Tag Archives: gapol

Romney: ‘Not Concerned About the Very Poor’

Standard

Well, these are certainly some odd values, aren’t they?

In an interview with CNN earlier today marking his Republican primary win in Florida, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney said he was “not concerned about the very poor,” and said the nation provided an “ample safety net” to those in that category.

“You can focus on the very poor, that’s not my focus,” Romney said.

Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney ain't none to worried 'bout 'dem po' folks. Says dey's gonna' be jes fine, yessuh. (Source: nmfbihop, from Flikr)

(By the way, Romney’s income over the past two years has come to more than $42 million.)

Rather, Romney said, he plans to focus on the middle class, which has been squeezed mightily in the last decade-and-a-half.

Just where do we think the once-proud denizens of the middle class have gone? Up the economic ladder? No, they’ve fallen further and further behind, with high unemployment and stagnant wages and an ever-growing cost of living taking larger and larger bites out of their plans for the future. Once-stable two income households are making hard decisions to get by with one.

Add this to the chorus of his concerns about getting a “pink slip,” even though he hails from a very wealthy family and is himself a millionaire several times over, and his defense of his work at Bane Capital, a venture capital firm that, along with acquiring and successfully reorganizing a number of firms, also liquidated quite a few others, leaving many unemployed. What is emerging is a portrait of a candidate who is far more Herbert Hoover/Warren Harding than Ronald Reagan.

I know a thing or two about the plight of the poor, having been poor for a considerable portion of my life. It isn’t easy. They turn off your electricity. Sometimes there’s not heat in the winter, and when there is, it’s turned up just high enough to keep the pipes from freezing. Sometimes, that’s not a concern, because the water’s been shut off. There are resources – heating assistance, assistance from utilities, etc. – that can be accessed, but these are very limited and I couldn’t begin to tell you how to access them or what the criteria are. Most of these have a cap – a number of people they can help at a given time. If you’re outside that limited number, you go cold.

America is experiencing very little growth except in one area: the poor. There is a vast and swelling population of dissatisfied Americans living in a land of milk and honey, a land of plenty, but barely getting by with precious little. It is aggravating to worry constantly about how you will feed yourself or your children, which bills you’ll pay from month to month and how you’ll keep yourself sheltered. A lot of people have known nothing but, and others are experiencing this for the first time. They were raised in the middle class, pursued their education, gained experience, and are now struggling mightily. They played the game according to the rules, and their parents’ promises were for naught. It is one thing to have been raised on the government’s tit (which is still not a good or comfortable life), but quite another to go hat-in-hand to ask for assistance for the very first time.

I remember my grandfather telling how his own father had to go into town one day for government assistance. My great-grandfather had been a successful man, a merchant who owned his own shop in Winston. When the Great Depression came and his customers could not afford their purchases, he let them buy things on credit, including food. When he could no longer pay his own bills because his customers were unable to pay theirs, he lost the store and had to turn to sharecropping.

My great-grandfather had one of the first, if not the first, automobiles in the county – a Ford Model T, which he used to haul merchandise from the rail station to his store. Penniless after losing the store, he could not even afford the gas to drive his car into town, and so walked from Winston into Douglasville to seek government assistance. They provided him with a sack of flour and a side of bacon, which he carried on his back and shoulders back down Bankhead Highway to feed his family. My grandfather told of how grateful they were for the food, but how ironic it was that, even though he was one of the few people to own a car, his father was not even able to use it because they were so poor.

Of course, Romney would not be very concerned about people like my grandfather. Hoover wasn’t, either. But my grandfather kept a framed portrait of FDR hanging in his living room, and often would point to it and say, “that man saved my life.”

“We will hear from the Democrat Party the plight of the poor, and there’s no question; it’s not good being poor. And we have a safety net to help those that are very poor,” Romney said. “We have a very ample safety net and we can talk about whether it needs to be strengthened or whether there are holes in it. But we have food stamps, we have Medicaid, we have housing vouchers, we have programs to help the poor. But the middle-income Americans, they’re the folks that are really struggling right now.”

