Sunday, August 31, 2008

Today's Lucid Idiocy

AKA: I also don't know the definition of irony.







Seen at the Georgia game. Someone should make a billion dollars off this.


Will Gustav end up being the most volunteered for storm in history? I hear Anderson Cooper has two reporters there per resident, and that Democrats and Republicans are scuffling at the Louisiana border.

We're talking three celebrities to a baby seal style.*

The Republicans probably never wanted to carry a 4 day convention. Now they get a free pass on not having Vice President Cheney there, and possibly President Bush.

I'll try to find out Monday when or whether Gen. Goddard will still be speaking.

UPDATE: Aaron at The AJC talked to Goddard. Bottom line, he didn't know yet if he'll get to speak later this week.

Friday, August 29, 2008

State to whammy veterans

I know the state has to cut its budget, but telling war veterans they need to get out is a tough one. I'm working on a longer story, but here are the basics:
Eighty-two veterans will need a new place to live soon, because the living area at the Wheeler Building on the Georgia War Veterans Home campus in Milledgeville is scheduled to close due to state budget cuts.

Other portions of the building will remain open, but veterans in the assisted living unit are receiving letters telling them they will need to move within 90 days. The assisted living quarters will close Nov. 30, according to a news release from the Georgia Department of Veterans Service.

Seriously, how good is Thriller?

Today is Michael Jackson's 50th birthday.

Ah, the old "run out of gas then turn into a werewolf trick. Nice."

Cagle, Handel launch gubernatorial camp... er, Web efforts

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Secretary of State Karen Handel both launched new Internet initiatives this week.

Handel started a new page on the Secretary of State's Web site. It takes information that was mostly available other places on the Internet (her office's 2009 Budget, monthly spending reports, the Secretary of State’s Ethics Policy, and Secretary Handel’s personal and campaign financial disclosures) and puts them all together in one place.

Cagle started a Web site where he wants people to report wasteful government spending by "local, state and federal government agencies."

Interestingly, an announcement wasn't sent by the Lt. Governor's normal press office. It was put out by a campaign office. There's going to be a television advertising campaign with the effort, and the site says the whole thing is being funded "by voluntary contributions from business people and citizen activists."

"The Lt. Governor will review incoming waste reports, investigate them further, and take action to eliminate waste identified through the project" according to the news release.

Sounds like he's going to be busy. And potentially pitted against local elected across the state.


That stare says, "I should totally be governor."

Thursday, August 28, 2008

George Israel: "Very thankful" to the Gang of 10

Sen. Johnny Isakson discussed the economy and housing market issues today during his keynote address at the Georgia Chamber of Commerce congressional luncheon. But his "Gang of 10" (now "Gang of 16") energy proposal was front and center.

Afterward, I asked Chamber of Commerce President George Isreal how he felt the proposal was being received by Georgia business people. I thought his answer was strongly worded, and he had a message for Republican critics of the effort:
Israel, a former Macon mayor and a Republican, said he's "very thankful" to senators on both sides of the aisle for coming together on the issue.

As for Republicans criticizing the move, Israel said, "They're wrong."

The energy compromise has been unpopular with some GOP members, many of whom are pushing for more concessions from Demcorats on off-shore drilling and drilling in Alaska. Some see drilling — and the Democratic Congress' reluctance to move on the issue — as a strong campaign issue in the November presidential and Congressional elections.

Chambliss, R-Ga., has been roasted by radio host Rush Limbaugh and others for his involvement. In Georgia, those against the plan are "the same old ones who wanted a totally unworkable immigration plan," Israel said, referring to heavy criticism Chambliss took last year over immigration reform proposals. Chambliss was booed at the state Republican convention over that issue.

"They've got to do something (on energy). ..." Israel said. "You have to reach out across the aisle."

"My best friend... Johnny Isakson"

Shock of the day: Sen. Saxby Chambliss is at the podium, telling people that he and Sen. Johnny Isakson went to the University of Georgia together and met their wives there. Senator, every person here has heard this story 1 million times.*

Likely line of the day comes from state Rep. Larry O'Neal, R-Warner Robins, who followed state Sen. Ross Tolleson in accepting the chamber's legislator of the year awards. Said O'Neal: "It's always hard to follow a senator because you're always out of time."

Things Sen. Isakson says he thanks God for:
1. America's soldiers
2. His friendship with Saxby Chambliss**














I wanted to yell: "Hey, senators! You two kiss! But I felt
that would be unprofessional.


---
* probably not a true statement
** Just for the record, I did not make that up.

Live from the Chamber luncheon

A large percentage of the state's big wigs are in Perry right now, eating roast beef and mashed potatoes at the Georgia Chamber of Commerce Congressional Luncheon.


And a lot of people were still in the buffet line.

In fact, between this thing and Denver, there might be no one left to read this. A few things anyway:

Houston County Commissioner Tom McMichael,
who is also VP of the ACCG, said the committee studying proposals to let counties collect sales tax revenues instead of the state, probably by contracting with private companies, is rolling along.
---
CORRECTION: McMichael is past president of the ACCG. Looks like the VP thing was from an out of date Web site.
---
He said the program has been very successful in Alabama, where the smallest increase in collections any community has reported to the study committee was 20 percent.

I asked him to repeat that, and he did. Some were much higher, he said. Translation: Expect legislation on this right out of the gate when the session opens next year. Sen. Chip Rogers is spearheading the effort.

Said McMichael: "It just makes all kind of sense."

Retired Maj. Gen. Rick Goddard will be speaking at next week's Republican National Convention, he said. He wasn't sure the exact time, but said it'll be Monday afternoon. He said he'll stay away from "red meat" attacks on Democrats, focusing on the future instead of the past. The only other hint he'd give on content: "It's Veteran's Day."

Goddard also said he filmed a campaign commercial this week. Filmed on the side of a road, so expect gas prices to be the subject. "We're talking about energy," he said.

I also heard that U.S. Rep. Jim Marshall was in Macon filming his own commercial this week, but it may have been rained out. That's from an eye witness, but I'll need to confirm with Rep. Marshall's campaign.

Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce President Chip Cherry said the chamber will send out a briefing document on the I-16/ I-75 project tomorrow. This is in response to the announcement earlier this week that a new coalition has formed to fight the project.

State Sen. Ross Tolleson, R-Perry, said his Natural Resources and the Environment Committee is working on a comprehensive energy strategy. It will look at where Georgia gets its energy, how much of it is produced here, and how much we can produce here.

Sen. Tolleson said his committee will work with the Regulated Industries Committee, and that input is being sought from the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority, the petroleum industry, the electric industry and other partners. So I said, and the environmental lobby, right?

"Yeah, well, environmental groups," he replied.

Let me note that Sen. Tolleson has told me before that he drives an ethanol powered pickup truck, and that he plans to back legislation offering a state tax credit for hybrid vehicle purchases.

Let me also note that, according to an announcement received by our environmental reporter, Tolleson is scheduled to be part of a panel discussion on Georgia's energy challenges Sept. 23 at Atlanta's Commerce Club.

The other panelists are Suzanne Sitherwood of Atlanta Gas and Light, Oscar Harper of Georgia Power and Sara Banaszak of the American Petroleum Institute. Dean Alford, one of the primary people behind a coal fired power plant proposal in Washington County, is the moderator.

Go Fish Georgia details

These are artist's renderings of the main facilities planned in Perry. They're on display at the Georgia Chamber of Commerce's Congressional Luncheon.




Some details, from Department of Natural Resources Communications Manager Robin Hill and John Biagi, the chief of fisheries:

The project is still being designed. They hope to break ground this year. The drawings you see are for a campus adjacent to the Miller-Murphy-Howard Building here at the Georgia National Fairgrounds and Agricenter in Perry. Another facility, with hatching ponds, is planned at the corner of S. Perry Parkway and Larry Walker Parkway.

Altogether, those two sites will cost about $23 million. About $14 million of that will come from the state, and the DNR is working now to raise the rest.

Nunn on Biden: "A family man with high values."

Matt Barnwell participated in a conference call Wednesday afternoon with former Sen. Sam Nunn. As Nunn has said before, he wasn't seriously vetted for the vice presidential nomination. He also said he hasn't talked to Sen. Barach Obama about taking a White House position, should Obama win the general election.

As for Biden:
"If I summarized my high evaluation... it would be: He has a tremendous amount of experience, he has great integrity and he's got sound judgment," Nunn said. "Joe is, most of all, more than any other charactistic, at least from my perspective, Joe is a family man with high values."

