The Atlanta Constitution from Atlanta, Georgia on June 15, 2005 · A15
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The Atlanta Constitution from Atlanta, Georgia · A15

Atlanta, Georgia
Issue Date:
Wednesday, June 15, 2005
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Filename: A15-MAIN-AJCD0615-AJCD Date/Time created: Jun 14 2005 8:42:26:883PM Username: SPEED4 AJCD0615 Wednesday, Jun 15, 2005 MAIN 1 5 A AJCD 1 5 A 1 5 A $EGL+*A3))*=4$ 4 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution / Wednesday, June 15, 2005 A1 5 ¢ Cyan Magenta Yellow Black *SUZ21OA001KB* Cyan Magenta Yellow Black AJCD ¢ Filename: A15-MAIN-AJCD0615-AJCD By IVAN G. OSORIO Just as the squeaky wheel gets the grease, a government program gets Congress’ attention by going deep in the red. And the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. has certainly gotten noticed. PBGC, the federal agency that insures private pension plans, recently assumed responsibility for the largest pension default in U.S. history — that of United Airlines — when it already faced a multibillion-dollar deficit. Federal intervention into private pensions has created an atmosphere of moral hazard in which companies undertake, or continue, overly risky behavior. Although the PBGC is a federal program, its funding comes not from tax revenues, but from fees collected from employers that sponsor insured pension plans. But the PBGC doesn’t act like a private insurer; it has taken unfunded liabilities a private firm would never accept, and these costs are sure to fall on taxpayers. PBGC recently reported a deficit of more than $23 billion. Over the past three years, the PBGC’s liabilities have ballooned as the federal government seeks to help industries that it considers “too big to fail.” For troubled major carriers — also known as legacy carriers — relief from pension obligations is bankruptcy’s most important benefit. Huge pension liabilities put the established major carriers at a competitive disadvantage against the low-cost carriers. Decades of generous labor contracts have left many carriers saddled with billions in pension commitments. Airlines have for years provided their employees with defined-benefit pension plans, which pay out a fixed ben - efit regardless of the employee’s contribution to the pension fund. By contrast, many other sectors of the economy have moved largely to defined-contribution plans, such as 401(k) accounts, in which the employee invests into an individual investment fund. These plans have proved successful — and are less expensive than the defined-benefit plan. So why do the latter persist in some industries? Why should airlines trim their costs when federal assistance is waiting in the wings? The best option for legacy carriers is to move from de - fined-benefit pension plans to defined-contribution retirement plans, such as 401(k) accounts, for their employees. Fortunately, some major carriers — including Northwest and Delta — have begun to consider this. In a free air travel market, carriers would be allowed to succeed — or fail — on their own merits. The best thing government can do is to get out of the way. Without the moral hazard of government help, America’s airline industry may finally run smoothly, without squeaking along. By BOB IRVIN This is an open request to Ralph Reed: Please withdraw your candidacy for Georgia lieutenant governor, in order to avoid a grievous, majority-wrecking split in the Republican Party. If you should win the nomination, many thousands of Republican voters will desert us for the Democrats in 2006, defeating not only you but also many other good Republican candidates, maybe even Gov. Sonny Perdue. Consider 1998, when Mitch Skandalakis — who was your client — lost the lieutenant governor’s race so badly that he pulled under Guy Millner and David Ralston, as well as a dozen legislative candidates who otherwise would have won. If you are defeated in the primary, that too will create bitter divisions in our base, badly weakening us for years. You are simply too divisive for our new majority. The ongoing scandal over casino money in Alabama is only the latest, but not likely the last, scandal to surface. You run the risk of destroying our majority coalition before it has had time to mature. I make this request because Reed is four things that Georgians do not elect: ➤ A professional contract lobbyist, someone who is available for hire to influence political outcomes. This has been Reed’s very lucrative business since he left the Christian Coalition, and even Pat Robertson has recently been quoted as saying that it raises doubts in his mind about Reed. Reed took millions of dollars from gambling interests in Louisiana and Mississippi to stop competitive casinos in Texas and Alabama. He took money from Enron to lobby the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission to deregulate electricity. These three instances happen to have been in the newspaper, but they are three among who knows how many causes he has been glad to hire himself out to promote. His M.O. is to tell evangelical Christians that his cause of the moment, for which he has been hired, is their religious duty, and therefore they need to write regulators, turn up at meetings, or