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Opinion Blogs

    COVID19 positive test results are significantly rising. Georgia last week experienced three consecutive days of daily sharp increases and record 'positives.' Not going to spend time or precious word count here debating the 'why.' Test results LAG tests by several days, often 7-10 days, meaning that today's spikes are documentation of infection or virus spread which actually occurred a week or two ago. All but the most ardent anarchists would prefer NOT to drag this state or our nation's economy through another prolonged period of shut-down (note I did leave in an exception). Masks and other public health recommendations should not be partisan issues, yet I will again not weigh in here on the cries of 'hoax,' or intentional launch of a global pandemic to harpoon ONE political incumbent who otherwise on several other fronts make himself quite a fine target. I am going to assume that each of us has family, friends or loved ones whom we might want to protect from this dire illness. In my own case, my oldest daughter is pregnant with twins (high risk), my youngest child has asthma and a slightly compromised immune system (high risk) and my mother is both immune-compromised, living on an oxygen machine and medically fragile (high risk).  So...though I am not living the life of a shut-in, I take precautions. Shoes stay at the doorway, hand-washing to the point that my palms and backs of hands are continually red and almost chapped and whenever I am outside and about and among others...I am wearing a mask. And make no mistake. I hate them. And yet... I still wear them.  Smoking and lung disease cost me both of my paternal grandparents. Fifty plus years of smoking have my mother struggling to breathe and function in her ever-shrinking world. I held my grandfather, William C. 'Bud' Crane's hand as he painfully struggled to breathe his final breath. His face contorted in agony, his chest heaved...and his eyes and expression froze showing significant pain as he literally drowned in front of me as his lungs liquified. Is was not peaceful, nor dignified...and though I have unfortunately seen other deaths and dying, this was a horrible way to go.  Would you drink after or share dining utensils with a stranger? Would you feel comfortable dining in a restaurant where the workers/servers wore no masks, gloves, or hairnets in the preparation of your food? Would you have unprotected sex on a routine basis with many people while being in a relationship with someone you care about? Would you swap gum or spit or even a lollipop with even a friend or family member intentionally?  Here is another one...and this is particularly tricky. Would a wall along our southern border act as a BARRIER and slow the unlawful crossing of non-citizens into our sovereign nation? Okay then, pretend the potential COVID19 virus spores are illegals from Mexico. Now, if all of this common sense has you revisiting your own thinking on to mask or not to mask…  Your mask should cover your NOSE and MOUTH.  If wearing a cloth mask, please wash or rinse out after a day or two of use.  You can scowl, not smile or smile while mouthing obscenities silently to yourself while mask-wearing...and no one will know. Yes, they are inconvenient, hot, ear chaffing, sticky, unflattering and occasionally smell bad. But the masks won't likely KILL YOU. COVID19 possibly could, or worse, with you not taking common-sense precautions, YOU could assist the death of someone who means all the world to you.  And yes, it would be nice if most world leaders modeled the behavior which they are expecting. But that said, I don't see the rest of the country dipping themselves in orange bronzer or seeking out bad comb-overs either.  If a mask would prevent you from getting cancer, heart disease, or diabetes, would you likely wear it? COVID19 is none of these things, but as I know several people who have experienced the worst of both, only those in later stage cancer treatment or severe COVID19 hospitalizations have told me that there were times when they would have preferred death.  We don't need mask laws or even gubernatorial executive orders...we just need commons sense and common courtesy. If you are not alone, exercising outdoors or able to exist without breathing...then please, for those whom you do love and care about...don't be an ask...wear a mask.
