In the wee hours of Saturday morning, a little more than a week before a controversial provision of the USA PATRIOT Act expires, the U.S. Senate took up two separate pieces of legislation dealing with mass surveillance.

The first bill was the USA FREEDOM Act — which ends bulk collection of phone metadata by the National Security Agency, though requires retention by providers — fell just short of the 60 votes required on a motion to proceed. Sens. Johnny Isakson and David Perdue voted against the bill.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the USA FREEDOM Act by a wide margin earlier in the month. Most of the Georgia delegation voted for the bill, though Reps. Tom Graves and Rob Woodall voted against it because they felt that the reforms didn’t go far enough.
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Tyson Paul WXIA 11 arrestIf police officers tell you that you can’t record them with your cell phone, they’re lying to you.

Note the conspicuous lack of maybe unless except weasel words in that sentence.

In a place you have the legal right to be, you have the right to record. Period. A cop that orders you to stop recording is breaking the law, violating the constitution and — in Atlanta — defying a court order.

Still, defying court orders is kind of how APD rolls. Last week, Atlanta and its police department were held in contempt … again … for failing to adhere to the terms of a legal settlement stemming from a 2009 SWAT-style raid on The Atlanta Eagle, a gay leather bar on Ponce, just down the street from Mary Mac’s Tea Room.

The now-disbanded Red Dog unit went in ostensibly looking for drugs and weapons and people having sex on the bar. After making the patrons roll around in broken bar glass on the floor for an hour, the worst accusation they could make was that some guys had shorts on that were too short.

No warrant. No probable cause. No charges on patrons. (Some employees were laughably charged with the shorts thing. All were acquitted after police perjured themselves in testimony.)

That led to a million-dollar settlement in federal court, and an agreement in the settlement to teach cops to treat the defending the constitution like it’s their actual job and not something to get around.

The court ordered police to cease stop-and-frisk without probable cause, to train officers on current Fourth Amendment law regarding detentions, arrests, frisks, and searches, including the legal standards set forth in the 210 Settlement Order, and to change its SOP to reflect the law. It required police to wear a conspicuously visible nametag, and to make sure any Atlanta police officer who is in uniform or displaying police authority identifies himself or herself by name and badge number upon request at some point before the end of an encounter with a civilian.

The court specifically, explicitly, unambiguously told police to stop snatching up bystander cell phone cameras.

The police department basically ignored the settlement. It changed its SOP in 2011 … and then changed it back in 2013. APD was held in contempt of court for the second time last week for failing to comply with the 2010 order.

As a practical matter, if you’re recording an interaction with a police officer in Atlanta, and that officer decides that he or she doesn’t want to be recorded, you’re going to be treated like a criminal suspect yourself. You’ll be asked for identification. Failing to identify yourself to a police officer is a misdemeanor crime in Georgia … but initiating the inquiry without probable cause is a civil rights violation. It forces someone taking bystander video to either submit to an illegal police inquiry, or create the conditions for an officer to initiate an arrest on the failure to ID charge.

After identifying yourself, a cop may then decide to run your name for warrants. Again, there’s no probable cause, so this is a civil rights violation. But the time taken to do so then becomes (specious) justification for the argument that recording police is an act of interference or obstruction — the cops have to take time to violate your rights that would otherwise be used productively. These are the conditions for the classic contempt-of-cop arrest.

The settlement was meant to prevent these abuses. Plainly, it hasn’t done so. Atlanta Police still feel comfortable arresting professional journalists covering events on the street, never mind Joe Citizen recording cops rousting rowdies on the East Atlanta strip.

The next time you see police arresting someone in public, record it. Be polite, use common sense, and don’t be a jerk. But record. And if a cop gets in your face, ask for their name and a badge number. Their name, not their supervisors’. And then post it online.

It’s 2015. Being recorded is part of the job for a cop. We need to know which officers are giving the public grief for it.

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Georgia’s Johnny Isakson is chairman of the U.S. Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. A veteran himself, Isakson has worked to get answers to why many veterans have to wait a long time to get an appointment at a VA hospital. He managed to get the first bill passed out of the new Republican Senate earlier this year–a bill designed to provide resources to veterans contemplating suicide.

On Friday, Senator Isakson took to the well of the Senate to deliver the following remarks on the Memorial Day remembrance of our fallen heroes:

The text of the Senator’s remarks is below the fold. [click to continue…]

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Congressman Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA-03) took to the House floor to express his frustration towards the lack of cooperation by the State Department and the House Select Committee investigating the Benghazi attack. From a presser issued by his office:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Representative Westmoreland took to the House Floor to express his frustration with the lack of compliance by the State Department in regards to the House Select Committee on Benghazi’s investigation. Westmoreland called attention to the State Department’s stalling, as well as their failure to notify the committee of Secretary Clinton’s use of a private server that hindered the production of emails. During his Special Order, Westmoreland gave a timeline of the committee’s work, crediting the slow pace of the committee to the lack of compliance by the State Department:

“We’ve been asking simple questions. We’ve been given no answers. Here are some additional questions for the Department. Why are they refusing to produce these emails? What are they hiding? What is so damaging that they don’t want Congress or the American public to see.”

