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    Congressman John Lewis (D-GA, 5th Congressional District), in paying tribute to his longtime friend, Senator Johnny Isakson, recently reminded his colleagues in Congress that you can cross the aisle without compromising your values,' Georgia House Speaker David Ralston (R-District 18), during his remarks to the Legacy Dinner of the Conservative Policy Leadership Institute (CPLI) on January 24, 2020 at the Capital City Club in Atlanta. Founded as the Coverdell Policy Institute, named for two term U.S. Senator and Georgia GOP pioneer, Paul Coverdell, the CPLI educates and trains future potential conservative leaders for public service and policy development in Georgia. Last year's Legacy Dinner keynote was newly elected Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan, and this year's remarks and lessons in leadership were shared by his State House peer, Georgia House Speaker David Ralston. Ralston has led the Georgia House now for just over a decade, and he focused his remarks on lessons in leadership and principle which he had drawn and learned from three outstanding and memorable Georgians. Senator Johnny Isakson, Governor and later U.S. Senator Zell Miller as well as his own father, Willard Ralston, who served as the Clerk of Court for Gilmer County for 28 years. Ralston, who was Republican before it was 'cool' in Georgia referenced the days when folks like Coverdell and Isakson could combine and hold their House and State Senate GOP Caucus meetings together fitting inside of a phone booth on the Capitol's Fourth Floor. Ralston reminded the crowd that leaders like Isakson might be hard to find today. Johnny as he is known to most, served Georgia and our nation first in the National Guard, and subsequently was elected to the State House, State Senate, U.S. House and U.S. Senate, as well as appointed to critical positions such as Chair of the State School Board. A public service and leadership record of 45 years, echoed by simultaneous successes in the business world and private sector.  Ralston was raised in north Georgia, and regardless of one's political leanings in his lifetime and home territory, it was hard to escape the teachings, wit and wisdom of longtime Lieutant Governor, later two-term Governor and U.S. Senator Zell Miller. The former college history teacher and Marine was a lifelong Democrat, though many believed he switched his allegiance while supporting George W. Bush for re-election as for President in 2004. Miller, who is perhaps the only man to have the honor of keynoting both the Democratic National Convention in 1992 (while nominating William Jefferson Clinton for President) and later the GOP gathering in NYC in 2004, Miller pointed out that national security concerns simply trumped party loyalty. At his funeral in Atlanta in 2018, Miller was eulogized by three former Presidents, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. Miller was a devout Democrat, just as the Speaker and his family were lifelong Republicans. The Speaker's father greatly admired Miller, but never voted for him. Miller, who understood that kind of thinking and loyalty once told the senior Ralston that he was right about 'Sticking to his principles,' even if that meant Miller did not secure his vote. Clerk Ralston repeatedly told his son, 'If you want to be principled, worry more about what you do, than what folks think about you.' Fortunately the son received that message well from his father. Running a chamber of 180 members in two-parties and numerous sub-factions too numerous to tally does not work well if you seek to win a popularity contest. Whether leveling the playing field for sales tax collections between brick and mortar merchants and the growing E-Commerce sector, attempting to honor campaign promises and financial commitments made to Georgia educators or further whittling down the tax burden on Georgia tax-payers, the Speaker's job must continually build consensus, while being respectful and listening to all voices, and ultimately delivering a balanced budget for sign-off by the State Senate and Governor.  Leading in hard times is challenging, but leading in good times is no picnic. Ralston hopes to lead the Georgia GOP caucus not only to victory, but to regaining several of metro area seats lost in the shifting purple tide of the last election cycle. A few folks in that CPLI audience may be among those seeking to shift those tides back. There are few places or people they might seek out for better counsel, or even learning some shared mentoring lessons from a few of the greats than Speaker Ralston. Hear, hear Mr. Speaker.
  • If you travel much outside of the United States, particularly in Europe or Asia, you will find rail travel remains a primary method of transportation, particularly on distances of 500 miles or less. Here in the United States, rail is really only a primary transit method in the congested northeast and around other major populations centers like Chicago, as well as increasing its presence again in Rust Belt power centers like Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.
  • In the midst of a nostalgic return visit to my favorite casino, the original Hard Rock Casino and Hotel in Las Vegas, to say bon voyage and farewell, before a re-branding by new owner, billionaire Richard Branson, I could not help but notice more than a few changes in the adult, gaming mecca of Lost Wages from the high rolling 90's and early 2000s, to the Vegas of today. And while 'what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,' may remain among the most successful tourism destination marketing campaigns in history, the pains of competition elsewhere are evident, despite the presence of construction cranes and ever present change on and off the Vegas strip.
