Thursday, October 25, 2012

Close to Nuclear War!

Friday, October 26th, 2012
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Fifty years ago this week, America faced a perilous moment and was on the brink of a nuclear war. Cuba was allowing Russian missile sites to be built, allowing the potential for an all out nuclear attack on the United States.  Most younger Americans are not aware of how close the world came to nuclear conflagration, as historians would argue that this would become the most dangerous moment up to that time in human history.  If you were living then, where were you fifty years ago?
 In the fall of 1962, I had traveled to England to undertake post graduate work in English Literature at Cambridge University.  My focus was on British authors Kingsley Amis, C.P. Snow, T.E. White, and many other writers whose works I had read as an undergraduate at the University of North Carolina. From breakfast seminars to daytime lectures, then afternoon readings and evening tutorials, I was immersed in English literature. International politics and foreign intrigue were the furthest things from my mind — that is, until the Cuban missile crisis.
I had rented a room in the house of an English family who lived a few blocks from the Cambridge campus. Mrs. Davenport, the lady of the house, awakened me at 2:00 A.M. on October 22, 1962. She said a neighbor had just called and told her to turn on the radio to hear a major press conference by President John F. Kennedy.
It was an extremely cold morning, and there was no central heating in the house, so I grabbed a blanket off my bed, threw it around me, and went downstairs to the living room. A fire was going in the fireplace, and the Davenport family had gathered around the radio. President Kennedy was just beginning his remarks.
“Good evening, my fellow citizens. This government, as promised, has maintained the closest surveillance of the Soviet military buildup on the island of Cuba. Within the past week, unmistakable evidence has established the fact that a series of offensive missile sites is now in preparation on that imprisoned island. The purpose of these bases can be none other than to provide a nuclear strike capability against the Western hemisphere.”
The President then announced a naval blockade of Cuba, which he called a “quarantine.” He made it clear that any ship bound for Cuba that was carrying offensive missiles, or any other military hardware, would be stopped and turned back. He continued:
“It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response on the Soviet Union. And any hostile move by the Russians anywhere in the world against the safety and freedom of peoples to whom we are committed, including in particular the brave people of West Berlin, would be met with action.”
 As he ended his speech, the neighbors from next door joined us in the living room. I was not sure how serious the matter was, but there was no doubt in the minds of my British hosts, who had lived the day-in, day-out horror of two world wars; they believed that we were on the brink of another world war, and they were devastated. The women in the room were crying. Eventually, everyone turned to me and asked why the President would want to start such hostility over a minor island south of Florida. I had no idea how to respond.
The next day several members of the Cambridge Union, the local debating society, approached. They had sought me out because I was one of very few Americans at Cambridge. They wanted to have a full airing of America’s position on the Cuban crisis, and they requested that I speak on behalf of the United States. I protested that I wasn’t well versed in American foreign policy, and that they really should find someone else. But they said no one else was available and they hoped I would have the courage to stand up for my country.
I knew I was in over my head, and I needed help. The only place I could think of was the American Embassy in London; maybe someone there could give me some background information about why the blockade was necessary. After a ninety-minute train ride, I was in London by mid-day.
It was about forty degrees, much colder than usual for October in London, as I made my way on foot up Grosvenor Square toward the Embassy. I was surprised to see several thousand protesters outside the diplomatic compound, and hundreds of British policemen surrounding the Embassy. The crowd was chanting, “Get out of Cuba!” and “American imperialism!”
I pushed my way to the gates and identified myself to the military guard as an American citizen. I was asked for my passport, which I did not have with me, but my Louisiana driver’s license was proof enough, and I was allowed to go through.
At the information desk, an Embassy official asked my business. “I really could use some help,” I said, explaining that I was an American studying English literature at Cambridge. “I’ve been challenged to debate some Brits at the Cambridge Union this evening, and defend America’s position of blockading Cuba. Quite frankly, I am not that well versed in our foreign policy, and I’m really in over my head. Can you help me?”
An Embassy staffer gave me a verbal briefing and a little background information. It is an understatement to say that I was lost in the forest of international conflict.
When I spoke up for the American position and tried to defend my country that evening, I was hissed and booed by an overwhelming majority of the crowd. The Russians had stated that the only missiles in Cuba were “defensive,” and that America was the villain. Try as I might, I could not convince the Brits any differently. I was up against several other speakers who rattled off numerous dates, events, and consequences of World War II and the Cold War. They were well versed in the politics of the day, and it was clear that I was less than qualified to be my country’s sole defending voice.
The Cuban crisis was defused, but fifty years later, the world continues to be a dangerous place.  Terrorism is on the rise, there are nuclear threats from Iran and North Korea, and we have an increasingly unstable relationship with Pakistan, a country with a substantial nuclear arsenal. Add to that the tough talk coming from both presidential candidates, including the degrading of Russia, China, and South American countries including Venezuela – and the world is not a safer place.
Cooler heads prevailed fifty years ago, under the leadership of John F. Kennedy.  There is hope that the next president will offer the same leadership on a cross section of international issues that both serve America’s interests and defuse the violence taking place across the globe.  Yes, there is hope.  But based on the last decade, under both Republican and Democratic administrations, don’t count on it. International peace continues to be elusive and still light years away.
“There never was a good war or a bad peace.”
Benjamin Franklin
 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  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

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

How About Them Apples!

