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News
Hagerty campaigns at Blount County Courthouse for U.S. Senate seat

Bill Hagerty leaves no doubt about the issues that drive his campaign to assume the seat of U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander. Tennessee’s senior senator, a Maryville native, will retire at the end of his fourth term on Jan. 3, 2021.

On Monday, Hagerty, a native of Gallatin, was escorted through the Blount County Courthouse by fellow Republican Circuit Court Clerk Tom Hatcher. They visited the Mayor’s Office, Trustee’s Office, Property Assessor’s Office and the offices of Veteran Affairs and of the finance director. Most of the conversation as Hagerty was introduced to officials and staff was courteous banter of the nice-to-meet-you variety.

As for the issues? Go to Hagerty’s Senate race website and up pops a box that includes a photograph of him with President Donald Trump under the heading, “Build the Wall.” The campaign themes are familiar.

It was Register of Deeds Phyllis Crisp who got down to cases with candidate Hagerty, who returned to Tennessee from his position as Ambassador to Japan to run for the Senate.

Crisp asked, “What’s some of your top priorities?”

“Immigration and getting the wall sorted out,” Hagerty said. “I talked to the sheriffs. I talked to people about the heroin, the methamphetamine that’s coming in from outside. My brother-in-law spent a year in law enforcement in California, and they’ve got it a lot worse out there.”

It was Trump who announced on July 12 Hagerty’s Senate campaign while Hagerty was still in Japan.

“I think that’s the first time in history to have the president announce a campaign before the candidate,” Hagerty said, as he wound up his courthouse tour before heading for Sevier County to meet with the Chamber of Commerce there.

“I think what that reflects is the confidence (Trump) has, and the need that he has for an ally serving in the Senate. I think he felt like I did a tremendous job for the United States of America serving as our ambassador to Japan, but right now he needs me to come back, and come back to the U.S. Senate,” Hagerty said.

“He knew where my heart was. He and I talked about it on a number of occasions about whether I should do this, and I think the president felt very strongly, obviously, that it would be a good thing to do, and I think for the people of Tennessee,” Hagerty said.

He went on to echo other campaign themes of the president.

“He knew I would stand with him not only for the borders, but I’ll stand strong for the Second Amendment, for life, for constitutionalist judges on the bench, and stand up for the men and women in the military and our veterans.”

DENSO connection

Hagerty’s strongest tie to Blount may be through its largest employer, DENSO Inc. He is familiar with the Japanese-based manufacturer of automobile components, having been a former Tennessee commissioner of economic and community development before being tapped by the president to be ambassador.

“I would have first learned about DENSO back in the late 1980s. That’s when I was in Japan working for an international firm, and DENSO and Toyota were part of the same corporate family. So I’ve been fully aware of DENSO for many decades,” he said.

It was years later, in January 2011, that then-Gov. Bill Haslam selected Hagerty for the commissioner position.

“That was a time when Tennessee’s unemployment rate was above the national average, and we restructured our department. We decentralized the management structure so that we put our team in the field, closer to where the community is, closer to companies that need people,” he said.

Getting closer to companies led him to travel more, taking a tack in Tennessee pioneered by the man who holds the Senate seat Hagerty now seeks — Alexander. It was the Maryville native who ventured to Japan, resulting in Nissan and DENSO expanding into the state under his watch as Tennessee governor.

“I began to travel more and work hard on getting more foreign direct investment into the state of Tennessee,” Hagerty said. “And Japan was by far the No. 1 investor when I was doing my job. In fact, two of the years I did it, the state of Tennessee was the No. 1 creator of jobs through foreign direct in the entire United States. And 60% of that, more than all the others combined, came from one country, Japan.”

As ambassador, Hagerty continued the DENSO connection.

“President Trump met the president and CEO of DENSO in my residence in Japan. We’ve got a great relationship with DENSO and I worked very hard to extend that relationship, make it stronger and better. This $1 billion investment that they’re making (at DENSO Manufacturing Tennessee in Maryville) is going to be a huge boost to the economy of East Tennessee.”

The state primary election is Aug. 6 and the general election is Nov. 3. Hagerty’s campaign plans to stop in Knoxville today.