  • For every dollar donated, FODAC provides $10.00 in medical items. Since 1986, FODAC has collected, repaired and distributed more than 50,000 wheelchairs,' from brochure of Friends of Disabled Adults & Children (FODAC). Whether or not you are a believer, the spirit of Christmas and the holiday season is quite real, and thankfully it continues to manifest itself in many ways, discernible to the senses and as real as you or me. Father Christmas, Kris Kringle, Santa Claus and other names and legends are based in the history and tradition of giving and doing for others, selflessly and in honor of Christ and others whom we worship.  In 1986, an aging Vietnam era veteran started to repair wheelchairs in his garage. First as a hobby and then as a calling, as he realized more and more veterans were surviving the variously defined engagements and wars, some minus a limb, some with serious head trauma, but many returning home with immediate needs, and not always finding a V.A. and medical network ready to help them. Ed Butchart and his wife Annie humbly began the organization, FODAC, Friends of Disabled Adults and Children, giving away repaired wheelchairs and used mobility assistance equipment, now a non-profit serving 20 states, 94 Georgia counties and filling nearly 9,000 equipment requests last year, with an annual budget approaching $9-million. Ed supplemented his income in retirement, as well as his giving mission, by being Santa Claus during the holiday season, at Stone Mountain Park and other venues and holiday gatherings. Friends of FODAC helped launch a modest thrift store to support this work and Ed launched a holiday fundraiser, with supporters at the Stone Mountain Memorial Association and Herschend Family Entertainment, to hold a Santa Breakfast at the park, focused on their pediatric clients. Disabled children who might have felt left out of some of the joys of the holiday season had their own day with Santa, Mrs. Claus and the elves, a bountiful breakfast buffet and day at Stone Mountain Park, donated by the SMMA, as well as area retailers gifting toys and gifts for each child.  We began our connection with FODAC this way in 1994, with our then two-year old daughter Barclay, at the invitation of then WSB Radio Money Editor, Mike Kavanaugh. Mike would interview Santa (Butchart) each fall around Thanksgiving on WSB, and the pair would plug the modestly priced Santa breakfast, still FODAC's largest annual event fundraiser. This year at the Stone Mountain Evergreen Marriott Conference Center, the Summit Ballroom was filled to overflow, and FODAC's first Santa sell-out. Next year we move to the bigger ballroom.  Mike Kavanaugh left the stage early with his spirit of Christmas and Hanukkah, but not before recruiting WSB-Radio and Traffic Reporting legend, Captain Herb Emory to co-emcee. Emory brought good humor and cutting up with the kids to the event, and began a tradition of the children singing Christmas carols to wrap up the celebration. At this stage, I moved from an attendee to playing elf to Captain Herb, as he often had to leave a bit early to head on to a Toys for Tots event often scheduled on that same mid-December Saturday.  But unlike applying for disability benefits from the VA or Social Security, FODAC's application process is ONE-PAGE and it's lifetime membership fee is $25.00. After that if you, a family member or close friend are impaired or in need of mobility equipment, you simply go to FODAC's headquarters in Tucker, Georgia, or arrange for the durable medical equipment to be delivered to you, often at no cost. There is no charge for the use of the equipment. FODAC only asks that when there is no longer any need for the equipment, it is returned to them for repair and re-use.  After Mike Kavanaugh and Captain Herb also left us all too early, our friend and colleague Glenn Burns, Chief Meteorologist for WSB-TV's Action News took over as Emcee. Glenn has a warm and engaging manner with FODAC's clients, sponsors, families and guests, and I think he is part of the draw which made this year's breakfast a sell-out. As this was our family's 25th FODAC Santa Breakfast, and it is the season of giving, also know that you can still contribute online as well at FODAC.org. Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and Kwanza and all the best wishes for this holiday season and New Year to you and yours.
  • One mile down...ELEVEN more to go,' said a fist-pumping Betsy Eggers, volunteer Chair of the non-profit, Peachtree Creek Greenway, Inc. at the opening of the new trail.Since practically the dawn of civilization, humanity has established settlements and communities near sources of drinking water. As civilizations grew and population density followed, human and other waste also eventually made it into those same water sources. Though waterfront property often still remains golden, in city after city, in North America and elsewhere, fouled water ways, creeks, rivers and lakes later prompted a move away from the water and abandonment of once pristine water bodies to industrial use, navigation and further decay.
