Sunday Sermon: Nehemiah Gazes on Augusta

Listening to Old Nehemiah

Scripture for the Mayor’s Next Prayer Breakfast

Originally posted on CityStink
Sunday, Feb. 5, 2012
Augusta, GA
By Al Gray

The author, Al M. Gray, was President of Cost Recovery Works, Inc., a provider of Cost Avoidance and Cost Recovery for America’s leading companies, businesses and governments desiring Superior Returns. Cost Recovery Works is no longer in business, as of December 31, 2020.

Local and state leaders are stuck on “moving forward” to the point of absurdity. There is a whole book in the bible that supports that positive , literally constructive, approach. The book of Nehemiah is a tribute to building and teamwork. The fifth chapter abruptly tells a different tale. There, readers see Israel in the throes of a depression, even as the great temple was being built. Nehemiah, perhaps as wise as was Solomon, saw dislocations happening and sprang into action before things spun out of control.

History repeats, it is said. Nehemiah would recognize our time well. There was a great famine. People could not repay their loans. Between taxes and debts they lost their lands and were forced to sell their children into slavery. By some accounts there was a dearth, more people than the land or economy could support.

There are many versions of the Bible to study that take on these problems in different contexts. I like the words of Nehemiah found in the Bible Gateway’s Easy to Read Version. 

When I heard their complaints, I was very angry. 7 I calmed myself down, and then I went to the rich families and the officials… Then I called for all the people to meet together 8 and said to them, “Our fellow Jews were sold as slaves to people in other countries. We did our best to buy them back and make them free. And now, you are selling them like slaves again!”

The rich people and officials kept quiet. They could not find anything to say.9 So I continued speaking. I said, “What you people are doing is not right! You know that you should fear and respect our God. You should not do the shameful things other people do! 10 My men, my brothers, and I are also lending money and grain to the people. But let’s stop forcing them to pay interest on these loans. 11 You must give their fields, vineyards, olive fields, and houses back to them, right now! …”

12 Then the rich people and the officials said, “We will give it back and not demand anything more from them. Nehemiah, we will do as you say.”

Then I called the priests. I made the rich people and the officials promise to God that they would do what they said. 13 Then I shook out the folds of my clothes. I said, “God will do the same thing to everyone who does not keep their promise. God will shake them out of their houses and they will lose everything they worked for. They will lose everything!”

I finished saying these things and all the people agreed. They all said, “Amen” and praised the LORD. So the people did as they had promised.

In Verse 14, a too-big government was oppressing the people. What Nehemiah did was stunning.

The people were also greatly oppressed by the servants and officers of the governor; but, during the twelve years that Nehemiah had been with them, he took not this salary, and ate none of their bread. Nor were his servants permitted to take or exact any thing from them. Having such an example, it was scandalous for their chiefs, priests, and nobles, thus to oppress an afflicted and distressed people.

The Lesson For AUGUSTA Today

We have a problem like that of Nehemiah and his people. The demographics of the baby boom population were always bound to produce a dearth. This writer acknowledged it and planned for it. The dearth was scheduled to strike after 2020, but it is of the here and now. The greatest wave of financial corruption the world has ever seen – ever-morphing, expanding with the speed of instantaneous communication and power of globalism – has sped up this dreadful time by a full decade.

In desperation, the formerly wealthy who were largely wiped out in 2008 have seized upon their political domination to restore their fortunes. If they go unchecked, there will be no American middle class in a scant 5 years. Are these things happening in Augusta, as elsewhere? Yes, they are.

When the share price of the demised Wachovia Bank fell from $57 to $2 and Regions Bank suffered a similar tumble in 2007 and 2008, some in the know say it took a $billion out of the wealth of Augusta. This writer estimates the losses at more than $600 million. Commercial and residential real estate, particularly resort homes, crashed in value.

These were sledgehammer blows to the wealthy class and would have permanently shifted wealth to those who planned, saved, trained, and invested for these times. Those who lost want none of that. Their excesses of power and influence have been stunning, taking us to the brink of extinguishing the rule of law and flaunting the laws of mathematics.

