With one recent Supreme Court Justice confirmed and another just appointed by President Trump, the issue of televising hearings before the nation’s highest court will surely be discussed. The Supremes have stood steadfastly against letting the public watch the cases argued before them, even though the court’s decisions can often have major implications for every American. The Constitution guarantees that trials are public and open to everyone. And what could be more public than televising a criminal trial for the whole world to see?
Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker wrote recently that cameras should be taken out of the courtroom, particularly in high-profile trials. She concludes: “Our mighty respect for the public’s right to know — has clouded our judgment. There may be no way to quantitatively prove that cameras influence courtroom behavior and, possibly, a trial’s outcome. But anyone who’s ever sat in front of a camera knows that it is so.”
I disagree with Ms. Parker. The criminal justice system could use some help. A majority of Americans feel that justice often doesn’t prevail. A nationwide poll by the respected Rasmussen Reports found that 45% of Americans feel that the justice system is fair. Only 34% felt that the system is unbiased to the poor. That’s a lot of cynicism. Maybe more public trials would help skeptics gain more confidence in a system where many feel over half the time that justice is not served.
America has a strong tradition of public trials. In early colonial America, courthouses were the centers of community life, and most citizens regularly attended criminal trials. In fact, trials frequently became community events. Citizens were knowledgeable about trials, and there was wide participation in the process — especially in rural America, where prosecutions were often scheduled on market day, when local farmers came to town for supplies. Many courtrooms were built to accommodate 300 or more observers.
Back then, citizens closely observed the defendants, knew when judges issued ridiculous rulings, and saw firsthand whenever justice was perverted. Whatever happened, the citizens were there, watching. The court system belonged to them. The televising of criminal trials would merely be an extension of this direct review by the average citizen.
Would televising criminal trials create a circus atmosphere? There’s no reason to think that they would. In fact, many of our most sacred ceremonies, including church services and inaugurations, are televised without dignity being lost. Judge Burton Katz said it well: “We should bring pressure to bear on all judges to open up their courtrooms to public scrutiny. Members of the judiciary enjoy great entitlements and wield enormous power. They bear close watching by an informed public. I guarantee that the public would be amazed at what goes on in some courtrooms.”
Back in 1997 when I was a practicing attorney in Louisiana, I participated in the state’s first televised trial before the Louisiana Supreme Court. A state senator was opposing my authority to impound the automobiles of uninsured drivers. I was the elected state Insurance Commissioner at the time, and represented the state in our effort to uphold the impoundment law. The issue was important to the vast majority of Louisianans, and they were entitled to hear the arguments, and watch the trial in progress. No one pandered to the cameras, and the entire courtroom procedure was straightforward and dignified. The proceedings were televised without a hitch.
Harvard law professor and criminal defense attorney Alan Dershowitz put it this way: “Live television coverage may magnify the faults in the legal system, and show it warts and all. But in a democracy the public has the right to see its institutions in operation, close-up. Moreover, live television coverage generally brings out the best, not the worst in judges, lawyers and other participants. The video camera helps to keep the system honest by keeping it open.”
America prides itself in being an open society that protects and encourages the public’s right to know. Too often, courtrooms have become bastions of secrecy where the public has little understanding of how the system works and how verdicts are reached.
The video camera serves as a check and balance. We can better keep the system honest by keeping it open and easily available to the public. Time to turn on the cameras.
Peace and Justice
Louisiana has been called the Culinary Mecca of America. Folks in this part of the country can take just about anything edible and make it not just good, but quite exceptional. And when we say anything, we mean everything. There is virtually no limit to what a Cajun will put in a gumbo. Well, because of federal restrictions, there is one thing-horsemeat.
For years, Congress has banned the sale of horsemeat for consumption in the U.S. But that could well change under the proposed budget by the Trump Administration.
Now I’ll admit that most of us do not regularly run down to our local supermarket to check on whether a fresh shipment of horsemeat has arrived. But I’m not all that enamored by eating nutria, a large rat, that is regularly publicized as a tasty dish by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. So, to each his own.
