Saturday, May 31, 2008

AJC: Banks ties to legislature run deep

I don't know that there are any smoking guns unearthed here, but this is the kind of reporting we all ought to be doing, even though it takes time, costs money and doesn't always turn up something sexy:
Thirty-four lawmakers sit on banks' boards of directors and, along with 29 others, own bank stock, according to legislators' financial disclosure statements. Others work for banks, are married to bank executives, or are lawyers who represent banks and other mortgage lenders. In all, an analysis by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution shows, 73 of 236 legislators are engaged in banking.

And now back to calling police stations in 16 different counties to see if anyone got shot today.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Senate Debate in Atlanta next Sunday

Not this Sunday, although that is technically the next Sunday...
Atlanta, GA – The League of Women Voters of Georgia (LWVGA) and the Delta Sigma ThetaSorority, Inc. (DST) will co-host a forum for candidates for the U.S. Senate Sunday, June 8 from3 to 4:30 p.m. in the Capitol Education Center located at 180 Central Avenue, Atlanta, Georgia 30303.

The forum is free and open to the public.At present, one Republican and five Democratic candidates are slated to run for the same Senate seat. Of those candidates, Dale Cardwell, Rand Knight, Josh Lanier, and Jim Martin have all agreed to participate in the forum. Incumbent, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, has declined; and Dekalb County CEO Vernon Jones remains undecided.

The forum will be streamed live on the Georgia Public Broadcasting (GPB) Web site. Inaddition, GPB Radio will air an abbreviated (one hour) version on Monday, June 9 at 8 p.m.GPB’s Susanna Capelouto will moderate.

“Our goal is to help people have access to the candidates in a meaningful way,” said Candice Medlin, DST Chair of the Metro Atlanta Presidents Council. “We would like for people to be able to base their voting decision on more than a 30-second sound bite.”

UPDATE: Rand Knight got the AFL-CIO's endorsement. It now seems that just about every Democratic candidate in the race has some sort of edge over the other... four. Is that right - there are 5 people running for this thing? Any way, congratulations to Mr. Knight. I met him a while back and he's got an energy and passion you don't often see, even in a business of energy and passion.

From his press release:
The Union’s endorsement was not just a show of support for Knight and his candidacy, but a vote of support for a new era of green-collar jobs, energy independence and business people, labor unions, community leaders and elected officials standing together to solve problems of the 21st century.

"I'm deeply honored to receive the support of an organization that fights for working families all across Georgia," Knight said. "We share the common goals of creating universal access to healthcare, creating new prevailing wage jobs, and turning our economy around. Together we can create new "Green Jobs" and provide more opportunities for our children and future generations."

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Larry Walker now vice chairman for DOT

Former state Rep. Larry Walker has only been on the board a short time, but he's very active and has quickly become a leader. This is from a May 15 story in The Gainesville Times, but I didn't see it until Vic Jones called it to my attention today:
The board, meeting in Toccoa, elected a temporary chairman and vice chairman to serve until June, when permanent officers will be elected. Bill Kuhlke Jr. of Augusta was elected chairman and former state Rep. Larry Walker of Perry was named vice chairman.

Walker was also the member who suggested reprimanding DOT Commissioner Gena Abraham instead of asking her to resign when she and former Chairman Mike Evans announced their relationship.

UPDATE: I was pulling some old info out of our archives and noticed this, from when Rep. Walker retired in 2004:
Leaders of more than 20 Georgia organizations will soon find out they were on the Christmas list of retiring state Rep. Larry Walker, D-Perry.

Walker announced Thursday he has donated $102,000 in leftover campaign contributions to local charities, churches and other causes.

"The checks went out yesterday," Walker said Thursday morning while sitting in a rocking chair in his law office. "Unless they've got it already in the mail today, they don't know. I didn't tell them I was going to do it."

No super pokes... yet

I'm home sick and just noticed that Rick Goddard has a Facebook page. Yeah, I know that's not particularly interesting.

But as of 1:10 p.m. Monday, Gen. Goddard and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich are Facebook friends. I just like the image of Speaker Gingrich sitting around on Memorial Day, surfing the internet and updating his Facebook page.

It's the new way to put your pants on one leg at a time.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Worrying about the Speaker's divorce, and other potentially huge wastes of time

Then again, nothing like a microcosm to bring wider issues into relief. From an AJC editorial:

Incredibly, the judge who will determine the validity of the latest demand for an open-court hearing on Richardson's divorce is Osborne, Richardson's former law partner and the same judge who mishandled the case in the first place. All other Paulding County judges recused themselves from handling Anderson's petition.

Uh, OK. Next up, my opinions on Georgia tech and new research on whether night follows freaking day.

By the way, I think I'd really enjoy law school, assuming they teach writing like this, from Speaker Glenn Richardson's motion to keep his divorce case sealed:
"Because this case does involve one party as a high-ranking public official, it may tend to cause people such as Anderson to slide from underneath the objects under which they hide to try and gain their own notoriety to justify their own self existence," Richardson wrote.

Professional. Speaker Richardson, by the way, appears to be serving as his own attorney AND picking a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel at the exact same time. That is absolutely fantastic. To continue from the article:
"Without any limitation, it has been well established and the court should take judicial notice that the Atlanta Constitution is not only inherently unreliable but, in its effort to sensationalize matters, is not bound by truth or facts," Richardson wrote.

Presumably Richardson means The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. I don't think the Atlanta Constitution exists anymore.

Look, I'm no friend to The AJC. Over the years I've applied for a few jobs there. And not only have I never rated an interview, I've never rated a courtesy phone call saying "thanks, but no thanks."