whatever. As an evangelical myself, I resent Christianity being used simply to help Reed’s business. ➤ A Washington man, not a Georgia man. We’ve elected some great people who became very important in Washington, from U.S. Rep. Carl Vinson to Sen. Paul Coverdell. But they all started as Georgia politicians. They were our representa - tives to Washington, not the other way around. Reed is the exact opposite: He built his career in Washington before ever evidencing the slightest interest in Georgia. His approach to politics is pure Washington: harsh partisanship, shady funding, “plausible deniability” and spin. While he was Georgia Republican Party chairman, he said to me, speaking of the Washington crowd, “Remember, I work for them, not the other way around.” Georgians by and large don’t want to replicate the sleaze, gridlock and ideological warfare of Washington here in Georgia. ➤ An ideologue. Georgians have elected pragmatic problem-solvers, from George Busbee to Sonny Perdue. A point of view doesn’t rule you out (Newt Gingrich is an example). But an ideologue is somebody whose sole “reason” for being elected is what he says he believes, rather than what he has done or can do to solve problems. The last ideologue Georgia elected was Gov. Lester Maddox. Like Maddox, Reed is a politician whose main selling point is his opinions, not his accomplishments or his plans. He never evidenced any interest in Georgia issues until he starting running. And everybody knows that he doesn’t have the least interest in being lieutenant governor. The Republican state senators, who would be his “team” if he were to win, have almost unanimously endorsed his opponent, Sen. Casey Cagle (R-Gainesville). Reed wants to be governor, and this is just the steppingstone. ➤ A person whose only career is politics. Georgians like for their officials to have made their way in the real world. Former Gov. Roy Barnes is a lawyer. Former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn is a lawyer. Even ex-governor and former U.S. Sen. Zell Miller is a college professor. Not in modern times have we elected somebody who has no connection with the real world. Reed has never made a dime outside the overheated, overcompensated, overperked world of politics. What kind of personal appreciation can he have for the problems of average Georgians? In the last few weeks, I can’t tell you the number of people who have come up to me and volunteered something like, “I’m a Republican, but I’m not voting for Ralph Reed.” Generally, they live in the suburbs, the decisive battleground in this and future elections, but some of them are in South Georgia. They are mostly long-time Republican activists, people I have known for 30 years or more in the finally successful effort to build a two-party system. Reed’s nomination will alienate them. His defeat will alienate his naive but devoted supporters. Either way, we’re left with a minority. The only solution is for Reed to withdraw his candidacy. Please, Ralph, do it, before it’s too late. Some court decisions are downright exciting, even if they don’t have any direct impact on us. The O.J. Simpson verdict. Monday’s acquittal of Michael Jackson. Yet there seems to be an inverse relationship between the importance of a court decision to us in our communities, and the attention it is paid — by us. Consider decisions rendered by our own Georgia Supreme Court. I doubt there are more than a handful of persons in Atlanta or elsewhere in the entire state — other than prosecutors and defense lawyers — who pay much attention to decisions rendered by the Georgia Supreme Court relating to criminal law. Perhaps more citizens ought to read such opinions. Perhaps then they’d turn out of office some justices who are either appointed or elected to such posts, and who then proceed to substitute their personal judgment for that of citizens in our communities sworn to uphold the law when serving on juries. In fact, some of the court’s decisions might kill them. So it is with a recent decision — essentially ignored by metro area media, other than a local legal publication. The case involved a man by the name of Willie Sims who, in 1998 at the age of 32, was charged along with another man with brutally assaulting a young woman in Athens. Neighbors eventually broke up the assault, but not before the woman was savagely beaten and sexually assaulted. But for the neighbors’ intervention, the case might very well have been a murder trial. Sims, who obviously was sufficiently intelligent to realize his own strength and the ability to employ it in furtherance of his sexual urges, claimed after he was charged with the brutal assault that he was not bright enough to “properly consult” with his lawyer, and was therefore incompetent to stand trial. Thanks to four of seven justices who bought his argument hook, line and sinker, Sims is back on the street. I wonder whether the residents of Athens — were they aware of this reversal — would be delighted with the court’s decision, authored by Justice Carol Hunstein. One person clearly not happy with the court’s majority’s decision is Justice George Carley, who filed a blistering dissent, joined by Justices Harris Hines and Hugh Thompson. Carley’s dissent echoes the concerns