Thursday, 07 December 2017 18:52

Back to Voting on Paper Ballots?

A hue and cry is mounting around the country that voting machines used on Election Day are eminently hackable. Congress is investigating charges by the Office of Homeland Security that Russia attempted to hack into voting machines in 21 different states. So is the integrity of our election system being undermined? Are computer hackers able to change election results? What gives?

Obviously, there is something fishy going on. It’s not just the election system being hacked. New reports have told us that computer systems of major companies like Sony, Equifax and even the U.S. Office of Personnel Management have been broken into. So how can we be sure that your vote cast the polls on Election Day is secure?

There is a recent push by election reformers to go back to, can you believe, paper ballots. That’s right. Just like the first American elections back in the 1800s. There is a non-profit group called Verify Voting that is telling state officials: “We have a single technology at our disposal that is invulnerable to hacking: paper.” So will elections officials do an about face and reinstitute the paper ballot system?

When I was elected as Louisiana Secretary of State back in 1979, there were a number of election fraud allegations. I formed an Election Integrity Commission and appointed former Secretary of State Wade O. Martin to head up the effort to weed out voter fraud. Were election shenanigans going on in the Bayou State? I often quoted former governor Earl Long, who once said: “Oh Lord, when I die, let me be buried in Louisiana. So I can stay active in politics.” Of course there was voter fraud back then using paper ballots.

As one retired local sheriff told me, you could make the election results dance with paper ballots during absentee voting. Here’s how one could beat the system. During the two-week absentee voting period, the sheriff would have his deputies pick up agreeable voters and bring them to the courthouse to vote.

A piece of paper was cut as the same size as the official ballot. The first voter was given the fake ballot and instructed go into the Clerk of Court’s office where absentee voting was taking place. He was instructed to drop the fake ballot into the voting box, put the real ballot into his pocket, bring it back out to the sheriff, where he was paid five or ten dollars, whatever the going rate was to buy votes back then.

Once the first official ballot was in hand, the vote buyer would mark the ballot for whoever he was supporting, give it to the next voter, tell the voter to put the official ballot into the ballot box, return with an unmarked ballot, and he would be paid for his effort. This could go on all day for the two-week voting period with hundreds of illegal votes being cast.

This scheme was used, particularly in rural areas in the state, by numerous candidates who were trying to beat the system. So no system at the present time seems to be foolproof. But elections officials should move cautiously about throwing the current system to the wind and go back to paper ballots.

Louisiana presently has some 10,000 voting machines in 64 parishes. Current Secretary of State Tom Schedler is confident that the present election system works in Louisiana. He’s done a commendable job so far. But he has his work cut out in the future in putting in place cybersecurity that protects the integrity of the ballot, but still makes it easy for citizens to cast their vote.

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

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Jim Brown is a guest contributor to GCN news. His views and opinions, if expressed, are his own. His column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show, Common Sense, each Sunday morning from 9:00 am till 11:00 am Central Time on the Genesis Communication Network.

 

 

Published in News & Information
Thursday, 30 November 2017 17:42

Get the politicians out of reapportionment!

It’s getting close to redistricting time for legislators, both in Louisiana and throughout the country. By federal law, all election districts must be reapportioned every 10 years to reflect the latest census figures. But should legislators, who have a vested interest in how the redistricting lines are drawn, actually be the ones to do the drawing, anyway?

The problem is one of gerrymandering, where district lines are not drawn to reflect geographical or political balance, but to favor the incumbent or some other partisan choice. When legislators do the redistricting, the norm seems to be that the state ends up with meandering footprints meticulously designed, it would seem, to ensure that no incumbent will face serious opposition, regardless of how the political winds are blowing. As one local political observer said, “Think about it this way. In elections, people choose their legislators. In reapportionment, legislators choose their people.”

Gerrymandering, by the way, means to manipulate the electoral boundaries for political gain so as to give undue influence to an incumbent or other favored candidate. The name comes from Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry, who in 1812 created winding districts that looked like salamanders to favor incumbents. Thus the convoluted word – “gerrymandering.”

What most voters want to avoid is the self-dealing by legislators where voting districts slash across communities of interest and geography. A blatant example of winding, disjointed gerrymandering is the Louisiana third congressional district. It winds from the Mississippi border south of New Orleans though the southern part of Jefferson Parish and all the way through south Louisiana up to Lafayette, some 300 miles in length.

