%PM, %12 %829 %2018 %18:%Jan

Nick Saban: The best there ever was!

I don’t normally write a sports column, but a few words would seem appropriate after Alabama’s startling victory this past Monday night in the College Football Championship game. Simply put, love him or hate him, Alabama head coach Nick Saban is the best college coach in football today, and maybe the best college coach ever.

Now, many LSU football fans don’t want to hear this and seem to be consumed by an abhorrence of the former Tiger coach who took LSU to a national championship back in 2003. Saban left the Bayou State for what he considered greener pastures in the NFL, then returned to the Southeast Conference to take the head coaching job at Alabama. Many LSU fans consider Saban a traitor for taking on the post coaching the Tiger’s archrival.

But the proof is in the pudding, and Saban has now won six national titles, tying former Alabama coach Bear Bryant’s all time record. So what’s the reason for Saban’s success? Simply put, he is unquenchable in his approach and commitment to coaching. And losing, in Saban’s mind, is never an option. In fact, one can argue that he hates losing more than he loves winning.

His entire focus is preparation for the next game or next season. I know one of his assistant coaches here in Baton Rouge who told me he felt embarrassed taking off Christmas Day or any other holiday, knowing full well that Coach Saban would be in the football office that day at LSU. His only hobby is coaching football.

A story I heard from a close friend of Saban is an example of his insatiable commitment to coaching. Both Saban and his friend were out to dinner on a Saturday evening with their wives. About 10:30 pm, Saban’s cell phone rang. The coach excused himself from the table and stepped outside the restaurant, staying on the phone for almost 30 minutes.

Later, as they were leaving the restaurant, Saban’s friend asked him was there any problem because of long phone call. No, Saban responded. It was just one of his recruits who was calling to talk about a personal problem. Saban said he gave all his recruits his private cell number and told them he was always available to talk about football or any personal matter. Now how many coaches at major college programs will give out their personal cell phone number to a high school recruit? Simple. A coach like Nick Saban who wants to be number one.

In 2012, Alabama played LSU for the College National Championship at the Superdome in New Orleans. Our family had booked early rooms at the Hilton hotel, which was also the team hotel for LSU. Many of the players were on our same floor, and the night before the game, they were hanging out with girlfriends and cruising throughout the hotel. Nothing rambunctious, but just “hanging out” before the game. One of the players told me they had no team meetings scheduled the night before kick off.

Coach Saban had bused the Alabama team to a movie theater outside of town that was owned by my father-in-law. Saban’s office had called to arrange for a private showing of the World War II movie, “Red Tails,” about a black flying squadron who faced long odds fighting German air attacks. After the movie, Coach Saban went up on the stage and repeated word for word the movie’s rallying cry.

“From the last plane, to the last bullet, to the last minute, to the last man, we fight!”

“We fight.”

“We fight.”

Last Monday night, Coach Saban’s Alabama team was behind the entire game until the last second of the overtime. They fought and fought as Saban’s intense energy and coaching momentum urged his players on. In Nick Saban’s words, “to the last minute, to the last man, we fight!”

His team did just that, and Alabama continues its reign as America’s premier college football program. These are the reasons why Coach Saban is simply the best college coach today, and perhaps the best there ever was.

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“I always ask myself the question, do you like to win or do you hate to lose?" -- Nick Saban

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 athttp://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 %915 %2017 %20:%Dec

What to expect in 2018

It would be an understatement to say that this past year has been controversial on the political scene. Three major stories dominated the news from my perspective. Obviously at the top of the list was the continuing saga of Donald Trump. Then there was the Alabama Senate race that became the nation’s number one soap opera. And we learned that the government spends millions of dollars running down rumors of UFOs.

And here’s the kicker. 2018 is potentially shaping up to be the most tumultuous political year in our lifetime. The control of congress, more unpredictable antics from our President, the possible reckless actions from that crazy guy in North Korea, America’s deteriorating role of leadership on the world stage, gridlock in Washington and in legislatures across the nation: Hey, what more could a political junkie ask for?

