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.

Monday, December 22, 2008

A disconnect

Earl Ehrhart has offered his thoughts on the upcoming Georgia General Assembly, and the summary at Peach Pundit offers this thought ...

It is time that the leadership of the state started to focus on areas to cut State spending, not hamstringing local governments into cutting theirs.

Of course, this logically makes no sense.

In fact, local governments are being forced to increase taxes or cut spending because of the state cutting back in certain areas. If you focus on trimming back on state spending, you will have de facto cuts or increased taxes at the local level.

If your goal is to alleviate the burden on local governments - a laudable goal to be sure - then having the state cut back on its responsibilities in areas like infrastructure or education results in additional responsibilities being pushed onto them ... thus meaning an increase in spending, not the opposite.

Andre watch

Via a reader, apparently he's backing Eric Johnson for Lt. Governor.

Honestly. Just go ahead, switch parties and make it official man.

On non-profit management

Something that I've been wrestling with for the past couple of days is what to think regarding Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless. The organization's problems are many, and, as Debi Starnes told Fresh Loaf, they're all largely their own doing ...

“The culture of that agency and its management of that building is not one that helps people escape homelessness,” says Starnes, who retired her Council seat three years ago and now serves as Mayor Shirley Franklin’s homeless czar.

“What’s going on in that building is abysmal and shouldn’t be accepted,” she adds. “The city should be ashamed for having allowed it to go on for so long.”

The problem, though, seems to be what MATFH is ultimately aiming to achieve. If it's primarily functioning as an overnight shelter, then it's going to largely be addressing the needs of chronically homeless individuals which requires a radically different approach than what is needed at the Athens Area Homeless Shelter or IHN of Athens which provides assistance and support to temporarily homeless individuals.

An organization that attempts to serve both is often biting off more than it can chew. Organizations like IHN of Athens or AAHS typically serve one classification of homeless individuals, while others, such as Bigger Vision of Athens, work with chronically homeless individuals.

But, aside from a confused mission, MATFH has larger managerial issues. It's burned bridges with the community. It's squandered public funds. It has a low success rate. It has paid payroll taxes in three of the past six years. It pays its executive director a disproportionate amount of money compared to its existing financial situation. It relies on too few funders, thus increasing the likelihood of a severe fiscal crisis should said funds vanish.

I mention this because one has to wonder, with all of the problems surrounding East Athens Development Corporation and the Hancock Corridor Development Corporation, is this the path those organizations were on? Is it the one they're still on?

Granted EADC and HCDC serve substantially different populations, but the structural and managerial woes evident with MATFH seem somewhat similar to the complaints levied publically by Athens-Clarke County elected officials and privately by many in the non-profit field. And it's why I hope those two organizations have detailed how they'll utilize Community Development Block Grant funds in a more efficient and effective way because, arguably, the programs they have proposed are laudable ones.

The problem, as MATFH has shown, isn't the intent, but the execution.

Should be fun to watch

I didn't realize that we'd be seeing a Republican primary slugfest between David Shafer and Eric Johnson for Lt. Governor in 2010. Those are two big names, and each one has a large following and the ability to raise some money. I'd still give Johnson the edge in the race, but Shafer flat-out knows what he's doing and is a darling of the online community.

Plus, while I don't agree with Shafer on much, I feel compelled to point out that he has repeatedly engaged me and other progressives in fair and constructive debate during online discussions. Again, I don't agree with him on much, but he's good people by my humble assessment.


Further proof that I can't rationalize the logic that led Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson to support the $700 billion bailout for Wall Street, but oppose the strictly regulated $14 billion bridge-loan program for the American auto industry.

Seems to me that if any private institution was receiving public money, they ought to be required to publically disclose how they're utilizing said money. If Athens-Clarke County is going to (rightfully) scrutinize how a pair of non-profits spend Community Development Block Grant funds, the federal government ought to be able to find out how banks are spending $700 billion of taxpayer money.

Andre watch

Today, he wants Democrats to run hard to the right in order to win Georgia. While I won't dispute that a moderate to conservative Democrat often fares better statewide than a more liberal one, it's worth noting that Andre's snapshot assessment doesn't match up with the changing demographics of the state.

Democrats have strong bases in the urban areas of the state, often enjoying large margins of victory on those areas. That's been tempered by overwhelming margins of victory for Republicans in the rural areas of Georgia. Given that urban areas are going to continue to experience solid growth and, judging by existing demographic trends and polling data on younger voters, they will continue to strongly favor Democrats ... this is a good thing for the future.

Plus, Andre completely ignores the fast-growing Hispanic population in Georgia, which overwhelmingly backed Barack Obama earlier this year and has seen many of its bridges to the Republican Party burned in the past four years due to the policies they've pushed.

If the African-American vote continues to be 25 to 30 percent (and it should continue to become larger percentage of the electorate), and the Hispanic population pushes five to eight percent of the electorate, then the percentage of white voters necessary for a statewide win has decreased dramatically. Knowing that those two demographics have overwhelmingly backed Democrats in recent elections, the 20 to 25 percent of white support for Democrats that Andre ridicules today will eventually suffice.

