Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Clarifying water

I've been working to get some clarification on the proposal to provide some oversight to how much water can be drawn from wells or from rivers or streams that are adjacent to one's property. The original article generated substantial debate, and the Athens Banner-Herald editorial board argued against such restrictions.

My friend Don Nelson concurred, which resulted in me disagreeing with the logic the two columns employed.

The original article began with the following assertations ...

As North Georgia's drought grows more severe, the Athens-Clarke Commission wants to subject well owners to the same outdoor watering rules as municipal water customers.

The commission asked state legislators this week to impose watering restrictions on well-users and people who draw water directly from rivers and creeks on their property during times of drought.

As a note of clarity, restrictions do exist on well-users in that they can 'only' draw 100,000 gallons per day without a permit. After exchanging emails with Athens-Clarke County Commissioners Kathy Hoard and Kelly Girtz, as well as Mayor Heidi Davison, I've tried to gain a better understanding of what the actual proposal was.

According to those three individuals, the proposal's intent is to get the state more active in addressing these issues during times of extreme drought (Level Four was the instance Hoard specifically cited) because, as I've argued here, the interconnectedness of the aquifiers with other bodies of water is something current policy does not take into account. And a continued ignoral of that fact, particularly during the drought we are still mired in, can have long-term implications for our water supplies across the state.

Hoard said the proposal had nothing to do with developing a specific policy that was catered to a particular community, but rather a suggestion that the state delegation support legislation that would give local governments the right - not the requirement - to impose necessary and as-needed restrictions on well-users or those who draw water from streams, rivers, etc.

One logical assumption could be that Athens-Clarke County could require those users to adhere to existing restrictions on municipal water users (i.e. limits on when one waters), and both Hoard and Davison noted that in discussions with me. That may be one way the commission opts to go, but, based on the language of the proposal, they could also determine another avenue on how to balance the needs and demands of private users with whatever pressing circumstances the community faces.

The point of the legislation, then, was to put such decisions in the hands of local officials (something which, apparently, is incredibly difficult for the folks in Atlanta to process).

Personally, I don't know what the best specific measure of policy would be (I think there are merits to making well users adhere to existing restrictions on municipal water users, but there's also an added personal cost that well-users take on that might be valuable to consider as well), but I do wholeheartedly support the notion of local governments having the right to address this issue.

I'd also encourage the state to drastically lower the amount of water than can be withdrawn per day as 100,000 gallons is absurd. Granted businesses would have higher needs, particularly in the landscaping and nursery industry, but individuals regularly use less than 1,000 gallons per day (my family of three, though I haven't checked in while, usually clocks in around 350 to 400 ... higher than my efforts last year during the peak of the drought, but also rather low for the water-sucking machine that is The Kid). It would seem to me that we can get some common-sense legislation that brings that into control, right?

I say that largely because, again, we currently have restrictions on drawing from wells or other water sources ... it's just that those restrictions are grossly disproportionate to regulations on municipal water users.

What he said

Reviewing the picks

Matthew Yglesias sums up my feelings on Barack Obama's national security team in that, well, it's not exactly what I was hoping for.

I love the pick of Samantha Rice for U.N. Ambassador. I like the pick of James Jones for National Security Advisor. I'm undecided on Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. And I'm not terribly thrilled with Robert Gates staying on as Secretary of Defense (I didn't know making a really lousy situation marginally less lousy was good enough to stay on at the Pentagon ...).

I'm nowhere near the ridiculously overdramatic meltdown that's occuring at Open Left since I'm honestly convinced nothing will make those guys happy, but I do wish he had put together a different team (one that included, say, Samantha Power).

This is in contrast to the solid work I think he's done with regard to building an economic team. I truly dislike letting Larry Sumners anywhere near our economy policy, but he's counterbalanced by strong picks in Timothy Geither and Melody Barnes, so that's positive.

Of course, any hand-wringing and/or rejoicing over this is kinda foolish, isn't it? I mean, we haven't actually seen any policy come forward yet, and that is what will actually define the Obama Administration.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The crystal ball

A new poll has Johnny Isakson below 50 percent against two prospective Democratic challengers in 2010, which is pretty interesting.

Andy's tending bar at Tondee's Tavern, and he's enthusiastic about taking down Isakson ... though I still treat that notion with a healthy dose of skepticism. Isakson's bolstered by a more positive public image than Saxby Chambliss, and he'll be running in a non-Obama year.

Then again, to be fair, the demographics are shifting in Georgia. If Barack Obama is able to put in place an agenda which brings about some success in alleviating the economic crisis, that could buoy a challenge to Isakson.

I don't see Thurbert Baker or Jim Marshall jumping into the race though. I think Baker's content in sitting tight for now, and no one can ever figure out what Marshall is going to do. I've always heard governor as a possibility for him (and I've heard John Barrow as well for governor, in addition to some other possibilities).

I see a Democrat having a better chance in taking back the Governor's Mansion in 2010 rather than earn a seat in the U.S. Senate.

'Starbursts' redux

Wonder when Sarah Palin will take a restraining order out against Erick? The obsession is getting mighty creepy.

Adapting to the future

We might be seeing a mass exodus at Creative Loafing as longtime editor Ken Edelstein was fired and Andisheh Nouraee resigned shortly after Edelstein's dismissal. Apparently, according to this report, Edelstein was let go after a heated verbal exchange between him and CEO Ben Easom with the latter wanting to push through cuts to the advertising and editorial staffs.

While I've enjoyed both Edelstein and Nouraee during their time there, such cuts aren't awfully shocking (though I admire them standing up for what they believe in). I recently spoke at a conference for Public Relations students at the University of Georgia, and we focused extensively on how print publications were slashing their budgets as the media transitions more fully to an online format.

Circulation is done, and, given our economic woes, the revenues from advertising are falling too. Online publications, with smaller staffs and lower ad rates, are rapidly emerging as a viable alternative (coupled with niche print publications like, say, small town weeklies or topical periodicals remaining strong).

All of that said, Safe As Houses will be undergoing some changes in the coming weeks, and as they become clearer, I'll let you know.

Out of context

It seems to me that Jerry Haas's column represents everything that troubles me today about the meshing of religious belief and political views. Granted, I think one's faith should have a great impact on the attitudes, opinions and biases of the voting public and our elected officials, but that doesn't necessarily translate into some blanket interpretation or adherence to one set of political values.

Now, socialism is an ineffective economic system largely because existing evidence suggests that. However, I don't recall there being a decry from The Good Lord in the Bible with regard to what political or economic philosophy God-fearing Christians should follow.

Take the out-of-context use of the verse Haas uses to justify his political beliefs ... 'If anyone isn't willing to work, he should not eat.' This is drawn from the third chapter of 2 Thessalonians and is meant to address the idleness of some oin the church there.

Paul wrote this letter because many felt the second coming of Christ was imminent and, as a result, they opted to simply not continue with the work of ministry pertaining to the church. It wasn't the political situation that led them to cease their ministrial activities, but a contentment that they'd be reunited soon enough.

'No need to spread the Gospel because Jesus is coming back ... like tomorrow!'

Their excitement in awaiting Christ's return resulting in them 'working not at all, but being busybodies.' As a result, they devoted their time to meddling in the affairs of others rather than focus on the work of building the church.

This is a letter about the need for active ministry, not a condemnation of a political system.

Cue the faux outrage

Erick's attacking Think Progress which, for me, is a weird version of worlds colliding.

Apparently one of the research directors for the Center for American Progress requested being added to Saxby Chambliss's media list under the guise that he was contributing to conservative blogs. Knowing that CAP has another branch known as Think Progress that exists as a New Media arm of the organization designed to advocate and argue for said progressive policies, and that much coverage has been given to the U.S. Senate runoff in Georgia, it's not terribly stunning they'd try to get access to the press releases trickling out of the Chambliss campaign.

And one would presume if the director said 'hey, I run a progressive policy institute ... can we get your press releases so we can debunk them' the Chambliss campaign was say 'um, that's OK.' Hence this less-than-honest, but not out of the ordinary, approach.

So, Erick's 'mad' ... which is what he enjoys being as of late.

Naturally, he's ignoring Think Progress's reporting of a Republican PAC that is having a Fox analyst solicit funds while serving on-air in an official capacity.

Seeking media lists is inexcusable, but journalistic conflict of interest questions are par for the course.


Um, really?

This is today's editorial?

Good choices, bad choices

You see, this is a responsible - albeit largely symbolic - cost-cutting move that I can endorse. It'll be weird not seeing Tiger Woods pitch Buick any more (though it's hard to dispute his appeal as a marketer ... I've wanted an Enclave for a while now), but it's the right thing to do as G.M. trims expenses and seeks help.

