Friday, April 30, 2010

The Best Of The Drifts - Politics and Gambling

Originally published October 31, 2007

Water From A Stone

The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but violence overwhelms the mouth of the wicked. ~Proverbs 10:11

28, 26, 25, 24.

These are numbers that have haunted me for the past day. Normally, the only numbers I count are the ones I discuss with my favorite degenerate gambler friend on Thursday night as we wait, like two dogs slobbering over a bone, for the kickoff of the first college game. Do you take the over on the game and sweat through the first quarter when both offenses look like feeble junior varsity teams, do you dare call at half time to take the teaser second half line or do you just throw all you money at the nearest stumbling drunk and scream at him to call out random keno numbers?

At least football makes some sense. Unlike politics.

Politics is a loser. It will suck you in, drag you along and then crush you like the strange twisted ways of an 8th grade bra clasp. The man who tells you he knows the ways of politics is the worst kind of charlatan. He should not only be ridden out on of town on a rail but also should be shaved bare and left naked at the edge of a bee farm.

But bets have to be made and numbers have to be called. And only those who cannot resist the tug are awake when decent people are asleep, mumbling incoherently about the spread that they should have seen and the junk of the hard facts intruding on the voodoo behind their picks.

The worst bastard in the world is the one who crows at the bar about how he called the sure lock of the century while poor hopheads who spent their last rent check on some horrible deceit like South Florida start chewing at the brass bar fittings.

Politics. God help us all. At least the bookies win on the games. Hell, nobody wins at this awful thing that is politics. We chew around the edges hoping to nibble off just enough to sustain the vig.

The only safe bet is football. At least on those treacherous fields, the only ones who get hurt are the next generation. Lord knows, you read the bones wrong on this thing called politics and we might all be awash in gap-toothed carnies until the wheel circles again and bathes us all in the fires of Megiddo.

The Best Of The Drifts - Josh Lanier Enters The Senate Race

Originally published October 3, 2007

A New Name In The Georgia Senate Race

He's not a career politician but he knows politics.

Josh Lanier, 55, is a native of Statesboro although his career took him to Virginia over 30 years ago. A Vietnam Veteran, Lanier worked on the personal staff of Georgia Senator Herman Talmadge assisting the front line aides on the hottest issues of the day including Watergate and Vietnam. He returned to his native state one year ago and his name keeps popping up in interesting places.

Recently, it began surfacing in the already muddled race for the seat currently held by Senator Saxby Chambliss. Democratic Party of Georgia officials confirm that Lanier contacted the Atlanta headquarters expressing an interest in the contest but would comment no further, stating it was one of many calls speculating on candidates.

Lanier says he's not a person looking for a career in politics but is willing to step up if there is a need.

" I talked to [a party official] because I heard he had been asking questions", Lanier stated via telephone, "All my conversations have been what is the status of the race and what is the real need here".

Lanier is not rushing anything but admits to the possibility of a campaign,

"I have not made a decision to run yet, but I am kicking it around."

Lanier's name recognition may be low at this time, but just two years ago few people knew Jim Webb in Virginia. The potential of a knowledgeable neophyte running may make a Senate race considered by many to be a foregone conclusion, at the very least, a lot more fascinating.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Best Of The Drifts - More Genarlow Wilson and Eric Johnson

Originally published October 28,2007


It would be easy to say ignorance abounds, but that would be laying the light switch on the peckerwoods when they deserve the full strop.

Shall we begin with Senate President Pro Tem Eric Johnson?

He, who when responding to a CNN inquiry regarding Genarlow Wilson's acquittal on a particular charge, responded "it was rape in my mind".

When legislation was presented to take fair, unanimous correction of a heinously unjust law back through the throes of time to include the very soul who inspired such urgency for reformation, how did Senator Johnson respond?

With a tut-tut, he queried, how could the legistature in good conscience rewrite law to undo the good faith process of the judiciary? Had not the judiciary spoken in the matter of Genarlow Wilson?

Senator Johnson repeatedly asked us, the good people of Georgia, to trust the judicial process, for it was that holy institution which had convicted Genarlow Wilson and who were we, the people and the representatives of the people, to second guess the will of the Wilson jury in their wisdom?

But apparently the will of the judicial system only matters when it is convenient.

Following yesterday's ruling by the Supreme Court of the State of Georgia that Wilson's sentence constituted "cruel and unusual punishment", Senator Johnson issued the following statement.

By a single vote, the Supreme Court has opened the door for the release of hundreds of sexual predators. But equally disturbing is the fact that this activist court is once again clearly defying legislative intent. This case has never really been about Genarlow Wilson. It has been about the rule of law. The General Assembly did change the law related to minors having oral sex, but it expressly declined to make this law retroactive to those sentenced under previous laws. By ignoring this part of the legislature's wishes, this court has deliberately chosen to disregard the General Assembly's Constitutional authority. This is troubling to me and it should be to all Georgians.

What should be troubling to all Georgians is the the second most powerful man in the Senate implored us to ignore the sentence of a jury because we should trust what is "rape in his mind", then told us we should not change the law because we should trust the decision of the jury but when mule finally comes home to kick now tells us we shouldn't trust "activist judges" who seek to rewrite the "good" law so heavily weighed by our trustworthy legislators.

It is so terribly hard to keep count on who we should trust.

But here is an easy score to mark. When the Genarlow Wilson decision came down, on that clear day of justice and rectitude, certain leaders in the Republican Party and their personal harpies in the media chose not quiet restraint but instead opted for fakery and obfuscation.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Best Of The Drifts - Genarlow Wilson At The Supreme Court

Originally published July 20, 2007

A Life Shattered

"We are messing up the future of the next generation" ~Rev. Joseph Lowery

Serenity covered Juanessa Bennett's face. Certainly, it must have masked a storm beneath. Quietly she stood on the steps of the Georgia Supreme Court facing the hoard of media as her son's, Genarlow Wilson, attorney B.J Bernstein explained the legal intricacies of what just happened.

When asked her plans for the weekend, Ms. Bennett replied, "I'm gonna stay prayed up".

Prayer may be Genarlow Wilson's last best hope; for common sense and reason left this arena long ago.

"We could have five hundred hearings and the judge would still have to follow the law" ~Douglas County District Attorney David McDade

The law must take its course. The legal road began when District Attorney McDade, known as a law and order prosecutor, chose to bring the full weight of the justice system against Genarlow Wilson. We all think of the law as a black and white world where all is written in stone with no variation. In reality, it is a place of muddled motivations and convenience. Suspects plead to lesser crimes. Prosecutors choose to charge based on chances of success. Sometimes they choose discretion.

"To insure justice..." ~ Preamble to the Constitution of the State of Georgia

A prosecutor is bound by law but is also bound to a higher contract. In its most base form, a prosecutor's discretion is used to grease the wheels. To get the business of the people done. But it also serves a larger purpose, for in the end all those who hold their hand and swear before the people of Georgia are bound to justice. On most occasions justice requires the punishment of those who have or would do harm to others. But on rare occasions justice requires mercy. As Abraham Lincoln once said, "let 'em up easy".

In charging Genarlow Wilson with aggravated child molestation, D.A. McDade certainly followed the letter of the law but it may be debated for decades whether he felt the spirit. Nearly three years later, justice last hope may rest in the hands of the Supreme Court of Georgia, who on this day heard arguments for and against the release of Genarlow Wilson.

Justice is the last hope of one quiet woman standing on the steps of the courthouse

"We should change the name of prisons to schools" ~Genarlow Wilson attorney B.J. Bernstein

One has to wonder about the thoughts of Juanessa Bennett. All mothers hope their children hold promise. Just over the horizon, Genarlow Wilson's mother could see promise fulfilled. A son who excelled in academics and athletics. A child she would not have to worry about paying for college, for the colleges stood in line to beg him to come. A life destined if not for greatness, then success and security. Most mothers make simple requests; be safe, be happy, make me proud. Some spend a lifetime struggling to find these safe havens for their children. Juanessa Bennett had them in her grasp only to see them whisked away in a flash of indiscretion by her child and lack of discretion by a prosecuting attorney.

It is the testament to the will of a mother that Ms. Bennett still speaks of hope. She still sees promise for a son who now waits behind bars. Waiting for justice. Waiting to prove his will not be a life shattered.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Gonzo Lawmakers - Day 39

A daily recap of the Georgia Public Broadcasting show "Lawmakers". The show airs weekdays at 7:00pm with a replay at 5:30am the following weekday.

Day 39

* Welcome to the present. I can almost hear the yelps of the long night. I know they are still down there. Thrashing around. But the show must go on.

* Shot of the live sausage making.

* Both Susan and Nwandi back in the studio

* Seatbelts in trucks passed! Little Don Thomas probably gave a yelp and drank an Ensure.

* Scowling House clerks make an early entry. The streak continues!

* Farmers doing agricultural business are exempted. Does that mean if I'm driving to the feed store, I don't have to buckle up? Some youngster House member is axing that very question! The bottom line is the farmers want it, and we'se a givin' it!