So the question for Louisiana voters is this: Are they that concerned that the legislature is, for all practical purposes, creating their own voters? Is this healthy in the Bayou State — or in any other state? Many think it’s not.

So what are the alternatives? What are other progressive states doing to transfer the power of redistricting to a system less driven by self-interest? Fourteen states have assigned the task to officials or panels outside the state legislature. And independent redistricting wears the cloak of good-government reform, as long as a consensus can be built on just who will serve on such panels.  How do you pick the members? How can such a system be put in place that assures voters the final result will be fair, non-partisan, and keep local interests balanced?

Louisiana has a number of bright people with solid business and educational backgrounds that are capable of taking on this controversial task. There are several respected demographers in the Bayou state, and a number of well-qualified professors at Louisiana universities. Retired judges fit the category as well as representatives of some of the state’s good government groups.

When I was first elected to the Louisiana legislature back in 1971, legislative redistricting had taken place just months before.  But the reapportionment plan did not pass federal court muster and was thrown out just weeks before the primary election date. Ed Steimel was head of the Public Affairs Research Council at the time and was appointed by federal judge Frank Polozola to serve as a “special master” to redraw the district lines. Based on Steimel’s rework, the old plan was thrown out and the new court-ordered plan was put in place. There was general agreement that the Steimel Plan was fair and kept the district more cohesive and less spread out. (It must have been good as I won my senate seat easily in the first primary.)

One idea would be to create a Louisiana Fair Reapportionment Practices Commission. Let nominations for serving on the Commission come from the legislature, the Supreme Court, the good government groups like PAR and CABL, the various college boards, and perhaps a key business group or two. Then put all the submissions in a hat and draw out eleven names to serve as members to begin their work right after the new census data is made available.

The goal for such a commission is simple – put the important issue of redistricting into the hands of those with non-partisan interests, instead of those who in the past have been allowed to define the terms of their own cartel. Simply put, it’s just wrong for legislators to draw these districts and then run in them. There needs to be a better way.

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

 

 

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Jim Brown is a guest contributor to GCN news. His views and opinions, if expressed, are his own. His column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show, Common Sense, each Sunday morning from 9:00 am till 11:00 am Central Time on the Genesis Communication Network.



Published in News & Information
Friday, 24 November 2017 17:28

How to Stop Mass Shootings

Mass shootings continue across the nation where no part of the country is from a “wild west” mentality. The recent loss of life has been staggering. Those slaughtered range from one-year old kids to 77-year-old adults.

A country music festival in Las Vegas was the scene of 58 people killed. In the small town of Sutherland Springs, Texas, 26 people were murdered in the middle of a Sunday church service. A deranged gunman in northern California killed five people just last week. And those of us living in Louisiana can look back on a series of mass killings including those executed at a Lafayette movie theatre and officers shot down on a Baton Rouge highway.

Gun rights supporters say we should arm more people, and gun control advocates call for more restrictions on gun ownership. I remember reading a book back in the 70s called “Bible in Pocket, Gun in Hand: The Story of Frontier Religion.” The problem today is that the entire country is now the frontier, and there is no place that is a safety zone.

So where does responsible action begin? How about this refreshing idea? Let’s start by enforcing the present laws on the books. No new radical initiatives for the time being. The judicial system, on both the federal and state levels, has the tools to get many potential mass killers off the streets. But a number of laws are not being enforced.

Take killer Devin Kelley, the mass murderer at the small church in Texas. While in the Air Force, he talked openly about killing his superiors, illegally snuck a gun on his military base, was charged with assault and escaping from a psychiatric hospital, attacked his wife with a gun, hitting and choking her, fractured the skull of his baby stepson, and became a convicted felon. Kelley had no business owning a gun, yet the Air Force ignored the law and failed to enter his name in the federal database that would have prevented him from buying more guns.

Here in the Bayou State, a killer named John Houser had traveled to Louisiana from the small Georgia town of LaGrange. He had a long history of violence and mental illness. He had been ordered to a psychiatric hospital by a Georgia judge in 2008, which should have prevented him from even buying a gun. But then he went to an Alabama pawnshop and bought a 40-caliber, semiautomatic handgun. Georgia and Alabama are both saying the other state should have done more to stop Houser from purchasing the gun considering his checkered mental condition.

