Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Christians, the ACLU, and Public Prayer

(top) Christian Broadcaster Pat Robertson has apparently forgotten the Sixth Commandment as he calls for the murder of (bottom) Venezeulan President Hugo Chavez

an ACLU member responds to Rev. Creede Hinshaw's 8-27-05 ALBANY HERALD column about praying in public meetings

Dear Rev. Hinshaw,

I occasionally read your newspaper columns in the Albany Herald, and you generally appear to have common sense and a compassionate point of view. But in a week when Pat Robertson publicly called for the assassination of Venezuela's democratically elected President- then denied on national TV that he had used the word "assassinate" (which was true- he actually used the noun, "assassination," as a Daily Show video clip proved), I find it hard to believe you decided to pick on the ACLU for opposing publicly led prayers in Jesus' name at government meetings.

I'm a member of the ACLU, but I also have a sense of proportion, so I understand it when you say that the organization should "lighten up." The problem is that it is easy for a Christian in America to say this, because you think that no one could possibly object to a short prayer to Jesus. You opine that it's only when government meetings become "full blown revivals, replete with big King James Bibles, altar calls for repentance and pointed jabs at competing faiths" that the ACLU should intervene.

Here is what you have not considered. As a Jew, every time I sit in a courtroom where I am compelled by law to be, as a juror, witness, or lawyer and listen to a prayer to Jesus, every time I go to a public meeting of a governmental body, and a minister or other person of the Christian persuasion leads a prayer to Jesus, a not very subtle message is being sent to me and to every other non-Christian: you are welcome here in America as our guest, our "Jewish friend." But "real" Americans are Christian, and the rest of you are here at our sufferance. "Real" Americans will make the laws, make the rules, and decide how much religion in government is too much and how much is just right, and if you object to it, well lighten up- how could a little bit of praying in Jesus' name possibly harm you? So what if you're a second class citizen. We'll let you put a small Menorah on the lawn next to the Christmas creche in our public square- what more could you possibly ask for?

Well, I ask for a government that does not favor one religion over another, or favor religion over non-religion. I ask for a government which realizes that leaving religion completely out of official functions is the best way to avoid the kind of lethal warfare we see in Ireland, Yugoslavia, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Afghanistan, and India, even into the 21st century. I ask for a government in which I am welcomed as an equal, not suffered as an interloper of a lesser faith. I ask for a government which does not publicly demean my religion, the second commandment of which (you put it in the first) states that "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." Because Christians worship Jesus as God, and Jews, although we may greatly respect many of the biblical teachings of Jesus, do not believe that Jesus was the Messiah or that the Messiah is a God or Son of God in his own right.

Now if that doesn't convince you, then try this the next time you are asked to pray at a governmental function like a City or County Commission meeting:

"In Buddha's name we pray, Amen."

"In Zoroaster's name we pray, Amen."

"In Allah's name we pray, insh'allah, Amen."

Or, if that doesn't get anybody's attention, try this:

"In Satan's name we pray, Amen."

I'll bet that if you say those few words- no more than what you say the ACLU should ignore if the operative term is "Jesus"- that will get you more publicity, more controversy, and probably more guest spots on national television, than you've ever dreamed possible. And those little words would also get you booted out of your church and cost you your job writing newspaper columns. Because those few words would be oppressive, unforgiveable anathema to your true believers.

Jim Finkelstein
Albany, Georgia

P.S. If you still don't believe that there are politically powerful Christians out there who want to use the little things like your brief prayers to get the camel's nose into the tent, then read the letter to George Bush by Robert Jones, III, shortly after the November 2004 election:

"... . You have been given a mandate. ...Christ has allowed you to be His servant in this nation for another presidential term. Undoubtedly, you will have opportunity to appoint many conservative judges and exercise forceful leadership with the Congress in passing legislation that is defined by biblical norm regarding the family, sexuality, sanctity of life, religious freedom, freedom of speech, and limited government....”
Bob Jones, III, President, Bob Jones University

I sent the above letter to Rev. Hinshaw, and he was gracious enough to write back. After I asked for permission, he consented. His response follows

Dear Mr. Finkelstein,

Feel free to use my reply on your blog. It's always a pleasure to hear from readers.

Creede Hinshaw

Dear Mr. Finkelstein,

Actually, you and I agree on probably close to 99% of what you have written me in your email. The ACLU does not get enough credit for going to bat even for unpopular crazy conservatives.

