Tag Archives: Politics and Gummit

Better Health Care = Better Pizza, Papa John’s

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Ahhh, pizza night.

As I’ve written before, I love my pizza nights. They are sacred to me; a gasp of air in the stifling week. It’s an excuse not to cook, an opportunity for a martini, and an occasion to be a gluten; something I’m trying to do much less of these days.

One of my favorite places to order from is Papa John’s. I’m addicted to their special little seasoning packets – they’re like salty heroin – and my 4-year-old pleads for the “sweet treat” and mopes around if we order from somewhere else. Also, they have this early week special – it’s like a buy one, get one free deal or something – that’s wonderful. Oh, and also, their pizza is just plain good.

So, as news ran around today that Papa John’s would be forced to raise their prices if the Affordable Care Act – “Obamacare” –stands, I was perturbed. For a second.

See, for one thing, I hate when companies get political. I know that’s always been the case, through backroom dealings and lobbying and campaign contributions and such, but I prefer the places I patronize to be pretty nonpartisan, generally. That’s why I don’t eat at Chick-fil-A now. They were well within their rights to oppose same-sex marriage (which is antithetical to my own stance on the subject – though I fear I’ve employed a word that many on Chick-fil-A’s side won’t understand), but I feel they had a responsibility to allow that opposition to be merely implied. I don’t care that you’re closed on the Sabbath, but I do object to creating an atmosphere of hostility against gay and lesbian employees and customers, as well as the implicit endorsement of discrimination that Chick-fil-A’s leadership made.

When “Papa” John Schnatter himself announced that his opposition to Obamacare would be reflected in the total box of my online order, I was disheartened. How was I going to break it to my little girl that we could have no more sweet treats because of that mean old Papa John? I mean, I’ve got to stand on my plate of principles, after all!

According to the trade publication Pizza Marketplace, Obamacare will result in a $0.11 to $0.14 price increase per pizza, or $0.15 to $0.20 cents per order, for Papa John’s customers.

Know what? I’ll pay that. I’m OK with paying a few extra cents if it means the people preparing my food will have health care. It’s worth it to me.

One night, during a snow storm, we ordered pizza. We called ahead, and Pizza Hut said they were still delivering. Awesome. We placed the order online, and a while later, our phone rang. It was the delivery woman. She was in a Camaro, and couldn’t navigate up one of the icy hills on our road. How far were we from where she was, she wanted to know. Not far, I told her. She said she was going to hike it. I said I’d meet her half way.

I swigged some bourbon, lit a pipe, threw on a heavy overcoat and headed out into the night. We met each other on the icy road. She was nothing more than a shadow amid snowflakes; I wasn’t even sure she was human until she spoke. She asked my name. I asked hers. I signed my receipt, tripled her tip, wished her well and we went our separate ways.

Damn it, I’d be glad to pay an extra quarter if that also meant that nice lady who forwarded the snow storm could go see a doctor about the cold she got delivering my pizza. And I’ll be glad to pay a bit more so Todd, who often is prepping our pizza at Domino’s according to the little Flash “Order Tracker” graphic that pops up on the computer when we order from there, can go see someone about the carpal tunnel he’s surely developed from getting those sliced Italian sausages on the pizza just so.

If anything, the fact that these employees have been deprived of health benefits is a reflection of the fact that the cost of my pizza has been artificially low; somehow, even though my wife was herself a Domino’s employee, I overlooked the fact that my pizza was evidently being made with slave labor. I’m for an honest day’s wage for an honest day’s pizza.

So, Mr. Papa, you’re going to raise the cost of my pizza to cover Obamacare. Well, sir, I’m for it.

Though, I think there’s a bit of cost savings to be made in dispensing with those little peppercorns that I never eat, anyway.

Ah, Hell – My State’s Run by Nutjobs

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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.

Stand By Your Convictions, Jessica Ahlquist

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In Cranston, R.I. – a state that began its life as a colony conceived with the purpose of protecting people from religious persecution – a 16-year-old girl is going through hell because of her refusal to believe in it.

Jessica Ahlquist, the daughter of a firefighter and nurse and a student at Cranston High School West, now requires a police escort to safely walk the halls of her public high school. Florists refuse to deliver her flowers, and she faces threats online from members of the community who are outraged over her stand against school prayer.