And if you think this is bad, how about the fact that over 48,000 convicted felons and fugitives lied about their backgrounds, a federal offense, so as to pass the background checks and purchase guns illegally. How many of these 48,000 were prosecuted for making false statements? A total of 44. The Justice Department’s response was that it was “prioritizing prosecutions to focus on more serious crimes.” So killers like Devin Kelley and John Houser have free reign to gather as many weapons as the want.

If there are no specific requirements that mentally deranged individuals like Houser are reported by every state to a national database, then we can look for more mass shootings. It’s way too easy for a potential killer to obtain a gun in one state, and then travel across the country to pick and choose his victims. Congress should make reporting mandatory with penalties for those states that fail to do so. And Congress should investigate why the Justice Department lets these same killers continue to ignore the law and continue to kill.

Simply put, start by enforcing current law before clouding this issue with new restrictions. It would seem to be common sense.

 

Peace and Justice

 

Jim Brown

 

 

 

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Jim Brown is a guest contributor to GCN news. His views and opinions, if expressed, are his own. His column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show, Common Sense, each Sunday morning from 9:00 am till 11:00 am Central Time on the Genesis Communication Network.

 

Published in News & Information
Friday, 13 October 2017 16:28

The Betrayal on Justice in Louisiana

A Louisiana guy named John Thompson died last week.  You may not recognize the name, but he was the victim of one of the worst cases of prosecutorial misconduct in the state’s history. Here are the facts.

 

Thompson was convicted back in 1982 of first-degree murder and given the death sentence. He came within days of being executed after spending 14 years on death row and 18 years total in prison. Five different prosecutors were involved in the case and all knew that a blood test and other key evidence had been hidden that showed Thompson was innocent.

 

On his deathbed dying of cancer, one of the prosecutors confessed to a colleague that he had hidden the exculpatory blood sample. The colleague waited five more years before admitting that he too knew of the hidden evidence. Thompson, after 18 years, received a new trial, and his lawyers were finally able to produce ten different pieces of evidence that had been kept from him, that overwhelming showed he was innocent. The new jury took less than 35 minutes to find him not guilty.

 

Hiding evidence that can find the accused innocent is nothing new for prosecutors in New Orleans, both in state and federal court as well as with the FBI. The Innocence Project of New Orleans reviewed a number of convictions over the past 25 years in the city and concluded that prosecutors gave a "legacy" of suppressing evidence. The Project said 36 men convicted in Orleans Parish alleged prosecutorial misconduct.

 

Nineteen have since had their sentences overturned or reduced as a result. According to the Innocence Project, favorable evidence was concealed in a quarter of the murder convictions from 1973-2002. In 19 of 25 non-capital cases, the prosecutors withheld favorable evidence; in the other six cases, the courts ruled that evidentiary hearings were needed.

 

With full justification, Thompson sued the prosecutor’s office in New Orleans for ripping away and stealing 18 years of his life. He had two sons that he never saw grow up. A New Orleans jury awarded him $14 million. Some said it was too much money. Would you give up 18 years of your life in solitary confinement on death row for $14 million? On appeal, the Fifth US Circuit Court of Appeals, reputedly the most pro-prosecutorial circuit in the nation, upheld the award in favor of Thompson.

 

But a bitterly divided Supreme Court said to Thompson “no way.” In 2011's Connick v. Thompson, a conservative led 5-4 decision tossed Thompson's case out – not because they disagree that the prosecutor’s office hid evidence (in fact all 9 justices agree on that point). Instead they tossed the case because, in their divine judicial opinion, they didn’t see any “pattern” of the prosecutor’s office doing this to other people besides Thompson (because one life ruined is apparently not enough). Sounds like a John Grisham novel with a bad ending, right? If only that were so. Unfortunately, this is real life and John Thompson got nothing for his 18 years in jail. Not a red cent. Tough luck fella. The system failed you, but “stuff happens.”

 

This was not a decision based on a conservative interpretation of the law, even though the so-called conservative bloc voted in lockstep to deny Thompson’s claim. A true conservative justice would be strongly opposed to government oppression and the encroachment on the liberty of a falsely accused person. After all, when a prosecutor can operate with impunity, totally absent of any criminal or civil check on their actions, the seeds of fascism are planted. No, a true conservative judge would have held these rogue prosecutors fully accountable.

 

John Thompson, stunned by the Supreme Court's decision, spent the rest of his life working to help wrongly convicted inmates. He founded a group called Resurrection after Exoneration. Sadly, he did not have the financial resources that the lower courts rightly concluded should have paid to help him pursue his goal.