  • Lead, follow or get out of the way,' said Ted Turner, entrepreneur, media mogul and philanthropist. One of the highlights of the 2019 Georgia Bulldog football season, was the naming of Dooley Field in Sanford Stadium in Athens to honor legendary former UGA football coach and Athletic Director, Vince Dooley. The honor was well over-due.  I think Georgia, and our capital city of Atlanta, should do more, and sooner than later to recognize two other individuals, as well as two families who have made many historic and lasting contributions to Atlanta and to Georgia. I'm speaking specifically of former Ohio Governor James Cox and the Cox family and media mogul and environmental philanthropist Ted Turner.  Cox was a former three-term Governor of Ohio before he ran for President in 1920, with Franklin Delano Roosevelt as his unsuccessful running mate. Traveling the country by rail, F.D.R. introduced Cox to Warm Springs, southern hospitality and the people of Georgia. Though Dayton, Ohio remained the Governor's home, he would move much of his family and business holdings to Atlanta, initially purchasing The Atlanta Journal & Georgian in 1938, and eventually growing those properties into Cox Enterprises and the Cox Media Group.  Turner turned a modest billboard company into the nation's first cable Super-Station, investing in cable networks and programming in their infancy, as well as serving as a longtime owner of the Atlanta Braves. Turner became a billionaire before selling his many media holdings to Time Warner, later getting into the restaurant business, in part to restore the species of Buffalo to the plains of North America.  When the Atlanta Braves, under new ownership, left for the suburbs of Cobb County and the likely soon to be renamed SunTrust Park, that ended the name of Turner Field and the life of a baseball stadium just over 20 years old. Though it was assumed that the name came as Turner's Braves were the 'home team' at the converted baseball park, retro-fitted from the Centennial Olympic Stadium after those games in 1996, it is seldom shared or publicized that Turner spent more than $40-million stabilizing and retro-fitting that structure for baseball and the fans, without seeking tax-payer assistance, subsidies or tax breaks.  Jim Cox Kennedy, grandson of Governor Cox and still the Chairman of Cox Enterprises, earlier developed a passion for bike riding which would grow into the creation of the PATH Foundation. PATH's first trail connected Stone Mountain Park to downtown Atlanta and Centennial Park and over the past 25 years has constructed more than 300 miles of pedestrian and biking trails all across Georgia. The Cox Foundation recently co-funded a pedestrian bridge with the City of Atlanta, named for former Mayor Ivan Allen, Jr., which connects the Atlanta Beltline to those PATH trails at Marietta Street downtown, not far from the former AJC headquarters, and reconnects the downtown Eastside and Westside, straddling the massive and exiting railroad tracks of CSX and Norfolk Southern.  The Cox family through another gift to the PATH Foundation, are funding an extension of the Atlanta Beltline and PATH, connecting to the Silver Comet Trail in Cobb County. When completed, this trail will reach from Stone Mountain Park to Anniston, Alabama and become the longest continuous trail path in the United States.  Those who have previously blocked more substantial recognition for the Cox or Turner families have focused on their personal politics or others flaws and foibles. None of us are perfect and we should stop expecting perfection among our community and business leaders.  The Cox family still owns the Atlanta Journal & Constitution, and the new owners of Cox Media Group plan to keep that name, And while Turner's name continues to adorn a several blocks of Spring Street in downtown Atlanta, and parts of his former corporate campus now owned by Time-Warner Media, more significant and visible honors are well overdue both families.  Some students at Georgia State University have recently called on Atlanta’s Mayor to remove the downtown statue of another newspaper giant, Henry W. Grady, another impactful but flawed leader of the post-Civil War ‘New South.’ Grady’s name adorns Grady Hospital, Grady High School and the Grady College of Journalism at the University of Georgia. I don’t support his name or statue coming down, but those are a few fine examples worthy of like consideration for Ted Turner as well as Ohio Governor Jim Cox and the Cox family.
  • For roughly two weeks, Atlanta was the center of the three ring circus which is currently the Democratic National Committee...though the DNC had some major competition for the Presidential contest and debate here, versus the public Impeachment hearings underway in our nation's Capitol. And though Atlanta was a brief stand-in for Des Moines, Iowa as the temporary nexus and meeting point for Democratic White House contenders of all stripe, both the debate, which aired live from the former Fort McPherson and current Tyler Perry Studios, was the lowest rated of this campaign season, and by the fifth day of impeachment hearings, despite some riveting testimony, the proceedings were only being telecast live and without interruption on C-SPAN3. But all over Atlanta, and certainly for days prior to the Big Show, there was evidence of side shows, fundraisers, news conferences and photo ops by candidates beyond the field of ten who made the main stage, and though an intown urban location hosted the Big Show, the many side shows demonstrated that at least the metro Atlanta suburbs are in play.  Successful entrepreneur and non-traditional candidate, Andrew Yang, held an unconventional media event, shooting hoops in an over-matched game of pick-up basketball, with other entrepreneurs, including NBA icon and longtime Atlanta Hawk, Dominique Wilkins. Yang runs a non-profit, focused on job creation in the inner cities, and he was hosting many start-up and technology CEOs, in part making his pitch about making unconventional hires and 'sharing the wealth' of the new economy.  He found a receptive audience, among them, Don Barden, CEO of GAXtracts, a key player in the burgeoning industrial hemp industry in Georgia. Barden has successfully built and grown several other enterprises, having won the experienced entrepreneur of the year award, for his work leading 3Ci , during 2018 from the Atlanta Business Chronicle and Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. Barden shot hoops with Yang one night at the Epic Center in Austell, adjacent to Six Flags, and later met South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg in a tony Buckhead home the same week. And scenes like that were playing out all across metro Atlanta.  Former HUD Secretary Julian Castro, who did not make the cut for the debate stage, hosted the sons and daughters of Atlanta's Civil Rights stalwarts for a dinner at Paschal's near the Atlanta University Center, to discuss options for solving the nation's affordable housing crisis.  