In order to move forward with the investigation, including questioning Secretary Clinton, the Select Committee needs all the information first. Unfortunately, the Select Committee has been forced to subpoena the State Department multiple times to get simple answers. Westmoreland emphasized during the Special Order that all the questions were of equal priority and it was the legal responsibility of the State Department to fulfill the subpoenas issued. The Select Committee is tasked with providing the American people with a definitive report of what happened in Benghazi, and the committee remains committed to finding the whole truth, but the State Department’s questionable and untrustworthy tactics are making it difficult for the committee to do so:

“…Here we are, two and a half months after we issued the subpoena and six months after we sent the letter, and the Department has still not produced any of these priority documents. First we moved a foot, then a yard, and now we have moved our position a mile. But the Department hasn’t budged an inch.”

The Select Committee produced an Interim Report of the committee’s findings on May 8th, 2015, nearly one year after the committee was formed, as well as outlining the outstanding requests and subpoenas the State Department has yet to complete. Below are excerpts from the Interim Report highlighting the work the committee has done thus far:

  • “More than 20,000 pages of emails and documents never before released to Congress have been produced by the State Department.”
  • “The Committee has interviewed State Department and CIA personnel, including survivors of the Benghazi terrorist attacks who had never been interviewed by previous committees, as well as others who have been able to provide indispensable firsthand details of the U.S. presence in Benghazi, Libya.”
  • “The Committee has also held over two dozen classified and unclassified briefings with the Administration and Executive Branch agencies that have information relevant to the investigation.”
  • “These negotiations resulted in the State Department producing 15,000 pages of new documents to the Committee. These productions were the first time: (1) the State Department produced any email to or from former Secretary Clinton; and (2) the Committee became aware the former Secretary had used a private e-mail account to conduct official State Department business.”

“The State Department’s claim that they cannot give the American people answers until January 2016 is completely unacceptable,” stated Westmoreland. “This investigation has been riddled with half-truths and secrets. The State Department owes it to the families of those killed and the American people to give us the truth, and it’s growing more and more concerning each day about how difficult it is to get it. This committee will not take ‘no’ for an answer, and we will keep up the fight for the whole story.”

You can watch a video of his floor speech as well.

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The latest census data was released yesterday, and along with the news that Georgia’s population growth now lags Tennessee’s, we know which parts of Georgia are growing fastest. The top five cities are all part of metro Atlanta:

Smyrna (represent!) – 2.7 percent
National rank: 50

Sandy Springs – 2.1 percent
National rank: 93

Atlanta – 1.7 percent
National rank: 146

Marietta – 1.4 percent
National rank: 199

Alpharetta – 1.4 percent
National rank: 220

The AJC has more details on Georgia’s growth – and lack thereof – and is quick to note that Atlanta’s population decline “was largely obscured by the region’s growth.” The folks up at the Cleveland (not our Cleveland) Plain Dealer have a handy tool that can search census data from every city and county in the U.S., which is how I now know that the population in Hahira grew at a rate of 4.53%.

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Georgia law permits local law enforcement to arrest and incarcerate parents who allow their students to miss too many classes. Like most of Georgia’s laws, this sometimes catches ridiculous cases in its wide net. That happened recently in South Georgia’s Screven County.

Julia Giles, a mother to an honor roll student, was investigated because her son exceeded the allowable unexcused absences in the county school district. Despite doctors notes and character references, a warrant was issued for Giles arrest.

Giles posted on here Facebook page:

Sam has had 6 more unexcused absences (an absence without a doctor’s note) than the county allows per year this year. I received a certified letter Saturday about this issue and Keith [my husband] contacted the [Board of Education] on my behalf yesterday while I worked subbing. I have been notified that a warrant for my arrest will most likely be issued. My family’s doctor has written a character reference for me, and I have the support of many [Board of Education] employees, but at the moment it still appears I will be arrested. If the Sheriff and the Attendance Officer moves forward I will be given the opportunity to turn myself in. I spoke to a county employee yesterday that says arrest IS likely.

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Photo Courtesy of Yelp.com

Photo Courtesy of Yelp.com

We fight about a lot of stuff that really doesn’t matter around here.  Candidates.  Bills.  Conventions.  Taxes…

Then there’s the one thing that really matters. BBQ.  I don’t understand why some of you still want to fight about this.  You’re welcome to have a different opinion than mine.  You just need to accept that it would be wrong.

