Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for July 15, 2014


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for July 15, 2014

On July 15, 1864, Sherman’s army began crossing the Chattahoochee River and would take the better part of three days to complete the crossing. Georgia Public Broadcasting has a series on Sherman’s Georgia campaign, and you can watch this week’s episode here.

Major General George Stoneman’s cavalry had come to the area south of Atlanta. On July 15, 1864, Stoneman wrote from camp near Villa Rica, Georgia.

As I indicated to you in my last note, we completed the bridge (Moore’s), and were ready to cross at daybreak yesterday morning, but before we essayed it a report came from Major Buck, in command of a battalion seven miles above, that the enemy had been crossing above him on a boat or a bridge, and that his pickets had been cut off.

Colonel Biddle, who was left with his brigade at Campbellton, reports the enemy quite strong at that point, with two guns of long range in each of the two redoubts on the opposite bluff, which are opened upon him whenever any of his men show themselves.

I was very anxious to strike the railroad from personal as well as other considerations, but I became convinced that to attempt it would incur risks inadequate to the results, and unless we could hold the bridge, as well as penetrate into the country, the risk of capture or dispersion, with loss of animals (as I could hear of no ford), was almost certain.

On July 15, 1870, Georgia was readmitted to the United States, with the signature by President Ulysses Grant of the “Georgia Bill” by the U.S. Congress.

On July 15, 1938, the first recorded use occurred of the name “Alcoholics Anonymous” in a letter from Bill W. Next July, the organization will gather in Atlanta to celebrate its 80th anniversary.

On July 15, 1948, President Harry Truman was nominated at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago to run for a full term as President of the United States.

A short list of longer reads

Today, we’ll take a break from much of modern Georgia politics, and I hope you’ll indulge me for a few excerpts from longer reads that are relevant to us in the Peach State.

Yesterday, I heard a story on GPB’s radio show in which Rickey Bevington discussed a letter by sociologist Mark Patrick George of Valdosta State and Reverend Floyd Rose arguing that state holidays commemorating the Confederacy should be eliminated.

George told GPB’s Rickey Bevington that while people today celebrate the Confederacy for a variety of reasons, private heritage groups should pay for events and memorials.

“I think these activities and the fact that we use tax revenue to offset them basically ask black folks to pay for their own degradation. And I think there are a lot of progressive, forward-thinking Georgians of all races that don’t want to support these activities and don’t think we should be forced to by the state.”

Georgia marks a state holiday for Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s birthday as well as for Confederate Memorial Day. On the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, a group in Milledgeville reenacted the state lawmaker’s January 1861 debate about whether to secede from the Union.

MARK GEORGE, sociologist: What the letter is trying to do is engage the governor and the general assembly about historical fact, number one, but also that the state is asking Georgians to pay for these activities that fundamentally glorify men who advocated for white supremacy and wanted to preserve and expand slavery in the country. Our secession statement as a state states that very clearly if anybody takes the time to read it.

The State Holiday for Confederate Memorial Day is April 26th, and this year it was observed by the closing of state offices on April 28th; the birthday of Robert E. Lee, which is January 19th, will be observed on Friday, November 28th, extending the Thanksgiving holiday.

Atlanta writer and Pit Bull owner Tom Junod writes of the plight of the Pit Bull, a human-created problem that leads to the killing of 2000 to 3000 dogs classified as Pit Bulls or Pit Bull mixes every day in America.

This is a story about an American dog: my dog, Dexter. And because Dexter is a pit bull, this is also a story about the American dog, because pit bulls have changed the way Americans think about dogs in general. Reviled, pit bulls have become representative. There is no other dog that figures as often in the national narrative—no other dog as vilified on the evening news, no other dog as defended on television programs, no other dog as mythologized by both its enemies and its advocates, no other dog as discriminated against, no other dog as wantonly bred, no other dog as frequently abused, no other dog as promiscuously abandoned, no other dog as likely to end up in an animal shelter, no other dog as likely to be rescued, no other dog as likely to be killed. In a way, the pit bull has become the only American dog, because it is the only American dog that has become an American metaphor—and the only American dog that people bother to name. When a cocker spaniel bites, it does so as a member of its species; it is never anything but a dog. When a pit bull bites, it does so as a member of its breed. A pit bull is never anything but a pit bull.

There are two ironies here: The first is, as pit-bull advocates like to point out, “the pit bull is not a breed; it’s a classification.” Even the municipalities that have banned it acknowledge as much in the language of their laws, which is a language of approximation. Denver, for instance, stipulates that a pit bull “is defined as any dog that is an American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, or any dog displaying the majority of physical traits of any one (1) or more of the above breeds, or any dog exhibiting those distinguishing characteristics which substantially conform to the standards established by the American Kennel Club or United Kennel Club for any of the above breeds.” Yet Luis Salgado, the animal-services investigator charged with enforcing the pit-bull ban in Miami, admits that “there is no reliable DNA testing for that breed. DNA is useless. If you look at where that breed came from, there’s American bulldog, there’s terrier—all watered down and mixed together to produce the dog we now call the pit bull.” What Salgado uses to establish a dog’s genetic identity is not genetics but rather “physical characteristics—we have a forty-seven-point checklist. Any dog that substantially conforms to the characteristics of a pit bull is considered a pit bull.”