Contrast that with CitiGroup and AIG, two businesses that are currently getting federal funding, who won't end their substantially more costly endorsement deals. One mind-numbingly brazen one is CitiGroup spending $400 million over 20 years to garner naming rights on the New York Mets' baseball stadium ... yet is more than happy to lay off 53,000 workers and sop up taxpayer money.

Seeing how we're now stakeholders in CitiGroup, do we get a seat at the board meetings?

Monday, November 24, 2008

All for one, not one undermining all

There's reason to be optimistic that the much-needed regional transportation sales tax will be approved in the 2009 Georgia General Assembly session, as indicated by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle during a luncheon today.

The main sticking points continue to be how to handle counties which either decline to participate in the SPLOST or counties which sign up but have a majority vote against participation. During the campaign for State Senate District 46, this was a primary area of policy difference between Bill Cowsert and Sherry Jackson.

Cowsert said he was for the SPLOST if there was a mechanism in place that protected those counties which voted against the funding. Jackson countered by arguing that such a technicality had the very real potential to derail the project as a whole.

Being a member of her campaign staff, naturally I'm inclined to be sympathetic to her position. Cowsert's argument can directly undermine the entire process as it would directly impact the available revenue and hinder multi-county cooperation.

Of course, the logic for permitting these opt-outs doesn't make much sense in a pratical, political sense and isn't practiced in other areas. For instance, just because Cowsert lost two-to-one in Athens-Clarke County doesn't mean he's not the representative for this county. Georgia doesn't get to opt-out of Barack Obama merely because a majority voted to award the state's electoral votes to John McCain.

Why? Because that's not how elections work, and that's what T-SPLOST ulimately is. It's letting communities have the right to partner together and decide for themselves if they want to enter into these mutally beneficial relationships, and that means trusting they'll know whether or not they have the across-the-board support for the proposed initiatives.

Presumably, the counties that decided to pursue the T-SPLOST would go through a thorough process prior to the actual vote to determine spending priorities, funding allocation, public awareness, etc. and etc. The argument put forward by Cowsert and the other opponents of T-SPLOST assumes that such logical prep work simply wouldn't be done, which is crazy.

Um ...

The Georgia Republican Party apparently thinks The Wife is a conservative since we keep getting RoboCalls and mail pieces on Saxby Chambliss's behalf. Of course, if you ever actually met The Wife you'd realize pretty quickly she is anything but a Republican.

Still, the mail piece we got today picked up on the familiar narrative of 'stopping the liberal agenda' and used lots of pictures of Democrats to underscore this point. I get Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid being included, though I think Barney Frank is kind of a stretch since I wonder how many Georgia Republicans know what he looks like.

The oddest inclusion was Keith Olbermann. Not because he's a progressive since it makes sense that the GOP would throw the kitchen sink in this race, but rather because he's a merely media figure. Voting for Chambliss won't do anything to deter Olbermann's presence on MSNBC, will it? It isn't like he's got a vote in the U.S. Senate (if he did, it might make the focus on this race less relevant), so it's kinda silly to make the message 'Vote Saxby! Stop Olbermann!'

Managerial failures

Let me preface this by saying - as I've noted in earlier posts discussing the Oconee County Board of Education - that I know David Weeks, and I really, sincerely like the guy. We've always considered each other friends, he's helped out a couple of non-profits I support and assist, and he's got a good heart.

All of that said, I have deep concerns about his judgement and evaluations as incoming chairman of the BOE. For starters, there's the whole Superintendent-Gate thing. But now, there's this.

It's hard for me to understand how this was something worthy of being praised. If anything, it appears to be a faulty process that ought to be criticized and evaluated to prevent future errors in this area.

Oconee County High School learned of serious accusations against a member of its staff (Brian Dickens) - someone who taught and coached children of all ages - via a police order being taken out against that faculty member. Their response was to not suspend the teacher immediately, thus removing him from direct contact with the students, and then investigate the allegations ... but instead to have the principal attend the upcoming state tournament games.

Weeks argued that 'the reason (Dickens wasn't suspended immediately) is that, in situations like this, you have to let the investigation run its course.'

The fact that school officials and board members feel as if the principal attending the games is a sufficient response is troubling enough, but the notion that you can't suspend the accused faculty member - or at least remove him from the situation - while an investigation is pending seems mighty backward to me.

In fact, that's typically how investigations of this nature are conducted.

Now, to put this in perspective, this is an athletic program that runs through football coaches the way my daughter runs through diapers. They're dismissed for trivial reasons and are never given adequate time to implement their system, build up their players and produce results on the field.

Yet here we have serious allegations involving a coach's sexual relationship with a former player - a relationship that began while the victim was a student-athlete under the coach's guidance and instruction - and he's permitted to remain as head coach of the girl's softball team for the state tournament, all because the principal would be in attendance for the games.

If nothing epitomizes everything wrong with the 'win-at-all-costs' mentality that has permeated itself into our athletic culture, it's this. Dickens - accusations of stalking, violence and impropriety with students oustanding against him - was permitted to coach the Lady Warriors in the state tournament (a tournament they would go on to win).

If I was the chairman-elect, I'd say that I'm glad he's gone ... and then I'd ask the questions like 'why wasn't he suspended and removed from that position when the police order was first handed down?'

Granted, Weeks is psuedo-inheriting one mess (Superintendent-Gate) and has little direct oversight over another (Dickens-Gate), but his cavalier responses to this crises are most disappointing to me. People want an efficient and responsive school board that looks out for the safety and well-being of its students ... the BOE's responses to the past two situations don't suggest they've gotten that memo.


Well, this sucks.

I like Cledus T. Judd. The morning show on 101.5-FM is boring, and I have grown to really dislike Moby (partially because he can't finish a sentence, slurs all his words and resorts to hollering 'Yeah Baby!' during lulls in the non-conversation he has with his 'wingman' who never says a word).

I'm stuck with listening to Chris and Evan on 103.7-FM now. Not a bad second choice, but I'm running out of morning radio options.

Top to bottom

The lesson of Kathy Cox is that if it can happen to a top public official, it can happen to anyone.

Reviewing her family's existing debt, which is absolutely staggering, merely reaffirms my hatred of credit cards. While the majority of the Cox's debt stems from her husband's construction business, it's also worth noting they had 11 credit cards with varying levels of debt on each one. We've got two in our household - one for me and one for The Wife - and I use mine only for business expenses (and Christmas presents ... don't worry, I keep all receipts separate).

Given these tough times, and the pressures of being a builder in the past few years, it's understandable that things could get out of hand, but I'm floored that you could have that many cards that feature balances of more than $20,000 per card (on top of buying two brand new cars last year). At some point, you have to think you start to think that it's beginning to get out of control, right?
I like Don Nelson a whole lot, but I disagree with this column and, quite frankly, it comes across as more than a little misguided. His argument centers on the notion that this would be 'bad' for business, and that should trump all.

So, let's see how he makes said argument ...

Rising prices across the board, the housing and credit malaise, the dismal economy and our extended drought are taking their toll on our small businesses, the building blocks of our commercial community.

The drought is hurting business. OK, fair enough. However, isn't the drought also, you know, drastically altering our way of life? Doesn't it put an immediate threat on our ability to continue to grow, consume and live in an environment that might possible be shifting to one that has substantially reduced rainfall and, as a result, dramatically less water for our community to share?

So while business interests should rightfully be considered when structuring any sort of water policy, they should be just one of many components taken into consideration. And that's because Nelson's cautions have more to do with immediate business concerns and fail to recognize the long-term consequences we're going to have to manage with regard to the drought.

The point that must be stressed here is that drawing from a well or water sources that border their property is regulated to some extent. All that exists now is that one can drill a well or draw from those sources up to 100,000 gallons per day without obtaining a permit. Surely Nelson, if he concedes that drawing from aquifiers have an impact on our overall water supply, can recognize the need to something about that.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Football blogging

Because I do that every now and then ...

- Can't say I was surprised with Oklahoma beating Texas Tech, but I was stunned by how thoroughly the Sooners dominated that contest. Beating the No. 2 team in the county 65-21 is impressive, to say the least. Along with Florida, I've felt Oklahoma was playing the best football in the nation. The difficulty for the Sooners, of course, is that they now have an identical record with Texas ... who beat them. Regardless, seeing how the Big 12 South representative will be drawn from three teams with identical records - Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma - who all beat each other, I'd have to give the Sooners the inside track. The loss to the Longhorns woke them up, and they're just heads and shoulders above everyone else in that conference.

- I will say, however, that it's interesting that the pundits are jumping on the Oklahoma bandwagon now. And the logic they're using to advocate for the Sooners having a chance to play for the national title (assuming they win the Big 12 Championship Game) is the same logic they rejected when Georgia was in line to move up to No. 2 in the BCS standings last year. Namely that the Bulldogs had to be disqualified because of a loss to Tennessee who then was beaten by LSU ... regardless of the fact that Georgia had run the table in convincing fashion while the Tigers had dropped two games in the final month.