 

If there was ever any doubt about the lack of fairness, competence and fundamental decency among the current majority composition of the Supreme Court, such doubt was put to rest by a decision that would make any oppressive and dictatorial government proud. The judicial system failed John Thompson. Along with Lady Justice, we all should shed a tear.

 

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“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”

- Elie Wiesel

 

Peace and Justice

 

Jim Brown

 

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Jim Brown is a guest contributor to GCN news. His views and opinions, if expressed, are his own. His column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show, Common Sense, each Sunday morning from 9:00 am till 11:00 am Central Time on the Genesis Communication Network.

 

Published in News & Information
Thursday, 28 September 2017 16:04

Tell Our Yankee Friends to Butt Out!

Our friends up north need to let it go.  According to a cross section of northern commentators, the Second Reconstruction may be over, but they think a third one may be necessary.

 

Consider the Washington Post’s take in an Op Ed by their columnist Harold Meyerson. He suggests that, “Underpinning all this was the virulent racism of the white Southern establishment.”  But he’s just warming up.  He goes on to say: “If the federal government wants to build a fence that keeps the United States safe from the danger of lower wages and poverty and their attendant ills – and the all around fruitcakery of the right wing white South – it should build the fence from Norfolk to Dallas. There is nothing wrong with the fence as long as you put it in the right place.”

 

When you refer to Southerners as fruitcakes, and suggest a border to keep them in their place, it reflects a weird desire for sectionalism, and a long tired grudge to keep re-fighting the Civil War. Look, we down here acknowledge that the South lost the war.  Oh, it was close, and bull-headed politicians on both sides caused over one million soldiers to die.  But that was then, and most of the South has let it go. But it appears that many in the North still have trouble with it.

 

Sure there are racial issues to deal with.  Remember the racial breakdown in the O.J. Simpson trial out in California?   Polls showed it to be 90-10.  Overwhelmingly, whites thought Simpson was guilty. Over 90% of African-Americans believed he was innocent.  I can remember watching split TV screens showing African-American groups cheering, and rooms full of whites shaking their heads in disgust.  Racial issues and unrest are still realities all over America.

 

As I travel throughout the country, I’m still somewhat surprised by the stereotypes of southern living held by a good number of those folks living above the Mason-Dixon Line.  Oh, we have our share of Good Ole’ Boys, and I do tell my share of redneck jokes. I miss George Jones, I like country music, and I do drink Dixie Beer.  But the South is not all Bubbas and banjos.  Well, all right, I do play the banjo and my doctor’s name is Bubba. But a number of northern opinions reflect the South as being outside what is considered to be the American norm.

 

Many non-southerners form an opinion of the whole south from movie stereotypes like Steel Magnolias, Sweet Home Alabama, and The Help.  TV hits like the Dukes of Hazard, Mayberry, and The Beverly Hillbillies created impressions that will stick with viewers from Boston to San Francisco for a lifetime.  And who can forget Deliverance? There’s a great deal of nostalgia about an earlier way of southern life and romantic notions about southern life today. Sure we love to watch and re-watch Gone with the Wind.  But so do millions, not just all over the U.S., but also all over the world.

 

Numerous writers migrated to New Orleans to find their creative juices.  Tennessee Williams, Robert Penn Warren, Sherwood Anderson, William Faulkner, Eudora Welty and Ernest Hemingway, to name a few. Food?  You can have New York and San Francisco.  I’ll take Emeril Lagasse, John Besh and a host of other Southern restaurateurs any day. And at half the northern price. Maybe, just maybe, there is some envy about a culture that seems to produce an inordinate number of “rednecks” that are talented, creative, and so successful that it puts the rest of the country to shame.

 

Jazz, the blues and country music were born in the South.  Did you know that America’s first opera house was in the New Orleans French Quarter?  And what about American patriotism and commitment?  47% of all the U.S. military casualties in Afghanistan were from the South.

 

Not only can the South be eloquently defended, there’s a case to be made for southern exceptionalism.  Sure there are continuing problems to be worked out, just as there are all over America. And maybe there is a case for reconstruction.  Not because the south wants to “rise again.”  No, it’s a reconstruction of bigoted and outdated northern attitudes that have held both north and south back for many years. You folks up north take care of your “fruitcake” comments, and we’ll do our best to handle Paula Dean. Oh, but can you pass on the grits and biscuits?