My main argument with the ACLU on this one is probably one of "strategy." In a world where there are so many important battles to fight, it seems like it might make sense to let some of the more minor sideshows ride in the greater interest of picking up more traction in others. Of course, I am sure the ACLU both knows this and determined that this particular "fight" was one worth pursuing.

I prayed before the Bibb County P&Z last week, and was careful, as I always am, to pray either in God's name, or in the name of the One Who is Holy, etc. I realize that even this -in and of itself - can tend to be offensive to some in our society. I simply repeat, that from what I understand, prayers in Cobb County have been prayed by religious leaders from many different faith stances.

Though it may not help your feelings very much at this point, I did struggle with this column. I only have a limited amount of space each week to make my point. One of the lines I omitted was something like this:

I realize it may be easy for me to write these words. I am a privileged white man, a Protestant Christian preacher in the south.

I believe those italicized words express the challenge and difficulty of being a columnist. We all write from our own perspective, and yet, hopefully, try as much as possible, to enter into the experience of others. Perspective makes all the difference...mine...yours...everybody's.

I hope this helps. If the ACLU was in the fight for textbook stickers in Cobb County, good for you. But I remain somewhat unconvinced about strategy...not overall goals...when it comes to the Cobb lawsuit.

Thanks for caring enough to write. I am glad that you and I most often find ourselves on the same side of the issue.

Creede Hinshaw

Friday, August 26, 2005


Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue, stunned speechless when asked if the national security should take precedence over more federal military pork for Georgia.

(This column will run in the 9-2-05 THE ALBANY JOURNAL)

“Former President Jimmy Carter ... was the target of scorn, shock, and disbelief ... for his lobbying to save a Connecticut submarine base at the expense of thousands of jobs for his home state.... ‘What was he thinking?’ asked Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue.”

Front page of the 8/26/05 Albany Herald.


A United States Court of Appeals rules that the phrase “under God” can’t be included in the Pledge of Allegiance, and Americans of every stripe join together to hurl invective and condemnation at the black robed judges who dare remove mention of the Deity from the sacred words with which every schoolchild begins his or her day. But the rest of the words of the Pledge seem to recede into the background when issues involving our wallets are concerned.

Are we really “one nation,” “indivisible?” If the Base Realignment and Closing Commission (BRAC) is visiting town- not so much.

No matter how many American flags patriotic Americans affix to their gas guzzling SUV’s, no matter how many times they urge dissenters like Alec Baldwin and his ilk to take up residence in foreign lands if they can’t get behind the good old U.S. of A., right or wrong, no matter how many Lee Greenwood CD’s they scarf up at the local Wal-Mart (motto: “Buy American- unless Indonesia and China make it cheaper”), it takes but a nanosecond between mention of buzzwords like “consolidation,” “BMW factory,” or “base closing,” and the complete dissolution of all shared goals and common values.

Is Jimmy Carter a villain because he took the words of the Pledge of Allegiance literally- that we are all “one nation?” That if the nation’s security is better served by keeping the Groton, Connecticut, submarine base open, the right thing is to support the base, even if a remote corner of Georgia might have snagged thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in federal tax dollars at the expense of unemployment and depression in Groton?

It should no longer be news when a City Commissioner opposes consolidation of City and County police (“Can the minnow swallow the whale?” one Commissioner rhetorically asked when I broached the subject a couple of years ago) or when a governor tries to outdo a neighboring state by lavishing gifts on representatives of a foreign car manufacturer thinking of relocating to his state. The news flash will be the next time- which may be the first time in history- someone currently in office, who still has re-election ahead of him or her, stands up and says:

“I’m real sorry that the Naval Air Station has to close here, and I’m sorry that we will lose some jobs and a few million bucks because of it. However, let’s be realistic: we’re about 500 miles from an ocean, so what’s the big deal if the Navy can’t fly its planes here? And we’re about 10,000 miles from the nearest country that might even remotely be thinking of doing us harm. And if they wanted to do us harm, their airplanes couldn’t fly halfway to our coastline without falling into the sea like shotgunned quail over a baited field. So I guess our country really doesn’t need this Naval Air Station here in the Razorback Mountains of Arkansas. And you know what? With the money we save, we could build a better hospital for our boys coming home from Iraq, and maybe give them all a little pay raise besides. Because that’s what supporting our troops really means. It means shared sacrifice. And if we have to give up our little old Navy Air base to help a few wounded soldiers, well that’s all right by me. And you patriotic Americans should have no problem with that.”