* Cell phone bills. The Senate version would ban adults texting while driving. The House version only affects teens. They're going to have to combine them somehow.

* We got to see a scowling House clerk reading a bill! Or as Sen. Jack Murphy says "texing".
They save the best for last.

* Of course we have a family which suffered a tragedy due to "texing".

* They tried to tack the English Only thing onto a bill which was only dealing with converting some department documents to online. Mary Margaret Oliver is calling foul. She's not letting the scoundrel off the hook. She's subtly, okay not so subtly, cornering him to admit that its all about drivers licenses test. Eventually the Republican leaders got tired of the shenanigans and tabled the stupid thing.

* There's Don Thomas! He's so precious. And excited because it's his big day. He wants to refurbish buses. Some of his colleagues thinks we're going to have worn out buses.

* There's Nan Orrock. I should have kept record of how many times she got on camera. I bet it was a close second to the House Clerks.

* Sen. George Hooks! The Dean of the Senate! The Dean doesn't fool around. He gets right down to the brass tacks. It's about Blue Bird bus company in Ft. Valley. He wasn't successful. The thing passed.

* Pay for performance for teachers is back on the table. Chip Rogers is trying to find a way to make it work by saying it has to be designed by teachers.

* Don Thomas again! He's a rock star.

* House passed the No Happy Ending Bill. Rep. Tony Seller found out that some spas are actually cat houses. Wonder how that research took place? He says there's not much we can do to help illegal aliens held in servitude. Um, I'm pretty sure there are illegal servitude bans already on the books. But anyway...

* They extended the time to file pre-trial filings for death penalty trials. This is cleaning up something the Supremes said was needed.

* Somebody punked Seth Harp. He was given an amendement that was supposedly requested by the Speaker. But it wasn't requested by the Speaker. WHOOPSIE!

* Something about LOST. Not the popular and weird ABC series, but local option sales tax. It's about letting locals pass taxes for things like the arts and what not.

* House discussed a Senate bill which would allow an adult friend to make medical decisions in the absence of a medical directive. Sounds good on the surface but do we really want to tackle such a thorny issue on the next to the last day?

* Rep. Bearden is asking for the definition of a "friend". The subtext her is friend equals domestic partner. He also has a problem with the term "generally familiar". Despite the sub-text of the topic, he's right. They shouldn't be mucking with something so murky without a lot more discussion.

* It passed but it was a close one. 92-65. It's going back to the Senate due to changes. I smell a-tabling!

* Transportation plan passed. This causes Susan to say finally, FINALLY. It created 12 regions which could tax themselves for transportation projects. Google it for the details. It's pretty fascinating.

* Democrats had a big problem with the plan because we ain't gonna vote on it for two more years. Which means gawd knows when we'll actually see some transportation action.

* Lawmakers Flashback! Election of the first House Republican Speaker in 130 years. I hear the howling of the ghost of Glenn Richardson! Much hooting and hollering. And there's Dapper Glenn. And there's Susan holding the Bible. Ah, those were the days. His first act. Passed the "hawks rule". Dubose immediately objected. Richardson immediately overruled him. Thus, the die was cast early on.

* Former Lt. Guv Pierre Howard was in the Senate. He's talking about the redecorating that's gone on in his absence. Age brings fascination with carpet and wall paper.

* Oh no! The BOOK OF DOOM is being handled by Susannah Capaluto. Want to know what I think of that? She once called me an "entertainer" and said she would never quote a blog even if they were accurate. Well, given those ground rules, I see no need to pay attention to her clap trap segment. Selah.

* Thank god that's over. No show tomorrow as there is a recess. Thursday is Sine Die and that means double Lawmakers and double shots for me. Don't expect the recaps that night. For now, that's a wrap.

The Best Of The Drifts - Eric Johnson and Genarlow Wilson

Originally published June 28, 2007


Once, as I lay whining, a friend told me it was all about choices. I continued to whine about the unfairness of it all and he simply responded, I was still making a choice -even if it was one I considered unpleasant.

On January 31, 2004, Genarlow Wilson chose to enter a hotel room filled with teenage friends, alcohol and possibly drugs. What followed could have been just another mythical teenage party, details relayed in whispers and giggles as the high school students continued towards graduation and life afterward. But in this modern age of fascination with capturing every moment of life, they brought along a video camera.

If not for the camera sitting in the corner of the room, the entire sordid scene might have been written off as another episode of teenage extravagance and experimentation. Foolish, but hardly criminal.

However, forever etched in video were the acts of that night, including a 15 year old girl performing oral sex on a line of young men; a procession which included 17 year old Genarlow Wilson.

Georgia Code at the time stated aggravated child molestation included sodomy, i.e. oral touching, with any person under the age of 16. Court transcripts reveal the Wilson jury struggled with the restrictive law but in the end were compelled to convict on the charge. Unknown to the jury and most of the public, due to mandatory sentencing, Wilson would be sent to jail for 10 years.

Following the Wilson conviction, public outrage quickly formed, reaching such lofty institutions as ESPN and the New York Times. A poorly written law had snared Genarlow Wilson, amplifying his initial bad choice into consequences which would follow him for the rest of his life. The people of Georgia demanded correction for such an obvious injustice.

On March 30, 2006, Senator Eric Johnson made a choice.

He joined the near unanimous majority in the Georgia legislature in amending the Georgia statutes for aggravated child molestation to include an exception for minors engaged in consensual oral sex. (HB-1059). As amended, if the law had been in effect at the time of Wilson's arrest he would have faced at most a misdemeanor. However, the legislature left one piece of business on the table. The change was not retroactive. Genarlow Wilson would not be freed without further action.

In the Spring of 2007, Eric Johnson faced another choice.

The Republican Party had recently swept into power in the Georgia Senate and Johnson was named President Pro Tem; a powerful position which would allow Johnson to shape the session to his caucus's will.

There can be little doubt Senator Johnson was aware of a bill filed by Senator Emmanuel Jones attempting to once again amend the aggravated child molestation statute. The bill proffered would allow any person convicted under the previous law to petition the original presiding judge to overturn the current sentence.

Senator Johnson could have worked behind the scenes tailoring the bill as narrowly as possible to prevent waves of legal maneuvering from actual child predators while insuring Wilson received a fair chance at release. It would have certainly made sense as most Georgian's believed the young man's imprisonment unjust.

If Johnson had reservations about the legal technicalities of retroactively unraveling legislation, he could have used this reasoning to defeat the bill in committee or on the floor. Some concerns were legitimate. It certainly would chafe against the bedrock principles of our legislative system to begin forming laws for individuals instead of the whole. But if the law were overly broad, the judicial system could face a nightmare of legal challenges on countless previous convictions.

Sitting on the crux of the choice, Senator Johnson chose a third way.

On February 20, 2007, Senator Johnson rose from his desk to speak on Senator Jones bill. What followed was an excoriation of Wilson and the activities of that long ago New Year's Eve; a rant filled with fabrication and fancy. He painted Wilson as a predator who used a drug filled, alcohol soaked orgy to willfully take advantage of children. He even indicated Wilson had sex with an unconscious minor; an allegation which even the prosecutor disputes. When confronted by a CNN reporter, despite Wilson's acquittal on rape charges, Johnson responded, "It's a rape in my mind".

Eric Johnson certainly faced many choices in the last legislative session, arguably none more controversial than Wilson's plight. Instead of choosing the route of quiet leadership, instead of advocacy for legislative restraint, Johnson chose demagoguery.

In the span of one year, Senator Johnson converted from a supporter of justice for those who would suffer Genarlow Wilson's fate to a fiery apostle delivering a message of deserved punishment against a boy he now viewed as a monstrous evil waiting to once again be released upon the children of Georgia.

All choices are backed by reason. Of the choices surrounding the Genarlow Wilson affair, we know the reasoning for all except one.

What caused Senator Eric Johnson to appeal to our most base human instincts, the fear of the overpowering sexual monster, in an effort to keep a young man who is no apparent threat to society imprisoned?

It is a question which deserves to be answered.

The Best Of The Drifts - Atlanta Press Club Meets The Bloggers

Originally Published on June 7, 2007

Facing The Beast

If I'd written all the truth I knew for the past ten years, about 600 people - including me - would be rotting in prison cells from Rio to Seattle today. Absolute truth is a very rare and dangerous commodity in the context of professional journalism. ~Hunter S. Thompson

"Did you guys sit up here so you can throw things", I quipped to Amani, Amber and Rusty who sat on the front row of the Brown Room in the Commerce Club.

By nature, bloggers are a rough and tumble bunch. We are not insulated by brick, mortar, cubicle walls and layers and layers of editors and legal teams. Every day, we throw our stuff out to the world and expect to get some thrown back. Living in the harsh evolutionary world of online communities, we also instinctively give back as good as we get.

So, of course we sat on the front row.

