A survey is only as good as the controls it sets

Lunches have been packed, sleep routines reset, and spelling words called out since students returned to classrooms across Georgia. Now parents, teachers, and students are reviewing progress reports and sizing up what happens during the next half of the grading period.

This point in the school year also gives school leaders an opportunity to review what is working and what might need to be adjusted. During a pandemic, the ability for schools to pivot on a pinhead may be the difference between lives saved and lost.

On the afternoon of Thursday, September 9, 2021, Washington County Public Schools sent out a survey using a Google platform tool asking for feedback from the school community. The survey tool is one I have used as both an executive director and board president of nonprofits.

The school system’s email with the link to the survey was sent to me by parents in the community. The form didn’t ask for any identifying information: no name, email, address, phone number. It did ask if the person responding is a school employee. It could be filled out by anyone anywhere  who had the link. I filled it out and submitted it. Twice.

Friday morning when I returned to the link it said I had already submitted my answer. Fair enough. After poking around with it some during the second of many cups of coffee, I got this:

Washington County Public Schools survey
September 10, 2021

The survey showed my email address, but Google’s software told me it wasn’t collecting anything from my account.

This isn’t the first time the schools have sent out a survey without parameters set on who could fill out the survey, or requiring any identifying information, in order to submit the survey. Last school year I picked up the phone and ended up talking with Dr. Rickey Edmond, who assured me that they were able to collect identifying data even though none was require to submit answers. I told him having seen the backside of these surveys via my Google business account, I’d sure like to know how they were managing that, because it might help me in the future. All I got was, “We can.”

With the broad questions asked in last week’s survey, what can Dr. Edmond  the Board of Education, and school principals really take away beyond how smooth car pick up and drop off are, and general satisfaction with instruction? Is a blind survey the only way for school leaders to know how parents and employees gauge the school year to date? How confident can school leaders, parents, teachers, and students be that the survey sent out on Thursday has the controls and parameters to collect accurate information?

It will be interesting to see what Dr. Edmond and the Board of Education members share with the community. Based on recent inquiries by myself and others concerned about the system’s Covid-19 record-keeping and reporting, my confidence in the quality of information collected and shared by the school system is low. Will the results of a survey available to anyone with email be used to guide judgement impacting not only the education of every student, but the health of the entire Washington County community?

I love a good Open Records Act request

With the return to classrooms across Georgia, I have been following the Covid-19 numbers in public schools in our state. Dismissing the recommended guidelines of the CDC, and the Georgia chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, many superintendents and school boards are playing doctor with the health of their own communities. The outcome, with Georgia’s schools back in session for about a month, has resulted in schools opting to be online only, delaying the start of school, pausing all instruction after beginning the school year, and students, teachers, bus drivers, and bus monitors, dying of Covid-19.

Concerned families, school communities, medical providers, and epidemiologists wait on a weekly Friday report from the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) for Covid-19 cases and trends in their county. Friday afternoon is also when most school systems release their Covid-19 information to their community. Some school leaders choose full transparency and share all the data they send to DPH for its weekly report. Their communities know the number of confirmed cases, how many people are quarantined, and clusters in each school.* Other schools provide a scant report that often leaves community members in the dark while confirmed cases continue to break records in Georgia.

This data is supposed to help school leaders decide how safe, and effective, it is to keep students in classrooms. Some schools have opted for virtual and printed materials for entire grades, entire schools, or the whole system as a result of data and historic trends.

On Thursday, August 27th, during what Washington County’s school superintendent described as a “fireside chat,” Dr. Rickey Edmond told almost 100 people attending the online event that only confirmed cases matter. He dismissed the number of students and staff quarantined as”fluid.” I agree that number could be considered fluid, because it can change every day. The number of confirmed Covid-19 cases can also change every day. DPH has already elevated Washington County schools to “substantial spread” and “increasing” in its weekly report.

Washington County, GA (map source Wikipedia)

With the state ratcheting up the level of concern for everyone in Washington County’s public schools, and having looked at reports posted by other systems across Georgia, I wondered exactly what DPH requires for its weekly school report. Seeing the reporting form was the best way to know.