Just saying

Arguably, I'm biased on this ... largely because World of Wonder was built when I was working as an assistant news editor at the Athens Banner-Herald and the sheer volume of calls (and complaints) of coverage of the fundraising efforts and construction of that park drove me insane. No one can say they weren't good people who shepherded the project through, but they would have been served better by having a coherent publicity campaign that was different than, say, flood the newsroom with press releases and requests for coverage and then swamp the same newsroom with angry phone calls when every publicity request didn't merit an A1 feature story.

Worth a read

The Atlanta Business Chronicle has an interesting read on the financial struggles of Sea Island. Apparently, the resort underwent an aggressive and expensive expansion that coincided with a massive bubble in the construction industry, thus resulting in inflated building costs, that ended with a complete collapse in the housing and travel market.

Talk about a perfect storm.

Trying to sort it out

Apparently, the company line has changed somewhat.

As reported here last week, the recycling markets, like other markets during this economic crisis, have taken a significant hit, thus resulting in Suki Janssen, Athens-Clarke County's waste reduction manager to email me the following ...

For the remainder of FY09 (fiscal year), we will have to use our new initiative money to pay the processing fees. As of November, we still had revenue coming in (just far less). But December until ?? we are projecting we will have to pay.

We are in the process of doing our FY10 budget and have taken this into account when budgeting for next year. This may mean a reduction in non-traditional recycling programs and other programmatic expenses in the future or (the Mayor and Commission) may have to approve an additional transfer of funds to the Recycling Division from the Landfill Enterprise fund or rate increases to residents. All options will be on the table next year.

This prompted Athens-Clarke County District Nine Commissioner Kelly Girtz to offer some more detailed thoughts on how to get through this crunch, including the possibility that some recyclables might have to be warehoused until the markets rebounded, rather than sent on to the landfill.

This morning's article, however, tells a somewhat different story ...

"I don't want anybody to get nervous about what's going on in other parts of the United States," she said. "Here in the Southeast, we're very, very fortunate to be close to most of our end markets." ...

When prices for recyclables were high, the county banked enough money to last for about six months if prices stay low, Jannsen said.

After that, officials will have to dip into money earmarked for starting up new initiatives, she said.

In an earlier discussion with me, Janssen noted several possible options on how to deal with the shortfall in FY 2010 if the markets didn't recover soon enough. These options included using money designated for new initiatives to get through the final six months of FY 2009 and then, for the following year, contemplate anything ranging from rate increases to a reduction in recycling services offered to the community.

If they've been able to stockpile some reserves from when times were good, then that's much welcome news. But, given that many are unsure of how low the market will go, it's important to know all the possible options of how to move forward and continue the successful efforts of Athens-Clarke County to reduce its waste consumption.

Friday, December 19, 2008

A good point

A moment of clarity

Granted, I'm not sure how I feel about mandatory recycling programs, but the general aversion that so many folks have to the suggestion that they simply sort their plastics and paper products away from their trash absolutely floors me.

Here in Oconee County, you get to choose your waste disposal company, which means our little cul-de-sac has four or five trucks coming through to service four or five houses during various days of the week. Our neighborhood association decided to wise up, and it collectively bargained with one of the haulers to set up a rate just for us and where they come pick up one day.

This, both The Wife and I thought, was a very smart move on our neighborhood's part (cheaper service and fewer trucks rumbling through our streets). Yet, when the lady showed up at our door to tell us who had the lowest bid and what we needed to do, and we asked what their policy was on recycling, she stared at us like we were from another planet (and, mind you, by 'policy' we meant 'can we get two bins?').

The Wife said 'well, we're big recyclers' and the lady - a sweet woman in her own right - replied 'I've never thought to do that, it just seems so hard.'

Hence where I go with this recycling thing ... we're talking about getting two bins - one for paper and one for glass/plastics/alumninum cans - and tossing said items into those bins rather than simply dropping them into trash. It ain't rocket science. It ain't hard. Yet, people seem to think the mere recommendation that you recycle is tantamount to imposing martial law (and try to use segments on comedy shows hosted by magicians as a reason to attack the very practice of recycling).

What if ...

We spent the better part of the past election cycle hearing that Bill Cowsert is regarded as one of the up-and-comers in state politics. And, judging by the strong show of support he received from folks like Sonny Perdue and Casey Cagle, it's evident that he's going to be more than just the state senator for District 46.

I'm curious, though, to what 'more' means for him. With two political heavyweights in John Oxendine and Casey Cagle already running for governor, another one in Karen Handel rumored to be a candidate and speculation still surrounding Johnny Isakson, the state's top office seems out. Likewise, with Eric Johnson declaring for Lt. Governor, Cowsert would have a tough time seeking that seat.

I don't see much upside for Cowsert to run for either Secretary of State or Secretary of Agriculture (though it could grant him a statewide audience) and, quite frankly, he's too sharp of a politician to focus on those seats.

So, I'm going to toss something out there that I've been mulling over in my mind ... why doesn't Cowsert primary Paul Broun? He's got bipartisan appeal, could eat into Broun's base in Oconee County, could do very well in the Augusta area where Broun still isn't terribly popular and can raise money in bunches.

By no means would it be an easy race, and I'd assume that Broun would still be the favorite in it ... but Cowsert's the one Republican who could make it interesting.

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.