- The Top 10 teams in the country as I see it (in order) ... Florida, Oklahoma, Alabama, Texas, Southern California, Penn State, Utah, Georgia, Ohio State and Texas Tech. And yes I have Georgia that high seeing how their only two losses have come to a pair of teams ranked No. 1 and No. 3 in the nation.

- Following up the revisionist history model, let's say Texas or Oklahoma make it to the Big 12 Championships Game but lose to Missouri. Odds are that everyone at ESPN would leap at the opportunity to annoint either the non-represented team or Southern California, despite the fact that neither of those teams will have won their conference title. It's interesting, isn't it?

- The Heisman Trophy? Well, Percy Harvin and Michael Crabtree are the best players in college football, but it'll probably go to a quarterback. I'd give the nod to Sam Bradford right now. He's a machine. I'd refrain from giving Tim Tebow another one. The Gators have plenty of other weapons this year, and his statistics are substantially 'worse' than last year (though, given last year's numbers, that's hardly an indication of a bad season).

Friday, November 21, 2008

IT outsourcing

Georgia is planning on outsourcing its IT operations to private firms with Gov. Sonny Perdue estimating that such a move will save taxpayers $180 million or more over their lifetimes (which, in all honesty, is actually a relatively insignificant amount of savings when stretched out over 40-plus years and compared to the size of existing state budgets). Not that I'm not all for encouraging efficiency in government and finding ways to get more bang for our buck, but I do think this is an odd move.

For starters, the savings is miniscule, but there's also a cost to recognized.

Buried at the bottom of the story is the observation that 92 state employees will be laid off and the remaining jobs transferred to the private firms. These reductions are where most of the savings will be realized, and that's something not to be so easily glossed over. Because, in addition to these layoffs, presumably those transferred employees will personally see higher costs of health care coverage and no longer will have access to the fiscally secure state-managed retirement plans.

Again, those are arguably areas of financial savings for the state, but added burden for those workers.

Obama's in the game

Barack Obama cut a radio ad for Jim Martin, which should hopefully boost turnout for the Democratic base.


I disliked the tennis center idea in 2004, and I dislike it now. It's an insane waste of money that, as the story notes, was approved by voters during the referendum on SPLOST.

Of course, the voters didn't specifically approve just the tennis center, but a collection of projects - many of them considerably more vital to the community - and voting against the tennis center meant voting against all of SPLOST. It's one of those tricky nuances of SPLOST referendums in that you don't get to say 'yay' or 'nay' to individual projects, but rather a whole slate of them.

There's no line-item veto at the ballot box.

Not saying we ought to have one either, but I think it's fair to note that I would assume a lot of people didn't want the tennis center included in the SPLOST, yet probably still voted for its approval due to all the much better stuff that would get done with the money.

The Athens Super-Regional

As I've noted before here, I'm all for regional planning and regional economic development, but this seems kinda much to me. It has some potential, but it's also pieced together be some tenuous logic.

For instance, Atlanta Regional Committee member Tad Leithead's suggestion that 'it would be far better for us to lose a deal to Charlotte than to lose it to Singapore or London' doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me. I mean, if a business decides to locate its operations in North Carolina rather than Georgia that is surely better for the former than the latter. I mean, using Leithead's logic, Athens-Clarke County shouldn't be concerned that Solvey opted to go elsewhere.

In fact, there are considerable reasons why locating in Charlotte rather than, say, Atlanta is better for the former and worse for the latter ... namely increased tax revenue, influx of population, increase in employment opportunities, immigration of trained personnel, potential for greater adult education opportunities, rise of complimentary businesses and industries, etc. and etc.

It makes sense to have neighboring communities work together to reap benefits, but such broad stretches of collaboration may look awesome on paper, but I don't know if they carry the same impact.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Opposing agendas

One of the things interesting in this report is, quite frankly, just how dense some of the state's business leaders appear to be.

I think few would argue that Georgia needs additional funding to upgrade, maintain and expand its existing infrastructure for transportation. And, coupled with the expected renewed debate and hopeful passage of the Regional Transportation SPLOST in the coming months, this recommendation is a great way to generate the needed discussion on the topic.

Then again, this caused me to almost fall out of my chair ...

Georgia business leaders have pushed for years for more spending on transportation projects. While Georgia is the nation’s third fastest-growing state, it ranks dead last in transportation spending per capita.

The problem with this logic, of course, is that at the same time these 'business leaders' are supposedly advocating for increased spending, they're also clamoring for increased tax exemptions and more and more tax cuts. Seeing how Georgia is a balanced budget state, that means we have to cut spending in other areas (like transportation).

It's almost as if they're ignorant of how we do things, no? Everyone wants lower taxes and, at the same time, everyone wants increased service ... the problem is that the two often are opposed to each other. Which is why I find it stunning the folks at the Georgia Chamber of Commerce don't get this.

Strange bedfellows

I've been trying to get worked up about this CEOs of the Detroit Big Three flying private jets to Washington, D.C. for their congressional grillings, but I'm having a hard time. Not to say it wasn't a monumental error in judgement on their part and, in a sense, underlines how disconnected from reality those folks are ($28 million a year salaries for driving businesses into the ground can do that from time to time ...), but we're in essence arguing over the negative PR impact of this and not really recognizing that the expenditures to fly were mere pennies with regard to their existing budgets and requests for funds.

All of that said, this column by Mitt Romney (!) isn't that bad of a read. I know that's a horrifically bizarre thing for me to say, but there it is. Naturally, I disagree with Romney's heavy focus on the labor agreements as being a primary source of the problem, but I think he provides rather fair commentary with regard to the rest of the mess.

His assertation that management must change is something I agree with, and I think the following is a solid proposal ...

It is not wrong to ask for government help, but the automakers should come up with a win-win proposition. I believe the federal government should invest substantially more in basic research — on new energy sources, fuel-economy technology, materials science and the like — that will ultimately benefit the automotive industry, along with many others. I believe Washington should raise energy research spending to $20 billion a year, from the $4 billion that is spent today. The research could be done at universities, at research labs and even through public-private collaboration. ...

I'm not sold on the bankruptcy notion (but, then again, I'm not sold on the massive bailout package either), but at least there's some rational arguments put forward here.

Libertarians for Powell

Jim Powell gets endorsed by the Libertarian who threw his Public Service Commission race into a runoff, which I think is pretty good news. Granted those folks who backed the Libertarian need to get back to the polls and vote for Powell, so there's that.

On paper, this race is an absolute no-brainer. Powell's vastly more qualified to serve than Lauren McDonald, has earned the endorsement of the outgoing Republican commissioner and now has picked up the support of the Libertarian candidate who opposed him the general election. Still, in a red state like Georgia, my concern is how many folks will actually take the time to process this down ballot race and how many of them will just resort to vote for the letter next to the name.

'Fixing' for fixing's sake?

Here's a common sense move that directly counters one of the more ridiculous proposals from Gov. Sonny Perdue in recent memory (and, given the 'Go Fish' program, that's saying a lot). Perdue wanted to completely overhaul the funding of COLAs in the Teacher's Retirement System despite the fact that it's one of the most - if not the most - fiscally sound pension system in the state.

Perdue's proposal would have subjected the COLAs to annual approval by the governing board, which made little sense. His rationale to do was to bring it into line with other state government retirement programs ... which would be fine and dandy if it was a program that was in a world of hurting. However, the teachers willingly opted to pay more into the program during their professional career to ensure its long-term vitality.

As for the notion that there could be an effort to manage these investments more wisely, that doesn't make any sense. TRS has a diverse investment porfolio that plans for the long-term and was had a valuation of close to 90 percent, which is well above the threshhold to be considered fiscally sound.

I honestly can't begin to process why Perdue would want to change this system as even Republicans - including one of his floor leaders in Sen. Bill Cowsert - ran as far away from this idea as they could.

Tough times

The interesting thing about the upcoming budget discussion in Athens-Clarke County is that while Finance Director John Culpepper will include recommendations that factor in across-the-board five percent cuts, the Athens-Clarke County Commission lists several goals that include more funding for some programs.

Of course, this will be difficult to achieve given the economic crisis and expected budget shortfall. As a result, I think it's growing time for local governments to consider alternative ways of funding such ventures. What are some of those ways? Well, in times of crisis the federal government can deficit spend, but local and state governments aren't afforded that luxury.

Loosening at the state level of how SPLOST could be used is one option (i.e. not just on capital projects). Perhaps purchasing bonds to provide an instant cash infusion is another. Both are relatively outside the box since they'd require new ways of approaching fiscally tough times, and they could be paired with targeted cuts in the operating budget - some of them deep ones - to help provide needed support for initiatives the community has committed itself to pursuing.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

No Gore here

Al Gore is joining Jim Martin for a fundraiser in Atlanta on Sunday night, though there is a fundraisier in Athens-Clarke County on Sunday afternoon as well. The Martin camp confirms Gore in the A-T-L, not the A-T-H.