We had gathered for the Atlanta Press Club's discussion on "New Media: The Changing Landscape". The panel consisted of Mark Bauer of WSB-TV, Lea Donosky of the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Lila King of CNN Interactive and John Patton of ThePort network. Given this particular make-up, I placed the over-under of those sitting behind name cards understanding our world at 1. I really do not like losing. Good thing there wasn't a bookie around because I would have lost a bundle.

It didn't take long for the fireworks to start. The second question of the evening questioned the credibility of blogs. A hilarious side note. I discovered later the person who posed the question was not even a member of the press. According to friend standing nearby, she was a woman who just wandered in off the street because she was bored.

But no matter the source, there it was. The dreaded "c" word. The discussion became heated at times with such phrases as "gatekeepers" and "guardians of democracy" tossed around like poor hapless cows caught in a tornado. At one point, a person even painted bloggers as "entertainment". Hadn't heard that one before.

Then something interesting happened. The panelists interceded. Mark Bauer told a story of working at CNN in the early days when the network was not even allowed in the pool at the White House. Lea Donosky pointed out the first "citizen journalist" in this country was Thomas Paine. She even called out her fellow press members, including some of her co-workers, on certain preconceived notions.

It was difficult to say if minds were changed. Certainly, some of the stalwart defenders of the old ways were not swayed. It was hard to not be frustrated when someone who claims to be a "guardian of the truth" continues to repeat urban myths about the quality of new media. But, if the panel and the people who approached us afterward were evidence, the voices of disbelief and wariness continue to fall by the wayside.

And the conversation will continue. We in the new media will continue to challenge those in the traditional media. We will continue to agitate. We will continue to defend. We will continue to demonstrate we are more than entertainment. And we won't be hard to find.

We will most likely be the ones sitting on the front row.

You can hear a podcast of the panel discssion here.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Gonzo Lawmakers - Day 38

A daily recap of the Georgia Public Broadcasting show "Lawmakers". The show airs weekdays at 7:00pm with a replay at 5:30am the following weekday.

Day 38

Originally aired on 4-21-10

*Welcome back my friends, to the show that never ends. We're so glad you could attend, come and see, come and see.

* 2011 budget passes the Senate.

* And the Senate Transportation Committee agreed on the transportation plan. It's on the floor of both chambers now.

* But not without a little fruforal over MARTA. Tommie Williams is confused about how people are planning to use the SPLOST. Much dithering.

* Attorney General Thurbert Baker says the lack of fiscal notes on last weeks tax cuts could cause a constitutional problem. This is very technical. Democrats love technical challenges. The public? Not so much.

* Good lord. There's the blogger who shall not be named again. He's down there constantly now.

* Susan points out that the courts have been reluctant to step in to the sausage making of the legislators. What a fool's errand this be.

* Chip Rogers is wearing a snappy pink tie. He needs to give Tom Crawford fashion tips.

* Now, Steve Thompson on the other hand...a white coat before Memorial Day? Hell! A white coat any time?

* Seth Harp also has a pink tie. Some sort of theme on the Elephant side of the aisle?

* Lost of education sausage making.

* Scowling House Clerks! The streak continues!

* House passed Dan Weber's charter school cluster thing. His close buddy Fran Millar presented it on the other side.

* Scowly Red just smiled! And giggled! She sees the light at the end of the tunnel.

* More rapid fire clips. The editor must have been chugging Red Bulls.

* We're increasing the cap on the rainy day fund. It's a hopeful thing that we might again one day have a rainy day fund.

* A sprinkler bill got heated in the Senate? They're losing it. It's about single family dwellings or duplexes. This thing is so weird it has Nan Orrock and John Douglas on the same side. Pardon me, I need a shot.

* We're seeing more of David Shafer these days. His big moment is on the horizon.

* Project Tom Crawford! He has on a snappy red polka dot tie! Well, snappy for Tom. He's pulling out the party wear for the final days.

* Tom's reporting the transportation bill is close.

* Tom is explaining the Capitol computers went down today which he says they are using as an excuse for "covering many sins".

* Georgia contractors will get preference for stuff being done to public buildings. Earl Erhart is splaining. Hadn't seen much of that scoundrel this session.

* Senate passed a bill requiring lethal injection for doggies and kitties. No more gas chambers. Sen. Bill Heath actually argued that gas chambers were more humane. "There's people that buy a lot of things to get the feeling you get from carbon monoxide poisoning". Perhaps Senator Heath huffed a few samples before making this boneheaded speech?

* The abortion bill passed house committee. But not before some maneuvering. Mike Jacobs, the favorite of young Democrats everywhere, is right in the middle of it. Going head to head with crazy ass Mark Hatfield, he's the one trying to require Presidential candidates present their birth certificates.

* Lawmakers Flashback! We skip back to 2000, when Democrats were still in charge of the Senate. David Scott was the Rules Chair at the time. He's railing against the Majority leader in the House for killing his Grady bills. He's absolutely screaming about people dying in lines! The chair is trying to gavel him down, Scott is having none of it. I don't think I've ever seen anyone this fired up. Scott says the "whole place is out of order". He's been possessed by Al Pacino!

* Ricky Bevington and her BOOK OF DOOM! The enviro-hippies claim our reactors have design flaws. Lawrdy. Mennonites may get to self-insure their cars. They consider regular insurance to be a form of gambling. Not kidding.

* And we are finally caught up. I thank you all for your patience. Two days to go. Back with you tomorrow. For now, that's a wrap.

Gonzo Lawmakers - Day 37

A daily recap of the Georgia Public Broadcasting show "Lawmakers". The show airs weekdays at 7:00pm with a replay at 5:30am the following weekday.

Day 37

Originally airedl 4-20 (toke)

* The present approaches

* Susan in studio and Nwandi in the newsroom. Nwandi explains the newsroom is at Hogwarts. Mystery solved.

* Senate Appropriations passed the 2011 budget. It's in the final lap.

* The tape machine ate the budget! It's abyssal craw knows no sate!

* Democrats are claiming the tax monstrosity passed the other day has technical flaws. Something about fiscal notes. Dubose is explaining two parts had fiscal notes from the previous year and that ain't right. The undercurrent here is the thing may not be constitutional.

* Jerry Keen was going to explain how technically the method used was okay but the evil tape machine ate him too!

* Susan vamping.

* The Attorney General is considering Porter's request on the constitutionality.

* They want to create a special panel to discuss reforming the tax code. And it will include the soon to be unemployed Sonny Perdue. Imagine that!

* They wrestled the budget tape out of the maw of the tape machine.

* They passed the supplemental budget too. They are winding up all the money matters with relatively little fruforal.

* Much optimism about a transportation plan. Foreshadowing.

* There's Preston Smith. Looking pensive. Foreshadowing.

* Discussion of MARTA. Shot of MARTA buses. No Red Xs apparent.

* Sen. Tommie Williams is taking up for MARTA. Blow, Gabriel, Blow!

* Ethics bill is coming up tomorrow.

* Speaker Ralston is defending it in committee. He's speaking of the "abuse of power". The ghost of Glenn Richardson just wailed.

* Dubose Porter wants a gift cap. Speaker Ralston thinks transparency for the voters will be enough. Trust the people to make the judgment with their votes.

* You can lose your license for not wearing your glasses while driving? There is much strangeness in the code. The House reduced it to a fine.

* Scowling House Clerks! The streak continues!

* Corporations can't conduct identity theft. Previously only individuals could be prosecuted. This is called legislative clean up.

* More cleanup. More rapid fire bill passing.

* Wow. The tape machine just ate Rep. Don Parsons!

* Funding restored funding for the Arts. Yay.

* And we get to see Susannah Capaluto for the first time. The tape machine wants to eat her too! But it cannot digest her. We get lots of shots of hippies. And Tom Key. Now, he is an Atlanta treasure. But good lord, look at the hippies. And Susannah Capaluto. I need a drink.

* This segment is ridiculously long.

* Texting while driving. Allan Peake wants to ban it even for adults. Of course, we have some family with a tragic story. Shot of Alan Bridges in a car - texting. Would he qualify under the teen version of the bill or the adult version of the bill? Things suddenly got very weird.

* Lawmakers Flashback! Here come the Republicans! There's Sonny - fresh off the biggest upset in Georgia politcal history. He's talking about all the things he's gonna get done. It's sadly funny. There's Tom Price before he moved on to Washington. There's Mark Taylor. The last Democrat standing. Despite Eric Johnson's assurances, they practically castrated him. And the House without Tom Murphy. The House Democrats lost that majority in 2004. Seems so long ago.

* Ricky Bevington and her BOOK OF DOOM! MARTA protests. Delta lost money. But Coke gained money.

* Tomorrow, the budget will be on the Senate floor. For now that's a wrap.

Gonzo Lawmakers - Day 36

A daily recap of the Georgia Public Broadcasting show "Lawmakers". The show airs weekdays at 7:00pm with a replay at 5:30am the following weekday.

Day 36

Originally aired April 14, 2010

* The present approaches

* Susan live at Hogwarts

* I swear the background has changed. The Capitol backdrop looks much redder. It makes Nwandi look positively devilish. It's getting weird, bubba.

