The Real Voting Fraud

Forget all the bogus claims of voting fraud since the 2020 national elections, and the January run-off races to fill Georgia’s two U.S. Senate seats.

Former President Donald Trump was not chased from office through chicanery in the election process. Republicans did not lose control of the U.S. Senate because of voting irregularities, dishonest voting machines, or any other nefarious schemes at the polls.

 The outcomes from those recent elections were due simply to the will of the record number of Americans who voted, exercising their Constitutional right to choose this nation’s leaders. 

Voters wanted change and they got it. Simple as that.

Even former U.S. Attorney General William Barr — who made it his job to protect President Trump’s political and legal flanks — declared that the Justice Department had investigated and found no evidence of widespread fraud. Nothing that could’ve changed the outcomes of the elections.

Here’s the truth: The real “voter fraud” has been the willfully dishonest and loud outcries of fraud (STOP THE STEAL) made by many Republican senators, representatives, others party leaders, and conservative media commentators, who know their claims are lies. But, who also have learned from experience, and from their former mentor and leader, Donald Trump, that there is money to be made, popularity, ratings and power to be had by keeping the populace divided — liberals, conservatives and moderates — at one another’s throats.

Let me say that again, simply: The real voting fraud has been the continued claims of election fraud, by those who know their claims are not true, but figure they and the Republican Party can benefit from the Big Lie.

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were duly elected to lead this country for the next four years as President and Vice President. In Georgia, businessman, John Ossoff, and Baptist minister, Ralphael Warnock, are the state’s duly elected and legally seated U.S. Senators.

The Big Lie about the elections is already proving it has the power to wreak havoc on the rights of thousands, perhaps millions, of the nation’s voters, particularly those who are black or brown, or members of other minority groups, who only lately have been able to take advantage of earlier voting-law changes that made it easier for them to exercise their Constitutional right to vote.

Georgia is one of more than 40 states currently working on changes to voting laws and regulations, whose endgame will almost certainly be restrictions on absentee ballets and voting. Measures being discussed include, but are not limited to: who can qualify for absentee ballots; enhanced ID requirements for ballets; the number and placement of absentee ballot drop boxes; the number of days of early voting, and  eliminating some weekend days from the list.

Event though the recent elections proved the value of making voting in this country easier, rather than more difficult, Republicans in State Houses across the country are moving toward more voting restrictions, anyway. Many of them say it is because they feel the need to reassure voters in their states that elections are safe and the results can be trusted.

Such reassurance can be easily accomplished, if those politicians around the country would simply tell their constituents the truth: That there was no voter fraud, that the elections in their communities were safe, and the results were accurate.

Unfortunately, honesty is not the route they are willing to take. And they would surely find it even more difficult to follow that path, because they have spent all these weeks and months lying as if there was no tomorrow. They like their lie, and they’re sticking to it. 

Why? Because they didn’t like the results of the last election. In their minds, an election is only valid, if their side wins.



Jesus’ whisper of peace, joy

Friday, 9/21/18

Today, I am uncharacteristically happy. Even though many of the annoying, joy-robbing pressures, responsibilities and upsets of daily life are clawing at me from every side, there is an unusual sense of peace keeping them all at bay.

To wit:

— There is the dreaded, expanding file folder I try to keep out of sight in the closet when I can. It is growing fatter and fatter on a steady diet of letters from The Internal Revenue Service, telling me I owe them money from three tax seasons ago.

Those letters are joined by copies of letters and accompanying documents I’ve been sending The IRS, disputing many of the agency’s claims. Their responses — to my responses to them — make it seem as if each of us is speaking a language the other doesn’t understand. Or doesn’t want to understand.

Needless to say, it is frustrating.

— Also, I am a writer, and lately, I’ve run into a string of magazine and book editors who seem to initially like what I submit, praise it, but spend a lot more time than usual making a decision on whether to purchase it. And, in the end, they come up with hollow reasons why the material is just not for them, or that they don’t believe they can “do justice to it.”


— Let’s not leave out the extremely taxing ordeal of the  succession of tall pine trees that — since being struck by lighting a little over a year ago — have been  taking turns falling across  my yard, blocking the driveway and, at least on one occasion, severing  a power line.

More than 10 have fallen, or had to be cut down, in the last several months. Still others are leaning precariously, and must be dealt with. Having trees removed is not cheap.

— There are also other reasons why I would normally be in the dumps: We recently discovered that an air conditioning unit at the home of one of my daughters was contaminated with black mold, and was the likely reason my young grandson is having terrible breathing problems, monstrous coughing spells and symptoms that mystified his doctors and caused him to miss several weeks from school last year.

And it seemed the mysterious illness would force him to miss more school time this year. That is, until the problems with the dangerously faulty unit were discovered. The issue then became how to pay for replacing it, especially after we got the news that the company responsible for the warranty on the house denied my daughter’s claim and refused to replace the air conditioner and its tubing and ducts. After vociferous complaints, the company’s “magnanimous” gesture was an offer to pay $400 of the $6,500 cost.

Normally, that would send me into a sticky, dark, melancholy mood, sapping my energy, making it extremely difficult to push through the normal challenges of the day.

But today is different. I awoke this morning with a feeling of peace. And I know why: God’s grace. Jesus, the savior-redeemer, high priest and elder brother of those who believe in Him and accept Him as Lord, is always true to his word.

Through God’s grace — and surely His love for us — my daughter came up with the money. The old air conditioning unit and its extensive duct work are gone; banished to the scrap-metal junkyard. A new system is in place. My daughter and grandson are breathing easier.

And so am I, even though I don’t live in that house.

For me, even in the face of fickle editors, falling trees, challenging government agencies, the annoying aches and pains of advancing age, I can feel the breath of Jesus, like a whisper of joy, blowing gently over me. And nothing I’ve done makes me deserve such grace.

No matter what I do, I will never earn it or deserve it. But that’s what God’s grace is — unmerited favor. Even though I don’t deserve it, I accept it — welcome it — and am thankful for it. I am thankful for days like this, knowing that a sinful, imperfect man like me, who has often been disappointed with God when things didn’t go his way, can still be granted a day like today, when — even with the ramparts of trouble and dismay slamming against his bow — can wake up feeling at peace and spend the day with his heart and mind at ease.