If Lewis Grizzard taught us nothing, it’s that BBQ is a noun, and that it means pulled or chopped pork.  Full stop.

(OK, he also taught us that you love the Bulldogs and Kathy Sue Loudermilk no matter what, but those are topics for another post.)

Anyway, along comes news yesterday that TripAdvisor has used the comments of all their reviews nationwide and proclaimed Joe’s BBQ in Blue Ridge Georgia the best in the Country.  As Mike noted in today’s Daily Newsletter (sign up here), regular guests to Joe’s include local residents Speaker David Ralston and Chipper Jones.  Yet, as of yet, not me.

So, given that I’ve been known to eat a plate of two of the stuff, I decided to read the trip advisor reviews to determine what makes Joe’s so great.  I only had to read a few until I found this one – a reviewer that only gave it three stars – and I decided I liked Joe. A lot: [click to continue…]

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Today we’re back to our normal noon-1PM Friday time slot with Sully on WGST.  We’re going to talk a little politics and try to ease you into your weekend.  You’ll have plenty of time to listen to us at 640AM in your car as you try to beat the traffic by heading out of town at noon.  Hint:  Everyone else will be doing the same.  Just don’t let the traffic beat you. And may God have mercy on your soul as you approach the Hudson Bridge Rd exit on I-75 South.

We’re going to spend the show talking a bit about how Georgia is now considered the benchmark for…Criminal Justice Reform.  Yep, that’s right.  I’ll explain.

We’re probably also going to talk a bit about BBQ given that it’s a holiday weekend.  We’ll have a word or two about why the holiday is about so much more than BBQ.

Listen live on 640 AM at noon, or follow this link here.

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Here:
– Many in Douglas County say, “It’s about time.”
GA STEM standards need improving. Faster, please.
– Gnats and Savannah break up. Who gets the couch?
“As DeKalb Turns.” Heh. I like that.
– Just because it’s technically legal, doesn’t make it right.

There:
No weekend for you!
Thomas Sowell says the darnedest things.
– Poof! Just like that!
This. This will end badly.
– NIMB here, NIMB there, NIMB everywhere.

Random Everywhere:
– If the math is right, then of course, the idea can’t be wrong.
Just for Jessica.

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Several members of Georgia’s congressional delegagtion, led by Democrat John Lewis, have co-signed a letter to Senate leaders opposing efforts to extend portions of the Patriot Act dealing with National Security Agency surveillance of telephone records. The letter, which was released by the office of Republican Justin Amash of Michigan, was also signed by 10th District Rep. Jody Hice and 14th District Rep. Tom Graves. The letter reads in part,

The American people deserve congressional action that secures their constitutional rights. While we recognize the government’s legitimate interests in certain surveillance activities intended to protect the United States, these intrusions must be carefully limited and overseen in order to avoid encroaching upon the freedoms they are intended to preserve. The recent decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit declaring the government’s interpretation of “relevant” unlawful underscores that Congress must do more. We urge you to join us in ensuring the federal government’s surveillance practices comport with the U.S. Constitution, are conducted under effective congressional oversight, and are limited to efforts proven effective at safeguarding our country.

Controversy over the NSA surveillance program began after its existence was revealed by Edward Snowden. It allows the agency to store metadata, such as the telephone number being called and the number of the caller, along with the date, time and length of the call. The NSA says that that information can be used to identify and make connections between terrorists abroad. The program must be reauthorized in some form by the end of May, or it will end.

Despite the support for a clean reauthorization of the Patriot Act by Senate President Mitch McConnell and other leaders, the House passed the USA Freedom Act of 2015 last week by a vote of 338-88. In that vote, 7th District Rep. Rob Woodall joined Lewis, Graves and Hice in voting no, while the rest of the Georgia delegation voted yes.

Some claim that the USA Freedom Act, although it may not resolve all the issues over surveillance, is a better option than letting the data collection program expire completely. Others, including Kentucky Senator and presidential candidate Rand Paul, want the program ended. In an effort to slow progress on the Freedom Act in the Senate, Paul gave a 10 and a half hour speech on the Senate floor Wednesday.

Whether the bill will pass or not in the Senate is unclear, especially after Paul’s speech. Although it was technically not a filibuster, it ate up the clock, and will likely keep the Senate in session over the weekend.

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As our own Joash Thomas reported earlier, Republican Congressman Barry Loudermilk (GA-11) recently joined his colleagues on a 10-day trip through Europe and the Middle East, including a stop in Israel.

While there, the Congressman was apparently surprised by how secure he felt in the country, prompting him to later tell the conservative Washington Watch radio show, “In fact, I can say that we felt safer in Israel than we would in certain parts of New York City or Chicago,” Loudermilk said.

