Tuesday, December 30, 2008

End of an era

This has happened a lot faster than I had planned, but I'm pretty excited about it.

Starting now, this blog at this location will cease to be. I'm heading over to join the crew at an expanded and revamped Tondee's Tavern. For the past two months, following the end of the election, I've been mulling over what to do with my blog, and one innocent conversation with Flack spiraled into this new venture on our part.

It's modeled somewhat after Talking Points Memo, and we'll provide breaking news, analysis and commentary on state and local issues from a progressive perspective. And it's divided up into a home page and then various independent blogs

That's not all. We're going to work on more in-depth features in the coming months, as well as have regular New Media elements like weekly podcasts, vodcasts and the like. For instance, I'll host my own weekly podcast called 'Safe At Home' that will focus on issues of the day, while 'The Cover Two' will be reborn with the same cast of characters to talk about sports.

Give us some time as Flack's already warned about some bugs and ticks we'll have to work out. I imagine some of the layout might get tinkered with, as well as some features. Be patient as this is a work in progress.

Have no fear, though. My blog will remain largely the same by focusing on all things Athens-Clarke County/Northeast Georgia, as well as an expanded focus on state issues. The only difference is that you can find it now this location.

What the stimulus could mean for us

One of the things I've been curious about with regard to proposed infrastructure projects in Athens-Clarke County is exactly how those projects were selected. Namely, that projects that will either install an intersection at Mitchell Bridge Road or built a deck at a park aren't really ones that will have a long-term, significant effect on the community. Not that aren't necessary upgrades or renovations that will provide real jobs and real paychecks to workers, but that they don't seem to be big-picture types of projects.

And, if the federal government is willing to invest $1 trillion over the next two years into our infrastructure needs, we ought to be crafting a plan that can bring about some much-needed changes that will benefit us in the long-term.

Mayor Heidi Davison explained that the existing projects in the United States Conference of Mayors report were drawn from recommendations of 'shovel-ready' projects ...

The list submitted to the USCM was developed by staff using the criteria that they had to be ready to go in 90 days, if memory serves. So, it wasn't so much a wish list as one that represents projects that have proceeded through all the necessary stages and now lacking only funding.

Davison said because the initial list involved only ready-to-go infrastructure projects, they were aimed at getting jobs created immediately. Furthermore, she noted that the proposed projects 'aren't set in stone' ...

My guess is that once legislation is crafted and approved we will have a better sense of what can be funded, criteria to receive funding, etc. allowing us to apply and be considered. The lists currently being generated are, in my opinion, being done to give the administration a sense of the breath, depth, scope, etc. of projects cities need assistance with so that a stimulus package that is realistic can be created. I doubt this list is set in stone.

I hope that it's not because I'd like to see some significantly larger projects be featured in any future requests. For instance, if there's ever a time to find financing for something like 'The Brain Train' then this is it. If there's ever a time to develop a comprehensive public transit system - and I mean an interconnected system of light rail, bus, etc. - to service all of North Georgia, this is it. If there's ever a time to expand and renovate The Loop, this is it. If there's ever a time to give a much needed facelift to Atlanta Highway, this is it.

There's a tremendous opportunity to be had here, and we ought to seize it. It will require some regional cooperation and some outside-the-box thinking, but there's a chance to lay a foundation of future economic growth through comprehensive transportation planning ... and that's something we shouldn't pass on.

People of the Year


1. Barack Obama

OK, so it ain't really a shocker here, but, leaving aside the historical nature of his campaign and subsequent victory, what impressed me most about Obama was the fact that he repeatedly was the cooler head in numerous trying situations. During the Jeremiah Wright flare-up, he used it as an opportunity to open up a necessary and needed dialogue on race. When the Clintons tried to sink his ship in the closing days of the Democratic presidential primary, he kept a level head and stuck to his message. When John McCain picked Sarah Palin, throwing everyone else in the universe into a tailspin, he plugged right along. As the economy went into a tailspin and McCain frantically sought a way to demonstrate 'leadership' in a time of crisis, Obama projected confidence and assurance.

Folks on the left wanted him to get mad, and he didn't. Folks on the right accused him of being a socialist, and he laughed them off. And, in the end, it all paid off with a massive win on Election Day.

2. Rennie Curran

Not only do I simply love how the guy plays, but I also love how it seems he's the only guy on Georgia's defense who didn't forget how to tackle - you wrap your arms around the ballcarrier and drive them to the ground. As the Bulldogs' defense floundered in big games, Curran was the one constant, racking up 12 tackles here and 14 tackles there.

