Roll Out the Barrel 

When one beer is too many, will six ever be enough?

When one beer is too many, will six ever be enough?

A bill currently pending before the Metro Council would outlaw the sale of single cans or bottles of beer by convenience stores in urban parts of the county. Backers of the legislation contend that such sales encourage littering, public drunkenness and peeing on the sidewalk.

Clearly, sidewalk booze-ups outside convenience stores are a legitimate public order issue, and it’s easy to be sympathetic to neighbors who have to endure such public nuisances. The question remains as to whether sobriety will be enhanced by requiring the drinkers to buy six beers at a time.

People have a tendency to adapt their behaviors to fit around whatever constraints are placed on them. Consider the case of the Soviet Union. In Moscow during the 1970s and 1980s, there were hardly any bars in the American sense, where a man or woman could walk in, sit down and get a comfortable drink. If a person wanted a drink, he needed to go to the state liquor store, where vodka was sold in one-liter bottles. Of course, the general consensus in Russia was that a good, healthy buzz was best achieved by drinking a third of a bottle of vodka.

So what did Russians do? They developed the custom of drinking “na troika.” A prospective drinker would stand outside the state liquor store holding three fingers up to his lapel until enough drinking partners arrived to share the bottle three ways. Then, the three strangers would buy up and take their bottle into a nearby alley, where they would pass it around until it was empty. Then they would totter off in their separate directions.

Maybe Metro should look to a more innovative police response, given the nature of beer consumption. After all, one of the most memorable—and revered—advertising slogans of all time was the Schaefer beer jingle: “Schaefer is the one beer to have when you’re having more than one.”

Is that Washington calling?

Phil Bredesen has barely gotten the governor’s chair warm, and the proverbial “they” are already talking about him moving on.

In this case, the Great Mentioner is the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, which runs a political dope sheet on its Web site of all the important campaigns. The Center for Politics is led by Larry Sabato, the readily available UVA professor who has become the all-purpose expert to national reporters on all manner of public policy issues—sort of the way Tennessean reporters always turn to local PR practitioner (and former reporter) Pat Nolan when they need someone to articulate the conventional wisdom succinctly.

In assessing the prospects of Democratic presidential candidates, the dope sheet (known as the Crystal Ball) notes that only one Democratic candidate was elected president in the 20th century without having a Southern or border state candidate on the ticket. That was Franklin Roosevelt, who claimed his third term in 1940 with Iowa’s Henry Wallace as his running mate. The Crystal Ball concludes that there are only a handful of Democrats who might have a chance of delivering their states for the ticket: U.S. Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia, U.S. Sen. John Breaux of Louisiana, U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida and Gov. Mike Easley of North Carolina.

“Dark horse candidates might include Virginia Gov. Mark Warner or Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, though both are in the first laps of high office,” the Crystal Ball concludes, saying both only won election narrowly and that Miller, Breaux and Rockefeller looked like the strongest VP candidates at this time.

It’s a pretty slender thread upon which to hang national ambitions, but then a journey of a thousand miles always begins with the first step. And George W. Bush emerged as the Republican presidential front-runner after scarcely more that two years in public office.

Why not road bonds?

The state government fear that tobacco-settlement payments won’t arrive—given a whopping judgment against Philip Morris in Illinois—appears to have passed, and Tennessee officials are breathing easier again.

Gov. Phil Bredesen had intended to plug that hole if necessary by issuing $80 million in highway bonds. The state has long insisted on building roads on a pay-as-you-go basis (in other words, in cash), although the General Assembly approved a major road building initiative in 1986 when Lamar Alexander was governor—under the assumption that bonds would be issued. Alexander’s successor, Ned McWherter, avoided issuing bonds by pushing through the legislature an additional increase in the gasoline tax.

Finance experts generally support the use of debt financing for major capital projects on the theory that it spreads the cost of the projects out over their useful life and because the state is able to borrow at discounted rates through its tax-exempt status. The state has held to pay-as-you-go through the lobbying of the road builders, who are fearful that someone else might get some of the gasoline tax money.

Finance Commissioner David Goetz might want to review that policy regardless of the needs dictated by the status of the tobacco lawsuit.

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