Former President Barack Obama made two Atlanta appearances in the same week, one on the same day as the debate, with remarks including not so subtle references to the candidate field to not move the Democratic party too far to the left. Non-candidate (so far) and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton brought her book-signing tour to Atlanta the evening prior to the debate, coincidentally to Dunwoody, Georgia, which a few weeks prior elected its first Democrat as Mayor.  And yes, while the debate and impeachment hearings still matter, they were in a way trumped, no pun intended, by dozens of more intimate and smaller opportunities to actually meet, hear and speak to candidates for the White House, one on one.  President Donald Trump did hold his own side show the prior week, attempting to launch his own minority voter outreach, Black Voices for Trump. Though it is easy to understand why many are skeptical, the President does have a good economic story to tell minority voters, record employment, record business ownership and even record income growth among Asian, African American and Hispanic populations across the country.  But back to team blue. Millions were spent turning three hangers at Fort Mac into beautiful and high tech sound stages, custom designed and constructed for this Big Show. Millions were collected for campaign and Democratic aligned PACs and 527’s at events across north Georgia. I will go ahead and wager, that the impact of the many side shows will outweigh the temporary bump to Georgia of the Big Show.  Voters and donors made connections, some made decisions and even those still straddling the fence waiting for late arrivals, like former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg or former Massachusetts Governor Patrick Duvall, are now feeling more compelled to pick a horse and start riding.  Early money is like yeast in Presidential as well as all other campaigns. Candidates cannot remember EVERY voter they meet, but the early donors and supporters do have a tendency to resonate more. And those who have been playing this game for awhile also know that. The smart money always goes to the side shows.
  • Georgia currently has more than 7-million registered voters, a record number. Minority voter registration and turn-out also hit record highs during the 2018 election cycle and Governor's race. Democratic gubernatorial nominee, former State House Minority Leader, Stacey Abrams received more General Election votes than any Democrat for Governor in Georgia history. All facts. We all have a right to our own opinion, life priorities and the conclusions which we draw, but we don't have the option of simply hypothesizing from different facts. Minority voter registration not only spiked, but now exceeds its percentage of the state's population. Voter registration does not always translate into turnout though. In metro Atlanta suburbs, and the centers of several of Georgia's secondary population centers, though there is NO party registration in Georgia, the Democratic Party and its nominees won numerous counties, precincts and local as well as state elected offices during the 2018 election cycle. Again, facts. Though I look forward to a day when race is not a major driving force in Georgia or national politics, we remain a far cry away from there as yet. With all that stage setting, and my revulsion of conspiracy theories generally clear, I'd like to challenge one more. There IS NO ONGOING ORCHESTRATED effort to reduce voter participation, registration or voting by minority or Democratic voters in Georgia. It is county and municipal election superintendents across Georgia, and their oversight boards of election, who determine precinct boundaries, polling locations and hours of operation as well as oversee the tabulation of absentee, early/advance votes and all ballots cast on election day, after all polls have closed.   Much is being made of the potential removal and purge of more than 330,000 voter names from current voter rolls across our state. Georgia has nearly 10-million residents and more than 7-million registered voters. Purging every two years, as required by state and federal law, typically removes the dead, those who have left a particular county, duplicates, non-citizens as well as those who choose, for whatever reason they have to simply NOT vote for a full four year period, and then not respond for an additional two year period when local election officials attempt to confirm their residency and interest in remaining a registered voter. Ten percent of registered voters would be well in excess of 700,000. Five percent exceeds 350,000. The prospective purge list is public and available for searching, as well as updating online.   Consider your own circle, and how many family and friends you have lost or who have moved from your community within any six year window of time. Voter registration is tied to your legal residence and domicile and is not automatic when you change addresses, however ANY Georgia voter can now go to the Secretary of State's My Voter Page and update their registration and address information online and for free. That website, created by then Secretary of State Brian Kemp (now Georgia’s Governor) is second only to the automatic Motor Voter process when you receive or renew a Georgia Driver’s License in adding voters to Georgia voter rolls. Georgia also set records in 2018 for early voting and absentee voting. Another fun fact is that the absentee ballot application have no space to indicate race or political party preference. The only opportunity to even draw such a conclusion is to select a ballot in a Democratic Primary or run-off OR for the election employee to conduct a manual/electronic cross reference search of their voter registration data base. That action leaves an electronic trail. As some have pointed out a disproportionate number of minority voters are on the proposed purge list, several demographers also acknowledge that minority populations tend to be more transient and more likely to move, changing residences as well as voting jurisdictions. Yet with this proposed purge list up and available for several weeks now, there is only a trickle of activity, being reported by Georgia’s election superintendents, or coming in via the Georgia SOS My Voter Page via voter address updates. Where are the masses being intentionally removed, disenfranchised or somehow disabled from voting? I will admit though, I still have my doubts about Jeffrey Epstein committing suicide, and I’m not clear as a convicted sex offender in Florida if he still had voting privileges in New York, but he did complete the requirements of his plea agreement, so he may have had those voting rights restored. Either way, I still expect him to be on the Democratic Secretary of State's voter registration purge list for the 2020 election cycle. And we all know he was already on Hillary's list, right?
