Thursday, June 22, 2017

A LOUISIANA KID AND THE BERLIN WALL!


Thursday, June 22nd, 2017
Baton Rouge, Louisiana

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

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 each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.





Thursday, June 15, 2017

A CONGRESSMAN AND KILLINGS IN NEW ORLEANS!


Thursday, June 15th, 2017
New Orleans, Louisiana
A New Orleans congressman tragically was shot while he was out playing baseball.  Luckily, it looks like he will fully recover. Some of those who first heard the news assumed that he had been shot in New Orleans. You see, killings have become a way of life in the Crescent City.
The Queen City of the South is under siege.  No, not from hurricanes. This time, the siege is from within. New Orleans is known as the city that care forgot.  But it’s been hard to let the good times roll in the Big Easy when the dice keep coming up snake eyes.

In the movie called Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, Nicolas Cage plays a corrupt New Orleans cop, and tells a fellow cop to “Shoot him again.” “What for?” says his companion. Cage casually observes: “His soul is still dancing.” You can’t kill enough in New Orleans. It is the murder capitol of America with one of the worst murder rates in the world. And the killings continue at an ever-growing frequency.
When it comes to killings, America surpasses the developed world at some five per 100,000 people. New Orleans has more than ten times that number. For every 1,700 people in the Crescent City, one will be murdered. These figures were based on last year’s numbers. The murder rate so far this year is way ahead of last year’s. So it’s the bad guys vs. the good guys in the criminal justice system, right? Maybe not.
New Orleans has always pushed the limit of what is acceptable to those running government and to its citizens. The city is often referred to as a corrupt third world country and the most northern of the Caribbean nations. But in recent years, the bottom seems to have fallen out of the criminal justice system itself.
The system that is supposed to protect the citizens of New Orleans is rife with corruption and incompetence. In too many instances, those who are charged with safeguarding and serving have betrayed their mission to see that the public is protected, and that justice is done. A report in The New Statesman observes: “Something terrible lies at the heart of New Orleans – a rampant, widespread and apparently uncontrollable brutality on the part of its police force and its prison service. The horrors of its criminal justice system from decades before Katrina and up to now lie somewhere between, with little exaggeration, Candide and Stalin’s Gulags.”
New Orleans is in a battle to stay afloat as it deals with major street crime, corrupt politicians, and a dysfunctional criminal justice system where even federal officials can no longer be trusted.  Author James Lee Burke writes about this corruption and dysfunction in his novel Last Car to Elysian Fields.  “One of the most beautiful cities in the Western hemisphere was killed three times, and not just by forces of nature.”

The Queen City of the South for years has had the highest per capita murder rate in the nation, where multiple killings often happen on a daily basis; a city that is rated as one of the five most dangerous cities in the world.  But even with such a reputation, it is hard to fathom the recent up rise in shootings. The New Orleans District Attorney reports that more than 700 people have been shot in the past 12 months, a 50% increase in less than a year.

Many crimes go unreported out of the sense of frustration that nobody will do anything about it, anyway. Recently, a young relative of mine was walking uptown from the French Quarter.  Just across Canal, in one of the busier sections of the city, a man stepped out of nowhere and without rhyme or reason, punched him in the face. In an instant, my relative had become a victim of the “knockout game,” a brutal ritual where street thugs approach an innocent bystander and try, in one blow, to knock him out. He suffered a concussion and had his jaw wired shut for weeks.  This type of street violence seems to happen way too often.

What happened to my friend of many years, Congressman Steve Scalise, is hard to fathom.  But so are the numerous killings in the Crescent City.  New Orleans can be either a unique place to live and work, or it can slowly drift into the cosmos due to a justified fear of crime.  There’s a fight to keep the bright, dynamic young leadership in the city and be an integral force in molding the future of New Orleans.  But it all begins with feeling safe, doesn’t it?  And right now, the Crescent City still has a long way to go.

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 each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownusa.com



Thursday, June 08, 2017

ARE WE ALL FEDERAL CRIMINALS?


Baton Rouge, Louisiana
ARE WE ALL FEDERAL CRIMINALS?

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.

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 each Sunday morning from 9:00 am till 11:00 am Central Time on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.






Thursday, June 01, 2017

DELUSION OR COMMON SENSE IN THE MIDDLE EAST?


Thursday, June 1st, 2017
Baton Rouge, Louisiana

DELUSION OR COMMON SENSE IN THE MIDDLE EAST?

President Trump has just returned form 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 each Sunday morning from 9:00 am till 11:00 am Central Time on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.