Only God can provide that. Only He has the awesome power and love to bestow such a gift on me, a “believer” who was confused and upset with Him when my mother died eight years ago, after breast cancer invaded her body a third time. I watched cancer ravage her. She shriveled from 127 pounds to 70. But she never lost faith. Her favorite piece of scripture was the 23rd Psalm.

She wound recite it often. My mother didn’t just know the Psalm, however, she knows The Shepherd.

Two months after she left us, when my older brother had a massive stroke and died, I was shaken again, and wondered why a loving God would allow this double whammy.

We sometimes confuse God with Santa Claus, a creation of man who must live up to our wishes and desires. He answers to us.

But we didn’t create God; He created us and knows us better than we know ourselves and — get this — loves us anyway.

Because of that and more, I want to be — and am striving to be — an “even-if” Christian; one who puts his faith and love in the God of the Holy Bible, even if He doesn’t grant a wish that seemingly means the world to me. And even when he doesn’t protect me from a natural disaster, a dreaded physical ailment, vicious accusations or career-ruining lies.

I want to be a man of faith, who trusts that God doesn’t make mistakes and that He knows what’s best for me, even though His path for me may not match the path I might choose. I have to constantly remind myself that even the very faith I have in Him is a gift from Him.

Today, I am wallowing in God’s joy and the warmth and gentle whisper of His love. And that’s fine with me.

Dogs: Gotta love ’em, can’t live without ’em

                          The love of a good dog is priceless …

I don’t know whether I would call it love — but there was definitely something — at first sight.

There she stood in the den of my friend Gloria’s home, clearly excited; her body and head shaking like that of a miniature shaman in the midst of a ritual dance to cast out demons, summon rain, or both.

She was less than a foot tall from paws to the top of her reddish-brown head, not counting those two excited ears. Her tail wagged furiously. She seemed to be smiling, her good eye gleaming. (The other didn’t fully develop when she was born.) But it was clear she was happy.

As soon as I sat on the couch, she got a running start and jumped into my lap. I didn’t know what else to do, so I started rubbing this tiny stranger’s head. Within 15 minutes, both of us were snoring. That was the first of many times we would sleep together.

That’s how my relationship with Precious — the long-haired Chihuahua-mix — began. At first, I would only see her once a week when my wife and I visited Gloria, a member of our church, who was approaching 80 — had been a widow for 20 years — and had shared her home with Precious for the past two years; after she adopted the dog from a local shelter.

They shared such a friendship

They were quite a pair. It was clear how much they loved each other. They spent so much of their time together, Precious often perched in Gloria’s lap staring her in her face as Gloria rubbed her head.  “This dog can read my mind,”Gloria would often declare with a smile. But she was serious.

The two of them did seem to have an understanding that resembled the arrangements two humans often share. Though they spent a lot of time together, they also knew when to honor each other’s personal space and need to be alone — Gloria to listen to her jazz, play games on her computer and order things online; Precious to re-decorate her kennel, take long naps and, sometimes, just lounge quietly in the kennel as if contemplating the affairs of the world.

These two companions were comfortable with the cozy life they’d made together for the last two years, but there was something lurking in the background, slowly working its way front and center, something that would put a time limit on the living arrangements of these two devoted “friends.”

A huge obstacle

Gloria lived with an inherited neurological disorder that was slowly causing her to lose her ability to walk.

In her late 70’s, the rate of decline in her ability to control the muscles in her legs had quickened. She would often fall when moving around the house, and many of the mishaps were nasty, resulting in ugly bruises and severe pain. Precious would often come to her aid, clearly concerned, but could only fret and whine over her. I once told Gloria, “Teach her to dial 911.” She laughed.

Friends, doctors, fellow church members and others had long urged Gloria to leave her house for an assisted-living facility where she would have around-the-clock care and, likely, a better quality of life. But it was difficult for her to give up her independence.

She also knew Precious would not be able to join her at such a place and she didn’t want to leave her friend. After a few more hard falls, she reluctantly agreed it was time to go. She had seen how Precious had taken to my wife and me, and how she looked forward to our weekly visits, seeming to anticipate when we would be ringing the doorbell.

Gloria also had observed how much the two of us cared for Precious. Often, when it was time for us to go, after a visit, it was difficult for me to leave. Gloria told us about her decision to move and asked if we would take Precious.

My wife was ready to say, yes, right away. By this time, there was no doubt that I had grown extremely fond of Precious, but it was still a difficult decision for me. Some years before this, I had vowed I would never have another pet. Over a period of a few years, we had lost two beloved dogs — and the adorable cat who ran our household. All three, in succession, felled by cancer.

I had not gotten over that. And I just didn’t believe I could take the risk of getting another pet, watching it become an indispensable part of our everyday life, then experience that awful, free fall into misery while watching it die.  I believed that would be devastating for me and I didn’t want to take the risk.

To make matters worse, the second of our other pets to die was our beautiful Golden Retriever (who was such a lady). Her name, by the way: Precious. And now, here was this midget Chihuahua with my beloved Precious’ name …? Did she think she could take the real Precious’ place? Or Diamond’s, our Black Lab? Or Harley’s, our Calico cat, who had lived with us for more than 15 years, and had me wrapped around her little paw?

Precious would be homeless

But nobody else in Gloria’s circle of friends seemed anxious to take Precious, and we didn’t want her to end up in the shelter again. Especially now that she was eight years old. Older dogs have a much harder time getting adopted. Most people, it seems, prefer puppies.

We brought Precious home in early March. It didn’t take her long to adapt to the transition. Right away, she loved the larger yard we have, and kept us busy taking her out several times a day for walks around the property, to sniff out deer tracks or the scents of other critters who frequent our property.

At first, I tried to put a governor on my attachment to this small, but energetic creature, who often followed me or my wife “foot-to-foot” around the house and took frequent naps in our laps.

And I believe Gloria was right: The dog did seem to be able to read our minds. She could tell if I was troubled or a little downcast. She knew just when to join me on the sofa or in a comfortable chair, ease into my lap and find my hand with her nose; then encourage me to rub her head, back or belly. After several minutes of this, both of us were usually feeling much better.