Nunn recalled his first "encounter" with Biden, while touring the Senate and its facilities a week after the '72 election. Everywhere Nunn went, staff told him that Biden had been there moments before.

"They talked about how excited they were to have such a young an energetic senator. And they weren't talking about me, they were talking about Joe Biden. I was 34 then, and he was 29."

On the way home that day, Nunn heard the news on the radio that Biden's wife and young daughter were killed in a car wreck.

Oh, wow. On Georgia's role in the election:
For Obama to be competitive here, Nunn said the candidate must reach beyond young people and minorities. He must also appeal to blue and white collar workers ‹ the middle-income earners.

"Georgia will be an uphill fight, but it's in play... The fight is gonna be very tough, but Sen. Obama has already opened up like 27 offices in Georgia, he's got thousands and thousands of volunteers, enthusiasm is very high.

"Energy makes a difference in a campaign. Polls can measure snapshots of where people stand at the moment and how they vote. But it cannot measure energy. Energy determines enthusiasm, it determines turnout, it determines how many people vote. So that energy has got to be at a very high level.

"I think it is now, but it is going to have to be even stronger."

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Local NAACP: Macon needs a 9 p.m. curfew

Someone with a better sense of history help on this one. When was the last time the NAACP argued for more restrictions on people's rights?

From Matt Barnwell here at The Telegraph:
The local branch of the NAACP says it wants Macon to pass an emergency 9 p.m. curfew in response to recent crime and shootings in the city.

In a news release, Al Tillman, president of the Macon chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said the curfew should apply to everyone under the age of 25 except those traveling to work or people who have an emergency.

Today's ridiculous, yet awesome, presidential campaign press release

From Libertarian candidate Bob Barr:
Atlanta, GA - Bob Barr is slated to be the only presidential candidate on the ballot in Texas after Republicans and Democrats missed the Aug. 26 deadline to file in the state. ...

"We know all about deadlines," says (Campaign Manager Russell) Verney. "We are up against them constantly in our fight to get on the ballot across the nation. When we miss deadlines, we get no second chances. This is a great example of how unreasonable deadlines chill democracy."

"Republicans and Democrats make certain that third party candidates are held to ballot access laws, no matter how absurd or unreasonable," says Verney. "Therefore, Republicans and Democrats should be held to the same standards."

Awesome. Except the Texas Secretary of State's Office says, "Hold your horses, mustache man."*

I'm not going to get into the specifics of Texas election law, though I'm sure thousands are logging off in disappointment.

Tuesday was indeed the deadline to file to be on the ballot, according to the Texas Secretary of State's Web site. But Office Spokeswoman Ashley Burton says Texas fully expects John McCain and Barack Obama to be on the ballot in November.

Both parties have already filed with the Secretary of State, they just haven't finalized things because of the nominating conventions, she said. The Democrats filed something with the names of their Texas electors. The Republicans filed paperwork saying they plan to nominate Sen. McCain and his running mate, she said.

The Secretary of State's Office expects both parties to file amended paperwork after the conventions, Burton said. She also cited legal precedent in two 1996 cases that a candidate shouldn't be punished for the action or inaction of a political party.

So it looks like former Congressman (and Smyrna resident, suckas!) Bob Barr will have competition in Texas. But I don't think that's the Barr campaign's point. I think this is:

"Republicans and Democrats make certain that third party candidates are held to ballot access laws, no matter how absurd or unreasonable," says Verney. "Therefore, Republicans and Democrats should be held to the same standards."

The hurdles for third party and independent candidates are indeed high, so much so that we are basically chained to a two-party system.

So what if you don't like either of those parties?

* Not an actual quote.

UPDATE: Of course the most authoritative work on this issue was done in 1996 by a team of researchers with the Fox network:


Go ahead. Throw your vote away.

What I need is a county-by-county breakdown of Whig Party voters from the 1840 election.

Done. Oby Brown, an editor here at The Telegraph, sent me this link. I've only just started looking at it, but it's got all kinds of interactive maps showing voting histories across the country.

www.americanpast.org

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Macon: How long does it take to hire a CAO?

Or, how different from Jack Ellis is Mayor Robert Reichert, really? ...

Bob Reichert was basically elected mayor of Macon July 17, 2007. That's when he won the Democratic primary in a landslide. He had to beat David Cousino in the November general election, but he did that with 96 percent of the vote.

So Reichert knew he was going to be mayor as of July 17, and that was 406 days ago. I mention that, because of this:
Macon Mayor Robert Reichert is, more or less, down to a pool of five candidates for the city's chief administrative officer, an administration official said. ...

"We are cooking with gas on this now," (spokesman Andrew) Blascovich said. "It has been moved to the top of all priorities."

They move quick, huh?

The CAO is the top non-elected position in Macon. It was a revolving door during most of former Mayor Jack Ellis' tenure. Mike Anthony, the former city parks director, is currently serving as "interim" CAO. He's been "interim" CAO since Ellis named him to the position in August 2006.

Mayor Reichert brought in new staff members for his office when he took over at City Hall. But when it comes to city departments, the folks the general public is most likely to deal with day-to-day, there has been very little change.

Reichert hasn't fired a single department head, or any other city employee for that matter, Blascovich said. The finance director has changed, but that's because Adah Roberts left of her own accord.

So, this city that was supposedly so poorly run under Ellis, that supposedly suffered from cronyism*, is still being run by basically the same people.

Only time will tell whether a new CAO will implement changes, or whether those changes were ever necessary. But Mayor Reichert seems to be getting a pass on this, whereas Ellis' hiring choices were often excoriated.

As for the time it's taking to find a new CAO, Blascovich said said, "We haven't moved with the fastest speed possible, but we've moved with deliberate speed."

It's worth noting that recovery from the Mother's Day tornado quickly became the administration's top priority when it hit in May. But the tornado hit May 11. Reichert formally took office December 12. There were 153 days between.

But the Reichert administration spent much of that time on a doomed annexation plan.

* I'm not aware of Mayor Reichert making these charges. But they were common criticisms during Mayor Ellis' administration, and the kind of sentiment that helped Reichert get elected.

Poythress in for 2010 governor's race

I didn't know he was a Macon native. From WMAZ here in Macon:
Macon native David Poythress became the first Democrat to make a formal announcement for governor in 2010.
Advertisement

Poythress made the announcement Monday while addressing the Peace Officers Association of Georgia at Jekyll Island.

Poythress is a former secretary of state and a former labor commissioner. He retired from the Georgia Air National Guard last year after becoming adjutant general. He was a lieutenant general.

Isakson, Chambliss, Handel in Macon Thursday

This is some nice synergy from some of the county parties here in Middle Georgia. From... well my computer, because I just typed it:
Local Republican parties will band together this week and bring some political heavy hitters to town for a pre-convention rally Thursday.

U.S. Senators Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, as well as Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel, are scheduled to attend an event at the Federated Garden Club on College Street in Macon. The event will run from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., with the special guests speaking at 5:15 p.m., according to an email from Bibb County GOP Chairman Paul Rish.

The event is not a major fundraiser, but there is a $5 suggested contribution, Rish said. The event is being put on by the Bibb, Houston, Monroe and Jones county Republican parties in anticipation of next weeks national GOP convention in Denver.

That's the same day as the Chamber of Commerce's Congressional luncheon, so everyone will probably be in Perry for lunch.

Perdue: Split up DHR

Gov. Perdue and an appointed task force are calling for a new state department to handle mental health and addictive disease programs, which are currently housed under the Georgia Department of Human Resources.

Various public health and regulation programs would move from the DHR to the Department of Community Health, which would just be called the Department of Health.

I'm sure there will be coverage in The AJC later today or tomorrow. From the press release:
Current DCH Commissioner Dr. Rhonda Medows would lead the new Department of Health.

The remaining social services under DHR would become the Department of Human Services. Programs included in this department would include Developmental Disabilities, Aging, Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) and Child Support. Current DHR Commissioner B.J. Walker will lead the new Department of Human Services.

The proposal calls for legislation to be introduced when the General Assembly convenes next January with the transition to the new agencies occurring on July 1, 2009.

I wonder if the new DH and the old DHR would share facilities, particularly to serve people with mental health issues as well as developmental disabilities.

Monday, August 25, 2008

How to stop the I-16/I-75 interchange project, if it can be stopped.

Or, an open letter to the I-16/I-75 hatas...

