Wednesday, September 28, 2016

You Must Decide Who Will Judge the Judges

Early voting is about to begin and there’s another amendment that you need to take a long, hard look at before casting your ballot.  That is Amendment 3.  I urge you to vote “No” on this amendment to our constitution that threatens the core of our judicial system.

This is how the Amendment will appear on your ballot:
Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to abolish the existing Judicial Qualifications Commission; require the General Assembly to create and provide by general law for the composition, manner of appointment, and governance of a new Judicial Qualifications Commission, with such commission having the power to discipline, remove, and cause involuntary retirement of judges; require the Judicial Qualifications Commission to have procedures that provide for due process of law and review by the Supreme Court of its advisory opinions; and allow the Judicial Qualifications Commission to be open to the public in some manner?

So, why should you care about this seemingly innocuous ballot measure? 

This Amendment is a hostile attempt by the Georgia Legislature to take over the one agency that protects our judicial system from Judges who commit acts of criminal and moral turpitude. Plus, all the other reasons a judge may become unfit to serve in a position that has such a great impact on the lives of our citizens.

Let me tell you how Amendment 3 managed to end up on our ballot.  In 1972, the Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) was created by another amendment to our constitution.  The JQC is an independent “watchdog” group over all Judges in our state. Normal citizens going about their daily lives have probably given little thought to who polices the judges who judge us and who we depend on to have unbiased judgment.  

The JQC, under-funded and under-staffed, has been quietly going about their job protecting the integrity of our judicial system.  The JCQ is currently made up of (1) Three members of the State Bar of Georgia active for 10 years or more, who are elected by the State Bar’s Board of Governors, (2) Two judges of any Court selected by the Supreme Court, and (3) Two citizens, neither of whom are members of the State Bar, who are appointed by the Governor.  Over the years, the JQC has removed 77 Judges from the bench, only the worst of the worst judges.  Judges are human and they make mistakes, but those 77 Judges did not make simple mistakes.

The only person or person who would have a problem with this Agency doing their job is a Judge, and one is former Judge Johnnie L. Caldwell, Jr., not to be confused with his esteemed father that served Georgia well in many positions over his lifetime. 

In 2010, Caldwell, Superior Court Judge of the Griffin Judicial District, resigned from the bench after the JQC had a “come to Jesus” meeting with him regarding his sexually explicit harassment of a female attorney.  Court transcripts, which Judge Caldwell went to great lengths to attempt to conceal, contained graphic details of his shocking words and perversion.  In return for not being “removed,” Mr. Caldwell was allowed to resign to “spend more time with his family.”   In a letter to the JQC, he accepted responsibility for his actions and vowed he would never seek another judgeship.  Instead, he ran for, and was elected State Representative to the State Legislature.  Now he is a co-sponsor of amendment 3, the very legislation that will abolish the JQC and turn it over to the members of the State Legislature.  Judges would then be answerable only to members of the Georgia General Assembly!  How horrifying is that?

I see this Amendment as a crusade by a former Judge holding a grudge and having a vendetta.  As evidence of this, Johnnie Caldwell did not recuse himself from the vote taken by the legislature as another Judge did who was merely a candidate for Judge at that time.

The fact that Johnnie Caldwell, Jr. is a sponsor of this bill is reason enough to vote “No.”  No hearings were held prior to this amendment being placed on our ballot and the public was not asked for input. The legislation itself offers little detail as to how this new JQC would work. The last line of the ballot question says, “…open to the public in some way?”  Wouldn’t you like to know exactly “what way” before voting on this important measure?  If this law is passed, it puts the over-sight of all state judges into the hands of the General Assembly.  Then they are free to tinker with the law each time a Judge and his network has a complaint.

Let me give you an example of a Governor and General Assembly controlled commission.  The State Ethics Commission!  This commission tasked with transparency in government is one of the most political commissions in Georgia.  It’s a joke!   It has gone from being a “watch dog” group to a Save-a-Pet.