Rethinking CDBG

One of the better stories to emerge in the past few months, but one which hasn't received much publicity across the state, is the community redevelopment project that's been launched in Washington. The city recently received $1 million in Community Development Block Grant and Community HOME funds to work to implement a comprehensive, multi-action program to renovate targeted areas in the community.

I'll try to boil down the confusing different pockets of money and different stipulations of how to use said funding into a rather simplistic answer. Basically, Wilkes County doesn't meet the population requirements to receive continual CDBG funding as larger cities do, it had to apply directly to the Department of Community Affairs for funding (Athens-Clarke County, for instance, receives regular funding that the local government can allocate to eligible agencies). As a result, Washington was able to receive a substantially larger chunk of funding based on the structure of the program and the nature of its proposal.

(Again, there's a whole lot more there, but I'm trying to explain it neatly.)

The $1 million will go to renovate a blighted area near downtown Washington, and it will include substantial infrastructure upgrades, beautification efforts, temporary relocation and housing for all affected individuals and numerous other projects. The end attempt to renovate and revitalize the area, thus spurring economic growth that can have a positive benefit on the community as a whole.

I mention this not only because I think it's a great project, but it underlines the impact that large sums of funding can have on efforts like this. While I don't disagree with the current system of allocating funds that Athens-Clarke County employs (where eligible agencies receive anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000 per year for three years), I do think there is a flaw in the system.

More often than not, such pockets of funding get rolled into operating costs for many non-profit organizations. Seeing how non-profits rely exclusively on the generosity of others to make ends meet, during difficult economic times or increased competition for funding, any gifts received are applied to keep the lights on and doors open. Rarely are such funds used in a creative way that can generate a meaningful end to a common goal.

I understand why such a system exists, and it's largely because of the generosity of our community. We have tons of non-profit organizations, and we want to help as many out as we possibly can (believe me ... I just wrapped up allocating money for our church's missions budget, and we wanted to give $200 here and $250 there to help as many people as we could). The problem, though, is that those gifts often don't produce the needed change we need.

And that's why the Washington model - though operating under a different framework - makes more and more sense to me. If CDBG money is tight, as it's been in recent years, why not give $50,000 or so to five organizations rather than give $10,000 to 15 organizations? From my experiences, I know that $50,000 would be a huge benefit to any non-profit.

You could set up guidelines that enable 10 percent of the grant to be used for operating costs, but the balance must be dedicated to a specific project that accomplishes a goal for your organization. And, rather than receive money for three years, you get it for one year, take one or two years off, and then reapply.

Given that we went through a very stressful debate over the funding to East Athens Development Corporation and the Hancock Corridor Development Corporation, this may not be the right time to begin such a debate. Then again, who knows ... maybe it is.

Hopefully, it's food for thought.

Little big man

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Trying to find perspective

Barack Obama hasn't even been sworn in yet, and I'm back to feeling frustration with many of the folks at Open Left for pretty much equating him to a Judas-type character for being 'OK' with letting Joe Lieberman keep his chairmanship.

Again, I disagree with the move, but it's simply not worth getting this bent out of shape about. If Obama passes substantial health care reform, brings about a true green economy and succeeds in ushering in a new version of the New Deal ... who cares about Lieberman keeping his seat? Odds are, he's going to vote with the Democratic Caucus on the vast majority - if not all - of these pivotal issues.

I'm all for enacting a progressive agenda to bring about the change we need in our country. I'm not about throwing temper tantrums over things like whether or not one senator gets to keep a chairmanship.

Every once in a while

It's not often that I agree with Erick and the rest of the Republicans at Peach Pundit, but I think they're spot on with regard to this. Seeing how it was out of the doctor's hands as he was called to service overseas, it's difficult to fault him for the lack of payment (particularly since he attempted to set up a payment-by-installment plan).

Worth and value

An interesting post by Matthew Yglesias that points out that the proposed bailout for the auto industry is actually valued at significantly more money than what the Detroit Big Three are worth.

With that in mind, he wonders why bankruptcy and the resulting liquidation would be a bad thing.

Gore in Athens?

Al Gore is campaigning for Jim Martin in Georgia on Sunday ... and that happens to be the same day as a fundraiser for the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in Athens-Clarke County.

I've heard from a couple of sources indicating Gore would be at the fundraiser, but I can't get official verification yet (and, quite frankly, I'm skeptical he'd come by).

Setting caps

I'm not necessarily opposed to this proposal, but it seems to be another indication that the state government - run by supposed local control, small government Republicans - will take action to restrict the jurisdictions of local governments.

Granted, no one likes to see their property bills rise, and it's true that many assessments are completely out of whack with what's happening in the market. My concern, though, is that capping the levels at either three precent or the rate of inflation might artificially deflate assessments in times of growth.

For instance, what happens if one area of a community becomes a desirable location and is fueled by high-end development and increased demand? Surely its values might increase at a rate higher than the rest of the community, right? Is there a mechanism in place in the existing proposals to cope with a scenario like this?

A word on this

I try to keep blogging on national issues down to a minimum in the grand scheme of things, but I do want to weigh in this Joe Lieberman thing. I'm not a huge fan of letting him keep his chairmanship of the Homeland Security Committee, and I think he was bluffing in saying he'd jump ship if he lost his position.

That said, I'm not entirely sure if it's something worth being that frustrated with. Arguably, I've got some disagreements with him regarding foreign policy, and I would voted to take away his chairmanship, but what's done is done, right? There's much bigger fish to fry ... like the greatest economic crisis since The Great Depression. Fretting over Lieberman holding onto this seat doesn't seem to be the most fruitful endeavor right now (or the best way for Barack Obama to dispense his political capital).


The first comment on this story is grossly inaccurate. The funding for this project - a good one - comes from federal funds secured close to four years ago. It has no impact on the existing local budget.

Good show

Safe As Houses favorite Amos Lee is playing tonight at The 40 Watt Club. I'm hoping to go since it's first time coming to the A-T-H.

The problem with few answers

While I still wrestle with whether or not a bailout for the American auto industry is a good or bad thing (I still lean toward it not being a great idea, but I've moved toward it being something of an unfortunate necessity), part of my overarching problem is with this whole approach toward how we're tackling this mess.

Not that it doesn't utilize some form of Keynesian economics and involve government intervention to bring stability to the markets, but rather that, in all actuality, it doesn't seem to be doing a really good job of doing just that.

Take the auto industry ... if we award G.M. $25 billion to help it through its admittingly difficult economic situation, what exactly will change? I don't doubt something must be done, but nothing will change if we keep the same players controlling the shots. I think everyone can agree that the problem with G.M. (or Ford or Chrysler) is that they're management has a documented history of making extremely poor business decisions given the circumstances of the market.

Whether or not you think it's because they caved in to unions with regard to pensions for retirees or because they've habitually put out vehicles that are low quality and not moving on the market, the point is those decisions came from existing leadership within those companies. I just don't have a ton of confidence that if give them more money they'll make better decisions.

Truth be told, the $25 billion we're talking about now is a drop in the bucket. The company needs roughly $10 billion to survive the year and would invest the balance in shutting down facilities with hopes of long-term savings. Neither one of those uses of the funds actually get the company to doing anything resembling changing its ways.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Wars over whales

In the random thoughts category for the day, is anyone familiar with Whale Wars?

I had seen the previews, and I finally caught an episode last night in which the 'Sea Shepherds' boarded a Japanese fishing vessel that was illegally fishing in sanctuary waters.

The two men who boarded the ship were detained by the crew, which wasn't terribly shocking to me. Of course, the home base for the 'Sea Shepherds' called this a 'hostage situation' and then deployed some ill-conceived device designed to disable the boat and proceded to contact all sorts of Australian and Japanese media outlets. Naturally, the device failed, and the ship made off the with two men.

Now, bear with me on this, but ... how are the men not illegally boarding the ship. I'm not arguing that the crew was illegally fishing in the waters, but it would seem to me there should be a more appropriate, formal security force in place to deal with such infractions. A bunch of conservation advocates - doing noble work by patrolling the waters - boarding ships without consent seems to be a bad idea.

I mean, if I was on the open waters and a jet boat sped up next to me waving a pirate flag and two men jumped on board, I'd have my crew subdue them too until the appropriate authorities could arrive and properly deal with the situation.

'Tis the season (almost)

Though I'm a firm believer that Christmas season doesn't begin until you see Santa Claus close out the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, we had to photograph The Kid with Santa earlier than later in order to do the holiday cards.

She didn't cry - which, judging by old photos, is more than can be said about yours truly when he was the same age - but she was very, very puzzled throughout the whole thing.

Vs. Broun in 2010?

An interesting post suggesting Alan Powell should challenge Paul Broun, and I think he'd be a strong candidate. He's got a great following in Northeast Georgia, could raise a decent amount of money and wouldn't shy away from confronting Broun head on.

