Jackson County Opinions...

 April 26, 2000

The Jackson Herald
April 26, 2000

Dukes-Weeks plans a sign of the times
Monday's groundbreaking in Braselton for the first phase of a 500-acre warehouse project is another sign that the west side of Jackson County is on the verge of massive changes. Although the initial Dukes-Weeks building will actually be inside Barrow County, the remainder of the property is in Jackson County.
Residential growth has already had a major impact in the West Jackson area, affecting both Braselton and Hoschton. A limited amount of industrial growth has also taken place, although the closure of Mitsubishi was a blow to that area of the county.
But with the Dukes-Weeks investment, the area is set for a new round of industrial and commercial growth. Giving life to that may be several significant road projects that would open the West Jackson area to even more development. One proposed project would create a new interchange at I-85 between the Braselton and Chateau Élan exits. That project would reroute Hwy. 53 around Braselton and Hoschton, relieving some of the existing traffic problems. But more importantly, it would create another exit to serve that area of the county, including the Dukes-Weeks land and a larger tract south of Hoschton that may someday become a major commercial center.
In addition, talks are ongoing about creating an exit at one of the existing overpasses in West Jackson, possibly at Hwy. 60 and I-85.
And don't forget the Mulberry Plantation project that is slated to begin grading later this year along Hwy. 124. That project alone could anchor some major changes between Jefferson and the western edge of Jackson County.
It won't be easy to absorb all of these changes. The political and social dynamics will change at a pace never before seen in this county and the demands on increased infrastructure will be tremendous.
For many, all of these events create an atmosphere of fear about losing the county's rural lifestyle; for others, the changes create an atmosphere of opportunity.
Whatever our individual perspectives, however, there's little doubt that major changes are coming in the next few years on the western side of Jackson County. Dealing with the problems of that growth will require a sense of vision and strong leadership.
That won't come from the outside, however. To be successful, Jackson County needs to cultivate a stronger sense of direction and a pool of qualified people to take the helm.
Our growth may be driven by forces outside the community, but developers only construct with bricks, mortar, steel and wood.
It is up to us to construct leaders who have vision and strength.

The Commerce News
April 26, 2000

Public Skeptical Of Justification For Raid
U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno rolled the dice early Saturday morning ­ and this time she won. A raid by U.S. Immigration Service and the Border Patrol managed to extricate without bloodshed 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez from the home of Miami relatives who resisted every U.S. effort to return custody of the youngster to his father.
The ordeal has been a nightmare for the Clinton Administration and for Reno in particular, who is still haunted by the 1993 raid in Waco, Texas, that resulted in the deaths of men, women and children in the Branch Dravidian sect. Saturday's raid was a bold, decisive step that, had anyone been hurt or killed, would have been condemned universally. But what set the stage for the high-risk raid was the refusal of the child's Miami relatives to surrender the child to the custody of his father.
One can also recall that in 1993, the disaster in Waco began when the Branch Dravidians resisted federal authorities' attempts to serve a warrant. The use of force, in the initial raid and the subsequent finale, are certainly subject to review and criticism, but the decision was made after attempts to go through the legal process failed. Had the Waco raid been pulled off without the gunfire, no one would remember anything about it today. But it wasn't, and even now the case is in court.
Use of force should always be a last resort, because when armed agents conduct a raid there is a strong possibility that bloodshed will occur. The firing of a single shot, even a loud noise or a sudden move, can start a bloodbath, even if the subjects of the raid have no intention of resisting. There must be long and deliberate consideration before any such action as to whether the objective is worth the risk and whether the flouting of law has reached a point where such a dangerous course of action is warranted.
Most Americans are relieved that the United States has taken Elian Gonzalez, ending at least that phase of the biggest media circus since Jon Benet Ramsey was killed. The matter will not be resolved until (at least) yet another court hearing, but the Cuban child is surely better off in the custody of his father than in the hands of family members who seem more interested in attacking Fidel Castro than in the welfare of the child.
What is more disturbing appears to be the use of overwhelming force where there had been no public perception of physical danger to the child.
The raid stunned even those with little or no interest in the ongoing events and generated harsh criticism, even though public sentiment overwhelmingly favors returning the child to his father's custody. That criticism may be blunted by the success of the raid, or when details of the status at the time are finally made public. Some in Congress are calling for hearings and the Justice Department seems eager to accommodate Congress so it can give its version of events. Others are eager to condemn the raid and the Clinton Administration for political reasons.
The prospect of armed agents of the government breaking down doors in the middle of the night is frightening. Now that the child is out of Miami, it will be up to the government to convince a skeptical public that the raid was necessary and was truly the last resort.