  • Garrett Rolfe is legally entitled to bond following his arrest for murder following the shooting death of Rayshard Brooks. Shortly after he surrendered to authorities, Attorneys for Rolfe filed an “Emergency Motion for Bond.” Under Georgia law, bond in a murder case can only be set by a Superior Court judge. The Superior Courts are the highest-level trial court that exists in the state. According to the Official Code of Georgia (O.C.G.A. 17-6-1), the defendant bears the burden of proof to establish that he or she is entitled to bail according to the following criteria:  (e) A court shall be authorized to release a person on bail if the court finds that the person:  (1) Poses no significant risk of fleeing from the jurisdiction of the court or failing to appear in court when required;  (2) Poses no significant threat or danger to any person, to the community, or to any property in the community;  (3) Poses no significant risk of committing any felony pending trial; and  (4) Poses no significant risk of intimidating witnesses or otherwise obstructing the administration of justice.  Using these factors, and applying what we know about Garrett Rolfe, it appears he is entitled to bond.  First, Rolfe is not a flight risk. He has substantial ties to the community. He is a resident of the metro-Atlanta area, he has many local family members, he voluntarily surrendered himself to custody, and he has retained counsel. All of this suggests Rolfe is not a flight risk and will appear in court when required.  Secondly, there is no reason to believe Rolfe is a threat to any person, to the community, or to any property in the community. Rolfe has no known criminal history and considering Rolfe was a police officer who passed a background check, it is unlikely there is any criminal history.  >>Below are images of Rolfe’s official emergency motion for bond. The same analysis suggests Rolfe poses no risk of committing any felonies while awaiting trial and that he is not a risk to intimidate any witnesses or to obstruct the administration of justice.  The real question is what would a bond for Rolfe look like? What amount is appropriate? Would any conditions – such as a curfew or ankle monitor - be attached? Judges have wide discretion on these points. Considering that Rolfe is presumed to be innocent and that bail is not supposed to be punitive in nature, the defense may argue for a signature bond (meaning no actual money posted) with few, if any conditions. The District Attorney has publicly stated he is opposed to any bond. So even though there is a strong case in favor of the granting of a bond, this is a question left to the discretion of one Superior Court Judge.
  • Tuesday, June 9, 2020, will be an Election Day that thousands of Georgia voters may remember for years to come. Like so much else of 2020, it was an unpleasant surprise, complicated by promises to the contrary, foul weather, and in many places rank incompetence. But I digress, let's back up and come at this as the situation on the ground evolved. Following the 2018 General Election in Georgia, several legal actions were filed, with a successful few having a major and lasting impact on Georgia elections. The most significant of those came in a federal court decision from U.S. District Court Judge Amy Totenberg, directing the state of Georgia, and the office of Georgia Secretary of State that no further elections could be held using the Direct Recording Electronic voting machines (DRE's) after December 31, 2019. Though Judge Totenberg did NOT require Georgia to move to full paper balloting as the plaintiffs were seeking, the order effectively scrapped 27,000 of the old DRE machines heading into an election year.  The Presidential Preference Primary, set for late March of 2020, typically has a turnout of between 25-35% of registered voters and advance voting was already underway, when a little something called the COVID19 pandemic was announced on Tuesday, March 17, 2020, and by Executive Order, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp issued an Emergency Order to shelter in place, closing schools, governments, and thousands of places of business statewide. The pandemic also ended in-person training on the newly selected voting equipment from Dominion Voting Systems all across the state in mid-March.  Without spending a lot of time on the finger-pointing which followed the disastrous June 9 General Primary Election Day and night, with final results still being tabulated as of this writing due to the record number of nearly 1.3 million absentee and advance votes, ballot tabulation is a local elections office responsibility, as are precinct locations and staffing, deployment of voting machines, printers and scanners and managing the actual elections process. There are 159 very able County Election Superintendents, overseen by local boards of election, as well as several dozen more Municipal Election Superintendents and registrars in larger cities.  Having spent five years in the office of Secretary of State during the administration of then SOS, Max Cleland, I can tell you that challenges with tabulating, late poll openings and extended hours, primarily once concentrated in north Fulton County suburbs, date back as far as the mid-1980s. Fulton is Georgia's most populous county, just over 100 miles long from end to end, and contains roughly 10 percent of all registered voters, but in 20 years of providing political analysis and commentary, I cannot remember an election night when Fulton County unofficial tabulation results were not the very last to be completed.  The pandemic also cost Fulton County the use of more than 40 precincts, some withdrawing only days prior to the Primary. With the average age of poll workers in Georgia being 70, prior to this election, hundreds of experienced precinct captains and poll workers followed the Governor's continuing Shelter in Place order for those medically frail or over the age of 65, and they stayed at home. This election, with brand new equipment, would also feature hundreds of lightly trained Millenials, stepping into part-time paid and volunteer roles, with hundreds also never having actually seen or touched the new equipment in person...only having YouTube videos and Zoom/Skype training sessions to prepare for this Election Day.  Add social distancing rules, on and off-again torrential rain and precincts moved without voters receiving notification and you have all the ingredients of a perfect storm to form a cluster ____.  So after the well-deserved pride and bluster of the new equipment roll-out, came the cluster and system failure on Election Day. NOW it's time to muster the resources, reinforce and schedule more training, and perhaps look at reducing some steps in the new voting process, as well as even more strongly recommending advance and absentee balloting for the November General Election. Georgia has been again held up to international ridicule, in part due to a hangover of election/alleged voter suppression reporting and opinion in 2018. The only real way to ever shake away that shadow is to run a model, efficient and well-managed election this fall. Not doing so will have negative impacts for the state and both political parties, as well as potentially causing irreparable harm to voter confidence in one of the bedrocks of our republic, the right, and the importance of each and every individual ballot and vote. This one matters too much to spend another day playing the blame game. Just fix it.
