Saturday, May 30, 2015
Meet Your Real Legislator-ALEC
Forget everything you ever learned about how laws are made in Georgia. Don’t think for one moment that we have transparency in our State Government. I hate to be the one to tell you, but you have little say in the laws passed by the State Legislature, even less than you thought.
We all know “back room” politics is as old as our country. We, the people, say we don’t like this method of running our government, and from time to time new laws have been passed to make our government operations more transparent. We have sunshine laws that require openness in government. These laws make meetings, records, and votes, deliberations and other official actions available to the people. We also have the Georgia Open Records Act that espouses the strong public policy of open government. We have the Georgia Ethics Commission that polices lobbyists and their expenditures to lawmakers. (Excuse me while I choke back a laugh at that one). And for added protection from these backroom deals, we have GA Code O.C.G.A. 45-10-3, Public Officers and Employees, Codes of Ethics and Conflicts of Interest.
Where there’s a law or rule, there is a legal exception. Where there’s a law or rule, there is someone who can figure out a way to violate the spirit of the law by exploiting loopholes, technicalities, and ambiguous language.
Ladies and Gentlemen, meet ALEC! ALEC is your real Legislator. ALEC is your real Governor. ALEC conceives and writes the Bills that are eventually made law in Georgia and other red states. ALEC is the acronym for American Legislative Exchange Council. Remember the Voter ID Laws? That was ALEC. Remember the Asbestos law that limits who can be sued? ALEC. What about the Stand Your Ground laws? ALEC. Remember the Religious Freedom Bill last legislative session that was really an anti-gay bill? Yep! It was ALEC. Legislation to toughen Immigration laws, weaken unions, and stop minimum wage increases. ALEC.
I know this is confusing, but please bear with me. Their membership list is not published. ALEC has a charity tax status and operates in secrecy. ALEC is a coalition of corporations, special interest groups (lobbyists), and lawmakers. Lobbyists donate money to ALEC. ALEC, in turn, gives the lawmakers “scholarships” or “grants” to attend meetings, and also provides the member legislator with an ALEC State Reimbursement Fund they can use for other incidentals.
A State Legislator pays $50 per year to be a member. What a deal! For that pittance, the member receives expenses paid to various high-end resorts to attend meetings. These meetings are held behind doors with armed guards. This is where the laws are made. A vote is taken on the bills, and the lobbyists and the legislators have an equal vote. In other words, lobbyists have the veto power. Also for that pittance, ALEC does the legislator’s job by providing the legislators with a template for the Bill; all they have to do is place their name on it. Then the legislator gives the Bill to the Georgia Legislative Counsel.
ALEC was formed in the 70’s and enjoyed anonymity until around 2011 when it was the forefront of the Stand Your Ground Laws in Florida. This past weekend, Atlanta’s 11 Alive News, attempted to gain entry to an ALEC meeting with Georgia legislators in a Savannah resort hotel. The 11 Alive news crew were wearing Georgia media credentials and were low-key and mannerly during the encounter. Not only were armed guards called to remove him, but ALEC had the reporter kicked out of the hotel where he was a paying guest. Shortly thereafter, 11 Alive requested receipts via the Open Records Act from the State Legislature. The request was denied by the Legislative Counsel stating, “The General Assembly is not subject to the Georgia Open Records Act.” This is the “loop-hole.” No, this is more like the Grand Canyon of holes. Don’t take my word for it. View the video on www.11alivenews.com. I can’t make this stuff up!
But maybe they aren’t so smart after all. GA Code O.C.G.A 45-10-3 (6) Never solicit, accept, or agree to accept gifts, loans, gratuities, discounts, favors, hospitality, or services from any person, association, or corporation under circumstances from which it could reasonably be inferred that a major purpose of the donor is to influence the performance of the member's official duties. I don’t see any wiggle room here.