But, all of a sudden, I want to read Speaker Richardson's filings and see what sort of evidence he uses to show that it has been "well established" that "the Atlanta Constitution (sic)" is "inherently unreliable." And I've gone from not giving a damn about his divorce to thinking I might want to read that thing.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Wait til everyone in India gets air conditioning

Is "unsustainable differential" a phrase? From a recent Newsweek:
Such efforts to insulate consumers from food inflation underscore a larger trend in the United States. The soaring price of commodities — rice has doubled since last summer, and corn is up about 60 percent in the past year — is wreaking havoc in the developing world and imposing burdens on the poor everywhere. But for the typical American, food inflation is more an inconvenience than a dire threat, headlines notwithstanding.

In the poorest corners of the globe, people may spend half their daily income on sustenance. But in this supersized nation, the average consumer devotes only 14.9 percent of expenditures to food and beverages. The typical American spends more on personal-care products than on dairy and bakery products combined, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But at least they don't have to pay $3.70 for gasoline.

Halliburton kills kittens

That sounds made up, doesn't it? Not according to the former Iraq bureau chief for The Washington Post. I'm reading his book, Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone.

It reads like a painful comedy of errors, inexperience and cronyism in Iraq, though of course we've all got the benefit of hindsight now. But many of the decisions... I would pray for better foresight.
The other humans did notice the cats — and kittens — scampering in the garden and the trailer parks. Staffers named them and played with them during breaks. They even stole cartons of milk and cheese from the dining hall for their newfound companions.

When Halliburton managers discovered the pets in their midst, they asked the marines guarding the palace to shoot the cats on sight lest they spread illnesses.

(Mammalian Biologist Alex) Deghan (who was stationed in Iraq) deemed it bad science. "The danger of disease was probably infinitesimally small," he said. "This wasn't done with any thought to the psychological value that these cats provided."

When the execution orders were announced, CPA staffers saved their favorites, hiding them in trailers, in bathrooms, in the pool house. David Gompert, (Iraq Viceroy Jerry) Bremer's security adviser, kept a cat he named Mickey in his palace office. Mickey was watched over by Gompert's security detail, but he still managed to chew through several sensitive documents.

The Halliburton cat killers finally got wise to the asylum strategy and deployed Filipino contract workers on a hunt-and-kill mission. They opened every trailer while the occupants were at work and rounded up every cat they found.

One night in June, a woman stood wailing outside her trailer. She was due to ship out in two days and had taken her cat to a veterinarian for the necessary shots for entrance to America. When she returned to her room, she found a note from the death squad informing her that her cat had been seized because it was against the rules to house animals in the trailers.

"They killed my pet," she sobbed. "I hate them."

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Sample CRCT questions: If a train leaves ridiculous town at 3 p.m., what time does it reach ludicrousville?

You may have heard about the shocking failure rates on CRCT tests. The social studies scores were so bad the state superintendent of schools invalidated the results. Check out some of the sample questions and you might see why.

You can take sample tests here. Click on the "parents" link and it will give you a logon ID and password. Yes, it's password protected, but they give you the password. I refer to this as "the first sign of the problem."

You have to disable pop-up blockers for it to work. But the first 5 social studies questions for 7th graders are pasted below. Failure rates for 6th and 7th grade social studies ran upward of 70 percent.

Thanks to Julie Hubbard, our education reporter, for finding these sample tests online for me.
1. With the use of satellites and other new technologies, worldwide communication has improved. Which of the following is the MOST LIKELY result of this communication revolution?
a. Business has become more international.
b. The need for air travel has been reduced.
c. The need for studying foreign languages has decreased.
d. Large companies have been split into many small companies.

This is a ridiculous freaking question. Both A and B are reasonable answers.
2. A major belief of the ancient Japanese Shinto religion was
a. the existence of a caste system.
b. worship of Allah.
c. reverence for ancestors.
d. a belief in reincarnation.

3. Which of the following is the most significant historical development in the Islamic world during the period from a.d. 700 to 1200?
a. Suez Canal was completed.
b. Major achievements were made in art and science.
c. Muslim influence spread as new lands were conquered.
d. Ethnic disagreements led to isolated tribal kingdoms.

Three questions in and all three have been, to some extent, subjective. They use the words "likely," "major" and, now, the worst: "most significant." Why would you ask a subjective multiple choice question?
4. Throughout African history, the search for fertile soil has led to many migrations. What has been an important result of these migrations?
a. changes in national boundaries
b. development of roads and transportation systems
c. establishment of cities and towns
d. mixing of ethnic groups and language forms

Another subjective question, turning on the word "important." These questions read like you can only find the answer in one history book. I suppose this is what's known as "teaching to the test." I remember questions like these when I was in school. They make me want to punch someone in the face.
5. If your teacher asks you to create a time line of important political events that occurred in Japan from 1880 to 1889, he or she is asking for a time line about a specific
a. century
b. decade
c. year
d. millennium

A reasonable, if overly simple, question. Though I imagine the question writer meant "through 1889" and no "to 1889."

Now, on to 8th grade math, which something like 40 percent of students failed:
1. Tom has 4 blue shirts, 5 beige shirts, 6 white shirts, and 3 maroon shirts. His closet is not arranged in any order. If Tom reaches in and pulls out one shirt without looking, what is the probability of it being either a maroon or a blue shirt?
a. 1/7
b. 3/18
c. 7/18
d. 3/4

2. Lily and Mary took turns feeding the cat. During the first 60 days of the year, Lily fed the cat 3/5 of the time. How many days did Mary feed the cat during this period?
a. 24
b. 34
c. 36
d. 37

3. What is the positive square root of 16?

a. 8
b. -4
c. 4
d. -16

4. A novel is 144 pages long. If Jorge has read the first 36 pages, what percent of the book has he completed?
a. 14%
b. 25%
c. 36%
d. 75%

5. Which number is NOT between 21.8 and 21.9?

a. 21.812
b. 21.84
c. 21.897
d. 21.91

Those seem much fairer, though none of them seem particularly hard. They're clearly written to test a grasp of basic concepts. It's hard for me to believe so many kids failed a test with questions like these. But, then, I attended public schools in Cobb County, the best county in the world.

