Monday, June 30, 2014

Somethin' 'Bout A Cat

This is another in our impromptu series of guest posts. This comes from a neighborhood dog.
tux is a cat. i am a dog. tux is black and white. mostly black. i am not.

i like cats. when i was a puppy i lived on my own. except for cats. i hunted with cats. we shared our food.

tux hunts. i do not. i am old. my mom feeds me now.

i liked tux when we met. i still do. we would schmietzel. a little butt sniff. mostly me. a little snuggling. tux would roll on his back. i would poke his nose with mine. he would swat me. i love that game.

tux died the other night. coyotes got him.

there was something about tux. i miss him. so much.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Mr. Watson, Come Here

Mr. Watson--come here--I want to see you.
The first intelligible words spoken over the telephone. Too bad that there are not many intelligible words regarding our very own Mr. Watson--County Commissioner Stan Watson. Bell's utterance was reportedly about spilled battery acid but the feds are calling after Stan because he seems to have spent some quality time with some unsavory characters who now find themselves in federal court facing corruption charges. The allegations (they are just allegations--for now) implicate our Commissioner in a payola scheme.

But Stan has long been estranged from exemplary behavior. He is one of the most egregious (ab)users of County P-Cards currently in office though he faces some severe competition. Stan is known for using his P-Card to fund his private cell phone service all the while retaining his County-funded cell phone. Perhaps he uses that for a "burner phone." Or perhaps he thought using his personal phone meant that his personal phone records would remain personal in spite of his "I use it for county bidness" rationalization. Turns out that line of reasoning isn't to be confused with logic. He became entangled in the AJC's investigation of P-Card (ab)use drawing their attention not just because of the overall amount P-Card spending but also because of his rather large phone bills. The AJC logic of "if the public pays then it is public record" prevailed making his call detail records subject to open record requests.


Ultimately he handed them over to the AJC, but he self-redacted calls related to the federal case underway in South Carolina. This is probably because he had previously denied, on the record, having any unsavory relations with the defendants in that case. Or...well...maybe.

It gets better.

He used a non-so-black marker to redact the incriminating call records made all the more incriminating because he felt so compelled to obscure them. Not only did he miss a few entries the marker he used did not effectively blot out those embarrassing stains and the AJC was able to recover the call information.

We don't need to call for "Watson" nor do we need a lot of words to describe what is going on in this county. We only need one.


Monday, June 23, 2014

Back Door Tax Increase

The blogosphere lit up recently with the observation that Dekalb County Schools will get a 6.54% tax increase by simply leaving their millage rate at the current 23.98 level while letting rising property values do the rest. Some folks are calling this a "Tax Increase" which it is indeed.

But wait just a minute. Isn't that EXACTLY what the City of Dunwoody is doing? It is indeed.

We should speak softly as we call another odious Dekalb kettle black as our own little pot is blackened with the smoke of hypocrisy. As it sits the Dunwoody "Tax Increase" is even more egregious than Dekalb Schools'. The schools tax the entire county and the overall property digest is only going up 6.54%. But as we know, all places are not equal. Recently released data shows that properties located in this county's cities went up 13.1% while properties in unincorporated areas rose a mere 0.9%. That's right, city properties increased almost double the county-wide average.

Now you may argue that Dunwoody properties did not rise as much because they did not fall as much during the real estate collapse but that would be a rationalization at best. And it does not change the actual fact: Dunwoody is doing EXACTLY the same as Dekalb Schools--raking in a back door tax increase.

Get used to it.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Somethin' 'Bout A Dog

Somethin' 'bout your dog
Sittin' by your side
If you had a bad day
She ain't gonna run and hide
Just a-waggin' that tail
Grinnin' that grin
Somethin' 'bout a dog
Makes her my best friend

Ain't it crazy how somethin'
Seems like nothin' at all
Take a big old room
Make it seem so small
Seein' windows where there are walls
Makes a whole lot of something
Out of nothing at all

Makes a whole lot of something
Out of nothing at all

As recorded by Jimmy Buffett
on Songs from St. Somewhere

Kinda puts all the irrational chatter about the dog park in perspective, now doesn't it?

