Public Service Commission candidate wants to close the digital divide in Georgia

The lack of fast, affordable, reliable internet in rural Georgia has been laid bare during the pandemic. With teachers, students, and parents trying to work, teach, and learn from home, families and companies without adequate internet service have struggled. Some school systems  provided hotspots if they could afford them, but without cell signal, the hotspot is worthless. Other systems send school buses out to park in areas so parents and students can sit in their vehicle nearby and get  work done. This isn’t sustainable. Rural Georgias have lagged behind because elected state leaders, from Governor Kemp’s office to the state’s Public Service Commission, haven’t made rural internet access a priority.

This year there is a candidate who understands that the Public Service Commission (PSC) could help close the gap on internet access for Georgia’s families and businesses. Daniel Blackman and his family live in Columbus, where he plans to serve Georgians as the the PSC’s fourth district representative. (How the PSC is structured, and why all Georgians can elect them regardless of the geographic district is explained here.)

Blackman posted specifically about expanding internet access across rural Georgia in a Facebook thread that merits consideration if you want to elect someone who understands how important affordable, fast, internet access is to the success of all businesses, schools, and families. Someone asked Blackman, “What’s your plan to get internet to those places?” Blackman responded and numbered his ideas:

Daniel Blackman

(1) tap into the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund And encourage more women and minority owned businesses in these areas to subcontract the opportunity

(2) I want to work with the Georgia Legislature to consider legislation in the upcoming session to provide financial incentives to providers to bring broadband service to underserved areas statewide. This would allow broadband providers to apply for grants, and the Legislature could consider allowing the state’s investor-owned utilities to partner with a provider to use their existing infrastructure to provide broadband service as well.

(3) since it is a 6 year-term, I’d like to create a series of regional Utility Stakeholder Forums aimed at educating ratepayers, civic organizations, churches, and schools. This initiative would bring utility providers together with the community to inform citizens, add transparency to the rate-making process, and promote efficient governance of the providers of essential utility services – electricity, natural gas, water, and telecommunications. The goal would be to create a more effective utility policy community…

Blackman added, “to be fair, once elected, I will have a full staff to make recommendations so I would have to look at the industry and what is already being done in the areas that are regulated by the Public Service Commission. ”

The PSC could be more than a rubber stamp for Georgia Power rate increases passed on to its customers. Daniel Blackman is committed to making the commission better serve all Georgians. If you haven’t voted yet, look for Blackman’s name on the down ballot races to help balance the inequities of internet access, and other services, under the PSC’s jurisdiction.

Lindsey Graham misses “the good old days of segregation”

Clearly South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham thinks there is no need to hide his racism any longer. Hear him for yourself. Support his opponent Jamie Harrison if you have no interest in returning to what Graham believes were better days.

When reality overtakes fiction

Heather Cox Richardson

If you are not familiar with Professor Heather Cox Richardson, she teaches at Boston College. Her Letters from an American are daily posts carefully crafted with links to sources. I am reposting what she posted on October 2, 2020 with my own emphasis added to some of her observations.

October 2, 2020

Today’s media was consumed with news of the spread of coronavirus to the president and First Lady, as well as concern over the degree to which it has spread to other people associated with the White House. A number of those who attended the Rose Garden announcement of Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court have tested positive. That number includes the Trumps, Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC), Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), and Fr. John Jenkins, president of Notre Dame. Also infected are Ronna McDaniel, the chair of the Republican National Committee, and at least three journalists who have attended White House events in the past week.

And tonight, presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway reported that she, too, has tested positive.

As I write this, just before midnight, Trump’s campaign manager Bill Stepien has just announced he, too, has tested positive for the coronavirus.

Five minutes after midnight (sorry for breaking the midnight rule again), we learned that 11 staffers from the Cleveland debate also tested positive.

We will not learn of infections among the Secret Service.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has tested negative, as have Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden.

This evening, medical professionals transferred the president to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center “out of an abundance of caution.” He walked from the helicopter under his own power, and posted a short video to his Twitter account assuring viewers that he is doing “very well.” He remains in charge; power has not transferred to Vice President Mike Pence.

Aside from the personal implications of the spread of this illness—and let’s remember that there are 46,459 other Americans who have contracted the coronavirus in the last day– this major news story has huge implications for the upcoming election. It also illustrates how the administration’s secrecy and lies take away our ability to make informed decisions about our own lives, as well as about the nation.

The Trump entourage has refused to wear masks, social distance, or follow the advice of public health experts for reducing the spread of the virus. Now it appears that White House officials deliberately withheld information about their condition, directly endangering other people who acted on the presumption that the Trump people weren’t infected. The Washington Post reported that Secret Service agents, who risk their lives to protect the president, are angry and frustrated: “He’s never cared about us.” The 30-50 Republican donors who met with Trump Thursday night at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, are “freaking out,” one report noted. Tickets had cost up to $250,000, and Trump met privately with about 19 people for 45 minutes. Trump knew his adviser Hope Hicks had tested positive when he left for the club, but he went anyway. He did not wear a mask.

Reporter Chris Wallace of the Fox News Channel, who moderated Tuesday’s debate and so was one of those the Trumps’ entourage endangered, revealed today that Trump arrived too late on Tuesday for a COVID-19 test, as the venue required. Instead, there was an “honor system.” Organizers assumed the people associated with the campaigns would not come unless they had tested negative. Trump’s people arrived wearing masks, which they had to have to enter the auditorium, but then removed them shortly after sitting down, and refused to put them back on. During the debate, Trump mocked Biden for his habit of wearing a mask.