3. Josh Lanier

Lanier didn't ring up the big electoral totals during the Democratic Senate primary I had hoped, but it wasn't because he wasn't the most compelling candidate. He had the most experience and the most clear policy positions out of any of the five candidates seeking the nomination. What hindered him was his principles, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. An ardent advocate for campaign finance reform, Lanier refused to play by the rules that he criticized, thus limiting how much he would accept in donations. In politics, money talks, but Lanier tried to buck the system and that's something to be admired.

4. Mike Hamby

I know I helped the guy's campaign out, and I know we're friends, but that doesn't mean that Hamby can't be one of my favorite people in 2008. When he first told me he had decided to run, I was, rightly, stunned since he had never given any inclination that he'd be interested in seeking elected office ... but I was also pretty enthused as well. Hamby's progressive and pragmatic, and our views on economic development, the cultivation of human capital, the fight against poverty and the need to enhance our infrastructure closely line up. I'm very optimistic about his upcoming first term.

Honorable Mention

Knoshown Moreno, because he's Georgia's best running back since Herschel Walker (and I really hope he sticks around for one more year) ... Kay Hagan, because she's a great example of a strong progressive who can win in a tough state ... John Lewis, because when you stare down billy clubs, who you offend with what you say or who you endorse is secondary ... Jennifer Aniston, because, well.


1. Paul Broun

Seriously, what won't Broun do for you? Don't bank on him ever fighting for the projects in Northeast Georgia because that supposedly goes against his own philosophical views, thus making the 'representative' aspect of his office more symbolic than anything else. However, when it comes to spending an unprecedented $1.5 million of taxpayer money in six months to build up his own name ID, those principles fly right out the window, don't they?

Such a lack of scruples, however, only scratches the surface for our favorite congressman. He also ducked debates in his hometown (and elsewhere), advocated for unnecessary 'English-only' legislation that would have had an impact on the American Southwest and then, to top it all off, accused the president-elect of wanting to install a Marxist Gestapo and compared him to Adolf Hitler.

This is your congressman Northeast Georgia. Enjoy.

2. Sarah Palin

Not because I think she's ultimately a bad person, but because she was woefully ill-equipped and unprepared to participate in a presidential campaign, let alone serve as the vice president. She whipped up her crowds into banal and borderline racist fervor, lacked the basic knowledge of what the office she was seeking actually did and relied on shallow catch-phrases and subtle sex appeal to score points.

3. Urban Meyer

Sure, he's a good football coach, but he's also a shameless propagandist. After Georgia's 'Celebration' victory in 2007, Bulldogs head coach Mark Richt called Meyer the following day to apologize, which Meyer accepted ... or so we thought. The latter comes out with a book in the summer where he proceeds to speak in third person throughout and unaccepts the apology. Then, after his admittedly better Florida team is finishing off Georgia this year, he calls two timeouts in the closing seconds and instructs his team to celebrate. Any Georgia fan who clings to this 'I hated Steve Spurrier more' mantra needs to let that go and embrace the new evil.

4. Karen Handel

All the good things Cathy Cox did as Secretary of State, earning bipartisan praise from prominent members from both parties, yeah ... Handel's completely undone that in a little more than half a term. This past year, she booted Jim Powell, a Democrat seeking a seat on the Public Service Commission, off the ballot just days before the primary and despite a pair of legal opinions she requested that argued against doing so. It took two more losses in the state's judicial system to make her stop, but that wasn't all she did. She willingly ignored state law when Joe Carter dropped out of at State Senate race in South Georgia, reopening qualifying for only Republicans but not Democrats. Then, after the Keith Gross debacle, she tossed out valid petitions collected by independent Michelle Conlon in a vain attempt to block her from challenging Mike Jacobs. To top it all off, Handel then denied extended early voting hours in Georgia despite a multitude of neighboring states opting to extend theirs at the last minute.

Honorable Mention

Sonny Perdue, because he enjoys blaming Athens activists for him not ponying up the necessary incentives to attract NBAF ... Tony Romo, because he's the most overrated quarterback in the NFL ... Andre Walker, because he can't quite seem to reconcile the fact that, one day, he's going to switch parties so he's trying to throw everyone under the bus for his own errors and missteps ... Glenn Richardson, because he wanted to impose 170-plus new taxes on goods and services and have that money be pooled in Atlanta for him to dole out as he saw fit.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Music for the moment 2008

Let's kick off our year-end reviews by highlighting some of my favorite songs that I featured over the past year ...