She can make us smile so easily. She has this way of prancing up our long driveway, while frequently looking back over her narrow shoulder and appearing to smile or admonish us to pick up the pace, in a “come on, I’ve got things to do, places to see, get a move on” kind of way.

And once she’s had enough of the hot southern sun, she forces us to jog as she runs at her top speed back to the air conditioned house.

She is the sweetest dog and has been a joy to be around. Every time we take her to the vet, the staff threatens to keep her; they love having her around. She makes “people” friends every where she goes.

I always thought I couldn’t really take up with a small dog — “a lap dog.” I thought I preferred big dogs, working dogs, who were strong, muscular and protective. People with evil intent on their minds tend to think twice about approaching you when you’ve got a pair of nearly-100-pound retrievers by your side. And here I am now, perfectly content with this lightweight midget, who doesn’t even bark.

But her senses of hearing and smell are so strong, she alerts us when anything is going on outside — somebody in the driveway or approaching the house — long before they get out of their car and knock on the door.

She has been a blessing

She came to us at the right time. I was overwhelmed with challenges and scores of things I needed to take care of. A lot of the joy of life was gone for me. But Precious has me looking at life and all that stuff differently. Most of those challenges haven’t gone away, but simply don’t bother me quite as much.

Sometimes, when things start to get me down, I just try to relax on the sofa, knowing that within minutes, Precious will be there in my lap or by my side, and before I know it, we’ll both be asleep. When I wake up, things don’t seem so bad. I’ve now made room for her in my pets hall of fame, along with my buddies Diamond, Precious The First, and Harley.

Yes, she is tiny (only 7 pounds) and certainly not imposing, but even so, she is still my Big Girl.

Dogs: You gotta love ’em. Because they sure can love you.



Truth Is: No Lives Matter — Much

                                                                          What’s Going On?

What's Going On, Ferguson_NEW_NEW


“All Lives Matter.”

Right now, that simple declaration, which would seem perfectly logical and something most caring people would accept without a second thought, has become –in this hateful era of white-hot racial, ethnic, religious and class warfare — fighting words: A declaration of war.

Black lives matter;  White lives matter; Blue lives matter. So do those of innocent school children;  worshipers in a Charleston, S. C., church, and  revelers at an Orlando, Fla., nightclub.

 All lives should matter!

Yet …. You simply cannot stand up and publicly declare that “all lives matter,” and not just those of young African Americans killed brutally by law enforcement officers under questionable circumstances, or those of police officers ambushed by killers seeking perceived justice or blind revenge without being quickly labelled a racist, a traitor — or worst.

It is as if, by declaring that all lives on this planet matter, you are, somehow, downplaying or refusing to acknowledge the value and sanctity of the lives of those in specific segments of the population who seem to be suffering disproportionately from the current wave of violent deaths inflicted by members of other segments of our society. The searing heat of condemnation would overtake you so quickly you wouldn’t know what hit you.  Many in the Black Lives Matter movement would condemn you before the words of your declaration had cleared your mouth.

They strike with toxic venom, publicly attacking anybody who tries to point out that they don’t shoulder, by themselves, the burden of pain and suffering from the string of tragedies that has beset us in recent years, nor are they solely responsible for speaking up for the victims and their families, and demanding that solutions to this carnage be found — quickly.

That is what fear and widespread distrust and division have done to us.

Make no mistake about it; this is not the beloved community that Martin Luther King, Jr., and other visionary thinkers worked so hard to achieve and for which many lost their lives. This is the America  (Land Of The Free)  wrought by decades of friction among the human tectonic plates of cultural, racial, religious and economic-class differences colliding with one another, ripping the social fabric of this nation to shreds. We are a nation of strangers, not just suspicious and distrustful of one another, but afraid of one another and quick to let that fear and distrust turn us into hateful, selfish beings.

“Seek any advantage you can, and do to your neighbor before your neighbor can do to you” is the law of the land. Codified by politicians and hate mongers who see opportunity in our division, chances for them to climb the ladder of our misery into more power, more money, more control.

President-elect Donald Trump, whom I believed would never cross the threshold of the White House except as a visitor, but who now is preparing to make it his part-time home, has been the national drum major for jingoism, intolerance of those different from us, public incivility, selfishness, political bombast, bullying and saying whatever you believe will help you get what you want, regardless of who gets hurt in the process.

Any unsubstantiated accusation, slanderous barb or outrageous claim is permitted as long as it is in the service of your desires and so-called quest to straighten out all the things in this country that the rest of us, obviously, have screwed up.

Mr. Trump and those like him have taken advantage of our human weaknesses, our willingness to distrust and blame one another, our apparent inability to keep our unreasonable fears under control, the things that in concert make so many of us — and I say this as a black man who has felt the searing lashes of segregation and second-class citizenship in the deep south — willing participants in our own destruction.

We can’t see that our blindness to our own prejudices, and fears of losing our status, privilege and dignity, has also made us blind to the fact that Donald Trump — and others like him– are not The Lone Ranger on a white horse coming to save us, but are, instead, Snidely Whiplash — drunk on ego and applause from the peanut gallery — groping our women, kicking Tonto to the curb and riding off with the codes to the nuclear launch system of the most powerful nation on earth.

Members of the Black Lives Matter movement, however, are not the only ones quick to pounce on those whom they perceive as being unsympathetic or opposed to their cause. The same is true of those who recently came down hard on a popular American company that made statements in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, because the company obviously saw it as a human-rights issue, not a black-versus-white issue. The company was bombarded, immediately, by harsh criticism from organizations that represent law enforcement officers and the relatives, friends and sympathizers of officers killed in the line of duty, allegedly by gunmen seeking random payback for the deaths of young black males at the hands of law enforcement officers.

“Blue Lives Matter!” came the angry cry against the company. Proponents of the movement encouraged supporters to boycott the “offending” business and any others whom they believe showed disrespect to the sacrifices of the slain officers, their families and the whole law enforcement community.                                              


Groups that understandably band together in support of victims of this current tidal wave of violence, often — in their moments of anger, concern and caring, while trying to process the immediate tragedy — don’t take time to stand back and absorb the full tidal wave and all of its consequences. That is human nature. However, it results in a kind of circling of the wagons that, instead of binding us all together and seeking to preserve the frayed strings that unite us, pushes us to become more and more thin-skinned and ready to retaliate without waiting for the full facts to be uncovered.