The current JQC is not perfect, but it is as close to being non-political as anything we’ve got.  We need to keep it that way.  My only advice comes from my years as a paralegal serving in courtrooms and it’s something I have been yearning to tell the JQC for years. The current JQC has used very high standards to remove unfit judges from the bench.  Evidently, a Judge with advanced dementia does not qualify for removal under the current standards. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Trump's Risky Threat Nobody is Talking About

I agree with Donald Trump!  I’ve heard enough of Trump’s birther war against President Obama. This has been code language to all the racists in this country and it has been heard loud and clear.  Trump spent eight years disrespecting and attempting to de-legitimize our first Black President and playing on the racist nature of certain segments of our population. After much pressure, today at a highly hyped announcement, Trump spent five seconds saying, “Obama is a citizen of the United States, period.”  He went on to say Hillary started it!  Proof positive that he can’t speak two sentences without telling a lie.  Now after eight years, he wants this to go away!  He assumes by doing this we will forget. We all know in our heart that he’s a racist and based on his actions and body language (learned that from Trump), he is afraid of black people and uncomfortable in their presence. I will never forget and neither should you. 

I agree we need to move on to expose other threats a Trump presidency would bring to our country. Trump wants us to talk birtherism rather than the issue of his threat to our national security. The greatest civic-minded act you can perform for your country at this time is to educate yourself.   You can start by reading the cover story in last week’s Newsweek Magazine.  In this very detailed article, Newsweek exposes the Trump Organization’s secretive financial web across the world.  Electing a President with known financial ties to foreign governments, crooks, and criminals is a threat to our national security.

The full extent of Trump’s global partnership can never be known unless he releases his income taxes.  We need to see them, but that ain’t gonna happen! 

I can’t do the lengthy Newsweek article justice here.  I have to simplify.  However, I would like to share a few points that scare me to the core.  First, keep in mind that the Trump Organization is a “branding” company, thanks to the Apprentice show.  He lends his name for a price of hundreds of millions a year.  The properties of The Trump Organization are built with other people’s money and lots of foreign government money.  The Trump Organization is tied to 500 subsidiaries, with most subsidiaries tied to governments that do not share the same national security interest as the USA.  Newsweek analyzed only fifteen of these subsidiaries.  However, it is clear there will be few national security decisions that a President Trump would make that would not conflict with our government and Trump’s money.  The Trump we know would always choose his own bank account.

His first venture with foreign governments was in South Korea with Daewoo Engineering and Construction, the parent company of Daewoo Group.  The Daewoo Group filed bankruptcy after committing a 43$ billion accounting fraud.  The Trump Organization is still partnered with the Daewoo parent company.  Earlier this year, Trump said South Korea should shoulder it’s own military defense instead of relying on the US.  Trump then immediately said he did not say that, even though it was on videotape.  Will the USA pay for South Korea’s nuclear weapons production if Trump is President?  Probably.

The Trump Organization has many projects ongoing in India.  One of the companies is currently embroiled in an investigation suggesting that the land was illegally obtained.  The Indian Government may be eager to please President Trump and rule in the company’s favor thus creating a severe conflict.  Trump has close relations to various government parties in Southeast Asia and recently announced many more projects to come.  If Trump takes a hard-line with Pakistan, will it be for the national security interests of the USA or to please the government of India so they will clear all obstacles for Trump’s construction projects?

Trump has many conflicts in Turkey.  The least of which is his partner, Aiydin Dogan who was indicted for fuel smuggling.  After these charges, President Erdogan demanded Trump’s name be removed from the complex.  The president and Trump are now at odds. President Erdogan despises Trump.  American-Turkish relationships are one of the most important to us.  Trump’s feud with President Erdogan and his anti-Muslim stances, would put the USA in a very precarious situation. Our Turkey military base is essential to our military logistics and our fight with Isis. 

There is so much more, I only mentioned three (3).  All show conflicts with these foreign powers and Trump will be deciding between his business and his country.  Trump’s foreign policy decisions regarding Iran and Azerbaijan will be suspect. Trump’s association with Russian and Ukraine government officials runs deep. And, let’s don’t forget about his bromance with Putin, and the fact half his staff has deep ties to Russia. 

