Saturday, March 25, 2006


Albany Star contest winners Tina Brock of Bainbridge and Alex Clements surround K-Country's Dottie Davis and display their winning smiles

Tina Brock's dozens of enthusiastic fans helped put her over the top

Fans and family of Leesburg's Jennifer Cutchens showed their love

Assistant Principal Tim Cochran took time out from his duties to serenade his fans- many of them female teachers

Jennifer Cutchens goes Dolly one better with her rendition of "Jolene"

(This column will appear March 30, 2006 in THE ALBANY JOURNAL)

The noise was literally deafening (my ears are still ringing!). Several hundred relatives, friends, and fans of the 19 contestants in the first Albany Star contest nearly raised the roof as they awaited the moment of truth on March 23rd at the newly renovated State Theater on Pine Avenue. By 10:00 P.M., when the two winners- one female, one male- were finally announced by Kurt Baker of B-100 and Dottie Davis of K-Country, the moment capped off three hours of rock em sock em entertainment which, at five bucks a head, was the best entertainment buy in town.

Tina Brock and Alex Clements won the women’s and men’s vocalist honors, respectively, but the judges took over twenty minutes to choose because the talent level among the contestants was so high and so evenly matched. The two winners will each have the opportunity to do a 15 minute opening act for the March 30th George Jones concert at the Civic Center.

B-100 and K Country, which co-promoted the contest, received hundreds of CD’s and tapes from aspiring singers vying to win Albany’s version of the American Idol contest. They winnowed down the entries to 20 finalists- 10 male, 10 female. The Star contest was short one male vocalist, but only because he had just signed a record deal and flown to Europe to cut his CD. As both Baker and Davis noted, any one of the 19 who performed would have been a more than capable choice.

They came from all over. Bainbridge, Moultrie, Ochlochnee, Eufala. A male contestant drove down from Nashville. From young aspiring stars to elder statesmen (the sixtyish man who sang “Rhinestone Cowboy” was a dead ringer for Glen Campbell, as Dottie Davis duly noted) they competed on stage, one song each.

With names like Lamar, Rhett, and Lance, wearing cowboy boots and cowboy hats, several of the male contestants were the epitome of the stereotypical country music singer. That old timey image was in sharp contrast to the conversation I overheard after the contest, as one big hatted male contestant told a female admirer to “check out my website, but be patient, because it’s still under construction.”

A personal note here: I’ve never been a fan of country music. In high school and college, my taste ran to the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Cream, the Doors, and other classic rock legends. In fact, my visceral reaction to country was something akin to the Martian invaders in Tim Burton’s campy movie, “Mars Attacks.” When all other earthly weapons failed to defeat the invaders, a teenage boy accidentally discovered that playing a Slim Whitman song would turn the Martians’ brains to jelly and make their heads explode.

My first exposure to country came as a freshman at Penn when one of my three roommates, who hailed from Casper, Wyoming, would sadistically inflict country songs from a local radio station on us rock and roll fans. I was astonished that any radio station in Philadelphia would even consider playing such hideous noise. I used to think that an effective interrogation tool for jihadists would be to play country songs until they caved. When making a long distance car trip, if my car radio picked up a country station on SCAN, I couldn’t change the channel fast enough.

But recently, after some friends dragged me out to Gumbees, a popular Albany night spot featuring poker tournaments and Karaoke, I discovered that the live version isn’t so awful. In fact, some of the songs’ melodies are downright beautiful. (I still can’t get one contestant’s version of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” out of my head, and it’s three days later as I write this).

The Albany Star finalists were an eclectic group. The first female singer of the night, Kristen Worth, has a baby due in August. Fiftyish former Marine Lamar Harris was living out his dying wife’s wish that he perform his original song on stage. Cowboy hatted and booted Tim Cochran is an assistant principal-- and his enthusiastic fans appeared to include all of the female teachers from his school.

