even though a new Obama-sponsored Suburban Blight bill would subsidize 85 percent of the construction costs. The still-thriving mall restaurants all relocate to Market Square.
A Library? Huh?
Optimistic Prediction: At long last the Library finds a home, a new downtown headquarters, perhaps in empty Baptist Hospital, perhaps in the underused Convention Center, perhaps in an entirely new building built for the purpose, like one of the several large underused spaces on State Street. For the first time in 20 years, our main library’s big and modern enough to serve an enlightened population of over 400,000.
What’ll Really Happen: Knox Kounty Kommission, suspicious of what one member called “them writin’ words,” and of the socialist implications of public money being used for public services other than defense, ceases the library’s book-related services altogether and transform Lawson McGhee into an armory and wrestling arena, “something everybody can enjoy.”
Going Places: We’ll Finally Be a City With a Bus Station!
Optimistic Prediction: The long-awaited, itinerant transit center is completed. It’s not the “intermodal” site we once dreamed of, but for the first time in decades, people using the bus service have a temperature-controlled waiting area with bathroom facilities. Its success inspires other people to build over, across, or directly on, James White Parkway, which is finally classified by the U.S. Geophysical Council as an Appalachian desert.
What’ll Really Happen: With city and federal funding drying up, KAT will be reduced to serving only the university, Knoxville’s only community to voluntarily patronize the bus system, favoring it to driving automobiles. Renamed Knoxville Academic Transit, it launches a unique driver-recruitment program favoring holders of master’s degrees, the nation’s only known employer to do so.
All the Marbles Alley
Optimistic Prediction: Buzz Goss gets resources together for his proposed Marble Alley development on a blighted expanse of pavement between State Street and Central, making it a lively and complex pedestrian community, a downtown within a downtown, and the answer to the old quandary of connecting Market Square and Gay Street with the Old City.
What’ll Really Happen: The city or county, or both, or one after the other, will once again plan to build something there, and then, of course, not. It will become nationally known as an exhibit of what can happen when you demolish buildings to build something, and then don’t actually build it. Knoxville will develop a believe-it-or-not spooky bus tour of parking lots that were sites of large historic brick buildings torn down for mysterious construction projects that never happened. Next stop: Home Federal’s Sprankle Building Memorial Parking Lot on Union.
The Delightful World of Politics
Optimistic Prediction: Bill Haslam is elected governor of Tennessee, the first Knoxvillian in that office since Reconstruction. He finally returns that state capital to its rightful place, Knoxville, for the first time since 1818. Madeline Rogero succeeds him as mayor of Knoxville.
What’ll Really Happen: Beset by a jogging scandal, in which astute investigative reporters observed that one of the 10ks he supposedly ran was really more like a 9.87k, Haslam drops out of the gubernatorial race. Zach Wamp rides his Guns ’n’ Commandments platform to victory. Haslam serves out his term, eyeing the next county mayor race.
Stacey Campfield: Wrestling Immigrant
Optimistic Prediction: Rep. Stacey Campfield decides to renounce his citizenship and move to Mexico, where he joins the luchador circuit as “El Conservativo Loco.” However, he finds that life in Mexico is difficult: hunger, poverty, and drug-trafficking abound. His wrestling career is going nowhere. He decides he’s made a huge mistake and returns to Tennessee to run for office. However, because he doesn’t have a green card, he decides to sneak across the border. A farmer picks him up and says he’ll call INS if Campfield doesn’t work for less than minimum wage on a tomato farm in Grainger County. Campfield reluctantly obliges him.
What’ll Really Happen: Despite gaining more support, not less, from his ejection from the UT game in the fall, Campfield will lose the GOP nomination for the senate’s 7th District to moderate Ron Leadbetter. Leadbetter will go on to narrowly beat Randy Walker, the Democratic contender (Chuck Williams is now an independent). For spite, Leadbetter will then sponsor a bill making it illegal to “just walk around.”
Who Will Replace Rags?
Optimistic Prediction: On May 4, former state senator and noted goofball Tim Burchett wins the Republican primary over former county sheriff Tim Hutchison in the race to see who will replace ongoing scandalhorse and current County Mayor Mike Ragsdale. Exit polls show that Burchett, one-time Senate sponsor of the infamous but ultimately unsuccessful road-kill bill (not to be confused with the Quentin Tarantino movie of a similar name), didn’t gain much purchase with his promise to put “an opossum in every pot.” But his central campaign slogan (“Tim Hutchison. Again? Really?”) did indeed find resonance with voters only too anxious to accept a little good-natured oafishness as a trade-in on years of Knox County government corruption and back-room deals.
What’ll Really Happen: Of course, this still leaves Burchett with the daunting task of facing down another strong local Democratic candidate in the Aug. 5 general election, this time in the person of... um, uh, well, somebody-or-other... we’re sure of it.... Yeah.
Rags Saga, Part II
Optimistic Prediction: After surviving an investigation by the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (summary conclusion: “He may have probably done some stuff wrong. We just can’t prove it.”), County Mayor Mike Ragsdale comes under the penetrating scrutiny of another investigation, this one by Knox County Commission and the Knox County Ethics Committee. (Re P-card misuse, IdleAire stock, rogue service director Cynthia Finch, rogue political operative Tyler Harber, etc.)
What’ll Really Happen: Until, that is, some of our savvier local officials are suddenly struck by three  near-epiphanic conclusions: (A) that County Commission, despite the thoughtful institution and court-ordered enforcement of term limits, is still plentifully, and historically, stocked with bounders, scofflaws, and ward heelers, and thus carries all the moral authority of tomato paste; (B) that the Ethics Committee, despite its comprising several of our more upstanding and commendable local public servants, was given roughly zero  in the way of powers of actual executive agency, by clever design of aforementioned commissioners, and thus carries all the effective authority of tomato paste; and (C) that lame duck Ragsdale is leaving office anyway, in a state of largely feckless ignominy, thereby accomplishing what would presumably be the principle goal of an investigation in the first place. Other than mindless, stone-hearted vengeance, which certainly has its place.
