Archive for September, 2010

John Monds, Governor

Pause for a moment and consider.  We are in the midst of an historical election, not only at the national level but also at the state and local levels, too.  Thanks to the information age, we now have immediate access to the actions of our governments, and for many, it is a scary sight.  Government has grown so big and so ever present, and yet it demands more.  It is time for a change.

This is about the current Georgia governor’s political race.  My wife and I have both decided to vote for John Monds, and you might want to do so also.  You have probably not heard of him, but you should know about him.  He’s running as the Libertarian candidate, and in any other year, the Libertarian candidate would be relegated to the sidelines.  But this is not an ordinary year.

Even I still believed the mainstream mantra about Libertarian candidates.  It was not thirty days ago that I opined:

  • On an emotional level, I want to like the Libertarians, but I can’t do it on an intellectual level.  There’s just not enough different to justify my vote.  Third party movements have always had a hard time with this, defeating the sense that you’re “throwing your vote away”…….   So, too, the Libertarian voice needs to be there, just to remind everybody that government can’t cure all that ails us.

Yet in those words is the key to our decision to support John Monds.  Government can’t cure all that ails us. And shouldn’t.  But it is more than that.

A Choice

Monds represents a clear choice in the governor’s race.  The two “leading” candidates for Governor of Georgia represent the major political brands of our time.  They also represent a microcosm of today’s damaged political situation.  Their names are not important, but what is important are the issues and backgrounds which they represent.  One is beholden to the teachers’ unions, a link to the system which has consumed so much taxpayer money and done so little.  The other is beholden to his creditors, and if the electorate had known that fact prior to the primaries, there would be a different candidate from that political party.  Monds comes to the governor’s race without the political and intellectual baggage of the two leading candidates.  And his relative lack of political experience may be an asset; we’ve already seen the outcomes of the experienced politicians running in the governor’s race.

The Existing Approach is Failing

Governments have become so big that they have become unwieldy; they are unable to perform the massive duties that they have taken upon themselves.  While some in the media rail on about what they describe as the “extremism” of the Tea Party, they miss the larger point.  It is the failure of our political system that has led to this extremism.  Consider Peggy Noonan’s words on the subject.  Change is in the air, and for due cause.  In any ordinary election year, the Libertarian candidate might well fit into the traditional role of “third party candidate”, but this is not any ordinary election year.  We need to look at all of the candidates to find the best choice.

Being For Something

It is more than that.  After watching the long fall of respect for many of our institutions, I am looking to vote for something rather than against.  Those of you who follow this blog know this to be a recurring theme of mine.  I’ve lived in the 4th Congressional District of Georgia long enough to know about voting against a candidate.  We had Cynthia McKinney for years, and there was no representation from her in our part of the County and there was nothing that we could do about it.  She felt neither obligated to care about our needs nor to even acknowledge our existence.  We were required to pay our taxes  but received not even a shred of representation.  She has moved on to other things, but the intellectual damage from her political career remains with us to this day.  The electorate has become cynical.

Today, we face a crisis of confidence in so many areas of our lives, of having trusted people to do the right thing and to be repeatedly disappointed.  And so many of those institutions now represent a failed status quo.  Our trust has been misplaced, but rather than vote against another candidate, I want to vote for ideas that I believe in.

I want our political structure to be better, to be positive instead of negative.  And it is this search for the positive that has brought me to supporting John Monds for Governor of Georgia.  Consider this article from the greatly improved Atlanta Journal Constitution.  A brief quote:

Q: What is a Libertarian?

A: The easiest and shortest definition is someone with a fundamental respect for the rights of individuals.

Q: Wouldn’t Republicans and Democrats make that same claim?

A: Talk is cheap. Time and time again, they have proved that that is not true.

Talk is indeed cheap, which explains why there’s so much of it. At the same time, talk is expensive, and it is that big money that has edged our country toward a disaster of massive proportions.  As pointed out in the Noonan piece:

This “will be remembered as the year the American people said no” to the status quo. The people “do not trust” those who make the decisions far away. They want to restore balance.

This is not an ordinary election year.  Those who care about the state of our political system are looking at things with fresh eyes, with a sense that we can do better than what we have now.  That we should do better than we have.

There is the growing sense that the omnipresent powerful government is not the right way.  Government serves a real and necessary purpose, but it cannot and should not be our “friend”.  This is true at all levels of government.  Less is indeed more.

The vast majority who would read this item would ask: “Who is John Monds?”  I ask you to look and find out.

It should be “John Monds, Governor“.

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Perhaps the most difficult thing for many institutions is reporting on themselves.  From corporation stock shareholder reports to investigative journalism, it’s often hard to speak honestly to the general public about what are often considered to be “internal events”.  If things are rosy, it is difficult to contain the resulting enthusiasm.  If the news is bleak, it becomes convenient to ignore or omit embarrassing details, and even to ignore the problem in its entirety.