Monday, June 16, 2014

Park Relocates

Dunwoody's Linear Parks Program recently received a grant allowing for relocation of the existing linear park from it's current location to a spot closer to the village. Staff indicate that the previous location was not easily found by the Mayor and Council and a consultant suggested that a more visible location would increase park visitation. The relocation has been on the Staff's to-do list awaiting only the necessary grant funding.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Aiming For The Editor's Job

First a thanks goes to the AJC for their reporting on the Jordan-Bowman-Jordan shootout where they indicate which participants had weapons carry licenses. It is start. Not a very good start but a start nonetheless.

The article published in Sunday's AJC falls far short of acceptable journalism and unfortunately does little to support the AJC agenda. It is clearly written as an opinion piece so the former may be forgiven but the latter does a disservice to far too many people.

The article has a very low information density--too many words for so few facts. We are told that the visiting Jordan had not only a weapon but a carry license. We are also told that he is visiting from Illinois. This immediately raises a number of questions our editorializing author fails to answer. First, the Georgia Department of Public Safety indicates that Georgia does not have reciprocity with Illinois. The article suggests the surviving Jordan might well have been violating Georgia Law. Or maybe not. Perhaps the gun was secured in his vehicle in a manner that does not require a GWCL. This raises questions about timing of events. Perhaps he has a license from another state with which Georgia does have a reciprocal agreement (some states issues carry licenses to non-residents). Not reporting this is simply poor journalism.

But it gets worse.

The article's author cannot resist tossing his own flash-bang into the officer's open grave. He reports an eyewitness account: "When she was at the door, she dropped the N-Bomb. After that Officer Jordan was out of niceness" and all further confrontations occurred outside the restaurant. The author insinuates that situation was under control with the belligerents leaving the WaHo and that it was the officer who escalated what had become a defused situation. Because of a racial epithet. He further characterizes the brother's firing on Bowman an act of vengeance. Was all this really necessary to advance the AJC's agenda?

The only thing it appears we can all agree on (and no thanks to this article) is that a gun, no matter who says you can have it, doesn't fix stupid. Neither does a pen.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Having A Blast?

How ironic is it that the most recent victim in what appears to be American Society's favorite drama, Cops Gone Wild, is pronounced "Boo Boo"? Some apologists would like to dismiss this as a little fuquey uppey. You know--shit happens. Others point to a trend often citing the Kathryn Johnston disaster that resulted in the temporary disbanding of the special force whose members murdered her. Sadly that group has been recently re-formed. Or they look to the strikingly similar case of Trinishia Dukes who was also bombed with a flash-bang grenade and whose lawyer has made it clear this is out of control: "It has just become 'If SWAT goes out we're using flash bangs.' They think it is a toy." It is also epidemic with Clayton SWAT grenading citizens at a rate of over one per week. For over three years.

All this leaves many of us asking:

Others are beginning to ask why but as is so often the case this can be explained by money. Drug busts lead to property confiscation with due process denied in practice and afforded only as a legal theory. Increasingly police agencies are funding not only their peccadilloes but their core operational budgets from this revenue source. Attacking the public is now for fun AND profit.

They have also co-opted confidential informants who have been falsely identifying innocents and worse yet running entrapment schemes in order to avoid threats of punishment should they not meet quotas handed out by their police handlers. Using what would normally be seen as blackmail police handlers are using these informants to violate Constitutional Rights entrapping otherwise law abiding citizens while maintaining the one degree of separation they feel indemnifies them.

In militarizing the force the police (with our negligent approval) have done what is necessary in all military conflicts: dehumanize the enemy. And in this case the public is enemy number one. They speak in vague characterizations--the Bad Guys--terms that can be applied at their discretion to anyone they see. Those that buy into this view, who bandy about the chimerical threat of these mysterious Bad Guys to assist in expanding the military nature and capabilities of what should be a civilian law enforcement operation are the real Bad Guys. The public are the Good Guys and increasing the police are, well...