A friend once told me, “I love a good Open Records Act request.” Like them,  I also love a good Georgia Open Records Act (GORA) request. On Monday, August 30th, I sent one to the Dr. Edmond, copying the Washington County Board of Education members. My request was, “The information I am requesting is for the information used for the Covid-19 information released to the public on August 13, 20, 27, 2021. I am requesting the Covid-19 reports and/or data Washington County public schools sent to the Georgia Department of Public Health for its weekly school report.” That’s a pretty straightforward request because DPH requires it, the school is supposed to compile and send it, so releasing all of it doesn’t require extra work.

What I got back from Edmond was,  “Reasonable access provided with good faith:
1. In response to your request: Covid-19 information released to the public on August 13, 20, 27, 2021 is attached in a PDF Table.
2. We can’t provide you with “COVID-19 Reports and/or data sent to Georgia Department of Public Health because that information is submitted via electronic portal and the medical form used falls under 50-18-72(a). As a school entity, we must uphold HIPPA, FERPA, and privacy requirements.
3. We have provided you with additional information complied by DPH for your reference.”

Covid-19 data from Dr. Rickey Edmond, Superintendent, Washington County Public Schools, Sept 2, 2021, in response to GORA request

A complete and thorough GORA response should always be done “in good faith,” to use Dr. Edmond’s choice of words. The information sent to me isn’t what I asked for, and doesn’t comply with the GORA request. Dr. Edmond insisted that what they send has lots of confidential information in it. I asked that he redact any sensitive information and send me the form so I could see what the state requires for its weekly report on schools in our state. Additionally, saying that the form is completed online and cannot be released otherwise just doesn’t hold water in a school system with an IT department and virtual teaching capacity. Do they not save a copy of what they submit?

At this point, I was even more concerned about what the school system didn’t want to freely provide to the community. Case numbers matter, but so do the number of students and staff out for quarantine, and the number of clusters occurring in school settings. It is possible a school could have a low case load but a very high number of absences due to quarantine, resulting in dwindling classroom numbers.

What are they reporting that they aren’t telling us, and why is it so important to keep that information from us? As North Central Health District Director Michael Hokanson told me on the afternoon of August 27th, the reporting from schools relies on a good faith effort on the schools’ part.

If schools are sloppy with the parameters for collecting data, the data can’t, and shouldn’t, be trusted. If a school system isn’t carefully tracking why students are absent, for example a dental appointment, strep throat, or a death in the family, what you get at the end of the day is a number that tells you nothing about why those students were out of school. Kids and staff out due to quarantine are going to miss a significant number of consecutive school days. That impacts how they are learning, how teachers must adjust, demand for substitutes, and ultimately, if a system should use online resources to keep students up to speed, and everyone healthy.

Edmond told me to contact DPH to get the form that I ask for in my GORA request. Trying to find the right person at DPH, and actually reach them, is a circle of Hell Dante didn’t know about centuries ago. The staffers I did reach are frustrated and exhausted with how their agency is combatting Covid-19. One told me, “the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.”

I left messages at schools, emailed schools, and filled out GORA requests via forms school boards provided on their web sites. One school superintendent called me back eager to share blank copies of the weekly form schools send to DPH  and volunteered to send the detailed form required for the district health office. I got the form from more than one system to verify I had the right one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What the report requires is the result of counting cases, quarantining of students and staff, and clusters.* This shouldn’t be a difficult thing to record on a daily basis and add up at the end of the week. The Georgia Department of Education created a video to guide school administrators on how to easily complete the form, using “Careful Recordkeeper” as the name of the school staffer filling it out. There is no sensitive or confidential data about anyone at the school required to complete this weekly report.

Dr. Nancy Kreiger at the Harvard School of Public Health recently said, “The answer to having not-good-enough data is to make it really public that it’s not good enough and to figure out, how do you make it better?” Kreiger went on to say about data, “You need good data to do proper planning, to understand what the risk is, how the risk is changing. And you need that to be real data that are publicly available and accessible.”

If a school isn’t committed to collecting accurate data, none of what they report can and should be trusted with full confidence by the state, or the people concerned about the health of every person in that school.

The responsibility of collecting good data falls on the Board of Education requiring it, and the schools led by Dr. Edmond following through.  Thousands of families in Washington County are making life and death decisions for their children and themselves during this pandemic.  For the Board of Education, Dr. Edmond, and school leaders to be satisfied with a refusal to collect good data and share it with families is not only a disservice to Washington County families. It shows a huge distain for the exhausted healthcare providers and DPH staffers working in the county and across our state.