I mean no dis-respect to conscientious people trying to do what they think is right. But at some point grassroots protest has to give way to ass-kicking political pressure. Especially when you're dealing with a $400 million* construction project.
---
I went to a press conference today for a new coalition, which almost certainly represents the largest coordinated effort to scale back plans for the I-16 / I-75 interchange here in Macon. Brief coverage here.

I won't get into the arguments, except to say they've got a lot of good points, though there are engineering realities that make it difficult to downsize this project.

But the facts haven't changed substantially in 5 years. You think DOT Board Member Larry Walker hasn't heard folks don't like the design? Or state Rep. Allen Peake? Or State Sen. Cecil Staton? Or U.S. Rep. Jim Marshall?

The Macon City Council can pass all the resolutions it wants, but they’re not going to stand in the way of a federal interstate project. Neither is a coalition of civic groups. If you want to stop this thing you’ve got to attack the same choke point that always matters in government: The money.

That means the governor, the state legislature and Congress. Take away the $400 million* this thing is going to cost and designers will scale it back real fast.

I’ve been covering this project since at least 2003. That’s three election cycles in both the legislature and in Congress. U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson was elected in 2004. U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss is up for re-election right now.

Where has this issue been? It’s probably the largest Middle Georgia construction proposal in decades. That’s a big fat election issue.

So why haven’t people stood up and said “Rep. ______, that interchange is the most important issue in this race for me, and for a whole lot of other people, too. And we vote and we’ve got checkbooks. So where do you stand? Because we might just have to go shopping for another candidate.”

Do that, and maybe it won't just be the Macon City Council passing resolutions asking the DOT to reconsider the project. Maybe county commissioners and other officials on the Metropolitan Planning Organization that advises DOT on local projects will get involved. Maybe state legislators will offer direct action instead of vaguely promising to support reasonable solutions.

We all support reasonable solutions. That's why they're called reasonable.

If this issue is important to you, make the people who have the power earn it.
---
*$400 million is a pretty arbitrary number, but reasonable. The last estimate I saw was $300 million plus, and that was a while back. When critics call this a half-a-billion-dollar project, they're probably being reasonable, too.

Also reasonable: Politicians who say the silent majority supports the project pretty much as is. Otherwise, how do they keep getting elected.

Finally, I've been looking at project designs for 5 years now. You can view the latest version here. Engineer after engineer has told me this, and it makes sense to this UGA journalism major: You can't scale this thing back significantly and keep all these local exits, particularly Vineville and Spring Street, so close the interchange. The fact that you've got to cross a river complicates things further.

It's a difficult situation, but critics are right when they say this thing is going to make it a lot more difficult for folks to hop off the interstate and head into downtown Macon. The extra-long exit ramps will almost certainly see to that.

Most.Footnoted.Post.Ever.

I-16 / I-75

A bunch of folks are planning a press conference this afternoon to speak out against the plan to expand the I-16 / I-75 interchange. As a primer, here's a DOT picture of the interchange now and an artist's rendering of what it would look like as redesigned.

Now:














Planned:

Sunday, August 24, 2008

AJC, others at the DNC

It doesn't look like you'll be wanting for local coverage of the Democratic National Convention. The AJC sent Aaron Gould Sheinin, who I'm sure will be filing stories as well as frequent Political Insider updates. He's already got several.

Blog for Democracy is there. Amy Morton and Macon City Councilwoman Lauren Benedict are checking in at Tondee's Tavern and Georgia Women Vote.

They took Gus the Teddy Bear with them from Springdale Elementary School here in Bibb County. The bear has his own blog, which probably gets more traffic than mine.

UPDATE: What the hell? Amy says U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler has been invited to speak to the Georgia delegation Monday morning. Unless they plan on beating him to death with Peyton Manning's corpse, this confuses and infuriates me.

The Georgia GOP: At least we hate Tennessee.

UPDATE 2: Aaron reports that Congressman Shuler was booed this morning, at his own request. Whatever. All due respect to the gentleman from North Carolina and the constituents who elected him, he and his football team can suck it.

Strangers in a strange land

Kristina Simms, proudly one of the approximately 17 Democrats in Houston County, sent me a picture from today's grand opening of Sen. Barack Obama's campaign office in Warner Robins.

A Democratic presidential candidate opened a campaign office in Houston County. Now that is a strategy of inclusion. It's at 1770 Watson Blvd. across from the Church's Chicken, Kristina said.

Left to right are: Alex McPhillips, Wayne Cartwright, Fenika Miller, Jamie Whewell and Patrick Gallaher.


Who's loves Obama and has a thumb? This guy.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Arrington: Running for Glory

Judge Marvin Arrington (aka that judge who kicked the white people out of his courtroom, then told all the black kids to straighten up) was in Macon today for a crime symposium put on by the 100 Black Men of Macon-Middle Georgia.

He's a good speaker. I did a quick Q & A with him after the speech, hoping as always to get one over on The Political Insider. Alas, Judge Arrington gave the best dodge answer I've ever heard when I asked him about the 2009 Atlanta mayor's race.
Is your message more applicable to young black people than to young white people?
I think it's equally (applicable).... It's about doing the right thing, staying in school, doing your homework and being respectful. And those are principles that my parents taught me.

The problems that you talk about, why do they seem to be more common in the black community than in other communities?
Oh, I don't have an answer to that. But that's the way it is. And crime rates are increasing. And I think in many instances we don't have responsible parents. ... They don't have black fathers.

But why is that? Why is that more likely in the black community?
I don't know. I cannot tell you why John Smith who lives across town don't go home every night, doesn't help his son with his homework. He's out doing some things he shouldn't be doing.

You were talking about how, the Civil Rights movement, people put their lives on the line. And I felt some anger at that not being respected (by young black people). ... How can it be taken for granted like that?
It's frightening. ... There's no excuse for these young people dropping out of school. Now they've got free books. I had books where pages and chapters were torn out of the book, and I still wanted to achieve. I wanted to read. You can't get these young people — and Bill Cosby affectionately called them knuckleheads — to even open up a book. And I just refuse to give up on them. I'm going to stay there and stand behind them.

You gonna run for mayor in Atlanta?
Am I running for mayor? I'm running for glory, man. ... That race is 19 months away, man.

It's less than a year away if you go by the primary, but whatever. That's a fantastic answer.

McCain and Obama's tax policies explained, simply

My buddy Brian sent me this from The Washington Post.



That's just good work by The Post. I put a small version of it here so you can get an idea, but make sure you click on the link.


UPDATE: It just occurred to me that Sen. McCain's proposal would cut everyone's taxes. Is government going to be getting cheaper? Because this ain't going nowhere..

UPDATE 2: I found this in The Chicago Sun-Times:
The two candidates differ widely in their approach to the estate tax, which the Republicans call the "death tax." McCain would set it at 15 percent for estates above $5 million. Obama would set it at 45 percent for estates above $3.5 million.

45 percent... that ain't gonna be popular.

UPDATE 3: The Washington Post graphic was based on a report by The Tax Policy Center. You can download the full report here, but I thought this was interesting, from the executive summary:
Both John McCain and Barack Obama have proposed tax plans that would substantially increase the national debt over the next ten years, according to a newly updated analysis by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.

Neither candidate's plan would significantly increase economic growth unless offset by spending cuts or tax increases that the campaigns have not specified.

That sounds a lot like free bubble up and rainbow stew. And to Mr. Fritz Marggraff, I'm looking for your answer. But I didn't have to read long before I decided to just call the Tax Policy Center Monday morning and ask.

UPDATE 4: Answering a question from the comments. Paraphrased from Roberton Williams at the Tax Policy Center: While lower income folks may not pay income taxes, they do pay payroll taxes. They put in 7.5 percent and the employer puts in another 7.5 percent. Sen. Obama's plan would use an additional income tax "cut" to further offset that in the under $18K bracket.

Iran is not Arabic?

Stop the presses, Travis read a National Geographic story last night...

A young underground Persian rap singer named Yas joined us then. He had black spiky hair, stylishly long sideburns, handsome eyebrows shaped like two black bananas, and around his neck he wore a silver fravahar, the Zoroastrian winged disk that signifies the soul's upward progress through good thoughts, words, and deeds. He's part of the Generation of the Revolution, who grew up after 1979 and account for more than two-thirds of the country's 70 million people. Variously described as jaded and lacking belief in their futures — "a burned generation," as Kurdish filmmaker Bahman Ghobadi put it — they are increasingly leaving for Europe and elsewhere.

