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Cracker Squire


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Location: Douglas, Coffee Co., The Other Georgia, United States

Sid in his law office where he sits when meeting with clients. Observant eyes will notice the statuette of one of Sid's favorite Democrats.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Bush, Speaking Up Against Bigotry

Richard Cohen of The Washington Post writes:

There are times when George Bush sorely disappoints. Just when you might expect him to issue a malapropian explanation, pander to his base or simply not have a clue about what he is talking about, he does something so right, so honest and, yes, so commendable, that -- as Arthur Miller put it in "Death of a Salesman" -- "attention must be paid." Pay attention to how he has refused to indulge anti-Arab sentiment over the Dubai ports deal.

Would that anyone could say the same about many of the deal's critics. Whatever their concerns may be, whatever their fears, they would not have had them, expressed them or seen them in print had the middle name of the United Arab Emirates been something else. After all, no one goes nuts over Germany, the country where some of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists lived and attended school.

To overlook the xenophobic element in this controversy is to overlook the obvious. It is what propelled the squabble and what sustains it. Bush put his finger on it right away. "What I find interesting is that it's okay for a British company to manage some ports, but not okay for a company from a country that is a valuable ally in the war on terror," he said last week. "The UAE has been a valuable partner in fighting the war on terror." It is a long way from a terrorist haven.

Somewhere in the White House, a political operative -- maybe the storied Karl Rove -- must have slapped his head in consternation as Bush made that remark. The politic thing for a president with a dismal approval rating (about 40 percent) would have been to join with the critics, get ahead of the anti-Arab wave and announce that he, too, was concerned about the deal, which was the fault, now that he thought about it, of pointy-headed bureaucrats, Democrats and the occasional atheist. Instead, the White House stuck to its guns, ordering a symbolic retreat -- more study -- but continuing to back the deal.

That Bush has done this should come as no surprise. As a bigot he leaves a lot to be desired. He has refused to pander to anti-immigration forces, and shortly after Sept. 11, if you will remember, he visited Washington's Islamic Center. He reassured American Muslims and the worldwide Islamic community that neither America nor its government were waging war on an entire people.

"The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam," Bush said back then -- and he has since repeated this message over and over again. That very year -- in November 2001 -- Bush invited 52 Muslim diplomats to a traditional Iftar dinner, breaking the daily Ramadan fast, and he has occasionally cited purported racism as the reason some people doubt the Muslim world will, as Bush so fervently wishes, make progress toward democracy. They think people whose skin is "a different color than white" are incapable of self-government, he has said.

We are in an odd era of symbolic news events. The Dick Cheney shooting was treated as if it were of cosmic political importance. Some pundits even called on the vice president to resign, while others merely saw everything the Bush administration had gotten wrong -- an almost inexhaustible list -- as distilled in a single bad shot and the resultant pout. Now it is the port controversy. But if the Cheney story was about everything else -- including, of course, the taciturn and slippery Cheney himself -- then this port controversy is really about security anxiety and a dislike of things and people Arab. The deal may not be perfect, but it is a long way from a Page One story.

America has many friends in the Arab world. You can go to Saudi Arabia, for instance, and talk "American" at a dinner party -- banter about the Washington Redskins or California real estate prices or, of course, politics. The region is home to many people who have gone to school in the United States and admire it greatly. They are not the majority by any means, but they are important and influential -- and they are being slowly alienated by knee-jerk insults and brainless policies that reflect panic and prejudice. The true security cost of the Dubai deal has already been inflicted.

Maybe because Bush is a Bush -- son of a president who got to know many Arabs -- or maybe because he just naturally recoils from prejudice, his initial stance on this controversy has been refreshingly admirable. Whatever the case, the president has done the right thing. Attention must be paid.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Shipp: Lawmakers selling out consumers

This week Bill Shipp writes:

If the lawmakers are not soon distracted, Georgia consumers might find themselves shivering in the cold without heat or cheap transportation by the time this session ends. Our lawmakers are on an anti-consumer binge. Check out this partial list of people-punishing legislative measures:

• Auto insurance: Legislation is on track to allow insurance companies to jack up automobile premiums without prior approval from the elected insurance commissioner. Georgia used to allow unchecked rate hikes, and auto insurance rates doubled between 1982 and 1988. Rates became a hot issue in the 1990 elections, and officials decided to rein in the runaway insurance companies. Now, the companies are about to return to a runaway mode.

