Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Good Voting Rights Decision!

Thursday, June 27th, 2013
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
On Tuesday, the United States Supreme Court effectively struck down the Voting Rights Act passed in 1965.  This 48-year-old law required nine states, including my home state of Louisiana, to submit to complete federal oversight for all election procedures.  The high court determined that, whatever justification existed in the 60s, there was no longer adequate justification to continue federal oversight in 2013.
Under the Voting Rights Act, nine states were required to obtain permission or “pre-clearance” from the Justice Department or a federal court before making any changes that affect voting. That’s even the slightest change.  If a voting booth was to be moved a few feet, pre-clearance was necessary. So before this week’s court decision, federal law required that the federal government must look over the shoulders of these nine states because state and local officials could not be trusted to abide by the law.
You may wonder whether institutionalized acts of racism are interwoven in Louisiana’s election procedures.  Is there a concentrated effort on the part of Louisiana elections officials to put up barriers so that it is more difficult for minorities to vote? The Louisiana congressional delegation must think so. Those in office back in 2006, when the Voting Act was re-authorized, voted in lockstep with a large majority of congress to keep Louisiana and a handful of other states under constant federal election watch, branding them as second class states when it comes to running elections.
Republicans and Democrats alike (including then Congressman Bobby Jindal and current Louisiana U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu) virtually sent a message that Louisiana could not be trusted to run fair elections. The other states on the list include Alabama, Arizona, Alaska, Georgia, Mississippi South Carolina, Texas and Virginia.
The federal restrictions are also a waste of time and money. I served as Louisiana’s chief elections officer in the 1980’s, all part of my job as the elected Secretary of State. During that time, there was not one case were elections officials were involved in any questionable activity that compromised the elections process. Not one. I had personally discussed this burdensome process with all five Secretaries’ of State who followed me in office, including current incumbent Tom Schedler, and each confirmed that there were no complaints of voting violations filed with the Justice Department. So what we have in Louisiana is a situation where there are no problems, no election barriers, and no discrimination, just a burdensome federal bureaucracy to deal with.
Certainly there were problems of voter discrimination throughout the south back in the 1960s. And there is a basis for the federal government to intercede when barriers are set up to keep certain groups from voting. The 15th Amendment to the US Constitution, ratified five years after the Civil War, guarantees the right to vote regardless of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” and grants congress the enforcement power. That didn’t stop a number of states, in both the north and south, to put up road blocks that included literacy tests, character requirements and other pretexts to keep primarily African Americans from voting. And Louisiana was as creative as any other state in either prohibiting or controlling the voting of minorities. Thus, the Civil Rights Act of 1965.
But it’s a different world in the Bayou State today, where black and white voting registration rates are virtually identical.  30.6 % of Louisiana’s population is black, but African Americans make up 31% of total registered voters. Of Louisiana’s five largest cities, four have black mayors including, Baton Rouge and Shreveport. Yet by keeping Louisiana restricted with the egregious voting rights provisions, congress made a finding that the sovereign dignity of Louisiana is less than that of the majority of other states.  The same different standards were applied to the eight other states encumbered by this federal act.
An obscure Alabama court case was the catalyst to bring Louisiana and the handful of other states affected up to equal footing with the rest of the country. Arguments were heard last month before the U.S. Supreme Court on the propriety of voting rights requirements in the local Alabama town of Calera, which lies within Shelby County. Though the case involves a small jurisdiction, The New York Times pointed out that the implications stir up “a fascinating brew of two of the most freighted issues in constitutional law, race and federalism.”
One of the knocks on Louisiana is the lack of white votes received by President Obama in the past presidential election.  Obama won 14% of the white vote, down from John Kerry’s 24% in 2004. This was the biggest drop off in the nation, and The New York Times cited this figure as one more reason to keep the Voting Rights Act intact.
“…Despite his strong national margin of victory — and hefty campaign chest — Mr. Obama got only about one in five white votes in the Southern states wholly or partly covered by the Voting Rights Act. And there is every reason to believe that minority voters will continue to face obstacles at the polls.”
In other words, according to the Times, the fact that only a small percentage of white voters voted for Obama shows that the system in Louisiana deters black voters from voting. This of course is a ridiculous effort to find correlation in the inclinations of whom you vote for and the process itself. There is no such correlation.
Unfortunately, it took this week’s Supreme Court decision to give voters in those nine covered states the fairness that congress failed to provide. If these primarily southern states own congressional delegations think their states second rate state and cannot be trusted with seeing that fair elections take place, is it any wonder why the rest of the country holds these states in such low esteem?
Oh Lord, please let me die in Louisiana, so I can keep on voting and be active in politics.”
Gov. Earl Long
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, June 19, 2013