*From GA DPH, “Laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 in two or more people [students or staff] with symptom onset/collection dates within a 14 day period who are epidemiologically linked, do not share a household, and were not identified as close contacts of each other in another setting during standard case investigation or contact tracing”).

We have work to do

A few thoughts on a week that should change our country forever-

A Capitol police officer, attacked with a fire extinguished by domestic terrorists who have also proclaimed themselves to be “blue lives matter” supporters, has died. The person/s who attacked him should be prosecuted for murder and sent away for life.

If you know someone who was involved in attacking our nation’s lawmakers, contact the FBI. They are criminals and should be prosecuted. If you aren’t mad enough to do that, take the United States flag off your front porch and turn in your voter registration card.

When members of Congress have to hide behind their desks to avoid bullets, it is time for Congress pass tougher gun laws. Any members of Congress who aren’t convinced of this should spend a week with teachers and students working through safety drills for potential gunmen in their schools. At the end of the day they should accompany families to visit the grave sites of the murdered children and teachers. If lying on the floor next to a kindergarten student, or standing with a young child at their sibling’s grave, doesn’t convince them we need tougher laws, vote them out. Run against them if you have to.

Let’s talk about gun culture and what is driving boys and men to attack our schools and slaughter students, teachers, and staff. Then we need to act.

Critical thinking is missing from our local, state, and national discussions. This is how cults of personality develop. The power-hungry will always tap into the fears of people who sense that they are losing their personal power and privilege.

The people who stormed the Capitol, murdered a law enforcement officer, and interrupted the confirmation of our legal and fair elections in November. Are criminals. In no way are they comparable to Black Lives Matter activists. Don’t waste time on people who want to argue that “the other side” behaves as foolishly, and dangerously, as Trump’s band of domestic terrorists and conspiracy theory champions.

A lot of time will pass between now and the 2022 gubernatorial race. Will Doug Collins and his supporters take on Brian Kemp claiming that if Collins had been appointed to Isakson’s seat, Collins would have kept the seat?

Kemp’s ability to manage the Covid-19 pandemic in Georgia is resulting in more cases and more deaths. Will the state’s funeral home owners be his biggest donor base?

Watch for floor fights in the Georgia legislature involving access to absentee ballots and early voting. Don’t let Republicans strip away access to the ballot. The same goes for discussions about changing the state constitution to allow the legislature to appoint the Secretary of State. Citizens must be able to directly hold the person responsible for overseeing elections accountable. That happens at the ballot box. Put your state representative and senator on speed dial.

On Thursday we were robbed of the newspaper headlines declaring Raphael Warnock as Georgia’s first black senator. I cannot wait to get the newspaper with his photo when he is sworn in. When he and Ossoff take their oath of office, whether she is there in person or not, Stacey Abrams will be in the photo. May all of us be the kind of citizen, and true patriot, that she is.

 

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:

How to be both angry and sad at the same time

For the past 17 months and six days, people have said that I am handling suddenly being widowed with grace. Being furious and raging wasn’t going to unwind the fact that a careless driver killed my husband while he was riding his bike. I have limited reserves of energy, and I knew that walking around being angry wasn’t going to get me very far.

Last Thursday I was both angry and sad. If David Cummings was alive, I would have put down whatever work project had my attention in Atlanta just before 2:00, gotten in my car, and driven back to Sandersville, Georgia to celebrate with him. As I have told friends before, it was David who helped me connect the dots not too long after the boondoggle Plant Washington was announced.

I didn’t know much about energy production before the end of January 2008 when Dean Alford was presented to the business leaders of Washington County in an invitation only presentation at the Washington EMC. As I learned more, I became very concerned. It’s handy to be married to a geologist who can explain the water tables and such when a coal plant is going to draw down 16Million gallons of water per day, and your household water source about eight miles from the plant site is also drawn from a well in that same geologic plain.

FACE Board members and earliest supporters with certificates of recognition from President Obama

I’ve always credited David for helping me find my way on responding to Plant Washington. On one of the first beautiful spring days in 2008, the kind that makes you want to find any reason to go outside, I told David I wished there was someone who lived near the proposed plant site that I could talk to, because surely they would be concerned about the threats of coal ash emissions, access to water, safety, and property values. He casually said that long-time family friends Randy and Cathy Mayberry had a cabin adjacent to the site, that maybe I should talk to them.

