TIME College Sports

Yet Another Heisman Hopeful Runs Afoul of the NCAA’s Unfair System

Vanderbilt v Georgia
Georgia running back Todd Gurley (right) stiff-arms Torren McGaster of Vanderbilt on October 4, 2014 in Athens, Georgia. Mike Zarrilli—Getty Images

The University of Georgia's Todd Gurley has been suspended after reportedly being accused of accepting money for autographs. What exactly did he do wrong here?

Another year, another Heisman contender’s season interrupted by stupidity.

In 2013, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel–then the defending Heisman trophy winner–became embroiled in a cash-for-autographs controversy. The National Collegiate Athletics Association and Texas A&M said “there was no evidence” that Manziel “received money in exchange for autographs,” but Manziel was still suspended, for the first half of A&M’s opener, for an “inadvertent violation regarding the signing of certain autographs.”

The Johnny Football contretemps was a flash point in the longstanding debate about whether college athletes deserve a fairer share of the expanding revenues flowing into college sports. Love him or hate him, why shouldn’t a player who was bringing in millions for Texas A&M be able to receive autograph money if someone wanted to give it to him? What Manziel was allegedly doing was hardly illegal, except in the weird world of college sports.

Turns out, Manziel didn’t get railroaded. After sitting out that first half, he had every opportunity to compete again for the Heisman (though he lost out to Florida State’s Jameis Winston, even after an excellent 2013 season). Looks like University of Georgia running back Todd Gurley won’t be as lucky. Georgia has suspended Gurley indefinitely; SI.com reported that “a person confirmed to Georgia’s compliance office this week he paid Gurley $400 to sign 80 items on campus in Athens, Ga., one day this spring. The person claimed to have a photo and video of Gurley signing the items, but neither the photo nor the video showed money changing hands.”

(MORE: TIME Cover – It’s Time To Pay College Athletes)

Gurley is a Heisman hopeful. Through Georgia’s first five games, the junior had rushed for 773 yards and averaged 8.2 yards per carry. Georgia is ranked 13th in the AP college football poll: the Bulldogs play at Missouri, ranked 23rd, tomorrow. Not only is Gurley a Heisman candidate, but the Bulldogs still have national championships hopes. So Gurley’s success, and the possible once-in-a-lifetime success of his teammates, are now in jeopardy because he may have received $400. Georgia’s football team generates $77.6 million in revenues, and $51.3 million in profit, according to federal data.

The whole system angers Chris Burnette, who finished his career as a Georgia offensive lineman last season and is now working as a financial planner in Atlanta while finishing his MBA. He vented his frustration on Twitter last night:

Burnette, a vocal supporter of compensation for athletes during his Georgia playing days, sounded exasperated when reached by phone. He says he’s not angry at Georgia, and has no firsthand knowledge of any violations Gurley may or may not have committed. “It’s just so frustrating,” says Burnette. “If a student creates an app, no one is telling him he can’t do something because he’s paid for his talents. For these rules to just apply to athletes, it’s almost un-American, really.” Burnette calls Gurley a “stand-up” guy who would “never do anything malicious.”

“I mean, something has to change,” Burnette said.

Luckily, momentum is shifting towards a fairer system. And cases like those of Gurley and Manziel—stars under fire for breaking rules that defy common fairness—can only help speed things up. Everyone involved deserves better.

(MORE: The Long And Winding Road To Paying College Players)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TIME 2014 Election

In Georgia, Perdue Counterpunches on Outsourcing

David Perdue, Michelle Nunn
Georgia Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate Michelle Nunn, right, shakes hands with Republican candidate David Perdue following a debate, Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2014, in Perry, Ga. David Goldman—AP

Facing a new and damaging attack on his jobs record a month before election day, Georgia GOP Senate candidate David Perdue and his allies have settled on a hard-knuckle strategy: accept the hit and strike back by talking about Obama.