of Clarke County District Attorney Kenneth Mauldin, who prosecuted the case: The majority opinion ignored not only “extensive case law” but simply chose to “substitute[s] its findings of incompetency for the contrary finding reached by the jury.” Before trial, Mauldin presented extensive evidence by experts, based on interviews with Sims himself. These experts, who, by the way, were subject to thorough cross-examination by Sims’ defense team, concluded that while Sims was in fact mildly mentally retarded, he had the capacity to understand the proceedings and the consequences of his actions in those proceedings. Sims’ legal team presented a single expert who focused only on Sims’ low IQ, but who had never personally interviewed the client. The special “competency trial” jury to whom this extensive evidence was presented agreed with the state that Sims was in fact competent to stand trial. At his subsequent trial, Sims and his co-defendant were convicted. Sims — of course — appealed. The Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s work. Then, Sims struck gold. His case attracted the attention of some silk-stocking Atlanta lawyers looking for a good pro bono case. The arguments of his appellate team — that no rational trier of fact could conclude Sims was competent to stand trial because he could not understand all the nuances of attorneys’ questions (who could?) — struck a chord with Hunstein and three other justices. Ignoring the considerable evidence of competency presented by rational expert witnesses, evidence that was thoroughly considered and agreed to by a rational jury of citizens, this bare majority chose simply to ignore precedent and all that went before them in the three lower- court proceedings (a trial on competency, a trial on the evidence, and Court of Appeals review) to decide Sims was incompetent. Now Sims is free. So is Michael Jackson. For all of us good citizens of Georgia, which case is more relevant? Unfortunately, sooner or later, the people of Georgia, with Willie Sims walking among us, are likely to find out. ➤ Former congressman and U.S. attorney Bob Barr is an Atlanta lawyer. His column appears Wednesdays. Four´justices’´ competency´ questionable XeX6XWhh ]k[ij Yebkcd MORE INFORMATION AND OPINIONS ON TODAY’S TOPICS: An editorial discusses HIV prevention. For more information: EQUAL´TIME This column is solicited to provide another viewpoint to an AJC editorial published today. To respond to an AJC editorial, contact David Beasley at or call 404-526-7371. Responses should be no longer than 600 words. Not all responses can be published. Published responses may be republished and made available in the AJC or other databases and electronic formats. ➤ ONLINE: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: The Changing Face of AIDS: / ➤ BOOKS: “The Invisible People: How the U.S. Has Slept Through the Global AIDS Pandemic, the Greatest Humanitarian Catastrophe of Our Time” by Greg Behrman Ivan Osorio is editorial director at the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington. Bob Irvin , a former Republican state representative and House minority leader, is an Atlanta management consultant. HOW TO SUBMIT AN OPINION COLUMN: Submissions should be 750 words or less. e-mail columns to; fax them to 404-526-5610. Columns submitted to the AJC may be published, republished and made available in the AJC or other databases and electronic formats. Tie˙Atlanta˙Journal-Constitution @ issue Cynthia Tucker’s column will resume soon. Reed´an´albatross´for´GOP JENNI GIRTMAN / Staff Ralph Reed , a Republican candidate for Georgia lieutenant governor, greets supporters in Atlanta in May. Reed is in the middle of a controversy over money for anti-gambling campaigns in Alabama. fwˆŠ6‰Šw„z‰6Š…6‰‹||{ˆ6„6HFFL6|6yw„zzwŠ{6z…{‰„ÝŠ6Š~zˆw Abolish´federal´pension´guarantee b{Š6†‹x‚y6‰y~……‚‰6 Š{wy~6x{‰Š6‰y{„y{ Without much fuss, the Alaska Board of Education put an essential bit of science back into the state science standards on Friday. The Anchorage School District proposed changing the last part of the life science standard to: ‘‘ . . . an understanding of how science explains changes in life forms over time, including genetics, heredity, the process of natural selection and biological evolution.’’ And the state board, to its credit, did just that — unanimously. As speakers at last week’s Alaska Board of Education hearing on state science standards pointed out, the theory of evolution is as sound scien - tifically as the theory of gravity. Let the professionals, including that splinter minority of scientists who hold with ‘‘intelligent design,’’ carry on a thriving scientific argument in books, speeches, journals and the like. Let students in the public schools be exposed to the questions and challenges in fair proportion to their weight in the scientific debate. Most of all, let the public schools teach the best available science, as the Board of Education chose to do on Friday. The board deserves Alaskans’ thanks; this was a step forward for education. Evolution is back in the state science standards, and that’s a very good thing. ANCHORAGE DAILY NEWS NATIONAL´ VOICES Editorial excerpts from around the country

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