I didn't even know Persian was something you could still be. And clearly Iran is not what I thought. And it seemed to me: These people sound a lot like us. From the article:
"When I go abroad, people get surprised when they realize that 65 percent of the college students here are girls. Or when they see Iranian paintings and Iranian architecture, they are shocked. They are judging a civilization just by what they have heard in the last 30 years"—the Islamic revolution; the rollbacks of personal freedoms, particularly for women; the nuclear program and antagonism with the West. They know nothing of the thousands of years that came before, she said—what the Iranians went through to remain distinct from their invaders, and how they did it. ...

In fact, the first thing people said when I asked what they wanted the world to know about them was, "We are not Arabs!" (followed closely by, "We are not terrorists!").

Then how did we get where we are? I'm sure it's complicated, and I imagine it seemed like a good idea at the time, but this sure sounds like a pretty significant contributor:
Oil was at the root of a 1953 event that is still a sore subject for many Iranians: the CIA-backed overthrow, instigated and supported by the British government, of Iran's elected and popular prime minister, Mohammad Mossadegh. Mossadegh had kicked out the British after the Iranian oil industry, controlled through the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (later BP), was nationalized, and the British had retaliated with an economic blockade. With the Cold War on and the Soviet bloc located just to the north, the U.S. feared that a Soviet-backed communism in Iran could shift the balance of world power and jeopardize Western interests in the region. The coup—Operation TP-Ajax—is believed to have been the CIA's first. (Kermit Roosevelt, Jr., Teddy's grandson, ran the show, and H. Norman Schwarzkopf, the father of the Persian Gulf war commander, was enlisted to coax the shah into playing his part. Its base of operations was the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, the future "nest of spies" to the Iranians, where 52 U.S. hostages were taken in 1979.) Afterward, the shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was returned to power, commercial oil rights fell largely to British and U.S. oil companies, and Mossadegh was imprisoned and later placed under house arrest until he died in 1967.

To Iranians like Shabnam Rezaei, who has created the online magazine Persian Mirror to promote Iran's cultural identity, Operation TP-Ajax set the stage for later decades of oppression and Islamic fundamentalism. "I think if we had been allowed to have a democratic government," she said, "we could have been the New York of the Middle East—of all of Asia, frankly—a center for finance, industry, commerce, culture, and a modern way of thinking."

Damn it.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Judge: Powell qualified, on the ballot in PSC race

A judge ruled in Jim Powell's favor today, qualifying him to be on the ballot this November in a Public Service Commission race, according to Martin Matheny with the Democratic Party of Georgia.

You can read some of the back story here. Though the case revolved around residency in North Georgia, it's a statewide election.

State Democrats had accused Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel of partisanship when she tried to remove Powell from the ballot, and this confirms it, Matheny said.

"The judge ruled from the bench, hand-wrote the order right there," he said. "It's a pretty clear indication that the secretary's action had no merit."

I've got an email in to Secretary Handel's spokesman, but she has said in the past that she was only following state residency law. The Banner-Herald published an op-ed she wrote on the issue yesterday.

I'm assuming an appeal will be forthcoming, but won't know for sure until I hear back from the Secretary of State's Office.

Your (insert local elected official) is probably fighting with the governor right now

I find it hard to get too excited by this fight over the homestead exemption. If you haven't been following it, Gov. Sonny Perdue has said that, not only does he plan to freeze the funds this year, he'd like to see the program go away all together. He says local governments spend too much money.

Local government types say: "Nuh-uh. And mind your own business."

It's pretty similar to last year's fight between the Speaker of the House and local elected officials, just some of the details have changed.

Anyway, it ain't gonna get worked out until the next legislative session, which is a whole freaking football season away. But hyperboles will be swapped, and lobbyists will rub their palms together, gearing up for a fight.

House Democrats put out this statement today:
Atlanta – House Democrats today vowed to do all they can to protect the $428 million homeowner tax relief grants that Governor Perdue is putting on hold. If Perdue's scheme is enacted, homeowners could see as much as $300 in additional property taxes. Democrats believe increasing property taxes for Georgia families, especially during a troubled economy, is wrong and not the way to solve Georgia's current budget crisis.

The release didn't get into the "right" way to solve the current budget crisis.

This is from the Georgia Municipal Association:
If finger pointing were an Olympic sport, Georgia has a serious gold medal contender under the Capitol’s gold dome.

Faced with a revenue shortfall, Governor Sonny Perdue has postponed payment of the homeowners tax relief grants, a $428 million budget item, to local governments. If the General Assembly goes along with the governor’s plan to eliminate the grants this year, local governments, most of which have already given taxpayers the homestead tax relief credit and issued tax bills, will have to re-bill taxpayers to make up the difference.

This means the state government will be raising local property taxes. But Governor Perdue, in a nimble display of finger pointing, says no, he is not to blame for this. Instead, it’s local governments that have raised taxes and failed to cut spending.

And, proving he’s a multi-sport competitor, the governor goes on to do some gymnastic feats with state tax data and makes a spectacular long jump to the conclusion that local government spending is out of control.

Oh, SNAP!

Cox - smarter than a fifth grader? And mental health cuts.

State schools superintendent Kathy Cox is slated to appear on that game show "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?" Sept. 5, according to The AJC.

I guess she better be. Otherwise, that's not the kind of thing you want to prove on television if you want to keep running for political office.

And you know state departments are making deep cuts because of the budget shortfall. But how many of those departments have been shown to contribute to state resident's death because of short staffing? Or have the federal government threatening to force the state to increase the budget?

As always, Alan Judd and Andy Miller have the details on the state's mental facilities.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Things that were almost worth reporting separately

I keep almost writing things this week.

President Bush is setting a record for vacation days by a president. That's fairly shocking. From The Washington Post, though I saw it first on The Daily Show.

Of course, there's this for comparison's sake, from ask.yahoo.com:

"Of recent presidents, Jimmy Carter took the least days off -- only 79 days, which he usually spent at his home in Georgia. That's less than three weeks a year, which is closer to the average American's paid time off of 13 days per year."

How'd that work out?

I think I'm going to hang out in Warner Robins this weekend, showing 2.9 inches of my underwear. From The Telegraph on Tuesday:
In a 4-2 vote, with Councilman Bob Wilbanks abstaining, the mayor and City Council passed an indecent exposure ordinance that makes it illegal for people to be nude in public or display more than three inches of their underwear.

The ordinance provides that those in violation could be confined for up to six months or pay a fine of no more than $500.

According to CNN this evening, Barack Obama voted "present," as opposed to yes or no, 129 times during his 8 years in the Illinois state senate. The New York Times has also reported this. It doesn't seem like there are many "I don't know" opportunities in the White House.

Though "present" is perhaps better than "on vacation."

This is from an email Rick Goddard's 8th District Congressional campaign sent supporters this week. The campaign is upset over THE MEDIA's coverage of U.S. Rep. Jim Marshall's energy voting record. From the email:

"Unfortunately the liberal media have not been as forth coming with the documentation we have provided as they are with Marshall's spin machine."

It's one thing to bash "the liberal media" in a presidential race. But when there's basically a handful of local of reporters covering your race, please feel free to trash us by name.

Words mean something. They're not empty placeholders you just use to fire people up.

Finally, this month's National Geographic reminded me of something: The Peace Sign was created by artist Gerald Holtom in 1958. It's based on the semaphore signals for "N" and "D," standing for Nuclear Disarmament, though Holtom has also said it depicted a pose of despair, with the arms down and palms out.











Peace, what a liberal idea. Makes me sick.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Reports from Saturday's Republican caucus

After reading Pettys' report from Saturday's caucus of House Republicans, I called some of my guys for a report. "My guys" being Middle Georgia House Republicans in this case.

State Rep. Jim Cole, R-Forsyth, assistant floor leader for Gov. Perdue:
It was just a bland - I mean it was about as bland as you could get. ... Mainly it was geared around the upcoming political season. .... Effort to get John McCain elected. Efforts to help all Republicans. It was not a juicy, tense filled atmosphere with all the maneuvering that is out there or, so-called or perceived. ...

A lot of numbers and maps and people telling us about the presidential race. ... It was all very serious, not political, not personal agenda. ... Economic forecasts, stuff like that. ... (The economy is) just a big question mark.... (The economists) are all on different pages. ...

The speaker did a great job Saturday. ... He was in lockstep with the governor as to 'how do we tackle these problems in the future.' ... He did a magnificent job. ... We knew the problems facing us, what's the plan in attacking them.