In this current climate, it is difficult to see how we can find our way out of this forest of bloodletting.

Those in the Black Lives, Blue Lives or other super-focused activist movements are subsets of larger congregations of the huge cultural mix that was once celebrated in the America we often referred to as a melting pot, then later, a tossed salad. Those metaphors were our way of grasping the cultural, religious, ethnic and skin-color differences we optimistically believed were strengths we could build on to fashion a nation truly united, and not just in name only. A place where all people with good intentions and hopes for a better life were welcome.

But many things have changed us: the internet; adverse economic disruptions; loss of jobs due to corporate decisions; world-wide terrorism; pressure — and resistance — to moving the populace toward greater freedom, and better understanding of those who are different (not just in appearance and language, but sexual identity, religious beliefs and practices, moral and political values.)

All of that is why the power to chose future Supreme Court justices has become the holy grail of American life, prompting some of the most respected religious leaders in the nation to make deals with devils to ensure that no liberal thinker is placed on that important body for the foreseeable future, if not longer.

While we seem to be deathly afraid of what the outer appearance of our “fellow” Americans might mean, we should, first, be examining our own inner selves and what things may be incubating in the hidden chambers of our own hearts.

There was a time — perhaps a brief time — when it seemed we were trying hard to figure out how to change, to be more accommodating to those who were different from the so-called mainstream, but who were drawn to this country because of what it appeared to represent. And to also be more accommodating to those already here, who, because they were “black,” “brown,”  “red” and “yellow,” had suffered for generations at the bottom of the totem pole topped by white privilege.

We seemed to have been making progress after the Civil Rights Movement and the riots of the 1960’s. Even though we weren’t all helping, equally, to push that train, there were signs that many, who were previously opposed, were joining the procession toward positive change.

Now, that train seems to be stalled on the track, and protesters of different hues, ideologies and economic and political agendas shout and spit at one another across the train track.  Fights break out, and there are injuries and blood, and few seem wiling to step into that train.

I don’t think there is any doubt that the election, eight years ago, of a black man to be president of this country triggered animosities and hate that had seemed, on the surface, under control. That breakthrough was a kind of “last straw” for many in the white community, who saw themselves losing too much privilege and power after what had been, to that point, a slow national march toward reconciliation and racial progress.

On the other hand: While, just as it is difficult to take only a single sip of a tantalizing and delicious drink, many in the black and brown communities saw President Barack Obama’s election as merely the first thirst-quenching sip of much-needed change. They wanted even greater transformation in their own situations — and they wanted it by his second week in office.

Expectations and disappointments on both sides, and tensions created by his surprising rise to power eroded the efforts to be nice and move slowly toward a shared America — not just palatable to, but also nurturing to all.

That dissatisfaction has been fueled largely by the internet since hostile pronouncements, counter-statements, outright insults, denouncements and threats can be sent to millions seemingly at the speed of light — and millions more can join in the rumble until nerves across the world are frayed and countless people are ready to attack others they believe to be their enemies. A slip of the tongue, er, keyboard, or a thoughtless tweet can sink ships theses days, or fuel a conflagration.

So, what can we do about this cultural mess?  I’m not sure. But a good first step would be to hold off on the angry tweets, the hateful memes, and the incendiary bombast of radio talk-show hosts — and recognize where we’re headed. Do we want to be one nation, sincerely striving to become a place where all lives are valued and cherished — and where common sense and love are championed?

Are we willing to stop the instant blame-game for a minute and seriously look at one another, free of automatic doubt and distrust? Do we really care about what this nation, for generations, has claimed it stood for? Do we still believe in that ideal enough to listen to one another?

It is easy to grab onto slogans and use them as weapons. But slogans don’t solve problems. And they can keep us from having the kinds of open, caring, genuine dialogues that can get us past the hurts, the hatred, the distrust, and the selfishness that block progress.

Do we really want to change? Or, are we content to keep moving toward that inevitable and destructive uncivil war in which your skin color, or religion, or gender identification or economic status is your uniform?

I truly believe all lives matter, and it grieves me now when I turn on the TV or pick up a newspaper or sign on to the internet and see what’s going on; when I see that in Chicago more than 700 people have been murdered already this year (many of them young black males)  — and not by white supremacists, or white police officers, but in so many cases, by other black males, largely in gang warfare.

Do black lives really matter?

Do white lives really matter?

Blue lives?

Right now, it seems that No Lives Matter to us –much.

But they matter to God. So does our response — or lack thereof — to the almost-daily slaughter.



Leave Stone Mountain Alone


Many want to wipe away

all vestiges of the Confederacy

In the wake of racially motivated shootings at an historic black church in Charleston, S.C., that killed nine members of the congregation — and hot on the heels of several, questionable, police-involved shootings around the nation from which unarmed black men lost their lives — there is a movement afoot, locally, to erase all vestiges of the Confederacy from Stone Mountain and its surrounding park, one of the biggest tourist attractions in Georgia.

There is a petition currently circulating on the internet asking that supporters sign on, in an effort to get the powerful Coca-Cola Company to “drop its sponsorship of Stone Mountain” and “Stop Bankrolling White Supremacy.”

The appeal also states: “On the evening of November 25, 1915, a group of men clad in robes and hoods ascended to the top of Stone Mountain, the largest mass of exposed granite in the world, 15 miles east of Atlanta, Georgia. Once on top, the men ignited a flaming cross, signalling the second coming of the Ku Klux Klan, which had been dormant for 40 years. The events of that night set decades of white supremacist violence and terror by the KKK in motion, with Stone Mountain at the center.

“One hundred years later, and the mountain has been transformed into Stone Mountain Park, Georgia’s number one tourist attraction. The park — which draws an estimated 4 million visitors per year, and includes Coca-Cola as one of it’s biggest corporate sponsors — features several confederate memorials, including a reconstructed Antebellum Plantation, a ‘Confederate Hall,’ and a Civil War Museum. The most famous and prominent attraction, however, is the face of the mountain itself, which is carved with the image of Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, and Confederate President Jefferson Davis riding on horseback.