Is there a market for U.S. horsemeat? Yes, and it’s big time in a number of countries. “Carne di Cavallo,” can be bought in most butcher shops in Italy. In Sweden, horse meat is so popular that it outsells lamb and mutton combined. In every European country you will find horsemeat to be quite popular. In France, it’s the motherlode of food delicacies, they even have a horsemeat butcher’s organization called Federation de la Boucherie Hippophagique. It’s estimated that 700,000 tons of horsemeat are consumed annually worldwide. And for good reason.
As Gary Picariello writes in Yahoo News, “a typical filet of horsemeat is similar to that of beef. The meat is leaner, slightly sweeter in taste, with a flavor somewhat between that of beef and venison. Good horse meat is very tender, but it can also be slightly tougher than comparable cuts of beef. Horsemeat is higher in protein and lower in fat. The most popular cuts of horse meat come from the hindquarters: tenderloin, sirloin, filet steak, rump steak and rib. Less tender cuts are ground.”
Here’s what restaurateur Jonathan Birdsall told me about possible horse meat demand in the U.S. “I’ll bet I could name half a dozen American chefs chomping at the bit to do things to horse back fat or loins that’d show off a delicacy few of us probably never suspected Mr. Ed to be capable of. Braised on a nice bed of pasta, maybe, with a few roasted finger-length carrots.” Hmmm. Think it’s worth a try?
Like I said, we eat about anything down here in Bayou Country. I wrote a cookbook some years ago that includes such delicacies as my “world famous” squirrel stew, venison goulash, possum and chestnuts, rabbit in sour cream, and Louisiana Governor Jimmie Davis’s favorite, fried coon file’.
I was traveling through Cajun country a few years ago, and stopped at a rural general store for a cup of coffee. An old fellow was on the porch cooking up a pot of something that smelled good. “Whatcha’ cookin’?” I asked. “Got me a gumbo,” he replied. I inquired what kind of gumbo, and he told me, “an owl gumbo.” When I asked him what an owl gumbo tasted like, he smiled and said, “Oh, about like a hawk gumbo.”
Seeing that our locals regularly eat alligator sauce piquante, and add to a stew or gumbo just about anything else that flies or crawls, it’s hard for many of us to get too worked up over a little horsemeat. I know that many have a special affection for the majestic horse. But all horses eventually have to be disposed of. And the same horses that would be slaughtered in the U.S. under strict guidelines are now being shipped to other countries and both treated and killed in far more cruel ways.
It’s hard to figure why Congress has such a beef with letting someone chose to eat horse meat. Isn’t it really a freedom of choice issue? Our congressmen apparently have no problem with eating Porky Pig, Donald Duck, and Bambi. So what’s the big deal about eating Trigger and Mr. Ed?
Since we have a French background here in Louisiana, could the politicians in Washington be dangerously close to inciting another revolution by telling us what we can or cannot eat? Instead of a big fuss being made over, “let us eat cake,” the new battle cry could well be, “let us eat horse.”
Peace and Justice
Billy Cannon died this week. He was a Louisiana sports legend. There are some things you just don’t forget. Where you were on 9/11, or when President John Kennedy was shot. Down here in the Bayou State, add to those special dates Halloween night 59 years ago when Billy Cannon made football history with his 87 yard run to beat Ole Miss and keep the Tigers undefeated. His story is the rise and fall, then the rise again by LSU’s all-time great sports hero.
Even those who are not Tiger fans have to admit it was one heck of a run. Cannon either sidestepped or pushed away tackler after tackler as he weaved his way towards the end zone. I wish I had a dollar for every time the magical run has been replayed on television. You can imagine the crowd’s reaction on most Saturday football nights in Tiger Stadium as once again the fans in the stadium, and the millions on national television, see Ole’ Billy tear through the Rebel opposition.