Two dates Cole said economists and politicians are looking toward: Sept. and Oct 15. That's when individuals and businesses that filed for tax extensions will have to refile.

"That's not going to clear anything up, but it will help get a direction of where the state and the country might be headed in general."

State Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon (via email):
Was good meeting. Thought Glenn was outstanding, and nailed down getting re-elected as Speaker. Leadership was very interested in knowing what the Caucus wanted as the top policy initiatives, rather than telling us what they were going to be. I'm actually on the Caucus Policy Committee. Obvious big concerns about the budget and deep cuts that appear to be on the horizon. Presidential election was discussed and the need to energize the base, not to get complacent about Georgia. That's about it.

Was glad (the governor) was there, spoke about how the budget crisis was something we needed to work together on, not be divisive, but tackle it together. The big question was what to do about the homeowner tax relief grant, and I am not sure we have consensus on that yet.

UPDATE: State Rep. Larry O'Neal, R-Warner Robins:
It was actually a very pleasant time. I guess there was a little tension to start with because the two speaker candidates were both present, but none of that ever materialized. ... The main issue was the budget and just getting people up to date on where things stood. ...

Plus, Georgia tech was scrimmaging right outside the window. ... I've got all sort of scouting stuff to send to Mark Richt, if he'll listen. They're quick, I'll tell you that. ...

There's no question the homestead exemption is a priority because that's a promise that's kind of already been made. ... It's a big priority to us.

I guess my biggest consternation is where the bottom in this thing is. ... I hope we're over-reacting. Because if we're not, the problem really hasn't been identified.

O'Neal added that he feels the House and Senate leadership will work well with the governor to resolve the budget crisis.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Deployed soldiers donate to Obama 6:1 over McCain

From the Center for Responsive Politics:
According to an analysis of campaign contributions by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, Democrat Barack Obama has received nearly six times as much money from troops deployed overseas at the time of their contributions than has Republican John McCain, and the fiercely anti-war Ron Paul, though he suspended his campaign for the Republican nomination months ago, has received more than four times McCain's haul.

Despite McCain's status as a decorated veteran and a historically Republican bent among the military, members of the armed services overall -- whether stationed overseas or at home -- are also favoring Obama with their campaign contributions in 2008, by a $55,000 margin. Although 59 percent of federal contributions by military personnel has gone to Republicans this cycle, of money from the military to the presumed presidential nominees, 57 percent has gone to Obama.

Oil, pro-drilling positions and money

This is a list of the top 20 members of Congress, when ranked by total donations from the oil and gas lobby, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

You have to be careful about assuming politics follows money instead of the other way around, but what characteristic would you say the majority of these folks share? And which party seems to be more in favor of drilling for oil?
1 McCain, John (R) Senate $1,394,033
2 Giuliani, Rudolph W (R) $642,758
3 Cornyn, John (R-TX) Senate $484,100
4 Romney, Mitt (R) $476,594
5 Clinton, Hillary (D-NY) Senate $400,419
6 Obama, Barack (D) Senate $398,765
7 Richardson, Bill (D) $251,075
8 Inhofe, James M (R-OK) Senate $233,800
9 Pearce, Steve (R-NM) House $223,784
10 McConnell, Mitch (R-KY) Senate $222,000
11 Thompson, Fred (R) $191,004
12 Landrieu, Mary L (D-LA) Senate $189,350
13 Boren, Dan (D-OK) House $144,050
14 Domenici, Pete V (R-NM) Senate $137,800
15 Roberts, Pat (R-KS) Senate $133,350
16 Barton, Joe (R-TX) House $127,541
17 Conaway, Mike (R-TX) House $118,100
18 Huckabee, Mike (R) $117,889
19 Paul, Ron (R-TX) House $116,082
20 Schaffer, Bob (R-CO) $104,900

Am I saying, "Don't trust Republicans on energy issues because they get tons of money from oil and gas companies?" Sort of. They certainly get more than Democrats. This chart shows that clearly.

But the Center for Responsive Politics didn't have a "hippie environmental wacko donations" category to choose from, so I couldn't run that report.

The problem I keep running into on energy issues is that everyone seems to have an agenda, and there's an awful lot of money to be made.

So my suggestion is that you elect smart people you trust, even if they disagree with you. No doubt many people think that's crazy.

By the way, in the 8th District Gen. Goddard has gotten about $6,300 from the oil and gas industry, which isn't a ton. It's more than Rep. Marshall appears to have gotten, bit still less than any one category the center shows for Marshall. Hell, he shows nearly $64,000 from lawyers.

Marshall and Goddard on drilling

I did a poor job of describing U.S. Rep. Jim Marshall's stance on drilling in this morning's paper, which led to an even worse secondary headline, which will almost certainly lead to a front page correction tomorrow.

For the record, here are Marshall and his challenger Rick Goddard's stated positions on offshore and ANWR drilling:

Marshall: Says he has voted for and against drilling in the past. Says plans he voted against were, in some cases, "dumb." Favors drilling offshore and in ANWR, but since these represent the last American controlled major reserves, there are conditions. Wants the oil used only for American interests, not sold on the world market. Wants profits from drilling invested in new energy research, not controlled by the states or oil companies, and suggests that "energy indpendence" bonds be sold against the expected revenues to kick-start this process.

Goddard: Has called upon Congress to immediately lift the offshore drilling ban and open ANWR for oil exploration.

Georgia Chamber Congressional Luncheon Aug. 28

Basically, I got nothing. But my invitation to the Georgia Chamber of Commerce's Congressional Luncheon came today. It's Aug. 28 at the fairgrounds and agricenter in Perry. U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson will give the keynote.

If you've never been, it's one of those "everybody important is here and there's a buffet" kind of deals. You can register ($45) online with the Chamber.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Long live the Georgia Bulldogs

The Chapel Bell has been re-installed in Athens. Go listen to her ring.

Have a nice weekend.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Deja vu: A Bibb County Commissioner, a trip and a new drug program

August, 2008: Bibb County Commissioner Bert Bivins returns from a national conference and suggests the county get involved in a lower cost drug program. From today's Telegraph:
Bivins has proposed that the county sign on to a prescription drug discount card program that would help defray the cost of prescriptions for county residents. The card would provide an average savings of 20 percent on prescription drugs at participating pharmacies, according to the National Association of Counties, which sponsors the program.

July, 2005: Bivins attends a conference in Hawaii and justifies the trip by saying he learned about a new drug program he wants to investigate. From the story I wrote then:
Joe Allen and Bert Bivins, the two Bibb County commissioners who spent five days at a national conference in Hawaii last month despite some controversy over the exotic location, said the county got its money's worth from the trip.

Some of what they brought back:

A prescription drug program called MedAssist Direct that Bivins wants more information on. The program, which is available to people without prescription drug coverage, purports to offer medicine at $7 a prescription, according to program literature. Bivins said the deal, which he learned about from a commissioner from Ohio, sounds too good to be true, but he wants to learn more about it. He said he plans to find someone to test the program out and, if it works, Bivins said he would "promote it countywide."

I'm not aware of anything coming out of this idea. I've got a call into Bivins just to make sure. Unfortunately his home phone doesn't have a machine or service for messages, and his cell phone mailbox is full.

And now to make fun of Sen. McCain's campaign

This just arrived at my yahoo email address, which has my name right there in the address:
Dear Malki Adil,

I am writing to you today because as one of our Party's closest supporters, we need your immediate help.

With less than three months before the 2008 elections, nothing is more important than for us to raise the funds we'll need to carry out our winning strategy in districts and states all across the country, Malki Adil.

The RNC has set a goal of raising $25 million in the next 30 days. It is absolutely critical that we raise these funds to counter the huge money generating operation of Barack Obama and the Democrats' liberal special interest allies.

I don't know who Malki Adil is, but I've been getting the Republican Party's emails to him for years. Presumably he's getting word of their fundraising efforts, since he's one of the party's "closest supporters."

A day in the life of a reporter: Super important conference call edition

Sen. Obama's campaign had a conference call for reporters today "outlining the campaign's strategy for victory in the Peach State."

Now that might sound cool, but it's not. And why I continue to think things like this are a good use of my time, I'm not sure. So here's my "live blog" of the call, which may be the last one I'm invited on. My own snarky comments in italics:

National Political Director Patrick Gaspard:
Obama has a really good chance to win Georgia. Blah, blah, blah
Georgians are great people who pay a lot of attention to things, and who are very concerned about the foreclosure crisis and other problems in this country. They also like fried food, reality T.V. and handguns.