Naaaaaah. Instead, we get a 100 percent whine from politicians big and small. Whining from local City Commissioners who would never consider giving up an iota of political clout by consolidating the City and County police forces, no matter what the savings in tax money. From East Albany when Northwest Albany gets another superstore. From Dougherty County when Lee County snatches away a car dealership and Wal-Mart. From South Georgia when North Georgia gets the lion share of that new highway money. From Sandy Springs elites who bolt from Fulton County because they want to spend their property taxes close at hand where only the rich people live. From the whole state of Georgia if, God forbid, we don’t gain jobs and tax money from BRAC decisions to close down bases all over the rest of the country.

So the next time a politician vents against a statesman like President Jimmy Carter for thinking of the nation first, one of you intrepid reporters out there ought to ask him if he knows the rest of the words of the Pledge. The ones before and after “under God.” The resulting brainlock will be a sight to behold.

Monday, August 22, 2005


Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack greeting Democrats at an August dinner in Macon. A preview of the 2008 Presidential Primary?

(This column will run in the 8/25/05 THE ALBANY JOURNAL)

“What do you say to a woman who has just lost her husband- the father of her two children- in Iraq? I had just finished expressing my condolences to the widow of Chief Warrant Officer Bruce Smith, a helicopter pilot who had seconds to make a decision after his chopper was struck by an enemy missile- he could try to save his own life, or try to save the lives of the men whom he was carrying. He saved 18 of the men, but later died of his wounds. His widow interrupted me and simply said: “Those 18 men needed Bruce more in those few seconds than his children and I will need him the rest of our lives.”

Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, addressing the Democratic Party’s County State Chairs’ dinner in Macon, Georgia, on August 20, 2005, referring to the Iowa National Guardsman who posthumously won a Bronze Star and Purple Heart when his CH-47 (Chinook) helicopter was shot down in November of 2003.


This was a first for me. I put on a coat and tie on a very hot August Saturday afternoon and drove to Macon with my date. But this was no night out to dinner and a movie. We hit the road to the Holiday Inn Conference Center to attend the Democratic Party’s County Chair dinner which honored Georgia’s Attorney General, Thurbert Baker, with its Public Service Award. Disregarding the 98 degree heat outside, inside there were well dressed politicians from near and far pressing the flesh and fanning the flames of hope that eternally arise at the beginnings of political campaigns.

Bainbridge’s own Cathy Cox was there. A highly regarded Secretary of State who shepherded Georgia into the computer age of voting, she is vying with Lt. Governor Mark Taylor for the privilege of trying to unseat Governor Sonny Perdue next year. Looking far younger than her 47 years, feisty and fresh after a two hour dinner complete with numerous introductions and speeches, Secretary Cox appeared more than ready to take on Albany native Mark Taylor in a campaign that will most likely produce few substantive differences but will most likely set records for cash raised and spent in a Democratic Primary.

Mark was absent- understandably so, given the unfortunate accident involving his 21 year old son Fulton Fletcher Taylor only two days earlier, in a fatal wreck resulting in felony drunken driving charges (and most likely a vehicular homicide charge). The Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC) reported that Fletcher’s SUV was weaving so badly that another driver telephoned the police to report a drunk driver moments before the Navigator flipped, ejected the unbelted passenger through the sunroof, then rolled over him. The Charleston police report obtained by the AJC stated:

“Fletcher Taylor had "glassy and bloodshot eyes, slurred speech and . . . a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage on his breath" after the wreck.

According to the report, Taylor told an investigating officer, "I was in Charleston Beer Works. I killed my best friend. I might have had four, I might have had three. Either way, I killed my best friend."”

We’ll find out in the next few months whether the accident and criminal prosecution of young Fletcher Taylor will impact Mark’s campaign for governor. His campaign workers at the dinner- including Albany’s Marci Prisant- appeared unfazed and upbeat as they handed out campaign literature.

In the race which nationally will have a higher profile than the top of the ticket in 2006, Georgia’s Democrats have finally found some contenders to compete for the Lt. Governorship that Mark had planned on vacating in his gubernatorial bid. Jonesboro’s Greg Hecht, a practicing attorney (UGA Law class of 1988), former State Representative and former State Senator, is running against Atlanta’s Jim Martin, another attorney (also UGA Law, class of 1972), also a former State Representative, who was Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Human Resources under Governor Roy Barnes.