That sunny afternoon I went out to walk, and after about an hour, sweaty and kind of worn looking, I knocked on the Mayberry’s front door. Cathy answered, and while I told her I didn’t want to interrupt their day, and I surely wasn’t fit to sit down with anyone to talk, maybe sometime we could have a conversation about the risks posed by Plant Washington. From the living room Randy called out, “Come on in.”

From there Cathy and I met on someone’s porch with Lyle Lansdell, Pat, and Sonny Daniel, Paula and John Swint. Jennette Gayer came drove down from Atlanta. Seth Gunning, a student at Valdosta State who was light years ahead of the rest of us about energy and the environment, drove up for a meeting. Larry Warthen, whose church was founded after the Civil War, where unmarked graves of enslaved and free people are just yards from the plant site perimeter, stepped up to help lead in the work. The lawyers and partner organizations came to us to teach us, guide us, and become champions for our community too.

David was a certified stream monitor for the Ogeechee Rverkeeper. Our grandchildren Chase and Ella went with him one afternoon to learn about stream monitoring.

David didn’t go to those early meetings, but he listened to me, counseled me when I thought my head would explode as I learned more about the convoluted way coal plants are developed, permitted, and financed. He signed the petitions and went to the hearings. He phone banked when volunteers across the state came together to help return Cobb EMC to the rightful control of the member-owners. He used a few vacation days to attend court proceedings and EPA public comment sessions. Later he agreed to serve on the board of the small grassroots organization, the Fall-Line Alliance for a Clean Environment (FACE), that came together after the first few community meetings. Because he grew up fishing, canoeing, and swimming at our family’s farm on the Ogeechee River, he became a certified stream monitor.

Summer vacation in Maine, 2010, as I was beginning to realize fighting Plant Washington was the work I needed to do full-time

In the summer of 2010, when I knew to my core that quitting a job as a rural health advocate, where I excelled, instead of working nights, weekends, and burning through vacation days to fight Plant Washington, was my true calling, David supported me. When I worked 12 hours a day, he walked the dogs and cooked dinner. When I had cancer and was exhausted from radiation treatments, and the work required to fight Plant Washington totaled at least one thousand hours each week among our partners, he supported me. When Plant Washington’s funders backed out, and the truth in what FACE and our partners had said all along became clearer and clearer, David celebrated with me. And when the work of fighting Plant Washington wasn’t a full-time job any longer, because winning meant I would work my way out of a job, David supported me while I looked for work that would tap all the passion and experience I had garnered since 2008. He was always there.

Thursday evening I had plans to meet Atlanta friends who don’t know me as coal-plant fighting activist. One of them said she wanted to hear the story of my work as we began walking through the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. I told her I couldn’t compress it well at the moment, as it began in 2008 and changed me forever.

So we toasted a long-awaited victory, one they know matters to the health of the small rural community where my husband and children grew up, where some of my grandchildren live now, the community that helped FACE leaders become the best and truest versions of ourselves.  We toasted to doing work that matters and benefits everyone on this one planet, and to those whose bodies have been returned to it.

 

The arc of justice is long

Dean Alford

Earlier this afternoon the Atlanta Journal Constitution sent out a news alert concerning the resignation of Dean Alford, a member of the Georgia University System’s  Board of Regents. Alford was recently reappointed to the Board by Governor Brian Kemp.

The newspaper details that the Georgia  Attorney General and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation issued arrest warrants for Alford for creating a fraudulent invoice submitted to the state, and for forging the signature of a university employee.

What did Alford do?

The paper’s coverage includes, “Alford is accused of creating a fraudulent invoice acknowledgement form, dated Sept. 24, to submit to a company called Versant, state officials said. The document is alleged to have falsely asserted that the University of Georgia would pay Versant $487,982.88 to satisfy a debt owed to Alford’s own company, Allied Energy Services, LLC, located in Rockdale County.”