“Work on the carving began in 1916, but was delayed for decades until the 1950s when the Civil Rights Movement gained momentum. Segregationists in Georgia hoped the monument would serve as a reminder of White Supremacy, and in 1958 the state of Georgia purchased the mountain for $2 million, paving the way for the sculpture’s completion. It remains there today as a reminder of our state’s brutal history.

” The recent spotlight on Confederate symbols across the south, combined with the growing backlash against the Movement for Black Lives, has made it clear that there is no place for symbols of hate and division on state property. By investing millions of dollars into the park through sponsorships, Coca- Cola is condoning the racism and hatred that these symbols represent to so many people.”

Several members of the community — from those on the local Hip-Hop scene, to Atlanta politicians such as Mayor Kasim Reed and City Councilman Michael Julian Bond, have called for changes to the face of the mountain. The changes range from erasing the current sculpture, to adding images of Atlanta Hip Hop duo, Outkast (and a souped-up Cadillac,) or the likenesses of former president, Jimmy Cater, and slain civil rights leader, Martin Luther King. Jr.

On the surface — aside from the inclusion of Outkast and the tricked-out Caddy — these changes might seem like the right thing to do. After all, as the seemingly popular sentiment goes, why should we, black folks and members of other minority groups, continue to be affronted/assaulted by these obvious symbols of a past that held mostly tyranny and oppression for us? Why shouldn’t we wipe the slate clean?

Why not?  Because we can’t. We can’t change history, we can’t change the past. It is what it is, and it has helped make us — all of us — what we are today. Trying to erase it visually, so we don’t see it, is shortsighted. As painful as it might have been for many of us, it happened. But we are able to debate its affects today, and how we should deal with it going forward, because we have overcome it.

It can only hurt us if we continue to allow it to imprison us, continue to let it define us as victims of the intentions of those who meant us harm. But those intentions that once held the power to kill or imprison or beat or legally rape us, have been reduced to mere symbols. Symbols that we should keep around — in their proper places — so that we, and those who wished us harm, can never forget what happened.  That’s one reason why there are Holocaust museums and solemn observances.

Remember the old saw: Those who do not remember their history are doomed to repeat it?

Stone Mountain Park — by Georgia law — is a living memorial to the Confederacy and the Confederate dead.  A museum.

A museum is where such symbols should be. Not flying atop the State Capitol or in front of any official government building.

There may be some who look to the mountain and its carvings and long for a return to an era when their forefathers believed that white was right, and white supremacy would rule forever. But — I believe — there are many Georgians and others who enjoy the park and see the mountain and its carvings as mere symbols, a measure of just how much we’ve overcome, how far we’ve advanced, and as encouragement that we can keep on overcoming.

And remember, the boys astride those mighty steeds didn’t win.



Cancer No Match For Jimmy Carter


Carter, A Man For All Seasons: For him, faith is the key

Whoever coined the term “Renaissance Man,” a few hundred years ago, must have known that Jimmy Carter was coming into the world with his toothy smile, heart of gold and Energizer Bunny-like attitude toward public service. For Carter has truly been a man for all seasons.

The list of skills he has mastered is impressive: Carter has been a peanut farmer, a Navy officer with nuclear submarine experience, a diplomat, a furniture maker, a world leader, a Sunday School teacher, U.S. president,  governor of a state, Nobel Peace Prize winner, an accomplished writer, tireless volunteer, driven problem-solver, devoted husband and father, humble servant and a faithful follower of God.

He is a man of such towering faith, integrity and strength that the announcement that he has cancer in his brain and liver is, truthfully, not as distressing as it would be for most other people, especially most other 90-year-olds. Carter is a man who has always worn his faith on his sleeve, unafraid to act out of his beliefs, regardless of the criticism that might come because of it.

He has tried to live an honest and faith-driven life and has succeeded to a degree that many of us can only admire. He first came into my consciousness, on a serious basis, in the very early 1970’s, when I was a young newspaper reporter, and he was first making noise about running for the presidency of the United States of America.

I was assigned to cover an early speech, in which he smiled broadly at his audience, many of whom were African American, and told them he was different, that he would be honest with them as president, that he would never tell them a lie. He recounted being a young child playing baseball with far-more-talented black kids: “I was the backstop,” he said. An audience member sought to correct him: “Don’t you mean the catcher?”  To which Jimmy Cater replied with a broad grin, “No, they made me play behind the catcher. I wasn’t good enough to be the catcher.”

I followed him to Charlotte, N.C., where there was a gathering of Democratic candidates. I had been told that California Gov. Jerry Brown would be there, and I definitely wanted to meet him. In those days, he was rumored to have been dating the singer, Linda Ronstadt, and came off as as being the coolest governor ever.

But listening to all of the candidates, I found myself getting more and more caught up in what Carter was saying. He really was different. He did seem to understand, better than anybody else, the minds of the Southern white man and the Southern black man. A lot of what he was saying rang true. All before, I had joined in the laughter in the newsroom whenever the subject of Jimmy Carter as president came up. But it wasn’t long before I was no longer laughing.

I was in Jesse Jackson’s hotel room at the old Omni Hotel in Atlanta when Jesse Hill and Herman Russell, businessmen who moved mountains in both the black and white communities in Atlanta, came in to talk to Jackson about Carter. Jackson, who was likely already having thoughts about seeking the presidency himself, but was no where near making up his mind, was cool to Carter.

But the two business titans wanted him to think deeply about what a Carter presidency could mean for Black America and see if he — even if he couldn’t ardently support Carter — would, at least, not attack him.

I was assigned by the paper to be a part of the team that was to cover the Democratic Convention in New York City in 1976, but a tangled investigative story involving a high-level Atlanta police official kept me from going. Carter got the nomination and won the presidency.

After his presidency ended and his now-world-renowned Carter Center was up and operational, our paths crossed again. This time, I was around him on a nearly daily basis, watching how he operated and carried himself more closely than I ever had previously. He was already well known for humanitarian and volunteer work in poor countries around the globe, and others where fledgling democracies were trying to spread their wings and take flight. Human rights were always at the top of his agenda, including the right to basic human needs: clean water, health care, housing, food and the right to vote.