State Sen. Doug Stoner: I am a native of Smyrna, Georgia. That is the best city in the world to be from.
Blah, blah, blah. I've never seen a presidential candidate show Georgia the attention that Obama has. What about that Jimmy Carter guy?
Blah blah blah. "It's a historic occasion for us." This call is really breaking new ground.

Stoner: Highest inflation rate in 16 years right now. I didn't know that. It's not particularly funny.
Blah, blah, blah. We're going to need national leadership on the energy issue "and that's not what we're getting." Funny how Republicans agree on that, but blame the Democratic Congress.

Georgia State Director Antwaun Griffin: Obama's going to win Georgia. Phase 1: Collect underpants. Phase 2: ???. Phase 3: Profit!!!
Blah, blah, blah. Campaign is driven by investments of both time and money. Armed with this information, I now feel able to run my own national political campaign.

Griffin: That's not just a talking point. Money and time are important. Translation: Money and time are important.
Blah, blah, blah. "... an ambitious field strategy executed by people on the ground who we expect will vote for senator Obama. And, frankly, that's central to the outcome." I did not make that quote up.

Griffin: These are the campaign goals: Goal 1: Win Georgia. Goal 2: Keep a volunteer network in place. Phase 3: Profit!!!
Blah, blah, blah. Read our Powerpoint

Press officer Caroline Adelman: We haven't sent it to some of you. Let's take some questions.

Aaron Shenin from The AJC: Thanks from the call. I think I was expecting to hear a little bit more about details, where you see opportunities in the state. Translation: Thanks for wasting our time.
Griffin: The campaign is driven by activism. We're focused on every part of the state. Let me be clear: That means outside of metro Atlanta, too. Awesome. Please send me a map of Georgia.
Blah, blah, blah. I don't have to tell you that Georgia is growing. I don't have to be a smart ass. And yet...

Me: I jumped on late. But someone mentioned that the senator was coming to Georgia next week. Where's he coming?
Adelman: We didn't talk about that at all today. Today's call is about strategy and why Georgia's important. Is there anything particular that you're interested in?
Me: Well that was my question.
Adelman: Oh, I'm sorry. You can't do any follow up.
Me: Uh, OK.

(So I went back and checked the tape. Patrick Gaspard noted that McCain is coming to Georgia next week, which shows how seriously he's taking Obama's challenge in Georgia. So I'm a moron who doesn't understand proper pronoun usage. I bet Gaspard is making fun of me on his blog right now.)

Marcus Howard, Marietta Daily Journal: We got a lot of Republicans here. How you gonna appeal to them?
Gaspard: A lot of people really like Barack Obama, including average Americans. Gaspard called Marcus by my name. I feel less guilty about making fun of him now. And less dumb about the McCain thing.
Blah, blah, blah. Gridlock! Failed energy policy! Republicans!

Stoner: How can a Democrat win in this state? Look at (Democrat and Attorney General) Thurbert Baker, he won Cobb County. BAM! Twenty minutes in, Smyrna boy weighs in with actual useful analysis. I bet he went to Campbell High School. And not the new one over where Wills used to be. The real Campbell High School.

Atlanta Tribune reporter: Your release said you'd discuss issues critical to Georgia today. What issues are those? Translation: I told my editor I'd write about this. Please make that possible or I'm going to have to do some actual work today.
Griffin: We call them kitchen table issues. They're important. The economy is one of them. Translation: People care about important issues, such as the economy.
Blah, blah, blah. People are tired of sound bite politics. Change. Hope. Hope for change.

Gaspard: It's the economy and energy. Inflation is high. The budget deficit is huge. What people are looking for is people to lead. They're tired of political games. McCain is just like Bush. The country has no coherent national energy policy now. Sen. Obama has a plan. I understand it's a plan for change.

---
Lucid Idiocy author Travis Fain is a 1994 Campbell High School graduate and a native of Smyrna, Georgia. Oddly, given his inability to match pronouns with proper names, he was an honors student who totally took AP English his senior year. Also, that Powerpoint showed up before the call ended.

Desert and beach: Two different things

This is from Freedom's Watch, a watchdog group that's been attacking U.S. Rep. Jim Marshall recently over Congress' refusal to vote on offshore drilling. See if you can pick up the mistake they make in the headline:
61% Want Marshall To Get Back To Work, Vote On New Energy Production

Majority Of Americans Say Jim Marshall Should Cut Short His Five-Week Vacation, Vote To Allow Offshore Drilling

Don't see it yet? What if I told you this, from this morning's Telegraph:
U.S. Rep. Jim Marshall, D-Ga., planned to leave Wednesday night for another trip to the Middle East, with stops in Israel, Iraq, Jordan, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Nothing like vacationing in a war zone.

UPDATE: For the sake of balance, though this one's not as stupid. It's from the DNC:
MCCAIN WATCH: SAME-AS-BUSH PLAN TO PRIVATIZE SOCIAL SECURITY

On 73rd Anniversary of Social Security, McCain Would Put Most Successful Program in History in Jeopardy

I'm pretty sure it's already in jeopardy.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Determining the price of milk

The AJC had a good piece in yesterday's paper about the price of milk. Apparently farmers are paid based on a federal formula, which doesn't always keep pace with cost increases.

From the story:
A year ago, feed cost him $191.05 a ton. This July, it cost $280.02 a ton.

Those feed prices are rising much faster than the price paid to farmers for their milk. One measure of that is the "milk-feed ratio," calculated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In July 2007, a farmer could buy 3.19 pounds of feed for the price he was paid for a pound of milk.

In June 2008, he could only buy 1.78 pounds of feed with a pound of milk income.

Much of the rise in feed prices can be traced to corn —- surging on the strength of the demand for ethanol.

"Corn is the staple of the dairy diet," Camp said. "Besides corn, you have soybeans, cottonseeds and wheat —- but when corn goes up, everything else follows."

Good news: "The food crisis is over."

We sent a reporter to the first day of the Southeast Bioenergy Conference yesterday and Gov. Sonny Perdue called biofuels "a cornerstone of the new Georgia."

But it was the biofuel supporters comments on corn ethanol's effect on food prices worldwide that I found most interesting:
(Gale Buchanan, a U.S. Department of Agriculture undersecretary,) said although an estimated 30 percent of U.S. corn is now being used for fuel production, the high cost of oil for transporting food and other factors are the real culprits for high food prices. He noted that cellulosic ethanol, which uses grasses and woody feedstocks instead of food crops, is a good alternative in the future once the technology is better developed.

"But (corn ethanol) is the thing we can do now," he said. "I think we can produce what we need. I don't let it bother me."

A panel later addressed "misperceptions of ethanol," including the food question. Harry Baumes, associate director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Office of Energy Policy & New Uses, said the problem of high corn prices is correcting itself as world growth slows, declaring, "The food crisis is over."

Food scarcity is indeed self correcting. But I doubt Mr. Baumes wants it to self correct at his house.

The rest of the article is much happier. There's a lot of hope for cellulistic ethanol, and Georgia will be at the forefront of the technology.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Looking at Congressional travel

Halimah Abdullah, the D.C. reporter The Telegraph shares with two other McClatchy papers, had a piece in today's paper about congressional travel. A couple of highlights:
In 2005, Saab AB, an aerospace and defense company based in Sweden, paid $6,977 to fly Chambliss staffer Alex Shively to participate in a fact-finding tour of Swedish defense research and manufacturing facilities. That year, the company spent about $41,000 to host the staffers of several lawmakers who sit on such powerful committees as Armed Services and Appropriations.

Last year, Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Ga., and his son took a $22,707 American Israel Education Foundation-sponsored trip to Tel Aviv. According to House and Senate ethics rules, one relative, including a spouse or child, may accompany a lawmaker or staffer on privately sponsored trips.

I bet $22,707 gets you a pretty good trip to Israel.

This research is actually pretty easy to do, thanks to the good people at The Center for Responsive Politics, aka opensecrets.org.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Why is compromise a dirty word? Sen. Chambliss addresses "Gang of 10" criticisms.

UPDATE: You can download a two-pager from Sen. Chambliss' office describing the proposed legislation here.
---
Being naive, I've been surprised by the vehemence flung at U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss over his involvement in the Gang of 10 compromise on energy reform and offshore drilling.

While there are complaints that the proposal gives too much away to the "Democratic" position on the issue, most of the criticism seems to boil down to: John McCain needs this issue to get elected.