The first levers of power to be engaged were over government contracts, stimulus funds, capital projects, and tax incentives. $50 million in improvements on lands Augusta doesn’t own, $millions in federal stimulus money dumped on Laney Walker to the benefit of the whitest of Columbia County developers who had lost in the crash, an unannounced ‘opportunity zone’ foisted upon Harrisburg, and a public housing project in Martinez greased by massive lobbyist funds to the highest of Georgia officials are overwhelming evidence. These are just the incidences that have been disclosed. More are coming.

Into the maw of this chasm of government money and power, a group of local citizens has sprung forth to meet it head on. This writer is proud to be amongst them. The danger to our fortunes, occupations, freedom, and even our lives is palpable. There have been threats. We acknowledge them and move forward with firm resolve. In the scant 4 months since the Augusta Today Facebook group, City Stink and ArrowFlinger Reports have been created, the results have been stunning and the support from the community has been overwhelming, yet humbling. We thank you all for that. I believe that through similar efforts we can claw Augusta and America back from the brink of an apocalypse.

The approach is simple. We formed a nucleus of dedicated researchers, professionals, and public policy freaks to identify, plan, document, execute, and publicize projects, supported by a guarded social network that now exceeds 200.  We pull from professional resources from across America. We try to excel in presenting documents for the public to examine on line that buttress our case. If there is opposition, they find themselves not in argument with our findings but in direct confrontation with their own deeds, words and documents! This was our plan from the outset. Its effectiveness is an epic success.

If one thinks upon it, the approach of turning government and power back upon itself can be seen as a form of martial-arts in which size and force of the opponent is his own worst enemy. We give the broadcast media a knowledge base and stories that cannot be fully explored in the two minutes or less that they have on the air. In these times of swift, yet unrecognized, shifts in local fortunes and power, we may prove instrumental in restoring the free market to the process, as traditional media remains welded to the past, unwilling to risk offending those who have failed. The past belongs to those who failed. We embrace the future with relish.

What can you do to help? First, you can form your own nuclei of project teams within the overall framework of Augusta Today, coordinating with our group or independently if you wish, much as the Magnolia Trace Group has done. You will have to thoroughly vet the members and restrict the number to ten or less. You will have to have discipline and a high degree of coordination. (We learned this lesson the hard way, as we had no formal plan – we just ‘happened.’) Inclusion of media people is not advised, as the objective is to be a source for all dedicated to none.

There is no dearth of opportunities. The current group has at least six months of projects and stories already. There is room for expansion. Second, as we get the capability to accept donations, please contribute. Radio talk show host Austin Rhodes initiated this aspect of our efforts in order to engage tough legal counsel as a force multiplier against the City of Augusta, should common sense fail with regard to the City’s Reynolds Street Deck Agreements. Our current intention is to employ that resource there and elsewhere on projects from Augusta to the gold dome in Atlanta.

We acknowledge the tremendous role of the broadcast media in spreading our stories, particularly Renee DeMedicis of WNRR, Austin Rhodes of WGAC, Tony Powers of WNRR , George Eskola of WJBF, and Chris Thomas of WRDW. They have added a forceful dimension that we could never achieve. We will similarly embrace whatever journalistic print media survives this maelstrom too.

We have no Nehemiah, we have ourselves and our resolve to avoid the abyss of lawlessness, incontrovertible stupidity, arrogance, and abuse of power that lies ahead. Augusta’s mayor is stuck on, “moving forward.” We have seen the path he is on and we have bolted from it. How about you?

Nehemiah’s Message to Augusta Power Brokers and Manipulators

There have been times like these before in Augusta, periods of economic downturn and those finding themselves with decimated fortunes while still holding enormous political power with which they tried to regain their riches at public expense. The names Bert Hester and Gene Holley come to mind. Senator Holley was once one the most powerful men in Georgia and had amassed one of the state’s largest fortunes, before enormous losses in oil led to overly aggressive financial actions that ended with a conviction for bank fraud. When this writer recalled Holley’s conviction and imprisonment, it was wondered how Mr. Holley lived his final years. His obituary reported that they were spent in simplicity of lifestyle, regained faith, and in the love of his family and friends. That is not bad, not bad at all.

If you are one of the Augusta elite and high society, for your own sake – follow the advice of Nehemiah. A storm comes and it is one in which we all need each other. Reject the rest of us and you will find yourselves in the gravest of dangers. Gene Holley’s epitaph wasn’t bad, not bad at all.

May your next prayer breakfast be blessed.

Nehemiah’s gaze is upon you.***

Al Gray

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