The promoters put out the word that the entrants would be judged not just on singing ability, but also on stage presence and the amount of fan support they brought to the theater. By that measure, Tina Brock, who must have bussed in a hundred fans from her hometown of Bainbridge, clearly was deserving of her title. But truth to tell, the purest voices and most haunting melodies came from several contestants who didn’t have Vegas style theatrics on stage (one male contestant appeared to be channeling Elvis; later, a member of the audience was heard to mutter “get her a pole” when one female contestant performed a near bump and grind; another contestant’s very short denim miniskirt prompted some female audience members to audibly express their hope that she was wearing underpants).

The professional quality and performing experience of every contestant was obvious, and I suspect that the Civic Center could just have easily told George Jones to stay home, put up all 19 finalists on March 30th, and had a show as good as anything Albany has ever seen. Kudos to Liz Gray, marketing exec at B-100, Sandy Farkas and Lane Rosen, who have remade the State Theater, and everyone else responsible for the event. Let’s hope the “Albany Star” becomes a regular contest featuring other music genres as well-- you might even get me to start listening to Rap!

For other photos from the contest, visit K-Country’s website at

Monday, March 20, 2006


Senator Saxby Chambliss has no problem wrapping himself in the American flag while he violates his oath to defend the Constitution

(This column appears in the 3-23-06 THE ALBANY JOURNAL)

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Fourth Amendment to U.S. Constitution, proposed when America’s first Congress under our Constitution met in 1789, ratified in 1791 as part of the Bill of Rights.

“The Government's activities in electronically listening to and recording the petitioner's words violated the privacy upon which he justifiably relied while using the telephone booth and thus constituted a "search and seizure" within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.... it is clear ... a duly authorized magistrate ... could constitutionally have authorized, with appropriate safeguards, the very limited search and seizure that the Government asserts in fact took place.”

from the Supreme Court’s 1967 decision in Katz v. United States which, for the first time, ruled that the Fourth Amendment protects the privacy of telephone conversations from warrantless intercepts.

“Months after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying, according to government officials.”

from December 16, 2005, New York Times article by James Risen: “Bush Lets U.S. Spy on Callers Without Courts.”

* April 20, 2004: "When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so."

* July 14, 2004: "... the government can't move on wiretaps or roving wiretaps without getting a court order"

* June 9, 2005: "Law enforcement officers need a federal judge's permission to wiretap a foreign terrorist's phone, a federal judge's permission to track his calls, or a federal judge's permission to search his property. Officers must meet strict standards to use any of these tools."

President Bush’s public statements after he had authorized illegal, warrantless wiretapping of Americans by the NSA.


Senator Feingold’s Resolution to Censure President Bush for violating his oath to support the Constitution

On March 13th, I e-mailed Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss and asked him to vote in favor of Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold’s resolution to censure President George W. Bush for violating his oath of office and breaking the law. That day, Senator Feingold told the Senate:

“... when the President of the United States breaks the law, he must be held accountable. That is why today I am introducing a resolution to censure President George W. Bush.

The President authorized an illegal program to spy on American citizens on American soil, and then misled Congress and the public about the existence and legality of that program. It is up to this body to reaffirm the rule of law by condemning the President’s actions.”

Senator Chambliss responded to me as follows:

“Thank you for contacting me regarding the National Security Agency's (NSA) monitoring of conversations connected to terrorist activity. I appreciate hearing from you.

The President has publicly discussed certain activities of the NSA that he authorized in the weeks following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on our nation. As described by the President, the NSA intercepts certain international communications into and out of the United States of persons linked to terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda and its affiliated groups. The President has said that the purpose of the Presidential directive is to prevent another catastrophic attack on our country.

As the 9/11 Commission pointed out, two of the terrorist hijackers who attacked the Pentagon, Nawaf al Hamzi and Khalid al Mihdhar, were communicating with other members of al Qaeda overseas while they were in the United States preparing for their deadly attack. Regrettably, we did not know this until it was too late. The President's actions attempt to address weaknesses in our early warning system, making it more likely that terrorists, like the 9/11 hijackers, will be identified and located in time to prevent another disaster.

As a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, I am aware that Administration briefings of this type are limited to a very few, and that Congressional leaders from both parties were briefed on several occasions.

The world changed on September 11, 2001, demonstrating that it is vitally important that the President of the United States must have the power and authority to act on information to protect the American people from future acts of terrorism by al-Qaeda and terrorists who target the United States.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me. As always, I appreciate hearing from you...