This feat by Cannon allowed the Tigers to beat Ole’ Miss 7 to 3, and made him a celebrity for life. Paul Revere had his famous ride and Billy Cannon had his remarkable run.
Cannon went on to play professional football with the Houston Oilers and the Oakland Raiders. Then he went to dental school and built a successful dental practice in Baton Rouge. Because of his popularity, Cannon’s practice flourished to an estimated $300,000 a year – quite a sum in the 1960s! But then his celebrity world came crashing down, and I played a small role in his demise.
It was 1983, and I was in my first term as Louisiana Secretary of State. I was at my office one afternoon when my secretary said there were two Treasury agents to see me, and they demanded immediate attention. They pulled out a hundred dollar bill saying it was a fake, and that it had shown up in the Secretary of State’s bank account.
I had my staff go over all the various billing and deposit records, and we were able to determine that a local attorney used the hundred-dollar bill to pay for a corporate filing. We later learned that in was the first Cannon-made counterfeit bill to be discovered in the Baton Rouge area. Others quickly appeared, and a major money printing operation was broken open a few months later. The seventh-largest counterfeiting ring in American history was no more.
For years thereafter when I made speeches around the state, I relished in telling those in attendance how I knew the bill was counterfeit. “You know down at the bottom of the 100 dollar bill where it says ‘In God We Trust?’ Well on the Cannon 100 dollar bill, it said ‘Go to Hell Ole Miss.’”
Cannon quickly confessed and helped prosecutors crack the case wide-open. At the sentencing, Cannon told federal Judge Frank J. Polozola: “… what I did was wrong, terribly wrong. I have done everything within my power to correct my mistakes.”
To thousands of LSU fans, Cannon’s confession pierced the very heart of their allegiance and adulation of LSU’s greatest sports hero. Like the little boy who pleaded with Shoeless Joe Jackson of the Chicago White Sox on the courthouse steps in the famous “Black Sox” baseball scandal of 1919, all many LSU fans could think of was, “Say it ain’t so, Billy.”
As part of Cannon’s redemption, he took on the job of dentist up at Angola State Penitentiary, an hour’s drive north of Baton Rouge. The guards and inmates, alike, love him up there. Do fans still hold a grudging disappointment with Cannon? Well, when he was introduced a few years ago at Tiger Stadium just after being admitted to the College Football Hall of Fame, the cheering went on and on. Repeated efforts by the stadium announcer to quiet the fans down fell on deaf ears. Neither the President nor the Pope would have gotten such an avid ovation. Billy was back, and all had been forgiven.
Billy Cannon, like few others, has experienced the dramatic highs and lows of being a major sports hero in Louisiana. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote that in life, there are no second acts. And Thomas Wolfe wrote that you can’t go home again. Billy Cannon proved them both wrong. And now, he will go home to meet his maker.
“People associate me with football regardless of where I go…except when their tooth hurts. They don’t care whether I played football or not. They just want the toothache to stop.”
Peace and Justice
There is a disturbing article in a recent issue of Atlantic Magazine by a prominent physician at the University of Pennsylvania. Ezekiel J. Emanuelis an oncologist, a bioethicist, and a vice provost of the University, and is the author or editor of 10 books, including Reinventing American Health Care. So he is a bright guy who knows a lot about health. His premise is that no one, in this day and age, should aspire to live longer than 75 years of age.
Now I would be skeptical of such an assertion no matter what my current age. I read the obituary section of several newspapers each day, and make note of a number of successful people who have lived a much longer lifespan. But the Atlantic article becomes more than a bit personal to me. You see, this week, I turned 78.
The premise of Dr. Emanuel’s article is that, for most people, the quality of life diminishes after 75. He writes that aging “robs us of our creativity and ability to contribute to work, society and the world. We are no longer remembered as vibrant and engaged but as feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic.” He concludes by assuming that those who continue to be productive long after 75 are “outliers,” and far from the norm.