This is a tale of WNEG-TV, currently of Athens, Georgia. For an overview, please see the Wikipedia article, here.   WNEG is in financial trouble and there hangs this blog item. Created as a place of learning in the University of Georgia Journalism School, the WNEG story may prove to be much more of a learning experience than the school’s administrators had counted on.

I first discovered WNEG’s problems on Doug Richards’ very interesting Live Apartment Fire blog, which covers media matters in the Atlanta market.  Richards had covered WNEG on prior occasions, but his most recent posting on the topic came after the Red & Black student newspaper broke the story that WNEG was blasting through its seed money.  The $5 million grant that it was given to begin operations was largely spent in 5 months.  That’s burn in anybody’s book.

The Timeline:

From an October, 2008 article on the Gainesville Times site: “WNEG went on the air in 1984 as an independent station owned by veteran Toccoa broadcaster Roy Gaines. It was affiliated with WNEG-AM 630, which is now under separate ownership.

In 1991, the TV station was acquired by Spartan Radiocasting Co., owner of CBS affiliate WSPA-TV in Spartanburg, S.C. When WAGA-TV in Atlanta became a Fox affiliate in 1994, it opened the door for WNEG to become a CBS affiliate for Northeast Georgia in 1995.

Spartan was acquired by Media General, a communications company based in Virginia. A year ago [2007; ed.], Media General announced it was exploring the sale of WNEG and other stations.

So, the Grady School of Journalism picked up WNEG, presumably at the top of the market.  Everything was sunny and bright:

Open, exposed and high-tech indeed.  And, if things had stayed as good as earlier years, this would have been a brilliant idea.  Students would have the opportunity to learn:


View from the control room

And, even early this year, things were still looking up:


But there was trouble on the horizon.  In October, 2009, the University of Georgia’s student newspaper, The Red & Black, ran an article.  In University-owned station WNEG finds trouble in the air, it was observed that:

Despite big plans for the future, construction delays and financial problems pushed back the opening of the studio and completely disrupted class plans for many Grady students.

By April, 2010, the Red & Black was back again with Pull WNEG’s plug:

The Red & Black editorial board believes to justify nearly $800,000 in staff salaries, WNEG has to produce content that equals that of other professional television stations.

And it doesn’t.

Businesses nationwide are constantly cutting costs and people, and the journalism industry is the poster child of reducing costs to survive. And that is exactly what WNEG needs to do.

Concurrent with the sale of WNEG-TV to the University of Georgia, a global financial crisis had developed.  Of course, these things aren’t announced in advance, and rarely is there a singular event that causes everybody to say “Ahhhh, a financial crisis”.  Instead, there is the slowly dawning realization that things aren’t quite working in the same way.

At about the same time as the Red & Black editorial, Doug Richards also picked up on the problem with WNEG.

From there, things have been moving at their own pace.

WNEG gets $340,000 reprieve from UGA research foundation


Students can help save WNEG-TV

In particular, I found the “Students can help save…” article to be interesting because it articulates something which we used to hear from Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney in old black and white movies:

What fine arts major hasn’t said to their friends, “Dude, we should totally make a TV show?”

In the barn.  While I admire the youthful enthusiasm and can-do attitude, one also has to acknowledge what appear to be the realities of the situation.  There are already thousands of outlets for youthful enthusiasm on the media scene today, many of them quite professional.  Just take a look at You Tube.  This is the same problem that WNEG faced originally, there are too many media outlets and the weaker ones are going to fall by the wayside.  Whether WNEG is one of these or not depends upon a meeting which will supposedly be held on September 23rd.  Again, the Gainesville Times:

“In September, we’ll be prepared to talk more specifics as we continue the evaluation of the various options with our consultant to figure out what best meets our needs,” said Tim Burgess, senior vice president for finance and administration. “It feels like we’re closing in on a best option. When you study hard, you get a better feel. A year ago, we weren’t studying it, we were implementing a business plan, but three or four months ago we began re-assessing that business plan.”

Whatever happens, it is an interesting situation.  It is not fair to expect that management would know that a financial crisis would develop as it did, but on the other hand, it is fair to expect them to acknowledge a problem and promptly address it.

At the same time, perhaps the students at WNEG are being given an opportunity to observe a news story on a first-hand basis.  How they report it may prove to be far more useful than classroom time listening to some lecturer running along about the ideal world.

Moreover, what shines here is the journalistic abilities of the Red & Black, which has been running stories about the WNEG mess for quite a while.  Nor is this just the Red & Black, print media in these parts has shown signs of life.  Consider the investigative reporting over the last year by the Atlanta Journal Constitution on:

  • Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal.
  • DeKalb County Public Schools bidding scandal.
  • Political campaign reporting.
  • MARTA budgetary spending.

And much, much more.  For a supposedly dead institution, the newspaper is looking remarkably life like.

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I’m reading a book written by Marj Carpenter called “Get Your Foot Out of the Darn Petunias” [ISBN:978-1-4500-1954-5, Xlibris Press].  The “Xlibris Press” means that she published this book herself and when you want a copy, you order it from Xlibris.  They print it on demand and mail it from Canada directly to you; technology marches on.  Because she is an editorial type, the book is pretty well written, easily worth the purchase price.