Friday, May 22, 2015
I don’t feel like writing anything political this week. In fact, I’m thinking about canceling my satellite television and getting rid of my Internet provider. Of course, that’s not realistic but I can dream, can’t I? I wonder if I would be better off shutting out all the craziness of the world. I wonder how it makes my life better to know details of murders, shootings, and abuse of little dogs. Why do I have a need to know how many people ISIS beheaded today? Don’t misunderstand. I care, but there’s not a darn thing I can do about it.
Further, the Presidential election will not take place for another year and a half, yet the comprehensive news coverage is causing me to suffer from serious burnout on the subject. With more and more Republicans boarding the wacko wagon it’s too hard to keep up. It would be easier if we were told who is NOT running for President.
Every potential candidate tries to one-up the other with the ridiculousness of his or her ideas. At times, I lose control and scream at the television. When Chris Christy opens his mouth, I scream, “Sit down and shut-up!” just like he did to one of his audience members. When Scott Walker opens his mouth, I yell, “What about the teachers you hate?” At Jeb Bush, I yell, “You are dumber than your brother to say that you will abolish minimum wage.” One of the many things I yell at Ted Cruz is “Show me your birth certificate!” I can’t tell you what I scream at some of the other candidates because it’s not printable. I am definitely burned out and stressed out on news and politics.
The stories I hear that really make my blood pressure rise have to do with the $$$$ being raised for this election. Each candidate is running around selling their soul to whatever billionaire will buy them. It’s such a waste of money and disservice to our democracy. Wouldn’t it be better if all these candidates were out raising money for a cause, like eliminating hunger in our country or a cancer cure? When I heard the Koch Brothers were going to spend a billion dollars on the Republican of their choice in the 2016 election, I immediately thought of all the good that billion could buy and a presidential election was not even on the list.
Let me explain my newfound ambivalence to politics and the news. A few weeks ago, I came up lame one day. No injury event that I could blame it on, but nonetheless, left knee pain made it nearly impossible to walk. Couple that with a fairly recent right knee replacement, and I was out of commission. The only silver-lining is that I’m not a horse because “they shoot horses, don’t they?” After one month of “conservative” treatment, i.e. “don’t walk much”, I had an MRI that showed a torn meniscus and a stress fracture in my left knee. Armed with that useful information, my doctor prescribed a new treatment, “Don’t walk.” You know what that means! I have been sentenced to sitting in my recliner all day with a remote and a laptop.
Lately I have been thinking a lot about an old friend. She was slightly older than me but we had young sons the same age. I was impressed by her wisdom and her happy-go-lucky attitude. I was a news junkie and loved politics even back in those days. She confided in me that she had once been like me but after her brush with cancer, she decided to remove as much negativity from her life as possible and she stopped watching the news. At the time, I thought that was the craziest thing I had ever heard. Looking back, I realize that ignorance of something can truly be bliss. And guess what! She is still one of the happiest, most positive people I know.
I have realized that after many years of electronic dependence, my brain won’t slow down long enough to read a book. I can’t sew, knit, or paint. Everything else takes knees. I sit and watch George do all the domestic chores that I always claimed I hated. Now I know it’s those things I actually enjoyed and when I get my knees back, I’ll be the best commode scrubber ever! In the meantime, I’m going on a diet of less CNN and more Cartoon Network.
Saturday, May 16, 2015
If there is any good to come out of the horrific crash of the Amtrak commuter train in Philadelphia, it will start a conversation and lead to a long needed overhaul and expansion of our passenger rail transit system.
Riding a train is as American as apple pie. Or it used to be. Over the past decades, passenger rail transportation in this country has been dying a slow death. It’s not because we don’t need it, quite the contrary. Few would argue that freight rail is still essential to our economic health and growth. But passenger rail service, thus Amtrak, is just as important.