Saxby Chambliss,
United States Senate”

I’ve known Saxby Chambliss since he was a trial lawyer in Moultrie, and although I’m sure he’s no constitutional scholar, there is no doubt in my mind that he studied both the Fourth Amendment and Katz v. United States in law school. When he became a Senator, he swore an oath to “support this Constitution of the United States." Saxby knows that spying on domestic telephone calls violates the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. He also knows that his defense of illegal phone taps to prevent another terrorist attack is a sad joke. On March 20th the Los Angeles Times reported that:

“The FBI agent who arrested Zacarias Moussaoui weeks before the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks described with great regret today how his superiors in Washington repeatedly blocked his attempts to find out whether Moussaoui was part of a widespread terrorist cell intent on attacking the United States. Special Agent Harry Samit also said his superiors did not share other critical counterterrorism intelligence with him, such as a memo from the FBI's Phoenix office about suspected terrorists taking flight lessons and a briefing for President Bush citing intelligence that planes might be hijacked.

Samit said his superiors told him right after the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon that it was "just a coincidence" unrelated to the case he was trying to make against Moussaoui... Samit said he now believed his FBI superiors were guilty of "criminal negligence and obstruction" and that they thwarted his efforts in the interest of protecting their own careers. He called their actions a "calculated" management decision "that cost us the opportunity to stop the attacks."

When I wrote back to Saxby, I pointed out to him that:

“... Attorney General Gonzalez admitted to the Senate committee that Al Qaida already knew we were wiretapping and they would be unlikely to be so stupid as to communicate terrorist plans via cellphone or e-mail from the United States. The FBI reports that all or virtually all of the illegal NSA intercepts turned over to them were useless and a waste of time.

The information already in the hands of the FBI and CIA before 9-11, had they bothered to analyze it or speak to each other, was more than enough to tip off authorities of Al Qaida's intended use of hijacked airplanes as bombs. President Bush ignored the August 6, 2001, Presidential Daily Brief "Osama Bin Laden determined to attack within the United States" and spent the next six weeks on vacation in Crawford, Texas, cutting brush and riding his bicycle.

The FISA law allowed the executive branch, in an emergency, to obtain a warrant 72 hours AFTER wiretapping, and President Bush had no need to violate the law....

The upshot is that the President of the United States violated his oath of office to support and defend the Constitution when he deliberately violated the Fourth Amendment rights of every American citizen who was wiretapped without a warrant...

9-11 didn't change everything. It didn't change the Constitution of the United States...


Monday, March 13, 2006


The small print between "Mission" and "Accomplished on the banner reads: "to increase Halliburton's defense contracts from $1/2 billion to $8 billion

(This column will run in the 3-16-06 THE ALBANY JOURNAL")

On March 10th The Albany Herald published my neighbor Greg Freed’s letter in which he wrote that it struck him as “amazing how our warriors who are bearing the total brunt of danger in ‘The Long War’ can be so optimistic and ready to see a cause through while such a large element of society has a view that is diametrically opposed.” He writes of young Marines who fought in Fallujah and commends those who want to go back with these chilling words: “[f]or those the fight for Fallujah didn’t kill, wound or drive from the service, it brought a purpose-- keep waging the war.” He quotes one Marine Colonel as saying “[w]e have a lot of lessons learned... the troops are excited about getting back into combat.” The Colonel must have idolized Robert Duvall’s character in the movie Apocalypse Now, the bloodthirsty officer whose famous line was “I love the smell of napalm in the morning!”

America is fortunate to have spirited young men and women willing to fight our wars, but as responsible citizens, it is our duty to ensure that their lives and bodies are not unnecessarily put at risk. Regardless of whether young Marines are “excited” to be sent to a war zone, the reality of Iraq is that our soldiers and Marines are not fighting a war-- “long” or short. For the past three years they have been occupiers sitting in the crossfire of a budding civil war between the various tribes, factions, religions, and ethnic groups which were cobbled together by the British following the defeat of the Ottoman Turks after World War I. Without a brutal dictator sitting on top of the government, the simmering conflicts have exploded.