The main attraction in the primary race for Lieutenant Governor-and the bulk of the millions of dollars that will be raised- will come from the Republican side, as faux choir boy Christian politico Ralph Reed tries to escape his tawdry association with indicted Republican fundraiser Jack Abramoff. Using Reed’s political and religious connections, Abramoff famously squeezed millions from Indian tribes trying to get casino gambling licenses in Texas and Louisiana. With remarkable hubris, Abramoff managed to get millions more from their competitors (also Indian tribes) trying to derail the competition! Reed and Abramoff reportedly manipulated sincerely religious members of Focus on the Family, a Colorado Springs based Christian organization which opposed gambling casinos, to crush the efforts of the tribes seeking the licenses

Reed’s primary opponent, Republican Senator Casey Cagle, is outgunned financially in this race, but will have buckets of mud handed to him on a platter to heave at Reed’s juggernaut.

Returning to Saturday night, the evening’s final speaker was Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, testing the waters for a 2008 presidential bid. Laying the groundwork for his presidential aspirations, Governor Vilsack spoke simply and directly of the need for Democrats to be more than a party that just says no to outrageous Republican efforts to defund health care programs for children and Social Security protections for the elderly. Without touching on specifics, he made clear that among his priorities were restoring integrity and openness to a government which, under the Bush Administration, has set records for attempting to classify routine documents and which has routinely fought efforts to discover what it has been doing with lobbyists behind closed doors.

When I asked the governor if he’d be back in Georgia in March of 2008 (the month of the Super Tuesday Presidential Primary), he promised he would return to Georgia to campaign for Democrats in the 2006 election. During our conversation I discovered he was originally a Pittsburgh native who actually attended games during the 1960, 1971, and 1979 World Series. Be still my beating heart! (I can still name the starting 9 and many reserves for the legendary 1960 Pirates squad.)

For political junkies, 2006 and 2008 can’t come too soon.

Saturday, August 13, 2005


Millions of Americans want America to be an official Christian nation

(This column will run in the 8/18/2005 THE ALBANY (Ga.) JOURNAL)

“Dear Mr. President:

In your re-election, God has graciously granted America—though she doesn't deserve it—a reprieve from the agenda of paganism. You have been given a mandate. ...Christ has allowed you to be His servant in this nation for another presidential term. Undoubtedly, you will have opportunity to appoint many conservative judges and exercise forceful leadership with the Congress in passing legislation that is defined by biblical norm regarding the family, sexuality, sanctity of life, religious freedom, freedom of speech, and limited government....”

Bob Jones, III, President, Bob Jones University

“There's a battle being waged for the very soul of America. Power-hungry courts have run amok, fueled by secular allies, and together are eroding the spiritual foundation of America.”
From official website of M. G. “Pat” Robertson, Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN)

As Iraqis put the finishing touches on their country’s first democratically based constitution and wrestle with issues like whether or not Islamic Law (Sharia) should be enforced as the law of the land on infidels and Muslims alike, we Americans face a similar struggle over the role of religion in public life. If asked many ordinary Americans would agree that we should base the laws of our nation on the Bible and openly acknowledge God in the public schools. One poll found that 32 percent of Americans would favor a constitutional amendment to make Christianity the official religion.

But the most fervent adherents of turning America into a Christian theocracy would surely oppose provisions in Iraq’s new constitution that all laws conform to the Koran and that only those who profess a belief in the prophet Mohammed could hold public office. It would be a bitter pill indeed if almost two thousand Americans, many if not most Christian, would have died to create a government which discriminates against Christians and reduces the role of women to virtual property.

As for Americans’ willingness to abide by the First Amendment’s guarantee of Freedom of Religion and the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of Equal Protection under the Law, the Associated Press reported in December of 2004 that:

“Nearly one in two Americans believe the U.S. government should restrict civil liberties for Muslim-Americans, according to a nationwide Cornell University poll on terrorism fears. The survey also found respondents who identified themselves as highly religious supported restrictions on Muslim-Americans more strongly than those less religious. Curtailing civil liberties for Muslim-Americans also was supported more by Republicans than Democrats, the survey found.”

Almost a thousand years after the Crusades, in an age when advances in science have brought us space travel, computers, and annoying cell phones, millions of human beings, Christian and Muslim, can’t wrap their brains around the concept that tolerance and respect for minority religions is essential to peace. As retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor put it so eloquently in the recent Ten Commandments case:

“Those who would renegotiate the boundaries between church and state must therefore answer a difficult question: Why would we trade a system that has served us so well for one that has served others so poorly? Our guiding principle has been James Madison's — that ‘[t]he Religion . . . of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man.’”