Perdue defended recently unearthed comments he made during a 2005 court case that he spent “most” of his career outsourcing, saying this week that he was “proud” of his work as a businessman and politician. When his opponent, Democrat Michelle Nunn, bashed him in a new ad titled “In His Words” Tuesday, Perdue released one of his own soon thereafter saying that Nunn has been “hiding” her support of President Barack Obama’s “job-killing, big government policies.” That night in a rowdy debate, Perdue labeled Nunn’s moves on the outsourcing issue a “false attack” and said the government had “decimated entire industries.” On Thursday, the Nunn campaign created a new website and video dedicated to hammering Perdue over the outsourcing comments.

Georgia Republican strategists have provided Perdue cover, echoing the refrain that Nunn, if elected to the Senate, would be a proxy for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Barack Obama. In a race that could determine who controls the Senate majority, that just might work.

“David Perdue is focused on making this election a choice about what direction the Senate and thus the country is going,” says Georgia GOP strategist Joel McElhannon. “With a Perdue vote, one opposes Obama and Reid’s agenda. With a Nunn vote, one supports it. That’s a very simple, focused choice he is presenting to the voters. It’s powerful and it works.”

“President Obama is about as popular as Ebola in Georgia right now,” he adds.

“The whole campaign is not going to focus on this particular [outsourcing] issue; I think you have to look at the whole picture,” says Eric J. Tanenblatt, who has helped raise money for Perdue, but also worked for Hands on Atlanta, a volunteer service organization, with Nunn. “I did think that David really drove home [in Tuesday's debate] what I believe is the key issue in this campaign—that we don’t need to continue down the path of Harry Reid and Barack Obama. Electing Michelle Nunn, while she claims to be independent…she is still a Democrat and will be a part of the Democratic caucus.”

Nunn’s campaign for its part sees that the tie-in to Reid and Obama is problematic. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney won Georgia by nearly 8 points in 2012; Nunn has been around 3 points behind Perdue for months, according to Real Clear Politics. (Although, as the New York Times‘ Nate Cohen pointed out Wednesday, those polls could be underestimating black Democrats.) Gordon Giffin, the Nunn campaign chairman, calls the tactic “arrogant and dismissive,” but still recognizes the threat.

“I think that the only argument that the Perdue campaign seems to present is the notion that somehow Michelle is associated with President Obama and Harry Reid,” says Giffin. “They don’t address what she has to say about her own views, and that is in some ways arrogant and dismissive. She’s her own person; she’s got her own mind and thoughts.”

“That’s got to be responded to because she, like her father [former Georgia Democratic Senator Sam Nunn] was, is an independent thinker on behalf of Georgia,” he adds. “So that is an issue that has to be dealt with because it is distracting. It really doesn’t go to who she is or what she stands for.”

To counter the Obama drag, the campaign is pushing Nunn as a bridge between the two major parties, someone who understands that the president’s eponymous health care law, for example, needs to be reformed. Of course, they’re willing to use Perdue’s outsourcing comment to help her win.

“Mr. Perdue has made his business record the central qualification that he argues he has to be elected to the Senate,” says Giffin. “The more he’s out there saying you should elect me because of my business record and because I know how to create jobs the more you’ve got to say, ‘Yeah, you know how to create jobs in China and Singapore but not in the United States.’”

Independent analysts and even some Republicans agree that the outsourcing comments could pose a problem for Perdue. Andra Gillespie, an associate political science professor at Emory, says that Nunn’s attacks, in addition to the fact that Nunn and Perdue are “novices” running for an open seat, are “helping to keep the race competitive,” even though the historic voting trends give Republicans “the edge.” Todd Rehm, a GOP Georgia-based consultant, says that Nunn’s populist message has challenged Perdue to “connect his policies with the day-to-day lives of voters.” In such a tight race, Jennifer Duffy, a Senate election expert at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, says Democrats “have to hope” the outsourcing comments make Perdue look like “Romney 2.0—elitist and out for himself” to help fire up the base.

