Archive for December, 2010

Getting some of the money out of (holding) elections

Tinkering with election laws can be tricky. Voters are understandably sensitive to changes that feel restrictive, and Georgia must get federal approval for any tweaks.

If Secretary of State Brian Kemp gets his way, any election reforms will be deliberate.

Last month, in a column asking if it makes sense to hold runoff elections that draw as few as 5 percent of the voters, I mentioned Kemp was forming a committee to weigh election changes. After naming its members, he sat down with me to discuss some of his ideas.

First, here’s Kemp’s charge for the group: “Keep the elections secure, make them more secure, but also look at cost savings.”

And remember: Be patient.

“I think it’ll be interesting to see what the Legislature is going to tackle this year. And things they don’t, I think they’ll have a good place [Kemp’s committee] to throw things for us to look at over the next year. …

“And I’ve cautioned a lot of the legislators: Don’t make a rash decision on …

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Here’s the word for 2011: ‘Unwind’

Words matter to those of us who arrange them for a living. Amid the gusher of lists we see at each year’s end, I always take note of the various selections for Word of the Year.

“Austerity,” attempts at which sparked riots from the Acropolis to Big Ben, is Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s choice for 2010. The New Oxford American Dictionary went in a slangier direction with Sarah Palin’s unintentional coinage, “refudiate.” Edgiest of all, not surprisingly, is the online Urban Dictionary’s pick: “gate rape,” inspired by the feds’ new, more-invasive airport security measures.

But 2010 is nearly past. It’s time to look forward. And so, in the spirit of forecasting next year’s Heisman Trophy winner right after this year’s award ceremony, or placing way-early odds on the GOP’s 2012 presidential nominee in the hours after the midterms, I offer this suggestion for semantic significance in ’11: “Unwind.”

The word could apply to a nation that’s been …

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In fixing budget, be unfair to boomers

That’s the plea from Washington Post economics columnist, and card-carrying baby boomer, Robert Samuelson:

I received my Medicare card the other day, recognizing my 65th birthday and making me part of one of America’s biggest problems. By this, I mean the burden that the massive baby-boom generation will impose on its children and the nation’s future. There has been much brave talk recently, from Republicans and Democrats alike, about reducing budget deficits and controlling government spending. The trouble is that hardly anyone admits that accomplishing these goals must include making significant cuts in Social Security and Medicare benefits for baby boomers.

(snip)

Yet, neither political party seems interested in reducing benefits for baby boomers. Doing so, it’s argued, would be “unfair” to people who had planned retirements based on existing programs. Well, yes, it would be unfair. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a worse time for cuts. Unemployment is horrendous; eroding home …

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Gone a-wassailin’

I’m off to enjoy some family time — maybe even make an attempt at that peaceful Christmas-card image I was talking about downstairs — and will be back next Tuesday, Dec. 28. Until then, you’ll still be able to submit comments on most blog entries but they will all go through moderation before being posted.

But most important, I hope you and yours have a very merry Christmas.

– By Kyle Wingfield

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This Christmas, let goodwill bring the gift of peace

Christmas is almost upon us. What do you want? I mean: What do you really want?

If you’re like me, you can think of a few gifts that would be nice to unwrap: a good book, a new tool for the workshop, replacements for those brown shoes that sprang a leak last month.

But, if you’re like me, you also have an image in your head of what you really hope for this time of year: your family, relaxing, maybe snuggled together on a couch; darkness seeping in from the window, broken only by the soft glow of a Christmas tree, or, better, a warm fire; the lingering aroma of a just-finished dinner; and, above all else, a contented quiet throughout the house.

Maybe it’s the sepia sketch from a Christmas card past. Maybe it’s the mental picture you get when singing of chestnuts roasting on an open fire, a winter wonderland, or a promise to be home for Christmas. Maybe you’re lucky enough to be recalling an actual memory.

Regardless, the feeling it evokes is more spiritual than …

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Top 2010 story: One most people have stopped following

At least it’s tops according to the Associated Press, which named the BP Gulf oil spill as the year’s No. 1 story. This, even though the predicted apocalypse for the coast’s ecology and economy has yet to materialize. (Well, except for the drilling moratorium the White House imposed through manipulation of scientific opinion — a “man-caused disaster” and “restoring science to its rightful place” two-fer!)