By the way, the math answers: c. 7/18, c. 36, c. 4, b. 25% and d. 21.91.

The social studies answers seem pretty irrelevant to me.

The Farm Bill: Is the sum greater than its parts?

I've been wanting to learn more about the farm bill, which President Bush vetoed this week, but like so many issues at the federal level, I just haven't made the time for it.

But I do know that when a clearly intelligent, self-described left-leaning liberal and Widespread Panic fan in Colorado agrees with President Bush on an issue, something is amiss.

He's got a good blog name, too.

I know the subsidies are good for Georgia farmers, and that it includes food stamp increases the left wanted, and this is an election year. But at what point does good for this state, and that state, and that state over there, add up to bad for America, to say nothing of the world's hungry?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

$10,800 to move a model ship? The federal government must be involved.

UPDATE: I spoke with the Navy's curator of ship models about this. Some interesting stuff, but I'm going to do a piece for the regular paper. It should run this weekend.

CORRECTION: Apparently the truck rental was about $60, not about $600 as the mayor's office said initially. So I've changed the numbers to reflect that. By the way, these are the folks working with the City Council, as I type this, on the mayor's proposed $126 million budget. At least, I think it's $126 million. Better check and make sure it's not really $12.60...
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Last week I noticed a large model of the U.S.S. Macon, a retired Navy cruiser named for the city, in the lobby at City Hall. Turns out Mayor Robert Reichert remembered seeing the ship at City Hall when he was a kid, and he had it moved back to city hall from the Wilson Convention Center just across the river.

The ship is impressive. It dominates the lobby. And I thought this was a neat story, until I found out how much the move cost: $10,803.84

Now, the ship is no toy. The case is about 15 feet long and the actual U.S.S. Macon was built based on this model, which is owned by the United States Navy. Laminated glass is used on the top of the display case so that, if it breaks, the glass won't damage the model. This glass was cracked before Navy curators showed up for the move, and it cost the city $3,841.50 to replace it, according to the mayor's office.

The Navy spent about $60 of the city's money to rent a truck, some blankets and some rope. Presumably all of the city's trucks were busy last week, cleaning up from the tornado that destroyed dozens of Macon homes and damaged hundreds of others a week ago Sunday. And I guess the city of Macon, Georgia, doesn't own any rope.

The Navy also charged the city $6,900 to move the ship slightly more than 1.1 miles from the convention center to City Hall. That works out to $632.94 per tenth of a mile.

As my favorite ESPN radio host says, let's say this out loud and see if it sounds like a good idea: Let's spend $10,800 to move a model ship and replace the glass in its display case during the middle of a massive tornado cleanup effort.

Mayor Reichert said he wasn't happy with the high cost, but the Navy required that two curators fly in from Maryland there to supervise the move and put the display back together. City workers did most of the actual moving.

He said it was unfortunate that the move, scheduled in advance, fell on the same week that much of the city was dealing with storm damage. Then he spoke of city pride and said the ship was a one-of-a-kind irreplaceable treasure. He called it's prominence at City Hall a tribute to the Greatest Generation. (It was actually commissioned about the same time World War II ended, but I didn't stop him - he was on a roll).

Then he launched into a discussion of what a city should be, and the contribution beautiful architecture makes in a community.

"What's it worth to generate good will and a little pride? ..." the mayor asked. "I wish it had cost less. I think it's an investment in this community that will pay dividends that will far exceed its cost."

Maybe. It is impressive. So is a stack of 1,000 $10 bills. Or nearly 40 percent of the median annual household income in Macon.

By the way, the ship was moved before the City Council signed off on a budget change to cover the costs - which didn't make the council happy. It was one of the things they complained the most about with former Mayor Jack Ellis.

I'll call the Navy tomorrow morning. I'm interested to see just what $6,900 worth of curating gets you these days.


Cruisergate?

Forget the governor's race, what about the hat?

I spoke to state Rep. DuBose Porter a bit ago. The House Minority Leader continues to mull a run for governor, and in fact this item from the insider reminded me to call him.

He predicted Democrats will pick up a few seats in the House this election cycle, though not enough to win back the majority, of course.

I also asked about the smart black fedora he sported for much of the session. Rep. Porter said he had some skin cancer removed from the back of his head and he wore the hat to cover the scars. He said it appears the doctors got it all and everything is fine now.

He said yesterday was the first day he stopped wearing the hat inside.

"I looked like Frankenstein on the back of my head," Rep. Porter said. "My wife said I would scare small children if I didn't wear a hat."

Begrudgingly, I also asked some non-hat-related questions...

Transportation:
Porter said he still favors taking that 4th sales tax penny for motor fuel and dedicating it to transportation projects. That, plus allowing for new regional transportation sales taxes to help the Atlanta area improve it's situation, would help both the metro area and rural Georgia.

On rural Georgia v. Atlanta:
When it comes to transportation, you often hear it reported that rural Georgians don't want to be taxed to support Atlanta transportation infrastructure. But I don't really hear that much from actual rural Georgians. Porter said constituents in the Dublin area understand that Atlanta is the state's economic engine:
"When you have transportation that creates gridlock and that headhunters from major corporations are saying, 'You might ought to look at Charlotte or Nashville, they're actually doing something about their transportation problems,' then that's a business issue for all of us," he said.