Thus the Investigation of Mike Ragsdale, v. 2.0, comes to an end with a simple, two-word declaration. Rhymes with “bucket.”
Our Little Polish Sausage
Optimistic Prediction: After returning from his longtime ambassadorship in Poland, former Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe looks forward to a new, choice, and altogether surprising appointment from Democratic Pres. Barack Obama. Of all people.
What’ll Really Happen: Things go awry, however, at the last minute, when Ashe’s promised job in the Bahamas fails to materialize, and the ex-mayor is shipped off instead as ambassador to Elbonia, the fourth-world dictatorship often featured in Dilbert comic strips. Much to his chagrin, Ashe finds both his law degree and his administrative experience to be of scant use in Elbonia, which has a primarily mud-based economy. After a brief go at pig-farming, Ashe is badly scuffed in a vicious encounter with feral mud weasels, and returns home in a snit.
The More Important Stuff:Arts & Entertainment & Media
AC Entertainment Gets Its Music Festivals Mixed Up
Optimistic Prediction: Due to a clerical error, AC Entertainment switches up the bookings for its three biggest events. The 74-year-old minimalist composer Terry Riley—intended for Big Ears—headlines Bonnaroo in June, with a couple dozen indie and avant-garde performers in support; a group of fresh-faced up-and-coming singer/songwriters and a couple of local bands head the out-there festival Big Ears; and Kanye West keeps the Sundown in the City audience waiting until 4 a.m.
What’ll Really Happen: Big Ears stays weird, Bonnaroo remains a monster, and teenagers keep crawling all over Market Square during late spring and summer because Sundown’s loaded with acoustic wallpaper.
More Dolly Songs Become Broadway Extravaganzas
Optimistic Prediction: With the Broadway splash of Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5 and its four Tony nominations, New York hit-makers will commission the popular singer-songwriter to pen two more musicals based on her back catalog. In the middle of recording another album and overseeing the creation of each “little Dolly” dress sold at Dollywood, she’s exhausted; it takes a toll on her judgment. Opening in March, Joshua bombs. A musical based on a young girl falling in love with a curmudgeonly old hermit? Not so fast, Dolly. Her second attempt of the year fares even worse: based on the universally reviled song “Me and Little Andy,” the piercingly precocious production causes vocal paralysis in the lead and loses millions. Without remorse, Dolly’s life goes on in her secret underground lair of gold coins.
What’ll Really Happen: After releasing another album and making some funny quips on talk shows, Dolly’s life goes on in her secret underground lair of gold coins.
The Future of the News Sentinel
Optimistic Prediction: E.W. Scripps breathes a sigh of relief as it manages to sell the News Sentinel to PennySaver on June 12. PennySaver assures the public that nothing will change, and indeed the Knoxville PennySaver Sentinel continues to print press releases disguised as news stories.
What’ll Really Happen: We are under contractual obligation not to reveal any information regarding Scripps Property #SP14522.
The Future of Metro Pulse
Optimistic Prediction: With the sale of the News Sentinel to PennySaver on June 12, Metro Pulse becomes the only source for local, print-based news. Continuing its tradition of somehow pissing everyone off and losing advertisers, the paper is sold by Scripps to a group of Trappist monks, who vow to remain silent on any topic that might ignite controversy. The paper shrinks to eight pages. Eventually those waiting at restaurants and sitting on park benches forget about long-form journalism because it won’t fit on a blog. Jackson Neely IV writes about this in his 2056 wavecast “Histoîr Secreto.”
What’ll Really Happen: Metro Pulse will be sold to PennySaver.
R.B. Morris Makes One of Those Spinny Record Things
Optimistic Prediction: R.B. Morris finally releases his new CD, Spies, Lies, and Burning Eyes, his first full-length in more than a decade. Seriously. It’s finished—recorded, mixed, mastered, and packaged. Morris has even had a semi-official CD release show, at the Laurel Theater in November. So it’s coming, with almost absolute certainty.
What’ll Really Happen: The earth will crack open and swallow us whole.
Sundown Somewhat Near the City
Optimistic Prediction: Bearden and downtown mend fences over the First Friday flap. To show there’s no hard feelings, they both surrender rights to the phrase “First Friday” to the subterranean hipsters who started it as an artsy no-profit Happening. Appreciating the alliteration but agreeing that two parts of town can’t possibly host art-related events the same night, downtown agrees to celebrate Third Thursday, Bearden Second Sunday.
What’ll Really Happen: Further trouble brews as Bearden announces its new Thursday night attraction, Sundown in the City. The live rock show in the Kroger parking lot turns out to draw even more teenagers with eyeliner than Market Square does. Promoters claim any resemblance to any other event is coincidence. As the year ends, rumors of a Bearden Rossini Festival make the rounds in the West Side Shopper-News.
KMA: Come Visit Us... Please!!!
Optimistic Prediction: After instituting a free-admission policy in 2008 that dexa-duodecupled its visitor count—okay, that might be an exaggeration, but it did at least double it—Knoxville Museum of Art’s board of trustees moves to jack up visitation even further by actually paying potential guests to walk through the museum. Beginning in June, visitors receive $10 and a coupon for a free Big-Ass french fries order (lim. 1 pr. cust.) at participating Lardburger (TM) fast-food outlets.
What’ll Really Happen: Asked how the sometimes cash-strapped museum will stay afloat with its decidedly non-traditional new admissions policy, a KMA rep replies, “Volume.” m