I doubt he runs, though. If he was going to seek the 10th Congressional District seat, I would have envisioned him doing so during last year's special election where his name recognition could have aided him. I'm not sure what Democrats will be gearing up to run for this one.

It's been rumored that Bobby Saxon will give it another go in 2010, and I wouldn't put it past Terry Holley to think about it again. Saxon came close to hitting 40 percent without any sort of financial footing to stand, and that's a testament to his grassroots-oriented campaigning.

I'm torn on whether or not he should run again. I still think he's a strong candidate, but unless he - or any Democratic challenger - can raise $500,000 or more, I find it hard to believe that 40 percent can be topped in this deeply red district. Granted, given Broun's latest comments regarding Barack Obama, I wouldn't be stunned to see more national attention for this race two years from, but I don't know if that'll be enough to knock off the congressman.

Saxon would do well in a race for one of the State House or State Senate seats available to him. His aggressive campaigning can pay huge dividends in a smaller geographic area, and he's got enough centrist credibility to pull swing voters over (plus he earned good name recognition in these parts with his congressional bid).

I do think, though, that we'll see another Republican primary challenge. I didn't used to think that, but after his latest comments - and the subsequent distancing of some prominent statewide Republicans - that such a challenge might occur.

Free speech

Granted, I think Tim Echols's editorial is rather ludicrious, but then again I think most of Echols's editorials are ludicrious so it's really not a shock I suppose.

It is worth noting that Echols is clinging to this notion that Paul Broun merely wanted to start a discussion when he suggested that Barack Obama is planning to impose a Marxist dictatorship on our nation. Well, what Echols fails to recognize is that we're actually having that discussion ... it's just that it's going rather poorly for his guy.

For instance, Broun accuses Obama of desiring to launch an American Gestapo. More sensible people point out that Obama was referring to a call for public service that would provide opportunities for infrastructure enchancements, public health, education, etc. It's an idea that has been championed by Democrats and Republicans alike (both Obama and former opponent John McCain held a joint forum on the very topic earlier this ummer).

Again, to sensible people this is correcting the record with, you know, facts. To Echols, this is an attempt to stamp out discussion of Broun's paranoid beliefs.

The discussion is going on. It's just that you're not doing well.

It is or it isn't

I love J.T. the guys, but there's no other way to say it aside from their editorial is fundamentally wrong. And their error begin and ends in one place ...

However, as state Rep. Terry England, R-Auburn, noted in this newspaper's Friday story, restricting the use of private water sources is tantamount to restricting private property rights, which is a road down which no government should venture.

Again, this assumes that the water that flows under the feet begins and ends at the above ground boundaries. Or that the streams that run through one's backyard don't continue to trickle downstream to other. Of course, we know this isn't the case. Whether it's water draw from aquifiers underground or from rivers that snake through one's property, it's a commonly shared resource that is used by other individuals (and has an impact on the municipal water supplies the editorial is in favor of restricting as well).

Then again, I'm puzzled as to why I need to make such an argument since the editorial, just two paragraphs later, does it for me ...

Certainly, it's important for property owners accessing private water sources to recognize that, in the larger scheme of things, the rivers and creeks that flow through their land and the groundwater and other underground water sources beneath their feet are not strictly private. The water that they take from those sources is water that, once accessed, won't be available to people downstream, or to people who might be accessing the same underground water sources.

OK, bear with me on this ... this water is either a private resource as the editorial pushes for just a few paragraphs earlier, or it isn't as it concedes here. You have to pick one or the other when making your argument because if your view is that it's 'private' then the logic - though misguided - has some footing. However, if it's 'public' then the editorial is moot.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Deja vu


My Sunday Business section in the Athens Banner-Herald is last week's.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The dance continues

Blake's rebutting my rebuttals, and labeling my identification of a statistical trend as 'tortured logic.'

But let's go down the path again, shall we?

District Six was a contested race that featured media coverage, advertisements and active campaigning by two candidates. Then District Eight was a non-contested race that featured a popular and well-known incumbent running unopposed.

Both of those races featured 73 percent participation.

Blake, with a straight face, is arguing that District 10 - which includes both of those districts - voted at an 88 percent clip in this non-contested race. I mean, seriously, that's crazy talk.

What makes perfect sense, and is consistent with historical voter participation trends, is 73 to 75 percent (roughly 18,000).

Of course, I'm not sure why I'm trying to make this point since Blake already made it himself ...

The (District Six) contest drew little interest, even among district residents. Only 5,284 of the 7,240 people who cast ballots in the district bothered to vote in the commission race.

If Blake concedes there was little interest in this contested race, how is it feasible that more voters would participate in a non-contested race that featured the same precincts and drew less media attention in the final months due to one candidate dropping out?

Addressing this bullet point ...

Ninety-five percent of voters voted in contested District 4, 6 and 8 commission races in 2004.

That point is conceded ... for the general election. But that does little to change the fact that the statistical trend for the 2006 and 2008 elections presents substantially differing conclusions. Nor does it take into consideration the fact that the high participation rates came during a time of partisan local races, meaning more voters were inclined to vote straight party tickets as they often do on race at the top of the ballot (and as the data suggests in 2006 and 2008). Partisan local races granted the low-information voter with an additional piece of information on the candidates through their party identification and, according to this data, results in participation levels that parallel the ones for top-of-the-ticket races.

Non-partisan local races, particularly at the commission level, have resulted in non-participation rates of 25 to 30 percent (and totals from both parties for the primary election in 2004 suggest participation levels of 67 percent in District Four, 88 percent in District Six and 77 percent in District Eight).

Signs were posted alerting voters that Dodson had dropped out, but given that he was still on the ballot, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that at least 30 percent and possibly more than 50 percent of voters pushed the button next to his name, depending on how many of them saw the signs and were aware he’d dropped out.

There’s no way to be sure, but I’m convinced Dodson would’ve won if he’d stayed in the race, and he may have won more votes than Hamby anyway.

Well, there's good data which suggests that 25 to 30 percent of those voters would not have pulled the lever for either candidate. It's the remaining voters we don't know about, though it could be assumed that the balance might back Dodson. Whether or not Dodson would have defeated Hamby is another discussion altogether.

Dodson was a formidable opponent with an incumbent status and top-notch campaigning skills (you don't knock off an incumbent as he did in 2004 without them). Of course, it's impossible to predict who would have won or what voter backed who on Election Day since there was absolutely no campaign to speak of. This thing died before it got started, so we just don't know.

There were no debates between the two. There were no radio ads. There were no neighborhood meetings. There were no pieces of mail. There was minimal knocking on doors. There was no campaign, and in the absence of a campaign it's crazy to argue who would or wouldn't have won.

Perhaps it would have been Dodson. Maybe 65-35. Or Hamby could have pulled out a 55-45 win. We don't know.

All we do know is that there is verifiable statistical evidence that suggests 25 to 30 percent of the voters opted to not participate in local races, and that Hamby - running unopposed but with Dodson's name remaining on the ballot - picked up 10,741 votes. Factoring these two variables together presents us with an clear advantage over Dodson in any hypothetical vote competition between the two.

I'm really not wrong, cont.

Because I want to belabor the point, Blake argues that we should have seen 22,000 ballots cast in this year's District 10 race. That would equal 88 percent participation.

Again, that level of participation simply has not been achieved in recent history in comparable races. In 2006, a four-way race for District Nine achieved 81 percent participation. In 2004, Elton Dodson achieved 75 percent participation in a non-contested race in the general election for District 10, while in the contested primary election earlier that summer, with three candidates, the level of participation was 72 percent.

In the past three comparable elections - in addition to this year's races - we haven't seen a participation level on a scale that parallels what Blake is suggesting. What we have seen are statistical trends that carry over from election to election for down ballot races that are consistent for contested and non-contested races for the Athens-Clarke County Commission.

As a result, I stand by my original claim - that you have to assume that 25 to 30 percent of the ballots that weren't cast are consistent with statistical trends showing those decisions were made without regard for the candidate(s) in the race.

I'm really not wrong

Blake emailed me some responses to my evaluation of his election data crunching in the Mike Hamby/Elton Dodson non-race, though most of it - with all due respect - appears to be tantamount to him saying 'no way dude!'

Let's examine this nugget ...

For Dodson to have polled in the low 30s – and I can’t emphasize this enough – when signs were plastered all over every polling place saying he’d dropped out tells me he would have done much better had he stayed in the race. I’d argue that not only was a vote for Dodson a vote for Dodson, but a blank ballot was a vote for Dodson because those are folks who would’ve voted for him if he’d stayed in the race.

Not only is there absolutely no scientific way to verify this (because it merely relies on the presumption that Blake 'knows' what those voters were thinking in leaving those ballots blank), it, of course, goes against the stated and defined trend of 25 percent (or more) of the ballots in most non-contested and contested down ballot races being left blank.