Here’s the AP’s explanation:

The April 20 explosion at a BP-leased rig killed 11 workers and unleashed a deep-sea spill that ultimately spewed at least 170 million gallons of crude into the Gulf. Consequences included devastation for fishing and tourism industries, a huge and costly cleanup effort, a management change at BP, and creation of a $20 billion fund to pay for damages.

The rest of the news wire’s top 10:

2. Health Care Overhaul

3. U.S. Elections

4. U.S. Economy

5. Haiti Earthquake

6. Tea Party Movement

7. Chile Mine Rescue

8. Iraq

9. WikiLeaks

10. Afghanistan

(The …

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Census puts a hurt on some Democratic strongholds

As expected, the feds announced today that Georgia will add a 14th seat in the U.S. House — and one more vote in the Electoral College — thanks to the 2010 Census. We’ve added 1.5 million residents over the past decade and now have the ninth-most populous state, up from 10th after the 2000 Census.

That’s New Jersey you see in our rear-view mirror. Michigan is up next: The only state to shrink over the past 10 years, it now has just 200,000 more people than Georgia (versus an edge of nearly 1.8 million in 2000).

You may have already read about some of the other trends: The South was the fastest-growing region, and Republican-leaning states by and large gained at the expense of Democratic-leaning states. Most of the growing states remain in the “red” category after this year’s mid-term elections, meaning they are not turning purplish due to their influx of blue-state emigres.

Here are some specifics from those trends that caught my eye:

  • For the first time since it became a …

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Bill Gates vs. the teacher-union boss

This interview in Newsweek is one of the most fascinating things I’ve read lately. You have Bill Gates, a multibillionaire and someone who is very interested in reforming our public schools, paired with Randi Weingarten, the head of one of the nation’s largest teachers unions and someone who has spent her career fighting against many sensible attempts at reform.

Time and again, Gates exposes the complete emptiness of the positions held by Weingarten and her charges — and does so without coming across as attacking teachers themselves. Not once does Weingarten respond with anything we haven’t heard hundreds of times before: It’s the school managers who aren’t doing their jobsthe evaluation process is broken (but we oppose all the proposed solutions for fixing it) … tenure is about fairnessblah blah blah.

You’ve heard the unions’ excuses before. You can go to the interview itself to read them one more time, but I’m excerpting some of Gates’ retorts here (emphasis added …

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On political moderates, tea-party victories, and more!

If you thought we’ve been moving farther apart, you were right.

Gallup, which has been asking Americans if we are conservative, moderate or liberal since at least 1992, finds that the self-labeled moderate group has shrunk by 8 percentage points over the last 18 years — a trend it calls “unmistakable.” The shift is split evenly between conservatives and liberals:

Gallup Political Ideology of U.S. Adults -- Annual Averages

It would appear that some moderates became gradually more liberal during the Bush years, and an even larger portion of them have joined the ranks of the conservatives during the Obama era.

Of course, whether you call yourself “moderate” depends in some part on where you think the middle lies. That’s why I think the proportion of self-described moderates in each party (click here for graphs) is less important than the trends of self-described conservatives and liberals:

Republicans consider themselves sharply more conservative, and Democrats think they’re sharply more liberal. The fairly steep decline in conservative …

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Pay inmates? No, but let’s correct some prison problems

Georgia’s next governor, Nathan Deal, said Wednesday the state must cut its work force to balance the budget.

Psst…Mr. Deal! Wanna know who ought to be first in line for the pink slips? How about the prison guards who sold so many cell phones to inmates that the jailbirds were able to organize a short-lived protest in state penitentiaries this month?

Depending on whom you believe, either the wardens at four state prisons locked down inmates for several days to pre-empt a protest, or the prisoners themselves refused to leave their cells to perform their work assignments.

The inmates used their contraband mobile phones — it’s a felony in this state for a prisoner to possess one — to send text messages to one another. Some of them used the phones to call an AJC reporter to claim credit for the work stoppage.

Their gripe? In large part, it’s that they want to be paid for working jobs within the lockups and on other state property.

One of them, a convicted murderer named …

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