 

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Jim Brown is a guest contributor to GCN news. His views and opinions, if expressed, do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the Genesis Communication Network. His column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show, Common Sense, each Sunday morning from 9:00 am till 11:00 am Central Time on the Genesis Communication Network.

Published in News & Information
Wednesday, 13 September 2017 20:12

Should You Have the Right to Die?

We pride ourselves as Americans in our lifestyle choices. The right to freedom of choice, protecting our individual assertion of free will, and deciding just how we want to live our lives. And yes, we have the right to excess. You can live a gluttonous life by overindulging in many personal hazards.

 

You know smoking causes lung cancer, but making a personal decision to smoke is your right. Drinking in access leads to a number of health concerns, but that’s your choice. Obesity by overeating? Not good, but no law can legally restrain your decision to carry too much weight. You can live where your want, and do what you want with few limitations.

 

That is, up until you want to shut things down and end your life. In the vast majority of states, that’s when the government takes over. You have the right to decide how you live, but you do not have the same right to decide, at least legally, when you want to end your life. Should you have such a right?

 

Six states (Washington, Oregon, California, Colorado, Vermont and Montana) say “yes,” and they’ve passed legislation where a patient can ask a doctor for medication to end life. Under these “physician assisted suicide” or “death with dignity laws,” as they are known, there are strict requirements as to the patient’s condition that must be met before these laws can be applied.

 

In the rest of America, death is delayed with small concern for the costs in terms of pain and suffering, not to mention, as is often the case, of economic hardship to the family and the taxpayer. Families stand by watching over loved ones who are force fed through tubes, and often kept alive by a number of artificial means. Instead of death taking its natural course at its humane end stage, modern medicine seems to make death almost optional.

 

In the debate over life ending care, a notable event took place recently. In Phoenix, a husband was convicted of shooting his wife who suffered terribly with final stage multiple sclerosis, and who would have required extensive amputations because of gangrene in order to keep her alive. She had begged for months to end her life. Her 86-year-old husband finally honored her wishes and shot her to end her misery. “Your honor,” the husband addressed the judge, “I loved Ginger since she was fifteen years old and I loved her when she was 81 years old. She begged me to end her misery, and I just couldn’t watch her suffer like that.” A jury convicted him of manslaughter, but the judge, with almost unanimous family and community support, sentenced him to probation.

 

I would hope that at the end of my life, I would have the right to make my own choice. I am not afraid of facing finality. Death will come. But there will be quality of life issues that all of us will face. And there will be a quality of living that will deteriorate and be tempered by both the effort and the ability to deal with both the physical wear and tear and the emotional costs. You see, from my perspective, there is a real difference between life and living.

 

But the system fights to keep you alive regardless of the quality of life. If it takes feeding tubes, ventilators, not having any control over basic bodily functions and dealing with bedsores that will never heal because you will never leave the bed, so be it. But once this process begins, it rarely ends — until you come to an end.

 

When I was 70, I wrote that “If there is a yin and a yang, the before and the after, what has happened and what is yet to be, then maybe getting older is a special waypost for me. Hey, I could be at the top and ready for the long and relaxing ride back down.”

 

I’m still on that great ride. But one day, it’s going to come to an end. I just hope I will be able to set my own timelines, and make my own life and, yes, death choices on my own without dictates from the government. Yes, I want the freedom of choice. In both living and dying.

 

Peace and Justice

 

Jim Brown

 

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Jim Brown is a guest contributor to GCN news. His views and opinions, if expressed, do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the Genesis Communication Network. His column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.  You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show, Common Sense, each Sunday morning from 9:00 am till 11:00 am Central Time on the Genesis Communication Network.

 

Published in News & Information
Thursday, 31 August 2017 17:01

Here Comes the Cajun Navy

 

The Cajun Navy wasted no time. Hurricane Harvey slammed into the Texas Coast on a Friday. By Sunday, hundreds of boats were on their way to Texas. I passed a supermarket parking lot two days after the storm hit, and a large contingent of boats and trailers were lined up to head for the Lone Star State. As this column is being written, thousands of Louisianans are offering help. That’s what many Texans did for us here in the Bayou State exactly twelve years ago.

 

Those of us living on the Gulf Coast remember the fear and concern that enveloped our world as a lady named Katrina changed many of our lives forever. In looking back, many Louisianans felt that maybe New Orleans really was a city that care forgot, and the whole Gulf Coast was thrown in for good measure. This human tragedy has haunted the Bayou State ever since.

