Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Did You Get Away this Summer?

Thursday, September 1st, 2011
Dallas, Texas


Does anyone take a real vacation anymore? In the good old days, school didn’t start again until the Monday after Labor Day. The last two weeks in August used to be a popular time for families to get away to the beach for a final summer fling. But not anymore. The American family vacation seems to be dying.

In days of old, I always joined in our family excursions at summer’s end. There was no electronic requiem involved. No cell phone rings, no BlackBerry buzzes, and no laptop beeps. It was Lake Michigan in my early years, Lake George, New York in my college days, and from my twenty’s on, it was annual summer vacations in Gulf Shores, Alabama.

Back in the 60’s and 70s, there were no high rises on the Gulf Coast, and no water parks. Just a few local seafood restaurants and a lot of single story beach houses with long porches facing the Gulf. There was no local phone service back then, and you had to bring your own drinking water. We brought our sheets and towels from home, because the well water was full of iron and made the wash gray and stiff. No TV and no air conditioning.

And you know what? The whole family thoroughly enjoyed the two weeks we stayed. We talked to one another, went crabbing and fishing off the shoreline, read, took afternoon naps, and long evening walks looking for the new shells that washed up on the shore earlier that day. Maybe a trip into Pensacola once or twice for a movie. And when our two weeks were up, no one wanted to go home.’s annual vacation survey found that only 14% of Americans go away for two weeks or more at one time. And now, school begins in the middle of August. Middle of August? Why? Aren’t air conditioning bills for schools much higher then? So what happened to the June 1st to August 1st summer schedule? No more school days were added. And kids have to cut their summer resort jobs short. Why the change?

Now, if you can get away to the beach for a few days at all, you cram into one of the high rises that line the Gulf Coast beaches for miles on end. Since you stay in an air conditioned condo, your body adapts, and it seems way too hot to go out to the beach. The kids head for the mall or the game room. Dad, and mom, if she works, carry their PEDs and cell phones wherever they go, and check into the office several times a day. Electronic devices and games surround the whole family.

But I have resolved to go back to the true vacation. As I start my trip, I look in the mirror and tell the face there that my name is Jim, and I’m a techno-addict. But on this journey, I’ve committed to unplug, and try to be more connected to myself rather than to my computer. No electronic communication tools this time. Just a few books (fiction -- nothing heavy), some comfortable hiking boots, fresh fruit from highway stands along the way, a few bottles of wine from home, and my 20 year old banjo that I swear I’m going to learn to play well some day.

My one major vice during my August get-a-way is to splurge each morning by eating a Krispy Kreme donut. Yes, I’m a health nut, but it’s hard to turn down a hot, fresh made donut. Now I’ve been a Krispy Kreme fan for years. Those just out of the oven flavors melt in your mouth. And let me tell you this. I know a lot about Krispy Kremes. Like the fact that an anonymous New Orleans Frenchman sold his secret yeast-raised doughnut recipe to Krispy Kreme's founder Vernon Rudolph and his uncle, Ishmael Armstrong, both of Paducah, Kentucky, back in 1933. (Folks in Paducah listen to my weekend radio show on WTHQ-750 AM) The first Krispy Kreme retail store was opened in July of 1937 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

And there are so many Krispy Kreme choices. Of course original glazed, then chocolate iced, custard filled, raspberry filled, lemon filled, maple glazed, sugar coated, cinnamon bun, cinnamon twist, powdered blueberry, glazed cream filled, strawberry filled, cake, powdered cake, glazed devil’s food, glazed blueberry, glazed sour cream, glazed cruller, chocolate iced cake, and cinnamon apple filled. Have I worn you out? Don’t tell me I don’t know about Krispy Kreme doughnuts.
Rick Bragg once wrote that trying to explain how good Krispy Kremes are to someone who has never had one is like telling a celibate priest about young love. He knew what he was talking about.

Just getting away does not, in itself, guarantee relaxation. It takes several days just to unwind. And isn’t life too short not to appreciate every moment, and not to have the tune out time with family and friends? Maybe this longer special time has passed a lot of folks by. But I hope for me and my family, it never does.
“ Vacation: When you spend thousands of dollars to see what rain looks like in different parts of the world.”
--Robert Orben
Peace and Justice.
Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers and websites throughout the South. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at 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

Monday, August 22, 2011

Gov. Rick Perry-All Hat and No Cattle?

