Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Chance for a New Beginning!

December 27th, 2012

Baton Rouge, Louisiana


Most of us have been swept up in the momentum of the holiday season.  We have passed the Christmas milestone and are approaching New Year’s Day, the third in the trilogy of holidays that we celebrate during this time each year -- Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s.

But too often, our focus is on holiday shopping, football, and social events, and we pass up the opportunity to seize the moment and take advantage of what all three holidays present to all of us.  A second chance, and maybe even a new beginning.

On Thanksgiving Day, we recognize and celebrate the new beginning of the Pilgrims who made the two-month journey from England to America back in 1620.  They too wanted a second chance.  They were searching for a better life with the freedom to live and worship in their own way, free from the intolerance they faced under King James I and the Church of England.  Their leaders created the Mayflower Compact, which established a new set of laws so that they could be treated equally and fairly as part of their new way of life.  A rebirth.  A new beginning for all of them.

The second link in the trilogy, and to Christians the most important, is the Christmas season.  The Bible teaches that Christ died on the cross to give believers a second chance.

There is one book that I try to read over the holidays every year -- “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens.  In the early 1960s I had a golden opportunity to study English Literature at Cambridge University in England, where my focus was on the writings of Dickens.

Dickens was a major writing personality in his day, and newspapers serialized many of his stories.  He initially published under the pen name of “Boz.” He used this pseudonym for many of his early novels.  He entertained his wide London audience with humor in books like, “The Pickwick Papers” and “The Life and Times of Nicholas Nickleby.”  Dickens pulled at the heartstrings of his readers with the drama of “Oliver Twist” and “A Tale of Two Cities.”  But as the Christmas season approached in 1843, Dickens began using his own name, and took on the role of a crusader with the publication of “A Christmas Carol.”

Most of us have seen this poignant Christmas story filled with an array of colorful characters like Ebenezer Scrooge, Tiny Tim, Bob Cratchit, The Ghost of Christmas Past, The Ghost of Christmas Present, and The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.  But the real lessons of the spirit that emanate from this special time of year come, not from miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, but from his dead partner, Jacob Marley.  While alive, Marley failed to help others, and in death he is damned to the agony of recognizing the pain and suffering of others, and being unable to help in anyway, and this is his special hell.
My attorney friend, Eric Duplantis, who practices law and writes in the small town of Franklin, Louisiana puts it this way:  “In life, Marley’s worst sin was not his venality, but his indifference.  After death he realizes this.  But it’s too late.  Death gave him compassion, but his sentence for a lifetime of indifference is an inability to act on the compassion he feels.”

Marley is given a single opportunity to do a good act, after which he must return to his Hell.  The ghost gives Scrooge the greatest gift of all.  Marley gives Scrooge the chance of redemption.  The message here from Dickens is that even someone as lost as Ebenezer Scrooge can be saved if he seizes this one time gift of a second chance.

And now the completion of our annual trilogy -- the New Year!  It’s a time for reflection of the old, and anticipation of the new.  Should we make New Year’s resolutions?  Of course we should!  We ought to have this yearly audit of our lives.  It’s a time to think about old opportunities that we may have forgotten, or that we passed up.  This is also the perfect time to consider new opportunities that were not available in the past.  Here are a few of my resolutions.

Renew old friendships.  This past summer, I attended my 50th anniversary reunion for graduates of my alma mater, the University of North Carolina.  Four years earlier, I returned to St. Louis for my high school reunion.  What great friends I had then, that somehow, through time and distance, had gotten away.  I now have a whole cadre of renewed friendships that through email and Facebook I have a second chance to have and enjoy.

Try new things.  I hope I’m never too old to experiment, study, read, and discuss new thoughts and ideas.  New destinations, a new job opportunity, perhaps a new hobby. I’ve always wanted to paint landscapes.  Maybe this is the year to give it a try.

Take a renewed look at things I should have done.  Interests that were passed over long ago might be more relevant and available in the coming year.  Physicist and inventor Robert H. Goddard wrote:  “It is difficult to say what is impossible, for the dream of yesterday is the hope of today and the reality of tomorrow.”

Set specific new goals.  Oh, I know this is an overused and often broken resolution.  Get healthy, lose weight, spend more family time.  But I think the process is important.  Even though life is full of uncertainties and difficulties, it’s worthwhile to set out, reach for and even dream of what you hope to attain in the coming year.

The New Year, again, gives us a second chance.  We all should learn from, use, and celebrate the American Trilogy.  Stage three begins on January first, just few days away.  May you and your family have a blessed and healthy holiday season and a very happy New Year.  As Tiny Tim said in “The Christmas Carol,” God bless us every one.

“We will open the book.  Its pages are blank.  We are going to put words on them ourselves.  The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day.”
Edith Lovejoy Pierce

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

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Will Common Sense Prevail in Gun Debate?

