Archive for June, 2012

Feds take a crack at Gwinnett political system

NOTE: This post contains some material posted earlier on this blog. It is published here as the electronic version of Sunday’s AJC column:

The rumors and stories about Gwinnett County politics have circulated for years, even decades.

Stories about an incestuous, feuding mix of judges, politicians, consultants, lawyers and developers. Stories about shady land deals, convenient highway routing and lucrative zoning changes. Taken together, the tales painted a picture of a rapidly urbanizing county in which a lot of money could be made and rules were bent if not broken, a county that in many ways was still run much like a rural small town, with power wielded by and on behalf of a select group of people.

The FBI and U.S. attorney’s office, armed with wiretaps, subpoenas and arrest powers, apparently heard the stories as well. In the wake of an undercover federal operation, Gwinnett County Commissioner Shirley Lasseter, 64 and a veteran of local politics, recently resigned her …

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A man, a year, a song to get us started

To kick off this evening’s festivities, I have the pleasure of introducing our resident polymathic pedagogue, that unreconstructed defender of the Magnolia State, that most cynical of innocents and most innocent of cynics, that sharp-tongued, smooth-talking provocateur and scourge of imams everywhere — yeah, you know who I mean:

“Not every year is a Julian calendar year. It was the year that I became a man, in all senses of the word, when biological urges from the dawn of the species met and merged with religious traditions dating back millennia, family traditions who knows when and where they began, and when I would come to personally understand what “one generation passeth and another taketh its place” meant in metaphysical and human terms, all this to mark passage into a world which would be turned upside down before the first year of manhood would be over.

Before that year was over I would have had my first real sexual experience, have been taken to the Madame, gone …

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For U.S., warmest spring and year on record … by a lot

The evidence continues to mount; the willful blindness to its consequences continues to keep pace.

From the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s newly released national climate overview:

“The national temperature of 57.1 degrees F during spring was 5.2 degrees F above the long-term average, besting the previous warmest spring of 1910 by 2.0 degrees F.

This marked the largest temperature departure from average of any season on record for the contiguous United States. The spring of 2012 was the culmination of the warmest March, third warmest April, and second warmest May. This marks the first time that all three months during the spring season ranked among the ten warmest, since records began in 1895

January-May was the warmest such period on record for the contiguous United States, with an average temperature of 49.2 degrees F, 5.0 degrees F above the long-term average….

The June 2011-May 2012 period was the warmest 12-month period of any 12 months on record for …

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Alberto Gonzales offers his party a harsh truth

“I think that members of our party have spoken about this in a way that’s not only anti-immigration but anti-Hispanic, and I think that’s harmful to the long term future of the party. That’s been disappointing.”

“I believe in a secure border, I’m a law-and-order kind of guy, but it seems to me we can talk about achieving a secure border in a way that reflects the reality of why people come here and has a more compassionate tone.”

Alberto Gonzales

Alberto Gonzales

– Former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, in an interview with Yahoo news.

You have to applaud Gonzales for his frankness in discussing what motivates some in his party, although I’m doubtful that his words will have much impact on those in question. He understands all too well the message that is sent by Republican officials when, for example, they nominate a bigot like Phil Kent to a state immigration board.

In a similar interview with the Daily Caller, Gonzales was asked about allegations that the GOP is trying to minimize …

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Will Hispanic-Americans be ‘Juntos con Romney’?

Remember those right-wing bloggers and commentators who got bent out of shape by the creation of “African Americans for Obama,” accusing Obama of playing the race card or even being racist?

Just this week, Victor Davis Hanson was complaining that to Obama, “‘Us’ now means all sorts of targeted appeals to identity groups like African-Americans for Obama, Latinos for Obama, gays for Obamas, greens for Obama, or students for Obama.”

Yet Hanson and his colleagues were oddly silent this week when Mitt Romney announced the creation of “Juntos Con Romney,” or “together with Romney,” a team led by former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez to “help guide the campaign on important Hispanic initiatives and outreach.”

Nor did they complain when Romney produced ads such as these:

(Among other things, the ad promises that on Day One — Dia Uno — Romney will introduce tax cuts “that reward job creators, not punish them.” That means either higher deficits or higher taxes on the rest of …

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In another crisis, GOP would let economy collapse

From The Washington Post:

” … under questioning from skeptical Republicans, the director of the nonpartisan (and widely respected) Congressional Budget Office was emphatic about the value of the 2009 stimulus. And, he said, the vast majority of economists agree.