You know one when you see one, in other words—and so the second irony proceeds from the first: You see a lot of them. The pit bull is not a breed but a conglomeration of traits, and those traits are reshaping what we think of as the American dog, which is to say the American mutt. A few generations ago, the typical mutt was a rangy dog with a long snout and pricked ears—a shepherd mix. Now it looks like a pit bull. This is not simply because so many pit-bull owners oppose spaying and neutering their dogs and their dogs are bred so frequently and haphazardly; nor is it simply because so many of the traits associated with pit bulls have proven common. It’s because the very definition of a pit bull is so elastic and encompassing. As Salgado says, “It doesn’t have to be purebred to be considered a pit bull.” A German shepherd crossed with a pit bull is a pit bull. A cocker spaniel crossed with a pit bull is a pit bull. “We had a beautiful dog in here not long ago that was a pit-Weimaraner mix,” says Lieutenant Cheryl Shepard, who runs the animal shelter in Cobb County, Georgia, where I live. “But we try not to call dogs pit mixes, because then nobody will adopt them. So we called it a Weimaraner mix. And it looked like a Weimaraner. It had a lot of the traits of a Weimaraner. We found a woman to adopt it. But she took it to her vet and he said, ‘No, that’s a pit bull.’ She returned it the next day.”

Thirty years after it first attained notoriety as an accessory to the inner-city drug trade, the pit bull has become commonplace in the United States. No one knows exactly how many there are, especial ly if pit-bull mixes are included in the estimate, for despite going unregistered and uncounted, the pit bull has achieved near omnipresence in big cities and even a certain hard-won popularity in the suburbs. But at the same time, it has become less a type of dog than a strain of dog that still makes many Americans deeply uncomfortable. The demographic shifts that are transforming America’s human population find a mirror in the demographic shifts that are transforming America’s canine one, with the same effect: More and more we become what we somehow can’t abide. We might accept pit bulls personally, but America still doesn’t accept them institutionally, where it counts; indeed, apartment complexes and insurance companies are arrayed in force against them. And so are we: For although we adopt them by the thousands, we aban don them by the millions. The ever-expanding population of dogs considered pit bulls feeds an ever-expanding population of dogs condemned as pit bulls, and we resolve this rising demographic pressure in the way to which we’ve become accustomed: in secret, and in staggering numbers. We have always counted on our dogs to tell us who we are. But what pit bulls tell us is that who we think we are is increasingly at odds with what we’ve turned out to be.

We are not a pure country or a country that values purity. We are a country of adoption, a country of rescues, a country of mutts. At least that’s how we like to think of ourselves. But we are also a country that likes to create idylls of its own good intentions and then penalize what doesn’t fit. Pit bulls don’t fit. They don’t fit in the idyll of the dog park or sometimes even in the idyll of rescue, in which dogs that demand total responsibility are instead expected to rise above what they really are. They have upped the ante on American dog ownership by narrowing the margin of error to the point of nonexistence. Their detractors say they are more likely to kill; their advocates say the only thing they are more likely to do is die. We make a habit of asking dogs about their own goodness without expecting or getting an answer. But go to an animal shelter and before they are euthanized, ask the dogs you see there—the pit bulls you see there—about our goodness. You will get all the answer you need.

If you’ve ever loved a dog and lost him or her, take a few minutes to check out this celebration of a beloved family pet’s last day. I’ll warn you that you might wish to look at this after work. Nothing in the story is NSFW, but you might be a bit of a wreck afterwards.

Speaking of Pit Bulls, Richard Feldman, President of Independent Firearm Owners Association, Inc. writes:

The far more interesting and potentially more important contest is between former Cong. Bob Barr and ex-State Senator Barry Loudermilk in Atlanta’s 11th Congressional District. The Democrats have no candidate. Tuesday’s winner will be in Congress.

Loudermilk is a “media” conservative — a “just say no” vote. He takes no political risks and has no plan, other than opposing Speaker Boehner. Bob Barr is at the cusp of a politically intriguing development in America today — the rebirth of what built this nation. It can’t be pigeon-holed as “liberal” or “conservative” or “Tea Party,” or whatever the political label of the moment might be. It’s born of the Declaration of Independence, steeped in freedom, liberty and uniting us as a people and a nation rather than dividing and isolating us in different camps, always bickering and name-calling to attract media attention and political support based on emotion and group identity instead of fact based analysis.
Bob Barr believes a single U.S. Representative can alter the course of events — even one who is no prophet, makes mistakes, and is, after all, simply human. He’s dedicated his life’s work to uphold our Declaration of Independence, the living bond uniting us all. He believes power is based in truth; that country, not political party comes first; and that freedom is above all else. He knows Washington and won’t waste the next two years finding his way around. He’s a force to be reckoned with and is a rarity in politics — he cares more about policy than re-election. He brings eight years seniority. In Congress, seniority counts. Every registered voter in Georgia’s 11th Congressional District can and must vote next Tuesday… if you want to send a very loud message — and the person who can magnify that message is Bob Barr.