Thursday, December 20th, 2012
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


The tragedy in the small village of Newtown, Connecticut has sparked yet another nationwide debate on the pros and cons of gun laws.  And without giving the families even a few days to mourn, a political frenzy has broken out with both sides claiming the killings were the fault of either too little or too much gun regulation.

Within hours of the massacre, The Gun Owners of America issued a statement saying:  “Gun control supporters have the blood of little children on their hands.  Federal and state laws combine to ensure that no teacher, no administrator, no adult had a gun at the Newtown school where the children were murdered. This tragedy underscores the urgency of getting rid of gun bans in school zones.”

 On the other end of the spectrum, a number of more liberal publications followed Highbrow Magazine’s lead with headlines that blared out:  “Stop the Insanity: It’s Time to ban Guns and End the Violence!”  The story was similar to wide-ranging commentary saying that  “The eventual passage of fresh gun restrictions would at least send the right signal that the gun lobby is not invincible and that millions of Americans want and demand anything that will at least potentially head off the next rampage.”

Since I host a nationally syndicated radio program, I listened all this week to the competition.  Now talk radio in the South where I live carry’s a much more conservative slant.  This is die-hard gun country, where caller after caller spit out the mantra that “they will have to pry away my gun from my cold dead hands.”

Gun supporters point to guarantees for gun ownership in the Second Amendment of the constitution. But the most recent Supreme Court decision on guns, the 2008 Heller case that challenged the District of Columbia's gun limitations, listed several areas where gun restrictions would apply.  Writing for the majority of the Court, Justice Scalia concluded:  “From Blackstone through the 19th-century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right (to keep and bear arms) was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.”  Nothing in the Heller ruling, Scalia said should be read to cast doubt on "longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms."

Friends from New York were down to visit recently and asked why anyone would want or need a gun.  I patiently explained that hunting was a way of life in many parts of the country.  Hunting for ducks in the Louisiana marsh, or coveys of doves in a cut over north Louisiana cornfields with my son and daughters has been a rewarding family experience for many years.
I have given each of my children a pistol after spending time with them on a gun range.  Why?  Let’s say you are driving along a lightly traveled highway late at night, and your car has engine problems.  You pull off the side of the road and a car pulls up behind you.  Several intimidating thugs get out of the car to “offer help.”  Would your pistol make a difference?  I think so.  A few shots in the air and a stream of obscenities would, in most instances, scare off a potential threat. Wouldn’t it be better to be a defensive aggressor than a passive victim?

On the other hand, reasonable checks and balances for those possessing a gun should not be that onerous, assuming some common sense is applied when putting such regulations in place.  Those favoring no regulation will tell us that guns don’t kill people; it’s people who kill people.  But do those of such mindset say the same thing when a drunk driver kills an innocent bystander?  Cars don’t kill people, drunks do?

That argument just doesn’t fly anywhere in America.  You certainly have a right to own and drive a car.  But with some restrictions.  States require a driver’s license, safety belts, crash safety standards, insurance, and a host of other rules of the road that most drivers assume are reasonable.

But all these proposed tighter gun laws really will have little effect on a deranged killer who has serious mental issues.  Identifying disturbed individuals and seeing that proper care is available continues to be a serious problem nationwide.  Here in my home state of Louisiana, the Governor is shutting down the only major mental health hospital in the state because of “budget priorities.”  Does it take another serious shooting for the powers that be to wake up to the serious growing mental heath problems of a growing number of disturbed individuals?

Texas’ quixotic governor Rick Perry proposed his own solution this week.  Arm all the teachers, or any other worker in harm’s way.  Since there have been several serious Mall shootings, I would assume that the governor would arm all employees there, also.   In Rick Perry’s world, the Mall would offer Uzi’s and smoothies.

Over one hundred fifty years ago (1857), British historian Thomas Macaulay made this dire prediction for America:  “Your republic will be as fearfully plundered and laid waste by barbarians in the 20th century as the Roman Empire in the 5th century; with this difference, that the Huns and Vandals that ravaged the Roman Empire came from without, and that your Huns and Vandals will have been engendered within your own country, by your own institutions.”

There has to be some reasonable compromise to let those of us who own pistols and rifles for hunting and for protection to continue to do so unabated by government interference.  But automatic assault rifles designed for human killing?  We’ve reached a tipping point.  Banning assault weapons doesn’t limit my freedom.  No, it gives all law-abiding citizens less sense of fear from crime and terrorism.  It just makes common sense.


“A little less conversation, a little more action please…”
                       Sung by Elvis Presley

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, December 12, 2012

Are We Really Prepared to Take a Leap?