  • President Donald Trump is of course a man whose words and deeds frequently command our headlines and attention. We should of course pay attention to both. On the subject of veterans, he typically speaks with great reverence. He attempted to turn the Fourth of July in Washington, D.C. into a celebration of our veterans and the nation's military might. He hired many multi-star Generals into his original Cabinet, though he has since fired the bulk of them as well. The longer he is in the White House, and with the way Democrats appear intent on making these Impeachment proceedings almost as partisan as possible, their words versus deeds can also use some measurement and scrutiny. And as we look forward to the elections of 2020, we should also look back, as with veterans and others, this president often takes a public posture and position, which are often not supported later by his actions or the facts.  On the eve of the Iowa Presidential Caucus, in Des Moines on January 28, 2016, then candidate Trump chose to decline participation in a Presidential Candidate Debate, and instead host his own Trump for Veterans Rally and fundraiser just down the street. According to the Trump campaign, this rally, put together in just a few days, would set Iowa event attendance records and raise a projected $6-million for veteran causes and charities.  Though plenty of veterans were in attendance, they were not consulted, nor meaningfully included in event planning. The Trump Foundation accepted all donations, including several large checks from friends and supporters of the businessman candidate. The event netted $2.8 million, a tidy sum, but roughly half what the President had boasted.  Days later, Senator Ted Cruz won the Iowa Caucus, with Trump a very close second place finisher in a large field. Months after the fundraiser, The Washington Post, began asking which veterans organizations had received how much from the event or the Trump Foundation, as the President had earlier discussed and his campaign had released a list of veteran charities which Trump or his foundation had previously supported. Research by the Post and later the New York Office of Attorney General would find that Trump used the foundation more as a personal piggy back, for personal expenses, campaign expenses and other disallowed uses. The Trump Foundation was later disbanded in December of 2018.  On the anniversary of his election week, Trump signed a settlement agreement with a New York Judge presiding, to pay a settlement of $2-million. In the settlement agreement, Mr. Trump acknowledged, with the legal protection of non-profit status, that Trump and his family frequently used the foundation for personal expenses, ranging from $10,000 for a portrait of the President, now hanging in one of his hotels, to a variety of lesser campaign expenses.  The funds which did eventually pass through to veterans were predominantly direct gifts by Trump friends and supporters, and only a tiny fraction of the announced event gate of the Veterans Salute in Iowa. And while admitting guilt, violations of state and federal tax law and misstating the benefit and proceeds to veteran causes, the President again views himself as the victim of these proceedings:  'I am the only person I know, perhaps the only person in history, who can give money to charity ($19-million), charge no expense, and be attacked by the political hacks in New York State,' tweeted by President Trump the evening that the settlement was reached.  Perhaps coincidentally, the President announced he would be changing his legal residence to Florida the very same week. And though the veterans event would have had expenses, the foundation had no employees, no offices and a board which only rarely met, which would tend to tamp down expenses. The President has since characterized the $2-million in damages he is paying as a contribution which he is now all too happy to donate to worthy groups. I will also note here that the President donates his Presidential salary to a wide array of charitable causes on a quarterly basis.  Veterans and their families are quite accustomed to broken promises, from the VA to other areas of promised government support. Yet as we recognize and salute their commitment and sacrifice, we should also hold ourselves and others accountable for honoring those promises. Perhaps Trump's opponents should try running this one up the flagpole and see how the public and veteran communities salute or react to that.
  • Only you can prevent forest fires,' a longtime message from the U.S. Ad Council and Smokey the Bear. With apologies to Smokey the Bear, and my many friends in California, some reading this in darkened homes with no power, there really ARE good forest fires, purposefully set by people, which could have and likely would have saved them this current nightmare.  'Controlled or prescribed burnings' are a key forestry and timberland management tool, largely begun and standardized as an industry best practice in the state of Georgia since the 1950s. Droughts, long, hot summers and fast growing and vulnerable pine and other evergreen trees often die, fall and litter the forest floor, along with pine straw, broken limbs and bark as well as other small shrubs and vegetation, each drying into a fuel source akin to the tinder you would seek out to begin a campfire.  So imagine thousands of acre of that tinder, piled up from decades of non-forest management and a nearly 20-year prohibition on controlled burns or even the use of the BIG rakes referred to previously by President Trump to cull out dead plants, broken limbs and dry underbrush...and you have the makings for massive fires, aided and abetted by the infamous Santa Anna Winds and other natural weather phenomenon, now annually visiting northern and southern California.  I in no way mean to be flippant. We have friends who have lost everything in these fires and last year's...their homes, place of business...entire communities. And yes, perhaps some of the communities were developed in vulnerable areas and may not be re-built, despite their beauty and natural surroundings, but when we DO make the choice to build a community, it also only makes sense to take the steps necessary to protect it.  