Sen. Chambliss was kind enough to speak with me today about it. He said he hopes constituent support over the August break will get the group's proposal to the floor. Already there are plans for an energy summit, during which experts will address the Senate, the first week Congress goes back into session next month.

"There are a lot of senators who think they know something about energy but really don't," he said. Some of the senator's comments:
I can't worry about what the talk show hosts do. They're selling advertisement and I understand that. There are some Republicans who want the issue and not a solution. Some of them are my friends and I have great respect for them. By the same token I think we've got an opportunity to address this crisis and I do think that's why people sent me to Washington. ..."

When somebody tells me that (this proposal gives too much to the Democrats), I say, Do you understand that Democrats don't want to drill offshore? This group has agreed to drill offshore. Do you understand that Democrats are not supportive of additional nuclear power. We've got additional nuclear power. Not only that but we've got nuclear recycling in our proposal. Plus we've got a coal-to-liquid provision in there. Those are Republican measures that they've come our way on. ....

ANWR is a problem. That's a lightning rod for a lot of Democrats. We're not going to get 60 votes on it. So why should we put it in the mix at this time. If it goes to the floor and somebody has an amendment on ANWR, I'm gonna vote to drill in ANWR. ..."

Rush (Limbaugh) keeps saying we've got a windfall profits tax provision in there, which we do not. We do have an $84 billion cost that we are suggesting to the finance committee that they should look at taking away an incentive we gave to the oil companies in 2004, where they get a 6 percent exclusion from their income from domestic production. That's a way that we can generate some money to pay for it, but that's up to the finance committee. And Rush has hammered us on that, but that's not a windfall profits tax. ...

I understand that there's some people that want an issue... This is a crisis and I think it's something that needs to be addressed. ... For the most part, we're hearing 'Thanks for what you're doing.'

UPDATE 2: I should have noted - there's a separate effort underway with GOP House members. The AJC had a story about it today.

July revenue figures: 6.6 percent is a big number

An expected whammy. From the governor's office:
ATLANTA – Governor Sonny Perdue announced today that net revenue collections for the month of July 2008 (FY09) totaled $1,213,291,000 compared to $1,299,683,000 for July 2007 (FY08), a decrease of $86,391,000 or 6.6 percent.
July is the first month of Fiscal Year 2009. The percentage decrease year-to-date for FY09 compared to FY08 is 6.6 percent

I'll link analysis pieces here as I find them. Just more bad news that will probably lead to more calls for a special session.

UDPATE: GBPI put out a new report on the issue today. You can download the report, but here are some of their suggestions. Many of them are the same as in previous reports:
Implement and prioritize targeted budget cuts after gathering public input. Medicaid, PeachCare, Department of Human Resources, Board of Education and public safety programs should be the highest priority for funding. A decision to either eliminate or reduce the Homeowners Tax Relief Grant needs to be made in a timely fashion to give counties, cities and school districts sufficient time to notify property owners;

Redirect funding from low priority programs to high priority programs. For example, some of the tobacco settlement funds that are currently appropriated for economic development programs in the OneGeorgia Authority could be redirected towards Medicaid, PeachCare and Public Health programs.

Pass legislation that would increase revenues in order to avoid significant budget cuts to vital government services. Such legislation could include increasing the cigarette tax by $1 a pack, eliminating some of the special interest tax breaks passed during the 2007 and 2008 sessions of the General Assembly, implementing an income tax surcharge on those earning more than $400,000, and reinstating the estate tax; and

Plan on using between 50 to 75 percent of the funds available in the Revenue Shortfall Reserve in order to avoid significant budget cuts to vital government services.

UPDATE 2: Insider Advantage's coverage.

UPDATE 3: Salzer checks in:
The bad news continued in two areas that provide strong indicators of the strength or weakness of the economy: income and sales taxes.

Personal income taxes were off 6.5 percent from July 2007, and corporate income taxes fell 62 percent for the month.

Sales tax collections for July slipped 5.3 percent. Food, lumber, autos and home furnishings all saw big sales tax declines.

Gas-tax collections were down as Georgians bought an estimated 28 million fewer gallons of gas in July than in July 2007.

Staton cracks the GOP whip in Bibb County

We're going to have a pretty heated county commission chairman's race here in Bibb County this year with current Chairman Charlie Bishop up against former Commissioner Sam Hart. Bishop had primary competition in Theron Ussery, a fellow Republican and former city councilman.

Last week, Ussery endorsed Hart, a Democrat, for the general election. It didn't take long for state Sen. Cecil Staton, head of the Bibb legislative delegation, to fire back. This letter went out last week to local Republicans:
Dear fellow Republicans,

Recently, I was shocked and saddened to read in the Macon Telegraph (online) about Theron Ussery’s endorsement of the Democrat candidate for County Commission Chair. I know the pain of losing a primary first-hand. But genuine Republicans back our nominees. There is too much at stake this year for our county, our state, and our nation to do otherwise. All I can say is shame on Theron Ussery.

Charlie Bishop has been a dedicated and effective leader for Bibb County as our Commission Chairman. He won that position four years ago when no one gave a Republican a chance to win countywide in Bibb County. While some, for their own political motives, have attempted to paint Charlie as someone who does not get along, nothing could be further from the truth. Ask Elmo Richardson, or any of the Republican members of our local delegation and they will tell you that we have no problems working with Charlie Bishop. In fact, we have all worked with him over the last four years to bring jobs and economic growth to Bibb County in spite of the problems we faced because of Mayor Ellis. And no one has worked harder than Charlie.

Charlie knows how to say “no” when he needs to and he has held the Democrat members of the commission at bay when they would have led our county in the wrong direction. Charlie is a leader and I am proud to support his re-election campaign. I cannot speak to Theron Ussery’s motives for his endorsement of the Democrat in this race, but there is no legitimate reason for this. Again I say, shame on Theron Ussery. There are very real differences between the Republican principles that Charlie and Elmo fight for and those of the Democrats who are seeking to take over county government completely.

This year we face perhaps the most important election of our lifetime. We must work diligently to elect Senator John McCain as our President. His vision, character, and experience are so vastly superior to that of Obama’s as to make this a turning point election for our nation. But at the local government level, the race for County Commission Chairman is just as important for the future of middle Georgia and Bibb County. Charlie Bishop can win this race, but only if Republicans work hard to re-elect him. The alternative vision for Bibb County and Macon under the complete control of local Democrats is something I do not even want to contemplate for one moment. This is no time to abandon principle for personal political expediency.

So Republicans please join me in supporting and doing everything within our power to re-elect our County Commission Chairman, Charlie Bishop. He has my unwavering support and I trust he has your support too.

Regards,

Senator Cecil Staton

I don't really understand the supposed Republican backlash against Bishop. Ussery got nearly 2,000 votes (42 percent) in the primary, though I think many Republicans crossed over to vote in our sheriff's race. Bishop can be gruff and paranoid, but he's one of the hardest working politicians I've ever met.

He's tough on spending, has pretty clearly been good for business expansion in the county and is endorsed by Gov. Sonny Perdue. What problem could local Republicans possibly have with Charlie Bishop?

Enlighten me in the comments if you know, but you're going to have to keep it appropriate, leave your real name and state that you're a Republican if you want them to stay there. Anything else, feel free to email me at tfain@macon.com.

Accidental campaign policy

I mentioned Salzer's scoop last week about the General Assembly striking the state's campaign advertisement disclosure rule. It wasn't completely accidental, as some senators supported the change and voted for it in committee. But in the General Assembly as a whole, I haven't found too many folks who knew the change was made when they voted for the bill.

Anyway, this is the piece I wrote about it, which ran Saturday.
Earlier this year, state legislators eliminated the rule requiring political campaigns to identify themselves on campaign literature.

The change passed nearly unanimously, with only two people voting against it. Yet many of the legislators who approved it say they had no idea that's what they were doing when they voted.

Even the bill's initial sponsor, state Rep. Harry Geisinger, R-Roswell, said he didn't know the the change was part of his much longer bill dealing with election regulations.

In fact, most midstate legislators who voted for the change told The Telegraph that they liked the disclosure rule and may push to have it reinstated when the General Assembly reconvenes early next year.

There's a good chance the rule was unconstitutional to begin with, some say, and the General Assembly did the right thing, even if it was accidental.

Regardless of what's done from here, the change points to a not-so-secret truth about Georgia's General Assembly: Legislators don't always know what they're voting on.