• Auto title lending: Georgia's auto title lending laws, already among the weakest in the nation, are about to become weaker as the legislature lifts the lid on usury rates. The lenders already can charge 300 percent interest. The lending companies have contributed more than $300,000 to key lawmakers' campaigns. If you feel like you've been sold out, dear consumer, you might have been. The title lenders apparently used your monthly payments to buy several of your elected representatives.

• Higher gas prices: House Bill 1325 creates a road map that would allow Atlanta Gas Light to build major pipelines and other facilities and then charge the cost back to residential customers and some businesses - but not charge the cost to the biggest corporate users. The bill would add yet another surcharge onto your monthly bill from the gas marketers.

• Utilities and eminent domain: Legislators are all but certain to make the use of eminent domain more difficult for government entities. Your elected representatives have made a huge election-year fuss to attract voter support. However, the big utility companies still will have a virtual blank check when it comes to condemnation of your property for their use.

Moreover, the Public Service Commission is expected to disband its consumer advocate staff as unnecessary, while enough other anti-consumer proposals are floating around to fill a good-sized bookcase.

You might think that in an election year this legislative bunch would be less cavalier in their rough handling of consumers. Apparently, they don't care. Many Republicans have re-rigged their legislative districts to all but guarantee re-election.Contributions from lobbyists are cascading into the Capitol as never before. Some minority Democrats are taking campaign money from corporate fat cats in exchange for not making a fuss.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Democrats Look for Historic Shift in Governors' Races

The Washington Post reports:

Republicans face a potential upheaval in the states this November, with Democrats positioned to capture a majority of the governorships for the first time since 1990 and seize an early advantage in the 2008 presidential contest.

While the battle for control of Congress has drawn more attention, the states may be the most competitive arenas in this midterm election year. Historically, shifts in power in the 50 capitals have held long-term implications for both parties, and control of statehouses can give parties tangible organizational advantages during presidential elections.

Republicans hold a 28 to 22 advantage among the governors, but they begin the campaign year on the defensive. Thirty-six states will elect governors in November, and the GOP must protect 22 of them to the Democrats' 14. Of the nine states where the incumbent governor is either term-limited or retiring, eight are held by Republicans.

In a year when fewer than one in 10 House seats appear to be in play, thanks to the power of incumbency and gerrymandered congressional districts, about half of the 36 gubernatorial contests appear to be competitive -- many of them clear tossups eight months from Election Day.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Greenspan Decries Political 'Polarization'

According to The Wall Street Journal:

Freed of the constraints of public office, Alan Greenspan has expanded from commenting on the economy to commenting on politics.

Speaking to a Wall Street gathering Wednesday, the former Federal Reserve chairman decried the "polarization" of American politics and said the ground was ripe for a third-party presidential candidate . . . .

[Mr. Greenspan] describe[d] the two American parties now as controlled by their extreme wings, even though the voting public is far more centrist, people who were present said.

He described the leadership of the parties as "bimodal", meaning clustered at the extreme ideological ends, whereas the voting public was "monomodal", meaning clustered near the middle.

Such situations, he said, create an opening for a third-party candidate who appeals to the center. That, he said, could prompt the candidates of the other two parties to move back to the center, for fear of losing. He said the U.S. political system makes it difficult for a third-party candidate to win.

Friday, February 24, 2006

A Friday afternoon Associated Press headline reads: "Former first lady joins call for death penalty freeze"

The A.P. story provides:

Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter on Friday joined the call for a moratorium that would put the use of the death penalty in Georgia on hold.

On Thursday, state Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, introduced bills calling for a moratorium and setting up a commission to study Georgia's use of the death penalty.

Republican leaders who control both chambers of the Legislature and Gov. Sonny Perdue, also a Republican, have continued to endorse the state's use of the death penalty, saying appropriate checks and balances are already in place.

Georgia, which uses lethal injection, has executed 39 people since 1976 and now has a death row population of 109, according the Washington D.C.-based Death Penalty Information Center.

Headlines and bills like this are the last type thing Democrats need during this 2006 election year.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Shipp: The right is the path into office

Bill Shipp writes:

What do Jimmy Carter, Sam Nunn and Sonny Perdue have in common?

Plenty, when it comes to Georgia political campaigns.

In their successful bids for high office, all three rural Georgians ran as long-shot underdogs against established public figures with much larger war chests. This trio of unlikely sound-alikes appealed to the ultraconservative instincts of white male voters. All three ran against the mythic Atlanta power structure. Once they had achieved high office, Carter, Nunn and Perdue spent little time schmoozing their core vote.