That’s not the biggest amount of money, according to the AJC. The article continues with, “He’s also suspected of transmitting fraudulent documents to Versant to make the company believe he had legitimate purchase agreements and accounts receivable with various entities, state officials said. Alford was attempting to sell such accounts receivable to Versant in exchange for $1,798,327.06, investigators said. ”

Alford purchased Allied Energy Services for pennies on the dollar when a judge ordered Cobb Energy holdings, a private shareholding company spun off from the nonprofit Cobb EMC, to be dissolved. Alford’s “haul” at Cobb EMC, the electric membership co-op in the north Atlanta suburbs, was close to $18Million according to 2015 news coverage.

But there’s more. Much more.

Allied Energy Services was awarded a no-bid contract to develop Plant Washington, a $6Billion proposed coal plant that soaked up millions of dollars from EMCs in Georgia under the umbrella of Power for Georgians. The electric co-op in Washington County, Washington EMC, sunk $1Million of member-owner dollars into the boondoggle plant, slated to be built just miles from my home, and the homes of a small group of local citizens who became the Fall-Line Alliance for a Clean Environment (FACE). Alford never secured financing, power purchase agreements, or customers. FACE has never wavered in its grassroots committment to protecting our natural resources and the health of our families and friends.

January 25, 2012

The adventures of FACE, and those of others in Washington County, have been detailed on this blog since Plant Washington was proposed in January 2008. The saga involves seeing fellow citizens for who they truly are, or are not. FACE leaders earned the rights to our story through hard work and selfless determination.

I’ll close here by adding that FACE and our partners have waited years to throw the biggest celebration to ever happen in Washington County. We’ve got a party to plan and invitations to send to those who stood with us.

Driving dirty air

The Republican Party, which is now Donald Trump’s Republican Party (DTRP), has long heralded itself as the party of less big government and more local control. They’ve argued that states, cities, and counties know what is best for them and they should set standards.

DTRP dislikes car emission standards set by California’s elected leaders  so much so that a court battle looms over the state’s ability to set standards for vehicles, which California began doing in 1966.

In fact, the emission standards have worked so well that 13 states adopted California’s standards, meaning that car and light truck manufacturers have already designed their products and factories to meet emission standards which keep air cleaner. It also means consumers are buying these cars and trucks. Tough emission standards didn’t serve as a death-blow to auto sales in those states.

The same can be said for gas mileage standards.  DTRP wants to reduce mileage standards for vehicles, but that doesn’t mean consumers will race out to buy something new to drive. Consumers expect and demand good mileage, safety features, and low emissions.

Manufacturers couldn’t, and wouldn’t, retool their factories in an afternoon to produce gas-guzzling, dirty emission spewing cars just because the DTRP says it is ok. In fact, just two months ago, four manufacturers agreed to meet  continue to meet California’s vehicle standards.

A quick survey of the popularity of electric vehicles, hybrids, and high-efficiency gas fueled cars and trucks, would remind manufacturers that consumers want and expect cleaner running, higher mileage, vehicles. Both domestic and foreign car companies continue to offer best selling models with hybrid versions, and are also re-introducing retired versions of hybrids, because if they don’t, customers will drive past those dealerships on the way to others who offer what they want.

Donal Trump’s Republican Party can deny all kinds of reality and science, but car dealers won’t deny the reality of their bottom line. Profits are increasingly driven by consumers who buy cars using less or no gas, and emitting as little air pollutants as possible.

Car standards aren’t set at the White House any more; they are determined by consumers with their wallets in dealer showrooms and at gas pumps.

 

 

How We Have Failed Since September 11, Redux

First posted here on September 10, 2014

How We Have Failed since September 11

Tonight President Obama will address the nation about ISIS and any actions that we may take in response to the horrific murders of Americans and innocent civilians at the hands of terrorists.

Tomorrow there will be an observance in my community, and many others, to honor the thousands of lives lost to hate and terrorism, and to support the families and friends who knew someone they loved would never return home again.