The campaign did not tell the Biden camp that Hicks, who attended the debate, had tested positive for coronavirus the day after the event. The Biden organization learned it from the newspapers. The White House did not even tell former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who spent four days in close quarters with Hicks and Trump, helping the president prepare for the debate. He, too, learned the news from the media.

This crisis shows how the administration’s refusal to share information and its insistence on its own version of reality creates confusion that leaves Americans vulnerable and anxious. Its history of secrecy and lies means that few people actually trust anything its spokespeople say. It was striking how many people did not believe the Trumps were actually sick when the news broke; we are so accustomed to Trump’s lies that many people thought he was simply looking for a way out of future debates.

The constant lies—about coronavirus and virtually everything else—destabilize the nation because we cannot know what the truth really is. And if we don’t know what is actually happening, we cannot make good decisions. Today the editorial board of the Washington Post warned that the White House simply must let us know the truth about the president’s health so that we know who is actually running national security, the economy, and the election on our behalf.

That plea did not appear to make much of an impression on the White House: it did not bother to tell Pelosi, who is third in line for the presidency, that Trump was being helicoptered to Walter Reed Hospital.

And so we are facing a pandemic spreading through the upper ranks of the government just before an election with little faith that we will learn the truth about what is happening. That, just as much as the infections in the administration, is a crisis.

To its credit, the Biden campaign has identified this crisis and is doing its best to restore our sense of a shared reality, based in our history and our better principles. Rather than expressing outrage that the Trump camp exposed him and his wife and guests to coronavirus, Biden offered his best wishes for Trump and the First Lady, as did his running mate Kamala Harris. Biden’s campaign pulled all its negative ads out of respect for the president’s illness (the Trump campaign refused to follow suit).

Biden spoke in Michigan today, assuring the audience that “We can get this pandemic under control so we can get our economy working again for everyone.” But, he emphasized, “this cannot be a partisan moment. It must be an American moment. We have to come together as a nation.” He promised to get rid of the toxic partisanship that is keeping us all off balance. “I’m running as a Democrat,” he said, “but I will… govern as an American president. Whether you voted for me or against me, I will represent you… and those who see each other as fellow Americans who just don’t live in red states or blue states but who live in and love the United States of America. That’s who we are.”

To an increasingly weary country, he offered hope that we really can heal the nation’s ills. “There’s never been a single solitary thing America’s been unable to do. Think of this. Not once. Not a single thing we’ve not been able to overcome when we’ve done it together. So let’s get the heck up. Remember who in God’s name we are. This is the United States of America,” he said. “There’s nothing beyond our capacity.”

Notes:

Pelosi informed:

Secret Service: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-seemed-to-defy-the-laws-of-science-and-disease-then-the-coronavirus-caught-up-with-him/2020/10/02/5b4c5232-04bf-11eb-897d-3a6201d6643f_story.html

https://www.cnn.com/2020/10/02/politics/president-donald-trump-walter-reed-coronavirus/index.html

https://www.thedailybeast.com/chris-wallace-says-trump-arrived-at-debate-too-late-for-coronavirus-test

https://www.cnbc.com/2020/10/02/gop-donors-panic-after-coming-close-to-trump-at-fundraiser-hours-before-positive-covid-19-test.html

https://www.cnn.com/2020/10/02/us/notre-dame-president-covid-trnd/index.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-virus-spread-white-house/2020/10/02/38c5b354-04cc-11eb-b7ed-141dd88560ea_story.html

Biden:

Earpiece ad: https://www.cnn.com/2020/10/02/politics/fact-check-trump-facebook-biden-earpiece/index.html

https://www.cleveland.com/coronavirus/2020/10/president-trump-first-lady-and-hope-hicks-may-have-spread-coronavirus-at-cleveland-presidential-debate.html

didn’t tell Biden camp: https://www.cnn.com/politics/live-news/trump-coronavirus-positive/h_378e07069dded1b1f71539db60bcdae5

Honor system:

https://www.politico.com/news/2020/10/02/trump-campaign-manager-tests-positive-for-covid-19-425722

https://www.politico.com/news/2020/10/02/trump-campaign-manager-tests-positive-for-covid-19-425722

11 staffers:

Christie:

Public schools are stonewalling their communities on Covid-19

Earlier this week the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s article Families press schools to show  virus data  proved me wrong in thinking that I am the only person bothered by the lack of information being provided to parents, teachers, students, and taxpayers from their local school boards. The lead feature coverage focused on a rural county not too far from Washington County, Georgia, where I am invested in the success of the public schools as a taxpayer and grandparent.

Last month I emailed the Washington County School Board members and Superintendent about where they are providing updates to the community on exposure to the Coronavirus and any confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the schools. To date, all the board office has said is that they have “fluid” benchmarks and are working with the state’s Department of Community Health.

Among their responses to my questions about informing the community about virus exposure, the Board Chair, Chris Hutchings, asked if I might be able to identify and help secure funding for internet connectivity in the rural areas of the county. Currently the system is sending out buses with internet connectivity to serve as hot spots in rural parts of the county lacking broadband service.

Hutchings wasn’t aware of the state’s assessment of internet access published in June of this year. Thirty-seven (37) percent of Washington County residents do not have broadband access to the internet. Many areas in the county lack decent cell phone service, making the use of hot spots for access also unreliable.

I told Hutchings that while I am not well-connected to groups focused on education, I would think about where funding might be available. Having been connected to foundations through nonprofit healthcare and environmental justice work, I do know some funders who might consider a well-crafted request.