For Bob Jones, Pat Robertson, and others who don’t agree with James Madison and Justice O’Connor, in our country they are free to peacefully attempt to persuade non-Christians that the Bible is an infallible guide to lawmaking. But if life were fair, then before they do they should have to publicly respond to Aaron Sorkin’s (West Wing) Jed Bartlet riposte to a Dr. Laura character:

“1. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?

2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness - Lev.15: 19-24. The problem is how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

4. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord - Lev.1:9. The problem is, my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2. clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?

6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination - Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this? Are there 'degrees' of abomination?

7. Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle- room here?

8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27. How should they die?

9. I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev.19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? Lev.24:10-16. Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)”

You can find this and other recent columns at: buildabettermousetrap.blogspot.com.

Sunday, August 07, 2005


What can Americans do to stop the killing in Iraq and bring American troops home safe?

(This column appeared in the 8/11/05 THE ALBANY (Ga.) JOURNAL)

“I see this guy in the most prestigious office in the world, and this guy says ‘bring it on.’ A guy who ain’t never been shot at, never seen anyone suffering, saying ‘bring it on?’ He gets to act like a cowboy in a western movie…it’s sickening to me.”
Marine Corporal A. Henderson, who was part of the invasion force in Iraq from March through May of 2003.

"The president told us Iraq was a threat to our freedom. But how much of a threat could it be if we could take the capital in three weeks? I knew I had to come down from New York and stand with other veterans in the cold. We had to say, 'No, this doesn't make any sense.'"
Marine Alex Ryabov, another veteran of the Iraq invasion force, quoted when he attended Bush’s 2nd term inauguration ceremony.

The continuing tragedy of the American occupation of Iraq was brought home to Georgia in recent weeks as eleven members of the Georgia National Guard’s 48th Brigade were killed. When photos of the dead, their grieving loved ones, and their fellow Guardsmen face us daily from our newspapers around the State, it brings the war home to us as bare numbers can’t. But the numbers exist, and behind every statistic had been a real, live, breathing, caring human being, leaving behind family members and friends. Over 1,827 have been killed- 1,690 since May 1, 2003, when President Bush landed on the aircraft carrier Lincoln with a “Mission Accomplished” banner in the background (the huge ship was turned around so that the San Diego harbor wouldn’t be seen in the background of the photo op); 1,360 since Saddam Hussein was captured December 13, 2003; 961 since the “sovereignty handover” occurred in June of 2004; and 395 since the January 31, 2005, election in Iraq. An additional 13,559 have been wounded, not counting approximately 1,000 evacuated for mental problems.

Average Americans have finally figured out that the stated reasons for going to war were bogus. In fact, the Washington Post reported on July 6, 2005, that “[m]ore than four in 10 Americans, (42%) according to a recent Zogby poll, say that if President Bush did not tell the truth about his reasons for going to war with Iraq, Congress should consider holding him accountable through impeachment.” More tellingly, 25% of Republicans polled favored impeachment.

Americans have also figured out that keeping our military in Iraq has fueled the local insurgency, recruited more foreign suicide bombers to Al Qaida, and made Americans and the British less safe in our own countries. Even the top members of the military in Iraq have recognized the reality denied by the President and his advisors. Tom Lasseter, of the Knight Ridder Newspapers, reported on June 12, 2005:

“"I think the more accurate way to approach this right now is to concede that ... this insurgency is not going to be settled, the terrorists and the terrorism in Iraq is not going to be settled, through military options or military operations," Brig. Gen. Donald Alston, the chief U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, said [in June of 2005], in a comment that echoes what other senior officers say. "It's going to be settled in the political process."

Gen. George W. Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, expressed similar sentiments, calling the military's efforts "the Pillsbury Doughboy idea" - pressing the insurgency in one area only causes it to rise elsewhere.

"Like in Baghdad," Casey said during an interview with two newspaper reporters, including one from Knight Ridder, last week. "We push in Baghdad - they're down to about less than a car bomb a day in Baghdad over the last week - but in north-center (Iraq) ... they've gone up," he said. "The political process will be the decisive element."

The recognition that a military solution is not in the offing has led U.S. and Iraqi officials to signal they are willing to negotiate with insurgent groups, or their intermediaries.