[Disclaimer: if you live under a rock, or this is your first time reading, you might not know that in my own time, I am working for Bob Barr's campaign.]

The last day of Travis Roberts. Have a handkerchief handy.

In his last 48 hours I had the opportunity to ask Travis a question…

“Are you scared?”

Through labored breaths he smiled, shook his head no, and managed to say

No…Want to know a secret?”  “I’m kind of excited.” 

Don’t get me wrong…I wish I could stay…I’m sad…but now that I know that isn’t possible…I’m excited…”

The New Yorker on the story of Atlanta Public Schools’ cheating scandal, introduces you to the complexity of school reform and one view on what went wrong in Atlanta.

The principal of Parks, Christopher Waller, knew that he had seen the questions before the test. Waller told me that [Damany] Lewis was a “star teacher,” a “very hard worker, who will go the extra mile.” When the math portion of the test had been completed, Lewis said that Waller asked him how his students had done. Since Lewis had looked at the questions, it no longer seemed like a big deal to review the answers. Lewis returned to the testing office and opened up the answer sheets of a few students in his class who got average grades. He looked for a hard question and, when he saw that they’d solved it, he moved on, assuming that they had done fine. Then he said that he “piddled” in the room, wasting time. When he felt that he had been in there long enough, he told Waller that it looked as if his students had done O.K. But Waller told him to check the answers of students who weren’t in his class. This time, when he looked, Lewis saw that some of the smartest students at Parks had the wrong answers.

At the end of the testing week, Lewis went back to the testing office with Crystal Draper, a language-arts teacher. For about an hour, they erased wrong answers and bubbled in the right ones. They exchanged no words. Lewis couldn’t even look at her. “I couldn’t believe what we’d been reduced to,” he said. He tried to stay focussed on the mechanics of the work: he took care to change, at most, one or two answers for every ten questions. “I had a minor in statistics, and it’s not that hard to figure out windows of probability,” he told me. Many students were on the cusp of passing, and he gave them a little nudge, so that they would pass by one or two points.

Atlanta’s school superintendent, Beverly Hall, who was hired in 1999, quickly became aware of the problems at Parks. A neighborhood minister repeatedly called to complain about drug dealing in front of the school. Hall, who was born in Jamaica, had spent her career in underperforming urban districts: she began as a teacher in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, in the seventies, and moved on to become a superintendent in Newark. At one of her first meetings in Atlanta, she said, someone “got up and was literally screaming, ‘Just tell us what to do. We’ve got to do something about education in Atlanta.’ ” Three-quarters of the students in the district were living near or below the poverty line—ninety per cent were black or Latino—and fewer than forty per cent graduated from high school.

Hall belonged to a movement of reformers who believed that the values of the marketplace could resuscitate public education. She approached the job like a business executive: she courted philanthropists, set accountability measures, and created performance objectives that were more rigorous than those required by No Child Left Behind, which became law in 2002. When a school met its targets, all employees, including bus drivers and cafeteria staff, received up to two thousand dollars. She linked teacher evaluations to test scores and warned principals that they’d be fired if they didn’t meet targets within three years. Eventually, ninety per cent were replaced. She repeated the mantra “No exceptions and no excuses.”

Hall’s targets required that the number of students who met standards rise by nearly three per cent annually; in addition, a group of students had to “exceed” standards each year. Later, when asked by a state investigator how she had arrived at those figures, she acknowledged that there were no studies supporting that rate of improvement. According to Waller, the district became increasingly “corporate,” with every school focussed on the “bottom line.” He wrote teachers’ targets in marker on the floor of the entryway to their classrooms, in view of the students. He instructed the teachers, “I need those numbers,” and, “You need to teach to the test. Do what you’ve got to do.”

Lewis began to worry that mathematics had assumed an unhealthy role in the district. “Data” and “accountability” had become almost magic words: if administrators repeated them enough, it seemed they believed that scores should rise, even if there hadn’t been significant enhancements in instruction. Lewis welcomed the district’s new emphasis on reading—teachers got specialized training and taught reading more intensively—but many of the other reforms were oriented around deadlines and time frames. Lewis said, “We had two weeks to teach percentages, and if you’re still on percentages at week three, because your kids don’t get it yet, they’ll say, ‘You don’t teach well enough!’ Well, come, now, we are dealing with human brains.” He continued, “I sincerely believe that demographics does not determine destiny. But you have to be patient.”

In lengthy plea statements, Waller and the other defendants provided a miniature history of the past twelve years in education policy, describing how No Child Left Behind, in conjunction with the district’s targets, created an atmosphere in which cheating came to seem like a reasonable option. One principal described a “toxic culture throughout APS where all that mattered was test scores, even if ill-gotten.” Another said that the district’s “primary focus . . . became meeting targets instead of focusing on the needs of the students.”


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