International
AP
Anger in Iran over jet's downing; gunfire disperses protests

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Popular anger swelled Monday in Iran over the accidental shootdown of a Ukrainian jetliner and the government's attempt to conceal its role in the tragedy, as online videos appeared to show security forces firing live ammunition and tear gas to disperse protests in the streets.

Iranians, already suffering under crippling U.S. sanctions, expressed shock and outrage over the plane crash that killed scores of young people. They also decried the misleading statements from top officials, who only admitted responsibility three days later in the face of mounting evidence.

The country began last week engulfed in mourning after a U.S. drone strike killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who led Iran's regional military interventions. Then on Jan. 8, it responded with a ballistic missile attack on two bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq, although there were no casualties. Hours after that barrage, as it braced for a U.S. counterattack that never came, Iranian forces accidentally shot down the Ukraine International Airlines jetliner, killing all 176 people aboard shortly after it took off from Tehran for Kyiv.

For a growing number of critics — from ordinary citizens to notable athletes and artists — the events have revealed a government that is incapable of following through on its incendiary rhetoric and willing to mislead its own people about a national tragedy in order to avoid embarrassment.

Those sentiments first boiled over late Saturday, shortly after the Revolutionary Guard admitted to shooting the plane down by mistake. A candlelight vigil at a university rapidly turned into an anti-government demonstration.

“They are lying that our enemy is America! Our enemy is right here!” students shouted.

On Sunday night, protesters massed in Tehran's Azadi, or Freedom, Square.

Videos sent to the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran and later verified by The Associated Press show a crowd of demonstrators near Azadi Square fleeing as a tear gas canister lands among them. People cough and sputter while trying to escape the fumes, with one woman calling out in Farsi: “They fired tear gas at people! Azadi Square! Death to the dictator!”

Another video shows a woman being carried away in the aftermath of the violence, a trail of blood visible on the ground. Those around her cry out that she has been shot in the leg.

“Oh my God, she’s bleeding nonstop!” one person shouts. Another shouts: “Bandage it!”

Photos and video after the incident show pools of blood on the sidewalk.

Tehran's police chief, Gen. Hossein Rahimi, later denied that his officers opened fire.

“Police treated people who had gathered with patience and tolerance,” Iranian media quoted Rahimi as saying. “Police did not shoot in the gatherings since broad-mindedness and restraint has been the agenda of the police forces of the capital.”

The semi-official Fars news agency reported that police had “shot tear gas in some areas."

Fars, which is close to the Revolutionary Guard, carried videos purportedly shot Sunday night showing demonstrators chanting: “We are children of war. Fight with us, we will fight back.” Another Fars video showed demonstrators in Tehran tearing down a poster of Soleimani.

On Sunday, authorities deployed forces across Tehran — police, members of the Revolutionary Guard on motorcycles and plainclothes security men. The heavy security presence continued into Monday, when protests were largely confined to universities and there were no reports of clashes.

President Donald Trump has openly encouraged the demonstrators, even tweeting messages of support in Farsi and warning the government not to fire on them. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas tweeted that “we are following the protests in Tehran very attentively,” adding that Iranians “have a right to free expression without repression and persecution."

But earlier, larger waves of protests going back to the 1979 Islamic Revolution have been crushed by security forces. Amnesty International says more than 300 people were killed in November during days of protests sparked by an increase in gasoline prices.

Most of the people aboard the Ukraine International Airlines jet were Iranians and Iranian-Canadians. For three days, Iranian officials ruled out any attack on the plane, suggesting the crash of Flight 752 was caused by a technical failure. Only on Saturday did authorities acknowledge shooting it down, as evidence mounted and after Western leaders accused Iran of culpability.

Several activists in Ukraine rallied in front of the Iranian Embassy in Kyiv on Monday, expressing solidarity with protesters and condemning Iran's “dictatorship."

The European Union's aviation agency has since advised carriers against overflight of Iran “at all altitudes” until further notice. Several airlines have already canceled flights to and from Iran and rerouted flights to avoid Iranian airspace.

Ali Rabiei, a government spokesman, insisted Iran's civilian officials learned only on Friday that the Revolutionary Guard had shot down the plane. The Guard answers directly to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

“The point is that we did not lie,” Rabiei said. He went on to blame the U.S. for “spreading the shadow of war over Iran.”