  • I have often heard from my parents, and even aging peers, that among the many joys of aging is the increasingly long list of items that you are told, 'You can't DO THAT anymore.' I have abided, in the main with the long list of public health and hygiene guidelines brought to the fore by this pandemic. Though I have not routinely 'sheltered in place,' I have been pretty religious about social distancing, washing hands, and more recently wearing gloves and a mask. But as we start to venture out more frequently, it appears that several of these new behavior modifications are expected to become permanent.  The Good -   Flextime/Telecommuting - The combination of potentially lower office rents and utility bills, as well as the need for significantly less central office space, with overall productivity rates not apparently harmed by a majority of employees working from home should cause employers large and small to embrace and expand teleworking and flex-time schedules post-pandemic.  Telemedicine - Bad news for everyone who enjoys reading six-month-old issues of People magazine or obscure medical trade publications, but the office part of an 'office visit' to your doctor may largely vanish. Though telemedicine visits are currently being comped and pushed by insurers and practitioners alike, I would later expect a nominal copayment as doctors still want to be compensated for their time.  Appreciation of Family - Though there may be a few new divorces in addition to the coming post-quarantine Baby Boom, this lockdown has also allowed for greater multi-generational family bonding and appreciation, facilitated by board games, long walks/talks and dinner with most family members actually seated around the same table.  The Bad -   NO contact - The French are apparently learning to do without the double-cheek kiss greeting, while the Japanese may double-down and bring back their more formal greeting bow. Human contact is critical to development, bonding, and even feelings of security for many. Without making us all Bubble Boys, regular contact may need some re-invention without becoming the enemy of virus prevention.  NO handshakes, no hugging - Admittedly, I will have trouble saying goodbye to both of these. Those who refused handshakes in years past were always suspect to me. Perhaps coincidentally when I first met Donald Trump during the early 2000s, he was a well-established germaphobe who eschewed shaking hands. Mr. Trump was then only a New York developer/hotelier with an NBC-prime time TV show, demonstrating perhaps a precursor to his later virus prevention before hydroxychloroquine.  Aversion to all public events & gatherings - Everything from school graduations to concerts and most all professional, collegiate, and high school sports, as well as the majority of religious gatherings will all be significantly impacted if this change becomes permanent. Making everything virtual and/or pay-per-view is not a realistic long term solution. This one will simply require a great deal more prayer and thoughtful consideration before many of us are actually willing to forgo Georgia football.  The Impossible -   Social Distancing - We are just over two months into this global closure/lockdown. While I have been periodically out and about throughout this time, I have noted considerable ebb and flow in social distancing spaces, the use of masks and gloves, etc... If '6 feet apart' is to be the new norm, there are several ancillary and sideline casualties including whispering, low-talking, holding hands between all but family and committed couples, and even keeping space with pets, as COVID19 is considered a low-risk biological species jumper.  Kids being kids - In whatever fashion our children return to public school, this fall or later, I am skeptical about how much we can educate or instruct kids not to be kids. Touching each other, eating off each other's plates and the positive qualities of 'sharing' have in the past been a deeply ingrained habit when around peers and other children. Though this virus is in the main of less concern regarding the young, I expect the possibility of them becoming asymptomatic carriers may become the greatest challenge we face this fall.  And as I have come to accept certain aspects of my own aging, and while smiling beneath my mask with sometimes grit teeth...I am conforming to these CDC guidelines, I also take heart in the reality that you can also remain young at heart with regular exercise, smart choices, and some practice. I'll just have to hope that also applies later to always taking along my common sense when I leave home from now on.