October 18th, 2012
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


There is an apple-picking crisis in America.  That’s right. Washington, the largest apple producing state, raises more than half of all apples grown in the U.S.  The state is enjoying one of the biggest apple crops in its history, but this year more than 30% of the apples may be left in the fields to rot because there are not enough workers to do the picking.

For many years, the job of harvesting apples, and other fruits has been largely performed by illegal immigrants, primarily from Mexico, and points further south.  But recent crack downs on illegals have left apple growers in a lurch, preventing them from fully cashing in on this year’s bumper crop.  Located in southeast Washington, Broetje Orchards is one of the largest fruit growers in the world. This year, they have more than 800 job openings, but no takers.  The same scarcity of workers echoes throughout the state.  The governor is being asked to declare a labor emergency that, under Washington State law, would allow farms to hire prisoners to bring in the harvest.

Sure it’s tough work.  But is the pay so low that unemployed Americans won’t take the jobs?  Workers picking apples are paid per 1000 pound bin filled, and an experienced worker can pick as much as a bin an hour.  This year, a worker is paid on average, $28 per bin.  That’s $28 dollars an hour.  That’s $224 per 8 hour day.  That’s $1120 per 5 day week, or $4,480 a month, and $53,750 a year.  Yes, the work is seasonal.  But workers often work weekends and longer hours to maximize earnings.

With so many part time jobs available with good pay, you would think the Washington has a real labor shortage – not enough workers available to fill these well paying jobs -- right?  Not so.  Washington State has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation with a rising jobless rate toping 8.5 % last month.  But here’s the stunning number. The unemployment rate for teenagers in Washington is the second highest in the country at a rate of 34.5%.  The average unemployment rate for teenagers in the U.S. is 24.2%.

You would think that teenagers saving for college, or college students themselves, would jump at the chance to earn some quick and substantial income.  Many students say they are looking for work.  But not “that kind” of work.  These days, more and more students are receiving tuition grants, college loans, and even food stamps.  In my home state of Louisiana, for example, students who have a 2.5 high school average receive free tuition during their college stay with no requirement of graduation in four years.  In fact, only 65% of college students graduate in six years.  In my day, not graduating in 4 years was somewhat of a stigma.

I’m not one to dwell on the “good ole days.”  But when many of us were trying to get a college degree, there were few public programs.  Scholarships were available only to the top students.  There was a student guarantee loan program, where a student would borrow tuition money at a
local bank, pay some 6 ½ percent interest, and be given a set schedule to pay back the loan.  There was a federal government guarantee, but there was no forgiveness of the loan. Usually the loan was only for tuition, so a large number of students had part time jobs.  It took me 10 years to pay back my student loan.

When it came to working, I grabbed any and as many jobs as I could find.  To get through law school at Tulane in New Orleans, I coached a grade school football and basketball team, was the night manager at a low rent downtown hotel, and played my banjo at a joint called “Your father’s Mustache” on Bourbon Street. During the fall, I often picked pecans and was paid by the sack.  Like many other students, I fended for myself, worked hard and found a way to make it work.  No grants, no food stamps.  I would have loved to have had the opportunity to pick fruit at the wages being paid today.

I’m not belittling the current generation of young people who try to get a good education.  Those of us who pay the cost of education at all levels are investing in our country’s and our children’s future.  We have that obligation. However, during these critical economic times, the price of doing this is especially onerous. There’s a well-founded perception that too many Americans, both young and old, are living off the public dole, when they are fully capable of doing a better job of fending for themselves.

America has always been proud of offering a safety net to those truly in need.  But that safety net is being abused all over the country.  There should be no guaranteed entitlements for those who are able to, but don’t care to, take responsibility for their own well being.  Carrying one’s own weight should be a laudable goal for anyone who is able.  The Lord helps those who help themselves.  So how about them apples?


Economic Freedom depends on Economic Responsibility.
By Robert E. Freer, Jr., President of The Free Enterprise Foundation

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

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

My View on the Obama-Romney Debate!

Thursday, October 11th, 2012
Ephesus, Turkey


You know you have a die-hard interest in politics when you want to see the national presidential debate, and it becomes a major commitment just to find a place to watch.  That was my case last week while I was in southern Turkey as the Turkish conflict with Syria was heating up.  I had limited television options and just could not tune into one of the U.S. national networks, or even CNN International.  And even if I could find a station, the time difference meant I would be watching at 3:00 am. No such stations beaming into Turkey could be found.  Apparently, we are not as important in this part of the world as many in Washington think.