Ebrahim Raisi, the head of Iran's judiciary, issued a warning to protesters, saying “the agents of America and agents of foreign countries” want to use anger over Flight 752 to “compromise” Iran’s security. Iran often blames anti-government protests on foreign conspiracies.

On Saturday, Iranian authorities briefly arrested British Ambassador Rob Macaire, who said he went to the candlelight vigil to pay his respects and left as soon as the chanting began.

Iran's Foreign Ministry summoned the British ambassador Sunday to protest what it said was his presence at an illegal protest. Britain, in turn, summoned Iran's ambassador on Monday “to convey our strong objections” over the weekend arrest.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman, James Slack, said the envoy's detention was “an unacceptable breach of the Vienna Convention.”

“We are seeking full assurances from the Iranian government that it will never happen again,” he said.

In addition to the street protests, Iran's government has also faced harsh criticism from prominent artists, athletes and journalists.

A number of artists, including famed director Masoud Kimiai, withdrew from an upcoming international film festival. Two state TV hosts resigned in protest over the false reporting about what happened to Flight 752.

Taraneh Alidoosti, one of Iran's most famous actresses, posted a picture of a black square on Instagram with the caption: “We are not citizens. We are hostages. Millions of hostages.”

Saeed Maroof, the captain of Iran’s national volleyball team, also wrote on Instagram: “I wish I could be hopeful that this was the last scene of the show of deceit and lack of wisdom of these incompetents but I still know it is not.”

He said that despite Iran's national team qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics after years of effort, “there is no energy left in our sad and desperate souls to celebrate.”

———

Associated Press writers Joseph Krauss in Dubai, Jill Lawless in London, Frank Jordans in Berlin and Yuras Karmanau in Kyiv, Ukraine, contributed.


News
Carpenters elementary, middle school plantings funded by grants through Blount County Soil Conservation District

Both Carpenters school campuses will receive outdoor upgrades this year, thanks to grants administered through the Blount County Soil Conservation District.

The Blount County Board of Education approved both projects during its meeting Jan. 9.

Work is expected to begin this month on a “riparian buffer,” extending about 1,300 feet along Centenary Creek in Carpenters Elementary School’s outdoor learning area.

“We are removing a multitude of invasive species and going back in with a native plant palette to fully restore the integrity of that stream bank,” explained Erich Henry, director of conservation for the Soil Conservation District.

“You’re going to get rid of a lot of privet,” said board member Fred Goins, former principal at the elementary school.

“Yes, we are,” Henry agreed at the school board meeting. In a phone interview On Jan. 10, he said other species to be removed include trifoliate orange, which has large thorns, multiflora rose and Japanese honeysuckle.

Then more than 90 species of native and naturalized plants will be added, many with fine roots that will help stabilize the soil and stream bank. Silky dogwood, red mulberry trees, beautyberry, Cherokee sedge, cardinal flower and lizard’s tail are some of the varieties in the plan.

“This could become its own arboretum over time,” Henry said. That project already has been bid, and Overhill Gardens of Vonore will do the work. However, he said, there will be some planting opportunities for students after the site is prepared.

CMS meadow walk

The other plan the school board approved was developed by Kyle DeCoursey, a University of Tennessee senior majoring in sustainable landscape design, who worked with Julie Konkel, watershed coordinator for the Soil Conservation District, and middle school staff. That project will beautify the campus, encourage outdoor learning and promote biodiversity, DeCoursey explained to the school board.

It includes both a meadow walk and a rain garden in areas including the north end of the track and south end of the soccer field.

The meadow walk will include a gravel path through an area planted with tulip poplar — which DeCoursey noted is the state tree — red and white oak, grasses and wildflowers. The initial planting will take on a natural appearance in about five years and will require minimum maintenance, perhaps from a handful of volunteers in one afternoon, he said. An area along the track that currently includes an 18-inch depression and large storm drain will be converted into a rain garden, with a raised pipe for drainage, which will allow water to collect and be filtered through the plants.

“All of the plants in this area can withstand drought, but they also can withstand a huge gully washer,” he said.

River cane, river oats and swamp milkweed are among the plants to be included in that area.

The budget has not been set yet for the work at the middle school, but it also will be covered by grant funding, the Soil Conservation District said. DeCoursey said work at the middle school could happen as soon as spring.