  • There is no estimated loss of life which we should consider an acceptable number but during a pandemic, there will be loss of life. Minimizing risks, maximizing recoveries and finding viable treatments and preventative vaccines and therapies are all top priorities now for modern medicine, bio-science, pharmaceutical companies and the alphabet soup of intergovernmental health agencies across this globe. Thankfully, social distancing, virtual lockdown and self-quarantining/shelter in place orders are making more than a dent in potential infections, and generally having their desired effect. And even with testing numbers/percentages at far from desirable levels, COVID19 case numbers are plateauing, hots spots are getting a bit cooler, and the worst of the surge of infections appears close to being behind us, or at least within the next few weeks.  Just as our freedoms and movements were ratcheted down, in a series of more aggressive Emergency Orders, it will soon be time to start opening back up the spigot and America's economy. Fear and trepidation, in some respects thankfully, are expected also to remain here for some time to come.  The recovery will likely take longer than the shutdown. Six weeks ago, our nation was humming along at virtually full employment. And as of this past Friday, 22-million Americans had filed for unemployment insurance. During the Great Depression, that number was 15-million at the peak, with nearly 25-percent of the working-age population out of work for the better part of a decade, against the backdrop of a smaller national population (122-million as of the 1930 Census, slightly more than a third of our current population). Unemployment did not drop below 10 percent until the onset of WWII.  Just six weeks ago, one of the strongest sellers' markets in decades was finally bringing near full recovery of home prices to their highs prior to the financial market and real estate collapse of 2008 (12 years ago).  Just six weeks ago, the robust economy had small businesses hiring, and our beloved Delta Airlines was in midst of training nearly 10,000 new pilots and stewards it had recently hired.  Our world really can change on a dime, or in this case a microscopic virus which tells our own body to turn on itself, and which structure mirrors that of a healthy protein cell.  COVID19 has knocked us out of our boots, and there are likely a few more shoes yet to drop. But we still have to stand up, and go ahead, with caution, and strap our boots back on and walk out of the house.  Pay cuts, lay-offs, and terminations are dropping like flies from businesses large and small. The public sector, which derives its revenues from taxes and fees of all kinds of individuals and the private sector is about to see its lagging revenues and cash flows drop off a cliff. We have to begin the process of turning the spigot back on before for many it is too late. Congress moved unusually quickly for a body that takes its time walking from one side of Capitol Hill to the other. The CARES Stimulus Act is far from perfect, but it is moving billions (actually trillions) in aid to the states, major population centers and almost every sector of our economy.  But after nearly one month of no income for many, it simply is not moving FAST enough. Though LARGER small businesses are successfully receiving Payroll Protection loans and assistance, the truly smaller businesses and self-employed who occupy so much of Main Street, are likely to find their application denied or insufficient funding available.  I'm not suggesting we ignore the public health experts, throw caution to the wind or assume we have suddenly developed immunity to this horrible virus that we did not have before. However serum treatments, promising clinical trials, and new uses for several old drugs, and NOT just the treatment protocol being hawked by the President, ARE each positively impacting survival rates.  Our boots are off, and the chips are down. I don't know about you, but I'm ready to stand up and strap'em back on. These boots are made for walking and climbing, not cowering, and not for expecting the state, federal or local government to drop by, keep handing me checks and to disinfect my home and entire community. When those folks in the know tell us to proceed with caution, let's do that, but c'mon folks pretty soon it is going to be time to GO. Ready when you are.