But when you are a political junkie like me, and both write about national events and talk about major issues facing the country on my national radio show each weekend, you give it your best shot.  And thank goodness for our allies, the Brits.  I took a chance, got up in the middle of the night, and found a BBC station that was carrying the entire presidential debate.  Strong Turkish black coffee and some baklava to keep me up for what I anticipated to be a lively and confrontation give and take by the President and Mitt Romney.

It wasn’t long into the debate before I wondered if I was still asleep and perhaps dreaming.  The President was about as enthusiastic and focused as the chair Clint Eastwood portrayed him to be at the recent Republican National Convention.  And to the die-hard Republican conservatives, Mitt Romney morphed to the center, agreeing with the President on numerous issues, and confirming to many on the right what that felt all along.  Old Mitt wasn’t really in their corner after all.  But at this stage of the campaign, many of these conservatives still support him as the lesser of the two evils.

The Obama team tried to paint Romney as an uncaring soulless ideologue.  But that dog just would not hunt.  Romney time and time again calming presented himself as a moderate who would work with Democrats to find a middle ground on key issues for both sides to support.  He praised the warm relationship between Republican President Ronald Regan and Democratic Speaker Tip O’Neal.  (As a side note, I interviewed the former Speaker on a television show I hosted back in the 1990s.  He had this to say about Reagan.  “He was a real SOB during the day.  But we would kick back in the evening, have a drink, and he charmed your socks off.  It was hard to turn him down.”)

Romney confronted the President for not working with Republicans in congress, and pointed out that as governor of Massachusetts, he met with the democratic leadership every Monday morning.  Yes, he did conveniently fail to mention that the Republican leadership in Washington vowed to oppose the President from day one.  Remember Republican minority leader Mitch McConnell’s statement that: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

Still, it was a good “hit” by Romney.  After all, it was a year and a half into his term in office before President Obama had a one on one meeting with House speaker John Boehner and McConnell.  The bipartisanship offer by Romney sat well with a large number of independent voters watching, who were looking for a President who would “tone down” the rhetoric, and become more results oriented.

The Obama team prepared the President for a conservative ideologue, but his opponent showed up as Governor Romney.  The flip flopper label was worn well comparing what Romney said in last week’s debate vs his changing positions during the primaries.  This time, it was all about compassion, the middle class, and being a pragmatic president.  “We’re a nation that believes that we’re all children of the same God, and we care for those that have difficulties.”  He spoke of finding more teachers.  And not reducing government, but making it work more efficiently. He said that “regulation is essential.” It all played to moderate independents, located in a handful of swing states.

Healthcare?  Guaranteed coverage for pre existing conditions, allow children to be covered up to the age of 26, eliminate restrictions on interstate insurance sales, and subsidies for those who cannot afford healthcare.  Sounds awfully much like Obamacare to me.  But just change the name, and moderate independents seem willing to sign on. Flimflam?  Probably.  But it seems to be working.

So where was the President?  He seemed otherwise engaged.  On Medicare reform, Romney and Obama really offer the same numbers to make the program work.  But you would not have known that from Obama’s weak defense.  Social Security?  Obama said:  “I suspect that on Social Security, we've got a somewhat similar position.”  Man, did he blow a chance to score big here.  Romney’s VP pick, Paul Ryan, has proposed privatizing Social Security.  Older votes don’t want it touched.  So the President says that he and Romney have a similar position?  He sure blew a chance to paint Romney into a corner and on the defensive.

Both candidates seemed to agree on no more deficits, lowering the tax rate but eliminating many deductions, and clean energy development.  And with Obama seemingly disengaged, looking down at his notes, Romney’s forcefulness allowed him to win the day.  In fact, style had a lot to do with Romney’s success.  Not so much what he said as how he said it in what many believed to be a presidential way.

The third debate, on October 16th, will be strictly about foreign policy.  The president will have a lot to brag about (Osama Bin Laden), but also much explaining to do considering the turmoil taking place in much of the world.  Romney will have to show competence in an area more unfamiliar to him.  So there are still opportunities and dangers for both candidates.

Was the debate worth getting up in the middle of the night half way around the world?  Certainly.  We are talking about America’s future during uncertain times. With two more debates plus a vice presidential debate to go, I’ll be watching wherever I happen to be.  And thanks to the BBC.  The coffee, the baklava, and your programing made my night, and allowed me to stay engaged as a concerned American.

“The debates are part of the unconscionable fraud that our political campaigns have become a format that defies meaningful discourse. They should be charged with sabotaging the electoral process.”
-Walter Cronkite

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   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