Jessica Ahlquist

Jessica Ahlquist, a student at Cranston High School West in Rhode Island and an avowed athiest, is going through hell over her objection to a school prayer that hangs in the school's auditorium. (Credit: New York Times)

Not just any school prayer – the school prayer. Yeah, Cranston High School West had one, written by a seventh grader and hung, eight feet tall, on the wall of the school’s auditorium in 1963; the year after the United States Supreme Court struck down school-mandated prayer as a violation of the Constitution’s First Amendment separation of church and state. The display was a gift from that year’s class of graduating seniors.

“Our Heavenly Father,” the prayer reads, “grant us each day the desire to do our best, to grow mentally and morally as well as physically, to be kind and helpful to our classmates and teachers, to be honest with ourselves as well as with others. Help us to be good sports and smile when we lose as well as when we win. Teach us the value of true friendship. Help us always to conduct ourselves so as to bring honor to Cranston High School West. Amen.”

The New York Times reports that Ahlquist was baptized into the Roman Catholic Church as a young girl, but stopped believing in God when she was 10. She had been unaware of the prayer adorning the school’s walls until it was brought to her attention by another student during her freshman year. From then, every time she saw it, it struck her more and more.

“It seemed like it was saying, every time I saw it, ‘You don’t belong here,’” she told the Times.

A parent – not one of hers, presumably – filed a complaint about the prayer with the American Civil Liberties Union, which led to a series of hearings on what to do about the display. Ahlquist spoke at all of them, imploring the board and the school to take down the prayer. After a meeting that a federal judge described as having all the tones of “a religious revival,” the board voted 4-3 to keep the prayer on the wall and fight it out with the A.C.L.U. in court.

Earlier this month, a federal judge ruled that the prayer was a violation of government neutrality in religion, and since then, the school board has had the prayer covered with a tarp while it decides whether or not to appeal the judge’s ruling or take the prayer down from where it’s hung for almost half a century.

Meanwhile, Ahlquist continues to suffer the stones and slights of a community the Times describes as deeply religious and Christian. The harassment, I believe, could be described as anything but Christ-like. And if the mission of a Christian is, as I believe it to be, to bring people closer, to love your enemies so that they may come to know the boundless love of Christ, then it can be assured that these actions are only pushing Ahlquist further away.

I do believe in Christ as my Lord and Savior. But, I also believe in the Constitution, under whose law I’ve been blessed to be born. I believe that the Constitution protects religion from government intrusion, and protects government from religious intrusion. It is not the role of government to proselytize or otherwise enforce prayer. When I want religion, I go to church or, more often than not, I turn to the Bible and personal prayer, seeking not assistance, but direction from the Almighty. When I want education, I go to school. One ought not to trespass upon the other.

Ahlquist is an atheist, and I admire and respect – hell, I even understand and empathize – with her position. My own faith is rather tenuous and has been tested mightily through the years. But it is my belief that, as her world turns against her, Jesus would stand beside her. And so would James Madison.

As a Christian, I stand with Ahlquist. And I stand with her as an American as well.

Cracks (And Crackpots) in the GOP Conglomerate

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This is Michelle Bachmann. She's crazy as batshit. And some Republicans wanted her to be president. (Though, mercifully, not many.) (Credit: AP)

We independents like to whine and moan about the abominations of our nation’s two-party system, but it is increasingly evident that the two-party system is a lie. It is a myth we told ourselves to make ourselves feel better. Just because every time we go to cast a ballot, each candidate has either a “D” or an “R” next to his or her name does not at all mean that the choices were so simple as one or the other; rather, it seems, the race begins much earlier, in small contests in America’s backwoods to which we have traditionally paid very little attention. Until it is too late.

That fact has become ever more apparent now, with the close of the Republican caucuses in Iowa last night that brought former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a fire-breathing moderate, and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, an iconoclastic fundamentalist, within eight votes of carrying the first contest of the 2012 presidential race.

And in third, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, a one-time Libertarian Party candidate for president who has his very own wing of the Republican party.

The way the two parties have managed to secure their stranglehold on the American politic has been by holding up a wide umbrella – or casting a wide net – to usher different beliefs into the fold. This means that people often affiliate with one party or the other for fundamentally different reasons. Civil rights, abortion rights, populism and a secular government are the reason many become Democrats. Evangelical Christianity, socially conservative principles and fiscally conservative principles are among the leading reasons that people become Republican.

But these standards are frequently in conflict. Black Christian congregations have not taken a shine to abortion rights, and many leaders in the black Christian organization have said that they do not consider the quest for gay marriage or gay rights to be the same as the quest for civil rights. The party was all but ripped asunder in 2008, with a white woman (many women vote Democratic) and a black man (again, many blacks are staunch Democrats) vying for the party’s presidential nomination. Many debated which deserved to head a major party ticket for the first time in history, just as many debated whether blacks or women should first get the vote a century before.