The following day I sent these questions to the Board and the Superintendent, Dr. Rickey Edmond, so that I would know where to start and best help. Options B and C encompass online learning options for families.

In making an ask, I think you need to have at hand:

    • Number of students total, and per school
    • Number of students learning remotely- Option B and Option C
    • Number of students who chose option
    • Number of students in class because they don’t have internet access
    • Number of students without internet who are doing options B or C
    • Number of students with internet
    • Number of teachers without internet
    • Number of computers loaned to students
    • Number of computers loaned to teachers
    • Number of students who didn’t turn in final packets in the spring
    • Number of students who simply disappeared in the spring

I received this reply from Dr. Edmond:

Hi.

We have this data and monitor it yearly to assess functional levels, operations, and effectiveness. We are one-to-one with our devices for our students. We have a great IT Team and support staff to address parents’ needs when there is an issue with connectivity. I recommend you and your organization take on the task of helping the rural schools get state and federal funding for connectivity in rural America.

Thank you for sharing,

RE

So to recap, the Superintendent, whose Board chair asked for my help to  secure badly needed funding for internet access, gave me and my “organization” marching orders to secure what they said they need, but without any data. I belong to some environmental groups, and a homeowner’s association, but those aren’t the organizations that are going to pony up to help a rural school system provide web connectivity for the schools.

All of this data should be easily at hand if the system has such a solid grasp on all of its IT needs. I sent my questions to a journalist  beyond the confines of Washington County who has covered issues in the area, and access to school data in other Georgia school systems, to see if they had difficulty securing information. My hunch was right-this data should be easy to compile and readily available.

A few weeks ago I sent a Georgia Open Records Act (GORA) with the same questions I had raised when I was asked to help, with data points from August 7, 2020, the first day of in-class instruction, and September 8, 2020 for comparison. If they wouldn’t voluntarily provide the data Edmond has assured me they have at hand since the pandemic began, I could press the issue with a GORA request.

Edmond replied, “The cost will be an hourly rate of $46.33, minus the first quarter hour. It will take 16 hours to complete all the requested task and total cost will be $729.70. We are requesting the payment be made in advance before the retrieval process is activated because the total amount will exceed $500.”

Do the custodial staff, cafeteria workers, paraprofessionals, and teachers make anything close to $46.33 an hour, even with benefits? And why would it take 16 hours to put this information together if they are consistently monitoring these things?

I’m steadily losing confidence in what the Washington County School Board knows about how their students are learning, how teachers can support students and parents if/when the schools have to be closed this year, and how they are going to ensure that students receive the materials and instruction they need to stay or exceed their grade level.

My property tax bill is on my desk now, $737.34 of which goes directly to the school system’s maintenance and operations funds. The data I am requesting should guide the system’s budgeting and expectations of taxpayers’ dollar. The system should be making a case for their funding by sharing the data without reservation.

Last proposed coal plant on file in the United States is cancelled

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

FROM: FALL-LINE ALLIANCE FOR A CLEAN ENVIRONMENT

DATE: APRIL 14, 2020

CONTACT: KATHERINE CUMMINGS
katherine@katherinecummings.net
478.232.8010

LAST PROPOSED COAL PLANT ON FILE IN THE UNITED STATES IS CANCELLED

The Fall-Line Alliance for a Clean Environment (FACE) is proud to announce a permit extension for Plant Washington, a coal-fired power plant proposed to be built in rural Washington County Georgia, has been denied by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (Georgia EPD). The extension denial invalidates the construction permit and all amendments to the permit are revoked in their entirety. On April 6, 2020, Plant Washington was the only remaining proposed coal plant in the United States to be cancelled.

Announced in mid-January 2008, Plant Washington was heralded by local leaders and plant developer Dean Alford as a fossil-fueled benefit to the local economy. Alford, who is currently indicted for multiple felonies, said that he expected some opposition from environmental groups in Atlanta, which he believed would be tamped down easily. Alford, along with some local leaders, elected officials, and several Electric Membership Cooperatives (EMCs) across the state did not anticipate any opposition from local citizens.

Their assumptions were wrong. A small group of Washington County citizens quickly organized to establish FACE, and quickly began working with state, regional, and national organizations to hold community meetings, table at festivals, speak at state and federal hearings, and testify in court proceedings. FACE worked closely with the Southern Environmental Law Center, Georgia Sierra Club, Altamaha Riverkeeper, Ogeechee Riverkeeper, Justine Thompson Cowan, former director of GreenLaw, and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Together with its partners, FACE worked diligently for more than 12 years to protect the natural resources, community health, and budgets of Washington County families from the financial boondoggle Plant Washington posed. While the coal plant developer searched futilely for customers, other partner EMCs withdrew their funding and support. In the same time period Azalea Solar Project was constructed and began operating just a few miles from the proposed coal plant site. Cobb EMC, the electric co-op which once fully backed Plant Washington with $13M dollars of its owner’s money, purchases all of the solar project’s electricity.

Despite studies and analysis provided by financial and energy experts refuting the need for the plant, Washington County residents sold or signed away their homes and land rights. Earlier this year a Washington County bank placed legal ads concerning loan defaults for land where the coal plant was supposed to be built. Last year’s property taxes on the land are still unpaid.

The Georgia EPD’s cancellation of the permits is the final death-blow to this no-bid, antiquated project. On behalf of the FACE Board of Directors, Katherine Cummings said, “FACE is deeply appreciative of the critical work our partners contributed towards defeating the country’s last proposed coal plant on the books. The ability to produce clean renewable energy right here in Washington County is further proof that dirty, outdated power generation does not make fiscal or environmental sense. Together with our allies, FACE remains committed to protecting the natural resources and health of our community.”