That didn’t go over so well with Republican Congressman Peter King of New York City.

Buzzfeed reports the following retort from King:

“People from outside of New York, certainly from the South or the West — they seem to have this compulsion to look upon New York as this high-crime den of evil,” said King. “The fact is, if we’re going to single an area out for being dangerous, Atlanta would come far ahead of New York.”

“New York is, by most accounts, the safest big city in the United States; Atlanta is — the last I saw — on the FBI’s list of most dangerous cities,” King continued.

“It’s just wrong when members of Congress take shots at New York and imply that we’re some kind of crime area, when we’re actually the safest.”

It’s unclear exactly what Rep. Loudermilk originally meant by “safer.” In fact, he could very well have meant safe from terrorist attacks, though that puts the use of Chicago in question.

But if we’re going by violent crime rates, Rep. King is right. According to statistics from the FBI, Atlanta is ranked 28th in terms of violent crime. New York City doesn’t even crack the top 100.

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On this date in 1980, the movie “The Empire Strikes Back” was released.

Peaches

Jimmy Carter

Sweet Tea

Liberty Drum

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Ever wonder what State Senator Lucas’s side hustle is? Well, wonder no more. The interview and music video (which is just a static shot of Senator Lucas while the music plays) are after the jump. It is not to be missed. [click to continue…]

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Happy Birthday Nathan

May 20, 2015 9:47 am

by Charlie · 6 comments

Today is Nathan Smith’s birthday.  Since his last one he’s gone out and found him a wife and managed to get himself elected as Chairman of the 14th District GOP.  Despite all that activity he still manages to cross enemy lines every day to perform a day job while contributing to us here.

Given the birthday I guess I should note that I’ve known Nathan since he was a student at Dalton State.  We’ve literally watched him grow up here.  I’ve always respected the person that he is, and am extremely proud of the man he’s become.  If more people took Nathan’s approach to politics (and life) the country would be in much better shape and the world would be a better place.  But then we probably wouldn’t need Peach Pundit, so I guess it’s a wash.

Y’all please wish Nate a happy birthday today.

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Tuesday, the effort to find a long-term solution to pay for the nation’s highway infrastructure before the current funding authority for the Highway Trust Fund expires at the end of the month failed. Instead, the House passed H.R. 2353, the Highway and Transportation Funding Act of 2015, with a bipartisan vote of 387-35. All Georgia representatives voted in favor of the measure.

As Daniel Malloy and Andrea Simmons with the AJC report, the short term fix will allow several Georgia highway projects to begin. However, the lack of a long-term solution makes project planning more difficult for the Georgia DOT. Although the state legislature passed a plan that provides $900 million in additional revenue for transportation purposes, that money won’t be available until FY 2017, which is over a year away.

Lawmakers have been unable to figure out how to pay for a long term solution to the nation’s transportation needs. There isn’t any appetite for raising the 18.4 cent per gallon federal gasoline excise tax. President Obama has proposed a fix by using money from repatriated overseas tax revenue to bridge the gap between what the gas tax brings in and what is needed to pay for projects, but the GOP controlled congress wants to tie funding to a longer term tax reform plan that could take shape this fall.

Quoted in the AJC story, Congressman Rob Woodall brings up a concern about voter trust that’s was also heard under the Gold Dome during the effort to pass Georgia’s transportation funding bill.

U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall, a Lawrenceville Republican who is the only Georgian on the House Transportation Committee, said the problem is about more than funding. A long-term transportation bill, he said, should prevent the federal government from using highway trust fund money on sidewalks and bike lanes, which should instead be paid for by local governments.

“Should Washington pay for them is a fair question,” Woodall said. “But this conversation isn’t about not having enough revenue. There is enough revenue coming in. It’s about: Are the users who are paying the user fee believing those dollars go to road construction?”

Sixth District Congressman Tom Price, who heads the House Budget Committee, also expressed support for a long term funding solution, saying in a statement,

While the House acted today on a short-term extension of the Highway Trust Fund, a long-term, comprehensive solution to improve our transportation infrastructure must remain a top priority in the months to come. Keeping our roadways, highways and bridges safe contributes a tremendous amount to the economic vitality of our communities – particularly for the individuals, families and businesses who live and work in and around Atlanta. A long-term solution would provide states, ongoing and future transportation projects, and workers with much needed stability and certainty.

The Senate is expected to take up and pass the short term measure before leaving Washington for a Memorial Day break, but many Democrats in that chamber aren’t happy with it, and also prefer a long term solution. Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois is quoted in the New York Times as saying, “What the Republicans have given us now is an opportunity for America to patch its way to prosperity. They believe that if you fill enough potholes, you can actually build a highway.”

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