We also talked a bit about alternative fuels:
Rep. Porter said The Courier Herald, the Laurens County newspaper he co-owns, has purchased an E-85 vehicle. The only problem: They have to go to Perry for the ethanol-based fuel. So they bought a big tank, too. I have my doubts about how "green" ethanol really is, but Porter noted that the plant planned for Soperton may represent a giant leap forward in the technology.

They're planning to use the leftovers from pine tree and other harvests, instead of potential food, to produce ethanol fuel. But the technology isn't ready yet.

"If this can be broken through in Soperton... it would be huge," Porter said.

No good deed goes unpunished

As soon as I heard the Democrats were credentialing bloggers (the answer to all of society's problems - just ask them) from each state to "cover" the national convention, I knew you could measure the time it would take for folks to complain with an internet stopwatch.

Tondee's links to complaints that the process wasn't partisan enough.

And race becomes an issue in 5, 4, 3, 2...

Which, of course, leads to the story getting picked up in the newspaper section of an actual newspaper.

Perhaps the party's process was flawed. I don't know or particularly care.

Perhaps there was a concerted effort to exclude minorities, regardless of how stupid that would have been and despite the fact that it's pretty hard to determine the race of some one sitting at a computer in Des Moines, Iowa. I checked, by the way. They have computers there now.

Such a conspiracy seems unlikely, but it's not like the Democratic Party has never done anything dumb in an apparent effort to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

But these things aside, let me drop a little knowledge on the blogosphere: Professionalism means not whining like a little baby when you don't get the big gig. Someone has to stay at the office and make the cop calls. Someone has to read the local county budget. Someone has to sit through that 3 hour appropriations meeting.

Welcome to journalism. It ain't always fun.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Somebody's getting married...

This just makes me grin ear to ear.

Abraham and Evans have announced their engagement.

Good luck, you guys.


No Miss Piggy related offense intended, Ms. Commissioner. And I apologize to all Swedish chefs.

On another note, when's the last time that the likely political story of the year made you smile?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Forest Hill Road, I'm looking at you

It looks like the Georgia Department of Transportation is going to be deciding what projects to ax (to deal with the funding shortfall) sometime this fall.
(DOT Commissioner Gena Abraham said) she's trying to bring a more systematic approach to deciding which projects are accepted and which are built first. Decisions will be based on which projects have the biggest impact on improving transportation.

That means the number of pending projects will be reduced dramatically.

"Some very tough choices are going to be occurring this fall," she said. "... This will not be a whole lot of fun for any of us."

No kidding. Most of those projects scrapped will have already incurred thousands of local tax dollars on consultants - namely retired commissioners and top department personnel who are earning big bucks to lobby their former colleagues.

No longer will projects be accepted on the basis of politics, she said.

"The old process of local governments coming to GDOT and saluting or kissing the ring is not going to be happening anymore," she said. "I'm just not going to do it."

Instead of promising everything, she'll tell the local governments they're going to have to put some serious money into any project they want built. So look for more sales-tax referenda in coming years all over the state.

What does that mean for Middle Georgia? Too soon to know. The DOT communications office says no hard date has been set for decisions to be made. But end of summer is the soonest, according to spokeswoman Crystal Paulk-Buchanan. And Abraham's stated goal is to have prioritization complete by the end of the year.

Input is being sought from local Metropolitan Planning Organizations (call them MPOs, that's what the cool kids do), but it doesn't sound like our MPO has made a list yet. Vernon Ryle, the head of planning and zoning here in Bibb County, said there's a meeting coming up with GDOT to talk about the process.

Now, think about all the projects we've got on the books here in the Macon area. Think about which ones have never really gone anywhere (Downtown Connector, Northwest Parkway). Pretty easy to assume they get stricken right off the list.

Think which ones the DOT has been gung-ho about (I-75 / I-16 interchange) and the ones that will move a lot of traffic (cross-county connector in Jones County).

Then think about projects that some people have fought tooth and nail. I asked Bibb County Commissioner Elmo Richardson, who represents the area Forest Hill Road runs through, whether he thought it was a potential cut. He said he didn't know, but he didn't sound likely to go to bat for the design as is.

"It may get scaled way back or something (and that would be the DOT's decision)," Commissioner Richardson said. "There's some definite improvements that need to be made... if they scale it way back, I wouldn't have a problem with that. ... We definitely need some turn lanes... we've got some drainage problems that need to be cured."

The scale-back Commissioner Richardson describes is basically what project critics have been wanting for years.

One last thing. This quote: "The old process of local governments coming to GDOT and saluting or kissing the ring is not going to be happening anymore," Abraham said.
---
CORRECTION:
"Nearly cower" in the next sentence was too harsh. Sorry.
---
I can't tell you how many times I've seen a local elected official at the suggestion that they stand up to the DOT. We can't, they've said, because we'll lose funding in our area. As if the DOT is going to stop building needed roads out of spite.

Loss of funding = less concrete poured = fewer contractors happy = less campaign cash. If Commissioner Abraham can stop that train from rolling, that will really be something.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

My recommendation: Cagney's

Sen. McCain will be in Savannah tomorrow, at the riverfront Marriott. From his campaign:
ARLINGTON, VA -- U.S. Senator John McCain's presidential campaign today announced that John McCain will hold a media availability in Savannah, Georgia on Monday, May 19th.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Ridin' that pony

I can't remember how the guys at Tondee's Tavern explained the concept of a tax pony to me. But I remember enough to say it sounds like Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine has saddled one up in his pursuit of the governor's mansion.

He apparently came out guns blazing this weekend. Is Phase 2 making it Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle's fault? And would Speaker of the House Glenn Richardson be down with that? What about our current governor?

It'll be an interesting race to watch. You gotta love it when an insurance and fire safety commissioner is preaching fire and brimstone.