Pulling the bandaids off in rural America

What rural communities lack in infrastructure is becoming very clear to elected leaders at all levels. The question that must be answered is whether those needs will be addressed and when.

The lack of fast affordable internet service in rural communities is now holding back teachers, students, and parents. Teachers don’t have access to broadband in order to log on and hold sessions with students. Students often don’t have internet access or a computer.

If you are looking for some good stocks to consider, this might be a good time to invest in the paper industry. Schools are making printed packets of work for families because online education in rural America isn’t an option.

Rural communities don’t have the luxury of Instacart and similar shopping and delivery services. There is no option to have groceries delivered to your front door. If driving to a store is the only option for rural households, the urge to stock up beyond a week’s worth of groceries is understandable when frequently used items are on store shelves.

Businesses trying to shift to online work face the same challenges as schools. A technology company I have relied on emailed customers two weeks ago offering not only online platforms for remote work, but refurbished laptops for employees to use while they work from home. The question remains whether there is internet access at the employee’s home.

While social media and news outlets fill space with ideas for streaming movies and television programs, rural America remains on the sidelines. There is no streaming of entertainment options without high speed internet. Libraries are closed and ball fields are vacant. Choices are so limited now.

The bandaids offered to rural America have been pulled off. Lessons are being taught about how we can better serve rural communities across our country. If the lack of resources in rural America are not addressed when we are able to paddle less frantically, the failure of elected leaders to respond nimbly and effectively should direct every voter’s choices.

The coming tsunami from a healthcare provider’s perspective

Earlier this week I contacted a friend who is a healthcare provider in an urban Northeastern city. They offered to share their personal experiences and perspective on the pandemic as time and energy allow. I am grateful for their insights and commitment to serving the public. I promised that they would not be identified.

March 19, 2020
Let me preface these reflections by stating that I am not truly on the “front lines” at this moment, but I do work with both inpatients and outpatients at a large hospital in the Northeast.  My job brings me into direct contact with people who have infectious diseases, some of which may be undiagnosed, on a regular basis.  In the past, I worked in EMS through the HIV/AIDs crisis, the Swine flu, SARS, H1N1 and was never as apprehensive as I am right now.

The anxiety and fear here are palpable.  It’s like waiting for a predicted tsunami, but a tsunami scenario from which there is almost nowhere to escape.  Most of my social circle (which includes medical and non-medical people) are experiencing this same feeling.  If you aren’t concerned you should be.  Those of us providing healthcare at any level have an increasing sense of dread and worry about what is happening. We wonder about tomorrow, next week, next month and what we will be doing – fear of the unknown.  We hear the cries of our colleagues in Italy and other countries who have more sick patients than they can handle, making heart wrenching decisions over who can be saved, trying to allocate scarce equipment resources appropriately, and daily having to choose who will get the chance to live and who will be left to die.  It’s a situation that medical providers face in any disaster, but this pandemic may last months.  The weight of all of this is already taking a physiological and emotional toll.

As we reduce and eventually eliminate outpatient services and move towards telemedicine provider visits, it means that healthcare providers will most likely transition to other areas of the hospital to supplement staff.  Imagine being told that instead of your marketing job, tomorrow you will be doing engineering. You know the product and its capabilities, but you don’t know its design or how to troubleshoot problems when it breaks down.  Yes, some skills and knowledge can be carried over to another role, but there is a big learning curve…and in this case lives are at stake.  This is a scary situation for care providers because we pride ourselves on providing safe, competent, efficient, and compassionate care.  But as patient numbers increase and providers become sick, this situation is inevitable.  Angst. Worry. The feeling of impending doom.

While much of the public is shielded from hourly updates on COVID-19, we are not.  Our protocols, procedures, staffing, equipment, and communication with coworkers have all changed and continue to update throughout each workday.  As the daily stress levels mount for us, we stare in disbelief and horror at the news watching thousands of people on the beach in Florida, or out in Spring Break mobs in bars, carelessly crowding each other and spreading this virus.  We have difficult conversations with friends and loved ones who still may be amongst the “non-believers”.  We know it is real.  This is not the flu.  This is not hysteria or the fault of the media.  Get your head out of the sand before you infect your elderly parents or grandparents, your neighbor, your friends.

Some may not survive this.  Some of my coworkers may not survive this.  I don’t want to see your loved one die alone – yes, ALONE. Think on that for a bit.  That thought terrifies me and it should terrify you.  We have the benefit of learning from the experiences of China, South Korea, and Italy.  They have told us to listen to their lessons, their mistakes.  Let me tell you that I wept listening to health care providers talk about their dire situation.  It’s the recipe for career ending post-traumatic stress disorder.  I have already experienced enough sadness in the healthcare field in my prior role as a street EMS provider.  I don’t need to take on more.  But that is what the healthcare providers need to do, and what we are expected to do.  I am willing to do my part, to go where I am needed, to do anything I can to help you or your loved ones in this pandemic.  Please do your part and stay home.  My life may depend on important action.

A test of faith

Last Friday Governor Brian Kemp took the unprecedented step of declaring a statewide public health emergency as the number of Covid-19 (coronavirus) cases began to increase on national and state levels. The Georgia General Assembly suspended its calendar last Thursday and returned for on Monday for a special session called by the Governor to approve his actions.  Yesterday the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) confirmed  197 cases of Covid-19 and three deaths.  The number of reported cases are updated daily at noon.