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By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
April 26, 2000

Elian affair ugly and all sides share the blame
Ugly. That, in a word, describes the entire Elian Gonzales affair.
There are no clean hands here, no side that can claim to have taken the moral high road. Rather, the young Cuban boy has been exploited by all sides, used as a pawn for a variety of political causes.
At its core, the Elian affair is a custody dispute, and as in many custody cases, there is bitterness by all parties. Any time a custody dispute goes to court, warring parents attempt to paint the other as the villain. That young Elian is torn between warring camps makes him no different than thousands of his peers all across America.
What does make him different, however, is that the federal government has chosen to enforce Elian's custody with the use of force. There are fathers all across the nation who have been cut off from their children because of a disgruntled spouse, but the government doesn't enforce those fathers' rights by sending in the "black boots." No matter how one feels about the merits of the Elian affair, the use of force to take him from Miami was ugly.
One wonders, of course, if there would be such interest in Elian if he had come from Haiti, or some other equally impoverished country with little political clout in America. Had the circumstances been the same, but the country different, he would have been sent back overnight and it would never have been a major story for CNN.
But before you join Elian's relatives in their tearful outrage, consider how they, too, exploited him. Elian was paraded before cameras in an effort to exert political pressure and the family used him as a symbol of their anti-Castro politics. They pandered to the Cuban-American community in Miami and refused the overtures for a reasonable handling of the child. They can't claim any of the moral high ground, either.
And it goes without saying that Castro and his puppet Cuban government are in the moral gutter; whatever the true feelings of the parties involved, Castro has sought to exploit a child and his father to bolster his own corrupt regime. Ugly.
What makes this issue additionally complex is the lack of legal standing by Elian. He is not an American citizen, and thus does not enjoy the usual legal rights. That is why the federal government is involved in the child's legal affairs. His status as an alien resident puts him under federal jurisdiction, but because he is a child, he has no ability to speak for himself.
Still, there are questions of human nature that override all of the legal and political issues. Should a child be put with his father rather than other relatives, even if doing so plays to the father's homeland dictator? How do we balance what is best for the child: A life under a dictatorship, but with his father; or a life of freedom without his father?
One other issue also intrudes on this matter: We really don't know the true wishes of the father since other members of his family are being held hostage by Castro to make sure he dances to the Cuban government's tune. If allowed to speak freely, what would his real wishes be?
America is known all over the world as a land of freedom and opportunity. That's one reason why Elian's mother risked her life to bring him to America. Here, he has a future. In Cuba, his life would be one of servitude to a corrupt dictator.
There are no clear answers in this case. Despite all the rhetoric and political posturing, no one can easily decide what should be done with this child. Those least able to decide are his family because they all have motives other than doing what is best for Elian. He is too young to speak for himself, yet his father cannot speak freely for him either.
So it is up to the American judicial system to decide what Elian's fate will be.
And given the state of our courts, that, too, is an unsettling thought.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.

Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
April 26, 2000

Effects Of Columbine Still Linger
Last Thursday was one year after the tragedy at Columbine High School near Denver, and if you don't think the effects of that incident have rippled into education all across America, you're living in a vacuum.
After the follow-up shooting at Heritage High School, this area had its own hysteria amid false reports of "hit lists" in the Jefferson School System and repeated bomb threats at Jackson County and Banks County. But those aren't the worst of it.
Elsewhere, first grade students are prosecuted for allegedly plotting to kill a classmate. Kindergarten students are suspended from school for playing cops and robbers and pointing their fingers like guns. Every expression of violence, whether in the heat of an argument or in creative writing, is prosecuted as a real criminal conspiracy.
Students and staff at Commerce High School were issued photo ID cards, which they were required to wear visibly at all times (a requirement that was quickly ignored). Security suddenly became a primary focus.
Our culture of violence is two-edged; our entertainment, from video games to movies to professional hockey and wrestling, glorifies violence, yet we are paranoid about violence coming into our homes, automobiles and schools.
We like to think of ourselves as enlightened, people who can separate the violence of play or the violence of entertainment from real life. The reality is that some people can't make that distinction. They think violence is manly, that it can solve whatever problem arises and that it has no lasting consequences. After all, the video game never runs out of "lives" if you've got another quarter, the good guy recovers from all wounds and gets the girl, and the seemingly crippled professional wrestler is back the next week as boisterous as ever. We are never asked in those entertainment media to view the suffering of victims, legal consequences of those convicted of violent acts and the permanent damage done to the victims and their families.
Jesus taught us to turn the other cheek. Our culture tells something quite different, as the T-shirt on a Wal-Mart patron recently advised: "The 11th Commandment: Thou Shalt Kick Ass." Society tells us to get even, to take what we want.
For most people, there's a great leap between violence in entertainment and committing violent acts themselves, but it only takes one person to create a tragedy. In Columbine, two disturbed kids stunned the world, devastated their community and changed forever the way we look at schools. All for what they thought would be lasting fame.
The result is lasting shame for their families left behind to deal with the results, lasting anguish for the families of the 13 who died and lasting pain for those who survived but will never be the same again. The result is also an atmosphere of paranoia in education, fear that every thought of evil or violence should be reported, analyzed and prosecuted.
The love affair with violence in entertainment continues, but we suspend kindergartners for playing cops and robbers.
Go figure.

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