You’re right, Gov. Romney. Middle class Americans are struggling. Because they’re poor.

Ah, Hell – My State’s Run by Nutjobs

Standard

OK, so this possibly falls into the category of “what else is new,” but Georgia has some real nutjobs occupying corner offices up around the Capitol.

Gov. Nathan Deal, while still a corrupt congressman before becoming a disquietingly astute governor, tested the “birther” bandwagon, suggesting in interviews and speeches that President Barak Obama – who birth certificates and recollections of impartial people who were there at the time indicates was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, one of the United States of America – might not be American by virtue of not having been born in Honolulu, Hawaii, despite all evidence to the contrary. Several Georgia legislators last session introduced the Presidential Eligibility Assurance Act to the General Assembly last year, which – graciously – didn’t go far, and ultimately sent supporters scurrying from its nutter-ness like rats from a sinking barge of dog food.

And now, Deputy Chief Judge Michael Malihi, a state administrative law judge, has had the audacity to order the President of the United States to appear before him, at the behest of Georgia birther nutjob Orly Taitz (a suitably nutty name, no?), to prove he’s American enough to be on Georgia’s Democratic primary ballot in March. Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, rather than snuffing out the nuttyness, instead got on his knees and stoked the nutjobs’ flame by sending the president’s lawyers a letter that said the president – the nation’s chief executive, commander-in-chief of the strongest military Earth has ever known and leader of the free world – would fail to appear before Judge Malihi “at your own peril.”

Brian Kemp

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp loves him some birther nutters.

To borrow an abbreviation, WTF?

Is that where we are now as a state? We’ve devolved to the point of ordering the president to come on down here to Atlanta and appear before a deputy chief administrative law judge who’s evidently siding with a crazed dentist over the White House?

Suffice to say, President Obama did not attend last week’s hearing. Neither did his attorneys, nor anyone from the state’s Democratic Party. The hearing was boycotted, and a bench, taped with sheets of printer paper reading “RESERVED FOR DEFENDANT” sat vacant.

Ultimately, Secretary Kemp will have to decide whether or not President Obama, who has served as president these past four years and is seeking reelection to serve four more, and who, according to every official document anyone can find, was born in Hawaii, will appear on Georgia’s primary ballot. A moot point, given that the president is evidently running unopposed in Georgia, and even if he wasn’t, no one of note seems inclined to run against him for the state’s Democratic nomination.

I hope the good secretary will decide not to humiliate himself – and us – any further with this nuttery. And I also hope that, next time we start electing statewide office holders such as himself, we’ll remember the embarrassment he brought upon us.

Douglasville Mayor Thompson Near-Sighted on TSPLOST

Standard

Douglasville Mayor Mickey Thompson seems to have misgivings about the upcoming TSPLOST vote, and does not feel that the city, nor the western part of Douglas County, have been adequately represented in the allocation of funds possibly raised by approval of this one-cent sales tax.

To refresh your memory, earlier this year, the Georgia General Assembly passed a law allowing citizens in huge swaths of the state to vote on referendums that would impose a 1 percent sales tax in their respective swaths, with the tax going to fund a number of predetermined transportation projects.

Now, coming up soon, the registered voters of Georgia will have the opportunity to decide whether or not we will tax ourselves for one cent on every dollar we spend to improve the region’s transportation, with new road projects, new infrastructure and even a rail line or two, maybe.

But Thompson, who was part of the committee that had a voice on what projects would and would not be funded, now says that Douglas County will be a “donor county” in the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, or TSPLOST, with 78 percent of the money the county would pay into TSPLOST being returned to fund projects within the county.

Thompson’s solution to the city’s transportation troubles appears to focus on building more four-lane roads, more interstate off-ramps and funneling more traffic into the black hole built on top of wetlands that is the local mall.