Athens Area Homeless Shelter
The Athens Area Homeless Shelter (AAHS) provides a cooperative approach to homeless individuals and fosters public awareness of homelessness in the community. AAHS's Almost Home Transitional Program provides long-term residential support for single women and families with children who are homeless and who wish to make life changes to regain self-sufficiency and independence. AAHS's Job TREC program (Training, Referral and Education Center) provides case management and support to all homeless persons in Clarke County by offering personalized job training and placement services.

The Athens Area Homeless Shelter is a united and compassionate response to homelessness in the Northeast Georgia region. Its purpose is to educate the community that homelessness is the result of complex social, economic and personal factors and advocate for the homeless population and pledge to work cooperatively with the community to eliminate homelessness.

To make a donation, click here.

Carolina for Kibera
Established in 2001, Carolina for Kibera is an international, nongovernmental organization based in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya. In the United States, CFK is a 501(c)(3) charitable corporation and major affiliated entity and program of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill based at the Center for Global Initiatives.

Named a TIME Magazine and Gates Foundation "Hero of Global Health," CFK fights abject poverty and helps prevent violence through community-based development in Kibera and beyond. CFK envisions a world where the poor have a voice in their futures and opportunities for healthy growth. It is rooted in the conviction that solutions to problems involving poverty are possible only if those affected by it drive development. Concerned outsiders can help by mobilizing communities, advising, networking, and providing resources. Ultimately, however, the community possesses the knowledge and motivation that are necessary to solve its own problems.

Run by Kenyans and advised by American and Kenyan volunteers, CFK's primary mission is to promote youth leadership and ethnic and gender cooperation in Kibera through sports, young women's empowerment, and community development. Additionally, CFK works to improve basic healthcare, sanitation, and education in Kibera. Serving as a model for holistic, community-based urban development world-wide, CFK has helped grassroots organizations develop youth-based programs in six other nations and dozens of communities in Kenya.

To make a donation, click here.

The Stable Foundation
The Stable Foundation is an organization dedicated to eradicating homelessness by providing housing to families and individuals in need in Athens, GA and surrounding areas. The organization works to help families and individuals that are referred from partner agencies and assist them through the transitional housing period, thus helping them find their footing and achieve sustainable independence.

To make a donation, click here.

I'll second that

Well, obviously.

Music for the moment (Christmas edition)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Coming in with a bang

One of the more entertaining bits of political theater going around the community - and that I've heard from numerous folks in just the past two days - involves an encounter during the recent training session for incoming commissioners, councilmen, etc. hosted by the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia at the Georgia Center for Continuing Education.

The way the story goes is that Georgia Supreme Court Justice Harold Melton delivered an invocation prior to one of the lunchtime meals. Ed Robinson, the commissioner-elect for Athens-Clarke County's District Six, apparently didn't take kindly to the prayer.

Robinson, who along with Mike Hamby and Andy Herod was undergoing the required training session, opted to speak out. He asked Melton, in front of a packed conference hall of his peers, how the justice would rule on a case involving the separation of church and state given that he had just delivered a prayer to a room full of elected officials.

Melton calmly - and sarcastically - replied 'well, when I get a case like that in front of me, I'll let you know.'

Now, one could point out that the ACCG is merely an advocacy group that is not an official entity of the state government, thus meaning Melton's prayer was actually rather harmless and perfectly legal (unless there's a provision in the Georgia Constitution I'm unaware of that prohibits Georgia Supreme Court Justices from believing in one particular faith), but I guess that isn't really here or there.

UPDATE: Hence why this is all theater, I've gotten word from a pair of folks who have said that Melton did not say the prayer and that Robinson's question came during a Q-and-A session with the justice.

Pure speculation

Theories abound on whether or not Roy Barnes will run in 2010, and I honestly don't know. I don't see a primary fight between him and DuBose Porter shaping up though. That just doesn't add up for me.

Noted in this and buried in the comments is speculation that Brian Kemp will run for Secretary of State if Karen Handel opts to run for governor on the Republican side of things. I could see Kemp seeking that seat, but I honestly don't see why Handel would jump into a race between John Oxendine and Casey Cagle.

Random New York Senate blogging

I had this discussion with a friend of mine a few nights ago, but I just flat-out don't get why so many folks are bothered that Caroline Kennedy wants the New York Senate seat. I think she'd be a fine pick for a variety of reasons, some connected to her name (she'd garner an audience with folks a New York senator not named Hillary Clinton couldn't typically garner) and some not connected to her name (her stellar work on education and early childhood learning).

The point is that if your criticism is that you don't like neopotism in politics, this doesn't apply since, well, Robert Kennedy hasn't represented New York in the U.S. Senate since 1968. And if your criticism is this ...

And I'd hope that Governor David Paterson might consider a similar sort of selection--an honorary, non-political (but Democratic) appointee, a person of real, world-class, distinction who would never normally serve in the Senate, to grace the seat until the next election ...

... well, you just validated picking Caroline Kennedy.

No reason whatsoever

In 1988, someone thought this was a good idea.

Not so good

Yep, the economy stinks. A little less than half of Georgia's banks were unprofitable in the third quarter, and home prices continue to fall.

A report from The National Association of Realtors I got yesterday noted that, in the South, the median home price has fallen from $225,600 in 2007 to $207,600 in September 2008 (and it had fallen $14,000 from July 2008). It's a buyer's market, but it's also meaning lots of folks are sitting on properties and losing money during the sale.