But what great philosopher or scientist has concluded that one has to be productive in later years? And just what does Dr. Emanuel mean by being productive? Productivity does not particularly mean that someone who is getting a bit older and slowing down has to be creative. Isn’t the idea of retirement a pathway that allows seniors to absorb the world around them in any way they choose?
If being productive means that I’m hanging out with grandkids more, reading more, reintroducing myself to old friends who go back 60 years and beyond, taking an occasional music lesson, and even trying to be a more than passable cook, then yes, just like many of my current friends, I am being quite productive.
I gazed in the mirror this week, and told myself, look you are 78. Deal with it, and maybe even relish in all the experiences and fond memories. I think it was Lucille Ball who once said: “The secret of staying young is to live honestly, eat slowly, and lie about your age.” I’d rather acknowledge that age is strictly a case of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter. Well I don’t mind. And as I get older, I’m quick to quote Mark Twain who told his readers that wrinkles should merely indicate where smiles have been.
I’d like to think that I still have a long life ahead because I watch what I eat, and I workout a lot. My old college roommate is quick to remind me that the big advantage of exercising and diet is that I will die a lot healthier.
Reaching a milestone of three quarters of a century should not be that big a deal. After all, 78 is really just a number, isn’t it? Like a bunch of other numbers in your life. Dates, addresses, sums, phone numbers, passwords, and then, in the mix, is age. But I hope it is more than that.I wrote a few years back, that my life has been, by any measure, 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-eight is a special way-post for me. In fact, I really believe that I could be at the top of my game, and ready for the long and relaxing ride back down.
So to the good doctor who wants to shut his life down at 75, I say that’s your call; your freedom of choice. As for me, I still have a whole lot of living to do. And not just passive living.
Dylan Thomas said it best. “Do not go gentle into the night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
Peace and Justice
Sad to say that the truth has become a diminishing commodity in America today. Particularly when it comes to many branches of government. Remember the old adage that “I’m from the federal government and I’m here to help you?” Too often, they are here to examine, investigate and even prosecute you.
A prime example of bungling, mismanagement and corruption are the antics, prominently in the news right now, of the FBI leadership. A criminal referral has been made against the former number two in command Andrew McCabe. The inspector general, according to The Washington Post,determined that McCabe lied to investigators four times, three of them while under oath.
This column wrote last week about former FBI head James Comey and his efforts to portray himself as being ethical and above the fray of partisan politics. Now we learn that Comey is also being investigated for leaking classified documents, and denying that he had done so. He blew off the matter by saying: “Good people lie. I think I’m a good person, where I have lied,” Comey said. So much for his above board ethics.
Comey obviously adopts the longstanding FBI adage that they can lie to you but you can’t lie to them. Yale law professor Stephen Carter puts it this way. “Lying is terribly corrosive and ought to be discouraged, but where law enforcement is concerned, I’ve been telling my students for decades that true respect for justice requires a symmetry. If I’m not allowed to lie to you, then you shouldn’t be allowed to lie to me.”
Carter then puts the onus directly back on the FBI. “If felony charges for lying to agents are important in order to preserve the integrity of the system of justice, perhaps felony charges for lying by agents are important, too. That way the people who “must fear the consequences of lying in the justice system “would include those who serve the public.”
Comey is saying that the memos he slipped in secret to The Wall Street Journal were his personal work product and exempt from FBI regulations. That lame excuse won’t pass muster. He wrote memos about an FBI investigation on an FBI typewriter. And he signed a required statement saying that he “will not reveal, by any means, any information or material from or related to FBI files or any other information acquired by virtue of my official employment to any unauthorized recipient without prior official written authorization by the FBI.”
Just last week, a former FBI agent, Terry Albury pleaded guilty to leaking classified documents to a news outlet. This is exactly what Comey did. Albury is now facing up to 10 years in prison. Isn’t what’s good for the goose also good for the gander?
The bottom line question is that if McCabe and Comey are guilty of lies under oath and giving out classified documents to the press, then should they be prosecuted and face jail time for their actions? Of course they should. The consequences of lying or leaking should be a deterrent both to those being investigated as well as the investigators themselves.