In a survey conducted by the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, 80 percent of economic experts agreed that, because of the stimulus, the U.S. unemployment rate was lower at the end of 2010 than it would have been otherwise.

“Only 4 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed,” CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf told the House Budget Committee. “That,” he added, “is a distinct minority.”

Elmendorf’s testimony came in response to questions from Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.), a member of the tea party caucus. Huelskamp asserted that the stimulus was a failure because it did not keep the jobless rate below 8 percent, as the Obama administration predicted.

“Where did Washington mess up?” Huelskamp …

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Path to deficit sanity is simple to find, hard to walk

How do we possibly get a grasp on the soaring federal deficit and debt? If we do nothing, a new report from the Congressional Budget Office warns, dire consequences would result:

“Federal debt would grow rapidly from its already high level, exceeding 90 percent of GDP in 2022. After that, the growing imbalance between revenues and spending, combined with spiraling interest payments, would swiftly push debt to higher and higher levels. Debt as a share of GDP would exceed its historical peak of 109 percent by 2026, and it would approach 200 percent in 2037.”

So how do we avoid that calamity? As a CBO graphic demonstrates, in some ways it’s not as complex as it might seem:

debt

The extended baseline scenario — the declining green line to the right of the graphic — assumes that the Bush-era tax cuts and other tax cuts are allowed to expire on schedule, while “government spending on everything other than the major health care programs, Social Security, and interest — activities such …

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Cost overruns of almost $1 billion — so far — at Ga. nuke reactors

Last month, a consortium of utilities including Atlanta-based Southern Company announced cost overruns of almost $1 billion at two new nuclear reactors being built near Waynesboro.

That’s an arresting number under any circumstances, but it looms even larger when you realize that major construction on the Vogtle 3 and 4 reactors has basically just begun, with at least five more years of construction to come.

And if costs soar, who’s going to pay for it? Southern Company and its subsidiary, Georgia Power, own 45.7 percent of the project, so its ratepayers’ share of these recent overruns would come to more than $400 million. But according to Buzz Miller, Southern’s executive vice president of nuclear development, that cost will be borne by contractors who are building the project.

“Our official position is that there’s no way we’re going to pay that amount,” Miller said Tuesday.

William Jacobs, a nuclear expert appointed by the Georgia Public Service Commission to monitor …

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GOP savors tasty Wisconsin victory

Among Republicans, last night’s seven-point victory by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker will be savored for weeks as an appetite-whetting little bon-bon for the much greater victory that they anticipate enjoying in November.

Among Democrats, it is a defeat that will sting in the short term and cause them worries in the long term as they too look ahead to November. The immense fervor generated in the Democratic base by Walker’s actions was enough to force the recall, but they were unable to translate it into a majority of votes for his ouster. (They apparently did manage to retake control of the Wisconsin state Senate, which will force a moderation of Walker’s ambitions for the remainder of his term).

It’s hard to assess what impact the outcome will have in November. Exit polls of those who turned out to vote in Wisconsin put Barack Obama up seven points over Mitt Romney, which might seem encouraging for the president’s campaign. On the other hand, Obama carried the state by 14 …

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Wall Street pay packages … well, you know what they did

According to an analysis from Bloomberg, CEO compensation for the nation’s 50 biggest financial companies “collectively rose by an average of 20.4 percent in 2011 — a year when most big banks and brokerages saw their revenues, profits and stock prices plummet. The 2011 pay rise followed a 26 percent increase in 2010 for CEOs who held the same job in both years …

“Overall, 33 of the 50 biggest financial companies had negative share returns in their 2011 fiscal years, as they were buffeted, particularly in the second half of the year, by a series of crises that froze the deal markets.”

So let me see if I’ve got this financial CEO gig figured out:

In a bad year in which you produce negative returns for your shareholders and most Americans are just happy to have a job, you increase your multi-million-dollar pay package by an average of 20 percent. Over a two-year period, your already extravagant compensation jumps a total of 50 percent on average.

And of course, all this follows …

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