More on EADC and HCDC

I think my friend Jeff is right and wrong. I think he's spot-on with his criticism of the Athens Banner-Herald's criticism of a proposed jobs training program for low-income students. Namely that the point of said program isn't the gear these kids up for a career in fast-food, but to help teach them lessons about responsibility, financial stewardship, work ethics, etc. The fact that it's managing a concession stand is merely a vehicle to impart such lessons, and, quite frankly, I thought it was beneath the editorial staff to bring up such comparisons.

However, while I admire Jeff's optimism, I have to levy some skepticism on the whole process. Again, the problem wasn't that the East Athens Development Corporation or the Hancock Corridor Development Corporation weren't offering good programs, it's rather that they weren't running them in a proper way that was best serving their respective communities. Whether or not they've remedied those problems is central to them receiving funding this year, and the evidence suggests that they'll face stiffer competition this time around.

Because, remember, this money is not earmarked for those two organizations, and, in fact, it's not even earmarked for the targeted census tracts.

A two-fer

The problem with this editorial is two-fold. First, it wrongly assumes that the proposed public works projects that Barack Obama is offering is a jobs program when, in fact, it has always been pitched as a vital component of a comprehensive economic stimulus package. As a result, a good bulk of those jobs are temporary but they also pay real money and provide real jobs. Furthermore, any sort of infrastructure project is ultimately a 'temporary' one, yet there still seems to be an entire industry built around it that employs workers of varying skills to perform said tasks.

Second, haggling over 'temporary' versus 'permanent' misses the whole point of the discussion. While there is an immediate boost in terms of jobs created, even if it's for the short-term, there's also a long-term investment being put in place. The infrastructure laid or renovated through this program will provide increased opportunity for future economic development (as well as provide a much-needed cash stimulus to the works who, in turn, will put their new earnings back into the economy).

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Oh well

OK, here's a fabulously bad move by Barack Obama ... namely because infrastructure investments are a crucial component of his economic recovery plan and tabbing someone from the opposition to head up the agency that has some governance in that area makes absolutely no sense to me.

Again, the pathetic hysterics at Open Left not withstanding, this is the first big move that Obama has made where I'm legitimately disappointed. I wasn't crazy about Robert Gates staying on as Secretary of Defense, but I understand the rationale behind such a pick. This one, though, is just flat-out depressing ... largely because Earl Blumenauer would have been a tremendous pick.

Obama's projects in Athens

When Barack Obama takes office next January and begins doling out funds for his massive public works stimulus program, rest assured that Athens-Clarke County is at the front of the line.

As Blake profiled last week, the 'Ready To Go' report from the U.S. Conference of Mayors details 14 infrastructure projects from the area that can get rolling as soon as funds arrive. Those 14 projects result in 307 potential new jobs in the area, which would be very welcome during these difficult economic times.

The biggest benefit with regard to jobs would come from one of the smaller financed projects through Phase II of the 'Apron Rehabilitation Project' at Ben Epps Airport. The project would generate 75 jobs in the community.

A pair of projects both project creating 40 jobs respectively in the Trail Creek No. 3 and No. 4 Interceptor Sewer Project and renovations to the Public Utilities Customer Service Center, while 30 jobs can be created through a $5.2 million project at the Shoal Creek/Whit Davis Road Sanitary Sewer Pump Station.

Also included are projects designed to widen Mitchell Bridge Road and realignment its intersection with Athens West Parkway. There's also $750,000 targeted to 'increase fix-route (bus) operating and maintenance funding to help stabilize fare increases; and improve reliability, and increase frequency.'

Another interesting project, one that figures to generate 15 new jobs, is one that would extend public water main lines along public roadways that are currently served by public water service.

In all, Athens-Clarke County has $22.35 million in infrastructure projects in the report.

Local control

I might deviate from the party line a bit, but I'm not necessarily opposed to this. Well, obviously, I'm not for larger class sizes or cutting teacher pay, but I do like the notion that Gwinnett County wants to give it a go on their own.

Isn't this what Sonny Perdue called for when he ran for office in 2002? More localized control of education? While I can't say that I prescripe to some of the suggestions they've got for their own schools the point is ... it's their own schools.

Here's a great opportunity to put this whole local control thing into action.

Hypocrisy much?

While there are a variety of reasons why I think the bridge-loan program for the American auto industry didn't pass, it's really odd to see so much attention paid to the unions ... an irrational and unrealistic amount of attention, actually.

Let's consider a few things. This was a $14 billion bridge loan program that was loaded with so much fine print it made your head hurt. It gave targeted low interest loans to the three American automakers. It required they submit a comprehensive plan for restructuring their business and created a 'car czar' that would oversee said restructuring. It set up the terms for lending the money and how it would be paid back to taxpayers (before anything else). And, contrary to popular belief, it involved considerable - and voluntary - concessions from the UAW, including wage and benefit reductions as well as the elimination of the controversial 'Jobs Bank' program.

But this thing died anyway ... largely because Senate Republicans - primarily Southern Senate Republicans who had their own vested interests involved and who fell all over themselves to get behind a $700 billion bailout of Wall Street - simply don't like unions. And, as a result, they've translated their dislike into a petty political strategy that is playing Russian Roulette with not only the lives of the autoworkers, but also the well-being of the American economy.