By the way, if I was Commissioner Oxendine, I might have someone quietly rewrite the bottom part of my wikipedia page.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Homer-style legislative analysis

Gov. Perdue signed, and vetoed, numerous bills earlier today. I wish I could do better than say "here's the ones that caught my eye," but, here's the ones that caught my eye, and the explanation from the governor's office:
I signed Senate Bill 276 because I believe the market should be allowed to regulate automobile insurance rates in order to provide flexibility for Georgia’s drivers and insurers. I also believe that providing insurers access to a market largely free from rate regulation provides economic development advantages to Georgia. Despite statements to the contrary, approximately half of the states do not regulate the price of automobile insurance, and my study of the issue revealed no discernable difference between rates of automobile insurance in regulated and unregulated states. ... I am also taking the automobile insurance industry at its word that it will embark on an education campaign to inform Georgians of the ability to opt-out of the stacking provision contained in this legislation. Importantly, however, policymakers will be watching to make sure that the freedoms provided in this legislation will not be abused.

I like the part where he trusts the automobile industry and the Georgia Legislature.
House Bill 978 requires that law enforcement officers impound the vehicle of any person caught driving without a valid driver’s license. While it does provide three exceptions ... it mandates impoundment in all other circumstances. To help address what I believe to be the concerns of this legislation’s author, I have already signed Senate Bill 350, which enhances the penalties for driving without a valid drivers’ license. ... because I am concerned about how this legislation will impact new residents to Georgia, I cannot sign House Bill 978. I therefore VETO House Bill 978.

At first I thought "I bet the governor made some new (Hispanic) friends with that one." Then I got this statement from the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials (GALEO):
"GALEO applauds Governor Perdue for the veto of HB978 because of its unintended consequences. However, the same unintended consequences are present within SB350."

Continuing:
House Bill 1249 provides several new tax credits related to solar energy companies establishing or expanding a headquarters in Georgia. I support the location and expansion of clean energy companies in Georgia, but the precedent set by this legislation is too costly to be applied across the board. Specifically, House Bill 1249 provides overly generous tax subsidies for (1) research and development; (2) jobs; and (3) capital construction. ... Because of my concern that this rich package will be the perceived standard for similar industries in Georgia, I am compelled to VETO House Bill 1249.

Someone should compare this legislation to the perk packages given to ethanol manufacturers and distributors in this state. Like a reporter or someone.

Finally, some local legislation vetoes that made me think me "politics at its best":
House Bill 857 increases the salary for the Sheriff of Washington County. Last year I vetoed legislation passed under similar circumstances, explaining that “The County Commission was not consulted before this legislation was introduced, but the County Commission must provide for the unfunded mandate contained in [the vetoed legislation] through taxpayer funded general revenue. ... For identical reasons, I VETO House Bill 857.

Senate Bill 553 changes the corporate limits of the City of Ringold. At the request of a member of the local delegation, I VETO Senate Bill 553 to allow the parties time to resolve the matter without State intervention.

Sounds like folks really know how to get along in Washington County and Ringold.

By the way, "Homer-style" is just an "I'm not really supposed to cuss in the subject line" way of saying half-assed. My apologies to anyone who expected witty Simpsons references throughout. That would have been better.

"Awww. But I'm using my whole ass."

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

I wanted to make sure this got in:

Someone hung up a portrait of Sen. Chambliss. From his office:
U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) today was honored by the University of Georgia Libraries and the Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies during a ceremony unveiling his portrait in recognition of his service as Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman. Sen. Chambliss served as Chairman during the 109th Congress and is the only senator since 1947 to have chaired a full standing Senate Committee after serving in the Senate for just two years.

Unfortunately no picture of the portrait was attached. But I did snap this picture of a pretty common scene down in south Macon today:



















I didn't get the girls name. But her mother, Brenda Cooper, said she was thankful the home's support beams kept the tree from killing her family as they huddled in a hallway right below where the tree hit Sunday morning.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Everybody wants to be appreciated, which is simple

I spoke to Bill Causey a few minutes ago. He's the interim public works director for the city of Macon. He sounded absolutely exhausted. I bet he's been up for most of the last 36 to 48 hours.

The same goes for Johnny Wingers, who is Macon and Bibb County's emergency management director. When I spoke to him earlier his eyes were glassy. His hands shook a little bit, probably from caffeine.

I bet there are an awful lot of people; city and county officials, cops, volunteers, power crews and public works crews who have pretty much done nothing but work for the common good since tornado warnings started coming down in Middle Georgia early Sunday morning.

Thank you.

Light posting this week

We got hit pretty hard by a tornado yesterday. Extensive coverage on the main site. Politics is on hiatus.


Woody Marshall, The Telegraph


Liz Fabian, The Telegraph

Saturday, May 10, 2008

April revenue figures

From the governor's office:
ATLANTA – Governor Sonny Perdue announced today that net revenue collections for the month of April 2008 (FY08) totaled $1,761,180,000 compared to $1,309,159,000 for April 2007 (FY07), an increase of $452,021,000 or 34.5 percent.

The percentage increase year-to-date for FY08 compared to FY07 is 4.7 percent.

“The dramatic rise in revenues this month is primarily the result of process improvements made by the Department of Revenue, including hiring an outside vendor to help process hundreds of thousands of additional payments when compared to this time last year,” Governor Perdue said. “While this looks like great news for the month of April, we anticipate revenues in the coming months will slow and balance this one month spike.”

Thursday, May 8, 2008

I am Jack's complete lack of surprise.

State Sen. Eric Johnson said to be considering a run for lieutenant governor. File this under "people who put out press statements on absolutely everything."

To Sen. Johnson's credit, though, they are usually interesting statements, and I get the feeling the man says what he means. Lucid Idiocy wishes him good luck.

I wonder what my buddy Nick thinks...