In the end, Barak Obama got the Democratic nomination and Sarah Palin became the Republican candidate for vice president, in order to woo all those disenfranchised women who believed that Hillary Clinton ought to head the ticket.

(Indeed, this played out within my own house; I was partial to Obama, and my wife to Clinton. Though, it turned out, her affinity was not due to Clinton’s policies or even her gender, but because my wife happens to own an autographed copy of Clinton’s memoir, which sits on the bottom shelf of an upstairs bookcase and that I’ve never once seen her open, except, oddly, to make sure the signature is still there.)

But in the Republican Party, the ties that bind seem to be absolutely strained to the point of snapping. In 2008, the Democrats had Obama, about whom everyone was excited – young, articulate, attractive, and vigorous. The Republicans compromised with each other and gave the nomination to John McCain, a candidate about whom no one was excited and who likely ran because, well, it was his turn (see Dole, ‘96). He wasn’t especially socially conservative, religious or fiscally conservative. He was, you know, the other guy.

Democrats turned out in droves to vote for Obama. I waited in line for more than an hour. With a baby. During early voting.

Hardly anyone came out to vote for McCain.

In 2012, the Republicans want to make sure that doesn’t happen again. They want a candidate all their members can be excited about. The problem is, what each sect of their party wants is not wholly embodied in a single candidate, and in fact, some strands of the fold are feeling so disenfranchised by the party that they may be inclined to run their own third-party candidate (see Roosevelt and Taft, 1912), which could split the vote and give President Obama a clear course to a second term – and possibly even a perceived (though fictitious) mandate (see Bush, 2004).

Santorum opposes a woman’s right to choose, believes that church has an important role to play in the affairs of the state and appeals to people like the Duggars, who have something like 19 kids and (obviously) don’t believe in birth control. Romney was governor of Massachusetts, a notoriously liberal state (elected Ted Kennedy for, like, what? a century?) and whose “Romneycare” reform in Massachusetts was the basis for the now much-decried “Obamacare,” and who used to support a woman’s right to choose and was OK with gay people but now says not so much.

And neither has especially broad appeal. Romney is a quintessentially Republican, er, Republican. Owns a few houses, has a lot of money, is “pro-business” (whatever that means), doesn’t like high taxes, goes to church a lot and has beautiful hair. Santorum is a fundamentalist Republican – without compromise on “traditional” beliefs to which a “Christian” nation such as ours ought to adhere (see Huckabee, 2008 – but without the charm or sense of humor).

Iowa Caucus Results

Results of the Iowa Caucus. A lot of Republicans think Ron Paul is batshit crazy, too. And they voted for him for that very reason. (Credit: Google, AP)

Then there’s Paul wants to close all our military installations overseas, shut down a whole bunch of government departments, make everyone pay the same tax rate, rich or poor, and do a bunch of other stuff that scares the hell out of anyone who’s not part of his messiah-like following. And he finished third. And not a distant third, either! He had more than 21 percent of the vote! Romney won the thing with barely more than 24 percent!

The only thing these candidates really have in common is that, well, they don’t really want Obama to be president anymore. And it’s nothing personal; they don’t want any of the other guys to be president, either. But the vision they have for the nation is very different, because at the heart of it, the Republican Party is very different.

This is not a single party – it’s a group of parties who pool their votes to be stronger en masse than they are individually. And the strange thing is, they act like it’s some kind of a big secret. Some Republicans will whisper to you, their voices low, that they’re really Libertarians, but they know the Libertarian Party doesn’t have a chance, so they vote Republican so they can elect politicians who might help move the Republican party in a more fiscally conservative direction. Some Republicans will say, “I really wish Sarah Palin would run,” but they don’t know why, nor can they name one policy position of hers with which they were familiar. Some Republicans will say, “well, the Democrats want to let gay people marry, and I just don’t think that’s right,” and will be in direct contrast to the Libertarian Republicans.

The Republican Party is actually the Republican Parties. And in some instances, when it comes to treating corporations like individuals, Republican Parties, Inc. That the group has tried to corral so many separate and distinct ideologies under one banner for so long – without giving any one of them what they’ve asked for in exchange for their vote – is bound to be the party’s undoing.

So, next time someone says they’re voting Republican, ask which one.