* The Fee Bill was in the Senate. They are certainly gigging themselves. New charge of $100 to file disclosure reports. A cool grand if they are great. Senate passed it.

* It then went back to the House where those devils couldn't help but muck around. In a very serious manner. They added the infamous bed tax, they phased out the state portion of the property tax and they eliminated income tax for seniors. Good lord.

* Scowling House Clerks! The streak continues!

* The tax cuts have a five year phase in.

* House Democrats cried "not germane!" Stacy Abrams, very nice woman, is pointing out that it includes fees and taxes which are supposed to be separate. You may remember there was a Lawmaker Flashback where Speaker Murphy and Earl Erhart got into it over this very issue. Speaker Murphy ruled it not germane. Speaker Ralston ruled it was. The more things change...

* So now the little chimera heads back to the Senate.

* Not surprisingly, Chip Rogers loves that the property tax is finally going to be killed.

* VIncent Fort ain't happy. Not surprising.

* The thing finally passed.

* Tape machine strikes one last time! Poor Chip Rogers face was frozen like a fun house mirror.

* House passed the 2011 budget. It took two hours to review. How thrilling that must have been.

* Dubose Porter is getting all populist! Railing against the fees and the hospital tax! He's saying things like you can't put sunglasses and wig on it, it's a tax increase! When Dubose gets the populist fire in his gut, he actually can give one helluva speech. He should try it more often.

* Now he's saying cutting education means we're just increasing the prison population in the future. He's a banging the well. It's gettin' hot.

* Rep. Al Williams is calling himself a fiscal conservative and facing people who calls themselves fiscal conservative. Mentions of Lynn Westmoreland, chocolate cake and all kinds of allegorical goodness. It's like they saved up all the good looniness for the end.

* The chryon tells me that Nwandi is in the "newsroom". Maybe the main studio was being used by Nancy Grace?

* They found one fee to cut. Something about CMOs or something.

* Wendell Willard is using his droning superpower to lull everyone to sleep again. Some legal bill about estates. Zzzzzzzzzzz.

* Someone wants to mandate hospitals give their own employees flu shots. It's sponsored by a Republican. And opposed by a Republican. Of course, the opposition is John Douglas. Apparently, he saved all the crazy for the end.

* The final passage of the synthetic marijuana band. Smoke 'em while you got 'em!

* The House Macon delegation is pleading to pass the hotel tax amendment passed in the Senate. This is the one to save the halls of fame. They passed it. Otis, the Allmans and Little Richard appear safe for the momment.

* It's machine gun bill time. They are coming so fast, I can't keep up. More cleanup of bills from last year.

* Contracts can have blue line provisions. Don't ask me. Go look it up. Now, some debt bill for the Universities. There's no telling what they could actually get through in this fury of legislating.

* Chip Rogers just explained why he wants to do away with the property tax....and I agree with him. Interesting.

* Lawmakers Flashback! More on the flag. Senate this time. Sen. Charles Walker before his favorite color became orange. There's young Sonny just after he placed an R next to his name. Pretty emotional speeches all around.

* Ricky Bevington and her BOOK OF DOOM! She's back! And she's in the studio. Nancy Grace must have finally finished up. We're getting federal funds to save the Eastern Indigo Snake. It's the largest snake in North America. Didn't know that.

* They are hustling to the end. We're motoring towards the climax. But for now, that's a wrap!

The Atlanta Machine

The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder performs an absolute take down of Newt Gingrich's recent intellectually dishonest rhetoric about "machine politics" - he glibly asks why no one ever referred to Newt's use of the same parliamentary maneuvers as the "Atlanta Machine".

Money quote.
Interlude: which party introduced and passed an extremely complicated, extremely expensive Medicare prescription drug bill in the dead of night -- via a process that lasted three hours? Not the Democrats.
For those concerned about the Republican party driving off the cliff, the whole article is a must read.

The Best Of The Drifts - The Baseball Series

Originally published May 8, 2007

Innocence Lost, Part III

Willie Harris and the immortal Jackie Robinson were both born in the same small town of Cairo, Ga. At the moment, Willie also has another commonality with Jackie. As Jackie was when he crossed the color barrier in 1947, Willie is the only African American player on his team, the Atlanta Braves.

Times are different but the similarity of the surface situations cause many to ask why.

Gone are the golden years of Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Frank Robinson and Bob Gibson. Following the pioneering times of Don Newcombe, Lou Campinella, Larry Doby and of course Jackie Robinson, African Americans not only excelled in baseball, they dominated. The success caused many to wonder the what ifs of Satchel Paige, Cool Papa Bell and Josh Gibson.

Then something happened. A mere 60 years after Jackie sacrificed for an entire people, they began leaving the game he loved so much.

Bethune-Cookman, a historically black college in Daytona Beach, Fla., has only two African American baseball players. The rest are hispanic or white. On a recent HBO Sports documentary, the head coach discussed attending summer camps and struggling to find African Americans to recruit. It is a struggle echoed by all baseball programs at HBCs.

Hall of Fame player Dave Winfield believes he has found the problem. He calls it the 3 Cs. Cost, continuity and competition.

"It didn't cost anything to play," he says. "Whether it was Little League or park and rec ball, you could play until you were drafted without having to pay. Now you might be able to play through Little League, but if you want to get better, you start paying to play. Then the continuity of being able to play for nothing every year stopped. The connection and the continuity of playing all the time and the ability to reach new heights stopped. And now the external competition has risen where 40 years ago you didn't have as many other sports competing. They thought the Super Bowl would fail and look at it now. How about basketball, soccer, extreme sports? Everybody has grabbed a piece of the sports and entertainment pie now."
In the 60's and 70's, baseball was the glamour sport for black America. Basketball was riddled with drugs and hardly ever shown on television. Football was the purview of white America, the lines so divisive a player in the following decade would describe it as a "plantation system". But in baseball, giant men named Mays, Aaron, Morgan and Flood walked the earth.

Then, basketball cleaned up its drug problem and found a man named Magic. Football cut loose its fetters, opening riches and the most coveted position of power, the quarterback, to men named Moon, Cunningham and Williams. Money and fame came quick and easy. In the age of MTV and video games, instant gratification ruled. Why slog through years in the minor leagues when you could sign for millions of dollars on draft day?

In the cities and even the small towns, the patches of dirt became abandoned. Young men moved to the asphalt courts where you only needed a leather ball and the ability to impress. A travelling team meant crossing over to the next series of courts to play in a different summer rec league.

But not all agree with this perspective.

Joe Beasley, Southern Regional Director of the Rainbow/PUSH coalition, believes there is no "diminished enthusiasm for African-Americans playing baseball". To him and his organization, the problem is major league organizations do not recruit enough African Americans. A statement that flies in the face of the fact that a Major League team does not recruit anybody. They sign players from lower levels. Lower levels like Bethune-Cookman where even though its student popluation is 90% African American, its baseball team is less than 10% African American.

When I first began this piece, I was angry. The passionate line of attacking my team for no apparent reason had been crossed. I also had witnessed the demagoguery of Jesse Jackson's organization in the past. I again began to wonder if these gulfs could ever be spanned when we continue to drive ourselves apart with meaningless passion plays as the things in life for which we truly care die.

Then, I remembered Travis and Dexter. How they both shaped a young boy from south Georgia and showed him that even in the awful hurts of our differences there was still hope. Their memories reminded me that hope does not come from a blind corporate behemoth of a major league franchise. Nor does it come from the demagogues clinging to relevance by latching on to high profile targets. Hope always comes from the smallest changes. The ones rarely noticed.

Hope will come from a baseball field. When, a child turns a double play. It will come from a classroom. When a child who has never had the opportunity to visit a museum opens an art book for the first time. Hope will come when we remember what we learned as children. Despite our difficulties and differences, innocence does not have to be lost.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Gonzo Lawmakers - Day 35

A daily recap of the Georgia Public Broadcasting show "Lawmakers". The show airs weekdays at 7:00pm with a replay at 5:30am the following weekday.

Day 35

Originally aired on April 13, 2010

* Moving closer to the present.

* Susan is back on the set.

* 2011 budget passes out of the the House Appropriations committee. $17.8 billion. That's $5 billion less than the peak from three years ago. The House still has a problem with the insurance premium tax cut over in the Senate. Beardless Ben Harbin is explaining why.

* Harbin raises the specter of special session.

* The Macon county delegation figured out a way to use Macon hotel tax to support the Music Hall of Fame. They amended the hotel tax that supports the Georgia Dome. Sen. Cecil Staton is saying they are just as important to Macon as the bigger things in Atlanta.

* Blue alert passed the House. When somebody shoots a copy, it will be activated.

*Scowling House Clerks! The streak continues! Although Scowly Red was hiding.

* Of course, Bobby Franklin is against it. He thinks cops wouldn't wanted to be distracted from saving lives. What? He's so weird.

* Camera switch stuck. We got a little extra time of Nwandi blankly smiling into the camera.

* Something about bonds in the House. This gives Wendell Willard an opportunity to use his superpower "droning monotone" to put everyone to sleep. Even Scowly Red appears groggy.