Working in Middle Georgia as a television reporter in the mid-80s, I became quite familiar with the timber industry practice of controlled burns and fires. Hundreds of acres would be torched, in low wind conditions, sometimes even using accelerants, along with fire breaks (long ditches or natural bodies of water which would break or end the fire as it ran out of fuel). Yes, there was smoke, and sometimes blinding conditions, but rarely did any of those fires get out of control.  The Georgia Forestry Commission permits 'prescribed burns' as well as offering other resources including onsite assistance for larger burns. The state has multiple statutes regulating the process including:  Georgia Burn Permit Law O.C.G.A. 12-6-90  Georgia Prescribed Burning Act O.C.G.A. 12-6-145 to O.C.G.A. 12-6-149  O.C.G.A. 12-6-145  O.C.G.A. 12-6-146  O.C.G.A. 12-6-147  O.C.G.A. 12-6-148  O.C.G.A. 12-6-149  Controlled and prescribed burns fell out of favor in the western states a few decades ago, as these fires do release carbon into the atmosphere, and can add to smog and air pollution. But the difference is typically hundreds or a few thousand acres, and a comparatively brief and defined fire...or the current situation with millions of acres burning or at risk, turned from tinderbox to inferno by a lightning strike or an errant lit cigarette butt, aided and abetted by ill-timed but annual high winds.  After last year's record breaking fires, causing massive property loss, power loss and deaths, California was at the heart of a national debate to expand the use of controlled and prescribed burns...and here we are a year later, with a whole new set of communities evacuating and at risk, and millions now temporarily without electricity due to the aging and vulnerable electrical grid in California, and its potential to spark or spread a fire due to the ongoing drought conditions. If millions sitting in the dark or millions of acres and dozens of communities literally running hoses on their rooftops to save their homes isn't cause for an Emergency Legislative Session, I'm not sure what is.  People are losing their homes, entire towns are burning, dozens of thousands on both ends of the state have faced forced and mandatory evacuations and still may not return home. When winter and the potential rainy season finally arrive, break out the rakes and the backhoes and let's dig some fire breaks and plan prescribed burns well into springtime. If the current NON-action pattern continues, it is only a matter of time before these fires move further north into the Pacific northwest and endanger those old growth hardwood forests, including our national parks and the Great Redwoods. This time next year may be too late to protect them. ONLY YOU California can prevent your own forest fires. Just ask Smokey.

News

  • An 8-year-old was driving a car that crashed into another car in the parking lot of a Walmart in Washington state on Tuesday afternoon, police said. Renton police officers responded to the store at 743 Rainier Ave. S. around 2:45 p.m. They said a father and his son were shopping inside when the son got the keys from his dad, ran ahead, started the car, put in in reverse and struck another moving car. The car hit by the young driver had a mother and her 2-month-old child inside. Renton police said there were no injuries.
  • Florida's St. Augustine Police Department said they are searching for the suspect who robbed a group of children at gunpoint at a popular park. The robbery happened at Project Swing park on Saturday around 9:30 p.m. Several signs at the park read, “For your safety, park is closed from dusk to dawn.” According to the report, the victims, whose ages are redacted, were sitting at the tables in the middle of the park when a man approached them and demanded money. In the report, one of the victims said the suspect pointed the gun into his chest when he told him he didn’t have any money. Police said the man took $16 from one of the victims before he tried to grab a backpack from the other. The victims told investigators when the suspect tried to take the backpack, they ran towards the parking garage for help. Detectives said the suspect took off running in the opposite direction toward Ketterlinus gym. By the time police responded, the suspect was gone. Investigators said they found a bag believed to belong to the suspect near the tennis courts next to the park. It was sent to the lab for DNA testing. Anyone with information on the suspect is encouraged to call the police department.
  • A 77-year-old man was punched in the face as he walked into a grocery store in Gwinnett County, Georgia, and now police are looking for the person responsible. It happened at the Kroger on Braselton Highway, and it all started in the fire lane in front of the store. It happened at the Kroger on Braselton Highway, and it all started in the fire lane in front of the store. The victim, who did not want to be identified by name, said on Jan. 23 around 4:30 p.m. he pulled up, saw someone parked there, and on his way inside the store, he said, “You're not supposed to park here.” Police said surveillance video shows a woman, who was in the parked car in the fire lane outside, go in the store, walk up to the victim and say something. Officials said a man who was with her then assaulted the 77-year-old man. “And the next thing I know, this jerk comes around and just cold-cocks me right flat on the floor,” the victim said. Witnesses told police they couldn’t believe it happened. The suspect took off and police are still looking for him now. There’s video of the assault that Kroger cameras recorded, but investigators said they’re not releasing it yet because the case is still open. “I had no idea he was even in the place until he came round in front and punched me,” the victim said. The incident is a reminder to shoppers that you may want to tell police when someone is doing something illegal instead of saying something to that person. You never know what they are going to do.