Tuesday, August 23nd, 2011
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


How much more bleak can the mood of the country get? Several new polls out this week show that only 15% of likely voters in next year’s presidential election say the U.S. is heading in the right direction. According to the Rasmussen Reports national survey, that’s down 10 points from a month ago, and 20 points from just a year ago. You would assume Washington would be abuzz with a consuming congress and White House trying to find some way out of a hole that continues to deepen each month.

Yet the President seems a bit less than concerned, spending 10 days on Martha’s Vineyard with the rich and famous. Oh, he’s supposedly on a “working vacation,” and it may be “perception,” but it looks bad. In politics, perception quickly becomes reality. Congress, too, is on a break. With Democrats and Republicans in a stalemate, the urgency for a solution to the economic stagnation continues to grow as mindful action on the country’s financial health is nowhere to be found.

The Wall Street Journal, certainly a strong Republican mouthpiece, commented that Republicans are “desperate” for a candidate to emerge with practical economic solutions, and, according to the Journal’s editorial page, if “the current field isn’t up to that, perhaps someone still off the field will step in and run.” As E.J. Dionne wrote in a Washington Post column last week, “having the Journal’s editorial page criticize the Republican presidential crop is like having Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, fret over the quality of cardinals who want to be the next pope.”

Enter Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the new flavor of the month, and our neighbor next to my home state of Louisiana. Perry is the perfect fit for the Texas cowboy gunslinger who “shoots first” and delves into the details later. And give the guy credit. He says he shot a coyote that was attacking his dog as he was out for a morning jog. No photos of the coyote though, and some folks say it was really a rat. By the way, where do you carry you six gun when you are in jogging shorts?

Perry brags, with some justification, that 37% of all jobs created in the U.S. during the past 2 ½ years were created in Texas. But he’s fuzzy on the details of just what policies he had in place to create these new jobs.

A major source of the new jobs was the increase in the price of oil. Higher prices mean more jobs in production and distribution. Oil prices are five times higher today than when Perry first took office. But government has no say in the economics of this job source. A major increase in military spending throughout numerous military installations in Texas is another source of the new jobs that Perry claims for himself. From Lyndon Johnson to George Bush and Dick Cheney (remember Halliburton?), Texas has been treated quite well out of Washington, re military spending.

And how about drug money? Middle and upper class Mexicans, reports the New York Magazine, are flooding into Texas, bringing their savings and businesses with them. According to the DEA, the magazine reports, “drug traffickers are cleaning up their proceeds by buying businesses in South Texas. They also spend on guns, warehouses, security guards, luxury cars and houses. In San Antonio, a high-dollar drug trafficker can buy a $2 million or $3 million place and exist for a long time.” Lots of jobs coming to Texas this way?

Low taxes? Texas does not have a state income tax. But at what price? Texas has a less than a mediocre school system, and the lowest percentage of citizens who have health insurance in the nation. Many of the new jobs are for unskilled labor, and often, these jobs are merely diverted from another state. So this does little for higher national job growth. Texas is presently a little below the national average in unemployment, but Hispanic unemployment at 9.4% in Texas, is higher than the U.S figure of 9.2%. Texas, in fact, ties Mississippi for having the highest percentage of its population receiving minimum wages.

When it comes to injustice in the judicial system, don’t count on Gov. Rick to be a champion for the wrongly convicted. Texas is a hotbed for innocent citizens being falsely accused and convicted under Perry’s reign. One of the worst cases was that of Cameron Todd Willingham convicted of burning up his family. Following his conviction, mounting evidence surfaced that led any number of investigators to conclude that Willingham was in fact, innocent.

The Governor was unmoved and refused to halt his execution. Later, the Texas Forensic Science Commission hired investigators to review the case, who determined that "a finding of arson could not be sustained.” When the Commission agreed to reopen the Willingham case after the execution, Perry conveniently removed the Chairman and two other members to stop any further state investigation. The morbid joke around those closely following the case was that “it took nerve to execute an innocent man.”

Perry has spent his first week of his new campaign saying that “it’s time to get America back to work again. Great governor! But tell us how? What’s your plan? We are hoping that you are not all hat with no cattle.