Thirty years ago, George and I took our children to New York City via Amtrak. Aside from my son and I suffering from motion sickness from all the jerking and rocking, it was an overall good experience for our family. The trains were very clean and the dining car was a real dining experience complete with white table linen and tasseled menus. This past year George and I went to Washington, D. C. on Amtrak. I had expected a lot of improvements in thirty years, both electronically and aesthetically. It appeared no upgrades had been made to the cars in all that passage of time. The dining car was my biggest disappointment. I’ve seen better “food trucks.” And the ride itself was even more shaky and jerky than I had remembered. I felt I was endangering my life to journey to the bathroom.
So who is responsible for the neglect of Amtrak? First, we should point to the politicians in Washington. They control the funding of this entity. A prime example is the GOP House Appropriations Committee voted the very next day after the horrific derailment to cut funding for Amtrak by 15%. I’m not saying that the Republicans are more to blame than the Democrats. The Republican lawmakers aren’t motivated to make passenger rail service priority because their constituents don’t generally live in cities serviced by Amtrak. Democrats have long touted infrastructure improvement but have failed to make the case for paying for it to the American people.
Second, all Americans are responsible by not recognizing and demanding that high-speed rail be added to our infrastructure. This is the cheapest, most efficient way to get polluting cars off the road, open up more job market areas, and to increase our economy by adding jobs and development. Our lack of infrastructure improvement in this country is embarrassing and unseemly for a country that prides itself on being the “best in the world.” Our country has budgeted 1.7 billion for Amtrak this year. The Chinese budget is 128 billion this year.
Imagine. A bullet-train from coast to coast. At the very least, imagine a high-speed rail from Savannah, to Macon, to Atlanta. Let’s don’t say we can’t do it. Let’s don’t say it will take too long to build. Back in 1863, our forefathers sought a way to move goods and make transportation quicker, more flexible, and cheaper. They built the 1,907- mile Transcontinental Railway in FIVE YEARS!
If you’re looking for a fun way to enjoy Memorial Day weekend, come to High Falls. The High Falls Volunteer Fire Department will be holding it’s annual yard sale and BBQ cookout on Saturday, May 23rd. This is a great way to support this organization that is crucial to our community. Also, High Falls State Park has lots of activities planned for Memorial Day weekend. One that sounds like an adventure for the entire family is the Twilight Paddle on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night. It is a three-mile guided canoe trip to Buck Creek for adults and children 8 and over. $15 includes boat and gear. Call High Falls State Park for more info and to make reservations at 478-993-3053.
Friday, May 8, 2015
Remove Military Bases from Texas
You will recall that in this column last year, we had a lesson on parody. When I first heard about Jade Helm 15, I thought it was something written by The Onion, the popular and hilarious parody website.
Jade Helm 15 is the name for a military training operation that will take place in some southwestern states this summer, including Texas. Jade Helm means “blue helmet” like those worn by the U.N. Peacekeepers. These states were chosen because of their similar terrain to countries overseas where our troops might one day be required to perform real operations. After all, do we want our military to go into a war situation with equipment they’ve never used or maneuvers they’ve never tried in real time? End of story.
But it wasn’t. Lucky for America, we have Governor Greg Abbott of Texas to warn us that this is a conspiracy by the military to take over the State of Texas. He claims it’s in preparation for martial law. Lending further credence to his claim, the Governor activated his State militia to monitor the military. And who better to back him up in these allegations than Chuck Norris? He speaks from his many years experience of playing a Texas Ranger on television.
Ted Cruz, pretending to be a serious candidate for President, never misses an opportunity to blame Obama. He joined the wacko wagon by stating that he understood why people would think like that after so many years of distrust and lies by President Obama and the government. He announced he made an inquiry to the Pentagon. The Pentagon had to stop their important work to actually respond to these idiotic allegations. “No, there is no plot to take over Texas,” said a Pentagon spokesperson.
This wildly insane conspiracy theory spread like wildfire. And it got even better! Remember all those stores Wal-Mart suddenly closed? This led to the rumor that underground tunnels are being built between those stores so China can slip in unnoticed to help Obama and the military take over Texas. A talk show host went even further and said the abandoned stores were going to be used for FEMA prison camps. Give me a break!