They wanted the autoworkers to immediately reduce their wages and benefits to bring them in line with Japanese automakers with plants in the United States. Of course, this is a ridiculous suggestion for numerous reasons ...

- I've never found it to be a rationale strategy to regulate the wages of any business or any position in said business, and, typically, that seems to be the Republican-line-of-thinking ... except when it involves unions, of course.

- I don't know why Senate Republicans are so gung-ho to mandate a reduction in wages for these workers, but balked at capping CEO compensation in the $700 billion Wall Street bailout. For that matter, why didn't we start reducing the salaries of financial advisors and bankers as a part of TARP? Why aren't their salaries the reason the economy is being dragged under?

- UAW was willing to reduce wages and benefits over a phased period of time culminating in 2011 when the next agreement would be negotiated between the manufacturers and workers. This has been an arrangement that has worked for close to a century in a variety of industries, yet Senate Republicans were all to eager to toss away their supposed economic ideology in lieu of sticking a thumb in the eyes of workers.

- An immediate reduction in wages and benefits would also, potentially, do more harm than good ... largely because the cost of living in the Great Lakes region is 20 to 30 percent higher than in the South, where foreign car companies are concentrated. The existing salaries of UAW workers are roughly - surprise, surprise - 20 to 30 percent higher than those in the South. As a result, suddenly bringing their salaries in line with those workers would make them significantly worse off than their Southern counterparts, thus drastically impacting their ability to live in what is the worst economic crisis since the 1920s and 1930s.

This whole 'blame-the-unions' mantra that's coming from so many Southern Republicans these days is nothing more than blatant personal disdain seeping its way into how we conduct business (and, I would suggest, one of the main reasons why Republicans suffered such drastic losses the past few years).

Again, there seems to be a rationale case made for the bridge-loan program as there seems to be one for letting the companies go through bankruptcy, but blaming unions for the woes of the American auto industry is as grand of a misdiagnosis as I've ever seen.

But it's not funny

While I give Sonny Perdue credit for being willing to utilize bonds as a way to generate some localized economic stimulus, on pretty much everything else I just don't think he's got a clue.

And this latest 'Go Fish' nonsense makes me think he's come completely unhinged ...

“Some have laughed at Go Fish, some even in the media have laughed at this program,” said Perdue. “This is the first example of Georgia having the last laugh. Frankly, that’s because this is what we envisioned.”

Landing a singular tournament two years into your pet project that yields only a fraction of the initial investment? All the while you're telling every state department to cut back on spending by eight percent? That's a success?

This man has lost his mind.

Andre watch

Today, our favorite boy-who-just-wants-to-be-loved is waxing poetic about Jim DeMint from South Carolina ... he of the not-believing-gays-or-single-mothers-should-be-allowed-to-teach-in-public-schools and let's-bail-out-Wall-Street-but-screw-over-the-American-auto-industry-because-of-my-personal-dislike-of-unions fame.

Again, Erick and the boys are keeping that seat at the GOP table warm for you ... just go ahead and make it official.

Borderline inexcusable

Living in the Athens area grants me the right to say this, but the copy editor who botched this needs to be immediately reprimanded ...

Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis became the second college football player to be a three-time AP All-American, joining Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford and star receiver Michael Crabtree on the first team released Tuesday. ...

The only other player to make the AP first-team three times was Pittsburgh offensive lineman Bill Fralic (1982-84), according to STATS LLC.

Um, really? ...

Among the other players to make the AP first-team three times were San Diego State running back Marshall Faulk (1991-93), Pittsburgh offensive lineman Bill Fralic (1982-84), Georgia running back Herschel Walker (1980-82) and Pittsburgh defensive end Hugh Green (1978-80).

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Mid-day roundup

Organizing a few things ...

- The CDBG Situation: A Primer

Upcoming Recycling Changes
- Economic woes hurt going green
- Additional recycling thoughts

The CDBG situation: A primer

There's a likely battle on the horizon as the East Athens Development Corporation and Hancock Corridor Development Corporation have both reapplied for chunks of funding from the 2009 Community Development Block Grant allocation. And the discussion as already begun as this editorial rightfully questions whether or not either organization has made substantial progress to grant said funding.

It's important to try and understand the nuances of how CDBG money can be allocated and what it can be spent on. This year, the community should receive a little less than $1.5 million in total CDBG funds, and no more than 15 percent of that total can be dedicated to expenditures on public services.

Athens-Clarke County Human and Economic Development expects that 15 percent to be approximately $218,320 for 2009. That money is made available for public service agencies as 'Challenge Grants' that are doled out in smaller portions of funding - typically somewhere between $10,000 and $20,000 - and limited to three consecutive years of receipt. These grants are distributed by the commission to smaller non-profit organizations (such as the Interfaith Hospitality Network of Athens) and are what most folks perceive CDBG funding to be (and where some of the most difficult decisions come into play).

Athens-Clarke County District Four Commissioner Alice Kinman was instrumental in changing the policy of how the Challenge Grants were awarded, and she noted this in an email ...

There is no cap, although they are three-year grants. I think that the first group of Challenge Grant recipients were capped at whatever their current allocation was. But the ultimate goal is to give fewer agencies more funds for "start-up" purposes.