Lt. Col. Frederick P. Wellman, who works with the task force overseeing the training of Iraqi security troops, said the insurgency doesn't seem to be running out of new recruits, a dynamic fueled by tribal members seeking revenge for relatives killed in fighting.

"We can't kill them all," Wellman said. "When I kill one I create three.”“

How do we get of Iraq? The problem ordinary Americans have at the moment is that we are relatively powerless. Here’s three ways to get our troops out of harm’s way, followed by the likelihood of this occurring on a 1 to 10 scale, with 10 the highest:

(1) The President could remove American soldiers with the stroke of a pen, ordering the Secretary of Defense to immediately commence a withdrawal of American forces (not a “drawdown,” which is what is envisioned by the Bush Administration which desires a permanent American military presence on the permanent bases being built in Iraq by Halliburton).

Likelihood of this happening: 1. President Bush has not admitted a single mistake in over four years in office, and he won’t start now.

(2) Congress could come to its senses and pass a law cutting off all appropriations for the occupation and directing the President, under the War Powers clause of the Constitution, to immediately cease all combat operations in Iraq.

Likelihood: 2. Congress is firmly in Republican hands, and so far only a few have had the courage and the patriotism to be honest in public, notably, Republican Senator, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, who said the White House was "completely disconnected from reality. It’s like they’re just making it up as they go along." It’s more likely that as 2006 Congressional elections ramp up, Republican Senators or Congressmen in close contests will become progressively nervous as other Paul Hackett type candidates surface, and they will demand of party leaders that significant drawdowns begin and combat patrols be curtailed to lower the death count. (Paul Hackett was the Marine Corps Reserve Major recently back from combat in Iraq who, running on an anti-Bush, anti-war platform, narrowly lost the August 2, 2005, special election in Southern Ohio for a Congressional seat that had been solidly in Republican hands for three decades.)

(3) Potential military recruits can stay away from the Army and Marines in sufficient numbers that the top generals in the Pentagon will have to inform the President and Congress that a major military presence with constant deaths in Iraq has so damaged the national defense that ending the occupation is essential to the continuation of an all-volunteer military.

Likelihood: 7. The one factor that We the People control is that we are the military- ordinary citizens like Spc. Jacques E. Brunson, 30, of Americus, Staff Sgt. Carl R. Fuller, 44, of Covington, Sgt. James O. Kinlow, 35, of Thomson, and Sgt. John F. Thomas, 33, of Valdosta. They all served in the Army National Guard's 2nd Battalion, 121st Infantry Regiment, 48th Infantry Brigade, based in Albany, Georgia, and they died on July 24, in Baghdad, Iraq, when an improvised explosive device detonated near their HMMWV while they were on patrol. Unlike Vietnam, when the draft lottery became a macabre form of Russian roulette (symbolized in the movie, The Deerhunter) which spared many and killed thousands, the current military depends on the ability to recruit volunteers. And if the economy is truly improving and unemployment dropping, as President Bush claimed in his August 6th radio address, that further diminishes the ability to recruit for those branches of the military- the Army and Marines- which have suffered the most from the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

We won’t leave Iraq with a grand ceremony and a bon voyage of cheering, grateful Iraqis throwing flowers and asking us to be sure to come back and visit sometime. We won’t leave a nascent democracy in Iraq which has a constitution that will protect the rights of women or religious minorities. We won’t leave an Iraq as secular as it was during the brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, who only publicly embraced Islam after his defeat in the Gulf War as a means of regaining his stature among other Arab nations. And we won’t leave behind a reduced capacity of Islamic terrorists to wage war on the west. But we will leave.

We will leave because, as an American President once said: “[o]ther nations in history have fought in foreign lands and remained to occupy and exploit. Americans, following a battle, want nothing more than to return home.” George W. Bush, speaking under a “Mission Accomplished” banner on the U.S.S. Lincoln, May 1, 2003.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005


(Nigerian Oil Refinery is on fire)

(This column appeared in the August 4, 2005 THE ALBANY (GA.) JOURNAL)



I am very sorry to impair your peace since you are not expecting to receive any mail from me. However, I was obliged to do so due to the need and urgency of this message. I was priviledge to peruse over your profile today and was greatly impressed on your personality. I crave your indulgence for your thoruogh perusal of a business proposal I am putting froward for your attention. Please do not be embarrassed.

I am Mr. Pete Okonkwo, a senior staff and the Chief Accountant in one of the leading banks in Nigeria. For security reason, I shall disclose you of my bank name when I am certain that you are ready to work with in this project. By virture of my position in our bank, I have an urgent and very confidential business proposal I want to bring for your attention.”