  • Business travel demands had me back on the road, almost immediately in the aftermath of 9/11. I got back on jets as I had been spending 3-5 days a week at that point for a few years. It didn't seem odd to me, but I could see the shell shock all around me, starting with the empty seats, on one early flight there were only two passengers. Those times were more than a bit eerie, but as we came out of the shock, America pulled together. If you have ever had the misfortune of being in a serious car crash or a major near wreck, you are likely familiar with the unplanned but necessary chain reactions which follow SLAMMING on your breaks. Being tossed around inside your car, hopefully seat-belted, potential deployment of your airbags, shocks to your system, potential bruising and injury. The trauma to your body can last for weeks.  Welcome to an economy and new reality after multiple massive brake slams. Retailers and restaurant groups, as well as smaller local businesses, temporarily or permanently shutting their doors. Delta, the world's largest airline, on the verge of shut down, after multiple years of record profits and the recent hiring of thousands of new pilots and flight crew.  And there will be more. The ripples are just starting to hit. Sales and income taxes not collected and declining will impact everything from local school systems to state budgets. The federal government can spend and run up deficits, but your local municipality, county or state doesn't have that option. Services will have to be curtailed, and lay-offs there too will likely follow.  This isn't a speed bump, it's more like that car crash. BUT, if we work through this together, and help each other...not expecting our respective governments to handle every hiccup and detail we can and will get through this.  Some practical pointers for your day to day living, as lock-downs, shelter at home orders and even curfews expand in hot spots and metropolitan areas.  Limit your trips to grocery stores and shopping for essentials - Essential retailers and restaurants with limited service remain open. Don't make daily trips out, make a list and plan... You can carry 2-3 prepared meals home, or load up a cart (without hoarding) at the Big Box retailers or your local grocer. Most chains are giving their first hour of business to the most fragile populations. So shop later in the day and perhaps learn the stores where you shop more closely, cutting down on your 'shopping time' and getting quickly in and back out.  Recreate outside when possible, but in good weather and keep your distance - Sunshine is a natural disinfectant. Carry along a spray bottle of hand sanitizer or vinegar (and water), or lemon juice...all astringents which reportedly pierce the shell of the cell of the virus, killing it on contact. To prevent going stir crazy, bike, hike, walk or run and if you do so in pairs or with family, keep the safe social distance with the folks you encounter, and leave the longer visits and catch-up chats with folks you encounter for online or later.  Use this downtime constructively - Write actual letters, not just Emails and start with closest family and friends. Offer them your love, friendship and words of prayer and support. Start spring cleaning and garage/attic purging. List items for sale on eBay. Make the most of this new 'free-time'...don't just binge processed foods and Netflix.  Go through your pantry extensively - This is the time to go through your fridge and pantry, tossing out all expired date goods. COVID19 may be a current threat, but you may wish for that if you give yourself botulism, ptomaine or another bacterial food poisoning by consuming long expired consumer packaged goods.  In the best of cases, normalcy begins to return in weeks, not months. Those brakes will cause a deep economic trough. Help is on the way, but we will all need to do some heavy lifting on our own. Spread out consumption of your resources, support as best you can local businesses. Practice your faith of choice to keep your spirits up and be an exemplar for others. And like Kate Smith sang in Good Bless America, hopefully before too long we will all be back in “…Our home, sweet home,” with our nation much more as we remember it…pre-wreck and two weeks ago. Stay safe and healthy.
  • Dozens of thousands of Georgians and millions of Americans spent the weekend heading home from various destinations, adventures, and vacations from Spring Break. In addition to some surprise screening procedures at dozens of U.S. airports, they are returning home to a vastly new normal. As I well recall from the aftermath of 9/11, sudden and significant systemic change is often unsettling, for some unnerving and for others it produces difficulties with coping. We may consider ourselves the most high-minded creatures on earth, but in reality, not unlike that Pavlovian dog in your family...we are all accustomed to and in many cases crave repetition, habit, and routine.  Just two weeks ago, many were moaning and kvetching about Daylight Savings Time. Crises have a clarifying way of putting things into perspective.  Though the overall health havoc to be wreaked on Americans and our world may not be evident for some time, the economic injury and impacts may well be more lasting and debilitating sooner. For most who are exposed, come down with symptoms, quietly host and transfer the virus or feel its greater wrath, most likely atop other pre-existing conditions and the compromised immune system which comes with age...the illness will come and go in a matter of weeks. Yet tragically for thousands, perhaps millions globally, pneumonia and other related complications caused by COVID19 will take their lives.  In an effort to block and reduce viral transmission, we are hunkering down, burrowing in and for a period of weeks, if not months, we will become creatures of home. Some transitions are easier to swallow, others quite costly and jarring. If children cannot go to school, there must be childcare, but if both parents work, even from home, who will manage their time, online studies, and in the absence of daily structure and many recreational options...how best to make the most of their idle minds?  Here are some suggestions and thoughts...as we prepare to ride this out. It's not Snowmaggedon, we still have power and functioning utilities, though we can expect more rain, spring and warmer temperatures (which also help shrink spread of this virus) not far ahead of us.  