The only recourse a private citizen has to protect oneself against devious and false questions by an FBI agent is to tell them nothing. Here in Louisiana, it’s a rule urged by defense attorneys and recognized by many in the news media.
The rule was best enunciated a few years back in Gambit, a New Orleans newspaper. “If you are a public official in Louisiana, do not talk to the FBI. Not under any circumstances. Not even if you are innocent and have nothing to hide. Especially if you are innocent and have nothing to hide.”
First there was Watergate and now there is FBI-gate. Isn’t it a shame that way too often, you just can’t be sure who the bad guys are?
Peace and Justice
So our President is a mafia boss, an unethical liar and “morally unfit” to be leading the country. At least that’s the opinion of former FBI chief James Comey. In his recent interviews, Comey also has a problem with Donald Trump’s orange skin, his ties that are too long, and even the size of his hands. Really important stuff from the nation’s former top cop.
If you have never heard of James Comey, he was FBI director under the Obama Administration, but was fired just after Trump took office. Since then he seems to have worked overtime in cultivating an image of being the only Boy Scout left, standing head and shoulders above politics and the politicians in Washington. So just what is he trying to accomplish?
I know well. You see, as many of you recognize, I’m a book publisher. I sell books through my company The Lisburn Press. And that’s exactly what Comey is doing. He has written a tell-all tabloid story on Trump of supposed salacious charges that question everything from Russian hookers to inquiries about the president’s marriage. Yes, it’s all about selling books and making money. Georgetown law professor Jonathan Turley writes this week, “Comey is selling himself with the vigor of a Kardashian, and while proceeding to write a book to protect the FBI, he is doing that institution untold harm by joining an ignoble list of tell-all authors.”
Anyone following high profile public issues in Louisiana is certainly aware of how Comey bungled the biggest case he ever handled embroiling a former LSU professor. The incident involved anthrax attacks in the nation’s capital that killed 5 people and infected 17 others, causing the entire U.S. Capitol’s mail system to shut down. Comey headed up the FBI investigation, and his incompetence and recklessness all but destroyed the reputation and health of LSU researcher Steven Hatfill.
It’s a long and convoluted story, but it was obvious to any neutral observer that Hatfill was innocent and the FBI had the wrong man. He was a virologist (one who only studies viruses), and he never even handled anthrax. But congress was screaming about an attack on America and the FBI needed a scapegoat. A few unreliable rumormongers mentioned Hatfill’s name that led Comey and Company to pounce all over the blameless researcher.
So just what evidence of Hatfill’s guilt did Comey have on the quiet LSU academic? Ah, don’t sell Comey short. After all he had heard of a couple of guys out in California that had trained bloodhounds to supposedly “sniff out” anthrax. Now remember, if you sniff the stuff, it kills you, but that minor fact did not deter Comey. He siced the bloodhounds on Hatfill and announced to congress that one of LSU’s best and brightest was the guilty party. The dog handlers were later found by a California court to be quite unreliable, with the judged stating that the prosecution’s dog handler was “as biased as any witnesses that this court has ever seen.”
But Comey persisted. When he was asked by a skeptical Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz if he was sure that Hatfill was the perpetrator, Comey replied that he was “absolutely certain” they weren’t making a mistake.
Seven years later, Hatfill was exonerated and the FBI paid him $5.85 million because of Comey’s unjust prosecution. But he did not have the decency to apologize and acknowledge his serious blunder. Comey’s sidekick, current special prosecutor Robert Mueller was just as graceless and unprofessional as Comey. When asked about the false charges against Hatfill, Mueller would only say: “I do not apologize for any aspect of the investigation.” He added that it would be erroneous “to say there were mistakes.”
Comey did his best to destroy a decent and innocent LSU professor. He has proven to be manipulative, incompetent and calculating. But hey, so what! It’s really all about selling books, isn’t it.