As noted earlier, in three non-contested Athens-Clarke County Commission races with well-known incumbents all garnered 75 percent or less of the vote, meaning that 25 percent or more were left blank in those cases. In other down ballot races, this trend was duplicated.

Furthermore, in the contested District Six race between Ed Robinson and Red Petrovs there were 7,240 ballots cast overall, but only 5,289 in that race. Which means - wait for it - that 27 percent of the ballots in District Six were left blank in a contested race.

In two districts that lie within the boundaries of District 10, two races for commissioner - one contested and one not contested - featured identical percentages of 27 percent of ballots being left blank. This is a statistical trend. It suggests that a quarter of the voters who turned out simply did not vote in certain down ballot races and, given the fact this trend spans across numerous races of equal attention and status, as well as covers contested and non-contested races, I would posit they did so without any regard to allegiances, feelings or connections to a particular candidate.

I'm not saying that this doesn't mean that folks didn't cast a ballot against Hamby in a form of protest because they either didn't like him or absolutely loved Dodson. What I'm arguing for is that 25 percent or more of the total number of folks who cast a ballot in District 10 opted to not vote in that race for the same reasons they didn't vote for Court of Appeals or for Superior Court or Public Service Commission or District Eight.

Again, 41,000 votes cast in the Powell-McDonald race. 42,000 cast in the state Senate races. 41,000 cast in the sheriff’s race. Those are your points of comparison, not uncontested judicial races or PSC races where the choice was a Republican or Libertarian. You’re cherry-picking to try to prove a point.

Based on those vote totals, I calculate that more than 22,000 people would’ve voted in the Commission District 10 race had it been truly contested.

The 'cherry-picking' argument works both ways, no? On one hand, those races were the ones that garnered the most attention and had the most interest, thus their participation numbers would be drastically higher. This is true with every election.

In the general election for 2006, 9,279 voters cast a ballot in District Nine, but only 7,579 voted in a four-man race for that commission seat (81 percent). Granted, that's higher than the 25-30 percent non-participation rate that existed this year for down ballot races, but it still proves the point that the further down on the ticket you move, the lower the participation level falls among participating voters.

Excluding early voting, 7,340 folks in that district voted on Election Day in the governor's race in 2006 ... meaning the final tally for District Eight was almost equaled by day of voting for the governor's race (5,203 votes overall were cast early, meaning that probably 45 percent of that total would be tacked onto the governor's race).

The point being ... races up higher on the ticket garner more attention and thus lead to more informed and more involved voters. This is why the sheriff's race and State Senate races drew participation rates of 90 percent or more this cycle compared to the District Six race which was 73 percent.

Furthermore, by including the uncontested races for commission - and the contested District Six race - I don't see how I'm cherrypicking at all. I conceded from the beginning that these down ballot races were low information ones due to less media scrutiny, but it's impossible to argue - given the existing statistical trends - that 22,000 people would vote in a down ballot race. It would be more along the lines of 17,000 or 18,000 given that the data clearly shows that 25 to 27 percent of voters in that district simply weren't voting in those races.

Did Hamby 'underperform' in some areas, particularly District Eight where Andy Herod received much higher vote totals? Perhaps, and I'm not arguing against that notion. I would imagine that some folks didn't want to vote for Hamby for one reason or another, that some folks wanted to vote for Dodson because they really liked him and that some folks, despite the postings, voted for the incumbent because they had little information on the race.

What I don't agree with is some notion that Dodson 'won' because there's absolutely no statistical evidence to suggest that.

Bailout debate

Saxby Chambliss came out against the auto industry bailout, and I've got folks from both sides trying to sway me.

From what I can gather, the Republicans I've chatted with who oppose the bailout do so because they think the auto industry made lousy agreements with the unions. The Democrats I've chatted with who oppose the bailout do so because they think the American auto industry has habitually and stubbornly made a faulty product that has flopped on the marketplace.

Brad Johnson's take, which I've linked to, somewhat argues for a bailout by noting that more than three million jobs are at stake, and the loss of those jobs would no doubt be devastating for an already struggling economy and put us even further behind the curve in developing more fuel-efficient vehicles.

The latter two are compelling arguments to me for both sides (the anti-union one, not so much), and I'm not sure what to make. I'm still not crazy about this idea, and I'm only willing to listen if there's significant oversight that requires loaned capital be used for research and development for more fuel-efficient automobiles.

In summary

More number crunching

In his post, Blake also looks at African-American turnout, and I think he's more or less right that the turnout in Athens-Clarke County might be lower than other higher rates in other parts of the state.

However, it is important to note - comparing this year's results to 2004's - that turnout of registered voters was down in every precinct in Athens-Clarke County except in 2A, 2B, 3A and 3B. In those precincts we saw increases of 1 percent, 3.5 percent, 3.4 percent and 2.5 percent respectively. Turnout in the remaining precincts fell by similar numbers across the community.

Since those are four predominantly African-American precincts, it's worth noting that their turnout comprised 12.8 percent of the total Athens-Clarke County electorate in 2008, compared to 11.5 percent in 2004. The turnout may not have been a historical high, but it was considerably higher than in previous years ... particularly when contrasted with lower turnout rates in other precincts.

The 'Dodson wins' myth

Blake's got a post up about some of the numbers from Election Day, and he puts forward his belief that Elton Dodson 'might' have beaten Mike Hamby ... despite the fact that Dodson dropped out more than a month prior to the election, thus rendering any ballot cast for the outgoing District 10 commissioner invalid.

A surface look at the totals might go along with that assertion seeing as Hamby, running unopposed, garnered 10,741 votes out of a possible 24,868 cast in that district (43 percent). Actually though, it's not accurate at all to suggest that Dodson might have 'won' for a variety of reasons that are evident when you research the other numbers.

Arguably down ballot races garner less attention and focus than more high profile ones such as president, governor, mayor, etc. And with only one commission race contested in the Ed Robinson/Red Petrovs showdown in District Six, there was much less focus on local races than in years past.

If you want an accurate assessment of how the numbers broke down, it's important to consider the other trends in the voting choices. Three other commissioners were running unopposed in Alice Kinman, Harry Sims and Andy Herod. Let's look at what they did.

In District Two, Sims took 3,312 out of a possible 4,477 votes (74 percent). In District Four, Kinman took 2,809 out of a possible 3,955 votes (71 percent). In District Eight, Herod took 3,986 out of a possible 5,485 votes (73 percent. This leaves an average of 27 percent of the ballots being left blank.

OK, let's also look at some other down ballot, low-information races.

Steve Jones ran unopposed for Superior Court and took 34,341 out of a possible 45,727 votes (75 percent). Lawton Stephens ran unopposed for Superior Court and took 33,611 out of a possible 45,727 votes (74 percent). Ethelyn Simpson ran unopposed for State Court and took 31,931 out of a possible 45,727 votes (70 percent). Charles Mikell ran unopposed for the Court of Appeals and took 31,657 out of 45,727 votes (69 percent).

The same appears to hold true in down ballot, low information contested races. Doug Everett and John Monds combined for 35,702 out of a possible 45,727 votes (78 percent) in the race for Public Service Commission.

If we keep running these numbers, we see that anywhere from 25 to 30 percent of the electorate would leave uncontested and/or low information races blank. Knowing that anywhere from one-quarter to one-third of the voters who turned out did not cast a ballot in these races, this directly contradicts the perception put forward by Blake.

Consider then that out of the 24,868 voters in District 10, only 75 percent opted to cast a ballot. Hamby would then have garnered 58 percent of the vote to 42 percent for Dodson. Overall, this breaks down to Hamby earning 43 percent of the votes, 32 to 33 percent going for Dodson (which isn't hard to believe seeing how his name remained on his ballot and he had the incumbent status, which more often than not is an asset for local officials in low information races) and 25 percent being left blank.

The numbers would then suggest that Hamby posted a double-digit win over Dodson in this hypothetical matchup with margins similar to Robinson's win over Petrovs. The numbers don't exist for Dodson to win based on other information evident in other races that suggests a consistent pattern of blank ballots throughout.

Of course, the simplier answer is that Dodson opted to drop out of the race, meaning one vote for Hamby is tantamount to a mandate.

Coming unglued?

Safe to say, this editorial is dead on. I never cease to be amazed by the ability of the ruling party in power to change the rules to suit their own agendas. The Democrats did in the early 1990s, and now the Republicans are eager to do it today.

Granted, one would think that getting as many people to vote as possible is a good thing for a representative democracy, but whatever. Still, isn't there something alarming about this ...

State Sen. Eric Johnson, a Savannah Republican, offered the even more specious assertion, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, that 45 days of early voting provides opportunities "to go out there and pick up homeless people, and carry them to the polls, and register cats."