Douglasville has long had an “if you build it, they will come” attitude about transportation, structuring unnecessary four-lane roads here and there in the hopes of attracting development. To their credit, development has come; though it was almost all retail, which supplies low-paying jobs and works only when people actually have money to spend. Now, the city is once more in the midst of a glut of existing, vacant “big-box” development. Big box development is what you might think of when you consider the vacant Wal-Mart on Stewart Parkway, or the empty Hi-Fi Buys on Douglas Boulevard next to Outback Steakhouse, or the empty Circuit City at The Landing at Arbor Place, or countless other places throughout the city. Unlike smaller retail spaces, big box stores cannot be relatively easily filled with boutique clothing outlets, second-hand stores or hobby shops, simply owing to their immense size and square footage. It’s damn hard to fill a Wal-Mart if you’re not already a Wal-Mart, and with the exception of Big Lots, most retailers have little interest in setting up where another has failed. Often, then, these retail outlets would rather build their own, new development, which will itself be rendered vacant when hard times come calling and they once more pack up and leave town.

Another function of big box retailers is that they serve as “anchors” for a residential development. Most of their business is incidental, from people stopping in on their way to the Wal-Mart or Kmart or Target or Publix or Kroger. Without an anchor, it’s hard for a smaller retail operation to survive because the sheer traffic going past their storefront is so greatly diminished.

In Thompson’s view, an Interstate 20 interchange is needed at Bright Star Road to help relieve traffic at Highway 5 and Chapel Hill Road. This is, perhaps, the idea the city had when it built the seldom-traveled Bright Star Road Connector: pull traffic off of I-20, send it down Bright Star Road to Wal-Mart or down Douglas Boulevard to the mall. In an interview published in today’s Douglas County Sentinel, Thompson cites statistics to how many cars use the current interstate interchanges, though I gather the mayor has precious little concern for the fact that his vision constructs an interstate interchange in a residential area, streaming traffic past the homes of county residents who are not (yet) part of his jurisdiction.

His honor’s worries stop at the city limits, and that’s a problem.

Even if just 78 percent of what Douglas County puts into the TSPLOST is returned, the remaining 22 percent is nonetheless going to improve transportation in our region, making it easier for people who travel outside of the county’s boarders (and since Douglasville has done such an abysmal job in growing well-paying local jobs, most of us do travel beyond the county lines frequently, or even daily). And for those county and city residents idled by slashed transportation budgets, this means work – jobs, laying asphalt and installing traffic lights and generally working again. (Also, though no one’s hardly said it, this is a good time to get some transportation improvements done on the cheap while costs are depressed. It’s a bargain for taxpayers overall.)

Because the mayor didn’t get what he wanted in the TSPLOST, he’s ready to send the whole thing to hell by defaming it, even as he had more voice and influence to shape it than any of us who will be voting on the thing.

TSPLOST isn’t going to pay for paving subdivisions or replacing culverts down barely travelled back roads; it’s going to pay for major transportation improvements with a regional impact. One of the projects for which Douglasville and Douglas County advocated was improvements to the interchange at I-20 and I-285 – a problem interchange that regularly backs up eastbound traffic to Thornton and Lee roads and beyond and causes residents to lose countless hours due to delays.

In the Sentinel, Thomas said: “With the downturn in the economy and the struggles many are experiencing, I think it will be difficult for people to give up another 1 percent of their disposable income. You have an identical school board referendum question on the Nov. 8 ballot. Of course, if both are approved, that’s an additional 2 percent reduction in disposable income for each resident of our county.”

Perhaps we could look at it that way. Or, we could call it an investment in our community. As a region, transportation is the single greatest hindrance to attracting employers. The state is relatively business-friendly, and we have the post-secondary schools and research facilities to make this a whiz-bang place for potential employers, especially in the areas of technology and biotech with Georgia Tech, Emory, Georgia State and many other smaller area colleges contributing research and well-equipped alumni to the workforce. Still, companies are hesitant to commit investment to an area that is unwilling to invest in itself. Supporting transportation, just like supporting schools, is how we prove we have some skin in the game. It’s how we build our future.