If you picked up the newspaper then or turned on the TV news, Jimmy Carter seemed to always be there, fighting malaria or Guinea worm; or settling conflicts or standing up for human rights even in places where the leaders didn’t always relish his company.

But in the early 1990’s, he said he wanted to focus his attention and his efforts closer to home, “in the Third-World country” in his own backyard. He launched The Atlanta Project, saying he would concentrate his efforts mostly on central and southern Atlanta, including Clayton County, areas where poverty, high infant mortality rates and too many babies born out of wedlock were perplexing, quality-of-life issues.

He said he didn’t want this to be a top-down movement, or just  “betterment.” He wanted to empower people in these communities. He wanted to listen to them, to work beside them, to help them help themselves. He started by going out to talk to them, to walk around among them, to hold meetings on their turf. So many of them couldn’t believe that a former president would come to them, sit with them, listen to them, even though he wasn’t stumping for votes; there was no election.

What he was proposing, on such a large scale, had never been done, certainly not by a private individual hoping to harness the power of both government and the public sector. But James Earl Carter, Jr., was — and is — no ordinary person (although he will tell you he certainly is.)

He managed to attract supporters from all over the political and social spectrum, from Hollywood celebrities (Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jackson,) to current and former government officials, pastors, community advocates (most of whom were skeptical, at first) and even street people, who wanted to put their shoulders to the wheel, too.

I watched him put together staff and volunteers, and drove them hard. He was usually up in the wee hours of the morning sending out emails, reminding folks  what had been the plans for the day, and further thoughts on specific things that needed to be handled. Then, he would go out and run a few miles.

“He still thinks he’s got the full weight and resources of the White House behind him,” one swamped staff member once complained with a smile. “He needs to look around. It’s just us; he needs to slow his roll.”

I watched him go into some of the most dangerous and impoverished neighborhoods in the city and talk to people just as he had talked to heads of state. He did it in places like Eastlake Meadows, a public housing project that was once known as “Little Viet Nam.” No person, no matter how poor, no matter how beaten down by the system, was too small for him.

All the while, he kept going out with Habitat For Humanity and wielding hammers and saws, building houses for those who would not be able to afford one otherwise.

The Atlanta Project survived for a good while, changing and improving as it matured. And while it did not eradicate poverty in Atlanta, it certainly left its mark. It empowered a generation of grassroots leaders who went on to win election to public office. It made the lives of scores of people better and gave them tools they needed to better understand how their government works, how to access it and how to use resources, including the media to help solve problems.

Before Carter, nobody had the courage, commitment and sense of duty to his fellow man and woman to even take on such a humongous effort. Jimmy Cater has lived his life the right way. The treatments for cancer in the brain and the liver will, no doubt, be daunting. But in a battle like that, I put my money on Jimmy Carter. He has faced intimidating foes before. And I believe him when he says he is going to be alright, whatever happens. For he still has the full weight and resources of a power higher than the White House at his disposal.

Jimmy Carter will triumph. For as long as I have known anything about him, he has been a man intent on following God, and that has made all the difference in his life. It has been a great life, an exciting life. And one that mattered.

He will always be a hero of mine — and my president.





Too Many Guns, Too Many Deaths

“How many more, Lord, how many more?”


This is the agonizing question I ask myself, sitting here in my once-comfortable chair that grows increasingly uncomfortable with each report of another mass shooting — at a theater, a church, a school, a military recruiting office, a military base, or some other public venue where the norm used to be expectations of safety, and little reason to fear that death or disfigurement are just one crazed or angry gunman away. And, of course, that gunman is armed to the teeth.

Yes, this is the “new normal” in the heavily armed, intensely divided un-United States of America, where buying guns and ammunition is not much more cumbersome than buying a head of lettuce.

The latest mass shooting — which will, no doubt, soon be eclipsed by the next one — happened in Lafayette, La., this week. According to Associated Press accounts, a 59-year-old man — John Russel Houser — allegedly stood up about 20 minutes into the movie, “Trainwreck,”  and fired “first at two people sitting in front of him, then aimed his handgun at others.”

Police, the report said, found 13 shell casings at the scene inside the theater. When Houser was done, he had allegedly killed two members of the movie audience, wounded nine others and shot and killed himself.

According to news reports, the silent gunman was “so mentally ill and violent that years ago, his wife hid his guns, and his family had him hospitalized against his will before obtaining a court order to keep him away” from them.

Also this week, jurors in Colorado were deciding the fate of the convicted gunman who opened fire at an Aurora,  Colo., movie theater three years ago, killing 12 people and wounding 70 others, while — back East — family members, friends and co-workers were still reeling from the tragic shootings at military installations in Chattanooga, Tenn., that left four Marines and a Navy sailor dead.

Last month, an apparently racist gunman shot and killed nine African Americans during an evening Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Church in Charleston, S.C.

Going back a little, there is Columbine, Newtown, Blacksburg, Washington, D.C., Red Lake Indian Reservation, Minn., Salt Lake City, Atlanta, Santee, Calif., Meridian, Miss., Jonesboro, Ark., Forth Worth and Fort Hood, Texas, Oakland, Calif … The list goes on and on. The American landscape is littered with memorials to gun violence and our ever-escalating personal arms race — from sea to shining sea.

Irony of ironies:  Just hours before the shootings this week at the movie house in Lafayette, President Barack Obama told a BBC interviewer the issue that has frustrated him most during his presidency has been an inability to break through legislators’  repeated roadblocks to limiting access to arms, despite repeated massacres during his tenure.

According to one news report, he “contrasted the numbers of Americans killed in terrorist attacks since 9/11 with the near-routine killings by domestic shooters, highlighting a huge discrepancy in the figures. “If you look at the number of Americans killed since 9/11 by terrorism,” he told the BBC, “it’s less than 100. If you look at the number that have been killed by gun violence, it’s in the tens of thousands.

“And for us not to be able to resolve that issue has been something that is distressing,” he said. “But it is not something that I intend to stop working on in the remaining 18 months (of his presidency.)”