Stop and cry

Funny how time flies. Lance Cpl. Jeffrey Davis Walker, born in Macon, grown up in Pike County, was killed by a sniper in Iraq a year ago next Wednesday.

His mother sent me a note. They're going to hold a candlelight memorial for him Wednesday, at Oak Hill Cemetery in Griffin, at 7:30 p.m.

He was a Marine.

No governors run for Isakson

Old news by now, I know. But definitely interesting.

Like a blender through a file cabinet

Posting will continue to be light today and tomorrow, I imagine. We're going through thousands of documents relevant to Macon's faith-based Safe Schools Initiative and the ensuing federal investigation, and it's not an easy process.

We've had most of them since 2004, when my former colleague (and outstanding reporter and drinking buddy) Mike Donila and I filed an open records request for them.

Mike said when he showed up to get the documents it looked like someone put them in a garbage bag and shook them up.

Wish I could say I was shocked. But sometimes, that's just how the Mayor Jack Ellis administration rolled.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Thank you for calling the IRS

So someone broke into my house last Friday, and a book of checks was missing when I got home.

So I closed my checking account immediately and opened a new one yesterday. I’d forgotten about my IRS refund and stimulus payment, though, and of course the IRS has my old account number.

So I went online and typed in my information and got “We have received your tax return and it is being processed...” So I called the number for more information.

I used my cell phone. After 15 minutes on hold, I picked up my work phone thinking, “I bet Wachovia can have this handled – put a note on my old account to forward the IRS payments to my new account – before the IRS even answers the phone.

I was right. Other things I was able to do before the IRS answered the phone:

Eat a banana.
Write this post.

By the way, the IRS would like to remind you not to fall for phishing scams that ask you to enter your bank account number so you can get a stimulus payment via direct deposit.

Seriously, it'd be a good idea to call any family members who may not be wizards on the Internet and just make it clear to them: They should basically never give out any account numbers to anyone that emails them asking for this type of information
.

No matter what they're promising.

UPDATE: Mark Green, a spokesman for the IRS, said they've set an all time record for number of calls received.

My per diem in New Orleans: Whiskey

Is there anyone here that thinks University of Georgia President Michael Adams, or any of the people he's likely to invite on a trip, would need a daily per diem to afford their meals?

UGA spent $2.2 million at the Sugar Bowl, "President's Party" numbered 89:
The athletic association paid for their hotel room and valet parking, gave guests and their spouses each a per diem for meals and paid for their travel to New Orleans and back via a mileage equation.

For those who stayed four days and three nights, that came to an average of $1,632.39 per guest.

Overall, it cost $137,895.88 to take the president's party to New Orleans.

Of course I have no problem with anything paid to Coach Richt. Or with the university picking up hotel costs and traveling tabs for certain guests. But per diems? Jeebus.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Here we go: The Ellis administration unraveling

UPDATE: We'll be updating throughout the day. The latest story is here with Ellis saying he's confident the grant money was spent appropriately and he doesn't fear any criminal repercussions.
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Smoke starts to become fire. So far the feds are only talking (in a letter just made public) about civil actions against the city. But "misuse of funds" and "false statements" sound criminal to me.

Developing story:
Former Mayor Jack Ellis' administration has been accused of misusing federal funds and making false statements to government officials, according a letter to the city from U.S. Attorney Max Wood's office.

The government wants much of the grant money back, as well as civil penalties that altogether could reach in excess of a $1 million, the letter states. The letter doesn't mention any potential criminal actions but states that the Ellis administration told the federal government that "the city had spent the funds in accordance with the terms of the grant."

"All those certifications were false," the letter states.

This is straight from the letter:
"I have recently met with an investigator for the Office of the Inspector General. As a result of their investigation, I find there is evidence to support the conclusion that approximately three hundred fifty thousand dollars of the award was applied in ways that were contrary to the terms of the grant. During the grant period of performance, officials certified that the city had spent the funds in accordance with the terms of the grant. According to the evidence developed through the investigation, all of those certifications were false."

Folks, there's a reason I've had about $900 worth of open records requests about this grant sitting in a box for the last three years. We always saw some shady things in the way the money was used, but could never quite connect the dots. It sounds like someone has connected them, and that someone is the United States government.

Back to work on our country

More and more, I'm seeing this sentiment find voice:
Who will tell the people? We are not who we think we are. We are living on borrowed time and borrowed dimes. We still have all the potential for greatness, but only if we get back to work on our country.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Qualifying is over

UPDATE: Wait a minute. Republican and Democratic party spokespeople say there are a few candidates that haven't been listed on the Secretary of State's Web site yet, so these lists might not be complete. I'll update in a while.

UPDATE 2: Looks like just one change, Sen. Grant picked up a challenger from Gray attorney Wilson B. Mitcham, a Democrat. I spoke to him briefly and he's a former ADA and assistant public defender transitioning into private practice who said he'd been mulling a legislative run for a while. He qualified at about 11:30 - right under the wire. That has the potential to be an interesting race.
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Interestingly, state Sen. Chip Rogers picked up a challenge from a Democrat named Carolos Lopez. He's listed as a 47-year-old retired Marine and a business owner.

I don't know enough about Mr. Lopez, or the district (Cobb County, birthplace of the greatest Georgians) to know if that could get interesting, but it got my attention.

A few other senators of note have competition as well.

As for the House leadership, of course Appropriations Chairman Ben Harbin has competition in the primary. You have to wonder if Rep. Harbin's oft-delayed DUI case will be a big issue in that campaign.