So far, President Trump has not followed in the paths of Reagan, Roosevelt and Kennedy in being forceful leaders who reached out to build working coalitions. Great leaders, in order to govern effectively, extended their tribal base by appealing to people’s hopes rather than their fears. There is a long history of presidents using their office as a bully pulpit to rally support. But do we now have a bully in the pulpit?

Whether you are a Trump supporter or not, he is viewed across the board as an aggressive, abusive, no holds barred president. In the years to come, historians will look back to see if the presidency has changed Donald Trump, or if Donald Trump has changed the presidency.

The president is making a major effort to restructure the federal judiciary and has forwarded some three dozen nominations to the U.S. Senate for confirmation. Only six have been confirmed so far, and for good reason. In a number of cases, Trump has selected grey mice. That’s the name given by court watchers to nominees who lack the scholarship, the temperament, and the learning to be federal judges.

We witnessed first hand several nominees who were over their heads and obviously unqualified for the federal bench in Senate judiciary committee confirmation hearings just a few weeks ago. Louisiana Senator John Kennedy has commendably hammered away at several nominees as to their knowledge of basic judicial terminology. Concepts any candidate for a judgeship should know.

As the Baton Rouge advocate reported: “The questions highlighted (nominee) Matthew Peterson’s lack of courtroom experience. Pressed by Sen. Kennedy, Peterson acknowledged having never made arguments in a courtroom nor having tried a case– and then struggled to define a series of legal terms, several of which legal expert described as fairly basic.” As Kennedy appropriately observed: “Just because you’ve seen ‘My cousin Vinny’ doesn’t qualify you to be a federal judge.”

So to help out future nominees, I’m offering a few questions and answers that should be memorized before appearing at a Senate confirmation hearing. Any future nominee should give me a call because, hey I’m a lawyer, and I’m admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court. So with the aid of Professor Garrett Epps at Baltimore University, I offer these suggested responses.

A Lawsuit: That’s what you wear in court.

Recusal: When the judge takes a brief judicial nap.

Sidebar: That’s of course the liquor kept near the courtroom.

Erie doctrine: The rule that testimony by ghosts is inadmissible.

Bench trial: Shopping for a new chair for the judge.

Judicial review: The number of “likes” on the judge’s twitter feed.

Res judicata: The judges once a year have a race around the courthouse.

Marbury v. Madison: The first matchup for the NCAA national football championship.

For all you judicial wannabes, gray mice or otherwise, I hope this helps in your quest to ascend to the federal bench. For all the rest of us, get ready for a knock down-drag out 2018. Happy New Year!

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 athttp://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, %07 %827 %2017 %18:%Dec

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

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
%PM, %24 %769 %2017 %17:%Nov

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
%PM, %03 %729 %2017 %16:%Nov

Mandatory gun insurance coming?

So have you purchased your gun insurance yet? In case you shoot someone, there are insurance policies available to cover any liabilities you might face, pay for your bail if you are accused of a crime, cover your attorney fees, and even pay for any psychological therapy you might need. So if you are going to fire away, nice to know that you are financially covered, right?

 

Legislation has been introduced in six states that would make gun insurance mandatory for all gun owners. New York, Hawaii, Washington, North Carolina, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts would require government-mandated firearms insurance, and several insurance companies are considering offering such a product.

 

In fact, the National Rifle Association offers scaled down coverage called Carry Guard right now in all 50 states. The organization’s website states rather dramatically that: “There is a whole team of lawyers attached to every bullet that leaves the barrel of your weapon. If the suspect goes down, even if you’re justified in shooting, we guarantee you the world is going to come crashing down on you.”

 

Should every gun owner be required to buy liability insurance?  After all, if you drive a car, you are required by every state in the U.S. to have liability insurance.  So, if drivers have to have auto insurance, why shouldn’t gun owners have to have gun owner’s insurance?

 

First of all, courts nationwide have determined that driving is a privilege. And not a (second amendment) right as defended by gun owners.  A driver is generally on a public highway, built with taxpayer funds, and the “rules of the road” require liability insurance.  It should be pointed out that a driver is not required to have either a driver’s license or insurance if the vehicle is driven on private property.  I taught my kids and assorted nieces and nephews to drive at our family camp in rural Louisiana, where they could practice on dirt roads.  No license or insurance necessary.