Since September 11, 2001 we as a country have talked a lot about being kinder to one another and being a better country. Yet 13 years later this is what consumes us as a country:

  • fighting about allowing two consenting adults of the same-sex to legally marry each
  • failing to take care of the thousands of veterans who have defended our country, many of whom returned with horrible wounds from the Middle East since September 2001
  • allowing private corporations to decided which forms of legal birth control they will cover for employees through company based health insurance because some corporations should have the same privileges as churches
  • granting corporations the same rights as citizens so businesses can pour money into elections and our representatives’ pockets
  • making it harder for citizens to exercise their right to vote
  • subsidizing corporations with huge tax breaks while their employees working full-time never earn enough to break the poverty barrier
  • denying the hard facts of science because profits should come before cleaning up the mess we’ve made of the entire planet
  • deporting children
  • complaining about failing schools while slashing teacher pay and testing our children to death
  • sitting by silently while racism and sexism are displayed proudly
  • being sure we can take our assault rifles into the grocery store
  • we pay for and support violence on playing fields, in the movies we watch, video games we buy, music we listen to, and television shows we watch, but we react with horror when students are sprayed with bullets in their classrooms, women are drug from elevators by their hair, students are bullied, children and women are raped as well as being forced into prostitution
  • too many among us are convinced that their brand of faith should be followed above all others, and if necessary the rights of other citizens should be denied because they choose to worship differently, or not at all

We absolutely should remember and honor the victims of September 11th’s violence. I’m just not convinced we are a country that is a better reflection of the democratic values and freedoms which terrorists intended to destroy 13 years ago.

 

A serving of justice lite

Two days ago a friend described the criminal court proceedings against the careless driver who killed my bicycle-riding husband, David, as a “lite order of justice.” Why? What’s the punishment for killing a law-abiding cyclist in Georgia?

David Cummings

Careless driving resulting in a cyclist’s death is considered a misdemeanor, and the penalties are hardly harsh. A year’s probation, losing a driver’s license for 12 months, 40 hours of community service, and completing a driver safety course, were meted out by the judge who accepted a plea agreement reached between the defense and prosecutor.

The bar is set that low in the state of Georgia for killing  a cyclist due to careless driving.

Things that serve as mere inconveniences for the driver, in my opinion, hardly balance the loss of a husband, father, grandfather, brother, nephew, cousin, friend. While making funeral arrangements, we knew the punishment could never match the loss we would experience everyday for the remainders of our lives.

On Tuesday my family arrived at the courthouse fully aware that regardless of how impassioned our victim’s statements might be, there would be no sentence close to matching the significance of the life lost. We are not the first to experience this unnecessary loss, nor, sadly, the last.

So all of us continue to grieve and mourn, both family and friends, while the punishment for the person whose carelessness caused us to gather in a courtroom this week, is measured in a very few months and hours of inconvenience. A serving of justice lite was the only thing available on the menu Tuesday.

McConnell finds his voice

After weeks of political laryngitis on the government shutdown, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) found the will to say that fellow Republican Rep Steve King (R-Iowa) should “find another line of work.”

During a recent interview lasting almost an hour, King said he doesn’t understand how white nationalist, pro Western civilization, and white supremacist language are offensive. Trump says he “hasn’t been following” the fallout over King’s most recent statements. Perhaps Trump’s lack of interest, or outrage, reflect his own comfort with King’s views?

Steve King
(Congressional photo)

In the mean time, King has been stripped of committee appointments by his own party. Without  committee assignments to craft and vote on bills as they are developed, King’s ability to robustly represent Iowa’s only Republican district in Congress has shrunk to hoping he can find anyone in his party to lobby for his district as bills move towards the House floor. James Clyburn, (D-South Carolina) will introduce a call to censure King in the House.

King has announced 39 district town hall meetings this year. I’m not sure those meetings, due to certain protests and counter-protests, will even happen. The country, and the world, will be watching.

Can Governor Kemp deliver for rural Georgia?

Today marks a new era in Georgia, one that follows a contentious race for the governor’s mansion. Will Brian Kemp and the GA Legislature deliver on promises to rural voters?

Rural hospitals are fragile, while access to care is difficult in regards to insurance coverage, number of providers, and transportation. Will legislators swallow hard and request a waiver so much needed federal dollars can make their way to rural citizens and providers?

Will rural residents, and by rural I mean the ones who live on dirt roads or outside any semblance of a crossroads or town, begin to see a solution to high speed, affordable internet access? This infrastructure impacts businesses, schools, and the attractiveness of living in rural communities.

How will Kemp and the legislature handle districting when the census is completed? This issue didn’t get a lot of coverage during the campaigns, but it will impact rural Georgians in big ways as populations continue to shift to more urban areas. What about safe and secure voting?