A news report of the BBC interview points out that, “under the U.S. Constitution, every American is entitled to ‘keep and bear arms’ — a tenet jealously guarded by millions of law-abiding gun owners as a symbol of liberty and a foil against tyrannical government.” The article said the political clout of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the gun lobby on Capitol Hill is so strong that proposed legislation “to mandate background checks for all gun sales — not just those at federally licensed gun shops –” has never cleared the Senate.

Such checks could possibly have prevented several of the gunmen in recent mass shootings from legally acquiring the weapons they used to destroy lives, while shattering the social compact. Several of them had histories, or strong indications, of mental illness in their backgrounds. A meaningful background check might have foiled their wicked plans, or at least, made them much more difficult to carry out.

Further complicating matters is the voodoo mathematics of many proponents of unfettered gun ownership and use. They argue that, if more people were armed in more places (schools, churches, bars, restaurants, movie theaters, ballparks and the like,) then we’d see fewer mass killings.

Imagine what would likely have happened earlier this week in that Lafayette, La., movie theater if two dozen other people in the audience were armed when Houser allegedly got up and started shooting. What happened during the legendary gunfight at the OK Corral would have looked like a church picnic in comparison. The death toll could have been mind-boggling.

A new study, according to recent news reports, “throws cold water on the idea that a well-armed populace deters criminals or prevents murders. Instead,” Yahoo News reported, based on the study’s results, “higher ownership of guns in a state is linked to more firearm robberies, more firearm assaults and more homicide in general.”

The report quotes researcher Michael Monuteaux, an epidemiologist and professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, as saying: “We found no support for the hypothesis that owning more guns leads to a drop or a reduction in violent crime. Instead, we found the opposite.”

According to the study, firearm assaults were 6.8 times more common in states with the most guns, versus states with the least. “Firearm robbery increased with every increase in gun ownership, except in the very highest quintile of gun-owning states (the difference in that cluster was not statistically significant),” Yahoo News says of the study’s results. “Firearm homicide was 2.8 times more common in states with the most guns, versus states with the least.”

The study points out, however, that while the research shows that more guns are linked to more gun crime and overall homicide, it does not prove that access to guns alone directly causes “this criminal uptick.”

But researcher David Hemenway, the director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, said: “This study suggests that it is really hard to find evidence that where there are more guns, there are less crimes, but you can easily find evidence that where there are a lot more guns, there are a lot more crimes.”

Even though such studies are not likely to convince those who want no limits on gun ownership, whatsoever, to change their minds, the staggering truth is that we must try even harder.

Because: We can’t shoot our way out of this horrible mess.





Ga. Supreme Court Fails Inmate, Us

DNA evidence, conviction and sentence don’t add up

This is one of those cases that leaves you shaking your head.

Prison inmates are not among the most-favored members of our society, and  understandably so. Many of them are in prison precisely because they have done terrible, violent and traumatizing things to others in our society, sometimes even to innocent children.

But that being said, our system of law and order is supposed to be prudent, fair and just, but also influenced by common sense.

That is where the case of Sandeep “Sonny” Bharadia has jumped the judicial tracks and crashed into the ditch of overly fine points of procedure and time limits.

Here’s the story:

 Bharadia, now 41, is in a Georgia prison serving a sentence of life without the possibility of parole, following his 2003 conviction in the sexual assault of a special education teacher in Thunderbolt, Ga., a Savannah suburb.

During the trial, Bharadia put forth an alibi that placed him in Atlanta (working on a friend’s car), more than 200 miles from the scene of the crime on the day of the attack, according to a report in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. A witness testified that he came to her house to borrow tools, left there around noon and returned, presumably with the tools, six hours later.

He was convicted anyway. There was damaging testimony from a second man, an acquaintance of his, who admitted to being at the scene. His admission, however, came only after police discovered the knife and gloves used in the attack, and items stolen from the victim. These items were found at the home of the second man’s girlfriend, the AJC reported.

The second man, Sterling Flint, was charged along with Bharadia, but only Bharadia was accused of sexual assault. Before trial — the newspaper said — Flint  pleaded guilty to receiving stolen property and, of course, agreed to testify against Bharadia.

A year after the trial, DNA tests determined that skin cells found on the gloves (that were worn by the assailant) did not belong to Bharadia. Eight years after that, The Georgia Innocence Project was able to get a court order for a DNA profile to be run through a national database of samples from prison inmates. There was a match: Sterling Flint, the acquaintance of Bharadia’s.

Despite the DNA evidence, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled, recently, that Bharadia does not deserve a second trial. Because his lawyers did not try to obtain the DNA evidence before the initial trial, they can’t use it now to seek a new trial, according to the AJC’s report.

The justices were unanimous in the decision, the paper said, with Justice Robert Benham (who is a former chief justice of the body) writing the opinion. Benham said it was incumbent upon Bharadia to show that newly discovered evidence had come forward after the trial. Benham said that before the trial, Bharadia’s lawyers had not been making a concerted effort to find it. He added that the defense team knew the gloves existed prior to the trial and could have had them tested then.

“Once the results showed the DNA was not a match for Bharadia,” Benham wrote, according to the newspaper, “he could have requested, prior to trial, the DNA testing of his co-defendant … to determine if the DNA was a match to him.”

The justice concluded that Bharadia “avoided the risk that pre-trial DNA test results from the gloves would implicate him in the crimes and waited until after trial and conviction to request these initial results, at which time he would have been no worse off by a positive test result.”

Aimee Maxwell, executive director of the Georgia Innocence Project, argues, however, that it was Bharadia’s lawyer who chose not to have the gloves tested.
“There is no way Sonny would have said, ‘Don’t test the DNA,'” she told the AJC. “That’s because Sonny would have known his DNA wasn’t going to be there.”

I see the supreme court’s procedural issue. The mind does wonder why the DNA evidence wasn’t sought pre-trial. For whatever reason, Bharadia and his team did not choose to do it. But the charges upon which Bharadia was convicted are serious charges, and the sentence he is serving is severe (he has no chance for parole.)