“In 2012, voters in Georgia decided that they disliked President Obama’s policies more than Romney’s shortcomings,” says Duffy. “In 2014, their choice is between Nunn, who Republicans have worked to portray as a proxy for the President and a less-than-ideal alternative in Perdue.”

TIME 2014 Election

Meet the Woman Who Could Keep Control of the Senate Up for Grabs

Amanda Swafford Libertarian Georgia Senate
Courtesy Swafford for US Senate

Libertarian Amanda Swafford considers forcing a Jan. 6 run-off in the Peach State’s Senate race a victory for third party candidates everywhere

There is a nightmare scenario that keeps most politicos working on both sides of the aisle up at night: after the midterm elections, and even through the anticipated Dec. 6 run off in Louisiana, control of the Senate likely won’t be decided until Jan. 6, the date a run-off in Georgia will take place, if any one candidate fails to muster 50% of the vote. It is this scenario that Libertarian candidate Amanda Swafford, who regularly pulls 5% in most polls, relishes.

“In that situation, if we did force a runoff,” Swafford tells TIME, “I’d say that’s a clear mandate from people of Georgia for a small government and less involvement in people’s lives.”

Small government has hardly been a theme in the race between Republican businessman David Perdue and Democrat Michelle Nunn, who are competing to fill retiring Republican Saxby Chambliss’s seat. The two have spent millions firing at one another: Perdue accused Nunn of funding terrorists through her work with the Bush Family Foundation and Nunn said Perdue lost jobs and discriminated against female workers as CEO of Dollar General.

“If that nastiness continues in a run-off, the folks responsible for the run-off will probably just stay home,” Swafford says of her supporters. “And they will have to find new voters in order to win and they will be exceptionally hard.”

Perdue now leads Nunn by 3.4 points, according to an average of Georgia polls by Real Clear Politics. But Perdue has only broken the 50% threshold in one out five of the most recent polls, and he’ll need at least 50% of the vote to avoid a run-off. Swafford’s “mere presence on the ballot creates the potential for a run-off,” says Jennifer Duffy, who follows Senate races at the non-partisan Cook Political Report. “Overall, Libertarians tend to draw more from Republicans, so she is a bigger problem for Perdue than Nunn.”

But Swafford says that may not be the case with her voters, who she maintains are open to whomever makes the best case. Swafford isn’t even sure she’d caucus with the Republicans if, by some miracle, she were to be elected.

And so an unlikely figure could impact national politics. As of the end of June, Swafford had raised $7,683 for her senatorial bid. The single 37-year-old has kept her day job as a paralegal as she has mounted her campaign. “It makes for a lot of late nights and early mornings,” she says, “but I believe electing someone to the Senate like me, who knows what it’s like to work a job, have a boss, and make ends meet on a regular budget, would bring a valuable perspective to the Senate.”

Swafford is pro-choice and for the legalization of marijuana. And, like most Libertarians, she’s deeply suspicious of President Obama’s engagement abroad, particularly in Syria and Iraq. “Last year, the President wanted to bomb Syria for their chemical weapons, now he’s asking for their help to defeat another enemy,” she says. (Obama hasn’t actually asked Syrian strongman Bashar Assad for help in defeating ISIS.)

Swafford benefits from Georgia’s strong Libertarian history. It is home to 2008 Libertarian Presidential candidate Bob Barr, a former Republican congressman. And that same year, John Monds made history by becoming the first Libertarian candidate to draw more than a million votes—statewide or nationally—though he still lost his attempt to become Georgia Public Service Commissioner. Four years later, Libertarian David Staples made another bid for the same office and again broke the one million-vote threshold, though again fell short. But, unlike Swafford, both of those men faced only one rival from a major party, not two.

Swafford says she had no choice but to run statewide: Georgia’s ballot access laws for third party candidates for state races are some of the most restrictive in the country. “So, it’s either run for city council, or statewide,” says Swafford, who was elected to her hometown city council in Flowery Branch in 2010. If they lose this Senate seat, Georgia Republicans who control the state legislature might consider rethinking those restrictive third party laws. Because if politicians like Swafford can’t clinch state office, spoiling a statewide race is the second best—and clearly effective—option to get their ideas out. It turns out, some politics might be better off local.