"Kill one, create three"

Likewise, there is no “cause” for which our troops are fighting, other than to stay alive and come home. Top Pentagon officials like Gen. George W. Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, have conceded that our troops can’t defeat the insurgency militarily, and many will concede that the presence of our troops is creating terrorists. For every native Iraqi we accidentally kill-- President Bush, his demeanor completely devoid of contrition or other emotion, off handedly estimated the number at “30,000” in a televised press conference in January-- we incite dozens of suicide bombers and bring thousands of recruits into the resistance. 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."

Meanwhile, our efforts to reconstruct Iraq have collapsed due to continual assassinations of essential civilian personnel and industrial sabotage with the complicit or explicit assistance of Iraqis opposed to the U.S. occupation. The Bush Administration has now given up all pretense of leaving Iraq in better shape than it found it-- Colin Powell’s “Pottery Barn rules” notwithstanding. The Baghdad electrical grid is in worse shape three years after the invasion than it was while Saddam was in power. Daily news reports bring us stories of mass murder, kidnapping for ransom, and violence against Iraqis who won’t conform to the religious extremists who now control the streets of the cities. Recent polls show that as many as eighty percent of Iraqis want a timetable for American withdrawal.

We have lost 2,307 American lives in Iraq, 2,170 since the “Mission Accomplished” banner was raised on the carrier Lincoln behind a jubilant President Bush in May of 2003. Over 17,000 Americans have been wounded. If this blood was really shed to give Iraq a democracy-- a justification never mentioned in the runup to the war when the President’s speeches falsely linked Iraq both to the 9-11 attacks and to nuclear weapons -- then we should accede to their wishes and leave the country, letting the Iraqis determine their own fate and fight for their own freedom.

The UAE Dubai ports deal pulls the curtain off the Wizard

Back at home, some of President Bush’s chickens finally came home to roost. To every criticism of the incompetent bungling of his Administration, his response was how hard it was to be a “War President.” To complaints about his admitted lawbreaking and violations of his oath of office, the most recent example being warrantless wiretaps in violation of both the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, Bush’s rejoinder was: “everything changed after the 9-11 terror attacks.”

Bush’s empty slogans worked just long enough. Many American voters re-elected Bush in 2004 partly because of fears of another terror attack and the hope that he would do a better job at securing America than his Democratic opponent. But those hopes have now been dashed for even the most self-deluded Bush supporter, and Bush’s professed concern for America’s post 9-11 security has been revealed as a sham. The publicity surrounding the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Dubai Ports World's purchase of London-based Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co. and its contract to run six major American ports has exposed Bush's unwillingness to put America’s security above business deals with his rich Arab friends.

The UAE has long maintained ties to terrorist networks, including Osama Bin Laden himself. Recent reports have revealed that members of the UAE royal family went falcon hunting with Bin Laden in the mountains of Afghanistan in the 1990’s. Several of the 9-11 hijackers came from the UAE or used it as a transfer point for terrorist materials.

It's noteworthy that President Bush found out about the U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States approval of the proposed takeover the same way you and I did- he heard about it from the press. Apparently, no one in his administration thought it important enough to alert him that a country with longtime ties to terrorism had just been approved by a government commission to run American ports. Publicity about the UAE ports deal also highlighted the fact that more than four and a half years after 9-11 Bush has allowed 95 percent of incoming cargo to come in unscreened. We can only count ourselves lucky that in that 95 percent there were no nuclear devices or biological weapons.

President Bush’s explanation for his after-the-fact support of the UAE deal was laughable-- he claimed that it would hurt our image in the Arab World if we rejected an Arab country’s bid to control our most critical ports. Apparently he didn’t bother to read the FBI report which concluded that the UAE, a loose federation of seven emirates on the Saudi peninsula, was an important operational and financial base for the hijackers who carried out the 9-11 attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. And I will bet dollars to donuts that President Bush is still unaware that the hijacker who piloted American Airlines flight 175 into the south tower of the World Trade Center was a UAE citizen.