Thursday, December 13th, 2012
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


What’s most memorable about January 1, 2000?  That was the day, experts of all types warned, that the economies and businesses of world were going to disintegrate into chaos.  Why?  Because of something called Y2K.  But something funny happened on the way to the predicted fiscal doom and gloom.  Instead of accepting “inevitable” business and economic mayhem, the private sector as well as the government prepared.  And after all was said and done, the turn of the century Armageddon turned out to be a non-event.

Now, according to a different batch of experts, a new day of reckoning is fast approaching. In just a few weeks, we are warned, we will be standing on the edge of the so-called “fiscal cliff.”  So just what is this new financial “apocalypse,” and who allowed us to get on this track headed for economic catastrophe? It all goes back to President George W. Bush (as do so many of the problems we face today). He led both Republicans and Democrats along a no-win road that has come back to haunt both parties. Bush signed a massive round of tax cuts without having the courage to cut any federal spending to offset them.  So to cover themselves, both political parties agreed to a 10-year expiration date so they could posture on fiscal soundness.

Not to be outdone, President Obama extended these tax cuts with the support of a more than willing congress.  But that new extension is about to expire again. The piper must be paid.  On January 1 of this coming year, your tax rate will go back up to the rate we all were paying in 2001.  And congress, in their infinite wisdom, piled on a series of other cuts, along with a tax holiday and a variety of tax credits, all with the same expiration date. 

Now I’m not arguing against reasonable tax cuts, and needed tax credits that bring job growth.  But they come with a price tag, and that tag is called cutting what is being spent. 
Neither Bush nor Obama seem to get it: there is no such thing as free lunch. Over the past 12 years, neither has offered any proposals to reduce government spending to make up for the tax goodies they continued to hand out.

What happens if the current congress just stands by and does nothing?  That’s when the dreaded “sequester” kicks in.  Don’t be bothered by this confusing word.  It simply means that a number of pre-ordained deep spending cuts will take place.  Both defense and discretional domestic spending will take big hits.  The idea was to make both sides come to the table months in advance to work out priorities -- what reasonable cuts could be made and which taxes that were in place before 2000 might be reinstated.  After all, neither side would stand by and allow the heavy handed financial shoe to drop-right?

But neither side could perceive the intervening arrival of the Tea Party and Grover Norquist, the tax pledge villain.  Norquist, who heads an organization called Americans for Tax Reform, led the “no tax pledge” effort that, whether you agree with it or not, has been highly successful. I was at a Washington seminar with him a few months ago, and he told me that he had 449 incumbents and challengers who signed the pledge in 2010, including 241 challengers and 208 incumbents. This time around, 534 have signed the pledge, including 255 challengers and 279 incumbents, he said.

So with the present stalemate in place, is it necessary to confect an immediate solution, or just prepare for the worst?  Neither.  Both parties seem to be enjoying all the drama that this controversy has caused.  But little of the draconian damage will take place immediately.  The tax increases could be considered under the new congress after the first of the year.  If reduced rates are put into law in a month or so, they could all be made retroactive.  Many of these changes were set up to be implemented gradually.  A new congress will have plenty of time to adapt, fine tune, change or even eliminate some of the taxes before they are put into effect.

Cynics like me believe that the current crisis was designed specifically to hit right after the election by those who passed the buck to begin with.  The idea was to create a climate that would create tremendous pressure on the current congress to make changes in Social Security and Medicare, causing the elderly to demand action.  Crying wolf generally gets results.

But what about the psychological impact on the business sector?  Most observers agree that if some action does not take place and major changes are not made, then growth will be stunted.  Will an uncertain economy paralyze investments?  We are talking only a few months of delay -- when cooler heads can deal with this sticky problem without the current pressure.  The topsy-turvy economic doldrums have been around for more than five years.  A few more weeks shouldn’t cause any additional lack of economic confidence.

Doug Kass, the founder of major investment firm Seabreeze Partners, said on CNBC a few days ago that a fall from the fiscal cliff will impact “less than one percent of the economy, so effectively no impact at all. Less than one percent means that the impact of a rise in dividend and capital gains are simply noise.”

The problem itself is certainly a lot more than noise.  But it’s important to find the right fix, and address a litany of other issues.  Why isn’t there a current debate over the future of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid?  What happened to an effort, proposed by both parties, to give immigrant visas to those with special abilities in science and technology?  Oil and gas production is making a huge leap and produces major federal revenue.  Where is the policy debate over America’s energy future?

During the presidential campaign, both parties talked of grandiose plans for the nation’s future. Now all they seem to want to do is to “get a deal.”  The country deserves better than this.  So congress, go home.  Let the new guys start over in 2013, and let the old guys return with some rest and a new sense of vigor.

This all could be a molehill rather than the proverbial mountain.  And if there is any jumping off of any cliff, it ought to be by those folks in Washington that confected this mess to begin with.  Not you and me!


    “Living at risk is jumping off the cliff, and building your wings on the way down.”
                             Ray Bradbury 

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