TIME

Michelle Nunn’s Public-Service Message

Correction appended: Sept. 25.

Atlanta, Ga.

We like to be a full-service road trip, sometimes even involving social mediacracy, And so…

Here’s a shout-out to TIME’s terrific economic columnist Rana Faroohar from her old Indiana high school friend Patrick Duncan!

Patrick does what sounds like complicated statistical analysis for the Coca-Cola company, except for today, He spent today putting together meals for the elderly at a very impressive not-for-profit charity called Project Open Hand, alongside several dozen other volunteers from Coke and other Atlanta companies, plus church folks and retirees. His job was to stand over a vat of pale yellow cheese and, using an ice cream scoop, deposit a glop of it on some cut up cauliflower, which was accompanied by something that looked like chili in a plastic, heatable tray that was sealed with clear-wrap down the line.

Along about 11:30 this morning, Patrick looked across the vat of cheese and found himself staring at a wraithlike, academic-looking woman, who also was depositing glops of cheese on cauliflower coming her way down a makeshift assembly line. It was Michelle Nunn, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate from Georgia. Now you know how this normally works: a politician deposits a glop in a photo-op and, once the picture is taken, moves on to her next event. But that’s not what happened today. Nunn stayed on the line until lunch break, chatting with Patrick Duncan about everything from life at Coke to the situation in Iraq. After it was over, Patrick said he was still undecided about who to vote for, “but the fact that she’s out here, doing this, means something.”

Most Memorable Previous Photo-Op Interlude: Michael Dukakis showed up at a candle-pin bowling alley in New Hampshire in 1988, rolled an elegant ball down the alley as photographers snapped from adjacent alleys, turned around and left, shaking some hands on the way. Four years later, Bill Clinton went to the same bowling alley, went to the locker room and came out wearing a bowling shirt. He bowled a full game, gabbing away with some of the locals. He was awful…but he was getting better as the game went on. “Let’s bowl another!” He said, gathering some more locals to join him. His staff had to drag him out of the place, but he haunted the alleys for the rest of the campaign. So, notice to wannabe politicians: actual enthusiasm counts for a lot, synthetic enthusiasm is easily detected.

Michelle Nunn has actual enthusiasm for public service projects. She’s been running them for 28 years, most recently as the director of George H.W. Bush’s Points of Light Foundation. She has done an interesting thing in her Senate campaign, staging regular service projects around the state–cleaning up playgrounds, restoring basketball courts, delivering meals. This may be something new under the sun: Seth Moulton, the Marine Captain who defeated the Democratic incumbent John Tierney in the Boston suburbs this month, organized volunteers to do service projects, too. There are those who may argue that the whole idea is hokey and just a more elaborate photo op–but public places are actually cleaned up, progress is made and the politician involved has a ready-made answer for the eternal question: What have you done for me lately?

And Also…

The drive from Atlanta to Tuscaloosa this afternoon enabled me to listen to some music and renew the road trip playlist tradition. Here are five songs my thoroughly shuffled iPod played along the way that made an impression:

1. Eva Cassidy–Oh, Had I A Golden Thread: Cassidy had one of the great voices ever, sadly gone now. This puts the instrument on spectacular display, almost knocked me off the road.

2. Lucinda Williams–Big Red Sun: Lucinda’s from Arkansas; I’ll be there next week. This is her country.

3.Bob Dylan–The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll: Bob Dylan’s withering civil rights ballad about a black hotel maid beaten to death by a wealthy customer. This was Hamilton Jordan’s favorite song. He was Jimmy Carter’s chief of staff and a stone outlaw. The fact that he loved this meant I couldn’t help but give him the benefit of the doubt and he almost always earned it. Had lunch with his son, Alex, in Atlanta the other day. Great scion.

4. Del McCoury Band–It’s Just the Night: Appalachia’s best.

5. Blind Faith–Can’t Find My Way Home: Got two weeks to go. We’ll see.

 

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly referred to the non-profit as Open Hands. It is called Project Open Hand.