As for the President’s contention that nixing the Dubai deal would hurt our “image” among Arabs, presumably he is also unaware that ever since his invasion of Iraq, our image in the Arab World is so low that poll numbers are about to dip into negative figures- and that’s only talking about our ostensible allies, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Apparently, the clueless President thinks that invading an Arab Muslim country, killing (by his own admission) at least 30,000 innocent civilians, inciting suicide bombers and terrorists who kill religious leaders and blow up mosques, having non-Muslim Americans running the country and building permanent bases there- these aren’t serious offenses to Arabs, but refusing to allow them to run our ports, that’s a provocation worthy of a threatened presidential veto to preserve our pristine image.

In the wake of Katrina, Iraq, the Medicare Prescription Drug “benefit,” and $400 billion deficits, the whole nation now knows that incompetence is the true hallmark of the Bush Administration. And it has been breathtaking. Unfortunately, his incompetence has been lifetaking as well.

Monday, March 06, 2006


Georgia's Lt. Governor Mark Taylor visits his home base- Albany- in his pursuit of the Governor's chair

(This column will appear in the 3/9/2006 THE ALBANY (GA.) JOURNAL)

Kids. Jobs. Healthcare. The messages were pure Democratic populism, and as carefully crafted as they may have been for a political campaign, they also reflected the reality of Mark Taylor’s career. As State Representative Freddie Powell Sims pointed out to the assembled public officials and local Democratic committee members at the Merry Acres banquet room the first Saturday in March, back when Mark Taylor was a young man starting out in the State Senate, he was an active Partner in Excellence for the underprivileged children at Martin Luther King, Jr., Middle School, and later, he was a partner to the Phoenix Alternative School.

My enduring memory was showing up at ML King one day in the early 1990’s to drop off some donated supplies, including winter clothing, from the Dougherty Bar Association. When I walked back to the auditorium, I saw Mark Taylor sitting in a chair reading to a group of students. No reporters were present, and so far as I could tell, Mark never publicized his visits. When asked recently about his work, he responded that he felt he got as much out volunteering as a Partner in Excellence as the children did.

Their world and his couldn’t have been farther apart. He is the son of privilege, growing up in millionaire trucking executive Fred Taylor’s Albany mansion. They wore retread hand me downs and ate publicly funded school breakfasts and lunches. But on that winter morning it was clear that Mark reveled in the opportunity to interact with them, and they were raptly attentive as Mark read stories to them.

One characteristic that sets Mark Taylor apart from other politicians is that he has a simple, straightforward grasp of what he wants to accomplish, and it doesn’t change with the seasons or the audience. Safeguarding the Hope scholarship program and pre-kindergarten programs was at the top of his list. Implementing a “Peach Kids” program to insure all of Georgia’s children was second, and promoting Georgia to industry and providing jobs for Georgia’s adults was third.

When asked what separated him from his primary opponent, Secretary of State Cathy Cox, Mark told those assembled at Merry Acres that he had the experience from serving 12 years in the State Senate and seven years as Lieutenant Governor to push forward his goals. He frankly admitted that he didn’t know what Secretary Cox’s proposed policies were, and his only mention of her (not by name) was to deride her use of her official position to run numerous “public service” ads in 2004- more than Kerry or Bush ran in Georgia.

Mark appears to be aware that it is unlikely that primary voters will choose a Democratic gubernatorial candidate based on policy differences. Personality, experience, and style will have more impact on the campaigns of the two Southwest Georgians vying for the opportunity to make Sonny Perdue a one term governor.

Last week the political stories out of Atlanta touched on some of the typical Republican red meat issues- restricting abortion, criminalizing stem cell research, expanding the zone of self defense for gun owners. When asked what he would do if handed an abortion bill like the one that South Dakota recently passed-- a frontal assault on Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to an abortion-- Mark responded with a quote from Bill Clinton: he hoped that abortions would be “safe, legal, and rare.” He left no doubt that if he is sitting in the governor’s mansion this time next year, he will focus on his agenda and his priorities.

Next Fall’s campaigns may well be muddied by ephemeral issues that pop up only in election years, only to sink into deserved obscurity when voters and candidates return to reality- gay marriage and flag burning being my two personal favorites. But I suspect that Mark Taylor won’t be distracted from his populist message, and some of the debate, at least, will relate to real issues that will still matter after all of the ballots are counted.