If I were in the political consulting business, I would advise Democrats Mark Taylor and Cathy Cox to review those past campaigns for guidance in their upcoming bids for governor. Some may disagree with the tactics, but they worked. All came from virtually the same playbook, updated slightly by Nunn and then Perdue to accommodate changing times.

Carter's 1970 bid for governor became the prototype for winning statewide office.

The former state senator abandoned any pretense of restraint. He ran hard to the political right, even sending his aides to distribute handbills at KKK rallies.

At every opportunity, Carter jumped on the "liberal" Atlanta Constitution and painted his opponent, former Gov. Carl Sanders, as a tool of the "liberal" Atlanta power structure.

Carter embraced segregationist George Wallace and successfully solicited the help of the old racist/populist wool-hat crowd. Carter won with relative ease. In the blink of an eye, after his election, Carter transformed himself into the premier New South governor, a visionary model of moderation. After he made the cover of Time magazine, Carter never looked back as he ran for president.

Then along came Nunn. By 1972, Gov. Carter and his Senate appointee David Gambrell were the toast of so-called liberal Atlanta. Nunn, a backbench Georgia House member, seemed all but lost in a stampede of candidates seeking Dick Russell's old Senate seat, held by Gambrell. In a stroke of genius, Nunn became what Carter had been - the George Wallace guy. Nunn didn't play the race card as boldly as Carter, but - wink, wink - just about everybody knew (or thought they knew) where Nunn stood. He appeared to stand squarely against Carter's suddenly uppity "in" crowd.

Nunn, of course, won and became a towering figure in the United States Senate. He later demurred on seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, in part because he thought rightly that someone would dig up his seemingly segregationist past.

By 2002, George Wallace was long gone from the American scene. However, the dark images he evoked were as alive as ever. Another seemingly slim-chance contender, state Sen. Sonny Perdue, threw his hat into the race as the non-Atlanta, non-establishment, white man's candidate. No, he never quite articulated that title, but (wink, wink again) we all knew. Preserving the Confederate battle flag replaced George Wallace as Perdue's rallying point.

Abandoning any hint of subtlety, the GOP candidate introduced a new wrinkle into his campaign. He depicted the new "liberal establishment" incumbent, Roy Barnes, as a gold-chain-wearing, king-size rat. You heard right: r-a-t - as in filthy rodent, an international symbol used by communists and fascists to depict "the lowest of the low."

Perdue's campaign video described the Republican candidate as "sharp as a tack (and) not from Atlanta."

Now, after nearly four years in office, Perdue is in the same predicament Carter and Barnes were in, only more so. Perdue has become the quintessential big-city corporate governor. Also, he walked away from his base. The "flaggers," the 21st century Wallaceites, were left out in the cold.

So how will the 2006 underdog Democrat (Cox or Taylor) try to take down the big-business incumbent? Remember the rule exemplified by Carter, Nunn and Perdue when they were on the outside looking in: Stay to the right, and you can't go wrong.

Drug Plan's Start May Imperil G.O.P.'s Grip on Older Voters

From The New York Times:

Older voters, a critical component of Republican Congressional victories for more than a decade, could end up being a major vulnerability for the party in this year's midterm elections, according to strategists in both parties. Paradoxically, one reason is the new Medicare drug benefit, which was intended to cement their loyalty.

Democratic incumbents and challengers plan nearly 100 public forums around the country, armed with briefing books and talking points on a law that, party leaders assert, "was written by and for big drug companies and H.M.O.'s, not American families."

But pollsters say the Republicans' difficulties with the over-60 vote go beyond the complicated drug benefit, which began Jan. 1.

President Bush's failed effort to create private accounts in Social Security last year was also unpopular with many older Americans.

For years, Democrats counted on the over-60 vote to regularly return their party to power on Capitol Hill — the party of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Social Security and Medicare, as Democrats were quick to remind retirees.

But that changed in the 1990's, when that vote began tilting toward the Republicans.

One reason for the change was demographics — the passing of the New Deal generation and its replacement with retirees whose political loyalties were formed in a more Republican era. But it also reflected Republican success in muting or neutralizing the longtime Democratic advantage as the more trustworthy party on Social Security and Medicare. The passage of the Medicare prescription drug law in 2003 was intended to be the crowning accomplishment of that strategy.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Former Democratic Leader Larry Walker Seeking DOT Board Post

InsiderAdvantage Georgia reports that former Democratic state Rep. Larry Walker of Perry, who for years was the majority leader of the Georgia House, is lining up legislative backing for another race – he would like to serve on the state Board of Transportation.