The clock starts today. When the 40 day session ends, what will wait until 2020, or arrive on Gov Kemp’s desk to be signed?

Two things about this election

There are two things I’ve thought before the election and remain committed to as we wait for more votes to be counted.

1. Georgia needs to change our Constitution to require a Secretary of State to resign if running for a different office. Changing the Constitution shouldn’t be the path to solving every problem, but it is the only way to address the less than above-board election this year, and protect future contests.

2. Yes, Nancy Pelosi has raised lots of money for Democrats, and yes, she corralled Democrats during difficult issues (Democrats say Pelosi has eyes in the back of her head, knows who is in the room, and how they will vote at any given moment). When do we make room for a new leader like this if not now? Could Pelosi be an interim Speaker with a transition plan to pass the gavel, as suggested by my friend and former Congressional candidate Carol Miller of New Mexico? With a wave of newly elected “firsts” across the country, it is time to pass the role of Speaker to someone with solid knowledge of the House and Congress. There is a role for Pelosi, but it shouldn’t be as Speaker of the House.

Hear the candidates with your own ears!

Early voting is underway across Georgia with hotly contested races for Governor, Lt. Governor, Secretary of State, Insurance Commissioner, and of course Congressional districts. Being an informed voter requires doing the homework, and one of the best ways to do that is to listen to the candidates themselves. I love political pundits and editorial columns more than most people, but someone else’s coverage of what a candidate says isn’t the same as hearing them yourself (or reading their policy positions on their web sites).

Georgia Public Broadcasting and the Atlanta Press Club are hosting multiple candidate debates that are free and easy for the public to access online. Watch live or find them later on demand, or do both to go back and make sure you are clear on what was said, or just as important, what wasn’t said.

Whether you’ve made up your mind or not, these debates are good opportunities to learn more about the candidates. Time consuming? Sure.

But Georgia state senate and house members, and US House members, have a total of 17,520 hours on the clock during the two years as your representative. Four year representatives are in for 35,040 hours. Invest a little of your time over the next few days to know the candidates better.

 

The new generation of leaders

The Friday Photo

Decatur High School, Decatur, GA

Students walked out or took a knee on Wednesday because #enoughisenough. I stood with them and for them.

Taking thoughts and prayers to the bank

The Friday Photo
February 16, 2018
checks

Donald Trump’s Seven Dirty Words

Donald Trump isn’t afraid to use hate speech, but words grounded in science, facts, and evidence scare him and his followers so much that he is banning the use of seven words by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The words are:

vulnerable
entitlement
diversity
transgender
fetus
evidence-based
science-based

What are Trump and his followers so afraid of? Evidence and science-based research to protect a fetus from the Zika virus? Providing state of the art care to populations vulnerable to infection like transgender citizens of the United States? Diversity is what makes us a stronger country.

Thought-control and strangleholds on some of the world’s best health researchers, whose slogan is, “CDC 24/7 Saving Lives, Protecting People”™?

Call, email, Tweet, and Facebook your members of Congress and use every one of these words in your comments.

When people don’t mind being lied to

“They May Have Been Phony in the Past But They Are Very Real Now” Sean Spicer on employment numbers released on March 10, 2017

“I’m not in the job of having evidence” Kellyanne Conway on CNN, March 13, 2017

 Sean Spicer said Trump used air quotes when accusing President Obama of “wire tapping” (sic, Trump’s misspelling) phones at Trump Tower. Spicer rolled that explanation out on the same day that the Department of Justice asked for an extension from Congress for producing evidence to support Trump’s Twitter claims. March 13, 2017

What is the core belief that Trump supporters and followers hold that allows them to accept being lied to, day after day, by Trump and everyone in his administration? What does he offer to them that makes being lied to over and over again worth it? These are hard questions that must be asked, and squishy campaign-speak answers aren’t acceptable any longer.

When the data scare folks

Earlier this week I found this nifty tool for comparing the healthcare plan proposed by the Republicans (Trumpcare) to the current plan in place (Obamacare). Let’s call the plans what they are, since the Republicans considered attaching the former President’s name to the health care plan he championed, which provided affordable insurance to over 20Million more Americans, as a negative way to tag the plan and policies.