TIME 2014 Election

Georgia Senate Race Becomes a Battle of the Bushes

David Perdue Georgia Senate Race
David Perdue waves to supporters after declaring victory in the Republican primary runoff for nomination to the U.S. Senate from Georgia, at his election-night party in Atlanta, July 22, 2014. John Bazemore—AP

The former President endorses the Republican in the race while his son attacks

Former Dollar General CEO David Perdue flew to Kennebunkport, Maine over the weekend to seek former President George H. W. Bush’s endorsement of his bid to fill an open Senate seat in Georgia.

Bush’s endorsement of the Republican candidate should have been a no-brainer. But the former President has a special affinity for Perdue’s Democratic opponent, Michelle Nunn, who is on leave from her job as CEO of Bush’s Points of Light Foundation. Bush has said in the past that he was “lucky” to have Nunn, who came to work with the Bush Family Foundation after Points of Light merged in 1992 with City Cares, a national volunteer organization she’d started in Georgia.

Bush did end up endorsing Perdue but he didn’t mention Nunn, saying his support for Perdue grew out of his increasing opposition to the Senate Democratic leadership. Control of the upper chamber is at stake this November. “I have lost any confidence in the current Senate leadership, and believe David Perdue will be an independent voice for Georgia while working for positive solutions to our toughest challenges,” Bush, 90, said in a statement. “Barbara and I commend him to every Georgian voter who cares about America’s future.”

But then on Monday, Bush’s son Neil Bush, who is chairman of the Points of Light board, issued a statement expressing unhappiness with Perdue. At issue is a a Perdue campaign that says Points of Light gave money to “inmates and terrorists.”

“That’s ridiculous. It really makes my blood boil to think that someone would make that kind of an allegation, whether it’s an independent political group or a candidate for office,” Neil Bush, 59, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Anyone who makes that claim needs to understand the facts and then they need to denounce those claims. To attack an organization founded by my father, whose integrity is unimpeachable, to smear our organization for political gain, is in my opinion shameful.”

The line was drawn from internal research into its own weaknesses the Nunn campaign compiled, which was then leaked to the press. Perdue’s campaign on Wednesday said it had no plans to take down the ad, despite Bush’s criticism. “Michelle Nunn’s own campaign plan highlights serious concerns about her group’s association with terrorist-linked organizations,” said Megan Whittemore, a Perdue spokeswoman. “The people of Georgia will have to decide if that’s who they want representing them in the U.S. Senate.”

But opposition research documents tend to paint worst-case scenario attacks, and even FactCheck.org said the Perdue attack distorted Nunn’s leaked memo. “Actually, the grants refer to $13,500 that eBay sellers—not the foundation—donated to the U.S. affiliate of the international charity Islamic Relief Worldwide,” the group said. “Also, there is no evidence Islamic Relief USA, a federally approved charity, has ties to the U.S.-designated terrorist group Hamas.”

Nunn said in a statement that she was “appreciative of what Neil Bush said.”

“Washington can learn a lot from organizations like Points of Light,” Nunn said. “But David Perdue playing politics and falsely attacking an organization that helps so many is exactly what’s wrong with Washington and politics today. David Perdue should take down his dishonest ads and quit falsely attacking Points of Light.”

TIME 2014 Election

Georgia Democrat Accuses Opponent of Pay Discrimination

Michelle Nunn courts women in a close Senate race

Georgia Democrat Michelle Nunn’s Senate campaign is out with a new ad Friday, obtained first by TIME, hitting her GOP opponent David Perdue for pay discrimination when he was CEO of Dollar General.

From the ad’s script:

While Perdue was CEO of Dollar General over two thousand women sued the company for “engaging in a pattern of discrimination.”

An independent investigation found “female managers were paid less than similarly situated male managers.”

And Perdue’s company was forced to pay a settlement of over 18 million dollars.