DOT board members are elected from congressional districts by legislators who reside in those districts. The 8th District seat will be open next year as a result of redistricting.

I am a big fan of Larry Walker, and believe he would would be a great member on the state Board of Transportation.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Ex-CIA Official Faults Use of Data on Iraq - Intelligence 'Misused' to Justify War, He Says

The Washington Post reports:

The former CIA official who coordinated U.S. intelligence on the Middle East until last year has accused the Bush administration of "cherry-picking" intelligence on Iraq to justify a decision it had already reached to go to war, and of ignoring warnings that the country could easily fall into violence and chaos after an invasion to overthrow Saddam Hussein.

Paul R. Pillar, who was the national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia from 2000 to 2005, acknowledges the U.S. intelligence agencies' mistakes in concluding that Hussein's government possessed weapons of mass destruction. But he said those misjudgments did not drive the administration's decision to invade.

"Official intelligence on Iraqi weapons programs was flawed, but even with its flaws, it was not what led to the war," Pillar wrote in the upcoming issue of the journal Foreign Affairs. Instead, he asserted, the administration "went to war without requesting -- and evidently without being influenced by -- any strategic-level intelligence assessments on any aspect of Iraq."

"It has become clear that official intelligence was not relied on in making even the most significant national security decisions, that intelligence was misused publicly to justify decisions already made, that damaging ill will developed between [Bush] policymakers and intelligence officers, and that the intelligence community's own work was politicized," Pillar wrote.

It is . . . the first time that such a senior intelligence officer has so directly and publicly condemned the administration's handling of intelligence.

Pillar, retired after 28 years at the CIA, was an influential behind-the-scenes player and was considered the agency's leading counterterrorism analyst. By the end of his career, he was responsible for coordinating assessments on Iraq from all 15 agencies in the intelligence community.

"If the entire body of official intelligence analysis on Iraq had a policy implication," Pillar wrote, "it was to avoid war -- or, if war was going to be launched, to prepare for a messy aftermath."

Pillar describes for the first time that the intelligence community did assessments before the invasion that, he wrote, indicated a postwar Iraq "would not provide fertile ground for democracy" and would need "a Marshall Plan-type effort" to restore its economy despite its oil revenue. It also foresaw Sunnis and Shiites fighting for power.

Pillar wrote that the intelligence community "anticipated that a foreign occupying force would itself be the target of resentment and attacks -- including guerrilla warfare -- unless it established security and put Iraq on the road to prosperity in the first few weeks or months after the fall of Saddam."

Cheney Says NSA Spying Should Be an Election Issue

The Washington Post reports:

Vice President Cheney suggested last night that the debate over spying on overseas communications to or from terrorism suspects should be a political issue in this year's congressional elections.

His comments reflected the emerging GOP plan to make national security and terrorism the centerpiece of House and Senate elections. White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove telegraphed the strategy last month when he told a Republican audience that "we are dealing with two parties that have fundamentally different views on national security."

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Conjecture Embraced As Fact

From The Washington Post by Richard Cohen:

An odd thing happened in Washington this week. The Senate Judiciary Committee questioned Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on whether the president has the authority to intercept international phone calls without first seeking a warrant. Very few people believe that the president has that authority -- which is different than asking whether he should have that authority -- but Gonzales, who is almost entirely a creation of George W. Bush, insisted the president does. He presented, by way of proving his point, this overwhelming piece of evidence: Bush has done it.

The argument in favor of the National Security Agency intercepts is consistent with those that took us to war in Iraq. They are all a collection, an assemblage, a concatenation of fibs, exaggerations, misinterpretations, selected evidence, hype, false leads, vile suggestions, felonious deletions and the like, which marched us to Baghdad where we remain to this day. Gonzales, an apparatchik, lacks the courage of his mendacity. If he were to tell the truth ... never mind, it won't happen.

The belief that George Bush has virtually whatever power he wants to wage this war against terrorism is not, as some deluded souls think, the consequence of some legal theory or some grand constitutional nonsense or even the close and nerdy reading of the congressional resolution enabling the president to visit war upon Iraq. It is a consequence, instead, of Bush's conviction that he is doing God's work. You wanna argue with that, buddy?