Obviously, cats voting in flocks (herds?) is a bad thing for everyone not named 'Garfield', though of course there's no actual documentation of this nonsense ever happening. Still, isn't the bigger problem that Johnson is advocating for the denial of voting rights to people who presumably have a legitimate right to vote? I mean, just because people are homeless doesn't mean they can't vote (and, if they're homeless, they might just need a ride to the polls).

What is it with Republican leaders the past few days? Paul Broun's accusing Barack Obama of setting up a Marxist dictatorship; in addition to wanting to blacklist smart people who said 'gee that Sarah Palin might have been a bad idea for our ticket' Erick's making coin off calling Obama 'The Antichrist' (despite numerous theological and historical problems with such an assertion); and now Johnson's eager to disenfranchise folks.


Naturally, this is a deeply disturbing story, magnified by the fact that I knew Brian Dickens from my days covering high school athletics. Seeing how I was still covering prep sports in 2002, when this relationship began, there's a distinct possibility that all of this happened right in front of me.

Can I also, on a journalistic note, point out how the Athens Banner-Herald did this story in the exactly right way? The Oconee Enterprise has devoted the past three weeks to not actually reporting or investigating the claims, but rather parroting rumors that circulate through the community. The ABH heard the rumors and then did the work to see if they were true. Since they didn't have confirmation earlier in the week, they didn't report the rumors. They received confirmation after, presumably doing open records requests and searching through police reports, and then reported on the story.

The Oconee Enterprise was content in using unnamed sources who had 'heard' something wasn't right, revealing a journalistic laziness that is even staggering for a small-town weekly.

Public or private

James and I had a good-natured disagreement on this matter, but I still contend that restrictions on drawing water from wells and streams or rivers must be tightened.

Again, I can respect the private property line of argument, but just because I've drilled a hole in my backyard doesn't mean I'm not tapping into a commonly shared resource. Just because my property extends to a river doesn't mean I can freely draw from that river as I see fit.

At the very least, it's preposterous to have the existing daily limit be 100,000 gallons per day.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

With Broun or against him?

Blake notes some Republicans saying Paul Broun's a bit off his rocker, which is appreciated. But, again, until local Republican leaders start openly questioning whether or not Broun representing the 10th Congressional District is a good or bad thing.

What do the Oconee County Commissioners think? What does Sen. Bill Cowsert feel about the good congressman? We already know that Clarke County GOP Chairman Jim Box is busy fueling Broun's paranoia, but what about the elected officials who have to work with Broun?

Disconnected criticism

Trevor Southerland's second post on the state of the Democratic Party of Georgia (or his perception of it) is rather off-base in my opinion. It's part shameless propaganda for David Poythress, for whom Southerland works, and it's other part disconnected perceptions from what actually happened.

Meshing the two into one fluid statement, Southerland notes ...

I can guarantee you, that as the Democratic Governor of Georgia, David Poythress would not stand for 102 Republican seats in the Georgia General Assembly being unopposed.

Well, that's awesome. But it fails to recognize a variety of other factors that go onto recruiting 102 Democrats to challenge incumbent Republicans in this red state. One is that we don't have a terribly deep bench to draw from, which is one reason we didn't see more challenges. Another is that, technically speaking, it isn't exactly the responsibility of the DPG to recruit candidates to run for these races. Traditionally, the House and Senate caucuses are responsible for that task, though the DPG greatly assisted in identifying candidates in the final week this year.

The point being it's fine and dandy to talk about getting this folks to run for office, but it isn't as if such efforts haven't been underway. The problem is finding enough strong candidates, and if those candidates are willing to devote the necessary time and resources to raising money, knocking on doors and doing all of the things that are essential to winning an election.

Now, one more point of contention ...

The Democratic National Committee adopted a 50 state strategy, and it worked. The Democratic Party of Georgia needs to adopt a 159 county strategy.

Southerland, who was Libertarian until yesterday and was the Tennessee coordinator for Michael Badnarik's 2004 presidential campaign, apparently doesn't know that this was one of the first things Jane Kidd did when she got to the DPG.

And, truth be told, six county parties that were non-active have been re-launched under her tenure, and 16 counties flipped from red to blue this last election cycle. That's why I don't process Southerland's criticism in that what he advocates for is actually in place and producing dividends, even if they're small ones (which is to be expected in a predominantly conservative state).

'Incapable of reasoned thought'

The Athens Banner-Herald editorial staff chimes in ...

Congressman Paul Broun, who represents Northeast Georgia in the U.S. House of Representatives, is a man so bereft of original ideas and so incapable of reasoned thought that, less than a week after being returned to Washington by the electorate, he's been reduced to comparing this nation's incoming Democratic president to Adolf Hitler.

... As long as he was pulling stunts such as trying to get girlie magazines off PX shelves, or using taxpayer dollars to send out campaign literature, Broun was a mildly amusing political sideshow. But this latest episode in Broun's tenure, which has already earned him rebukes from Georgia's two U.S. senators - who, like Broun, are Republicans - will reduce him to irrelevance in Washington. That will, in turn, leave the people of Northeast Georgia with no representation in the House of Representatives. Thanks a lot, "Congressman" Broun.

The double-down continues


Though I'm puzzled why we keep giving this guy a platform, I'm also staggered by his inability to say 'you know, it was probably out of line for me to equate philosophical differences with false implications that the president-elect is preparing to establish a Marxist dictatorship.' But, you know, let's leave Broun's lack of cognitive thought aside for a moment and examine the non-apology apology that he issued.

On Tuesday, Broun told an Augusta radio show that he had 'regret saying it that way, yes I do.' One would assume this to be an admission that he was inartful in his criticism, and that it's appropriate to dial back such baseless and ridiculous language.

Hold the phone though ... on Wednesday, his spokesperson claimed that any regret Broun expressed was for the fact that his remarks were sensationalized by the media, thus leading them to be misunderstood. Thus he has not issued an official apology.

Now, there are two options here. Either Broun's staff has no concept of what 'internal communications' are or they're completely inept at clarifying and defining one's message. We knew he couldn't manage his checkbook, and now it's fairly clear he can't control his staff or their message (or his mouth).

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Why then?

Like Georgia, Louisiana is facing a tough budget crunch in the coming year. And, like Georgia, Louisiana has a surplus budget it can draw from ... of course its surplus reserve can't be used to plug the gaps in its budget.

That, of course, seems insane to me. Shouldn't reserve budgets exist for situations just like this one? Georgia had to tap into its in order to get through last year, and we probably need to tap into it again to get through this year's crisis.

Rewarding bad behavior

From John Cole on the potential auto bailout ...

This is not a damned surprise. They had years to re-tool and build vehicles that got better gas mileage, were more efficient, and used new technology, and instead they spent all their time building behemoths and paying lobbyists to fight higher CAFE standards. It was inevitable that once there was a gas crunch, they would get hammered. Why are we bailing out people who engaged in what was obviously bad business practices for years. Their focus on SUV’s was the business equivalent of malpractice, yet they did it anyway because that was where the quick bucks were.

Not to mention, I am curious how much of GM’s fortunes are tied to their financial services sector. In short, I simply do not understand sufficiently the upside and downside to letting these companies fail. Why should we bail them out. What is in it for us? And if we keep bailing everyone out who engages in bad business practices, where do we draw the line?

I don't disagree, and I noted that yesterday. I'm willing to consider some sort of package that ticks off requirements for the the auto industry to adhere to (higher CAFE standards, funding assigned for R&D that is payable back to the taxpayers, etc.), but I also agree with Cole's basic logic ...

These folks put together a crappy business plan that was ill-suited for the changing economy. We let mom and pop shops fall all over the place when Wal-Mart wipes them out and say 'yay capitalism!' ... why should we let those businesses die but intervene here?


This is funny, largely because it makes Erick look silly.

And, proving everything is connected to Paul Broun, Erick said this ...

Nonetheless, the campaign apparatus is clearly involved down to collecting emails and pushing the campaign talking points -- all using the taxpayer's dime now, despite there being no lawful government organization or program known as the "Office of the President-Elect."

Yet, that whole blowing your congressional taxpayer-funded budget on securing reelection didn't seem to bother him. Interesting.

The Paul Broun media wrap-up

He may not enjoy spending his own money on self-promotion, but he's fine spending yours or saying stupid things to get attention ...

'Worst Person In The World' on 'The Keith Olbermann Show'

Talking Points Memo



Blog For Democracy

Broun doubles down

Does this guy just not know when to shut up?

Paul Broun has doubled-down on the craziness by standing by his comments that Barack Obama is considering imposing a Marxist style dictatorship through the creation of an American Gestapo. Of course, in the real world, Obama's just proposed a tax cut for working families and wants more young people to get involved in public service, but whatever.

Lest you think the crazy is contained, consider the chairman of the Clarke County Republican Party defending Broun's paranoia ...