 

Two days before Katrina attacked, I was hosting a local radio program in Baton Rouge and was interviewing a key official with the National Hurricane Center in Miami. “Katrina has turned in a much more northerly direction, with a beeline for New Orleans. We are saying a possible Hurricane 4, and you folks are going to have some big problems up there.”

 

I was stunned. “What? We’ve had no warning of this. You’re telling me it’s going to come right towards New Orleans?”

 

The next morning, with Katrina only a day away, I called my sister, living at the southern tip of Louisiana in Port Sulfur.  I offered to come get her family, but she told me the single road north was completely congested and it was best for her to leave her home and evacuate immediately. New Orleans has only four roads that lead out of the city, and they too were ensnarled in massive traffic jams as the locals fled for safety.

 

But as thousands who had transportation escaped, there was virtually no evacuation plan in place and no mandatory exodus.  When asked repeatedly by the press, the Mayor of New Orleans issued a statement saying: “He’s having his legal staff look into whether he can order a mandatory evacuation of the city.” The storm was now only hours away, yet no public effort was undertaken at either the city or state level to supply public transportation for the thousands who had no way out.

 

Miraculously, the storm passed on a Sunday night, and did little damage to the Crescent City. By the next morning our New Orleans family and guests were packing up to head back home.  Then the chilling news came in a phone call from a friend who had ridden out the storm. The levees had broken and the city was flooding.

 

The real tragedies took place in the days that followed. Thousands were stranded on rooftops and in attics.  When private boat owners headed into New Orleans and surrounding areas to help, they were often told by state and federal law enforcement officers that it was illegal to bring their personal boats into the disaster area.  I was told that very thing when I tried to make it by boat to my in-laws house on Bayou St. John. Hundreds of boat owners, labeled the Cajun Navy, ignored the ludicrous orders and charged in to save thousands of stranded homeowners.

 

For a week the Governor and the President squabbled over who had the authority to oversee the Louisiana National Guard. It was a ridiculous turf battle that delayed the rescue efforts by several more days.  It took an Army General from New Roads, Louisiana (Russell Honore’) to take charge and bring some order to the devastated area. If it were not for hundreds of Cajuns and Rednecks alike, who took it upon themselves to lend a rescuing hand, many more lives would have been lost.

 

As Texas will learn in the months to come, it is dangerous to allow major developments that are drained by bayous and streams through metropolitan areas. Levees can only be built so high, and water pumps can only be built so big. Other storms will come.

 

Louisiana was drastically unprepared for the coming of Katrina. Over 1000 lives were lost. It’s early to second guess, but Houston and the surrounding areas could have done more in anticipation of such a storm. But when a full review of all the damage is done in the months to come, one thing will stand out. Thank goodness for the Cajun Navy.

 

Peace and Justice

 

Jim Brown

 

 

Jim Brown is a guest contributor to GCN news. His views and opinions, if expressed, do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the Genesis Communication Network. His column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.  You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show, Common Sense, each Sunday morning from 9:00 am till 11:00 am Central Time on the Genesis Communication Network.

 

 

Published in News & Information
Saturday, 29 July 2017 21:57

What Happened to Long Vacations?

Does anyone take a real vacation anymore? In the good old days, school didn’t start until the Monday after Labor Day. Family destinations to the beach or the mountains were a regular and anticipated event. The last two weeks in August used to be a popular time for families to get away to the beach for a final summer fling. But not anymore. The American family vacation seems to be dying.

In days of old, I always joined in our family excursions that often lasted for two weeks. There was no electronic requiem involved. No cell phone rings, no iPhone buzzes, and no laptop beeps. It was Lake Michigan in my early years, Lake George, New York in my college days, and from my twenty’s on, it was annual summer vacations in Gulf Shores, Alabama.

Back in the 60’s and 70s, there were no high-rise condos on the Gulf Coast, and no water parks. Just a few local seafood restaurants and a lot of single story beach houses with long porches facing the Gulf. There was no local phone service back then, and you had to bring your own drinking water. We brought our sheets and towels from home, because the well water was full of iron and made the wash gray and stiff. No TV and no air conditioning.