Also, regarding the 15 percent for public services ... it is not required that 15 percent be designated for public services. The commission could opt to allocate all of the funding for things like public facility improvements or affordable housing and not support any agencies through Challenge Grants. Obviously, that wouldn't be a terribly popular move and, to be clear, isn't one the commission has ever entertained.

HUD permits spending on public services to exceed 15 percent in approved neighborhood revitalization areas, and Athens-Clarke County has two of those in East Athens and the Hancock Corridor. This is largely why EADC and HCDC came into being so they could, in theory, take advantage of this exception and effectively utilize those funds in those areas. Their struggles to do that, of course, led the such scrutiny last year and subsequent reduction in funding by the Athens-Clarke County Commission.

Those organizations, however, do not have any explicit right to said funding, and, as Rob Trevena from HED pointed out to me via email, funds do not have to be allocated for public services in those targeted areas ...

We are not required by regulation to fund EADC or HCDC, nor are we required to specify funding targeted to the HUD-approved neighborhood revitalization zones. ACC could fund any of the other applications, so in that respect the agencies are competing against all other applications.

The designation of those census tracts enable organizations like EADC or HCDC to obtain larger sums of funding to provide public services to citizens who live in those designated areas. It's a way to get around some of the regulatory mumbo-jumbo and allows agencies to offer things like budget counseling or financial assistance or youth tutoring (all public services), provided those services are specific to the census tracts.

Now, those are the only regulatory requirements that deal with those targeted areas, and the remaining 85 percent of allocated funding could be employed in a variety of ways (with a percentage dedicated to program administration). They can used for economic development, affordable housing or public facility improvements and, based on the information I've received, those funds are not restricted to East Athens or Hancock Corridor.

It's a wise move to take advantage of the exception because it enables CDBG funds to be spent on necessary public services above and beyond the cap in an underserved community, so arguably it's appropriate that some funding be designated there. However, it seems a disproportionate amount has gone there in recent years and, quite frankly, not be spent wisely by those two organizations.

What's largely been the problem is that EADC and HCDC have received this funding for so long, it's drowned out the competition for other organizations seeking to obtain those funds. The commission's desire to bring additional agencies into the fold and hold others accountable for their efficiency and effectiveness has resulted in roughly 30 agencies seeking funding.

For the Challenge Grant, currently 13 non-profits are funded and, according to Trevena, all 13 are seeking renewed funding. In addition, nine other non-profits have submitted requests for Challenge Grant funding. Neither EADC or HCDC are among those 22 agencies seeking Challenge Grant funding.

Why it matters to some

Just to be clear, I wouldn't know Andre from Adam, but I do think he's dishonest, self-serving and all too eager to throw his own side under the bus to make other people like him and advance his own personal ambitions. To top it off, I think he routinely makes oversimplified arguments that offer baseless criticism and do nothing but make only a handful of the most extreme right-wing conservatives go 'that's right ... finally one of those guys gets it right!'

Back in July, Andre criticized the Democratic Party of Georgia for voting for one African-American DNC representative out of four possible elected slots, or 25 percent. Again, to be clear, this representation is far worse than the Republicans having one African-American represent them out of 15 possible slots, or six percent. That stellar ratio is 'awesome' in Andre's eyes.

There's a reason his link isn't included on my blogroll anymore ... or at Tondee's Tavern ... or at Atlanta Public Affairs ... or at a whole host of progressive-leaning blogs in this state. And that's largely because of what Grift highlights in 'Blog Stories of the Year' Countdown ...

That the original sinner did not participate in these conversations and instead allowed others to defend a community stained by his actions did not pass unnoticed.

Time will tell if the actions of one blogger will be used as a cautionary tale in future judgments of the community, but as we will shortly see, the power of the medium cannot be contained and retrograde movements can be followed by massive leaps forward.

In the past two weeks, Andre has advocated for kicking folks out on the street during the holidays, baselessly criticized the preveiling economic consensus that public works spending can be used as an economic stimulus and levied reckless and unwarrented criticism against Jane Kidd absent of any facts or investigation ... all at a Republican-leaning blog, mind you.

Now, making silly accusations and weak defenses isn't alien to Andre, as after he was outed for not disclosing what candidates he was on staff for he tried to deflect criticism by blasting the Atlanta Progressive News for selling ads to candidates. Regardless, he was rightfully booted from Peach Pundit for such impropriety ... though, after the election, he magically reappeared on the front page after apparently making some sweetheart deal with Erick that he becomes their resident Zell Miller.


Mother of God you wanker, just go ahead and switch parties then. You're already carrying their water, just go ahead and make it official.

Additional recycling thoughts

In light of yesterday's news that processing fees will exceed falling recycling revenues - thus prompting Suki Janssen to suggest to me that some hard decisions are in the future for Athens-Clarke County's recycling program, including either rate increases or a scaling back of non-traditional recycling programs - I contacted Athens-Clarke County District Eight Commissioner Kelly Girtz. Girtz has long been a proponent of an expanded recycling effort in order to make the community reach the 'Zero Waste' goal, and he shared some thoughts that I'll just post verbatim here ...