Broun's comments reflect the fears of many Republicans who believe Obama has a shadowy background that wasn't fully explored by the press, said Jim Box, chairman of the Clarke County GOP.

"The question is, where's this guy going?" Box said. "A lot of people are raising suspicions about him."

And some more 'clarity' from Broun ...

"I never called Mr. Obama a communist, nor did I accuse him of being Hitler, but I do not apologize for stating the obvious: His socialist views are out of the mainstream of American political thought, and history shows that 'civilian national security forces' bode ill for citizens," Broun said.

Well, actually you did compare him to Hitler, but no matter.

Also, it's worth noting that whatever Broun believes Obama's political views are (and they ain't socialist), the majority of the nation supported them by electing him and sending more Democrats to serve in Congress. As a result, given the fact that such a majority supported those candidates, and that virtually every public opinion poll shows that healthy majorities favoring progressive policies on the economy, health care, education, the environment, etc. and etc. (and that the nation is perfectly comfortable with giving Democratic control of government a try) ... how is Broun not out of the mainstream of American political thought?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Word gets around

The craziness of Paul Broun is getting noticed.

I say again, until rational Republicans who desire what's best for this district start speaking out, this is who we've got. The onus is on them to do what's right, and some are starting to stir.

Money for nothing

Couple of thoughts on G.M. and other U.S. auto industry leaders asking for government help ... namely, so what?

Not that I don't understand the implications of an almost-complete collapse of the domestic auto market, but this is a problem that is overwhelmingly the fault of the affected companies. G.M. and Ford have stubbornly refused to produce more fuel-efficient vehicles or pursue new technologies designed to create alternative fuel-based automobiles. As a result, with skyrocketing gas prices, American consumers have flocked to foreign vehicles which do have those desirable traits.

Chevrolet, by contrast, started making those investments in past years, and, while they're still deeply affected by the economic turmoil, they're also on more solid footing that companies which didn't adapt to the changing environment.

The companies made lousy products that haven't moved on the market. We should 'save' that type of behavior?

DPG responds

The Democratic Party of Georgia released the following statement regarding Joseph McCarthy ... er ... Paul Broun ...

At a time when Americans are coming together to celebrate history and renew America's promise, Paul Broun has once again proven himself to be outside the mainstream, not just of America, Georgia, and the 10th District, but of his own party, their recent nominee for President, and their current President. His comments are just ridiculous, and undignified for a member of the House of Representatives. Playing to the extremes may be a fine partisan political strategy, but it's no way to govern, and Paul Broun ought to know that.

More to the point, Broun's comments are simply wrong. We can only hope that Paul Broun spends more time and effort reading proposed legislation than he did in reading and understanding Barack Obama's policies and positions. But for Paul Broun, this was never about policy; it was always about politics. Broun's neo-McCarthyism has no place in today's political environment.

Reality on the runoff

I agree with Flack on this.

Barack Obama has enough on his plate in the next few weeks regarding the transition, the economic crisis and so forth. The runoff, sad to say, favors Saxby Chambliss, and there's no reason to spend newly earned political capital in what is an uphill climb.

I'd much rather see him put together a comprehensive and progressive economic rescue package and build the necessary support for that in the U.S. Senate (and one has to think he can pluck both of the senators from Maine into backing whatever plan he's got). Seeing how Minnesota looks promising for a Democratic pickup depending on the recount, and 80,000 ballots remain outstanding in Alaska giving Mark Begich hope of knocking off convicted felon Ted Stevens, I wouldn't necessarily come down here and campaign.

I'm all for sending staff and sharing resources, which Obama is doing, but I don't see his presence benefitting Jim Martin right now.

Wake up call

Fairly rational criticism of Paul Broun comes under fire at Peach Pundit ...

Icarus, you’re off base with this. Obama is marxist & it is a legitimate concern to question his campaign speeches & proposed programs.

To equate Paul Broun to be as extreme as Cynthia McKinney is REALLY a stretch.

Thank God for reps like Paul Broun & my his tribe increase.

Broun won't be defeated until rational Republicans start realizing what it is they consistenly empower by sending him to office. Forget his flat-out insane comments and consider his stiffling lack of concern for constituent services and aversion to seeking support for popular and necessary local projects.

Until Republicans begin to call him out on stuff like this, and they start realizing that there might be someone who could take this guy down in a primary or recognize that a moderate Democrat would be a greater servant to the district, Broun's our guy.

I know of several Republicans who didn't support Broun in the last election and, in their words, are embarassed by him. I respected their desire to remain quiet, but when you don't get out in front and start saying 'listen, this guy doesn't represent us and he embarasses us' ... you reap what you sow.

The Southern party

Speaking of Southern views of Barack Obama, an interesting read on what I've believed would eventually be true ... and that's how the South is no longer essential to winning the presidency and that it's become the only safe haven for today's version of the Republican Party.

Without significant retooling, the GOP will resort to being a regional party that appeals to only an increasingly shrinking demographic. Reverting to being 'more conservative' and embracing the hot-button social issues that drive the conservative base simply won't work in the future. The country has moved to the left and is now a center-left nation on most of the pressing issues, and seeing how poll after poll shows that more young people are more progressive on health care, the economy, education and other social issues, if the GOP retreats to its small government mantra and social conservatism, I struggle to see how it succeeds in the immediate future.

Paul Broun crazy alert

Honestly, at some point I should cease to be completely astounded by what Paul Broun says. Still, when you argue that Barack Obama is establishing an American Gestapo to implement a Marxist dictatorship, it's hard to not be floored by incompetent audacity behind such a statement.

Just to be clear on this, Broun believes because Obama has talked about the formation of a civilian security corps - an idea championed by Democrats and Republicans alike, and an idea that has its roots in the civil defense corps used by the United States during and after World War II - that the president-elect is bent on imposing a dictatorship on our nation. Despite the fact that no other evidence exists to suggest otherwise and that Broun himself concedes his idea 'sounds crazy.'

Well, if it 'sounds' crazy that's because it 'is' crazy.

The imperial presidency of the outgoing president, however, complete with warrantless wiretapping and Gitmo, is perfectly fine to Broun.

Monday, November 10, 2008

25th Anniversary

In full terms of disclosure, Community Connection of Northeast Georgia is one of my clients, but I'd encourage you to give this article a read. And think about attending their 25th Anniversary Celebration on Thursday at noon at First Baptist Church of Athens.

It's lunch done by Hugh Acheson, so you know it's got to be good.

The future

Trevor Southerland is one of the new Democratic posters at Peach Pundit, and I like a good bit of his writings. And while I think he hits on some good themes in this post, I do think he's oversimplifying this a bit.

While I want to see more contested races - and while it would have been great to see more contested races this past cycle given the political circumstances surrounding the popularity of the Georgia General Assembly and the bump with Barack Obama at the top of the ticket - it's just not easy to find individuals willing to sacrifice their time and resources to run for office, particularly in incredibly uphill challenges.

A nice, well-meaning person mentioned to me that I could challenge Bob Smith in two years. While I'm flattered and deeply value that person's advice, why in the world would I do that? Despite my deep ideological differences with Smith, the vast majority of his constituents in Oconee County are quite satisfied with his service (and, to be fair, he's made some sense with regard to needed changes to the Board of Regents). He wins 70-30 every time he runs against opposition, and there's no upside. Why should I (or anyone) invest the time to raise money and knock on doors only to lose by 30 or 40 points?

The problem isn't contending all the races, but instead being forced to draw from a small pool of potential candidates to put up for these runs. There are few locally elected Democrats in predominantly conservative areas, and where there are there are chances for success (see Bubber Epps).

I've argued this before, but I'd much rather see a concerted effort to recruit and develop a deep, qualified bench of candidates by getting Democrats elected to county commissions and city councils across Georgia. This enables them to build the necessary connections to the communities they serve, thus giving them an instant base of voters/donors/supporters that the recent crop of challengers we've been given often lacked.

Rebuilding a party takes a considerable amount of time, and it's not something that's going to be accomplished in one or two election cycles. It's going to take significant investments at the local level to rebuild from the ground up. Again, the demographics and overall trends favor the progressive movement - even in Georgia - but it's going to take some time to get there.

Leadership challenge

I don't agree with the politics of Tommy Benton or Terry England, but I've always been fairly impressed with their convictions and desire to serve their constituents. So, that said, let me give them some kudos for backing the challenge to Glenn Richardson.

Richardson is an egomanical individual who does little to advance any sort of positive agenda for Georgia, and the fact that he had me on several occasions in 2008 saying 'man, Sonny Perdue is right on this' should cause alarm for everyone.

While the State Senate was grossly mismanaged last year with regard to vision or direction (the haphazard and non-serious attempt to cut income taxes at the last minute was pathetic and nothing more than political theater designed to upstage Richardson ... and it would have ultimately put us even more in the red since so many Republicans in Atlanta seem to forget we're a balanced budget state), the State House was our version of romper room.