We can no longer expect to hinge our local economy on large-scale retail and the building of strip malls. We must realize that our financial future is tied to the fortunes of metro Atlanta. Where goes Atlanta, so goes Douglasville. We’re beyond being a distant island out in the west; if that is what we wanted to remain, then we needed to develop a self-sustaining local economy. We didn’t do that. We don’t have the jobs to pay our residents a livable wage, and we certainly don’t have the jobs to empower people to spend dollars locally by virtue of the fact that we aren’t paying them enough dollars to spend, period. Our people need work, and there’s no longer any point in trying to build more houses that will be underwater in value by the end of the week that the certificate of occupancy is granted. There are no factory or production jobs to speak of. Not here, anyway.

By and large, I’ve thought a great deal of Mayor Thompson, and I was disheartened to hear that he would not be seeking a third term as mayor. But if this isolationist view of the city is what he would have pursued, we would have been wiser to elect a rival.

It Pains Me, But Don’t Blame Nathan Deal for Troy Davis’ Death

Standard

Look, I’ll be the last guy who takes up for Gov. Nathan Deal. Really, it’s leaving a bad taste in my mouth.

But, I’ve got to do this. I’m just going to lay back, and think of England.

This morning, I saw a retweeted tweet scroll across my Twitter feed from Alec Baldwin: “Nathan Deal has disgraced Georgia, the justice system, the country.”

That may be. But not because of Troy Davis.

History lesson ahead. You’ve been warned.

Once upon a time, there was a state. We’ll call it Georgia, but that’s what most everyone else calls it. And once upon a time in the state of Georgia, there was only one real political party.

That party didn’t care for black people.

So, to make sure that black people didn’t have the opportunity to have a voice in the affairs of the state, the Democrats conceived of the “white primary,” in which only white people could vote. This was OK, the United States Supreme Court said (though about nine years later, they changed their minds).

Also, this one party – the Democrats – decided that it would be unwise to have one big political boss with too much power. Though the Democrats were members of one party, they still hardly saw eye-to-eye on many topics. (Really, the one-party system was an excuse to have a white primary; the divisions within the party were nonetheless very deep.)

Eugene Talmadge

Former Georgia Gov. Eugene Talmadge, who was partial to the white primaries. When he died before taking office for a fourth term, his son, Herman, assumed office. Because that's how we do things down here in Georgia.

To make sure no one person gained too much power, the Democrats devised a way of structuring government that meant that, while the governor was the head of state and technically the chief executive, the power of government was shared among the members of his cabinet, which were elected independently of the governor.

So – while on a federal level, the president gets to nominate his attorney general, secretary of state, secretary of agriculture, etc. – in Georgia, all those people are elected. We elect a commissioner of agriculture, a labor commissioner, a state schools superintendent, an attorney general and a secretary of state, among others.

Also, the power of the governor was further limited by splitting traditionally executive power among a number of politically appointed boards. The governor doesn’t decide which roads get paved; that’s decided by the board of the Georgia Department of Transportation.

The governor’s authority over the state’s judiciary is similarly limited. In some states, the governor can commute the sentence of death row inmates wholesale; the governor of Indiana did that just a few years ago. In Georgia, however, the governor simply doesn’t have that kind of power.

Now, over the years, the power of the Democrats has waned and the Republican Party – Gov. Deal’s party – has become resurgent. The last governor, Sonny Perdue, was the first Republican elected to the governor’s mansion since Reconstruction. The Republicans also control both houses of the General Assembly, though friction there runs deep nonetheless. Republicans have tried to replace their own Speaker of the House and have clipped the power of the Lieutenant Governor, who presides over the Senate just as the vice president does at the federal level, taking away his influence over legislation and committee assignments.

Nathan Deal

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, who doesn't have the power to grant clemency to death row inmates.

