published Thursday, June 26th, 2014

Pam's Points: On cell phones, Google maps, budgets and Watts Bar

Cellphone searches and Google mapping

Just as the U.S. Supreme Court issued a major statement on privacy rights in the digital age Wednesday by ruling, in a 9-0 vote, that police need warrants to search the cellphones of people they arrest, a Google Maps vehicle with a 360-degree camera mounted on the roof was plying the roads of Chattanooga to photograph streets and homes for virtual travel on the Internet.

Curious? Just Google your address and when the map pops up, click street view. It's both cool and a little creepy, huh? Hopefully, your garage door was closed on the day they passed by.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., writing for the court on the cell phone issue, said the vast amount of data contained on modern cellphones must be protected from routine inspection, because today's smart phones are such a "pervasive and insistent part of daily life that the proverbial visitor from Mars might conclude they were an important feature of human anatomy."

He said our phones contain a digital record of nearly every aspect of our lives -- "from the mundane to the intimate."

In many ways, the same is true of what a virtual passerby in England or China or Florida or Mars might see and analyze in our front yards and carports on Google maps.

Ah, privacy -- where did we drop you off?

Doughnuts and the budget

We've heard a lot in the past week about flying doughnuts and murals. We even had a little chuckle over 648 doughnuts -- 54 dozen -- delivered to the city council meeting Tuesday night and some council members munching on the Koch's Bakery delights. They munched even as they acknowledged that a city sign ordinance needs tweaking after Koch's owner Barbara Davis was ordered by a city inspector to paint over the flying doughnuts mural on the side of her building because, though it contains no wording, it was interpreted by the inspector as advertising. Never mind a mural on the side of the city's wellness facility advertises getting fit.

Importantly, the Chattanooga City Council on Tuesday night also unanimously passed the second reading of Mayor Andy Berke's new $216 million city budget built on the principles of budgeting for outcomes. Almost half of the $216 million targets reducing crime, but it also funds a "Baby University," literacy programs, a public library card for every public school kid, increased recycling participation, and eliminating homelessness among military veterans. It includes funding for an ex-offender workforce development program, paving, and assistance for teens to fill out college funding applications because most don't and that hurts our workforce. And we get all of this without a tax increase.

Only one city council member voted against the budget on its first reading, and he made a big deal about it at the time. Larry Grohn said he voted against the budget because there were too many new programs that didn't have details. He said the first budget to entirely follow budgeting-for-outcomes principals still didn't include performance benchmarks to track the success of the programs.

But this week, on second reading, and even though the council during the first reading offset some of the cost of added paving by cutting funding for Heritage Park in Grohn's district, Grohn voted with everyone else to approve the budget.

Perhaps on second read, Grohn saw the good things in this budget -- not just his own agenda to rail against a progressive administration with a solid plan for future city improvements.

Energy delays and climate dollars

It's taken 40 years -- in fits and starts -- to complete both reactors at the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant at the top end of Chickamauga Lake near Spring City. Finally, work on the second reactor is nearly done and officials with the Tennessee Valley Authority expect to be able to generate power by December 2015. That is, if the Nuclear Regulatory Commission resolves what to do with radioactive nuclear waste and makes sure Watts Bar can withstand a natural disaster such as what befell Japan's Fukushima-Daiichi Nuclear Plant in 2011 when three reactors there melted down following an 8.0 earthquake and tsunami.

NRC Chairwoman Allison Mcfarlane toured Watts Bar on Tuesday and said she sees "no show-stoppers at this point."

She said NRC still has work to do on the waste question and TVA still has work to do on the new reactor and on meeting NRC's new post-Fukushima rules, but both agencies are on track.

Given a new money-men's look at the cost of climate change, we all need to hope NRC and TVA won't take another 40 years to do their jobs. An economic analysis dubbed the "Risky Business Project" says the Southeast's economy will be affected both by sea-level rise and extreme temperatures. The region traditionally has averaged eight days of temperatures over 95 degrees each year , but likely will see an additional 17 to 52 of these days by mid-century and up to four months of them by the end of the century.

Nuclear power isn't clean power. But it is power, and it doesn't contribute to global warming. This plant is largely built already, including refits to meet new flooding and earthquake concerns. We don't have another four decades: Mid-century is just 36 years away.

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