I have to believe that all the oil in the ground in Texas has made the brains of Texas leaders mushy. I have come up with a solution to shut down this entire Texas takeover conspiracy theory. If President Obama and our U. S. Military were to immediately remove our military bases from all of Texas, this would be proof-positive to Governor Abbott and Ted Costello that we have no interest in over-throwing Texas. And, if Texas should ever be attacked by a hostile country, I hope their State Militia, with the help of Chuck Norris, can handle it.
Speaking of wildfire, a law making fireworks legal in Georgia was signed this week by the Governor without so much as a bang. This was one of those Bills placed into another Bill at the closing moment of the session so as not to attract possible opposition. There was a good reason fireworks were banned in Georgia for decades. Fireworks injure children, teenagers, and even responsible adults. Fireworks cause fires. But on the bright side, where I live in High Falls, we will no longer have to worry about being hit by a stray bullet fired into the air on holidays. All we have to worry about now is our house burning down.
Friday, May 1, 2015
It’s been an exhausting week. Being the “newshound” that I am, I was afraid to turn the television off at night for fear I would miss a new development in the Baltimore City protests (or “riots” if you prefer to call it.) I was transfixed by those images of the crowd and the passion each person exuded. I knew that I was watching an historic event and one that I pray will be the real catalyst to addressing the root cause of these repeated incidents.
The problems have been identified. Now let’s set about to fix them. The policing issue is just one small part of the problem and probably the easiest to solve. The other issues like poverty, drugs, racism and violence will require a new mindset. I don’t have a clue how we change the mindset of an entire country, but I do know it has nothing to do with being a liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican.
While it was great to see all races of Baltimore City coming together, I hope we did not send the message that rioting and looting is an acceptable way to get the attention of the nation.
The “political junkie” in me couldn’t help but analyze the dynamics of the key players. The Mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. Prior to the death of Freddie Gray, the Mayor was touted as the rising star in Maryland politics and aspired to run for U. S. Senator. At the beginning of this saga she was strong, confident, and providing exemplary leadership to her city.
Enters newly elected Republican Governor, Larry Hogan. He made the comment, “I’m glad she finally called me.” Governor Hogan made it seem he had not spoken to her previously about the situation in Baltimore. Truth is, he knew Mayor Rawlings-Blake was in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation and he took unnecessary partisan advantage of that. We all know that if she had given the go-ahead to call in the National Guard while the protests were still peaceful, she would have been skewered like the officials in Ferguson. He puffed his chest and intimated, “Here I come to save the day!” He did it right in front of her face and I thought it was offensive and very unstatesman-like. Imagine what she thought?
Then, whether from fatigue, frustration, or a miss-speak, she said something out of character for her. She said something stupid. The country jumped on her and performed a “beat down.” By Thursday, the Mayor looked like a shell-shocked zombie as she was lead into a church by Reverend Al Sharpton.
Then enters Marilyn Mosby, Baltimore City State’s Attorney. This position is the equivalent to Georgia’s District Attorneys. And another star is born? Or will she be another fatality of this historic event? She’s young, idealistic, and inexperienced. She’s already playing the political game. How do I know that? At the press conference, she thanked the leaders by name, but no mention of the Mayor.
State’s Attorney Mosby, as the chief prosecutor, must now successfully prosecute the six officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray. Being on such a high pedestal is hard to stay there. Like the Mayor, it can make or break her. I wish her godspeed.
On another subject, I’m happy to tell you that in case you were worried, I found Fourth District Commissioner Jarod Lovett. Turns out he wasn’t hiding from High Falls. He was just busy fixing potholes in other parts of his vast district. Commissioner Lovett addressed the High Falls Civic Club Thursday night and took questions for over an hour concerning various issues facing Monroe County. If anyone doubts the saying by former House Speaker “Tip” O’Neal that “all politics is local,” was not at this meeting. It’s amazing how much people want to talk about potholes, water, and garbage. Myself included.