Whether the changes we are adopting come from business, civic, or elected leaders, the chorus in this choir is to avoid being closer than six feet from other people. I prefer the phrase physical distancing instead of social distancing. We need our social connections now more than ever, just not the close physical ones.

Last weekend I was supposed to be with about 12 other Life Is A Verb Campers for a house party filled with making art, cooking Pi Day themed meals, walking, yoga, and sharing stories. Instead of being together physically, we gathered at 11:00 in the morning via Zoom for coffee and everyone’s choice of pie. I made a roasted mushroom and asparagus quiche. It wasn’t the same as being in a room together, but it was good to see much-loved faces and talk.

Having done that on Saturday, the next morning I did a quick FaceBook search of five large churches in rural Washington County to see how they were adapting to the six foot wingspan way of living now. All five opened their doors to congregation members. One of the five churches was St James Christian Fellowship. This congregation is led by Georgia State House Representative Mack Jackson. He did not reply to my email with questions about opening the church last week.

Last Thursday Jackson worked with other state representatives to suspend their work and return home out of an abundance of caution due to Covid-19. On Friday some members stood closer than six feet to Kemp while he announce the public health emergency. Despite the cautions taken by the state, Jackson and other faith leaders invited people to gather together, perhaps more than once, last Sunday.

Everyone in those churches knows that the local hospital, like those in other rural counties, is not equipped to handle a large number of Covid-19 patients. The capacity just isn’t there, no matter how caring and well=trained the health providers are. With all of the free and easy-to-use technology available for streaming a service, why any church leaders thought that unlocking the doors last Sunday was a good idea, is enough to test one’s faith.

 

Forecast for Covid-19 in the United States

Covid-19 forecast from University of Massachusetts Amherst,
March 11, 2020

Real data and solid research matter. Read it. Share it. Use it. The information below is taken directly from the link in this post.

Results from Survey 4 (administered March 9-10, 2020)

  1. Experts predict a four-fold rise in reported cases in the US over the next week. They predict 1819 total cases (80% uncertainty interval: 823-6204 cases) of COVID-19 will be reported by the CDC on Monday March 16th, more than 4 times the CDC reported number of cases as of Monday, March 9th.
  2. The majority of experts (20/21, 95%) expect COVID-19 will reach community-level spread in the US

  3. Experts expect that community-level spread will occur in the US within 3 weeks (80% uncertainty interval: 0-10 weeks).

  4. Experts anticipate 44 US states will report cases of COVID-19 within one week (80% uncertainty interval: 39-48 states).

  5. Experts believe that only 13% (80% uncertainty interval: 4-30%) of all COVID-19 infections (symptomatic and asymptomatic) in the US were reported to the CDC as of Monday, March 9th.

This implies that as of the beginning of this week there were between 1410 and 10575 undiagnosed infections with COVID-19 in the US. 6. Experts believe that nationwide hospitalizations for COVID-19 will peak in May. 7.

The above results include answers from 21 experts.

Foolproof method for avoiding a traffic fine

Georgia General Assembly members are considering legislation to improve safety on our state’s roads and streets. Sponsored by  Marietta Republican John Carson , HB113 is making its way through House committees as Crossover Day on March 12 approaches.

Current legislation requires that drivers using a smart-phone or other electronic device do that without holding it in their hand or resting it in their lap. The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that since the law was put into force on July 1, 2018, Georgia State Patrol officers have written 25,000 citations for violations of this law.

Carson and four co-sponsors proposed increasing the fines for breaking this law. Currently fines range from $50 to a first offense to $150 for a third offense. The bill, in its current version , also includes striking what is referred to as a “get out of jail free card” for first time violations.

David Wickert at the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that close to 7,500 citations were dismissed in Atlanta’s Municipal Court after many of the defendants appeared before the court with a receipt for a phone holder or a hands-free device. The current law requires that violators put in writing that they haven’t used this provision in the past.

Wickert recounts that Cobb County  Solicitor General Barry Morgan told a House committee that the absence of tracking the “get out of jail free card” provision means that people can violate the law any number of times in different counties and get away with it simply by not being honest. The inability to enforce this part of the the law begs for correction making it more effective to enforce.

That leaves the increase of fines as a means of reducing violations. Would  a higher fine discourage drivers from violating the law? If you look around while you motor on city streets and highways, you’ll still see drivers holding a phone as if the law doesn’t apply to them.

State legislators say higher fines may be a hardship for some people to pay. They want the fines to range from $25-$100 for every offense, with the fine imposed being at a judge’s discretion. That reason doesn’t hold water for me.

Putting the phone down while driving is not something impacted by income. Period.

Increase the fines and remove the “get out of jail free” provision. The Hands-Free  law is a common sense, easy-to-follow law that has already demonstrated its benefits for anyone on Georgia’s roads. It’s time to put some bigger teeth in it.

 

Washington County approves courthouse display with a narrow historic view

The February 19th edition of Washington County’s weekly newspaper The Sandersville Georgian, which is not available online, included an article about a presentation made to two of the county’s commissioners. Lynda Brown, a board member of Ten Commandments Georgia, Inc., which was founded by the county’s Congressional District Representative Jody Hice, requested that the county consider spending $1,200 of taxpayer dollars for a display of documents related to the history and background of our country.

According to the newspaper, Ms. Brown said, “These documents tell the story of men striving for and his [sic] attainment of freedom…” Among the nine documents Ms. Brown says best represent freedom, she includes the first ten rights of the United States Bill of Rights.