Peace and Justice
Let me begin right off by saying that I am a college basketball diehard through and through. Like most sports fans, I cheer on my favorite teams in a number of sports. But at the top of my list has always been college basketball.
My dad was a star forward playing both junior college and AAU basketball. I had the honor of being Coach Dean Smith’s first recruit at the University of North Carolina back in 1968. I was a spectator in the Louisiana Superdome when the Tar Heels won two national championships. If you come to my office I’ll show you a ball sent to me by Coach Smith autographed by the entire 1982 championship team including Michael Jordan.
I’ve been a front row LSU basketball season ticket holder since the 1970s, and regularly talk basketball trash with legendary former Coach Dale Brown. All in all, I have bled for the college game. But I have a confession to make. The thrill is gone. These past few weeks, I didn’t become enthralled with March Madness. It was more like March Sadness.
Liza Minnelli said it best in the hit movie and Broadway show Cabaret.“Money makes the world go round.” We have tolerated for years the extravagant salaries paid to college football coaches. At LSU, for example, six of the seven highest paid employees in the entire university are in the athletic department, which Governor John Bel Edwards labels as “obscene.” LSU will pay three former football coaches more than $12 million not to coach. Fired Coach Les Miles receives $133,000 each month with a total payout of almost $10 million. But at least we rarely hear of financial scandals involving players in the football ranks.
Basketball is where the financial bribes and continuing ugliness takes place. The FBI is presently investigating a number of college coaches as well as sports agents for payoffs to players to attend various colleges. Ten agents and coaches have been arrested with numerous allegations involving some 30 schools. Seventeen teams that participated in March Madness are currently under investigation.
Two former LSU players have been accused of receiving cash payoffs from sports agents in a detailed report from Yahoo Sports listing numerous payments to dozens of current and former basketball players. A number of major basketball schools are being investigated, including programs at Duke, North Carolina, Texas, Kentucky, Michigan State, USC, LSU, Alabama and a host of other schools.
Numerous colleges are also being investigated for their academic shortcomings when it comes to athletes. A recent probe at my alma mater, the University of North Carolina, determined that a number of athletes received passing grades but never attended classes. Now I bleed Carolina Blue, but UNC should have been put on probation for allowing such scholastic cheating. The NCAA turned its head to the academic deceit saying, “The NCAA defers to its member schools to determine whether academic fraud occurred.” The old “let the fox protect the henhouse rule” is how the governing body reacted.
One would expect that the NCAA, the ruling body over college sports, would be the wall of protection against the influx of the shady, money-grubbing influences on college players. But the NCAA itself has been obsessed with the bottom line dollar and will (get this) clear almost $1 billion a year for just the March Madness basketball tournament. And it should be noted that the NCAA president is none other that former LSU President Mark Emmert. Good or bad, LSU seems to always be in the mix.
Much of this corruption is caused by alumni pressures to win, no matter what the cost. But that’s not the way it should be, at least from my perspective. Maybe I was raised and played these games at a time where we competed for the love of the game, and at best, an athletic scholarship to give us a decent education. I suppose it’s a changing environment and the current world we live in.
Oh, I’ll continue to keep my front row basketball tickets, and cheer on my alma mater. But it’s just not the same any more. And the fans, the colleges, and the teams themselves are not the better for it.
Peace and Justice
Fifty years ago this weekend, the focus of the Vietnam War dramatically changed. Many Americans were skeptical of why the war was necessary. There were scattered reports of American soldiers killing innocent civilians. But some would argue bad things can happen during wartime, and that’s the price a nation must pay. Then came My Lai.
If you are too young to remember the My Lai genocide, it is certainly a low point in U.S. military gallantry. An Army combat unit of American soldiers charged into an un-defended settlement called My Lai, and over a four hour period, systematically wiped out the village of some 500 unarmed old men, women, babies and children. The attack was supposedly to weed out Viet Cong soldiers, but none were there and no weapons were found. It was a cold-blooded slaughter.