I've been following the recycling markets story for a few weeks, and even used the recent NY Times piece for a case study of the complexities of supply-and-demand in the high school Econ class I teach. Recycling professionals have mentioned that the market was over-inflated at its peak, so this downturn in markets might be seen as perhaps an over-correction. Whatever the vagaries of the market last week, today or next year, some core ideas should be at the center of our conversation about production and recycling.

A key issue that policy-makers (ideally on a state or national level) should be discussing is the issue of producer responsibility for products and their packaging. As long as we produce and consume so much paper, plastic, metal and glass material, we are going to have to find something to do with it, whether it is landfilling, down-cycling, littering, recycling or reusing. Manufacturers should be asked to plan from the start how a product or package can be fully recycled. Why is it even permissable to produce material that cannot easily be recycled? Those microscopic 3s, 4s, and 5s in the little "recycle me" triangles on plastics are like a promise unfulfilled (why do you taunt me so, oh plastic clamshell?). To continue our pattern of end-of-the-line manufacturing is to ask for continued trouble.

My first brush with this issue was during a skirmish in the music industry in the '80s when I was a clerk in a record store. Compact discs sold in the U.S. came in what the industry termed "longboxes" - cardboard sleeves wrapped in plastic that would stand up in bins designed for LPs. It was only through public outcry and lots of wrangling that the industry agreed to eliminate this superfluous packaging (notably, long after their European counterparts). Trust me, the cash you made on Ebay selling your Neil Young longboxes still isn't worth the cost of all the material that went to waste.

These days, it is hard for me not to notice all the extra crap littering our stores. Next time you are out shopping for tools, toys, clothes, or whatnot, check out the volume of packaging: shrink wrap, cardboard inserts, hard plastic shells, styrofoam backing, etc., etc., etc. All of this stuff is extractive - largely from trees and crude oil. As long as this is the norm, we are going to have the back-end problems now plaguing us as we seek markets for recyclables. If instead, producers have to be responsible for taking back the waste they wrought, or paying someone else to take it back, we may begin to see broader reform and diminishing angst over what to do with all the stuff piling up in our homes, landfills and recycling centers.

Back to the local issue, though - how do we operate right now with falling prices for the recyclables we collect? Well, we sure don't return to dumping it in a hole in the ground. We may have to warehouse some of the material for a time, and suck-up the cost. Even in immediate monetary terms, the community will still benefit, as landfilling costs $42 a ton, much more than handling recyclables, even if we don't make the profits we saw over the last few years. We may also modify the recycling system to make it more effiient and more effective. A consideration under discussion is single-stream processing, which could lower processing costs. In addition, we know that many markets are cyclical, and will recover in time. The water and energy savings found in recycling materials rather than using virgin commodities also remain in place.

So, to everyone: please continue to recycle, but be mindful of materials you consume from the front-end. Use a reuseable coffee cup instead of a paper cup. Refill that water jug rather than buying a bottle of water. Limit printer paper by printing on the reverse side. Carry cloth bags to the grocery store. Buy used stuff. And if your favorite gadget seems padded with extra packaging, send a quick email to the company asking them to cut back.

Happy Birthday

My buddy Tim is a huge Orioles fan and, understandably so, is also a huge Cal Ripken Jr. fan. It turns out that Ripken and his brother, Billy Ripken, also have a satellite radio show that airs on Saturdays. Tim's wife, The Wife's former college roommate and longtime friend Carrie enjoyed calling in to said show and, on numerous occasions, actually got through.

Apparently there was one time where the conversation turned to a thermos - yes, a thermos - and Carrie, in her generosity, opted to send Billy Ripken a thermos. He received it, they discussed it on the air and to this date, if Carrie calls in, they let her right through and refer to her as 'Thermos Girl' or something like that.

There's no real reason to pass this story on aside from the fact that today is Billy Ripken's 44th birthday.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Economic woes hurt going green

The economic crisis has had far-reaching consequences, and now it's even thrown into flux the recycling world. Athens-Clarke County, for quite some time, has been a remarkable model of efficiency when it comes to its recycling efforts. The community has routinely turned a profit, but that won't happen this year.

They just sent out a press release noting that the tonnages for recycling in the community have gone up, but revenues have dropped off. This can be explained by noting that the recycling market has been enjoying remarkable highs, and those highs meant healthy revenues for all.

The market, though, has finally slowed ...

In mid-October, the Asian markets ceased taking recyclables from the United States which has caused a drastic decline in market prices. Needless to say, with production of consumer goods slowing that means less demand, hence lower prices for recyclable materials that provide the raw materials for new products.

As a result, the processing fees for the recycling program will be greater than the revenue brought in.

Via an email exchange, Suki Janssen from the Athens-Clarke County Recycling Division helped explain what this means for users ...

For the remainder of FY09 (fiscal year), we will have to use our new initiative money to pay the processing fees. As of November, we still had revenue coming in (just far less). But December until ?? we are projecting we will have to pay.

We are in the process of doing our FY10 budget and have taken this into account when budgeting for next year. This may mean a reduction in non-traditional recycling programs and other programmatic expenses in the future or (the Mayor and Commission) may have to approve an additional transfer of funds to the Recycling Division from the Landfill Enterprise fund or rate increases to residents. All options will be on the table next year.

Janssen said she is optimistic the global markets for recycling and its products will rebound in due time, but the coming months look to be ones full of some difficult choices. According to statistics provided by the Athens-Clarke County Public Information Office, there are more than 40,000 recycling jobs in Georgia and 50-plus in Athens-Clarke County.