What Ms. Brown’s organization does not consider essential for the display are these Amendments to the Bill of Rights: abolition of slavery (13th Amendment, adopted 1865), protection of civil rights (14th Amendment, 1868), the right to vote regardless of race or previous servitude (15th Amendment, 1870), voting rights for women (19th Amendment, 1920), abolition of poll taxes as a requirement for voting (Amendment 24, 1964) and the right for 18 year old citizens to vote in elections (26th Amendment, 1971).

Ms. Brown’s organization excludes the Emancipation Proclamation as a document reflective of our country’s history and commitment to freedom. While not perfect, this document stands as a marker in our government’s history recognizing that enslaved people should be free.

How can an organization professing to be committed to teaching civics and our country’s history fail to include documents written expressly to extend and protect civil and human rights to people of color and all women?

The Washington County Commissioners have agreed to allow the display in the county courthouse if it is funded by donations. Local citizens who chip in for the display should consider going further than the documents Ms. Brown’s group offers. If county leaders are concerned that residents don’t know Georgia or our country’s history, they have an opportunity, and obligation, to look more broadly than Ms. Brown’s proposal.

Georgia Recorder-coal ash clean up, aisle seven

Georgia Recorder, February 11, 2020

Because coal ash and its toxins are forever, the work to protect the health of communities, water and air, natural resources, and recreational places, is never done. The Georgia Recorder has an op/ed I wrote about the challenges we face in Georgia concerning coal ash waste clean up and storage. Spoiler alert- ratepayers shouldn’t have to pay for it.

Super Bowl half-time was about more than entertainment

Once again the internet exploded over the Super Bowl half-time show. Last night’s show featured Jennifer Lopez (JLo) and Shakira, who were joined by JBlavin and BadBunny. Lopez also shared part of the performance with her daughter Emme, a talented 11 year old with great stage presence.

Children performing during the 2020 Super Bowl

They knew they had an audience and they used it for much more than song and dance. The women sang in Spanish before one of the world’s largest audiences. Children were included as singers and dancers, some making their entrance in theatrically designed cages.

Kudos to Lopez and Shakira for pointing out to the audience that children are being held in cages in our country.

Lopez then donned a cape with the American flag designed on it as she and her daughter sang from Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA.” The singer stretched her arms out and the cape became the flag of Puerto Rico.

Jennifer Lopez wearing a cape designed like the Puerto Rican flag, performs with her daughter Emme during Super Bowl 2020.

She won the Super Bowl by driving home the points that our government is keeping children in cages and Puerto Ricans are born in the United States.

That isn’t why the social media erupted into flames. Many viewers chose to sexualize Lopez’s and Shakira’s amazing athletic performances. These women are famous in part for their ability to sing AND dance, so they took what people spend a lot of money to see in concert to the Super Bowl. Yes they moved their hips and torsos. And yes, Lopez did use a pole to elevate herself above the other performers using only the strength of her own muscles.

Lopez is 50 years old and her strength on that stage might rival some NFL players.

What Lopez didn’t do is take off her shirt like last year’s performer, Adam Levine, in the most recent episode of Nipplegate at the Super Bowl.

The blowback about Lopez’s performance was that it was inappropriate for a “family” television event. I’m not buying that. People slut-shamed her for incorporating a dancer’s pole into her performance.  The intermission entertainment for a violent sport, where there are few people of color and even fewer women in coaching and management, is being criticized for including two Spanish-speaking, talented women, whose performances featured their strong bodies in addition to their singing and drumming talents. Last night’s half-time show wasn’t the problem with the NFL.

Among the Super Bowl half-time shows that I can remember,  I think Prince’s performance with the shadow-casting of the world’s most phallic guitar should have received awards for staging. That didn’t happen by accident. And I don’t remember the internet imploding over his clever sexual performance.

Rural Georgians deserve safe drinking water too

Have you ever sat down to a home-cooked meal and heard the cook say, “You may not be able to taste it, but the pasta was cooked in water that may very well be contaminated with a plethora of cancer-causing toxins. Enjoy!” For Georgians who live near a coal plant in Georgia and rely on a well for every drop of water their family uses, there’s a chance that every morsel which came in contact with water from their faucet has been exposed to those contaminants.

Families who rely on a well don’t have other options. In Georgia, 1.5 Million households serve as their own public works department for clean water in their faucets and a properly maintained septic tank field. If the pump breaks or the well goes dry, the expenses are theirs, not the city or county. Counting on a well is a fine art, making families and farmers excellent water conservationists.

coal ash waste

What families across rural Georgia do not control is the contamination of their water source from coal ash waste. The landfill where their household garbage is piled up must have a liner that prevents seepage of any waste into groundwater aquifers, nearby streams, and rivers. Those same families are not afforded anything close to that same protection when it comes to coal ash waste.

Georgia’s Democrats in the General Assembly, led by Rep. Robert Trammell of rural Meriwether County, and joined his rural neighbor Rep. Debbie Buckner in Talbot County, and four metro Atlanta legislators, are working together to help protect families and farmers relying on wells for their water. The wide-lens view of HB756 adds a significant measure of protection to municipalities drawing water from rivers and aquifers at risk for coal ash waste contamination.

In short, this bill will serve to better protect all of us from serious health problems resulting from exposure to mercury, lead, arsenic, and a laundry list of other life-threatening toxins that are the end waste of burning coal. This legislation will put an end to Georgia Power’s proposal to leave approximately 50 Million tons of their coal ash waste submerged as deep as 80 feet in groundwater at Plants Hammond, Scherer, Wansley, Yates, and McDonough. Allowing the waste to remain there in unlined disposal pits and ponds will permanently convert Georgia’s water resources into toxic dumping sites benefitting only the company’s shareholders.