So, we’re right back where we began with a one party system. And, for all intents and purposes, because that one party is the Republican Party, we’re also faced with what are essentially white primaries.

So it goes.

Last night, it came down to only three entities that could stop Troy Davis’ execution. The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroled – stacked with political appointees who are sympathetic toward law enforcement and prosecutors but not so much felons – heard Davis’ appeal Monday. Worth noting, perhaps, is the fact that they cut off Davis’ defense team, and allotted the prosecution more time to present their case. They denied clemency for Davis and unceremoniously said they would not reconsider their decision.

There was then the Georgia Supreme Court, but they bowed out pretty early and denied his appeals.

Last was the United States Supreme Court. The appeal was handed to Justice Clarence Thomas – a black man from Georgia who hates to be reminded of either – and he led the discussion at the court. A temporary stay was granted while the Court deliberated.

Troy Davis

The late Troy Davis. If the phone on the wall next to the gurney rang and it was the governor on the line, he probably had a wrong number.

Ultimately, the Court denied the appeal and, by 11:08 p.m., Troy Davis was dead.

We all kept praying that the phone on the wall near the gurney would ring. But if it did, and it was the governor on the line, he probably just dialed a wrong number.

There. I stood up for Nathan Deal.

Don’t look at me. And please, just leave the money on the dresser.

I’m going to take a shower.

Vance Smith, Georgia DOT Going Nowhere Fast

Standard
Commissioner Vance Smith

GDOT Commissioner Vance Smith, politically connected boob.

Well, we’re out another one.

When Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Vance Smith resigns at the end of the year, that’ll mark the end of the fourth GDOT commissioner in as many years.

Smith, a former Republican state legislator whose family’s construction and grading business went bust with the rest of the housing market, will have served about two-and-a-half years in his post.

Those two-and-a-half years haven’t been extremely productive. As of late, GDOT has seen the departure of a number of high-ranking executives, leaving vacancies that Smith proved incapable of filling. Instead, Smith tapped one member of his staff – Gerald Ross, GDOT’s chief engineer – to serve triple duty, as the head engineer for the department as well as interim deputy commissioner and, just weeks ago, as interim director of GDOT’s toll roads program (the one that’s going to make you pay private companies to drive on roads for which you’ve already paid in gasoline taxes when you filled up your car).

Finally, the 13-member GDOT board decided it was time to “go in a different direction” – which, presumably, means something other than straight down.

The problem here is beyond that which Smith was capable of facing. The economy of our region depends on effective solutions to our transportation problems. Every advantage our region has – an educated workforce, an abundance of technical schools and universities, etc. – is for naught if workers cannot get to their jobs. No company in its right mind would relocate to metro Atlanta such as it is, with the region so unwilling to address what is its single greatest challenge.

Part of the problem is that the region is comprised of 13 counties – with 13 county governments – as well as many, many more municipalities. Each of these entities has its own transportation priorities, and few of them play nice together. In Douglas County alone, we’ve seen flare-ups over such issues as the new Bright Star Connector, right down the road from my house, where the county government put up concrete barriers to prevent traffic from accessing Bright Star Road from the city of Douglasville’s new connector.

The only arbiter who can effectively address these problems – the only one with the sovereignty to do so – is GDOT. Their job, ultimately, is pretty clear: make sure people can move around. But in the past several years, GDOT has encountered such uncertainty at the top through a series of politically-appointed leaders who lacked the diplomacy and management to take on the region’s obstacles.

Counties and cities exist at the pleasure of the state, and are obligated to do what the state tells them to do. GDOT needs a leader who can be heavy-handed, who can recruit and retain top talent, and who can last longer than a year or two to ensure that the incredibly important projects that begin on his or her watch have continuity to reach fruition.

Unfortunately, the state’s leadership – such as it is – will probably find another politically-connected incompetent boob to head the agency, leaving the citizens of Georgia making right turns from here to oblivion.