* The Senate has to have its say in Oxendine's statement that he won't implement the Federal healthcare. Nan Orrock, I think she's setting a record for getting on camera, Steve Thompson is going to get jealous, is saying be very careful about how we choose our leaders.

* John Douglas, who hasn't been nearly as crazy this session, compares it to buying car insurance after you've had a wreck. He calls it a hare-brained scheme. Welcome back, ol' John.

* Sen. David Shafer, who has been nearly invisible this session, although that will soon change, is talking about some regulatory bill involving the cable companies.

* Transportation! Do we get shots of the Downtown Connector? Cue the b-roll! No b-roll? I've noticed there are far fewer shots out and about this season. More budget tightening?

* Jesse Jackson visited the Senate. Casey said he was honored to introduce him. Wonder if he took a shot of castor oil before saying that. This is about C-TRAN being shut down. A chance for some cheap publicity and Jesse Jackson shows up? Imagine that.

* Earnest Dan Weber! He's in a committee about charter schools. And he's literally towering over the committe. Dan knows these education issues inside out. Dan looks tired. He's threatened to retire before. I wonder if he's on the verge again.

* Lawmakers Flashback! Its the floor fight on the flag. Then Governor Barnes went to the extraordinary measure of addressing the House before the debate began. I understand what Roy was trying to do, but gawd, that was an ugly flag. Tom Murphy looks like he's gearing up for a war. They had scowling house clerks back then too! Lord, Austin Scott was young. He defended the new flag. He's been a man of principle from the very beginning.

* Ricky Bevington continues to be absent. She's out looking for more DOOM. Here's John Nelson again. Lake Lanier is close to reaching full pool. John is awfully perky.

* Tomorrow, the 2011 budget on the House floor. But for now, that's a wrap!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Gonzo Lawmakers - Day 34

A daily recap of the Georgia Public Broadcasting show "Lawmakers". The show airs weekdays at 7:00pm with a replay at 5:30am the following weekday.

Day 34

Originally aired April 12, 2010

* We are rapidly approaching the present.

* Susan is live from the newsroom. Lawmakers has a newsroom?

* This is the first day back from the spring break recess.

* Three Senators were stripped of their committee chairs because of their votes on the hospital tax. And this caused Preston Smith to.....lose it.

* Preston Smith is in the well and he is letting loose.

* Wow! Casey just gaveled to interrupt the speech and ordered Smith to "tell the truth'! This is as ugly as the south end of a north bound mule.

* Jack Hill is defending the tax saying its the only way to balance the budget.

* Chip Rogers is pleading that there are tax cuts in the thing so it's okay.

* House leader Jerry Keen is saying the tax cuts haven't been vetted and may be ruled not germane. As people have previously said, this was the day the Republicans down at Hogwarts formed the circular firing squad.

* Jerry is explaining why they may have to pass the budget without solving the problem. It's about the timing and the slowness of the Senate. Either they pass it out Wednesday or the Senate won't be able to vote on it until Day 39.

* Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine is postuing that he may not execute the Federal healthcare plan. Says it might not be constitutional. Couldn't have anything to do with his running for Governor.

* Dubose Porter, also running for Governor, accuses Ox of grandstanding.

* Senate passed anti-gang legislation. It adds new punishment for those involved in gang activity. Dick Williams and the Georgia Gang had no comment.

* Some property transfer house cleaning. But there's something about leasing a prison in Baldwin County to a private company for $10.

* Scowling House Clerks! The streak continues!

* Ben Harbin found his razor. Make up your mind, Ben. Goatee or no goatee.

* Our service personnel are going to be able to vote using the internet. This is a pilot program.

* Susan is talking about some medical board thingie and I have no idea what she's talking about. I don't think she does either. It has something to do with procedures being done in offices instead of the hospital.

* Chip Rogers trying to explain that letting us vote on the new transportation bill in November would be "perilous". Foreshadowing.

* Project Tom Crawford! We're back in small town mortician mode. You know. I've seen Tom were some snazzy sweaters and such while swilling beer at Manuel's. I don't understand why the man feels compelled to dress like he's in a 50's sit-com while at Hogwarts.

* Sen. Don Thomas, precious little nanny stater, pick up seat belt bill finally passed out of House committee. The little old codger looks happier than a retiree at the Denny's early bird special.

* Lawmaker Flashback! The flag bill! Calvin Smyre looks like he's going to vomit as he anncounces the bill the committee is taking up. Denmark Groover made an appearance. He was one of the people who originally put the battle emblem on the state flag. He came out of retirement to beg it be changed. You could hear a pin drop in this committee. This was serious business back then.

* State troopers cars are going to change color? Jill Chambers wants to make them solid colors to save money. Sen. Bill Jaclson says there's nothing prettier than a GSP care. Wonder if he's married and what his wife thinks about that. Chambers says it would allow them to buy three or four more cars.

* Ricky Bevington is on assignment. Taking the BOOK OF DOOM is John Nelson. He normally hosts Prep Sports+ which is an awesome show. Outside monitors will observe the CRCT. Ben Roethlisbeger escapes rape charges. John says follow GPB on twitter with that "little @ sign". He waved his hand around to demonstrate the @ sign.

* Budget tomorrow. But for now, that's a wrap!

The Best Of The Drifts - The Baseball Series

Originally Publlished May 8, 2007

Innocence Lost, Part II

Baseball has been part of my life since I can remember. It was in third grade, some time after Travis and I finally finished that map of London when baseball became serious.
The small dirt patch behind the elementary school was our field, as poor as it was. We had a pillow for one base and a chunk of concrete for another. Sliding into second was a trepidous affair for fear of mother later looking at torn jeans or heads being cracked open if you were brave enough to go head first in the style of Pete Rose.

We had progressed from merely a wild herd of children running like mobs towards any ball to an organized gang who picked sides much to the chagrin of those always picked last. It is where I heard my first profanity uttered by a friend. A quick, "hot damn" when I accidentally slung my bat into the catcher's face. It was where I first felt that the strangeness of girls was not so strange after all.

She was the preachers kid, full of straight black hair and a tiny mole on her cheek. She came to watch the games with her small friends because they too were figuring out that boys were not so strange after all. One day, she caught a line drive off her forearm. Screams burst forth and of course we did what boys do in moments of panic involving girls - stood stock still. Fortunately for everyone, a nearby teacher came over and ushered her back to the school building. As she walked in the door, bravely choking back tears and clutching her arm, I muttered, "there goes my girl". Nearby, another boy overheard and the taunts began, leaving my mind reeling with the questions of what had I done and what would happen when she inevitably heard what I said?

A few days later, we were back on the patch of dirt playing baseball and shockingly the girls came back as well. The preachers daughter was there, now with a cast on her arm. And just once, she favored me with a smile.

On the field, baseball and I soon parted ways. Natural ability is a harsh evolutionary governor. But it never strayed far from my mind.

Lack of ability on the field morphed into passion of the mind and the mind's easy focus was the Atlanta Braves. Those miserable Braves of the late 70's. It didn't matter to me how horrible they were on the field; the roster was filled with such exotic names as Lum, Pocoroba and Naharodny. They also had a lanky Mormon kid at catcher with a tendency to throw the ball into center field. I had cousins who were Mormons and I had a tendency to throw ball wildly, so at ten years old, I figured I could relate.

A frequent debate in sports circle is which is your favorite sport. Baseball or Football? I once described the difference as marriage versus a one night stand. Football is hot, sweaty, full of action. It happens once a week for a few hours and you leave sated. Baseball goes on for nine months, day after day, only changing incrementally, and at the end, you just hope for a little extra love in the playoffs. But there is always the comfort of knowing spring training is just a few months away.

Not that there isn't passion in baseball. Much like marriage, it is passionate but most times it is a slow burn. Ask any Cubs, Red Sox, Yankees or Dodgers fan about their team and you will receive a mixture of grief, fondness, madness and frivolity. Sometimes anger, if you cross a line.

Ask me and you will hear tales of wonder at Phil Niekro signing a baseball, Dale Murphy hitting another homer, Dale Murphy striking out on another slider, the brief glory of the early eighties and the sustained ecstasy of the 90s.

Ask a young friend of mine about his team and he will imitate Chipper Jones swing, note that John Smoltz is pitching this week and Kelly Johnson is making us all forget the beloved Marcus Giles.

He will also tell you about Willie Harris.

Concluded tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Best Of The Drifts - The Baseball Series

Originally published May 8, 2007

Innocence Lost, Part I

Joe Beasley, Southern Regional Director Rainbow/PUSH Coalition:

I think it was a lack of diligence on the part of the Braves to recruit African-American players. There's not diminished enthusiasm for African-Americans playing baseball. It's simply the opportunity hasn't presented itself.

griftdrift in May 2006:

Bill Clinton didn't lose Jesse Jackson. He was lost every time someone witnessed his vampiric tendency to show up at a tragedy. He was lost every time someone witnessed his need to place pride before principle. For me, he was lost one hot day in Albany, Ga.