Putting coal ash waste in lined landfills, a much safer and secure option for coal ash waste storage, is what Duke Energy in North Carolina is pursuing, as are all utilities in South Carolina. Virginia lawmakers passed a law last year requiring lined disposal of Dominion Energy’s coal as as well. To date, Georgia Power has easily secured the weakest possible standards for storing and monitoring coal ash waste, and expects ratepayers to foot the bill for anything more stringent. As recent news reports confirm, the way coal ash waste has been regulated in our state has been at the detriment of our citizens.

HB756 goes a long way towards putting the health of our water, air, wildlife, and communities, ahead, at last, of Georgia Power’s bottom line. Shareholders have profited mightily from lax oversight of the company’s waste for decades, and long past the time when they should have known better than to simply dump this waste in unlined holes in the ground. It should be their responsibility to clean up the messes they have made across our state, while being held to the highest standards for ensuring that our water and air are not threatened by the toxic residue their plants produce.

Buckle up! The Georgia General Assembly is back.

Former Georgia Speaker of the House Tom Murphy was an opponent of requiring seatbelt use. He said it was inconvenient for farmers who may spend a lot of time getting in and out of their truck . I always thought that was a lazy man’s excuse.

An article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that 90 percent of registered voters recently surveyed support legislation requiring all occupants in a vehicle to be buckled up. For years state legislators have puttered towards stronger laws designed to protect drivers and passengers This year promises to finish the work of reducing injuries and fatalities in car crashes here, with a state Senate committee poised to recommend that all back seat passengers be required to buckle up.

Reams of data have documented the benefits of seat belts and car seats/boosters. Reporter David Wickert writes that in 2018, 803 back seat passengers ages eight years old and up died in car crashes. The Governors Highway Safety Association reports that half of those fatalities would have been prevented. Think about that. Over 400 people would have survived if they had used a seat belt.  Wickert adds that in 2015 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated that $10Billion could have been saved due to medical expenses, lost work hours, and additional injury-related expenses. I’ll venture a guess those costs would be higher now.

I know to the day when many of my close family members became seat belt users: June 21, 1986. That’s the day seat belts saved my life and my husband’s life.

I was driving the last few miles to an extended family vacation on Tybee Island when a careless driver crossed a grass median and three lanes of traffic, hitting us head on. Instead of greeting us at the beach house, my father-in-law searched the ER at Savannah Memorial Hospital, following a baby’s screams, to find my seven month old daughter McKinsey, unscathed, save for a small scratch from flying glass and some bruises where the car seat straps had kept her safely in her car seat during the impact. My husband David had a pretty bad cut on his knee. I don’t know if the cuts on his forehead required stitches or not.

What I do know is that doctors told my parents, when they arrived from North Carolina, that a three-point inertia seat belt had saved their daughter’s life. Air bags weren’t options in cars in 1986, it was the seat belt in the Honda Accord that saved me. Well, that, plus the fact that I used it. Call me a positive role model.

Driving a car requires a driver’s license. Owning a car requires carrying insurance. Motorcyclists have to wear a helmet in our state.

Georgia legislators are not known for being early adopters of legislation that set trends for improved health and safety outcomes. Passing a law requiring back seat passengers to buckle up, and putting teeth into that law by allowing officers to stop a vehicle if back seat riders aren’t wearing a seat belt, wouldn’t make Georgia the first state to do. It would put us among 19 other states and the District of Columbia who have decided that saving lives and reducing injuries are worth any pushback from the the 10 percent who may complain.

 

 

 

The man without an exit strategy goes to war

In mid-October President Trump abandoned Kurdish allies in Syria. This resulted in deserting American military holdings in the area, Turkish assaults on Kurds, the escape of ISIS prisoners, and Kurdish leaders looking to Russia and the Syrian government for support against Turkey. On Tuesday, January 7th, dictators Vladimir Putin (Russia) and Bashar al-Assad (Syria) met in Damascus  as Syria’s ally, Iran, surely finalized plans for attacks on Iraqi bases where American forces are stationed.

Amid heightening tension with Iran last summer, when asked about the possibility of armed conflict with Iran, Trump said he “doesn’t need exit strategies.” With a lifetime of multiple bankruptcies, $2Million in court penalties for abusing Trump foundation charity funds, failing to pay cities over $1Million for campaign security costs, bilking contractors for work done on his hotels, and shuttered casinos , clearly Trump is a man who won’t be bothered with planning for a smart exit.

Before we were 72 hours into this new year, Trump put American lives at greater risk by ordering, from his Mar-a-Lago country club, the assassination of Iran’s General Soleimani. Americans who have volunteered for our country, many of whom struggle to pay bills while getting a government paycheck, who chose the military over their rural communities where jobs are scarce, and, people of color whose numbers as commissioned personnel continue to lag, are at the mercy of a man who used bone spurs as his “exit strategy” during the Vietnam War.

With a dismissed national security advisor willing to testify during his former boss’s impeachment trial, talk of additional impeachment charges, a record $22Trillion debt, oil prices already climbing, farmers beginning to squirm harder under tariff restrictions, working family budgets stretched thin despite promises from  tax cuts, and a base that requires larger and louder lies to keep them fed, Trump needed a distraction. He hoped to find one in Iran, but may learn he overplayed his hand.