  • A bill sponsored by Utah Rep. Karianne Lisonbee, would restrict people from purchasing a hunting license if they aren’t up to date on child support payments. The “Fishing and Hunting Restrictions for Nonpayment of Child Support” House bill would prohibit “the issuance of a license, permit, or tag related to fishing or hunting if an individual is delinquent in child support.” According to KUTV, the bill would affect anyone who owes more than $2,500 in child support. Once a person is no longer behind on their child support payments, they can obtain a hunting license. If the bill passes, it will go into effect in the summer of 2021.
  •  For the first time, NBA superstar Shaquille O’Neal opened up about the death of his former teammate and friend, Kobe Bryant. Bryant, his daughter 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and seven others were killed Sunday when the helicopter they were traveling in crashed in Calabasas, California. O’Neal’s comments came at the start of TNT’s pregame show, as he sat on the court at Staples Center along with the rest of the network’s studio team. TNT was supposed to televise a doubleheader, but the NBA canceled the Lakers-Clippers game that was scheduled to be the nightcap because the Lakers organization is still too devastated after the death of Bryant and his daughter. I haven’t felt a pain that sharp in a while,” O’Neal said. Shaq said he was working out with his son and nephew, when another nephew walked into the room crying and showed him the phone. “I snapped at him,” O’Neal said. “I said, ‘Get that out of my face.'” O’Neal said he thought it was a hoax at first, and then he started getting phone calls from friends and other fellow basketball players. “Forty-seven years old, I’ve lost two grandmothers … lost my sister. And now I’ve lost my little brother,' O’Neal said. O'Neal and Bryant teamed to help the Lakers win three straight championships from 2000-02, but they occasionally feuded and O'Neal was traded to Miami in 2004. He would win another title there, while Bryant would win two more with the Lakers. O’Neal said his heart broke even more when he learned who else was on the chopper. “It’s sort of like a triple stabbing to the heart because after you cry and wonder about that, then I get back on the internet – Rick Fox is on the (helicopter). So now, I’m sick even more,” O’Neal said. “And then the final blow, his lovely daughter was with him on the helicopter.” They eventually patched up their relationship and O'Neal said they texted frequently, though he said he hadn't actually seen Bryant since the final day of his career in 2016. O'Neal said he told Bryant to score 50 points and Bryant instead scored 60. O’Neal said Bryant even checked in with his son Shareef, who underwent heart surgery in December 2018. “Shareef called me, devastated, and said Kobe just texted me to check and see how he was doing. And he used to do that from time to time,” O’Neal said. O’Neal said this year’s NBA Hall of Fame induction ceremony will be a solemn event. “The fact that we’re not going to be able to joke at his Hall of Fame ceremony. The fact that we’re not going to be able to say, ‘Ha, Ha. I got five. You got four.’ The fact that we’re not going to be able to say, ‘If we had stayed together to get 10,’ those are the things we can’t get back,” O’Neal said. O'Neal's comments were his first that were televised since Bryant's death. He had previously only posted on social media and spoken on a podcast. The Associated Press contributed to this story.
  • Last week, the head of a Chinese government expert team said that human-to-human transmission has been confirmed in the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak. On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that people avoid travel to China. Here are some tips for travelers who may be making their way to or from China or other destinations:  Check the CDC website for updates on the outbreak The CDC has a dedicated page that is kept up to date with travel information to China, impacted transportation in China and status of medical care in the country. Maintain good personal hygiene According to The New York Times, passengers should avoid touching their faces and practice proper coughing etiquette, such as coughing or sneezing into an arm instead of your hands or the environment. The CDC recommends washing hands for at least 20 seconds. An alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol can be used when soap is not available. The Times also reminded travelers that seatbacks and tray tables are wiped down by ground crews, but cleaning them again with a disinfecting wipe is recommended. Lastly, try to keep a safe distance from anyone who appears to be ill. If you are seated next to someone who may be ill, you can ask a flight attendant to reseat you. Please note that they may not be able to accommodate the request. Do I need a mask while traveling? Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of medicine in Vanderbilt University’s division of infectious diseases, told CNN that the benefit of masks may be impractical. “The scientific basis showing that people in the community wearing masks actually has any benefit is very thin and questionable,” Shaffner told CNN. Schaffner also told CNN that U.S. travelers who are traveling only within the United States should not be as concerned about the virus. Other noteworthy tips Henry Harteveldt, of Atmosphere Research, told USA Today that travelers should consider keeping air vents open above the seat to improve ventilation but also noted that he aims them away from his body. USA Today also suggested bringing tissues with you to use to avoid touching door handles when you use the bathrooms on flights. Book a window seat. A study published in 2018 concluded that the window seat is more likely to keep a passenger away from people who might be sick because it is furthest from the aisle where more people move through the cabin. What are other countries doing in response to the outbreak? Many countries are checking the temperatures of arriving airline passengers and adopting precautionary quarantine procedures in response to a new virus. India, Nigeria, Japan and the United States are some of the countries where airport screening procedures were in place. Below are some of the public health measures in multiple countries intended to prevent a repeat of the 2002-2003 outbreak of SARS, which started in China and killed nearly 800 people (Source:The Associated