And fallout from the change continues. This went out to Georgia newspaper publishers on Friday, from the Georgia Press Association:
Now effective July 1, 2008, the other Code section, O.C.G.A. § 21-2-415, has been repealed as well. This was the Code section that required all campaign literature to disclose the name and address of the person or organization responsible for it, and for an organization to include the names and addresses of its three highest officials. Also repealed was another part of this Code section which made it a misdemeanor to falsely use a person’s name or likeness to endorse a candidate without the authorization of such person.

Georgia newspapers still have the discretion to accept or reject any political ad. A newspaper might simply have a policy not to accept anonymous ads. However, Georgia law no longer requires ads to have the name and address of the sponsoring person or organization.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Describing Gov. Perdue's budget plan

UPDATE: I'm expecting to see July revenue figures today, but haven't yet. But this is a budget story I wrote Friday that ran in today's paper. It basically covers the same ground hit in these last three posts.
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I asked the governor's office some specific budget questions yesterday, and the answers turned out to be a pretty straight forward explanation of the plan as Gov. Sonny Perdue's administration tries to deal with the expected budget shortfall.

It's from Bert Brantley, the governor's press secretary, and I'm publishing it here in its entirety:
Well, we have asked agencies to submit plans of 6, 8 and 10 percent reductions, so 10 percent is certainly possible. I don’t think you will see 10 percent across the board or even 10 percent across any particular agency, but its hard to be too certain of anything when you look at the uncertainty of the economy. When agencies develop plans of 8 and 10 percent reductions, it gives the Governor and the legislature some flexibility to choose the areas of savings that make the most sense within agencies. We know the 6 percent that agencies are facing now will be very difficult and will require tough choices. When you are trying to fill a $1.6 billion gap, everything has to be on the table so you can choose the best option from the range of choices.

The Governor has started withholding 6 percent from state agencies, with the exception of Medicaid (5 percent) and QBE (2 percent). I can’t give you a priority ranking except to say he looked at all the options and decided this was the most prudent way forward at this time. The thing about the {Homeowners Tax Relief Grant} that most people are missing is that decision had to be made immediately because of digests coming in and tax bills going out. It was not a decision that could be delayed any longer, and with the uncertainty in the economy the Governor did not feel it was in the best interest of the state to start sending those allotments out which would have forced deeper cuts later on. By making the decision to withhold for now, it gives him and the legislature the flexibility to look at all options and come to a consensus on the best way forward.

Every decision will be driven by how the economy impacts state revenues. The Governor has said that new taxes are not the first place he would look for additional revenues. He looked at where we could reduce spending first. Withholding the HTRG does not necessarily require raising taxes. Local spending has grown faster than state spending over the past few years, and some local governments could likely find some reductions in spending just as the state is doing. It is way too early to guess what his reaction would be to a transportation sales tax without knowing any details and not yet having completed the work that is being done right now to develop a statewide transportation plan.

The {} is my addition, just to explain what HTRG means. It's also called the homestead exemption on your property tax bill.

I question whether the state can hit the $1.6 billion target, and keep education and Medicaid cuts at 2 and 5 percent respectively, without cutting closer to 10 percent than 6 percent, but I'm not the expert.

Gov. Perdue returns from China tomorrow, according to his press office. I wouldn't expect July revenue numbers to be released until he's had time to review them, which will probably mean Monday.

Once those numbers are out, we'll see more dialogue. I know GBPI plans to issue a report once those numbers are available, and their reports are always quite detailed. I imagine we'll see the usual excellent budget coverage from this guy, too.

Sobering thoughts on the state budget

At the suggestion of a wise man, I did some back-of-the-envelope budget math to see what a 10 percent cut saves if you back out education and Medicaid funding. But I had to make some assumptions, not the least of them being that I know how to read the state budget and exactly how much the state spends on Medicaid each year.

So I won't share my own half-assed calculations. But the bottom line was clear from to me, and has been expressed pretty well by people who know a lot more about government finances: When you're talking a $1.6 billion shortfall in a $21.2 billion budget, that's entering super whammy territory.
State Rep. Larry O'Neal, a CPA and chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means:

"There's going to be a lot of crying. And there's a way to get through it (without a tax increase) by significant, and I'm talking about significant, painful reductions in expenditures."

On whether a 10 percent cut would be enough: "All I can do is hope so."

Are layoffs a foregone conclusion?: "Probably so."

On keeping the homestead exemption: "There's a strong likelihood we will be unable to fund what essentially was a luxury."

Alan Essig, executive director of the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute:

"Six percent (cuts) may be conservative. The budget shortfall is real. the numbers are bad."

"I don't think we know the scope of the problem yet. Are we (at the bottom), or is it going to get worse? Are we going to start getting better in six months or 18?... I don't envy the governor."

Remember, we're just talking about money already appropriated here. This doesn't account for any new funding for transportation (Atlanta still has traffic problems), or mental health (the federal government is likely to require this), or increased education funding (there's a lawsuit over it), or trauma care funding (which has been listed as a top House leadership priority).

And then there's the homestead exemption grant, which the House of Representatives has nearly painted themselves into a corner on.

How can legislators allow it to expire when they crusaded last year to cut property taxes? But if we keep it, we've got to find $428 million in cuts or revenue to make up the expected budget deficit.

New blog

Apparently some Mercer students have started a conservative blog called DownRight. I'll add it to the links, and I'm glad to see a new conservative blog out there.

Sometimes it seems like the 'sphere is dominated by Democrats.

A brief recap on Lucid Idiocy blog links: I try to limit it to Middle Georgia based blogs, with the obvious exception of the Political Insider, which is more mainstream news source than blog.

If there's someone I should be linking, please let me know. As always, you can reach me at 478.744.4213 or tfain@macon.com

Travis Fain
staff writer
The Macon Telegraph

p.s. - hat tip to Georgia Politics Unfiltered, where I first saw DownRight linked.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Cagle: Department budget cuts could hit 10 percent, layoffs possible

July revenue figures aren't out yet, but Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle said today that the state's economic slide could lead to 10 percent budget cuts, instead of the 6 percent currently prescribed.

Cagle also said the cuts would lead to "certainly deferrals and maybe layoffs." He said state education funding would be exempt from that, beyond the cut Gov. Sonny Perdue has already ordered in taking away the portion of austerity cut funding restored earlier this year.

There has got to be a simpler way to write that last sentence. And "deferrals" means not filling open jobs.

Lt. Gov. Cagle was in Macon this morning to speak to a joint conference of the Georgia State Firefighters Association and the Georgia Association of Fire Chiefs. I've got more, but that's the headline stuff.

UPDATE: Chances are good that the 10 percent figure assumes we keep the homestead exemption, which lowers local property taxes by replacing that revenue with state funding. From Pettys:
State agencies already have been told to prepare budgets anticipating 6, 8 and 10 percent cuts as possible options. If the homeowners’ tax relief program is kept intact, many of the cuts would need to approach the 10 percent mark, some budget experts say.

UPDATE 2: The more I look at this, and after talking to folks with more experience than me, the numbers are pointing to a pretty serious question: Is 10 percent going to be enough without a tax increase?

I'll try to run some numbers and pull some interviews together to flesh that out tomorrow. Also, the July revenue figures should be released soon - probably by Monday - and that should give us a little more info, and another round of coverage.

UPDATE 3 (Friday): I've written two more posts on this issue, including comments from Gov. Perdue's press secretary, Ways and Means Chairman Larry O'Neal and Alan Essig with GBPI. Access them through the main page.

Why wouldn't Obama help Martin?

Ruh-roh. Allegations that Sen. Barack Obama's campaign helped Jim Martin beat Vernon Jones.

I have no inside information on this. But, strategery-wise, why wouldn't the Obama campaign want Martin on the ticket instead of Jones?

A black man with a history of reverse racism complaints against him, who answered a rape allegation by saying no, no - that was a consensual manage-a-trois — yeah, that wouldn't bring out a bunch of white folks who'd vote for McCain.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss could have buried Jones in a sea of negative ads. Race would have been a huge issue in that campaign, and not in a way that helps Obama.

Plus, there's the tricky matter of Obama having to share a stage at some point with a guy he already smacked down on the campaign trail.

I'd question the logic if the Obama campaign didn't help Martin in some way.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

A flag bearer from the huddled masses

As one of the gals at Blog for Democracy notes, the U.S. Olympic team has chosen a Sudanese refugee to carry the American Flag during Friday's opening ceremonies.

Lopez Lomong came here as a teenager. Tell me that ain't what makes America great.

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles.


Nice. Image: LopezLomong.org