%PM, %13 %728 %2017 %16:%Oct

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.

 

*******

 

“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
%PM, %28 %711 %2017 %16:%Sep

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
%PM, %13 %883 %2017 %20:%Sep

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
%PM, %31 %751 %2017 %17:%Aug

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
%PM, %29 %956 %2017 %21:%Jul

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.

******

“ 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
%PM, %20 %813 %2017 %18:%Jul

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
%PM, %22 %798 %2017 %18:%Jun

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

Congress is going “new law” crazy. In the nation’s capitol, hundreds of proposed new laws are being introduced every month, creating numerous different regulations and crimes.  And Louisiana congressional members are joining right in this push for more federal intrusion into what was previously the purview of the states.

Anyone who actually takes the time to read the U.S. Constitution will see that there are only three crimes specifically enumerated as federal offenses:  treason, piracy and counterfeiting.  So why has Congress undertaken an overzealous expansion of criminal laws?

Today, there are more than 5,000 federal crimes listed in the U.S. Code.  It used to be that Congress would create one particular crime by passing a new law.  But in recent years, multiple crimes are listed within the same statute.  One new law enacted right after 9/11 contained 60 new crimes.  Was that really necessary?

Our representatives in Washington now want to delve into any number of local crimes, flaunting the intention of our country’s founders.  Drugs, robbery, car theft, the list goes on and on.  What happened to the 14th amendment and states’ rights?

Many of the federal crimes on this expanded list are bewildering and seem to be punitive and arbitrary.  Harvard law professor William Stuntz puts it this way: “We are coming even closer to living in a country where laws on the books makes everybody a felon, and prosecutors get to decide what the law is and who has violated it.”

Did you know that it is a federal crime to deal in the interstate transport of unlicensed dentures?  For this you get one year in jail.

Another law says you can go to jail for six months if you pretend to be a member of the 4-H club?

And you can get six months for degrading the character of Woodsy Owl, or his associated slogan: “Give a hoot — Don’t pollute.” I’m not making this up.

You will love this one. It’s a federal crime to disrupt a rodeo.  Now in Louisiana, we yield to no one in our desire for orderly rodeos. But getting taken into federal custody for excessive heckling?  Give me a break!

In this day and age, the average citizen can get hauled off to jail for trivial things that no sane person would regard as a crime — as many of these laws make little, if any, sense. As you can see from these examples, it’s not a liberal or conservative thing.  There’s a new collaboration in Washington — an unholy alliance between anti-big-business liberals, and tough-on-crime conservatives.  They all seem to be trying to show that they’re serious prognosticators cracking down on the social problem of the month, whether it be corporate scandals or steroid use.

Our members of Congress go to Washington today and seem to get intoxicated with the power that comes with the job.  It’s similar to the effect of Tolkien’s ring.  Decent and intelligent people get the ring of power and it changes them. They can’t put it down. They can’t let it go. The more laws you pass, the better you look back home.  And when there’s crime involved, you come across as a tough guy, right?

Congress today doesn’t seem to understand the difference between the violation of a regulation and a crime.  There are a number of actions that are illegal, but not criminal.  Further, a crime does not necessarily have to be a federal crime.  Have we reached the point where people in Louisiana and throughout the country have come to accept that any federal agency with power is somehow a police power?  Both conservatives and liberals ought to be worried about the expansion of federal criminal law if we value our liberty, which our Founders specifically understood to mean leaving general police powers at the local level.

In 400 B.C., the Greek orator Isocrates stated: “Where there is a multitude of specific laws, it is a sign that the state is badly governed.”  Tacitus wrote in the 1st century A.D. of Rome:  “Formerly we suffered from crimes.  Now we suffer from laws.”

A little more common sense in Washington would go a long way in allowing Congress to deal better with problems of national concern.  Leave the parochial to the states.  And for goodness sake, let us get a little rowdy at our rodeos.

 

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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

President Trump has just returned from a whirlwind trip to the Middle East. And he has vowed to keep a continuing and aggressive U.S. presence where American soldiers are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Kuwait, Bahrain, Turkey, and other states ringing America’s Middle Eastern battlefields. But is Trump, like his predecessors, becoming engulfed into conflicts that never end?

 

One of the joys in my college years was to study English literature at Cambridge University in the early 1960s. Nobel prize author and poet Rudyard Kipling was an early favorite. He did not bog down the reader with dense symbolism and complexity. He was easy to understand.  Born in India, Kipling was tagged as the “Poet of the British Empire.” It just might be a good idea for Republicans and Democrats, who fall over themselves espousing America’s continuing role in the Middle East, to take a breather and read a little Kipling.

 

“Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,

Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat.”

Kipling expressed his concerns of imperialism in his book, “The Man Who Would Be King,” which was made into one of my favorite movies. In it, Sean Connery loses his head attempting to bring his western values to a remote mountain vastness called Kafiristan. Michael Caine is left alive to crawl back to civilization and bring the message to the West — “Quit trying to convert and save us” in the Middle East.

America has commanded a major presence throughout the Middle East for the past 60 years for one major reason. No, a singular reason -- oil. It was in our economic interest to remake the Muslim world by the B and B method. Bribing and Bombing. In the 1980s, U.S. interests were served by pouring money and weapons into Afghanistan in support of Islamic radicals who were trying to expel the Russians. Then our one time allies turned on us, the initial seeds of al-Qaeda were sown, and America has been in a quagmire ever since.