And you know what? The whole family thoroughly enjoyed the two weeks we stayed. We talked to one another, went crabbing and fishing off the shoreline, read, took afternoon naps, and long evening walks looking for the new shells that washed up on the shore earlier that day. Maybe a trip into Pensacola once or twice for a movie. And when our two weeks were up, no one wanted to go home.

Expedia.com’s annual vacation survey found that only 14% of Americans get away for two weeks or more at one time. And now, school begins in the middle of August. Middle of August? Why? Aren’t air conditioning bills for schools much higher then? So what happened to the June 1st to August 1st summer schedule? No more school days were added. And kids have to cut their summer resort jobs short. Why the change?

Now today, if you can get away to the beach for a few days at all, you cram into one of the high rises that line the Gulf Coast beaches for miles on end. Since you stay in an air-conditioned condo, your body adapts, and it seems way too hot to go out to the beach. The kids head for the mall or the game room. Dad, and mom, if she works, carry their PEDs and cell phones wherever they go, and check into the office several times a day. Electronic devices and games surround the whole family.

But I have resolved to go back to the true vacation. As I start my trip, I look in the mirror and tell the face there that my name is Jim, and I’m a techno-addict. But on this journey, I’ve committed to unplug, and try to be more connected to myself rather than to my computer. No electronic communication tools this time. Just a few books (fiction — nothing heavy), some comfortable hiking boots, fresh fruit from highway stands along the way, a few bottles of wine from home, and my 20 year old banjo that I swear I’m going to learn to play well some day.

Getting away does not, in itself, guarantee relaxation. It takes several days just to unwind. But isn’t life too short not to appreciate every moment, and not to have the tune out time with family and friends? Maybe this longer special time has passed a lot of folks by. But I hope for my family and me, it never does.

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“ Vacation: When you spend thousands of dollars to see what rain looks like in different parts of the world.”

                                                                  –Robert Orben

 

Peace and Justice

 

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.  You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show, Common Sense, each Sunday morning from 9:00 am till 11:00 am Central Time on the Genesis Communication Network.

 

Published in News & Information
Thursday, 20 July 2017 18:30

Who's the Real Jackass?

I don’t know about you, but I have always loved to read and study Louisiana History.  I’ve had the pleasure of teaching the history of the Bayou State at both Tulane University and LSU. And when it comes to examining the giant political figures that had a direct bearing on the stature and even the survival of Louisiana as an American state, two individuals stand head and shoulders above all others.

 

They each are former presidents. And without their vision and dramatic leadership, Louisiana might well not be an American state today. No one else could fill this role more than Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson.

 

Jefferson was the nation’s third president, and could well be the brightest intellect that ever graced our country's political scene. He was the author of America’s founding document, the Declaration of Independence, and he became the voice for the hopes and aspirations of a new America. Jefferson founded the University of Virginia, and he designed and built Monticello, one of the most stunning antebellum homes in the country.  And he was the driving force in negotiating the Louisiana Purchase from Napoleon in 1803.  Simply put, without Jefferson’s vision and tenacity in seeking the vast territory west of the Mississippi River, Louisiana would not be a state today.

 

Andrew Jackson was our country's seventh president, and was the only president to have been a prisoner of war, having been captured by the British at 17 while serving in the Revolutionary War. He later was Nicknamed “Old Hickory” for his legendary toughness on the battlefield.  During his presidential campaign in 1828, his opponents called him a jackass. Jackson was amused and used the image to win the presidency. He founded the Democratic Party and used the jackass as its symbol.

 

But what Andrew Jackson did for Louisiana was incredible. In the war of 1812, New Orleans was under siege by the British. Major General Andrew Jackson rushed to New Orleans and gathered a rag tag army made up of a motley group of local citizens, frontiersmen, slaves, Indians and even pirates.  And he was eager to fight the British, telling his wife: “I owe to Britain a debt of retaliatory vengeance, and should our forces meet I trust I shall pay the debt.”

 

Louisiana should regularly thank its lucky stars for Jackson’s tenacity to get his revenge.  He soundly beat the British at the Battle for New Orleans, became an American hero, and saved Louisiana from becoming a permanent British protectorate.

 

If ever there were any two individuals who should be regularly honored and commemorated in Louisiana history, there should be doubt the two should be Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson. And for many years, the Louisiana Democratic Party did honor both American heroes by hosting an annual Jefferson-Jackson dinner as a yearly fundraiser. Democrats held similar events across the country.