This is why the war itself needed to be waged for specious reasons -- weapons of mass destruction. There were good reasons -- or, if you will, just plain reasons -- to go to war in Iraq. The president could have built his case around the inhumanity of Saddam Hussein's regime or its refusal to abide by numerous U.N. resolutions or even that the Middle East needed to be thrown up into the air to see if democracy came down -- something like that. But this, as Bush must have known and his associates have sometimes admitted (See Vanity Fair's 2003 interview with Paul Wolfowitz), would not suffice. He needed more: a threat. He needed the nonexistent al Qaeda link and the nonexistent WMD. The two threatened imminence. They justified doing something quickly -- too quickly, as it turned out. Conjecture was embraced as fact.

In order to take a nation to war, you have to believe mightily in the threat you are facing and the virtue of your cause. You have to gin yourself up, pull out all the patriotic stops, inflict the slippery-mouthed Cheney on the pitifully gullible viewers of Fox News. This is why all the rules were thrown out. Restrictions against torture were branded as quaint -- and amended to the point of revolting nonsense: the pain had to be virtually death-like. These prisoners, after all, were not serving nations, as in the good old days, but flagless terrorist organizations. In other words, evil. Bush was merely giving permission to fight fire with fire.

Possibly, the NSA intercept program aborted a terrorist operation or two. This was told to me by someone who is in a position to know and I believe him. But what I could not get him to explain was why this program could not have been sanctioned under law. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, not to mention other senators, asked the same question of Gonzales: Why not come down Pennsylvania Avenue and work with Congress? "We didn't think we needed to, quite frankly," the attorney general said. Almost the truth: We didn't have to , would have been more like it.

Since the existence of this program was disclosed by The New York Times, the administration has responded to honest questions with dishonest answers. Mostly, they are variations of the old "which side are you on?" refrain: the terrorists or our own? So we do not know why warrants could have been sought or the law changed or even why international calls were monitored but not domestic ones. The answer in all cases comes down to this: The administration does what it wants. It is that simple.

Theodore Roosevelt in 1907 took the measure of Congress when it balked at appropriating enough money to send the Great White Fleet around the world. TR said he would send it out and see if Congress would bring it back. Nothing has changed. Presented by the president with a fait accompli, Congress almost always blinks and folds. This is the unintended consequence of the war on terrorism. The terrorists may or may not win, but Congress has surely lost.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Calling Clinton ‘Angry,’ G.O.P. Chairman Goes on the Attack

The New York Times reports:

The chairman of the Republican National Committee, Ken Mehlman, offered a broad attack on Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York on Sunday, describing her as a Democrat brimming with anger and a representative of the far left wing of her party.

Mr. Mehlman disputed the suggestion that Mrs. Clinton, a former first lady, had moved to the center of her party. And while he declined to say, in response to a question, if he thought Mrs. Clinton would be the Republicans' "dream candidate or the Democrat you most dread," he left little doubt that Republicans had settled on new lines of attack on one of the leading Democratic contenders for the 2008 presidential nomination.

Handful of Races May Tip Control of Congress

According to The Washington Post:

Not since 1994 has the party in power -- in this case the Republicans -- faced such a discouraging landscape in a midterm election. President Bush is weaker than he was just a year ago, a majority of voters in recent polls have signaled their desire for a change in direction, and Democrats outpoll Republicans on which party voters think is more capable of handling the country's biggest problems.

The result is a midterm already headed toward what appears to be an inevitable conclusion: Democrats are poised to gain seats in the House and in the Senate for the first time since 2000. The difference between modest gains (a few seats in the Senate and fewer than 10 in the House) and significant gains (half a dozen in the Senate and well more than a dozen in the House) is where the battle for control of Congress will be fought.

What makes the year ahead compelling is the tension between two powerful factors: the broader political environment plainly favors Democrats, but the on-the-ground realities of many races give Republicans an advantage as they seek to preserve their majorities.

History dictates a certain modesty about predictions. Early in 1994, few foresaw the size of the Republican landslide-in-the-making. By November, the anti-incumbent mood overwhelmed even well-prepared candidates. If the public mood deteriorates further this year, Republicans could be swamped; if not, the GOP could be adequately equipped to wage trench warfare state by state and district by district and leave Washington's current balance of power intact.

At this point, the biggest challenge facing the Democrats is the narrow size of the battlefield. To win control of the House or Senate, Democrats must either capture the overwhelming percentage of genuinely competitive contests or find a way to put more races "in play" than is the case now.

Redistricting after the 2000 census left most House districts safely in the hands of one party or another. In 2004, just 32 districts were won with less than 55 percent of the vote -- giving incumbents a grip on power, said Rhodes Cook, an independent analyst.

Among Democratic incumbents, Republican House strategists see Reps. John Barrow (Ga.). . . and Jim Marshall (Ga.) as beatable.