Bud Light Song by Adam Hood
My Kinda Party by Brantley Gilbert
Sounds So Good by Ashton Shepherd
Don't by Billy Currington
Alabama by Cross Canadian Ragweed

Couple of things

Seeing how today might feature sporadic posting due to other professional obligations, as well as necessary cleaning following a week of family and friends coming at going at our place, here's a quick roundup of some things to note from the past few days ...

- The Athens Banner-Herald goes over some of the top headlines in the area from 2008.

- They're celebrating Festivus over at Tondee's Tavern.

- Aside from the fact that this woman had to go to Ohio to receive proper medical care bothering me at a moral level, it also seems to be an awful business decision on Georgia's part, does it not? If the average surgery needed to alleviate the rare condition this woman suffered would be a one-time cost of $200,000 to $400,000, why would that be rejected in lieu of covered treatments that cost $150,000 per year and can stretch on indefinitely? If this woman survived with this condition and the resulting treatment for a decade, that's costing Georgia more than $1 million. If she opts for the surgery - which also saves her life and brings her a more pleasant, comfortable quality of life - it costs roughly a third of the treatment.

- My friend Art wrote a letter defending the Friends of Southeast Clarke Park, and I respectfully disagree with some of his assertions.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Rebutting the WOW argument

Just to be clear upfront ... I know Art Ordoqui, I like Art Ordoqui and I consider him to be a valuable colleague. All of that said, I take exception to some of his arguments regarding WOW.

Not only does Ordoqui's assertions directly contradict the stories of those involved with the community visioning process, but it also is factually at odds with Kent Kilpatrick from Athens-Clarke County Leisure Services.

In 2004, the county contributed $48,000 for the park - as well as $140,000 for infrastructure. Kilpatrick told me that the average park in the community costs $75,000 to $100,000 to build, and that the averague annual maintenance cost for those county-built parks is $1,000 per year. In four years, then, the typical park, at the most, should cost the community $104,000 in construction and maintenance.

This park will cost taxpayers $106,000 after four years thanks to an unprecedented $58,000 repairs bill due to poor planning, shoddy construction and inadequate materials. If you factor in the $140,000 in additional taxpayer expense from 2004 for infrastructure, its liability to the public soars to close to a quarter of a million dollars (to say nothing about the $278,000 in private funds that had to be raised).

In addition, Kilpatrick said if this was one of the county's parks it had built, he would hypothetically recommend just starting over due to the maintenance costs.

Yes, this is a larger park. Yes, this is a cool park. Yes, kids love it.

But, as Nicki noted, this is something that was not listed highly on the list of the community's recommended SPLOST projects ...

We all participated in the community visioning process in which we allocated funds to resources and so on. And the top priorities never included WOW. If I recall properly, the top priorities were always dog park, skate park, and either frisbee golf or zero-rise water play area. WOW was never in the top three. Which makes a lot of sense, because WOW is cool, but is not really as novel as depicted. For example, there is a public playground just a mile or two away. Whereas the other facilities would be unique (everything but frisbee golf, which I think was never seriously considered because there are several others).

Yes, this is a nice park, but it's something that a relatively small group of people desired to be built, and the decisions they made have saddled taxpayers with an outrageous repairs bill (regardless of the amount of wear and tear the facility has weathered due to high usage).

So, while I'm glad to see that the Friends of Southeast Clarke Park is willing to be a 'strong partner' with the community with regard to WOW and that it 'supports its efforts' to address the maintenance concerns, it's also important to recognize that sort of misses the point.

And the point is that this whole thing is their fault.

The Friends of Southeast Clarke Park should be responsible for at least half of the maintenance costs - if not all - because they opted to circumvent the SPLOST process, they opted to use Leathers & Company and they settled for a substandard product that now merits close to $60,000 in repairs.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas blogging

Might be light for a day or so with family in town, but I trust that everyone had a wonderful holiday. Here's a bit of what went on at my place ...

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

"Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
- Luke 2: 1-20

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Lend A Hand 2008

Each Christmas, I try to spotlight some non-profit organizations. Here is the first batch of those agencies, and, in the spirit of the season, I encourage you to consider lending them your support. For this year's first installment, click here.

Foundation For Excellence
The Foundation for Excellence provies a commitment to invest in Athens-Clarke County's most valuable resource - its schoolchildren. Through an extensive annual program of financial awards, grants, and scholarships, the foundation provides a meaningful way to recognize, support, and reward outstanding teaching in the Clarke County School District. Although more than 400 classroom teachers, paraprofessionals and other support personnel have benefited from the Foundation's mission, it is the Clarke County student, who, ultimately, gains the greatest dividend - enthusiastic, creative, and highly motivated teachers. These teachers bring excitement, innovation, and solid achievement to their classroom.