I’m not pinning any hopes on the spineless Trump Republican Party-controlled Senate to remove him from office. Sadly, because the November election and January 2021 inauguration are so far away, and so much is at risk, the exit strategy may not take place until the fall.

 

The most powerful people in the White House

The most powerful people in The White House.

Greta Thunberg, Time magazine Person of the Year (graphic from Thunberg’s Twitter account)
Speaker Nancy Pelosi during House Impeachment voting (photo from Pelosi’s Twitter account)

Thursday marked a refusal to turn the other cheek

Pushback from the Speaker and V.P.
Ed Mellette
Farm raised, semi-retired businessman, and political opinionator. Columbia/Spartanburg, SC
reposted with permission from the author

With considerable admiration of her present leadership in the matter of Articles of Impeachment currently being considered against the President of the United States, I want to congratulate Madam Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, on her measured, but aggressive pushback today on James Rosen of Sinclair Broadcasting.

First, allow me to apologize for my indiscretion a few months ago in the form of my critical commentary on her position as the titular leader of the Democrat Party. I was wrong. There, it’s done. She is the most powerful and savvy speaker in modern times. Now to get to my reason for this column.

James Rosen, the columnist for Sinclair, impudently asked an insulting question of Mrs. Pelosi relating to other’s (and his) perceived “hatred” by the Speaker, of the current duly elected, but faux and unworthy President. It’s important to note that Sinclair is the second largest TV and Broadcast media company in the United States. It’s by far the most conservative, and some say, the most dangerous right wing propaganda organization as well.

Rosen was taken to task and rightly so, by the Speaker, a devout Catholic, who both earnestly and publicly declares her faith, when he questioned the Speaker’s religiosity. Pelosi would not have it. The Speaker succinctly, forcefully, and articulately, spoke to the difference in political issues, and the Constitutional role and separation of powers as it relates to the Congress and the Presidency in the matter of a functioning and representative government, our Republic.

She scolded him for questioning her religious schooling and in a lesser manner, her faith. It was questioned yesterday by the erstwhile traveling salesman, turned preacher, turned lawyer, turned fast talking but shrill, Congressman, Doug Collins of GA.

Don’t mess with the Speaker; any Speaker.

Good on her; she doesn’t have to stand in front of the podium and endure insults ad infinitum, nor does Joe Biden, former Senator, Vice President, and current candidate for President.

Biden today, pushed back against the insulting false charge of an 83 year old man at a campaign event in Iowa, who in a moment of complete cognitive dissonance, suggested Biden too old to be President, and if that were not enough, claimed that Biden inappropriately sponsored and gained his son’s ascendency to the Board of the Ukrainian gas and energy company, Burisma. In a moment of moral equivalency, let’s just remember the three privileged grifters of the Trump dynasty, specifically Ivanka, Jr., and Eric, not to mention the boy wonder, Jared.

Biden called him a “damn liar” and when the octogenarian denied the obvious, Biden leaned in again. Good for him. It’s about time that junk is called out for what it is, patent bull. No one has a right to accuse with impunity, false charges, no matter what the occasion.

For those of my Democrat contemporaries, few of whom’s longevity is as loyal and committed to the Party’s espoused beliefs as I, and who oppose the boldness of both Pelosi and Biden, let me simply say: get over it; it’s high time we push back in our battle for the hearts and minds of the nation. It’s high time we hit the bullies in the mouth where they are most sensitive. It’s high time we act with both defiance and aggression in taking back our share of the high ground of both principle and religion in today’s political discourse.

No more Obama turning the other cheek, no more avoiding tough decisions, and no more pandering to unrequited respect from those caught in the thrall of Trump cultism.

David Sedaris and the books in the lobby

Last week a friend graciously invited me to hear author David Sedaris read from his work at the Fabulous Fox Theatre in Atlanta (it truly is fabulous). Sedaris and I spent time together during the summer of 2018 while I listened to the audio version of his book Calypso ,and then  Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls. He was a wonderful traveling companion.

David Sedaris (photo from author’s web site)

Drawing his keen observations about life to a close, he added that he likes to close with a recommended  book. On Wednesday he encouraged audience members to read The Dutch House by Ann Patchett. Sedaris explained that usually he suggests a book available in paperback, but that Patchett’s book is only out in hardcover, and well worth the cost.

Then he segued to how audience members should buy the book. Recently a friend called him, saying that Amazon had just delivered the recommended book. The author was a little put out with his friend. He adroitly pointed out that a local bookstore had copies of the book in the theatre lobby where the friend had attended Sedaris’s reading. Why walk past the book, right there, offered to you by a local business employing local residents, and order from Amazon?

Sedaris is right. For no more effort than perhaps standing in line for a couple of minutes, the local business put the book in the hands of every  customer that night. The same could be done the next day or the next week in their store. That’s what local businesses do.

So, with that in mind, as many people map out their holiday shopping with Black Friday bargains and schematics for getting through their list, take a deep breath, and put the list down for a minute.

What happens if you buy the gift in a store, handed to you by a real person in your community? Or at a local artisan and craft fair, where you may meet the person whose work you are buying.

Or, if you can’t find something locally, maybe you could do some homework and find an artisan who is making beautiful things, one at a time, with attention to detail, who offers them online. If you go that route, read the artisan’s “About” info and see why they are offering their work to the world

Make your list. Check it twice. Then buy the hardcover book, the artwork made by a self-trained artist who works with found materials, or the knitted shawl made with yarn dyed and spun by the person who then transformed it into the gift you are buying. Make the experience of finding the right gift an opportunity to build connections in your own community.