House Majority Leader Jerry Keen picked up a challenge from a Democrat named Leroy Dumas. But the alleged / rumored / supposed push to replace Speaker of the House Glenn Richardson in Paulding County never materialized. Can't say I'm surprised.
Senate:
District 16: (R) Ronnie Chance, 39, i; (D) Jerry Brillant, 52
District 25: (R) Johnny Grant, 58, i; (D) Wilson B. Mitcham, 60

House:
District 124: (D) Helen "Sistie" Hudson, 57, i; (R) Scott Nutial, 51
District 126: (R) David Knight, 38, i; (D) Bill Mauldin, 36
District 140: (R) Allen Freeman, 36, i; (D) James "Bubber" Epps, 64
District 142: (D) Horace M. Daniel, 67; (R) James L. Veal, 46; (D) Mack Jackson, 56
District 147: (R) Buddy Harden, 67; (R) Carden Summers, 50; (D) Roy C. Gibbs, 54
District 156: (R) Butch Parrish, 66, i; (D) Jonathan McCollar, 34

The full Middle Georgia list, including Congressional seats, the legislature and district attorneys, is on our site here.

Everything else you can get from the Secretary of State.

By the way, two wrongs officially make a right now in the Democratic Senate primary.

Busiest. Summer. Ever.

Consolidation of the Macon and Bibb County governments is going to be on the table again, probably as soon as this summer. State Rep. Allen Peake, true to his word when he rejected Mayor Robert Reichert's annexation plan, said he's getting that ball rolling again.

It occurs to me, when you consider that we've also got elections this summer and fall, Reichert's annexation vote planned in July, the likelihood that the city and county will renegotiate the penny local option sales tax and the service delivery strategy and the possibility that discussions will begin this year on a new a new special purpose local option sales tax, might this be the busiest, most political summer Macon and Bibb County have seen in quite some time?

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Bullish on America

I'm almost done writing a piece on America's future. Wasn't really that hard, either.

But of course smarter people have reached this ground before me, so below are are excerpts from "The Future of American Power" by Fareed Zakaria. Zakaria is editor of Newsweek International. He may be best known for his October 2001 piece titled "Why they hate us."

I began expecting a sobering portrayal of our fading on the world stage. Halfway through I began to believe how strong our advantages remain, if we will learn to ignore useless rhetoric, keep our eyes on the ball and harness, once again, the things that make us great.

The full article, adapted from a book, is worth reading. Every word. It's 11 pages, shown here in the print-friendly version:
The United States has serious problems. By all calculations, Medicare threatens to blow up the federal budget. The swing from surpluses to deficits between 2000 and 2008 has serious implications. Growing inequality (the result of the knowledge economy, technology, and globalization) has become a signature feature of the new era. Perhaps most worrying, Americans are borrowing 80 percent of the world's surplus savings and using it for consumption: they are selling off their assets to foreigners to buy a couple more lattes a day. But such problems must be considered in the context of an overall economy that remains powerful and dynamic.

Indeed, higher education is the United States' best industry. In no other field is the United States' advantage so overwhelming. A 2006 report from the London-based Center for European Reform points out that the United States invests 2.6 percent of its GDP in higher education, compared with 1.2 percent in Europe and 1.1 percent in Japan. Depending on which study you look at, the United States, with five percent of the world's population, has either seven or eight of the world's top ten universities and either 48 percent or 68 percent of the top 50. The situation in the sciences is particularly striking. In India, universities graduate between 35 and 50 Ph.D.'s in computer science each year; in the United States, the figure is 1,000.

The U.S. system may be too lax when it comes to rigor and memorization, but it is very good at developing the critical faculties of the mind. It is surely this quality that goes some way in explaining why the United States produces so many entrepreneurs, inventors, and risk takers. Tharman Shanmugaratnam, until recently Singapore's minister of education, explains the difference between his country's system and that of the United States: "We both have meritocracies," Shanmugaratnam says. "Yours is a talent meritocracy, ours is an exam meritocracy. We know how to train people to take exams. You know how to use people's talents to the fullest. Both are important, but there are some parts of the intellect that we are not able to test well -- like creativity, curiosity, a sense of adventure, ambition. Most of all, America has a culture of learning that challenges conventional wisdom, even if it means challenging authority."

Can I just give an A-f'ing-men to that last part? Continuing:
The reality is that Europe is moving toward taking in fewer immigrants at a time when its economic future rides on its ability to take in many more. The United States, on the other hand, is creating the first universal nation, made up of all colors, races, and creeds, living and working together in considerable harmony. Consider the current presidential election, in which the contestants have included a black man, a woman, a Mormon, a Hispanic, and an Italian American.

Without immigration, the United States' GDP growth over the last quarter century would have been the same as Europe's. ... Foreign students and immigrants account for 50 percent of the science researchers in the country and in 2006 received 40 percent of the doctorates in science and engineering and 65 percent of the doctorates in computer science. By 2010, foreign students will get more than 50 percent of all the Ph.D.'s awarded in every subject in the United States. ... In short, the United States' potential new burst of productivity, its edge in nanotechnology and biotechnology, its ability to invent the future -- all rest on its immigration policies. If the United States can keep the people it educates in the country, the innovation will happen there. If they go back home, the innovation will travel with them.

White people ain't gonna like that. But, wait, he addresses that:
Some Americans have always worried about such immigrants -- whether from Ireland or Italy, China or Mexico. But these immigrants have gone on to become the backbone of the American working class, and their children or grandchildren have entered the American mainstream. The United States has been able to tap this energy, manage diversity, assimilate newcomers, and move ahead economically. Ultimately, this is what sets the country apart from the experience of Britain and all other past great economic powers that have grown fat and lazy and slipped behind as they faced the rise of leaner, hungrier nations.

The United States is used to being the leading economy and society. It has not noticed that most of the rest of the industrialized world -- and a good part of the non-industrialized world as well -- has better cell-phone service than the United States. Computer connectivity is faster and cheaper across the rest of the industrialized world, from Canada to France to Japan, and the United States now stands 16th in the world in broadband penetration per capita.