The gloves are critical evidence in the case: The victim, a special education teacher, returned from church to her apartment on Nov. 18, 2001, according to the AJC. “A man wearing distinctive blue-and-white gloves emerged from behind a door. He put a knife to her throat and said he’d kill her if she did anything stupid. He blindfolded her and then committed aggravated sodomy and aggravated sexual battery, prosecutors said. There were times when she could see him from under the  blindfold.”

According to the newspaper, the first time the victim was shown a photo lineup of six men, she circled photographs of Flint and another man — not Bharadia. When she was shown another lineup sometime later, she stopped at a photo of Bharadia and said she was sure he was the guy.

But we have had several cases now, in which men serving time in cases where they were convicted largely on eye-witness testimony, have been freed through DNA evidence. They weren’t the culprits.

There are too many questions in this case. Could Bharadia have been in two places, miles apart, at the same time? Was he at the scene, but didn’t commit the actual assault? Was his legal team lax, and did not serve his best interests?

Something’s wrong here. Even if there is a strong likelihood that he may have committed some crime in this case, but not the one for which he was convicted, our system owes him, the victim — and us — a good-faith effort to get it right, beyond a reasonable doubt.

If the truth is that he committed a lesser crime than the one for which he has already served many years in prison (or committed no crime at all,) the situation should be rectified.

The justices applied the law the way they see it on strict procedural and technical grounds. As we know from experience, that does not always lead to the truth. If that is the extent of what accused people in this state can count on, then, as Mr. Brumble, from Charles Dickens’ novel, “Oliver Twist,” declared:  ”  .. the law is a ass.”




Fireworks And Firewater?

This had to be the news of the day.

From the Associated Press, out of Maine:

CALAIS, MAINE  — A young man who was drinking and celebrating the Fourth of July tried to launch a firework off the top of his head, fatally injuring himself, authorities said Sunday.

Devon Staples and his friends had been drinking and setting off fireworks Saturday night in the backyard of a friend’s home in the small eastern Maine city of Calais, said Stephen McCausland, a spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety. Staples, 22, of Calais, placed a fireworks tube on his head and set it off, he said.

The firework exploded, killing Staples instantly, McCausland said. His death is the first fireworks fatality in Maine since the state legalized fireworks on Jan. 1, 2012, authorities said …

Wow! … My question is, how drunk do you have to be?

And what about his friends who, presumably, watched him do it …?


Danny Ferry In From The Cold

Let us now praise courageous ownership — NOT!!!!

After leaving him twisting in the wind for the better part of a year, Atlanta Hawks management finally brought Danny Ferry — the team’s suspended general manager and the architect of its recent success — in from the cold.

Then they dumped him.

With approval of the sale of the franchise to a new group of owners a foregone conclusion, the old, dysfunctional group, known as much for its incessant infighting as the performance of its team on the court, bought out the remaining years of Ferry’s contract for an undisclosed sum.

Let’s hope the group did right by him with the terms of the buyout, at least in this final act, since it seemingly did everything it could — until this point — to crap all over a man who made a mistake, paid for it, and certainly deserved better than he got.

Perhaps he is the lucky one, after all; lucky as hell to finally be done with such a back-biting,  continually bickering and often embarrassing bunch of so-called leaders, managers and investors.

First, Ferry should pinch himself to make sure he’s not dreaming, that the long nightmare really is over. Then, he should take his money and run like hell; get as far away from his former employer — The Atlanta Spirit — as he possibly can.

I have a feeling, though, that he will have the last laugh. I have no doubt that, sooner or later, another National Basketball Association franchise will realize the value of this man as a basketball mind and take advantage of what he has to offer.

There is no doubt that a major reason for the Atlanta Hawks’ success this season — winning a franchise record 60 regular season games, then advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time — was Danny Ferry, his business acumen, talent recognition, negotiating skills and personnel moves.

Mike Budenholzer certainly proved his mettle in his first season as a head coach in the NBA, and won the coach-of-the-year award. But, without the franchise-changing decisions Ferry made, and the team he put on the floor for Budenholzer to coach, this season would not have been such a triumph.

Let’s review what got Ferry banished to Siberia in the first place:

Before the regular season began, it was revealed that Ferry made derogatory and racially insensitive remarks about free-agent basketball player Luol Deng, who is African, during a conference call with members of Hawks ownership and management. A member of the team’s ownership group demanded that Ferry be fired, which set off an investigation that brought to light even more incendiary remarks by controlling owner Bruce Levenson that cast aspersions on the team’s fans and criticized game operations, including the choice of music and other promotions used to boost team attendance.

Shortly thereafter, Levenson announced he would sell his interest in the team. It was also announced that Ferry was taking an indefinite leave of absence from the team, a decision Hawks management inferred was Ferry’s decision. Ferry,  however, recently revealed that it was management — not he — who made the decision he should take the leave.

The investigation probed Ferry’s comments and motivation, and was conducted by an outside law firm.  Weeks went by, then months. The investigation cleared Ferry of any racist motives and any intention of doing any harm to Deng. Even though he should have exercised better judgment, the investigation showed he was merely passing on comments included in a report that was done by an outside scout.

The punishment did not fit the crime. It would have been more fitting for the Hawks to fine Ferry, maybe suspend him for a month — maybe — then let him get back to his job and share in the great success he had done so much to create. Instead, Hawks management left him slowly, agonizingly twisting in the frigid wind.

The more time he spent in icy purgatory, the more it appeared to the community that he must be a bad old racist guy, when that was far from the truth. What is worse, the team didn’t release the results of the investigation of Ferry’s comments until after his bosses had already decided his fate. Releasing that information sooner might have softened some of the community opposition against him.

No, management decided to take the cowardly route: Just leave him hanging by his thumbs and let the new owners decide whether to cut him down, or cut him loose — whoever the new ownership would be, and whenever it took over.

I’m sure the old owners group thought that was an appropriate business decision.

But it was a coward’s choice. The group dodged the opportunity to do what is right, to keep a good man, who gave so much of himself to his job, from being miscast as a villain, as a vile racist.

If Danny Ferry is a racist, then I’m the president of North Korea — and I’ve never set foot in Pyongyang. I don’t even have Dennis Rodman’s phone number.