As the killings continued, an Army helicopter pilot named Hugh Thompson, from Lafayette, Louisiana, flew over and observed the massacre taking place below. I had the opportunity of questioning Hugh Thompson several times on my syndicated radio program. His words are as disturbing today as they were when I interviewed him years ago.
“We started noticing these large numbers of bodies everywhere,” he said, “people on the road dead, wounded. And we’re just sitting there saying, ‘God, how did this happen? What’s going on?’ And we started thinking what might have happened, but you didn’t want to accept the thought–because if you accepted it, that means your own fellow Americans, people you were there to protect, we’re doing something very evil.”
Hugh Thompson had a gunner and a crew chief on board with him, and he decided to put down his helicopter to investigate just what was happening. “I just figured it was time to do something, to not let these people get killed.” He landed, got out of his aircraft, and confronted the American troops.
Then, he did something unique in wartime. He demanded that the U.S. soldiers back off and stop the killing. He bluntly told them that if they continued the slaughter, he and his crew would open fire directly on them. That cooled the confrontation down, and the killings stopped.
Hugh Thompson filed a full report and complaint, but he came under attack from some in the military who felt he should have said nothing. The Army initially covered up the genocide. But an investigative journalist named Seymour Hersh pieced together the horror that took place, and Hugh Thompson’s heroics became worldwide news. Many historians feel that My Lai was a turning point in the war as support continued to dwindle.
After thirty years of being ignored and scorned, the Army finally acknowledged that Hugh Thompson was, in fact, a hero. He was given the Soldier’s Medal for heroism. My Lai is located in the center of Vietnam on the eastern coast. If you travel there today, a museum can be found in honor of Warrant Officer Hugh Thomson.
In his book, War Without Fronts: The USA in Vietnam, historian Bernd Greiner concludes that My Lai was “the most shocking episode of the Vietnam War.” Fifty years ago, a few American soldiers dishonored their country by committing unfathomable crimes. But a young American helicopter pilot from Lafayette, Louisiana had the courage to step and demand that the carnage come to an end.
All Louisianans should be proud of Hugh Thompson. He died at 62, but remains one of the Bayou State’s very best.
Peace and Justice
It’s springtime, my favorite time of year. The weather warms up without a lot of humidity. Flowers bloom at their very best. It’s the season of my birthday. If you live in Louisiana, we witness music festivals galore, including Mardi Gras, JazzFest and a host of local harmonic gatherings of local bands all over the state. And one more springtime reminder. It’s the beginning of baseball season.
I’m spending the next week in Tampa, Florida, surrounded by 15 major league teams who hold their baseball season kickoff in a number of towns surrounding the Tampa area. It’s my annual ritual that I have shared with friends from the Bayou State for many years. I grew up watching and playing baseball, particularly the St. Louis Cardinals. There were no televised games back then, but I often fell asleep at night listening to legendary sports announcer Jack Buck on 50,000 watt station KMOX tell his listeners “All’s right with the world cause the Cardinals won again tonight.”
I grew up in St. Louis, and lived next door to the general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, the great former Cardinals shortstop Marty Marion. I was in his box the Sunday afternoon back on May 2, 1954, when Stan the Man Musial hit five home runs on the same day in a doubleheader. When I moved down to Louisiana, I was disappointed that there were no major league teams close by, but the state is filled with baseball fans from little league to college and professional ball teams.
LSU is a perennial contender for the college baseball world series with ULL in Lafayette also a strong challenger. Some of the best major leaguers have come from Louisiana. Mel Ott from Gretna was the first national leaguer to hit 500 homers. Lou Brock was raised in Colliston outside Monroe, hit .348 and stole 33 bases to spark St. Louis to a world championship. Alvin Dark from Lake Charles was NL Rookie of the Year in 1948.And who can forget the Louisiana Lighting, Ron Guidry, who went 25-3 for world champion New York Yankees. The list goes on and on.