If David Perdue didn’t do right by women at his company, why would he do right for Georgia?

Federal investigators for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that female store managers at Perdue’s Dollar General “were discriminated against” and “generally were paid less” than males under his tenure, according to a Mother Jones story confirmed by Georgia PolitiFact. Dollar General paid a settlement of almost $19 million to 2,100 female employees for not paying them equal wages.

Democrats nationally and in races like Georgia’s have pushed the idea that Republicans are not for equal pay and have spoken of the GOP waging a “war against women” on reproductive and economic policy. It has proven an effective message with female voters. Democrats lost the women’s vote in 2010, and with it control of the House and six Senate seats. Determined not to make the same mistake, they introduced a women’s economic agenda, including the Paycheck Fairness Act, which has been voted down twice in the Senate by Republicans this year. Republicans argue the bill is a sop to trial lawyers and have introduced their own version, which incentivizes employers to provide equal pay, rather than punishing them on the regulatory side, as the Democrats favor.

Nunn is trailing Perdue slightly—by 1.6 percentage points— in polls, according to an average of Georgia polls by Real Clear Politics. But she’s beating him amongst women, 45% to 33% in a recent CBS/New York Times survey. In order to win, she’ll need to maintain that edge and build on it. Thus the ads hitting Perdue as bad for women.

“Women understand the negative impact of Obama’s failed policies better than anyone, from losing their doctors due to Obamacare and feeling the effects of Obama’s economy on their hard-earned paychecks,” says Megan Whittemore, a spokeswoman for the Perdue campaign. “David absolutely believes in equal pay for equal work. That is the law and he has always supported that. Unlike Michelle Nunn who will make it harder for women to succeed, David will be a strong voice for Georgia’s women and families in the U.S. Senate.” Meanwhile, Perdue has an ad out hitting her as too liberal for Georgia.

 

 

 

TIME Race

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Bruce Levenson Isn’t a Racist; He’s a Businessman

Bruce Levenson
Atlanta Hawks co-owner Bruce Levenson Dave Tulis—AP

Sure, there are assumptions he makes that are cringeworthy—but the questions about how to attract more white fans were entirely reasonable.

Well, the pitchforks are already sharpened and the torches lit anyway, so rather than let them go to waste, why not drag another so-called racist before the court of public opinion and see how much ratings-grabbing, head-shaking and race-shaming we can squeeze out of it? After all, the media got so much gleeful, hand-wringing mileage out of Don Sterling and Michael Brown.

The only problem is that Atlanta Hawks controlling owner Bruce Levenson is no Donald Sterling. Nor is his email racist. In fact, his worst crime is misguided white guilt.

I read Levenson’s email. Here’s what I concluded: Levenson is a businessman asking reasonable questions about how to put customers in seats. In the email, addressed to Hawks president Danny Ferry, Levenson wonders whether (according to his observations) the emphasis on hip-hop and gospel music and the fact that the cheerleaders are black, the bars are filled with 90% blacks, kiss cams focus on black fans and time-out contestants are always black has an effect on keeping away white fans.

From left: Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Dominique Wilkins Courtesy of Iconomy, LLC

Seems reasonable to ask those questions. If his arena was filled mostly with whites and he wanted to attract blacks, wouldn’t he be asking how they could de-emphasize white culture and bias toward white contestants and cheerleaders? Don’t you think every corporation in America that is trying to attract a more diverse customer base is discussing how to feature more blacks or Asians or Latinos in their TV ads?

Back when the original Law & Order first launched, there was a cast shake-up that added more women, reportedly in an effort to attract more female viewers. MTV shows like Finding Carter and Teen Wolf can’t get through an emotional scene without a pop song coming in to sing to the viewer what they should be feeling, because that’s what their demographic wants. Car companies hire specialized advertising agencies to create ads to appeal specifically to women, blacks and Latinos. That’s business.