This morning I opened my e-mail, and for about the 10,000th time, discovered the e-mail quoted above, a variation of the Nigerian Oil Minister scam. The “hook” or attention grabber in the scam is that the sender has suddenly found himself in possession of millions of dollars from a now deceased depositor:

“A Lebanese Oil consultant/contractor with the Shell Petroleum Development Company in Nigeria, Mr. Hani Saiid El-Ali made a numbered time(Fixed) Deposit for 18 calendar months, valued at US $12,000,000.00 (Twelve Million United States Dollars) in my branch....I sent a reminder and finally discovered from his contract employers, the Shell Petroleum Development Company that Mr. Hani Saiid El-Ali died on 25th December 2003 along with his wife and three children in the Plane crash of Union Transport Africaines Flight Boeing 727 in Cotonou, Benin Republic in West Africa.”

The money will go unclaimed unless you- the sucker- will kindly provide him with:

“A bank account in any part of the world that you will provide will be sufficed to facilitate the transfer of these funds to you as the beneficiary/ next of kin. When this fund is paid into your account we shall share it in the ratio of 60% for me and 30% for you while 10% will be for any incidental expenses on the course of doing this business.”

I originally assumed that if foolish investors provided the bank account information, the money flow would be the reverse of what the greedy opportunist had hoped for and the account would be instantly cleaned out and sent overseas. But the fraud artists who conceived this scheme in the late 1980’s had grander ideas. They anticipated that “smart” investors would set up a new bank account with nothing in it but the base necessary to open an account. The Africans (they really are from Africa, much to my surprise when I read up on the scam) would actually send checks- as much as $85,000- for the victims to deposit. The checks would eventually bounce- but not until after the victims would send thousands of dollars to the crooks. Slowly they would reel in their prey, complaining that a bank official needed a bribe to release the funds, or that some important documents needed to be purchased, or “transaction fees” would have to be paid. The victim, after paying out some money, then more money, would be hesitant to get out of the deal with the possibility of tens of millions of dollars being dangled just out of reach. The details can be found at: http://www.crimes-of-persuasion.com/Crimes/Business/nigerian.htm

The one fact which never ceases to surprise me is how many “smart” and educated people fall victim to such frauds and pyramid schemes. Years ago, a doctor acquaintance of mine lost several hundred thousand dollars in a scheme that promised him a quick and lucrative return on a real estate investment. What I discovered after he related the details was that although some people are eminently capable when it comes to making money, too many are susceptible to get rich quick promises when it comes time to invest.

Last summer, I was approached by a con artist, Ms. Cheryl C., who had a unique method of fleecing money from victims- she approached political candidates with a promise to “fully fund” their campaigns if they “demonstrated their commitment to Israel” by flying there to meet with high public officials. My campaign manager was thrilled when she received phone calls from Ms. C. from “Hawaii” and later “Chicago,” asking to meet with me. Eventually she scheduled an appointment to determine whether I was a suitable candidate for her mysterious investment “group.”

After a conversation lasting several hours which touched mainly on political issues, she set the hook- she would recommend to her shadowy backers that they fund my campaign, but I had to prove my bona fides by paying the sum of $20,000.00 for a trip to Israel. I laughed and remarked that she must have had a really lousy travel agent if that was the best price she could come up with for a plane ticket. Ms. C. responded, in apparent seriousness, that my fee would also cover “access” to top Israeli power brokers and public officials. From her inflection, the word “access” sounded a bit too much like “bribe.”

My internal B.S. radar detector had long since gone off (Federal law prohibited campaign contributions anywhere near what she was promising). Ms. C. seemed genuinely disappointed when I refused her offer and turned down the opportunity to blow $20,000, and she told me to let her know if I changed my mind. For my part, I regretted wasting a few hours of my life that I would never get back, but I comforted myself with the knowledge that I hadn’t put aside my common sense.

A week later, Ms. C. made one last attempt to reel me in, writing:

“I wanted to thank you for your time and hospitality last week. It was very interesting to meet with you and I'm ready to report our conversation to my group this afternoon. If there is anything you would like to add before I go into the meeting at 3:30 (EST) today, please e-mail me back.”

I didn’t bite.