And speaking of the Yankees, they are a real unifying team. You see, unless you are a die-hard Yankees fan like me, everyone else, and I mean everyone, hates the Yankees. They are never the underdog. No, just the opposite. The Yankees are the overdog, brash, cocky, and rich, always spending more than any other team in baseball. They have won more world championships than many other teams combined. Syndicated columnist Mark Shields writes: “To be a Yankees fan means to root for Apple or Amazon rather than for your neighborhood mom-and-pop store.”
I know, I know. A populist like me who has hailed for many years from Ferriday, Louisiana has no business pulling for the Yankees. But I’m just hooked. I have seen the Yankees play three games in a row, and will seem many more both here in Tampa and in New York. You know just one of the reasons? The Yankees sell very the best hot dogs. Large, grilled just right and juicy with all the trimmings. Not like those shriveled, tasteless weenies on a cold bun sold at LSU’s Tiger Stadium. This year, baseball fans will consume more than 21 million hot dogs at stadiums across the country. That’s enough to round the bases 29,691 times. And I’ll eat my share.
Many folks think baseball games are too long. Not really. NFL games average 16 minutes longer than a major league baseball game. And think about it. There are only about 12 minutes of actual playing time, from the snap of the ball to the whistle, in pro football. In baseball, there are about 25 minutes of time when the ball is in play.
Some fans feel like baseball is not all that difficult to play. If you think that, just talk to Michael Jordan, probably the greatest basketball ever, who tried pro baseball but couldn’t get out of the minor leagues. The same for former Quarterback Tim Tebow who is still lingering in a minimal Class A league.
So as the new season warms up and unfolds, I’ll be cheering on baseball from little league watching grandsons, to a cold beer and great hot dogs at the new Yankee stadium in New York. Hey, give the game a shot. You just might get hooked like me.
Peace and Justice
With an increasing number of mass shootings in recent months, we are urged by law enforcement officials to keep an eye out. Report anything suspicious. “If you see something, say something” we are regularly told. The problem is, that in too many instances, the alarms raised by concerned citizens are falling on deaf ears.
The most recent blatant example of a failure to respond came last week as 17 teachers and students were gunned down in Parkland, Florida. The FBI received several credible tips that a graduate of Parkland High school, Nikolas Cruz, was posting disturbing social media postings that he wanted to become a “professional school shooter” and had a desire to kill people. The FBI admitted it had failed to investigate even though there are only 12 “Nikolas Cruz” in the country. So much for “see something, say something.”
In the same case, the local sheriff admitted to receiving over 20 calls about the dangers of the shooter. No action was taken. The Parkland public defender, whose office is representing Nikolas Cruz, said: “This kid exhibited every single known red flag, from killing animals to having a cache of weapons to disruptive behavior to saying he wanted to be a school shooter. If this isn’t a person who should have gotten someone’s attention, I don’t know who is. This was a multi-system failure.”
In the Nassar molestation case of teenage gymnasts, the doctor molested more than 40 young girls after the FBI had been notified. One of the gymnasts who complained to the FBI told The New York Times: “I never got a phone call from the police or the FBI during that time. Not one person. Not one. Not one. Not one.” She saw something and said something, but got no response.
How about 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. Yet after all this, he still was allowed to buy a number of guns. Many saw something and said something, but there was no response.
We know about mass shootings here in Louisiana, A killer named John Houser, who had a long history of violence and mental illness traveled to Louisiana from Georgia. Houser 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. So what good was it to “see something, say something?”
As I wrote in a column last year, some 48,000 convicted felons and fugitives lied about their criminal history, 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.” More serious crimes? What could be more serious than getting thousands of potential killers off the streets who lie to get a weapon?
It’s all well and good to have these national campaigns that tell the public to keep their eyes open and report suspicious activity. Some will argue that this leads to a big brother mentality, but it’s just the price we have to pay in the this violent day and age.
But if you “see something and say something,” you expect that federal and state law enforcement agencies will give such information a serious look. Too often, such important information gets ignored or falls through the cracks. Americans deserve a lot better.
Peace and Justice