For decades, American workers, whether in car companies, steel plants, or banks, had one enormous advantage over all other workers: privileged access to American capital. They could use that access to buy technology and training that no one else had -- and thus produce products that no one else could, and at competitive prices. That special access is also gone. The world is swimming in capital, and suddenly American workers have to ask themselves, What can we do better than others? ... What distinguishes economies today are ideas and energy. A country can prosper if it is a source of ideas or energy for the world.

If I could ask Zakaria only one question about all of this, it would be: Where does this leave the poor man of moderate or lesser intelligence? If we are to become a nation of ideas (again?), having exported our manufacturing, where does that leave the good man without that inner spark of creativity? Continuing:
The United States has a history of worrying that it is losing its edge. Today's is at least the fourth wave of such concern since World War II. The first was in the late 1950s, a result of the Soviet Union's launching of the Sputnik satellite. The second was in the early 1970s, when high oil prices and slow growth convinced Americans that Western Europe and Saudi Arabia were the powers of the future. The third one arrived in the mid-1980s, when most experts believed that Japan would be the technologically and economically dominant superpower of the future. The concern in each of these cases was well founded, the projections intelligent. But none of the feared scenarios came to pass. The reason is that the U.S. system proved to be flexible, resourceful, and resilient, able to correct its mistakes and shift its attention. A focus on U.S. economic decline ended up preventing it.

The economic problems... are the consequences of specific government policies. Different policies could quickly and relatively easily move the United States onto a far more stable footing. A set of sensible reforms could be enacted tomorrow to trim wasteful spending and subsidies, increase savings, expand training in science and technology, secure pensions, create a workable immigration process, and achieve significant efficiencies in the use of energy. Policy experts do not have wide disagreements on most of these issues, and none of the proposed measures would require sacrifices reminiscent of wartime hardship, only modest adjustments of existing arrangements. And yet, because of politics, they appear impossible. The U.S. political system has lost the ability to accept some pain now for great gain later on.

The result is ceaseless, virulent debate about trivia -- politics as theater -- and very little substance, compromise, or action. A can-do country is now saddled with a do-nothing political process, designed for partisan battle rather than problem solving.

I will go on record right now that I will do my best to stop writing stories about jackasses saying nothing helpful. Well, maybe one story about the Democratic Senate primary every two weeks, but that's it. Zakaria brings it on home:
Progress on any major problem -- health care, Social Security, tax reform -- will require compromise from both sides. It requires a longer-term perspective. And that has become politically deadly. Those who advocate sensible solutions and compromise legislation find themselves being marginalized by their party's leadership, losing funds from special-interest groups, and being constantly attacked by their "side" on television and radio. The system provides greater incentives to stand firm and go back and tell your team that you refused to bow to the enemy. It is great for fundraising, but it is terrible for governing.

For most of the last century, the United States has dominated global economics, politics, science, culture, and ideas. For the last 20 years, that dominance has been unrivaled, a phenomenon unprecedented in history. We are now living through the third great power shift of the modern era -- the rise of the rest. Over the past few decades, countries all over the world have been experiencing rates of economic growth that were once unthinkable.

The United States must come to recognize that it faces a choice -- it can stabilize the emerging world order by bringing in the new rising nations, ceding some of its own power and perquisites, and accepting a world with a diversity of voices and viewpoints. Or it can watch as the rise of the rest produces greater nationalism, diffusion, and disintegration, which will slowly tear apart the world order that the United States has built over the last 60 years. The case for the former is obvious. The world is changing, but it is going the United States' way. ... It might be a world in which the United States takes up less space, but it is one in which American ideas and ideals are overwhelmingly dominant.

Not covered in the article: environmental concerns and terrorism. But an awful lot to think about. I wonder what we will do, but cannot believe we'll fail.

Also, I'm (almost) kidding about the Democratic Senate race. Name calling aside, some of the candidates are bringing up important issues, including the prevalence of special interest funding in federal politics.

Market forces vs. insurance regulation

If Gov. Sonny Perdue signs Senate Bill 276, and it turns out Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine is right and car insurance rates do increase significantly, that will probably have a significant effect on the 2010 governor's race, despite it being two years away. From The AJC:
About 30 auto insurers will be ready to change their rates in Georgia without state approval if Gov. Sonny Perdue signs a bill passed by the Legislature in March.

Georgia Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine, whose office has about 30 rate-change cases pending, is worried the bill would lead to skyrocketing auto insurance premiums.

He has asked the governor to veto the measure, which would allow companies to raise some auto insurance rates without first getting the approval of state regulators.

"In the future, if they know they can get whatever they want, the sky is the limit," Oxendine said, citing one company that is requesting a 63 percent increase on some customers.

It would also be bad for state Sen. Cecil Staton, the bill's initial sponsor. Or it would, if anyone ever ran against incumbents not named state Rep. Allen Freeman here in Middle Georgia.

By the way, I'm still waiting for increased competition to lower my cable bill.

Four day school weeks?

It sounds like four-day school weeks, along with telecommuting and flex scheduling, are at least worth looking at as we learn how to be a little more efficient. From The Augusta Chronicle, which looked at a Kentucky school system that made the switch:
But in the five years since its change, Webster County has saved $300,000-$400,000, a significant sum, considering it operates on $12 million-$13 million budget, Dr. Kemp said. The unintended consequence was the savings were so great the school system was able to reinvest them into long-needed instructional programs it previously couldn't afford.

The result: Webster County, which has 2,200 students, went from being ranked 115th academically in the 2003-04 school year to 52nd last year, he said. Kentucky has 175 school systems.

Webster County's school week runs from Tuesday through Friday. The school system decided to make the off-day Monday because absenteeism is higher that day than Friday and the federal holidays tend to fall on Monday.