Press, Jan. 21, 2020) MAINLAND CHINA China’s often-secretive Communist government was blamed for making SARS far worse by initially hiding information and blocking the work of the World Health Organization. This time, leader Xi Jinping has called for tough measures and said “party committees, governments and relevant departments at all levels should put people’s lives and health first.” At the airport in Wuhan, the temperatures of departing passengers were checked and outbound tour groups were banned from leaving the city. Virtually everyone in a public role, from traffic police officers to bank tellers, is wearing a protective face mask. JAPAN Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe urged officials to step up quarantine checks at airports and other entry points, and Japan will require visitors arriving from Wuhan to fill in health forms. HONG KONG The semiautonomous city is one of the most popular destinations for mainland Chinese. It has stepped up surveillance and ordered more cleaning and disinfecting for planes and trains from Wuhan, as well as for train stations and the airport. Acting Chief Executive Matthew Cheung said authorities are ready for a worst-case scenario and are on extremely high alert. A lack of information and low levels of vigilance were blamed for Hong Kong becoming the second-hardest hit area by SARS after mainland China in the early 2000s. As in much of mainland China, Hong Kong residents favor traditional markets where live poultry and other animals are sold. The government advises people against visiting such markets or touching animals or their droppings. SOUTH KOREA South Korea reported its first case of the virus in mid-January, in a Chinese woman who works at a South Korean company. At Incheon International Airport near Seoul, the only airport in South Korea with direct flights from Wuhan, two special gates are designated for passengers from the city and ear thermometers are used to check their temperatures. Arrival halls are being sprayed with disinfectant twice a week, up from once a week previously, and escalator handrails, elevator buttons and other sensitive surfaces are wiped with disinfectant twice a day. NIGERIA Nigeria’s government says health authorities at points of entry are on alert for cases of coronavirus arriving in Africa’s most populous country. The Nigeria Center for Disease Control asked that travelers from Wuhan report to a medical facility and the center if they feel ill. China is Africa’s top trading partner. South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases said anyone with a severe respiratory illness should be tested if they have traveled to Wuhan within two weeks or had close physical contact with a coronavirus patient or treatment at a facility where a confirmed case has been reported. There were more than 200,000 Chinese workers in Africa as of the end of 2017, not including numerous informal migrants such as traders and shopkeepers, according to the China Africa Research Initiative at Johns Hopkins University. INDIA India will expand thermal screening of passengers arriving from China, including Hong Kong, to seven airports from the current three. In-flight announcements before arrival will direct passengers with a fever or cough who have traveled to Wuhan in the previous 14 days to declare themselves to health authorities. Thermal screening will begin in Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Cochin, and continue in Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata, the Ministry of Civil Aviation said. SINGAPORE AND MALAYSIA Singapore will expand temperature screening at Changi Airport, one of Asia’s busiest travel hubs, for all travelers on flights arriving from China beginning on Wednesday. The health ministry said individuals with pneumonia and a history of travel to Wuhan within 14 days of the onset of symptoms will be isolated in a hospital as a precautionary measure and investigated. Neighboring Malaysia has also beefed up screening at Kuala Lumpur’s airport. Deputy health Minister Lee Boon Chye said staff are being trained to handle possible cases. “If a case emerges, then we may have to take more drastic measures, but for now, we hope we can nip it at the entry point,” Lee told reporters. BANGLADESH Bangladesh civil aviation authorities have ordered airport managers to start screening incoming passengers from China. A.H.M. Touhid-ul Ahsan, director of the main Shahjalal International Airport, said doctors at the airport would look for fevers, coughs, breathing difficulties and sore throats. The country’s Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research will be notified of any passengers with symptoms for further examination, he said. AUSTRALIA Brendan Murphy, Australia’s chief medical officer, said biosecurity staff and state health officials in New South Wales are meeting flights from Wuhan and are distributing pamphlets printed in English and Chinese to all passengers. The pamphlets describe symptoms of infection and ask people to identify themselves if they are experiencing any. RUSSIA Russia’s Healthcare Ministry described the virus as a biological hazard, with Deputy Minister Sergei Krayevoy saying the virus was a “striking example” of the biological threats Russia faces. The Russian public health service, Rospotrebnadzor, said it had developed a testing kit that would allow labs to detect the new coronavirus quickly. Russia is one of the three most popular tourist destinations for people from China, according to Russian officials. They estimate that about 2 million tourists from China visited Russia in 2018. ITALY The Italian Health Ministry says passengers making direct and indirect flights from Wuhan, China, to Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci airport will be checked for potential signs of the virus. People with suspected infections will be quarantined at an infectious disease hospital in Rome, the ministry says. No cases have been reported so far. Posters at the airport advise travelers to consider delaying trips to the Wuhan area and if they do go there, to avoid touching animals or uncooked animal products. The Associated Press contributed to this story. Associated Press journalists Moussa Moussa in Canberra, Australia, Kim Hyung-jin in Seoul, South Korea, Cara Anna in Johannesburg, South Africa, Eileen Ng in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Daria Litvinova in Moscow, and Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report. xxx