Sunday Solutions – April 9, 2023
We’ve got a mixed Easter basket of ethics, private jets, mega yachts, mathematical prowess, gun reform protests, and cheerleading to power your dinner conversations. Dig in.
Ethics and friendship, judges and gifts
Savannah native and U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas faced questions last week after a deeply reported story from ProPublica tracked undisclosed gift vacations and private jet and mega yacht transportation worth millions over time from a billionaire friend. The rub isn’t the gifts as much as it is the lack of disclosure, which Thomas says isn’t necessary. However, the Ethics in Government Act, passed after Watergate, seems to say anything over $415 must be reported under the law. For your own view, here are links to the original reporting and Thomas’ response plus a breakdown of the law by legal experts. For a quick reminder of how ethics laws work for Georgia state officials, the Atlanta Journal Constitution has compiled a primer.
More jobs, more private jets
In the race to fill new jobs opening every day in Coastal Georgia, a known entity joins the fray: Gulfstream Aerospace. On Thursday, Gulfstream — in a joint press release with the Savannah Economic Development Authority and the Savannah-Hilton Head Airport — announced an expansion that will bring 1,600 new jobs and $150 million in capital investment. The projects include the construction of a new Gulfstream Customer Support service center and the expansion of Gulfstream’s manufacturing facility for the Gulfstream G400, Gulfstream G500 and Gulfstream G600 aircraft. Gulfstream president Mark Burns recognized efforts by SEDA and the Georgia Department of Economic Development for the expansion. The company, one of the area’s largest employers, currently has 11,500 Savannah employees and another 350 in Brunswick.
The environment for luxury jets continues to grow in the U.S. and around the world. This week ProPublica published a look at how some U.S. tax breaks are used to underwrite expenses for the private jet and yacht owners. Also of note, Savannah’s no stranger to mega yachts. The Savannah Yacht Center, located adjacent to the Port of Savannah, sold in March to Safe Harbor Marinas. Why is Savannah special for yachts? It’s the only place on the East Coast that can accommodate yachts as large as 495 feet for refit work, and the only U.S. superyacht-specific shipyard capable of catering to multiple yachts exceeding 197 feet, according to Megayacht News.
- High school girls may have proved 2,000-year-old mathematical theory: Last month, two students from New Orleans showed their work to prove the time-honored Pythagorean theorem using trigonometry. So, at an age when most of us were just trying to remember the basic theory for exams, they may have proved it in their presentation to the American Mathematical Society.
- Two elected state lawmakers were expelled from the Tennessee state assembly this week. The 2 men were the youngest Black members of the legislature. Capital B has stories from the moves to disenfranchise their districts after they participated in a gun-reform protest that spilled onto the House floor. A third, white representative who joined them won the right to stay by one vote. Read Justin Jones’ speech to the proceeding and Justin Pearson’s Q&A after the votes. The last representatives to be expelled were sent home for misusing federal grant money and 22 allegations of improper sexual contact with employees.
- Church attendance, defined differently: Except for days like today – Easter Sunday — church attendance has dropped some since the Covid pandemic, according to new research by the Pew Research Center. While people say they go to services less often, a “remarkably steady” number of 40% say they participate in services in some form, which would include virtual streaming services. At least 15% say they attend more often through newer technological options. Overall, 60% of those surveyed don’t participate at all in a religious service, up a tad from early in the pandemic. Read the full report here.
- Covid is still around, how do you know your risk? As our neighbor South Carolina reports a small rise in cases at a time when families are traveling and/or gathering for Ramadan, Passover and Easter observances, some familiar tracking sites are shutting down. Others, like CovidActNow.org are still watching. Here’s a look at what’s available for credible tracking from the data experts at coviddatadispatch.com. Forewarned is forearmed, even with Covid.
Making public records public
Credible information and access to it is a bedrock of citizen-driven government. It’s hard to make a good decision on anything without data or some idea of how things work. The Savannah Clerk of Council Office can help. It will host an event from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. April 26 at the Savannah Civic Center to guide citizens through which records are available and how to get them. The effort is part of the city’s recognition of Georgia Cities Week sponsored by Georgia Municipal Association.
For more information about the event, call the Clerk of Council office at 912-651-6441.
Long train running…through your town
Over the last few years, Georgia Ports Authority spent more than $126 million to build out the Mason MegaRail facility in Savannah that allows 2 freight trains up to 2 miles long to be assembled simultaneously on the port. The much-lauded system, opened a year ago, means fewer trains can transport more cargo from the mostly container port to the Midwest and beyond. But longer trains bring a longer list of safety challenges for railroads, including the two leaving the port, Norfolk Southern and CSX. Last week, ProPublica published a new story about the new attention on longer trains as train derailments continue to make news.
Your second cup: Cheer as an Olympic sport?
For some things, definitions come more easily. Cheer or cheerleading is not one of them. However, over time, the undisputed teamwork and athleticism of cheer squads have moved the debate from whether it’s a sport to whether it should be accepted as an Olympic sport. It’s not regulated by the NCAA and it’s not counted toward Title IX for gender equity. It’s not a revenue stream for schools, colleges and universities. Still, the teams grow, compete and win at a national level created outside traditional sports systems. This story from The 19th presents the landscape and case for addition to the world’s greatest level of competition.
In Georgia, political observers said, the top-down nature of the legislature meant the measure had no chance without the support of top GOP statehouse leaders — whose cozy donor relationships with title lenders have stood in the way of reform.
An Atlanta attorney represents indicted former Brunswick DA Johnson, but his other client rapper Young Thug’s delayed could be what’s causing Johnson’s prosecution to grind to a halt.
As cheerleading moves closer to an Olympic future, a new level of competition could get the sport more resources, recognition and more opportunities for athletes.
One bill on door-to-door sales was the only solar measure to win final approval in both the state House and Senate. Half a dozen solar-related bills that still remain alive when lawmakers return in January for the second half of the two-year session.
Bills to protect or study the Okefenokee didn’t produce results despite widespread bipartisan support.
Bill would require these third parties to share the savings with consumers in hopes of lowering their out-of-pocket costs, particularly when it comes to newer medications.
Support non-partisan, solutions-based investigative journalism without bias, fear or favor on issues affecting Savannah and Coastal Georgia.