 

Based on my experience as a former Louisiana insurance commissioner, I can also tell readers that the cost of such proposed gun liability insurance would not come cheap. New York is presently considering in their legislature a proposal to require every gun owner to have a minimum of $1 million in liability coverage.

 

I have not sat down with insurance actuaries to figure out specifically what the premium would be, but I would estimate that a gun owner is looking at a minimum of $2,000 a year to pay for such insurance.  The insurance premium could be significantly more for someone living in the inner city. Such a cost would price the ownership of a gun outside the reach of the average citizen.



Unless the activity to be insured is considered a privilege, there is no requirement or a “right” to insure any object or undertaking. I do not have to insure my house, but it just makes good financial sense to do so.  There is no requirement that an individual have life insurance. One makes such a choice to protect their loved ones when they die. Many people have general liability insurance coverage on any activity that might subject them to a lawsuit.  That would include protection against a lawsuit involving a gun accident. But purchasing such insurance is not mandatory. It’s a choice.

 

With so much interest in gun safety, numerous ideas will be floated in an effort to regulate gun ownership. Certainly there are some people who should not be in the possession of a gun. To many gun owners, the issue is about restrictions on hunting. But to others living in crime-infested areas, and in the face of violent criminal threats, your weapon and your wits may be all you have to protect yourself.

 

There are no easy answers here. But it’s unrealistic to think that gun fatalities will decline simply by making gun insurance mandatory.

 

“Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch.  Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.”          Benjamin Franklin, 1759

 

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, %25 %682 %2017 %15:%Oct

Just What is America's favorite pastime?

Look out sports fans! Maybe, just maybe, baseball is making a big comeback. Now I know we are in the middle of football season. Down my way in the Bayou State, both the Saints and the LSU Tigers are on a roll. And a hyped-up basketball season is just beginning. But baseball is drawing record crowds with the World Series ringing up the largest TV audiences in years.

 

The luster is off pro football. The “take-a-knee” controversy has turned off thousands of viewers. Just check out all the empty seats at any Sunday NFL game. Quite frankly, many of the pro games are, well, just boring. Then there is the “thug factor” and the statistic that some 50 NFL players have been arrested for domestic violence. To many former sports fans, politics has become their favorite entertaining diversion.

 

Just what is America’s favorite pastime? Is it politics or baseball? Politics has always been a major spectator sport, particularly here in my home state of Louisiana. But don’t sell baseball short. Not only has baseball been around longer than any of America’s professional team sports, the game’s highs and lows have been injected in national politics almost from the sport’s inception.

 

Now I’m a diehard baseball fan. I grew up in St. Louis and was in the stadium the Sunday afternoon back on May 2, 1954, when Stan the Man Musial hit five home runs on the same day in a doubleheader. I’m a regular at spring training down in Tampa, where I follow my perennial favorite, the New York Yankees.

 

Baseball has been well ahead of the NFL in confronting issues of race. The problems of major league baseball have often served as a mirror image of the problems facing America. Its history is both a reflection of this country’s fears and ignorance, and its hopes and promises. Like almost any other cultural phenomenon of such prominence, baseball has served as solace and as a poke to our conscience.

 

In 1948, the major leagues faced the problem of segregation earlier than the politicians in Washington, DC, did.  Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers, and won the rookie of the year award in his first season. It took court cases and sit-ins to get the attention of our political representatives to follow suit.

 

A few years back, the Tampa Bay Rays were the Cinderella team that went from “worst to first,” winning the American League pennant. Maybe it has something to do with their name. They used to be called the “Devil Rays” and their record was terrible. As soon as they dropped the word “Devil,” they became victorious overnight. Is it baseball pure and simple, or is the Religious Right involved?



Maybe it’s impossible to get away from campaigns and politics by focusing on the current World Series, but I’m going to give it a shot.  The Fox network carried many major league games this season. In the National League, everyone, even the pitchers, get an equal chance to bat. Will Fox News say that the National Leaguers are socialists?  Will their commentators argue they should call some home runs out if they are too far to the left?  And I guess you can’t blame the Democrats from bemoaning that every time someone steals a base, they get reminded of the 2000 presidential election.