Being birthed and raised in a small town in the deepest part of a southern state, the question of race was always unavoidable.

I was born in an era when blacks still lived on their side of town. Where busing caused panic in white families. Where a sister would sob through the night from fear of going to the new black high school. Fear that she would be raped by the black boys or beat up by the black girls.

Up until the first grade, my only interaction with black people were the handy man who came around to help fix a fence or a maid when visiting a wealthier friend's house. Then I met Travis.

Travis was my first black friend. I was the next generation of desegregation - entering first grade a full decade following the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Attitudes had changed little but the gulf of racial understanding had begun to be spanned by the smallest of hands.

We both liked to draw. Every second grader likes to draw but it filled Travis and myself with a passion. While studying London of all things, Travis and I were chosen to draw a map of the city on a huge piece of butcher paper stretched taut across the whole bulletin board. We threw ourselves at the project as only small boys do. We worked every free moment, forgetting recess, baseball, bugs and all the other passions of 7-year old males.

In between staring at pictures in our textbook and gripping our "magic markers", Travis and I talked. We talked about our homes and what we liked to eat. He liked grits and I, already feeling the seeds of rebellion, did not. My mother worked for the government and his worked at a restaurant. I was raised on a farm and he was raised in "the quarters". He was bussed clear across town to attend a "white school". I was a 5 minute ride away from pastures filled with cows.

The moment a child considers asking permission to have a friend over for the night is a momentous one. It is the first tentative step in forming one's own community away from the family unit. Of course, I didn't realize this at the time - I simply wanted to ask Travis to come over and spend the night.

Then, I began to think odd thoughts. I looked at Travis with his mid-70s fro and considered my own bowl cut. My new clothes and his hand me downs. I considered my split level house in the country and what I knew was a' shotgun shack in the poorest section of town. I gripped my magic marker and silently went back to drawing. The gulf was still there. The differences were far too great for a child to cross.

I lost track of Travis, but I think of him now as I remember another young man I met many years later.

In summers of the past, small towns meant baseball. For a 16-year old boy on summer vacation it also meant a summer job.

I was lucky. I didn't have to work 'baccer or some other hideously gruesome job. I worked for the city recreation department. In the morning, I assisted with the 6-8 year olds in day camp. They played kickball, tag and red rover while I generally stood around making sure they didn't kill themselves. In the evening, I umpired farm league baseball.

Farm league was for the kids 8-10 years old who were not yet ready for the rigors of true little league. I had been a farm leaguer myself, usually positioned in right field at the end of a game, silently praying a fly ball wasn't hit my way. It was fairly obvious most boys didn't have the talent to progress beyond this level. A caught fly ball was a miracle. A pitcher who didn't walk the bases loaded was coveted. A catcher who could throw the ball on the fly to second was an MVP.

Every now and then, as I stood between the pitcher's mound and second, dodging another errant throw by a spaghetti armed catcher, I would spot a particular kid. One that I knew would make the progression to little league, then pony league and maybe beyond.

I spotted him early in one summer. He was shy, never smiled and wouldn't look you in the eye. But even at eight, he had the look of a baseball player - the confident lope of athleticism which set him apart from the other gangly messes of stumbling arms and legs. He could throw. He could catch. And lordy, could the child hit. The coach wisely placed him at shortstop in the vain hope the team might get some occasional outs at second and a few fly balls drifting into short center. His name was Dexter.

It happened off the bat of some monstrous catcher. One of those children whose glands ran wild, causing a minor panic among the local uniform supplier. With a man on first, the baby giant smacked a grounder hard past me. I swiveled expecting the ball to scoot into center field but understanding I needed to make sure the runner tagged second. Then, Dexter did something wonderful.

He scooped the ball in his oversized glove, ran to second, tagged the base and gunned it to first. The second minor miracle occurred when the tiny first baseman held onto the ball. Everything was silence. All was frozen, including myself. Mouth open, I slowly pointed at second and raised my fist then turned to first, pointed my finger and raised my fist. The crowd erupted. For many, it was probably the first true double play they had ever seen on this particular field.

Dexter trotted past me on his way to the dugout.

"Nice turn, Dexter", I said.

"Thanks", he replied, then turned to me, looked me in the eye and smiled.

I graduated a few years later. A decade later so did Dexter. I heard he received a baseball scholarship to Clemson and then toiled in the minor leagues. After that, as with Travis, I lost track of him. But I will never forget one evening as the sun set, a double play and the innocent smile of a child.

Part II will appear tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Gonzo Lawmakers - Day 33

A daily recap of the Georgia Public Broadcasting show "Lawmakers". The show airs weekdays at 7:00pm with a replay at 5:30am the following weekday.

Day 33

Originally aired April 1, 2010

*April Fools! The journey through time continues and the present is starting to creep closer.

* Nwandi is already at Hogwarts. No Valarie again. I suppose it's time I let the cat out of the bag. Before the end of the session, Valarie was let go. I don't have any details because she didn't provide any in the lovely email she sent me.

* End of the week means Project Tom Crawford!

* Hospital tax is still on the floor. The Senate is the hotbed of action. Poor Preston Smith. But more on that later.

* First up. The man who always finds the teevee - Sen. Steve Thompson. He's blasting the thing for hurting the poor and the young. Want anyone think of the children!

* Sen. Ross Tolleson, a Republican, is actually saying it's not a tax. Jumping Jehosophat! He just said its the job of the U.S. Congress to stimulate the economy! Did someone loose an ether cloud in the chamber?

* Susan tells us Senate Bill 17 is the ethics bill to watch. It passed out of House committee today.

*Something called Common Cause, i.e. lobbyist for stronger ethics laws against lobbyists which is really funny in an insider kind of way, thinks it doesn't go far enough.

* Two of my favorites, Vincent Fort and Dan Weber, went toe to toe on waivers for class size. Fort wants it the waiver voted on every year. Weber wants it through 2012. Earnest Dan Weber says every school board under God's creation wants his version.

* The House only took up one bill on the day. Can you spell L-A-Z-Y. I knew you could.

* Ben Harbin's faux goatee is back. Grow it in Ben! Come to the dark side.

* Scowling House Clerks! The streak continues. It was a close one with only one House bill on the docket. But I saw Scowly Red peeking from behind one of the computers. I think she winked at me.

* Nwandi is joined by Negative Nellie Allan Essig of the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute. Apparently the hospital tax just passed. The jobs bill the Republicans were trying to tie to the tax bill passed separately.

* The jobs bill cuts the capital gains tax. Of course, Negative Nellie hates that! He just ran around like a chicken screaming "not fiscally responsible! not fiscally responsible!". Well. Not really. But that image is going to stick with you a while.

* State workers can't double dip. No Dairy Queen for you! Actually, it prevents recent retirees from being promptly rehired as a consultant. Trust me on this, it happens all the time and it's quite the grift.

* Increase in the sentence for harming officers of the court passed out of Senate committee. All the result of the heinous Brian Nichols killings from a few years ago.

* Susan got caught staring into space and had to explain what an "outtag" is.

* Project Tom Crawford! Does this man own anything that isn't earth tone? Come on, Tom! Snazz it up with a Jerry Garcia tie! Something! Anything! Even morticians are crying.

* More resolutions urging the Attorney General to challenge the Federal healthcare bill. They have way too much time on their hand.

* Lawmakers Flashback! First appearance of David Zelski! He's talking about silly laws on the books in honor of April Fools. If you've ever watched Georgia Traveller, Zelski is a total goof ball. He just called some dude on the street "stupid". Now, he has women with ice cream in their back pockets. But it's only illegal on Sunday so they are okay. Now, he has a dog dressed like a donkey in a bathtub. Now, rubber chickens. They must have cleaned out the prop closet. I wonder whose poor dog that was in the bathtub.

* Oh lord. This was blogger day at the Capitol. Rep. Steve Davis (R-Loves Pavement) sponsored a resolution honoring Georgia's bloggers. And there's our old friend Jason Pye! And there's Dustin Baker of galiberal. And of course, the blogger who shall not be named. The reason? He didn't pay me enough to mention him.

* Ricky Bevington and her BOOK OF DOOM! She's says she's not blogging because she's the real deal. Et tu, Ricky? No coverage for you!

* Busy episode. Good thing they have spring break to rest up. For now, that's a wrap.

Gonzo Lawmakers - Day 32

A daily recap of the Georgia Public Broadcasting show "Lawmakers". The show airs weekdays at 7:00pm with a replay at 5:30am the following weekday.

Day 32

Originally aired on March 31, 2010

* The pursuit of real time continues

* It's supposed to be a slow day, so expect a lot of filler.

* The bed tax will be up in the senate tomorrow. Three weeks ago. Whatever. Poor Preston Smith. But more about that later.

* Jerry Keen, who will later announce his retirement, is hoping they pass all the House tax goodies. Strange how through the prism of time travel those events seem conveniently related.

* Democrats are still fighting the combining of the bed tax and the jobs bill. It only takes a majority in the Senate to pass a tax increase? Given how many idiotic things require a super-majority how is this possible?