I also shared the Kaiser Family Foundation’s tool in a FaceBook group that was put together to support the hospital in my rural county. All I did was compare the differences in costs for a 60 year-old making $40,000 per year. I used the names Affordable Care Act and Affordable Health Care for America, not Obamacare and Trumpcare, respectively. I didn’t even mention either President or member of Congress by name.

Yesterday a local man took issue with posting the tool and providing the difference in coverage costs as criticism of the plan and the hospital. I responded today:

I am sharing the data. The tool allows people to use it themselves if they choose to do that. Both plans impact the access to care, and affordability of that care for local residents. Both plans also directly impact our hospital.

If we want to keep our hospital open and viable, it will take a combination of many funding streams- that’s not a criticism of the hospital. Hospital admins and leaders have been frank about the diverse source of funds and payer load that is required to keep the hospital open. I have not named any elected officials, nor criticized anyone, OR provided any information that can’t be verified. If sharing information in a polite and civil forum “stirs people up,” that is something that people who are “stirred up” must resolve for themselves. I’m not afraid to do some of the work of being an informed citizen, and share what I learn if others want to use those resources. The proposed legislation is being fast-tracked, so there isn’t a lot of time to “wait for all the data to be processed.”

I’m smart enough to look at the numbers myself and work through the differences- I don’t have to wait for someone to explain it to me.

Have a good day and weekend.

What’s so scary about a an easy-to-use data tool with information that is readily available and verifiable? What’s to get “stirred up for no reason” about looking at information yourself? And perhaps worse, why does anyone think that we ought to, “wait for all the data to be processed.’? Even though this in a complex problem, it isn’t rocket science.

Why are Trump supporters so unhappy about comparing Trumpcare data to Obamacare data?

The mansplaining and “don’t you worry missy, wait until someone can explain it all to you” is another problem. If you look at the provisions for women’s health care in the Trumpcare plan, and the lack of respect for women and our ability to make information decisions about our health and bodies, well, no wonder this man thought I needed to just sit down and be quiet.

Clearly I didn’t take his words to heart.

Enslaved people are not immigrants

Ben Carson, photo credit Mother Jones

Dr. Ben Carson, recognized as a brilliant surgeon, used some “alternative facts” in comments to the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) staff today, as he begins his work there as the Secretary of the agency. Carson chose to describe enslaved people forced onto boats and brought to the United States, as immigrants.

I looked up immigrant, and I never found a definition that parallels definitions of enslave, “To enslave someone is to force that person to work for no pay, to obey commands, and to lose his or her freedom.”

Carson told HUD staffers, “There were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships, worked even longer, even harder for less. But they too had a dream that one day their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, great-grandsons, great-granddaughters, might pursue prosperity and happiness in this land.”

What alternative history book did Carson get that version of optimism on the part of enslaved people? I’d say you couldn’t make this stuff up and try to pass it off as the truth, but if you are Secretary Carson, apparently, you can try.

What I’m reading about last night

What I’m reading about last night (link to the address is below from the New York Times):

WAPo: “In describing his bleak vision of a ruined United States exploited by foreigners, Mr. Trump wrote a series of checks he almost certainly cannot cash.”

The ugliest moment in the 60-minute address came when Mr. Trump announced the formation of an office on “Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement,” and then introduced families of people allegedly murdered by illegal immigrants. It was an appeal to raw prejudice and fear that will do nothing to promote the national unity he claims to be seeking. (emphasis added)

WAPO: Fact checking demonstrates that Trump continues to take credit for things he didn’t do, including the sourcing for DAPL pipeline materials

WaPo: Why any glow from last night won’t last very long

WaPo: The word you didn’t hear last night

NYT: Video of the address to Congress and NYT Washington correspondents comments and analysis during the speech and the Democratic response

NYT: Did Bannon and Miller talk Trump away from a pivot on immigration during lunch yesterday?

NYT: Five takeaways from last night’s speech

Jay Bookman at the Atlanta Journal Constitution on pouring money into the military,
“In short, this is not a carefully thought-out strategy from the Trump administration, based on consultation with the experts and our allies. Instead, the man who took five draft deferments to avoid fighting in Vietnam, the man who says that he knows better than the generals how to defeat ISIS and who claims he understands the military because he attended a military-themed boarding school, is offering a military strategy fueled largely by his own deep personal insecurities.”