Albany Regional Youth Detention Center where juveniles await trial or serve time

(This column appeared in the 7-28-05 THE ALBANY (GA.) JOURNAL)

ALBANY — First, they ordered him to dance. Then they hit him in the neck with a brick. Then they slammed him into some lockers. Then they kicked two teeth out of his head. The Jan. 6 [2005] beating of student Trevor Moore, during school hours at Dougherty Comprehensive High School, was so brutal it attracted the attention of the community and prosecutors. But it was not the only violent incident at the school.”

Albany Herald front page, July 10, 2005.

I had a number of reactions to the recent week long series of articles written by Aaron Bensonhaver and Wayne Partridge of The Albany Herald. As a member of the community, I was both outraged and appalled at the horrific stories emanating from Albany’s public high schools and middle schools. As a part time journalist, I noted that the Herald had finally awakened from its slumber and come to the realization that the feature stories appearing in a revitalized The Albany Journal, under Sandy Farkas, and Metro Albany News, under Eddie Byrd, were putting the Herald to shame. Finally, as a lawyer who has spent hundreds of hours representing children in Dougherty County Juvenile Court during the last two years, I was satisfied that the hot light of publicity has been shined on the tragic underpinnings of Albany’s crime problems.

First, a few disclosures and caveats (as we lawyers like to say in our Dog Latin) are in order. My job gives me an insider’s knowledge of many of the pertinent facts in the trials which were highlighted in the Herald’s articles, including the case which led off the series. But morally and ethically, I decided when I started writing for publication that I would not use or abuse my position as attorney to specific clients (as opposed to my role as a general observer of what goes on in the justice system). So I will only go so far as to say, to paraphrase another insider in the justice system, that many of the specific “facts” in the Herald’s reporting on particular trials were wrong, exaggerated, or taken out of context. But I have no wish to quibble over poor reporting on individual cases, as the overall picture is, from my experiences, about as dismal as the Herald articles suggest.

There is no question that children are exposed as early as middle school to gangs and gang activity. I learned what the phrase “beating in” refers to from one of my cases (it’s a rite of initiation where a recruit voluntarily allows gang members to beat him or her- one “beat in” left permanent injuries). I discovered that too many children don’t have even the basic rudiments of what we would consider a conscience. I found that unlike the “Leave it to Beaver” halcyon days of my youth when boys fought and girls didn’t, today’s postpubescent females are increasingly prone to violent acts. I have seen that access to handguns is almost casual among many of our youth. I have observed that sexual activity and promiscuity occur with males and females as young as ten years of age, with 14 and 15 year old mothers and fathers so common as to no longer seem remarkable.

And I found a sure fire formula for increasing our pool of juvenile delinquents: have both parents abandon the child to live with an elderly aunt or grandmother; never read to the child; keep no books in the house; provide no positive strong male role model; allow the child to be truant and to freely roam the streets unsupervised until late at night; have older siblings in jail or prison; and have peers with utterly no respect for learning or civilized behavior. (I seriously doubt violent videos and rap albums are root causes of juvenile crime, the elimination of which will magically solve the problem- they are more likely the echoes, not the causes of violence.)

As a guardian ad litem for children in deprivation cases, I also see a lot of hope out there. Recently I detailed one of my high school interns to list all of the organizations in Albany dedicated to helping disadvantaged youth, everything from the Boys and Girls Clubs, to YO (Youth Opportunity), to Kids Can. I am encouraged by the large number of organizations and people with good hearts and sensible goals. We have an outstanding Juvenile Court Judge, Herbie Solomon, whom I have known since we were both hired to work at Georgia Legal Services here in 1976 by Managing Attorney (now Superior Court Judge) Willie Lockette.

Even the Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS), the dreaded welfare people, employs many caseworkers who look at their occupation as more than just a job. When I started as a child advocate in Juvenile Court, I was somewhat suspicious and skeptical of DFCS here in Albany, mostly because of a few bad experiences in prior cases. But after two years and regular exposure in and out of court to caseworkers and their tireless attorney, Paula Taylor Hanington, I have come to respect their efforts and appreciate the fact that they have accomplished a lot of good in specific cases. Even when I disagree with their proposals on specific cases, I do not question their motives.

The true test of our resolve to deal with juvenile crime problems in Albany will be whether or not we end up with band-aids and window dressing or whether we get our public officials (our School Board and City and County Commissions) to buckle down and look for long term solutions. There may not be a magic bullet- but we do know what causes juvenile crime, and we can act to prevent it if we are willing to pull together as a community, decide to seriously deal with the problem, and be willing to invest our efforts and money, starting with children at the earliest ages. More on solutions in later columns.