Some say these are isolated incidents that are being blown out of proportion by those with anti-government proclivities. The Cato Institute begs to differ and offers an online map to help elucidate the extent of these abuses of power. This is a serious and growing problem and measures must be taken:

  • Issuing no-knock warrants must be taken more seriously as it is a clear violation of Constitutional Rights. We must stop issuing these warrants to any agency below the state level--no more city or county LEO's playing warrior. Judges issuing these warrants should be at no less than the state level as well. There should also be a minimum 48 hour period between issuance and execution--if the cops are afraid the suspect will flee then that is an excellent time to apprehend--w/o a no-knock warrant. 
  • A minimum of two law enforcement agencies must be involved in executing these warrants with at least one being at the state level or above. When cops misbehave (as they apparently have in bombing beds and bassinets with their flash-bangs) there needs to be someone at the scene of what has become another crime to preserve the integrity of the evidence. Yes, this will always be problematic.
  • Body and vehicle cameras must be a mandatory prerequisite for mission-go and must be operational and active before vehicles roll and cannot be disabled in the field. Un-redacted video is proactively supplied during discovery and is available to the public under FOIA requests within 48 hours. 
  • The use of confidential informants must be curtailed. While it has become quite the commercial ecosystem with all the for-profit operations providing training and seminars those are exactly the kinds of operations that indicate this practice has become excessive and long detached from its original usefulness. Severe penalties, greater than what the cops can hold over informants, need to be applied to cases of entrapment and equal responsibility and punishment must be afforded any handler whose informant is successfully prosecuted. Informant and handler must hang together.
  • We must stop paying law enforcement to behave badly by ending property confiscation as it exists today. All confiscated assets must go to the State and not local agencies. This money must be dedicated, in order, to: a) victim compensation; and b) programs to deter or rehabilitate offenders. Any left over assets (there should be little or none) must go to the general operating fund. Furthermore any seized assets must be held in escrow (IE: impounded) until the owner of that asset has been convicted of any charges brought against them. As a part of their sentencing, the presiding judge will determine what assets can be seized, which must be returned in whole or in part to others with claims on those assets and determine the allocation of seized assets according to the guidelines above. 
This will not be well received in some quarters but let's apply the logic so often used when government wants us to freely give up our Constitutional Rights: if they're not doing anything wrong what are they afraid of? Where cooler heads prevail there will be an understanding that these efforts will do as much to protect police officers as it does anyone else. Unnecessary use of paramilitary tactics (keep in mind the Habersham suspect was captured later at a different location without the need for Seal Team Six) puts officers as much at risk as it does the public.

If we as a society do not take direct, firm action we run the risk of benignly supporting the political creation of an oppressive police state.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Apartments and McMansions

The world is increasingly binodal whether we're discussing pay disparities, the digital divide, abilities of students in a single class or even Dunwoody real estate--the mean truly is mythical.

Dunwoody was formed to purge the area of existing apartments and where ever possible to forestall or prevent the construction of new apartments--a chore previously handled by the DHA thru their cadre of lawyers. The logic was that apartments suffer from shoddy construction, poor maintenance (and one might observe: poor enforcement of local codes) and high crime thus harming overall property values in the vicinity but the underlying issue was the fact that apartment dwellers ARE the lower lobe of our socio-economic binodal distribution. This was pretty clearly exposed along with the plans for spending the proposed tax bonds on eradicating the PIB apartments. The noise about this being a  "high crime area" has become muted as the real high crime area is the Perimeter Mall where the apartments are tony and newer. It cannot go without saying that they pay more in property tax for which they receive the lion's share of Dunwoody's police protection. We won't detail the "harm to our schools" argument as that was pretty much blown out of the water with Austin's recent CCRPI scores in spite of hosting kids from apartments.

Given our revulsion to apartments it may seem befuddling that there is a growing resistance to McMansions whether on previously undeveloped land or lot-by-lot tear down rebuilds. It seems that in Dunwoody the only good McMansions are those replacing existing apartments or preventing the construction of new apartments. But while McMansions may be bad, they're not that bad.

But are McMansions really bad at all?

A surprising number of single family detached houses in Dunwoody were built in the late sixties to mid eighties after which scarcity drove up prices and drove many buyers further out. As our Mayor has pointed out (in his support of tear-down McMansions) these houses were built with construction techniques and integrity such that they have about a thirty year life (funny how that is a bad thing for an apartment complex but a good thing for a house) and it is really about time they were replaced. Our own little Ulysses, bless his heart.

So why is someone in a mature neighborhood upset that the neighboring 2600 sq. ft. Four Four and a Door has been replaced by a 6500 sq. ft. Tudor style two story with a three car garage and blessed with a daylight basement?

This isn't just envy. You. Lose. Money.