Crunching numbers

Apparently, MARTA is the hole, and Creative Loafing puts out some numbers on MARTA's situation, and lots of them are fascinating.

For instance, this past year is only the second time ridership has increased at MARTA (largely due to the struggling economy, rapid urbanization of Atlanta and high fuel prices), and it soared by 11.5 percent. In addition, Atlanta is the only major metro area whose public transit agency gets no help from the state.

A bigger issue

Just to follow up on Flack's point regarding the state's share of education spending ... it seems to me that this is part of a grand plan is to compel the local school boards to cut spending. The problem, of course, is that local school boards recognize the struggles they face on a daily basis in terms of resources, infrastructure and the like, thus necessitating their intent to fully fund their schools through property tax increases.

This refusal - rightly so I might add - to bow to budget slashing fever has prompted the

So, in turn, the state government wants local communities to take a more active role in managing its schools (that was one of the governor's central campaign themes in 2002). However, when the local communities respond by determining that full funding is necessary and cuts to public education shouldn't be made, thus resulting in increased millage rates ... the state government wants to take authority away from local communities by proposing things like restricting property assessment values or elminating the property tax (and having revenues raised by a regressive sales tax that would funnelled to Atlanta for dispersement to local communities).

The crux of the problems confronting the state government the past six years isn't so much assigned to one particular problem. What it is, however, is a rebellion by local communities against the ruling party in state government who initially aimed to give said communities more authority, but simply didn't like what those communities did with it.

Necessary referencing

To provide some context, clarification and sourcing from some of the data used in my letter, here is a collection of writings, graphs and pertinent data.

Paul Krugman ...

Now, there’s a whole intellectual industry, mainly operating out of right-wing think tanks, devoted to propagating the idea that F.D.R. actually made the Depression worse. So it’s important to know that most of what you hear along those lines is based on deliberate misrepresentation of the facts. The New Deal brought real relief to most Americans.

That said, F.D.R. did not, in fact, manage to engineer a full economic recovery during his first two terms. This failure is often cited as evidence against Keynesian economics, which says that increased public spending can get a stalled economy moving. But the definitive study of fiscal policy in the '30s, by the M.I.T. economist E. Cary Brown, reached a very different conclusion: fiscal stimulus was unsuccessful "not because it does not work, but because it was not tried."

Edge of the West ...

The problem is, Tabarrok quotes the old, bicentennial edition of HSUS. And in that edition, you find Lebergott’s unemployment data, which was assembled before Michael Darby, Robert Margo, and David Weir’s work. As Tabarrok should know, and as readers of this site do know, in the current edition of HSUS, when you look for an unemployment time series, you find Weir’s ...

"For 1931 to 1943, I accept Lebergott’s employment estimates as accurate, except for a major conceptual conflict regarding the classification of federal emergency relief workers. Darby challenged the standard classification followed by the census, the CPS, and Lebergott that counted such workers unemployed. Lebergott has argued eloquently that counting them as unemployed is a more accurate depiction of the failure of the private economy to generate unemployment. Margo has found that the labor supply behavior of relief workers shared some characteristics of both employed and unemployed workers, and suggests that at least some should probably be classified as employed. In the absence of a clear basis for distinguishing employed from unemployed relief workers, I agree with Darby that counting all relief workers as employed is more consistent with modern theoretical interpretations of unemployment, so I include them as government workers."

Edge of the West ...

This phrase, "after almost a decade of governmental 'pump priming,'" is a problem, too, because it means "after all this pump-priming". But that's not right. As E. Cary Brown long ago wrote, and as most economic historians know,

"Fiscal policy, then, seems to have been an unsuccessful recovery device in the ’thirties—not because it did not work, but because it was not tried."

Which is to say, there was never enough spending to achieve the desired effect. People who know about the New Deal know this—know about Roosevelt’s reluctance to implement direct relief programs, know about the dissolution of CWA in 1934, know the WPA came only in 1935, know that Roosevelt cut it back in 1937-38, know that Keynes wrote Roosevelt in February of 1938 to criticize him for insufficient relief spending for this very reason.

People who don’t know these things are ignorant; people who know these things and say otherwise owing to constraints of space or audience are misleading; people who do so in an outright dishonest way that uses extra words to conceal the facts are lying.


Oh ... and I had a letter published in the Athens Banner-Herald regarding the New Deal.

The comments accompanying said letter are - to be expected - juvenille, misinformed and grossly inaccurate. In fact, most of them offer silly criticisms that I already addressed, but, hey, what can you do?

Programming update

Apologies again for the spotty postings last week, but we were dealing with a double ear infection, a chest cold and three days of fever with The Kid. She got to feeling better by Wednesday night, but that ultimately meant she was home for the remainder of the week ... which was fun in its own right as by Friday was back to her regular self.

Fortunately my mom was able to get away and lend a much-needed and much-appreciated hand during the week so The Wife and I could focus, somewhat, on our usual professional obligations during the week.

Also ... The Wife turned 30 on Friday (and lived to tell about it).

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Who's hungry?

Proof the internet is the great equalizer ... via Doug I've discovered that the wife from the Sonic commercials has her own blog, which is fairly awesome.