For me, it means more time with my children and family, perhaps finally putting away all of Christmas, getting my 2019 income tax returns ready and completing both an office move and a financially appealing re-finance of our home. You can always find silver linings if you are willing to look.  Many larger employers are already shifting to telecommuting, but this isn't really possible for airlines, hotels, car rental companies or your favorite restaurant. Many businesses will fail as a result.  The blame for this outbreak should not be political, nor partisan, but our elected officials will be judged and held accountable for the responses which they plan and deliver. Again, crisis brings both danger and opportunity, as well as a brilliant spotlight.  And remember, our children will be less occupied, so not only will you matter more, they will be paying you more attention. What are you saying on the phone? How is your demeanor? How are you handling all of this and showing your stress? They learn from and in many cases will mirror your example.  Panic can spread much faster than a virus or germ. Humans are perhaps more greatly susceptible to fear than they this contagion. Witness the runs on toilet paper (no pun intended) and other basic commodities. Facts, logic, calm are generally trumped by rumor, innuendo, anxiety. It's, unfortunately, human nature.  As Americans, we have weathered numerous natural disasters, a Civil War, World War I., WWII, 9/11 and many prior outbreaks of contagions rising to the level of an epidemic and related concerns. As a young girl, my mother, prior to the invention and general availability of Jonas Salk's polio vaccine, contracted the disease and nearly died. During her own treatment and recovery, including time spent in an iron lung, her younger brother became infected, succumbing to the disease at the age of 3. While that emotional scar still exists, Mother survived, that and much more since. And so will most of us. Americans can be a hardy bunch, but this won’t be an easy hurdle.  Please buckle those seat belts, as we may have a slightly bumpy ride, one where your contents tend to shift a bit in flight...but just as the vast majority of thousands of aircraft land safely each day...again, this too shall pass. God bless you and yours.
  • I need a hug.  We all need a hug. Unfortunately, we can’t get a hug because that is now considered unnecessary roughness in a world that’s forced to bend the knee to COVID-19.  It was weird. It was strange. It’s a new normal.  We are still in the infancy of this pandemic, but the loss of our games is the most visible representation of what we are dealing with and what will most assuredly get worse. For the first time in my life, there was not a game to watch in this country. Unless you count watching me hack it around at my local golf course.  If we want to watch any competition, we will have to do it ourselves. We can’t count on the professionals for a while. So amateur golf and fishing, you’re up. Maybe tennis too.  I’ve been asked a lot lately, “Jay you’re the sports director, what are you going to do without sports?”  I have no idea. I still don’t  This weekend is one of the peaks of the sports calendar. This time of year is my time of year.  With conference tournaments and Braves’ spring training and Atlanta’s NASCAR race and The PLAYERS Championship and most importantly Selection Sunday to kickoff March Madness, this is a great time to be alive.  Except when it isn’t. It’s all gone.  Instead, I played a little golf. Did a lot of cleaning. Watched a lot of movies, which includes Frozen 2 (this is where we are at people. A single match watching Frozen. I have two unofficial nieces, so I figured it’s time to learn what they are excited about). I did squeeze in time to watch the only sport that was on TV. UFC. I knew the only way I’d be able to watch two women pounding each other’s head in was if it was the last sport on Earth.  Welp. Guess what I did for about 10 minutes. Those women leave a lot of blood on a mat.  I spent the first part of this great sports weekend telling everyone what’s not going to happen. There will be no March Madness. No Final Four in Atlanta. No MLB, no NBA, no MLS. No nothing.  Then at 10:04 am Friday I had to break in on the radio and report that mother of all spring events – the Masters – would not be played in April.  It was a sports fans knockout blow. Augusta National cedes its spring time authority to no man or beast. Just a disease.  For the first time since World War II, the only people who get to see the azaleas in bloom this year are the members.  Maybe they can tweet a picture. Or maybe not. It might hurt too much.  Opening day might not come until Memorial Day. Unbelievable. Truly unbelievable.  And by the way, the NCAA tournament has never been cancelled. Not even for a war. Yet, this is sort of starting to feel like a war, isn’t it?  There are no games, people are scared, stores are rationing high demand items.  This is the first time my generation or the previous one (I’m sort of a millennial, I’ll turn 35 on April 9th. That would have been round one of the Masters. I still need a hug) has ever had to suffer or sacrifice like this. All the norms that have always been there aren’t now.  It will be a while before anyone goes back to school or work. The economy will take a massive hit.  Whether you believe the worst is yet to come or not, no doubt, we will know the struggles the greatest generation did. The only question is, how long will our day to day lives be thrown into turmoil.  As the internet meme goes, they were called to fight. We are called to sit.  Sports matter. They aren’t life or death, but they are close. When they are gone, it’s just wrong.  Cancelling everything was the right move. Maybe postponement would have been better, but I can’t criticize someone for doing the right thing. What do I know? I’m not a doctor, just a sports guy.  But it can always be worse.  I had to have a conversation with my parents this weekend. But me, my brother and my sister stood in the yard and made them stay on the porch. They are over 60 and considered very at risk to catch this thing.  For the first time in my life I was scared to go inside the home I grew up. That’s 100 times worse than no ball on TV.  What I will do this weekend? No clue. More golf I hope. But March Madness was supposed to start if you didn’t know.  Hopefully it’s just a strange couple of months and we can pick up where we left off.  Until then, excuse me if I sit in the corner and whimper just for a moment at noon on Thursday when the NCAA tournament should be on my TV.  All sports fans will still need a hug.