 

But no more in Louisiana. Party officials have decide it is no longer “politically correct” to honor these two American icons. You see, they were slave owners. It made no difference that the first seven American presidents also owned slaves, as did most of the nation’s founding fathers. The democratic leadership apparently wants to judge these past heroes based on present-day values, and continue a warped effort to re-write Louisiana and American history.

 

The new dinner name is the “True Blue Gala.”  I suppose we will see a resolution at the dinner calling for the re-naming of Jefferson and Jackson parishes, Thomas Jefferson High School in Gretna, the town of Jackson, La., Jefferson Island in Iberia Parish; the list goes on and on.

 

The Louisiana Democratic Party is becoming more and more irrelevant in the Bayou State. And Jackson’s symbol for the Democrat Party would seem to have a different connotation today. The real jackasses are those ingrates who try to rewrite history and belittle past leaders who served and saved our nation, and particularly Louisiana. The party of Jefferson and Jackson deserve a lot better.

 

Peace and Justice

 

Jim Brown

 

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Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.  You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show, Common Sense, each Sunday morning from 9:00 am till 11:00 am Central Time on the Genesis Communication Network.

Published in News & Information
Thursday, 22 June 2017 18:09

A Louisiana Kid and the Berlin Wall

Thirty-one years ago this week, President Ronald Reagan traveled to West Berlin, and at the Brandenburg Gate admonished: “Mr.Gorbachev take down that wall.” The Berlin Wall had been erected by the puppet soviet state of East Germany. Unless you are over sixty five or are a history buff, you may not understand the tensions that existed then had many observers feeling that we could be on the brink of war with the Soviet Union.

The wall was initially a 25-mile long barbed wire fence. In the months that followed, the “wire wall” became concrete with guards aloft who shot anyone trying to climb the wall, and make their way into West Berlin.  For the next 26 years, German citizens were not allowed to cross the wall. Americans could enter into East Berlin at “Checkpoint Charlie,” only if they could establish some business purpose for crossing the border.

At the time, I was a politically naïve graduate student at Cambridge University in England. I had the privilege of being a member of the U.S. Track Team competing in track meets throughout Europe. A meet promoter approached me to compete at a major competition in East Berlin. Since I had never been to East Germany, I figured if the promoter was willing to cover the expenses of a struggling student runner, why not go for it.

I would have to cross the Berlin Wall and compete at the Olympic stadium in East Berlin. America did not recognize East Germany as a legitimate country at the time. It was considered a Russian puppet state, and the U.S. maintained no diplomatic relations with the East Germans. Once I crossed to the other side of the wall, I would be on my own.

On the afternoon of the meet, I entered East Berlin at Checkpoint Charlie. It was an evening event, and I was scheduled to compete in the high hurdles against an East German who was world ranked. The East Germans had built up the competition as a grudge match between our two countries, and had made it a point of honor for their national pride.

The 100-meter dash was about to begin when my agent brought over an American who wanted to talk to me. He said he was with the U.S. Embassy in West Germany, and told me in the strongest of terms that it would be completely unacceptable for me to run the high-hurdles race that was soon to start. As a member of the American team, he argued, I was a representative of my government. Since America did not recognize East Germany, I would be giving tacit acknowledgment to a country that the United States regarded as illegitimate. He implied that by competing I could start an international incident, and if I had any patriotism, I would get my gear and head back across the border to West Berlin immediately.

What a dilemma for a twenty-one-year-old who was simply enjoying the opportunity to travel, and who had no real understanding of the international consequences supposedly at stake. I wanted to compete, but I certainly wasn’t going to go against the wishes of my country.

As the announcement was being made that I would not race, I headed for the locker rooms, located at the other end of the stadium, diagonally across the infield. Thousands of people in the stadium stood up and whistled loudly, which was their way of booing. I learned later that the announcer had told the crowd the American was afraid to compete against the East German. I was angry and disappointed, but I had enough common sense to change my clothes and get back across the border.

Many years later I would look back on this controversy as my first political act. I guess the possibility of starting an international incident qualifies as a baptism in politics.

Thirty-four years have gone by since the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, and we no longer fear one super power. Instead, there are brush fires worldwide that have overwhelmed America’s resources. Let’s hope in the future, we will continue to argue about tearing down walls and not about destroying countries.

Peace and Justice

 

Jim Brown

 

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Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.  You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show, Common Sense, each Sunday morning from 9:00 am till 11:00 am Central Time on the Genesis Radio Network.

Published in News & Information
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