* More about the Race To The Top silliness. We finished third in the Federal program. Unfortunately, they only pay win and show.

* And there's a Republican defending the attempted sucking of the Federal teat. Imagine that! Charlie Crist did that down in Florida and now might as well be wearing the sackcloth of a leper.

* Scowling House Clerks! The streak continues. But where's Scowly Red? She may have flown off in a rage.

* They expanded the definition of textbook. As silly as it sounds, definitions are often the keys to understanding the silly laws they pass. This will allow school systems to use book funds to by digital reading devices.

* Sen. Don Thomas, the most precious nanny stater in the Senate, wants to make sure pharmacists tell us when they use a generic instead of a brand name. Why? I have no idea.

* Peddlers licenses? How antiquated! It's about the disabled people running the snack bars in government buildings. The one at the Department of Labor was quite a trip. Wonder if he's still around.

* Both House and Senate passed bills banning synthetic marijuana. And I type this on 4-20. The universe has a wicked sense of humor.

* Rep. Billy Mitchell is trying to commend AG Thurbert Baker for his independence. The hair had no comment.

* Lawmakers Flashback! It's early in this episode. 1998 again and we get to see a young, fresh Susan Hoffman. Nice hair-do! She liked to grill the scoundrels all the way back then. She's now talking to Democrat Sonny Perdue. Sonny is blasting the Republicans for being obstructionists. Good times. Good times.

* Susan is thanking the editor for cutting an apparent faux pas she made back in the day.

* Oh, we're getting another flashback later! Now that's filler I can get behind!

* Keocia at Hogwarts following up on her earlier zero tolerance stories. Where's Valerie? Two episode in a row without her. Hmmmm. More about that later.

* They are showing practically an entire committee meeting. Fill, baby, fill!

* Leadership series. It's the House Democratic Whip. They're running out of people to interview.

* Opt out of the Healthcare bill passed out of committee. Shots of people in white coats, of course. Of course if this thing passes, the courts are going to gut it. But don't tell the sponsor. He rates the chances of it standing the test as moderate or better. And these are the people who write your laws. No wonder we're so screwed up.

*Lawmaker Flashback number 2! A younger David Ralston leaving the Senate for his hopeless attempt at Attorney General. He hasn't changed much. Aged quite well. Must be all that mountain air. "Always maintain the Senate position". HAH! Funny now that he's over in the other chamber.

* Nwandi can't resist a jab about maintaining the Senate position.

* Democrats want to make Cesar Chavez birthday a national holiday. Roll out the liberal lions. There's Vincent Fort. And Nan Orrock. Stephanie Benefield must have been stuck in committee.

* Ricky Bevington and her BOOK OF DOOM! Mixed reaction to President Obama's decision to open drilling off the coast. Environmentalists are "sickened". I'm sure they were just vomitous. Savannah is getting its first black police chief. Ricky got a little choked up there. Must be the gag reflex to delivering good news.

* Tomorrow's day promises to be busier, but for now, that's a wrap!

The Best Of The Drifts - Earnest Dan Weber

Originally published April 19, 2007

The Lifeline Of Hope

For complete background on the Genarlow Wilson case please see this Atlanta Magazine article.

A few moons ago, my friend Wilson Smith asked me if I believed the issues taken up by the General Assembly were predetermined. I answered it is the nature of politics that those in power make the rules and there is little the minority can do. After seeing Wilson's face turn slightly ashen, I offered a lifeline of hope that there will be times when a brave legislator steps forward to do what is right instead of what is convenient..

As I followed the debate in the Senate on Amendments 1 and 1a to House Bill 197, I felt my own lifeline of optimism slipping away.

Sen. Emanuel Jones rose to present Amendment 1. The law would allow judicial review of any convictions within the last five years which would have been rendered moot if last year's change to Georgia's aggravated child molestation statue, the so called "Romeo and Juliet" provision, had been in effect. Although the name was not mentioned, the unspoken beneficiary of the amendment would be Genarlow Wilson, sentenced under the old law to the mandatory minimum of 1o years for having consensual oral sex with a 15 year old girl when he was 17. If the act had occured after July 1st, 2006, Wilson would have at most been charged with a misdemeanor.

Frustration was evident on Jones' face. He had worked diligently the entire session to tailor legislation which would provide justice for Wilson. Faced with waves of objection, including specious accusations of freeing hoardes of sexual predators, Jones finally presented an amendment constructed so narrowly it would affect only 91 convictions. All would require judicial review specifically defined to address the change in the statute. No amnesty for molestors. No free pass out of prison for predators. Simply, a chance for the original judge to review the case and determine if justice was truly done.

Jones' reward for his dogged work? First, Judiciary Chair Preston Smith rose to praise Jones for his hard work, receive reciprocal praise for his own assistance on the amendment, then matter of factly state despite all this hard work, the bill would not pass constitutional muster. Then, Erick Johnson rose to continue his tales of loosed predators, victims repeatedly traumatized and lawmakers interfering with the actions of juries and judges.

Democrats rose to defend the amendment. A second amendment was proffered to address the constitutional question. Attempts were made to part the lace of fear and deceit so carefully woven by their Republican opponents.

All political theater. All staged so the Republicans could act tough on crime and Democrats could be on record as trying to save a young man from a travesty of justice. It was apparent to all the Jones amendment was dead before it was born. Snuffed by a powerful committee chair, the President Pro Tem and their colleagues.

I felt the cautious optimism I offered Wilson seep away. I was actually witnessing the fait accompli I had warned was the norm. It mattered not that a life would remain in ruins; that a young man would rot in jail branded with the scarlet letter of "sexual offender" for the rest of his life. Despite the so-called stately manner of the Senate, this august body's continued claims of reason, on this day, only politics mattered.

Then another Senator rose to speak.

Sen. Dan Weber, Republican from Dekalb County.

Sen. Weber defended the constitutionality of the amendments. Politely, but mercilessly, he questioned members of his own party on the specific statutes and exclusions. In the tortuous manner of Senate debate, Weber expressed to his colleagues that he believed the amendment was passable. That it was good law.

Jones amendment failed 32-19. The fait accompli done. Genarlow Wilson still incarcerated with little further hope.

As the camera panned the Senate chamber, I noticed one rather lengthy arm raised in support of the amendment. It was the prodigious appendage of Sen. Dan Weber.

It was a small act, probably lost in the maelstrom of the last days of an overlong session. But as I told Wilson, it is on the smallest stands where we must latch our belief that all is not pre-ordained. Although I weep at the travesty which was executed in the Senate on April 17th, one man's vote forces me to once again grasp at the lifeline of hope.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Gonzo Lawmakers - Day 31

A daily recap of the Georgia Public Broadcasting show "Lawmakers". The show airs weekdays at 7:00pm with a replay at 5:30am the following weekday.

Day 31

Originally aired March 30, 2010

* The long journey continues. They only have four days left and I am six behind. Can I catch up before they finish?

* Hospital tax. So much has happened since that time it almost seems pointless to cover this now. Poor Preston Smith. But more about that later.

* Shot of both Tom Baxter and Tom Crawford frantically scribbling. It's a Tom quinella!

* The House is holding the budget up while they figure this mess out. They are trying to tie the jobs bill with the hospital tax to make it more "palatable".

* Rep. Mark Hatfield's resolution to impeach AG Thurbert Baker. This went nowhere but it should be entertaining. Not only does he want him impeached but believes it will prevent him from running for governor.

* Susan's challenging Rep. Butt-Up-His-Rear pretty hard.

* Thurbert's hair makes an appearance. The hair doesn't appeared worried. It shouldn't be.

* Transportation and that means shots of the Downtown Connector and Valarie at Hogwarts? No Valarie. Hmmmmm. Insterad we get more of the Senate Republican Press Conference.

* Chyron says "Stays Alive". Cue the BeeGees.

* Another shot of reporters frantically scribbling. It's the only excitement on this day.

* Scowling House Clerks! The streak continues!

* Clarify school bus behavior. Blah blah blah. Scowly Red looks particularly put off today. It's been a long session.

* Mike Jacobs tried to attach his bullying bill. Trying to end around the cross over day rule. He was successful! But now it has to go back to the Senate.

* We lost the Race to the Top federal education funding program. And Democrat Kathy Ashe ain't too happy about it.

* Oh lord, it's the English only Drivers License bill. Sen. Jack Murphy, he who doesn't understand traffic signs come in different shapes and colors, is making his usual arguments. Ain't flying with liberal lion Nan Orrock. She's saying being an international city, it sends the wrong message.

* Looks like the sucker is going to pass. Welcome to Georgia, furrerners! Yeehaw!

* Senate wants to pass a resolution saying the Feds shouldn't pass cap and trade due to "science that has been called into question". Damn the scientists and the furrerners! Let's bring back the old flag, too. YEEHAW!

* Of course none of it is binding. What a waste of time.

* Interior designers and home builders are fighting. Someone call Tim Gunn to referee!