Your property taxes just went up and the Total Addressable Market of buyers and  ironically the price they're willing to pay just went down.

But there is also a strong pride of ownership. Long time homeowners have often put much of themselves into their home--more than sweat equity--homes become a personal statement. It is a family jewel. The homestead. Where the kids were raised. Remember the year the cat chewed thru the Christmas light cord and had to be put down? Ah...yes, dear Beelzebub...she was really just like a dog.

Where real estate agents see a house (and a private school payment for their child) some folks see a home. Their home. Just like the one in Father of the Bride, Part 2--to be preserved and cherished for all eternity and not an eyesore to be demolished so some rich asshole has a better place to park his A7.

OK. Maybe there is some envy.

Then there are those built on previously un- or under-developed land. Bill Grant has been building McMansions right off Ashford Duwnoody (and even scored a new curb cut for a single driveway) for what seems like an eternity.  And now another developer has plans to build a few dozen homes off Vermack. This would be on approximately 35 acres already zoned for exactly this purpose so at this point it is in the hands of the developers and their investors. Resistance will be relegated to "additional traffic" and "impact on schools". Not very compelling.

Prices at the new development start at $700,000 and run right up thru $1 million. The Bill Grant homes are no cheaper. Unless your plan in life is to drain a trust fund these hardly fall in the category of Starter Home. And that affects the traditional Dunwoody Demographic pushing some folks who currently enjoy the view from the top just a wee bit further down.

When you consider a wide range of factors (down payment, interest, other debt, DTI, etc.) you should not be surprised if the folks buying these homes have anything less than $150K in annual household income. Probably more. Perhaps a lot more. This is not only at least two times the 2011 Dunwoody average household income, it is no more a starter salary than these are starter homes. So don't expect a starter family either.

It is hard to get really good drill downs on census data for these demographics but researchers have long reported that these levels of income strongly correlate with high levels of education, particularly amongst women as they tend to seek out equally well educated mates resulting in high earning households. These folks also tend towards the middle to latter part of the high-wage portion of the lifecycle (generally 35-55 years of age) and combined with a high probability of well educated women will likely result in fewer and older children. Their kids are as likely to be in (or out of) college as they are to be taking seats in K-12. Given these income levels, strong emphasis on education and the sorry state of our DeKalb County schools any of their children eligible for DCSD will probably be in private schools.

These McMansions will attract smart, well educated families with high household incomes and below average burden on school and city services. With all this how could anyone oppose the gentrification of Dunwoody?

Monday, June 2, 2014

What They Are Really Telling You

If you've been paying attention to mainstream media on the topic of student loans and especially if you heard the UGA Graduate School commencement speaker you know you are being conditioned for a groundswell of student loan abandonments. And this has been a long time in the making. Let's look at a few things that have been insinuated into our daily mantra:
  • A college degree means you will make more money
  • Investing in a college education is investing in yourself
  • Everyone must go to college--it has become a birthright
The increased cost and supply of graduates is why over 1 in 10 will leave college to face over $40,000.00 in debt while at the same time seeing fewer job opportunities at the entry level. Some report that the total student loan debt exceeds $1trillion, far in excess of credit card debt. At least this money went to a good cause, one that will strengthen the future of the students and society as a whole, right?

Not really.

There has been a mad dash to get a degree--any degree--and many of these provide no value-add that is respected in the employment marketplace. No one in academia is telling the public, the students or the parents this. They ignore this reality while at the same time touting the general value of a college education--no breakdowns by major, degree level or institution.

While the cost to acquire a sheepskin has climbed at a rate far beyond inflation the money has been absorbed by bloated administrations, bureaucrats and boutique, Club Med calibre dorms and non-educational facilities.  At the same time we're seeing fewer full professors and more adjuncts. More money. Less education.

Parents and students have been duped. And we are all being had.

The education establishment has created a bubble, something the educratic bubble blowers and mass media like to call "a crisis". But it is a bubble and it is about to burst.

Those who created the bubble want to see Americans walk away from a commitment that they made in good faith and many others seem to think that is exactly what they should do. This is an attempt to keep the money flowing freely but will only allow the greedy to continue to feed their lusts--money never solves a fiscal problem. But should this come to pass it will prove beyond doubt that American society has abandoned the spirit of self-reliance and integrity that once made a college degree, regardless of field, valuable.