  • For this past couple of sessions, if not longer, we have been making it a priority in our caucus and in the Georgia House, to define and refine our state in its offering of a culture of life. These are not empty words, and our priorities are being supported with programs, with personnel and with funding,' said Georgia House Speaker David Ralston (R-District 7, Blue Ridge) in his remarks to the Atlanta Press Club on Monday, March 9, 2020. It is longtime considered conventional wisdom, particularly during election years, that the Republican Party would like to throw Grandma from the train, cut all social services and safety net spending to the quick, and give out only tax cuts to the rich and well-off. That is particularly in evidence on social media, though the Fourth and Fifth Estates hold their own share of the blame for perpetuating these misconceptions.  Currently, in the great state of Georgia, it is a GOP-led House and General Assembly, as well as strong leadership from Georgia's Governor and State Senate which in actuality are proposing a stronger foundation across this state towards a culture of life. And they are putting their money where their mouths are.  Though HB 481 of two sessions ago, during the first legislative session for Governor Brian Kemp, codified significant restrictions for legal access to abortion (still pending under challenges in federal court), these new protections being proposed by this GOP body extend to almost every vulnerable population segment in the state.  Following solid reporting by The Atlanta Journal & Constitution on the poor state and declining conditions of many assisted living, senior care and nursing homes, the House is responding with new regulatory authority, as well as additional funding for four new inspectors within the Department of Community Health. This problem, years in the making, won't be solved overnight, but both the regulators and their oversight (the General Assembly) now are placing a keener eye on these concerns.  The House has also passed the first Parental Leave benefits for both mothers and fathers who are state government employees. This leave will be available not only for post-partum childbirth but to adoptive and foster parents. State House leaders hope this new benefit and offering will be catalytic for additional private sector consideration and adoption, versus cumbersome and often ineffective mandates.  The freshly proposed House budget includes another $1,000 pay raise for all classroom teachers and certified educators, closing on funding a campaign promise of a $5K comp adjustment by Governor Kemp, and bringing Georgia teacher salaries to the highest in the southeast. And for the third or fourth consecutive budget cycle, the General Assembly and Governor will be fully funding Q.B.E., the Quality Basic Education Act, enacted by Democratic state leadership in 1985, but never fully funded until the administrations of Governors Nathan Deal and Brian Kemp.  And though the budget wrangling between the House, State Senate and Governor's office is far from done, the House is taking a hard stand on re-storing funds proposed for reduction in the GBI Crime Lab, with particular sensitivity to the backlog of rape kits across the state, finally eliminated in 2018. In the criminal justice arena, the House also proposes restoration of budget cuts proposed for Accountability Courts, which are particularly critical in reversing the challenged life trajectories of many addicted to alcohol and drugs.  And despite this apparent spending spree in support of many of the state's most challenged populations, the same leadership team is proposing an across the board individual income tax rate cut, to a flat tax rate of 5.375 percent for all individuals and a new corporate rate of 5.75. This effectively will return roughly a quarter billion in currently collected revenues primarily to individual taxpayers.  The House caucus and leadership team have their work cut out for them, because in addition to differences of opinion with the other chamber and Executive branch, there are 180 members of this House, each often with their own opinions on budget priorities. And 'cross-over' day, requiring passage by at least one chamber for a budget or other legislative initiative to live on, looms imminently later this week.  So as with the Corona Virus looming large in all headlines and news coverage, it is important to separate facts from fiction, innuendo from institutional memory and budget realities as well as to occasionally READ budget documents, as that is the most proven way to really see where your elected officials actually place their priorities. Happy reading.