Sure, there are a few assumptions he makes that make me cringe a little. For example: “My theory is that the black crowd scared away the whites and there are simply not enough affluent black fans to build a significant season ticket base.” On the other hand, I have no evidence that he’s wrong on either count. Even if he is, the question still needed to be raised, because racism is a realistic possibility as to why whites in Atlanta may not be coming.

To Levenson’s credit, in that same paragraph, he dismisses fans who complained about the arena’s site as code for racist fear that “there are too many blacks at the games.” He further decries the white perception that even though the percentage of blacks in attendance had lessened, they still feel it’s higher and therefore somehow threatening. His outrage seems authentic.

Businesspeople should have the right to wonder how to appeal to diverse groups in order to increase business. They should even be able to make minor insensitive gaffes if there is no obvious animosity or racist intent. This is a business email that is pretty harmless in terms of insulting anyone — and pretty fascinating in terms of seeing how the business of running a team really works.

The thing that makes me mad is that Levenson was too quick to rend his clothing and shout mea culpa. In his apology, he wrote, “By focusing on race, I also sent the unintentional and hurtful message that our white fans are more valuable than our black fans.” But that’s not the message in the email at all. If the seats had been filled, even if by all blacks, the email wouldn’t have been written. He wasn’t valuing white fans over blacks; he was trying to figure out a way to change what he thought was the white perception in Atlanta so he could sell more tickets. That’s his job.

Abdul-Jabbar is a six-time NBA champion and league Most Valuable Player. Follow him on Twitter (@KAJ33) and Facebook (facebook.com/KAJ). He also writes a weekly column for the L.A. Register.

TIME georgia

The U.S. Will Help Georgia Join NATO in Face of Putin’s ‘Dangerous Actions’

Georgia's Defence Minister Alasania and U.S. Defense Secretary Hagel attend an official welcoming ceremony in Tbilisi
Georgia's Defence Minister Irakly Alasania (R) and U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel attend an official welcoming ceremony in Tbilisi on September 7, 2014. David Mdzinarishvili —Reuters

The Kremlin's incursions in Ukraine have brought the U.S. and Georgia "closer together,” says Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel arrived in Georgia over the weekend to beef up military ties and help the country join NATO.

Hagel’s visit to the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, follows on the heels of the NATO summit in the U.K. last week, where Georgia was made a “NATO enhanced-opportunities partner,” according to a U.S. Department of Defense statement.

At a press conference in the Georgian capital on Sunday, Hagel said the country’s new standing will allow for more participation in more joint training exercises with NATO and boost cooperation.

“The deepening ties between NATO and Georgia are especially important given the dangerous and irresponsible actions of President Putin,” said Hagel.

During a round of talks with the Georgian Minister of Defense, Irakli Alasania, Hagel also laid down conditions that would pave the way for the sale of Blackhawk choppers to Georgia.

The Secretary of Defense’s arrival in Georgia comes days after a tenuous cease-fire was signed in Belarus between Kiev and pro-Kremlin rebels fighting in southeastern Ukraine.

The U.S. has repeatedly accused Moscow of sending armored columns into Ukraine to reinforce the rebels, forcing the U.S. and its allies in Eastern Europe to close ranks.

“Russia’s actions here and in Ukraine pose a long-term challenge that the United States and our allies take very seriously,” said Hagel. “But President Putin’s actions have also brought the United States and our friends in Europe, including Georgia, closer together.”

During a joint press conference in Tbilisi, the Georgian Defense Minister warned that his country’s experience with Russia led to concerns that the Ukraine cease-fire would not last.

“We have bitter experience in Georgia trusting Russian cease-fires, so we better prepare for the contingencies,” Alasania told reporters.

In 2008, Georgian forces were routed during a five-day war against Russia — resulting in what Tbilisi says is the continued military occupation of the separatist territory of South Ossetia by Moscow.

While the uneasy truce appears to be largely holding in Ukraine, there were reports of scattered fighting in the war-weary southeast over the weekend.