Trump has proclaimed that he will put his businesses in a blind trust to his children.  Really?  That one makes me laugh.

Read the Newsweek article if you are concerned with our National Security. As for me, if Trump wins, I will immediately start digging a bunker in my backyard.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Things They Don't Want You To Know About Voting in Georgia

Warning!  Don’t get so caught up with the candidates for President this year that you forget to do the necessary preparation activities to vote.  It’s time to prepare for casting that all- important ballot on Tuesday, November 8.   

REGISTERING TO VOTE:  The deadline to register to vote is October 11.  If you are already registered to vote, especially if you are a first-time voter, you should be checking right now to verify that you are indeed registered and not purged from the list.  You can do this by calling the registrar’s office or by going on-line to the Georgia Secretary of State’s website.  Alternatively, if you show up to the polls and are told you are not registered, you have the right to request a provisional, or paper ballot.  The provisional ballot will then be verified and counted.  

FELONS:  The best-kept secret in Georgia is that FELONS can vote.  As long as you have served your sentence, finished probation or parole, paid all your fines and fees, and it has been five years, your voting rights are automatically restored.  You don’t have to do a thing but register to vote.  I can hear you now, “That’s not true!”   Don’t take my word for it; call your local registrar.  

ABSENTEE VOTING:  If you want to vote by absentee, the Application for the Official Election Ballot is available now.  You can pick the application up or call the Registrar’s Office for one to be mailed to you.  Help thy neighbor.  If you know elderly people, disabled people, or ANYONE that may need an absentee ballot, pick up as many applications as you need. Distributing applications is legal!  The person requesting the Official Ballot must sign the application before it is returned to the elections office. You do not have to have a reason for voting absentee. No one should be disenfranchised because they don’t have transportation, have to work, are elderly and infirm, or are fearful of the electronic voting machines.  Historically, the GOP has owned absentee voting and has used absentee voting as a very effective political tool.  When Democrats use it, it is immediately suspect.

VOTER FRAUD:  This is a favorite topic for Republicans.  To hear them tell it, the practice is rampant.  The truth is; voter fraud in this country is close to zero.  All the voter laws being put forth by red states in the name of voter fraud is actually an attempt to suppress the minority vote.  The Courts are playing whack-a-mole to prevent minorities from being disenfranchised.  

VOTER SUPPRESSION: We need to be concerned with voter fraud being committed by the GOP in the form of voter suppression. Just last week, the Supreme Court blocked a measure by Georgia Secretary of State, Brian Kemp that would have required voters to show proof of American citizenship to register.  The newest tactic of the GOP is to use a computer program called Interstate Crosscheck Voter Registration Program.  In an investigation by Rolling Stone magazine, the process was explained.  They take the voter lists from each participating state (22 states) and check for duplicate names. (Georgia is a participating state!) Then it spews out a list of duplicates containing common names.  For instance, if your name is Washington, there is an 89% chance of being African American. Then duplicates are culled by first names. If your name is Hernandez, there is a 95% chance you’re Hispanic.  What if your name is Jose Hernandez?  See the problem?

LOCAL VOTER SUPPRESSION: I was perplexed as to why the banner headline last week in the Monroe County Reporter was “Did Calloway rig ‘ll election?”  This article written by Will Davis and was accompanied by a large picture of James Calloway.

 *As a disclaimer, I don’t know Mr. Calloway from a sack of salt.  I did not follow this story back in 201l. I have no knowledge of his bribery charges or character. My observations are based only on the contents of this article. 