In the last decade, we plunged into Iraq, where there was initially only a minor al-Qaeda presence. But the quixotic U.S. invasion poured gasoline onto the anti U.S. fire, causing the death of some 6700 American soldiers, leaving a country in shambles, with not one barrel of oil confiscated in this wasted effort. Then it was on to Afghanistan, and again, for no apparent reason.  (But al-Qaeda is lurking!)  Osama bin Laden is dead but his effort to bog down the U.S. in endless Middle East wars is right on target.

Drone attacks are used to get rid of the bad guys. And yes, we need to get rid of the bad guys. But as children’s book author Dr. Paul Craig Roberts points out in a recent Trends Journal article:

“Washington’s assaults on seven countries have blown up weddings, funerals, kids’ soccer games, farm houses, hospitals, aid workers, schools, people walking along the streets, village elders, but the Muslims don’t mind! They understand that the well-meaning Americans, who love them and are committed to their human rights, are bringing them democracy and women’s rights. The million or more dead, maimed, and displaced Muslims are a low price to be paid for liberation by Washington.”

Do you catch his sarcasm? The Middle East has been in turmoil for over 2000 years. And just about everyone has attempted to control this part of the world over the course of history. The Egyptians, Turks, Jews, Romans, Arabs, Persians, Europeans…the list goes on — none with any degree of long-term success.

From all this turmoil, there are lessons to be learned, especially for America and the new Trump Administration.  First, make a massive effort to become independent of Middle Eastern oil. Second, read more Kipling. In his novel, “The Naulahka”, Kipling writes:

“And the end of the fight is a tombstone white with the name of the late deceased,

“And the epitaph drear: ‘A Fool lies here who tried to hustle the East.'”

 

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 Radio Network.

Published in News & Information

I woke up earlier this week, followed my normal routine of walking the dogs, picking up the morning papers, pouring my large glass of orange juice half filled with water to dilute the sugar, checked my emails, walked out on the patio to glance over the news … and then it dawned on me – I’ve turned 77.

 

Seventy-seven?  How did that happen? Not too long ago, I would have said that 77 is really old.  And to many, I suppose it is. I don’t think I look 77. Oh, I do look in the mirror from time to time, and see reflections of my father. I remember him well in his 70s. He had suffered his first heart attack by then, and though he did not look real old, still, he had aged a good bit. I look away from the mirror, and he is a vision of a much younger man. But when I look back, there he is.

 

How do I feel?  My doctor, whose first name is “Bubba” (you check out closely a doctor named “Bubba”) says I look a heck of a lot better on the outside than I do on the inside. I have my share of aches and pains. A knee and a hip that was replaced, some recurring arthritis, too much hay fever and a sore back. But hey, I had all that 20 years ago. So I guess I’m doin’ OK.

 

I still listen to 50s music on the radio and remember well, dancing in high school to Jerry Lee Lewis — Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.  In the 60s, I was a Ferriday lawyer representing the likes of Jerry Lee and his cousin Jimmy Swaggart. Three daughters and country living dominated the 70s, and politics took over my life in the 80s and 90s. The Feds were an irritant in the early new century, but I survived and have branched out in a number of new directions. Our visit each week through this column and on the radio is one more reflection of living life to the fullest. And the icing on the cake? Six grandchildren in the past decade!

 

I’ve tried to flush out an occasional creative vibe. Painting with a granddaughter, who, at eleven years old, is much better than me. Refreshing my banjo skills. Would you believe that in my twenties, I helped pay my way through law school by strumin’ the banjo at Your Father’s Mustache on Bourbon Street in New Orleans? Even a stint as an actor in the Three Penny Opera and The Fantasticks at several local theatres in the French Quarter. It took a while, but I finally figured out that I shouldn’t worry about being all that skilled at many things. It was better to delight in the pursuit, and find clarity by enjoying the undertaking itself, regardless of my limited talent.

 

Yes, seventy-seven is a milestone. But I won’t consider myself old — just a bit older. Ninety is probably old, but I have many years of lively living before I have to consider that next line in the sand.  In the meantime, I will continue to be the happy go lucky, meddling, opinionated, bullheaded, talkaholic, health conscious, lovable (from my perspective) fellow that I have always been. I won’t hesitate to give plenty of advice to my children. They may be middle aged, but they are still my kids, and even though they think they don’t need my advice, I know they really do.

 

So why make a big deal of being 77? I mean, it’s just a number isn’t it?  Like a bunch of other numbers in your life. Dates, addresses, sums, amounts, and then, in the mix, is age.  But maybe it’s more than that. I can make a case that it could be an important milestone. My seventy-seven years, by any measures, have been full and hard living, with ups and downs too numerous to mention. If there is a yin and a yang, the before and the after, what has happened, and what is yet to be, then maybe seventy-seven is a special waypost for me. Hey, I could be at the top and ready for the long and relaxing ride back down.

 

As for the rest of all you youngsters below the age of seventy-seven, I have just this one thought. It’s nice

to be on this side of troubled waters.

 

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, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.   

 

 

Published in News & Information
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