So far, Perry seems to be running for Governor in Chief, not Commander in Chief. The nation is presently fighting three wars. Libya has drawn out to six months when it was supposed to be just weeks. There is no end in sight for our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, although our primary foes there, Hussein and Bin Laden, are both long dead. Iran continues on a path of acquiring nuclear weapons, but not one word on these dangerous and volatile national defense issues.

The bottom line is this. The Governor of Texas is entitled to a little bit of time to lay out his plans for revitalizing the country. But whether he likes it or not, he will spend a great deal of time on the campaign trail answering for what he did, and what he failed to do as the state’s chief executive. And ole’ Ranger Rick has a lot of explaining to do.

Take our politicians: they're a bunch of yo-yos. The presidency is now a cross between a popularity contest and a high school debate, with an encyclopedia of clichés the first prize. ~Saul Bellow

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers and websites throughout the South. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at 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

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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Tearing Down the Berlin Wall!

Sunday, August 14th, 2011
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


Fifty years ago his weekend, the Berlin Wall was 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 that had many observers feel we could be on the brink of war with the Soviet Union. Just a year later, that concern almost became a reality as then President John Kennedy faced down Russians Premier Nakita Khrushchev over the Cuban missile crisis.

East German and Russian soldiers scurried throughout the night on Autos 14th and 15th of 1961 to erect a 25 mile long barbed wire fence, forcing some 2000 East Germans to flee their homes. In the months that followed, the “wire wall” became concrete with guards aloof that sot 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,” if you 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 US Track Team that had run track meets throughout Europe. And strangely enough, my track career led to the first significant political crisis I ever faced. After competing for a month, we had a two-week break in the schedule, and the American team was going to vacation in various parts of Europe, then regroup in Bremerhaven, Germany, for our next official competition.

A meet promoter approached me to compete at a majhor track meet in East Berlin during the break. The promoter assured me that I would receive full expenses and appropriate prizes. There was no professional track in the 1960s, but the better runners could negotiate for their prize – a clock radio, a T.V. set, maybe a refrigerator, all of which could be cashed in after the meet. I had never been to East Germany, and 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. Now at this time, America did not recognize East Germany as a legitimate country. It was considered a Russian puppet state, and the U.S. maintained no diplomatic relations with them. Once you crossed to the other side of the wall, you were on your own.

On the afternoon of the track meet, I crossed the border from West Berlin at Checkpoint Charlie, along with the agent who had arranged for me to run in the meet. (He also served as my interpreter.) It was an evening meet, 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 made it a point of honor for their national pride.

Our team had been competing several times a week, but the break had given me a lengthy rest from the grind of competition. I felt extra spring in my legs and anticipated a good run and victory over the East German.

The 100-meter dash was about to begin when my agent brought over an American who wanted to talk to me. He did not fully identify himself, but he said he was with the American Embassy in West Germany. He told me in strong terms that it would be completely unacceptable for me to run the high-hurdles race that was about 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 recognition to a country that the United States felt was illegitimate. He implied that by competing I could start an international incident; 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 had no real understanding of the international consequences supposedly at stake. I wanted to run, but I certainly was not going to go against the wishes of my country. So I gathered my warm-ups and had the interpreter tell the meet promoter that I was not going to run.

As the announcement was being made that I would not compete, I headed for the locker rooms, which were 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 certainly qualifies as a baptism in politics.

The following year, President Kennedy stood at the foot of the Berlin Wall, and told a crowd of 125,000 that “All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words, 'Ich ein Berliner.’” But the wall stayed in place for another 25 years. In 1986, President Ronald Reagan spoke in West Berlin at the Brandenburg Gate and admonished; “Mr. Gorbachev take down that wall.” The wall finally fell three years later.

Fifty years have gone by, and we no longer fear one super power. There are brush fires worldwide that have overwhelmed America’s resources. Stephen Glain, a guest on my radio show this weekend, and author of the best seller, State vs Defense” articulately argues that America is in a whole new era of defining America’s empire in the years to come. Let’s hope we will continue to argue about destroying walls and not destroying countries in the future.


“Sometimes I think it should be a rule of war that you have to see somebody up close and get to know him before you can shoot him.” ~M*A*S*H, Colonel Potter

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers and websites throughout the South. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at 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

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