 

There is also a lesson to be learned from Babe Ruth as Congress is considering limiting executive pay and bonuses of corporations who received bailout money. When the Babe was asked how he could justify making more money than the President, he shrugged off the question by answering, “I had a better year.”

 

I suppose one of the biggest differences between these two spectator sports is the sense of optimism that baseball brings every spring. The crack of the bat, a pop fly against a blue sky, and the green grass seem to offer a sense of renewal. It harkens back to the essence of youth and heroes of the past, and you feel that almost anything is possible in the coming season.  But in today’s political climate, there is little thought of great statesmen and principled political figures.  Political courage today is too often defined by poll watching and sticking a wet finger to the wind.

 

So when the TV remote offers a choice of the NFL, politics or baseball in the coming week, I’ll choose the great American pastime.  It’s baseball hands down. Like a fellow once said: “The difference between politics and baseball is that in baseball, when you are caught stealing, you’re out.”

 

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, %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.

 

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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
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Too Busy for National Anthem!

I’ve always looked on honoring the flag and standing for the national anthem as a basic premise that connotes a commitment to protect our freedoms guaranteed to us under our constitution. It’s also a symbol of reverence for our soldiers who protect us throughout the world. It’s never occurred to me not to stand as the national anthem is being played. I guess I’m just an old fashioned coot that has allowed current trends to pass me by. It apparently is just not “cool” or “hip” to celebrate freedom and to honor those who protect us.

 

I guess I have never been all that “cool.” I was one of those young kids who didn’t dodge the draft, and even though I was married with a child on the way and past draft age, I still volunteered to serve in the military. Initially in the Army and then 12 years in the National Guard. I was a lawyer, but enlisted in the infantry. I still have and wear my dog tags given to me by the Army back in 1966. But I wasn’t all that special. Thousands of young men did the same. It just seemed like the right thing to do.

 

But I guess being patriotic is passé in this day and age. It’s not just many overpaid NFL football players who can’t seem to take a few moments to honor those who serve and protect our country. Have you been to a college or pro game recently? Just take a look around you while the Star-Spangled Banner is playing. As sports writer John Branch wrote in The New York Times this week, maybe we ought to turn the cameras around on the fans. “Those who have spent a lot of time in stadiums and arenas know that they are rarely sanctuaries of patriotic conformity and decorum.”

 

Go to LSU’s Tiger Stadium on a Saturday night or venture into the SuperDome for a Sunday afternoon Saints game. Many fans seem oblivious to the anthem as they wander towards their seats or walk about looking for bathrooms and concession stands. Tailgaters, almost without exception, carry on with their cooking and drinking as the music drifts outside the stadium gates. No time or interest in pausing for the anthem.

 

Actually, there is a federal act that requires allegiance to the American Flag. In United States Code, Title 4, Chapter 1, the law states that non-military persons “should face the flag and stand at attention with their right hand over the heart, or if applicable, remove their headdress with the right hand and holding to the left shoulder, hand being over the heart.”

 

I’m sure lawsuits would come raining down from the ACLU if such a law were enforced. I oppose players taking a knee, but those that do are at least staying quite and focusing on the anthem. Not like many fans who seem to be oblivious to a two-minute pause in honor of those who defend the freedoms that allows these same fans to attend a sporting event. As Jack Nicholson said in A Few Good Men: “We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline.”

 

Sure, there are many problems involving fairness throughout our nation. I have written a book about discrimination in the federal judicial system called Justice Denied. But there are times when our country should speak as one voice, and that time to me is during the playing of our national anthem.

The American Flag is rarely flown anymore, outside of public buildings and some car dealerships. When I grew up, many homes throughout our neighborhood proudly hung the Flag. I still fly the nation’s flag in front of both my house and my office, 365 days a year.

 

But that’s just me. I guess, to many of us old guys, patriotism is something that too many Americans acknowledge in passing. Take for granted. No big deal. Now let’s get on with the game.

 

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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
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