TIME Crime

Georgia Murder Case Brings Unprecedented Attention to Hot-Car Deaths

Justin Ross Harris sits in Cobb County Magistrate Court in Marietta, Georgia in this July 3, 2014 file photo.
Justin Ross Harris sits in Cobb County Magistrate Court in Marietta, Ga., on July 3, 2014 Reuters

Whether that attention will help decrease the number of children who die in hot cars remains to be seen

The Georgia father whose 22-month-old son died of heat stroke in June after being left in the backseat of a car was indicted on three murder charges by a Georgia grand jury Thursday.

With salacious details that led to an unusual murder charge, the legal drama has brought unprecedented attention to the issue of hot-car deaths. But whether that attention will help decrease the number of children who die in hot cars remains to be seen.

Janette Fennell, a safety advocate who runs the organization KidsAndCars.org, said that awareness of the issue has risen to its highest point in her years of advocacy the issue thanks to the case. That perception is bolstered by survey results released last week suggesting that more than 85% of people have heard about the issue, compared with 69% in April.

“Before this case, there were 12 tragedies this year, and when this happened everything was lit on fire,” Fennell said. “There has never been a case that has gotten this much media attention.”

The case began as a typical, if tragic, case of a father planning to drop of his child off at day care and forgetting. Groups rallied to support a man who seemed to be a grieving father.

But shocking details emerged and transformed public perception. Police say Justin Ross Harris, the father, had searched the Internet for information about animals dying in hot cars and researched living without a child. While his child withered away in the car, Harris allegedly sent sexually explicit photos to women.

While many parents have been charged for negligence or even manslaughter after the deaths of their children in hot cars, experts say they’re not aware of cases where there has been intent. Jan Null, a meteorologist who researches the issue, said more than 50% of deaths were caused by parents who accidentally forget their child, with the rest caused by children who accidentally trapped themselves in a car without parental supervision.

The alleged intent in this case was at least an element of what led authorities to pursue murder charges. The first count, malice murder, explicitly alleges that Harris killed his son with “malice aforethought.” He also faces seven other charges, including cruelty to children and dissemination of harmful material to minors.

Fennel said the Harris case has led some in the public to believe that any heat-stroke death must have been intentional. In one case, she said, a father from Ohio whose child had died accidentally in the back of a car was confused with Harris and accused of murdering his child.

“We’re on this teeter-totter,” she said. “If it turns out there was intent, then you’re going to have this one case that everybody can refer to and take that idea and apply it to any of these cases.”

TIME 2014 elections

Michelle Nunn Grabs Zell Miller Endorsement

Former Georgia governor and U.S. Senator Zell Miller gives a boost to the Nunn campaign

Former Georgia governor and U.S. Senator Zell Miller endorsed Senate Democratic candidate Michelle Nunn Thursday, calling her a “bridge-builder” that could end Washington partisanship.

Miller, an 82 year-old conservative Democrat, has a history of working with and endorsing Republicans. He endorsed President George W. Bush in 2004, Sen. Saxby Chambilss (R-Ga.) in 2008 and Gov. Sonny Perdue, the cousin of Nunn Republican opponent David Perdue, in 2006. This cycle Miller is also supporting Republican Gov. Nathan Deal over Democrat Jason Carter, the grandson of the former president.

The Miller endorsement caps a whirlwind week for the Nunn-Perdue race. The National Republican Senatorial Committee’s dropped its $2.5 million ad campaign calling Nunn “Obama’s senator,” Nunn released her first negative ad ripping Perdue’s business record, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published a piece the Perdue campaign has labeled Nunn’s “DC Insider Land Deal.” The New York Times Senate forecaster moved its rankings of the race from “Tossup” to “Lean Republican” on Thursday.

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But Nunn’s camp is hoping the endorsement from Miller, who worked with her father, former senator Sam Nunn in the 1990s, will generate momentum for her campaign.

“I have great respect for her dedication to public service, and her dedication to bipartisan results,” Miller told the Journal-Constitution, citing Nunn’s leadership of the service organization Points of Light, which was created by former President George H.W. Bush. “I think she shares a lot of characteristics with her father.”

“I’ve known her since she was born,” he added.

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