Occupy: Don’t Give Up the Ship

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I watch the ripples change their size
But never leave the stream
Of warm impermanence.
So the days float through my eyes
But still the days seem the same.
And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They’re quite aware of what they’re going through
— David Bowie, “Changes”

Occupy Wall Street

Officers move in to bust up the party at Zuccotti Park. (Credit: AFP)

While one hears an awful lot of debate about the tactics used by the Occupy Wall Street movement, there seems to be very little controversy about their positions.

Such was revealed in a Pew Research study out late last month, almost half of the Americans surveyed – 47 percent – thought Wall Street’s way of doing business was detrimental to the nation’s economy as a whole.

And Pew Research is providing further evidence as to why the protesters removed earlier today from Zuccotti Park in Manhattan’s financial district are mostly young:

The typical household headed by adults over 65 had 47 times as much net wealth as one headed by adults under 35 — $170,494 versus $3,662 (all figures expressed in 2010 dollars). Back in 1984, this ratio had been less lopsided, at ten-to-one. In absolute terms, the oldest households in 1984 had a median net wealth $108,936 higher than that of the youngest households. In 2009, the gap had widened to $166,832.

“The median net worth of older and younger households moved in opposite directions between 1984 and 2009. Older households gained 42% in median net worth while net worth for younger households fell by 68%. These age-based divergences widened substantially with the housing market collapse of 2006, the Great Recession of 2007-2009 and the ensuing jobless recovery.

In other words, we’re seeing a growing divide not only between the rich and the poor, but between the old and the young as well.

This doesn’t mean we should eat the old as well as the rich, nor does it mean that age is an assurance of wealth. Indeed, there are a great many older Americans living a very meager life. But neither does it mean that age is any guarantee of growing wealth. In fact, it means very much to the contrary.

Older Americans who have lived for some time in the same residence doubtlessly purchased their homes well before the housing market swelled into a massive, thin-membraned bubble, whereas younger Americans most likely purchased their homes at the inflated prices precipitated by the bubble. So while the ebbing tide has lowered all ships, older Americans had much less further to fall.

Older Americans also benefitted from decades of relatively steady growth in employment opportunities and income; a benefit that has not been available to Millennials and Generation X-ers who have found no such promise of optimistic prospects in their careers.

Younger people are more likely to be faced with a hand-to-mouth existence in a land of plenty, surrounded by the excesses of wealth and the empty promises of a better life. Meanwhile, we learn that members of Congress are lawfully engaging in a form of insider trading, using information privy only to them about publicly traded companies to make business decisions for their benefit. We have a justice system that views corporations as people when it comes to free speech, but not when it comes to criminal accountability. We have prospects that are bleak and looking bleaker still.

In light of everything, it’s a wonder that the least of “the establishment’s” problems are these Hoovervilles in city parks. Knowing what we know now, I’m astonished that we’re not engaged in full-throated revolt.

Why, we must assume, has to do more with the unique, passive way these young Americans are expressing their dissent. Rather than throwing bombs and stones, they are quoting Martin Luther King, Jr., and occupying the public space to give a face to our public shame.

They are being forced from their encampments in New York, Atlanta, Oakland and elsewhere. They are being taunted and harassed by city officials with little concern for the Constitution and virtually no appreciation for the fact that, if not for the peaceful means of protest adopted by the Occupy movement, they would have a much larger problem on their hands.

In London, just this summer, the discontent took a violent turn, with flash mobs that turned to riots and destroyed buildings that had survived even Nazi bombing campaigns. Here, on the other hand, dissent takes the tone of tents and chants that turn sour only when boot-toed thugs with riot gear are ordered to abuse the right of the people to peacefully assemble and request redress for their grievances.

Those who have taken to the streets, who have become, en masse, the face of our national debate and living reminders of what’s wrong with our nation – with the way we are cannibalizing our own and destroying the American dream – are to be admired.

We are only days removed from Veteran’s Day – once called Armistice Day. On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, etc., etc. We recall that people gave their lives for liberty, and we celebrate the fortunate who returned for the scars they yet carry. But we look to the parks, and we wonder what it was all for, when the America for which they fought is best expressed by an American flag flying from a makeshift pole outside a tent pitched in a city park.

In their name, and for their sacred honor and ours – for the millions with nowhere else to go – I implore you to continue. Do not be scared. Do not go quietly into the shadows. Find your place in the square, in the sun, hold high your flags and signs and raise your voices.

The 99 percent shall not be denied.

Douglasville Mayor Thompson Near-Sighted on TSPLOST

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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.

Vance Smith, Georgia DOT Going Nowhere Fast

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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.