 I read this article no less than ten times trying to determine what was in the article to warrant such a shout out to readers.  Further, the picture on the continued page of the article shows pictures of envelopes with postage stamps and pictures identified as “Absentee ballots.”  An examination with a magnifying glass reveals these pictures were actually of Application for Official Absentee Ballot. Very misleading! According to Georgia Election Law, that, in it’s self is NOT a violation.  The FBI has closed the case.  The District Attorney pointed out the statute of limitations has expired.  However, it was pointed out in the article that the Secretary of State can investigate a complaint at any time.  I then heard the dog-whistle loud and clear!  This story was only meant to be a reminder to the minority population in this community that if you vote, especially by absentee, you may be subject to an investigation, thus inducing fear in these voters.  Republican Secretary of State, Brian Kemp would really like to do that for you, Mr. Davis.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Vote "No" on School Take-over

With one flick of your finger on November 8th, you will make a decision that will have a profound effect on our children and generations to come.   No, I’m not talking about whether you vote for Trump or Clinton.  I’m talking about how you vote on Amendment 1, a proposed Amendment to change the way our children are schooled.  Voting on an Amendment to our Georgia Constitution is basically an everlasting law.  There is no quick remedy when the people vote to amend the Constitution.  You can’t say, “Oops!  We made a mistake, it’s not working,” and then easily undo the changes wrought by the new law.

Usually, the most over-looked aspect of the voter ballot is the section on Amendments.  We tend to think that voting is all about the candidates and we spend much time studying and deciding who would be the best for our state and nation.  Then when we enter the voting booth, “We say, Oh snap!  I forgot about the Amendments.”  Then we try to make an on-the-spot decision based solely on the wording on the ballot.  I have been guilty of this.  Amendment 1 on this year’s ballot is one of the most important initiatives we have ever had to decide.  Let’s treat it as such and give it the attention it demands.

We now have the wording of the proposed Amendment 1 to our Georgia Constitution on our 2016 ballot.
Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow the state to intervene in chronically failing public schools in order to improve student performance?
( ) YES (X ) NO

I hate the word “failing.”  Most of the children impacted by this Amendment are minorities and children living in poverty.  These children have enough challenges without being further stigmatized.  Also, the word “intervene” should be “taken over.”

The following are a few things that the ballot wording did not tell you.  This is only the tip of the iceberg.

Governor Deal was nearing the end of his second term and needed a signature accomplishment for his legacy.  This Amendment gives Governor Deal the authority to take over failing schools and place them under his new program called the Opportunity School District (OSD).  He will appoint one person with sole authority as the Superintendent of the OSD.  Beginning with the 2017-18 school year, they will select 20 schools from the now list of 139 failing schools, and place them under OSD. They will add 20 schools each year up to 100. When these schools are taken over, we will have no clue what will happen to our children because the Amendment makes no mention of what or how our children will be taught. 

It doesn’t matter that we have an elected school Superintendent.  The person appointed by the Governor as Superintendent of OSD will usurp his authority.  There will be no local school boards or local superintendents overseeing these schools.  Parents have no input; there will be no appeals process for parents, taxpayers, or the local Board of Education.  All decisions will be made in a central Atlanta office.   However our tax dollars will still support these schools.  This is a clear case of “taxation without representation.”  The OSD Superintendent will decide which teachers to keep and the administrative staff will be automatically replaced.  The local school district will be responsible for the legal cost of terminations, RIF’s, and non-renewals.  And lest we forget, all the state, local, and funding for these students will be transferred to the OSD School. 

This constitutional amendment is fraught with many inexplicable requirements.  One is if OSD closes a school, the local school district cannot use the facilities for three years.  What if a local school district needs a new school or needs to expand and there is a building just setting there that cannot be used? 

The OSD also has the authority to make a failing school, a charter school.  That opens up another rotten can of worms.  I daresay, that’s what this is really all about; a pathway to privatizing and profiteering off our schools.  The constitutional provisions for the charter schools call for the local school district to pay for all repairs except routine maintenance.  Yet, the charter school gets all the funding allocated for those students. 

Do your homework before voting on this Amendment!  You owe it to all the children of Georgia.  And don’t be swayed when the Koch Brothers unleash millions of dollars in pro-OSD advertising any day now.  They oppose public education and will spend any amount to win.  If they win, our children lose.