To make a donation, click here.

AIDS Athens
AIDS Athens, Inc. serves to address the needs of individuals infected and affected by HIV/AIDS through support services and to prevent the spread of the disease through education and outreach. AIDS Athens exists to enhance and enrich the quality of life for those living with HIV/AIDS, as well as their friends, families, and partners. The organization also seeks to effect a fundamental change in society's attitude toward persons infected with HIV/AIDS.

To make a donation, click here.

Food Bank Of Northeast Georgia
The Food Bank of Northeast Georgia will work toward ending hunger as part of an overall effort to alleviate poverty in our community. Its goals are to minimize and eliminate hunger in Northeast Georgia by developing an effective system to acquire and distribute food which would otherwise be wasted, as well as to increase individual and community awareness and action concerning hunger and poverty.

To make a donation, click here.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

My thoughts

Already emails asking me about my thoughts on the Yankees nabbing Mark Teixeira at the last second. My thoughts?


With him stonewalling everyone, not just the Red Sox, and then approaching New York at the last second and shopping Boston's offer, it's obvious he wanted to play there. More power to the guy.

I'm not really going to gripe in the grand scheme of things since, you know, we've won two out of the last five world championships while the Yankees have a grand total of zero this century.

Levity is needed

In light of news like this, it seems to me that Josh Marshall's take on this closely parallels mine ...

But as I watch this unfold I feel increasingly concerned that the people controlling the money are using the complexity of the situation and the public's difficulty in understanding it to use public money to shield very wealthy institutions and individuals from the inherent risks of their chosen line of work. ...

What I think we all recognize though, at least in principle, is that there's a strong public interest in preventing major disruptions in the financial sector that could hobble the rest of the economy. But I keep hearing more and more examples that sound a lot more like trying to socialize the losses of the major investment houses and hedge funds and their owners than trying to achieve any reasonable public purpose.

Regarding commercial development, one of the primary driving forces behind some of the more lucrative deals in that industry come from the amount risk one takes on. If we remove the risk from this particular line of work, aren't we also removing the incentive to actually pursue said risks to garner the reward?

I'm not saying I can't be reasoned into seeing why a bailout for the commercial development industry is a good thing or a necessary thing, but it just seems that we're now just throwing insane amounts of money at bad investments or poor business decisions. And that this money, particularly in the financial industry, is casually given out with no questions asked (unlike, say, a dramatically smaller bridge-loan program that would have protected three- to five-million working class jobs and had a substantially more profound impact on the nation's economy).

Early morning round-up

Rounding some stuff from this morning ...

World of Wonder debacle
- Some WOW perspective
- More on WOW

Andre watch
- This morning's installment

More on WOW

Nikki, who was involved in the development of the World of Wonder playground, shares some thoughts about how the original process went down ...

Ok, I won't leave it at my previous comments, then. I worked on one of the other components of the park when WOW was raising money and so on. We all participated in the community visioning process in which we allocated funds to resources and so on. And the top priorities never included WOW. If I recall properly, the top priorities were always dog park, skate park, and either frisbee golf or zero-rise water play area. WOW was never in the top three. Which makes a lot of sense, because WOW is cool, but is not really as novel as depicted. For example, there is a public playground just a mile or two away. Whereas the other facilities would be unique (everything but frisbee golf, which I think was never seriously considered because there are several others).

Never mind, said the WOW folks, we'll raise our own money. Which they did fairly well in the initial stages. But then things got ugly. More money ended up being designated to the ball parks than was originally anticipated (because there were some changes in material costs for infrastructure -- lights, parking, etc.). And suddenly the other groups were getting tipped off by those who were running the project that WOW was in fact campaigning to receive more money, which they wanted to see taken from the other initiatives. Which the other initiatives did compromise on, but not without a lot of entitled, nasty attacks on their constituent groups.

Both the skate park (which was planned to be roughly double its current size) and the dog park (which originally had way more people-centric amenities) were scaled back, and more money was given to WOW. But what annoys me is the attitude that underpinned the request for more money. It was very much like they were entitled to WOW and their cause was unimpeachable because they were representing the children, and the other groups were full of shiftless, selfish criminals who just wanted to take from children for our own selfish interests. When in fact we were all doing what we are entitled to do as citizens to participate in the process of creating the park. And we all pay taxes. And both the skate park and dog park benefit a much wider cross-section of the ACC citizens than does WOW.

As far as I'm concerned, in other words, WOW wasn't ever a very honorable or nice or realistic group, and it's no surprise that they take no responsibility for the long-term maintenance of their project.