I know Marj through a friend, Gary Rowe, with whom I share a railroad related blog, so when I heard of this book, I had to buy it.  Marj refuses to call it an autobiography, and her two previous books were about the Presbyterian mission, but Petunias is described as “Stories From My Life”.  And interesting stories they are.   I am quite familiar with some of them, having heard them at a dinner table, full of gin and red meat, and laughing uproariously.  Others are new to me, so the book is still interesting.  As you read the little two and three page vignettes, it becomes like looking at a stained glass window; the little pieces of colored glass slowly form into one large coherent image.

Marj grew up tough, and started work in a tough business,  journalism of the 1950’s and 1960’s, where a woman was rarely welcomed, much less appreciated.  She worked for small town newspapers, ekeing out a modest living for her family.  The term rough & tumble is appropriate, especially so when she broke a certain news story.  It is impossible to read Marj’s book without knowing who a key character is.

You have to be old enough to remember who Lyndon Johnson was, and the Great Society, and Viet Nam, all of that stuff that is now ancient history.  Billie Sol Estes managed to create a grand scandal by playing the skinny with a Federal farming program.  It should be noted that Wikipedia categorizes Estes as a “Real-life notable con artists”.  The gist of the scam:

In the late 1950s, Estes was heavily involved in the Texas anhydrous ammonia business. He produced mortgages on nonexistent ammonia tanks by convincing local farmers to purchase them on credit, sight unseen, and lease them from the farmers for the same amount as the mortgage payment, paying them a convenience fee as well. He used the fraudulent mortgage holdings to obtain loans from banks outside Texas who were unable to easily check on the tanks.

At the same time, United States Department of Agriculture began controlling the price of cotton, specifying quotas to farmers. The program included an acreage allotment that normally was not transferable from the land it was associated with, but which could be transferred if the original land was taken by eminent domain.

Estes worked out a method to purchase large numbers of cotton allotments, by dealing with farmers who had been disposessed of land through eminent domain. He convinced the farmers to purchase land from him in Texas and transfer their allotments there, with a mortgage agreement delaying the first payment for a year. Then he would lease the land and allotments back from the farmer for $50 per acre. Once the first payment came due, the farmer would intentionally default and the land would revert to Estes; in effect, Estes had purchased the cotton allotments with the lease fees. However, because the original sale and mortgage were a pretext rather than a genuine sale, it was illegal to transfer the cotton allotments this way.

It was Marj Carpenter that broke this story.  As Marj’s paper began developing the story, a journalistic war broke out in Pecos, Texas.  Estes opened up his own newspaper, The Pecos Daily News to counteract the stories which Marj was writing for The Pecos Independent.  There was no gunfire, but everything else was wide-open, from trashed newspapers to stolen camera film.  National attention was drawn to the scandal.  He also made the cover of Time Magazine.

In the end, Estes went to prison for a couple years, only to be released after a 5/4 Supreme Court decision based on the fact that Estes could not get a fair trial because of all the publicity.  By this time, the issues raised by the scandal had been largely reconciled and the Johnson Administration was eager to turn the public’s attention to other things.

As an aside, although Estes was back on the streets, his ego remained the same.  He has his own website, which you can find by yourself.  And, he has published an autobiography entitled “Billie Sol Estes: a Texas Legend”, that was published by the appropriately named BS Productions.

Marj moved on, too, but her fighting spirit remains.  It just shifted over to doing work for the Presbyterian Church.

I talk about this because another governmental scandal has just raised its little head right here in Atlanta.  Nothing big or anything, but just one of those little things that makes you shake your head.  To wit:

The chief operating officer of a local company was arrested Friday after several of her former employees told a judge she forged their signatures and defrauded the federal government……  Employees testified that they began working for [deleted] after applying for a stimulus-funded back-to-work program. They said they were told by the state that they would be paid $14 per hour, but said they either weren’t paid, their checks bounced, or they were paid less than $14 dollars per hour.

As has been pointed out in this blog before, the government is getting so big that Congress itself does not know what it is voting for.  And, as it continues to grow even bigger, this problem can only get worse.

A lot of people complain that Congress is deadlocked, and I’m beginning to feel that it is deadlocked because it is operating beyond it’s capacity as an institution.  That is, the founders of the United States, back in the 1700’s, deliberately designed an institution that could only get to be so big.  Once past that point, Congress can’t do its job, no matter who is in power.

There’s no real challenge in finding Congressional inefficiency.  A quick look at Jamie Dupree’s archives is easily sufficient.  For example, I wonder what this earmark is for?:

Lake Eufaula Association, OK Construction of a Facility $400,000

And, the more that we spend, the less we seem to be able to control fraudulent spending.  Is the Lake Eufala Association legitimate?  Your guess is as good as mine.  This is just one earmark in thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of earmarked Congressional spending.  The general public is constantly being distracted with Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Illegal Immigration, a Mosque at Ground Zero, but they all simply are distractions from the biggest issue.

The Spending.

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