  • Not a single case of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) has been reported this year, or in late 2004. It is the first winter without a case since the initial outbreak in late 2002. In addition, the epidemic strain of SARS that caused at least 774 deaths worldwide by June 2003 has not been seen outside of a laboratory since then,' from a 2005 report by Jim Yardley, foreign correspondent and now European Editor for The New York Times. Not long ago in a galaxy not so far away, I was awaiting my flight out of a small coastal airport, having a long phone call with an anxious and agitated client, a talented and skilled hospitality executive in Manhattan. She was wrestling with an evolving situation, at one of New York City and Times Square's then largest hotels, at near sold-out capacity.  The hotel in question was hosting a global health conference. The timing of the conference was not long after the initial outbreak in China of a virulent and deadly respiratory illness, then known as severe acute respiratory syndrome, and later the SARS virus.  A prominent researcher, epidemiologist and physician who had treated early SARS' patients back home in China, gave a guest lecture at the conference on the illness. Overnight he felt a fever and difficulty breathing, checked out of the hotel early and headed for an international flight home, stopping for a lay-over in Germany. By the time the doctor reached Europe, his fever had sky-rocketed, and he had to be assisted to travel to a German hospital for treatment. There in Germany, he was diagnosed as having SARS.  Initial concerns were for the housekeeping crew who had already cleaned and removed linens in the doctor's room, as viral experts had already indicated that transmission predominantly occurred via the transmission of or exposure to bodily fluids of someone carrying the virus. The hotel was placed briefly under quarantine.  Between November 2002, and July of 2003, an outbreak of SARS, initially in southern China, brought later diagnosis of eventually 8,098 cases, resulting in 774 deaths reported by 17 countries. This resulted in an extremely high fatality rate of 9.5 percent, with the bulk of deaths occurring in Hong Kong and mainland China.  No new cases of SARS have been diagnosed or reported since 2004, and there is still no vaccine. The Corona Virus, COVID 19, is a viral 'cousin' of SARS, though it's fatality rate today is significantly lower, currently estimated at 2-3%. As with SARS, the elderly, and those with compromised immune and respiratory systems are at greatest risk. The virus is transmitted via human bodily fluids, most commonly via a sneeze, human contact or a contaminated surface containing bodily fluids.  By 2017, scientists in China had determined that the virus likely crossed over to humans via the droppings of horseshoe bats in the Yunnan province of China. Among the theories for the initial transmission of COVID 19 is another potential animal to human viral transference.  In the SARS case, it was determined that there were also occasionally 'super carriers' whose immune systems were effectively fighting off the illness, but who often were also heavy travelers who exposed multiple population segments to the infection. Not surprisingly, expert physicians, researchers and epidemiologists exposed to SARS in its early days of diagnosis were among those who also unknowingly carried and spread the disease. Since then the smart folks have gotten smarter about how and when to travel during an infectious disease outbreak.  And health experts have also shared that wearing face masks can prevent those infected from coughing or sneezing their germs or the virus across a room, or the six-foot suggested 'human contact' barrier, but no mask is secure or effective enough to prevent germs from getting in.  Back at the hotel, and across the several thousand properties owned or franchised by this hotelier, the company took additional preventative hygiene measure such as wiping all public surfaces with a bleach/water solution and more extensively cleaning all public restrooms. None of the hospitality staff, nor other conference attendees contracted SARS.  Hopefully our experience will be repeated this go-round, but the responsibility for taking these common-sense steps and protections fall on each of us, not just on the CDC, the White House or any of the many other global health experts, who in some cases may be among the first to fall ill... Health and wellness and public health belong to all of us. As you hear a sneeze and say, 'Bless you,' remember it's okay to keep a safe distance, and to suggest to the sneezer the upsides of washing those hands. Just like Mama always used to say.