It wasn't the office of Gov. Sonny Perdue, R-AlfredENeuman. But the fellow I was talking to knew a helluva lot about Georgia's drought and what to do about it.
"You just can't grow like all that shit that's been happening in Atlanta and not have the bill come due someday," growled Jim "Sister" Biggs, a Georgia native who said he now lives "somewhere near Oklahoma." I was disinclined to ask why he is called "Sister," considering his medicine-ball-sized fists.
"Stop building," Biggs said. "I used to live in Atlanta, grew up in Decatur. It doesn't take a genius to figure out something was going to break."
Biggs, entrenched in front of the famously raucous Boot Hill Saloon on Daytona Beach's Main Street, had rumbled and roared into town for the October Bike Week, along with about a gazillion other latter-day Wild Ones and Easy Riders. "It sure looked terrible when I visited home in Atlanta," he sighed.
Everywhere I trekked in Florida last month, I found that the media and people really, really understood what was happening in Georgia. The Pensacola News Journal sagely observed: Georgia has "heedlessly developed without taking responsibility for providing needed water."
Compare that abundantly clear fact with Perdue's response to a question at West Point Lake last week. When queried by a reporter if the drought was due in part to unbridled growth, Perdue snapped: "Next question."
That's a dereliction of veracity, a denial of reality so vast that, when emanating from a high public official during a crisis, it should be a felony. But we're talking about Bushite Republicans, for whom no lie is too big or too bold.
Another paper I picked up in Florida, the St. Petersburg Times, had a direct retort to our goober gubna. "Here's the truth, Gov. Perdue: A record drought, unrestrained population growth and poor water-conservation habits are to blame for northern Georgia's water shortage," the Times editorialized. "Atlanta's population growth was the largest in the nation over the past six years, yet Perdue and state lawmakers have failed to write a state water plan or even pass basic water-conservation legislation."
That's the message Perdue and the rest of Georgia's Republican leadership desperately don't want you to hear.
As the water crisis mounts, state leaders are throwing up smoke screens with a dual purpose: to conceal their own awful culpability and to hide their real scheme, which is to profit from our pain.
The primary tactic is to confuse people. The Bush administration pioneered the War on Truth – making science on global warming and a host of other issues conform to lunatic political ideology, or to the superstitions of religious zealots. Meanwhile, corporate spin bolsters the attack by insinuating that facts aren't absolutely proven – even though the overwhelming majority of scientists wholeheartedly back the evidence.
That's Perdue & Co.'s game plan. This do-damn-little governor blames the Army Corps of Engineers for releasing water from Lake Lanier. Perdue says, with venomous deceit, that the Corps favors shellfish over people. No. Downstream users have a right to their share of the Chattahoochee's water for their power plants, their citizens and their economies. We do not have the right to pirate all of the water for the benefit of developers.
Up pipes Ed Phillips, honcho for Georgia's home-builders lobby, and claims (with a straight face) that environmentalists are to blame for the water shortages because they opposed new reservoirs. No. The woefully weak environmental groups couldn't stop anything in the face of the Republican-developer juggernaut. In any event, former Gov. Roy Barnes and former House Speaker Tom Murphy, both Democrats, had ambitious plans for new reservoirs – but those projects were killed in a partisan vendetta when Georgia was overrun by Republicans.
Just as Bush hopes to get out of office and let his successor deal with the failure of Iraq, so too does Perdue hope to escape and leave his mess to someone else. The simple fact is that while Republicans mindlessly parroted their "slash taxes" mantra, Georgia's critical needs – from water to schools to health care to transit – have been ignored.
In the face of all that, Perdue doesn't want to talk about the real issue: growth. Indeed, a developer – Sen. Chip Pearson, R-WatchingOutForBidness – will be the governor's point man for permitting new reservoirs. That's a clear signal the sprawlers want us to pay so they can continue to build, build, build – which will only deepen the crisis for the next generation. Boys, here's the truth: Reservoirs will provide little relief because there ain't enough water in North Georgia for you to continue your pillaging.
"The only realistic solution is that the cost of growth needs to be included in the price of new development, and that's not a popular thing to say," says Paul Ferraro, a Georgia State University economist. "Those already here haven't been investing in the infrastructure, and we're going to be forced to address that. But looking ahead, those who come in the future must pay for the costs they cause."
What delightful common sense! The sort that makes Republicans pee in their pants from fear.
A sane and courageous governor would treat the crisis as a crisis – and offer better solutions than mendaciously blaming governors in Florida and Alabama. A great governor would declare a building moratorium on all development that added to the water catastrophe. That governor would say, "Stop until we assess the damage," and begin the hard job of fixing what's broken and planning a secure water future for Georgia. That future cannot under any scenario include the sort of mindless and uncontrolled growth Perdue so admires (and profits off of with his scummy land deals).
We can guess what Perdue will do next. In the last few years, his cronies have sought to "privatize" water in both legislation and in the courts. That tomfoolery will return, an example of "disaster capitalism" in which profiteers will promise miracles, fail abysmally to deliver, but all the while pocket fortunes.
Put another way, by 2015, half the world's population – the Third World, for the most part – will be water-famished. Thank you, Gov. Perdue, for making Georgia a Third World state.
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