Friday, July 01, 2005

Jim Brown Weekly Column

Thursday, June 30, 2005.
Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Last week's U.S. Supreme Court decision granted cities the power to destroy homes
so that corporations can erect office buildings. And this is supposed to be "public
use?" Just imagine what the Bard would have said about such a preposterous idea.
"If thou has a thing so fine
that I've resolved to take what's thine,
and by foul deeds I made it mine
would not this theft be called a crime?
But what if to a judge I go
and claim the state would get more dough
if but to me thine thing should flow?
And if the court decrees it so
is that not a certain sign
that what thou owned was never thine?"
The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution permitted, or so we thought,,
government taking of private property only for a "public use." Not so anymore.
Look for cities, in conjunction with private developers, to bulldoze neighborhoods in
order to erect shopping centers and business complexes with the noble "public" goal
of generating additional tax revenue. It's all about money. So what if your personal
property rights are sacrificed in the process?
And Louisiana is no exception. You could just picture local developers, rubbing
their hands together, in anticipation of more deals in concrete. Remember the Joni
Mitchell song? "They paved paradise and put up a parking lot." The director of the
Baton Rouge Downtown Development District jumped right in with apparent glee.
"Obviously, it opens up the opportunity for good projects that might be confronted
with difficulties and this could help move them forward," he told the local paper.
I was an elected delegate to the 1973 Louisiana Constitutional Convention.
Protection of private property rights was a major issue of concern involving lengthy
discussion. The final document went way beyond the federal government's Fifth
Amendment protections. The Louisiana language is much stronger.
"Property shall not be taken or damaged by the state or its political subdivisions
except for public purposes and with just compensation paid to the owner or into
court for his benefit. Property shall not be taken or damaged by any private entity
authorized by law to expropriate, except for a public and necessary purpose and with
just compensation paid to the owner; in such proceedings, whether the purpose is
public and necessary shall be a judicial question. In every expropriation, a party has
the right to trial by jury to determine compensation, and the owner shall be
compensated to the full extent of his loss. No business enterprise or any of its assets
shall be taken for the purpose of operating that enterprise or halting competition with
a government enterprise. "
But now, it would seem that the U.S. Supreme Court has gutted Louisiana's stronger
property rights protection, and has imposed a new rule that says "public use" is
anything the legislature says it is. Reminds one of the frustrations expressed in Alice
in Wonderland:
"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, "it means just
what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less."
"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different
"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master - that's all."
So the bottom line is that someone can live in a local neighborhood all their lives,
then be uprooted and evicted by private developers who can pay more taxes. The
term "public use" has been thrown out the window. Like I said, it’s all about money.
Deep Throat a hero? Give me a break. He was a bitter public employee who sought
revenge when he was passed over for the top job at the FBI. Where is the integrity
with this guy? Why didn’t he just go public? Why didn’t he lay out his case to
Remember Colleen Rowley, who retired from the FBI after exposing the agency's
lapses before 9/11? She set out her concerns in a detailed written memorandum.
Now she's running for Congress, and I hope she wins. She had the courage to "speak
out" about the ineptness she observed. She didn't sneak around back alleys, passing
on tidbits of information to further her own agenda.
Two lessons learned here. One is that you should be careful not to upset a guy who
may have a lot of dirt on you. Second, when all is said and done, Deep Throat is
now following his own famous line when he said "Just follow the money.’ That's
really what it's all about, anyway, isn’t it??
And be careful what you check out of the library. You see, a majority of Louisiana
Congressmen want the government to be able to secretly monitor what you read
without requiring any judicial order. Although the U.S. House of Representatives
voted overwhelmingly to prohibit such "fishing" of your library records, Louisiana
Republican Congressmen voted in lockstep to let big Brother keep a close eye on
you. Fortunately, 58 other Republicans join the majority in requiring some checks
and balances on your right to be left alone. Just let Big Brother keep an eye on you.
Look, any reasonable person would agree that law enforcement officials should be
able to get information, including library records, about specific individuals they feel
may reasonably be suspected of a crime. But having your privacy invaded and
putting you under suspicion, based on the books you read, flies in the face of the
basic freedoms every American should expect. Kudos to those members of Congress
who opposed restrictions on searches involving any fishing expedition. And the next
time you see your Congressman, ask him why he wants your privacy violated and
your reading habits exposed.
Benjamin Franklin said it pretty well some years back:
"Those who would sacrifice freedom for security deserve neither."
And lastly, there’s some good news from Washington. The statue of the Spirit of Justice has
been finally freed. Remember the statue at the Justice Department that stood tall since the
1930s, with her arms raised, and one breast exposed? Former Attorney General John
Ashcroft spent over $8,000 to have drapes installed covering up the Lady.
The new Attorney General last week quietly had the drapes removed. Who knows where
they will end up. But I guess he felt that if the statue survived over 80 years without a blink
of controversy, what's the big deal. So there she stands. Right there in the Justice
Department's ceremonial Great Hall. Uncovered with her arms raised high, and her single
breast fully exposed. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? January, 2004. Super Bowl. Hummmm.
It’s Janet Jackson redux.

"The most important political office is that of private citizen."
~ Louis Dembitz Brandeis (1856-1941)
American Supreme Court Justice
Peace and Justice.
Jim Brown