* This is some ridiculous clean up bill. Which means Steve Thompson (D-Loves The Camera) feels the need to say something useless.

* Poor murdered Nancy Shafer was memorialized on the Senate floor. She's being remembered by Sen. John Douglas. And that's all I'm going to say about that.

* Project Tom Crawford! He has found a shade of gray not known to man. And he's covered himself in it. The Army should hire Tom to design camoflauge as he is very adept at blending into the marble background.

* Milton County creation failed in the House on crossover day. That got lost in the wash.

* Jennifer Nettles was honored in the House and she's taking up the cause for 4-H. She's quite entertaining. She's from Coffee County? Didn't know that. I always thought she had a south Georgia accent.

* Lawmaker Flashback! Sen. Abernathy's censure over possessing weed! WHOO BOY! He was returning from Jamaica and they found it in his underwear. You just can't make this stuff up. Lots of talk of forgiveness and God. Hunter S. Thompson once said, "when they come for me and I start talking about God, you'll know they've really got me".

* Sen. Tommie Williams just can't let the abortion bill passed by the Senate go. And of course, he's tying it socialism. As in "as we move towards socialism". Nope. Not crazy at all.

* It was 911 Appreciation Day. Lara Fawaz has the story. Some young ginger headed boy is getting a medal. Young'uns that used 911 to save somebody's life.

* Ricky Bevington and her BOOK OF DOOM! Nathan Deal ain't happy about the release of his ethics report. Where there's smoke there's fire. Or in this case where there's garbage, there's a smell. Barrow County has a gang problem. In case you didn't know, Barrow is not inside the falling apart inside the perimeter of Atlanta.

* Tomorrow is an abbreviated legislative day in the Senate which means more filler! But for now, that's a wrap!

The Best Of The Drifts - The NRA Comes To Georgia

Originally Published April 18, 2007


Let me say first, in the end they did the right thing.

Where to begin? There are so many angles.

The politics? Certainly, good politics dictates avoiding a controversial issue where many of your own allies stand against you - especially on the day following a national tragedy which can be linked to the matter.

The new media? It's hard to imagine this story being reported on the same day it occurred in the old media world. It is easy to imagine a past where it would have been buried on the third page of the metro section - a practice which would allow it to be quickly forgotten. Godspeed, Tom Baxter. It makes one wonder if the AJC actually realizes what it is losing.

No, instead the focus should be on the viscera. The awful feeling that roils the gut when one can't quite believe what is happening. Surely in our modern world, filled with civility and post-modern idealism we are beyond Preston Brooks walking into the Senate to thrash Charles Sumner. Certainly, we must believe a gang cannot simply enter our houses of government and bend the representatives of the people to their will. But, yesterday, that is exactly what happened in the Georgia Senate.

There were no beatings. There were no scuffles. There was no literal blood on the floor. In this new political world, the thugs do not strike in the dark alleys. They march down the tiled halls of power, boldly into the very heart of Democracy and drag their shockingly docile victims into side rooms for the figurative beat down.

Instead of wielding guns astride charging horses, the Gucci wearing lobbyist of the National Rifle Association flew from Washington in private jets armed with letters threatening political horror on any who opposed their latest pet bill. So confident were these vigilantes, they refused to remove their heels from the chest of the prostrate victims even when the Senators begged to let the matter quietly fade away in arcane procedure.

We may never know what happened behind closed doors last night in the Georgia Senate but in the end Casey Cagle and his Republican caucus marched back into their chamber and adjourned the session without a vote on Senate Bill 89. There were no visible bruises but the deeper hurts will linger. Although unsuccessful in the end, for a brief moment, a gang brought a house of the people to its knees.

Somewhere in the darkened halls, the thugs remain. Patiently biding their time until the predator instinct once again urges them to seek blood.

The Best Of The Drifts - Elizabeth Edwards and Cancer

Originally published March 23, 2007

It's one of those of driving off a cliff moments. It's a statement you never expect so you never plan. Birth, marriage and even death carry stock responses stored in the brain for years in expectation they will one day be used. But even the most careful planner spends no time pondering what to say when a loved one tells you they have cancer.

It can come in the morning. It can come in the middle of the day. It can come at night. With no doubt, it will come when you are performing some mundane task which will suddenly have no significance. It can even come as you search for a particular restaurant that will satisfy a sudden craving for a particular type of pizza. Suddenly, the phone rings and you are hit with the most unexpected of utterances. Do you say good luck? Do you ask what you can do? Do you tamp down the sudden dread in order to say everything will be okay? If you are driving, do you pull to the side of the road? Do you stay strong because the person needs the support or do you simply begin to sob? As the surface areas of the brain struggle for the appropriate reaction, deep within, the internal voice whispers that no matter what you say, life has changed irrevocably.

Thoughts of a certain need for a specific type of pizza are immediately deleted from the queue and the most basic portions of the lizard brain sieze control of the body forcing it to attend to the need for sustenanace and nothing more. You find yourself robotically pulling into a drive through to order a pre-packaged meal of questionable value but infinite ease. The body knows food is a necessity but at this particular moment no longer a luxury to enjoy. It may have the taste of the cardboard of its packaging but it moves the body forward while the brain catches up.

Eventually, most people come around to one universal response. I'll be there as soon as I can.

Despite the cameras, the press gaggle, the harsh lights, the sputteringly inconsistent microphones, despite the differences in station of life, I was there with John and Elizabeth Edwards yesterday as they announced her cancer has returned. It is not hard for me to imagine the previous 24 hours. People often morbidly joke about the stages of grief but few understand cancer is the grief that arrives too early. There is despair. There is hope. There is the clinical analysis. There is the need to know exactly what is happening. There is the need to know exactly what is going to happen. Each on their own find the small corner of mind containing the mechanism of self-defense that allows the life to go on even when life seems impossible.
In the end all find hope. Even if it is the smallest whisper, we all put on the "brave face" and move forward. We face our family. We face our friends. In the case of public figures, we face the unwavering stare of the press.

I do not pray, but I do believe all souls are connected in ways we may never understand. Time and space hold no bounds to the power of human need.

I was not in Chapel Hill yesterday, but I was with John and Elizabeth Edwards.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Saturday Stupids

Pardon me, friend, but could you spare a stupid?

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Best Of The Drifts - Media Euthanasia

Originally Published March 18, 2007

Media Euthanasia

Reporting from PodCamp Atlanta

A difficult question. If an animal is wounded do you attempt to assist it or do you shoot it? Depending on region, background and culture, you may receive two equally passionate and two equally valid answers. Me? I would certainly attend a wounded animal yet the decision to put it out its misery would be quick and with no regret.

In my city of Atlanta and in many other cities across the land, we are witnessing the pained throes of animals on the edge of extinction. Television stations pay huge sums of money to talking hair-dos and nobody tunes in. Print media continues to huddle in the smallest corner of the online world, wringing ink stained hands over staggering drops in circulation. Money pours forth from the wounds of a thousand cuts. Some self-inflicted. Some not.

The situation presents a tortured dichotomy for "new media" warriors. The easy response is to engage in a form of schadenfreude reveling in glee at the misery of the dinosaurs. Yet, though many will vehemently deny the alternate emotion, the vanguard of this new culture desires acceptance by the brick and mortar establishment. The one chit old media clings to viciously is legitimacy. Like children free in the world for the first time, bloggers, vloggers and podcasters simultaneously take a rebellious stance while craving the parent's acceptance of their position as an equal.

At Podcamp Atlanta, Creative Loafing MIS Manager Murray Grevious may have revealed how wide the rift has grown and how little hope there is to save the dying beasts. He stated matter of factly that collaboration between traditional print and new media can never happen due to the constraints of the editorial process. In his opinion, the newsroom simply will not give up control of the filtration and vetting system to become more immediate, reactive and interactive.

It's a fair point and knotty problem. Legitimacy is garnered from the seeds of trust. Editorial control remains the greatest advantage and most onerous burden of the traditional media. Too many in the new media, bloggers in particular, practice shotgun methods of reporting where every bit of a story is thrown against the wall to see what sticks. They peddle in rumor, innuendo and would not admit the concept of retraction or correction exists. Traditional editorial process prevents most of these sins although a few do get through. When the process breaks down, most notably in the Jayson Blair saga, the reaction is instant and harsh.

The trade off for this comfort of accuracy is an insular world with little or no connection to the audience. A world where both a reporter and a blogger can spend three hours in a federal appeals court yet the reporter is limited to a few paragraphs on page three of the metro section while the blogger is free to write a feature length piece. A world where a story garnering national attention is ignored to discuss water buffalo. A world where a Sunday feature deals with such "cutting edge" technology as text messaging.

The question has to be asked, if a company as agile and forward thinking as Creative Loafing (please note none of the above linked stories were published by the Loaf) believes it cannot adjust to the new world, is there any hope at all for the true behemoths? I believe the answer is probably not. The only conclusion that can be reached is it is time to stop assisting the wounded animals and instead fetch the shotgun.

Photo courtesy of Mike Schinkel