I think that Representatives Barrow and Marshall will be OK. Both will have hard fights, but win.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Boehner pulls off victory on second ballot - This is going to be interesting

According to The Hill:

Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) pulled off a second-ballot victory this afternoon to become the next House majority leader.

Boehner bested Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who was serving as the acting majority leader . . . .

The win marks Boehner’s return to the House leadership table after an almost eight-year absence.

A deputy to former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), Boehner is expected to bring a new style to the leader’s post after pledging during the campaign to involve more members in the legislative process and to offer an olive branch of sorts to House Democrats.

Boehner has long been considered DeLay’s chief rival, and he pledged during his campaign to renew many of the ideals that characterized the so-called Republican Revolution spear-headed by Gingrich.

Shipp: National Democrats hurting party's chances at Georgia polls

The Dean tells it like it is:

The late Sen. Herman Talmadge used to break me up with his descriptions of his Democratic colleagues as "they" and "them." He spoke of national party leaders, who had given him power in the Senate, as if they were alien beings with a communicable disease.

Of course, Talmadge as a Southern Democrat couldn't afford to let on back home that he consorted with the likes of Hubert Humphrey, Lyndon Johnson and, God forbid, Ted Kennedy. When he confessed to being a Democrat, he always made it clear he did not wear a national party badge.

We are in the midst of such an era again. Associating with national Democrats is anathema to winning politics. In another time, two Georgia officials would have had an excellent chance of being elected governor and bringing needed reform and a renewed vision to our state. Alas, both Secretary of State Cathy Cox and Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor are Democrats. Their party label alone may be enough to trip either in their bid to unseat a deceptive, secretive and unresponsive governor.

Cox launched her campaign for the Democratic nomination last week. She focused on a need to bring ethics and morality to an increasingly closed and specially privileged state government.

As soon as the legislature adjourns, Taylor will begin his campaign. Undoubtedly, he will point out the state's awful lapses in economic development, education and health care.

Both candidates have compelling messages. The trouble is, their national Democratic counterparts are drowning them out.

Sen. John Kerry, the worst Democratic presidential candidate since George McGovern, phones in from Switzerland that he plans to go to the mat in opposition to elevating Judge Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. Kerry is playing to what he perceives as his blue-state base for another run for the presidency.

Sen. Kennedy can't resist another turn under national TV lights to denounce Alito. The national political debate centers on guesswork: How might Alito vote on abortion in some distant, yet-to-be known legal challenge?

Poor Cathy Cox's call for less sleaze and more straight shooting in the Georgia Gold Dome is all but lost amid the Democratic senators' vain tirades against Alito, a shoo-in for a seat on the high court. The national media masses its resources in Washington. If Sam Alito is the Washington topic of the day, it must be the most important news for every American. At least, that is the New York-Washington TV view of the country.

Back in Georgia, what really counts is:

• The availability of good jobs: Ford and GM have closed their 60-year-old auto plants in Atlanta. Four military bases are shutting down. Bankrupt Delta Air Lines is cutting costs and jobs to the bone.

• Health care: Forget for a moment the needs of the poor. Health care for middle-class folks - even those with insurance and the wherewithal to pay - is a disgrace. Hospitals are overflowing. Health-care providers can't keep up with their caseloads. State-generated red tape hampers expansions. Then there are the hundreds of thousands of kids without health insurance. Medicaid for the impoverished is a separate spreading calamity.

• Transportation: Congestion is killing us. Road builders dominate the legislature and governor's office. At lavish influence-peddling parties, the pavers pound home their message: Allocate more money for more highways. No one talks about the only long-term solution: Reducing the number of cars and trucks on the highway. The spirit of Jack Abramoff is alive and well in the Georgia Capitol.

• Education: Public schools in many areas of the state are in a freefall. Additional teacher raises won't end the plummet.

The list of unmet state and local needs goes on. Even so, when the state election campaigns start in earnest in the spring and summer, watch what happens.

Failed incumbents won't bother to answer substantive challenges about their sub-par performances. Instead, they will remind you that their opponents wear the same party tags as Kerry, Kennedy and, of course, Jesse Jackson and Hillary Clinton. Oh, yes, they'll tell you that Democrats are focused on more restrictions on guns, fewer restrictions on abortions and additional rights for minorities and illegal aliens.

Those incumbents figure that reminding you of the dead-duck national Democrats' shortcomings will be enough to keep them in office in Georgia, regardless of the decline of the state's middle class. They may be right.