Andre watch

So, we've directly engaged him and the scurrilous arguments he enjoys bringing forth. This morning we find that Andre is clinging to his notion that Democrats in Georgia must abandon their base of white progressives and African-Americans by pursuing candidates who run hard to the right.

While, again, I don't presume to suggest that, given today's existing political environment in Georgia, a moderate-to-conservative Democrat wouldn't fare better at the state level (though, to be fair, I think the jury's out that too), I also think merely copying the Republicans is not a valid or legitimate long-term strategy.

To bolster his claim, Andre derides the notion that Hispanics are emerging, albeit slowly, as a political player in Georgia. He does this despite evidence that shows Georgia's Hispanic population is exploding and Hispanics are constituting more and more of the electorate. He also thinks it's 'speculation' that Hispanics tend to lean Democratic, again, despite evidence to the contrary.

What else does Andre dispute? That younger voters are trending Democratic and - with someone like Barack Obama in the White House serving as the possible formative political figure for younger voters the same way Ronald Reagan did 25-plus years ago - that they'll remain in the 'lean Democratic' camp. Here, though, his own research undermines his argument ...

With Georgia’s youth, the CNN exit poll for 2008 showed voters between the ages of 18 and 24 backed McCain with 50% of the vote. Voters between the ages of 25 and 29 backed McCain with 51% of the vote.

In 2006, young Georgia voters backed Perdue with 51% of the vote.

In 2004, young Georgia voters backed Bush with 52% of the vote.

And in 2000, young Georgia voters back Bush with 60% of the vote.

So, we see that in eight years younger voters have gone from being a reliable Republican voting bloc to a swing group in Georgia. In fact, they're the only demographic to have swung so sharply toward swing voter status during a period of time when the state, as a whole, suddenly and dramatically realigned to the Republican Party.

And somehow this is proof that they're Republican voters?

Furthermore, the primary fault with Andre's rationale is that in addition to simply ignoring contrary evidence which points out how he's, well, wrong, is that it's adhering to an outdated model of mobilizing voters by dividing them into the wrong sub-sets. As I argued earlier, Georgia will emerge, in due time, as a competitive swing state thanks largely to an urban population growth with those voters tending to lean Democrat over Republican. This trend has happened in North Carolina and Virginia and, thanks to the rapid growth of Atlanta and other metro areas, it is likely to happen here as well.

University of Georgia history professor James Cobb notes ...

Moreover, in Georgia where (John) McCain’s final five point margin was much slimmer than once anticipated, the Obama campaign’s belated decision to run ads targeting metro Atlanta, with its large population of white newcomers and African Americans, might have indicated recognition of a lost opportunity and foretold a more formidable effort in that state in 2012. ...

Obama’s returns also reflected the growing suburbanization of the South’s black middle class. He carried three metropolitan Atlanta counties—Douglas, Newton, and Rockdale—that, despite giving 60 percent or more of their votes to George W. Bush in 2004, had seen their black populations more than double since 2000. Blacks represented over one-third of the population in each of these counties by 2008, and although McCain carried four other metropolitan counties with smaller but fast-growing black populations (including notoriously conservative Cobb), his share of the vote nonetheless fell short of Bush’s by from seven to twelve points.

The point isn't offering a more conservative or more progressive message, but rather a practical one that connects with the challenges and concerns facing these voters. And, given that the newer white voters tend to hold more progressive views on most issues - and that they appear to be a source of strength for the Democratic Party in the coming years - crafting a message which alienates them is absolutely backward.

Some WOW perspective

If you want a bit of perspective regarding the repairs needed for the World of Wonder playground, look no further than the numbers Kent Kilpatrick, the interim director of Athens-Clarke County Leisure Services, passed on to me.

Kilpatrick said that most of the area's playgrounds typically cost $75,000 to $100,000 built new, meaning that spending $58,000 for maintenance - just four years after WOW was built - is unheard of. In fact, he said that Leisure Services would most likely opt to completely replace the playground rather than spend such a high amount of money for repairs so soon.

Given that this project was community driven and primarily funded with private dollars and then turned over to Leisure Services to manage, this entire thing is a wreck. For something that wasn't supposed to be a burden on the community, it's likely to cost taxpayers close to $250,000 since 2004 ... for one park.

Again, process that ... a privately funded park is now costing taxpayers twice as much as other parks.

Kilpatrick added that annual repairs and maintenance for other parks, which are built with steel, run less than $1,000 per year.

Worth a read

Seeing how I helped out with his campaign, I'd be remiss if I didn't plug Mike Hamby's question-and-answer session with Blake.