No Real Oversight By Congress!

Thursday, June 20th, 2013
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


In the coming 2014 congressional elections, there should be one major issue put front and center. Why aren't incumbents doing their job?  We send them to Washington for the purpose of overseeing this massive federal bureaucracy, and ensure that it is being run properly.  We expect them to pass necessary laws, and then be sure there is proper monitoring to see these laws are carried out.  Nothing points out more radically the failure of Congress to properly monitor the executive branch then they wholesale release of the entire surveillance system that is supposed to be overseen by the NSA (National Security Administration.)

Every single member of congress should be livid at the incompetence of those running the NSA.  This top secret federal agency, that is supposed to competently gather up the reams of data that will protect us from the bad guys, have proven to be inept at running its own operation.  Why would they just turn over the keys of our most sensitive data to a 29-year-old high school dropout?  That’s the real scandal.  The maladroit and ineffectual handling of America’s secrets (the word Klutzy comes to mind) makes us wonder if our federal spy network is being run by the Keystone Cops!

Edward Snowden, the whistleblower in the center of this firestorm, dropped out of high school, was forced to leave the military, and developed his  “top secret” information access wizardry by taking a few computer classes at a community college to try and get his high school diploma.  And he failed to get it.  He couldn’t complete the courses.  So he gets a job at the NSA as a security guard.  The next thing you know, he is hired by one of the NSA’s big private contractors, Booz Allen Hamilton, that receives hundreds of millions of dollars from the NSA.  In fact, over 70% of the national intelligence budget is now spent on private companies such as Booz Allen, Northrop Grumman and the Boeing subsidiary Narus.

So this high school dropout is making $200,000 a year by a private contractor and given an open door to the nation’s national security database.  He was not prepped and prepared by the FBI, the CIA or the State Department.  He’s just an IT guy and not a very good one at that. Simply put, he had no background in anything related to national security.  Yet working for a private contractor, with apparently little or no oversight by the NSA, Snowden is allowed to spread America’s intelligence gathering system to the entire world.

The Guardian newspaper, that initially broke this spy scandal by interviewing Snowden, reported that the NSA let him see  “everything.”  “He was accorded the NSA's top security clearance, which allowed him to see and to download the agency’s most sensitive documents.  But he didn’t just know about the NSA surveillance systems – he says he had the ability to use them. “I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authority to wiretap anyone from you or your accountant to a federal judge to even the president if I had a personal email.”

He told the Washington Post that: "The NSA has built an infrastructure that allows it to intercept almost everything. With this capability, the vast majority of human communications are automatically ingested without targeting. If I wanted to see your emails or your wife’s phone, all I have to do is use intercepts. I can get your emails, passwords, phone records, credit cards.”

OK, so the NSA blew it.  There incompetence allowed this underling to compromise America’s security network.  They obviously were way to lax about monitoring all these private contractors that were receiving multi-million contracts from the NSA.  So where are the check and balances?  Who is watching the watchers?  Easy answer here.  It’s those folks that you rarely see until election time, and then are everywhere seeking your vote.  It’s our senators and our congressmen.  That’s their job. That’s what we send these people up to the nation’s capitol to do.  See that a system is put into place, and monitor it regularly to assure you and I that the system is working.

Many members of Congress expressed outrage. So to tone down the firestorm,  a briefing was scheduled for the entire U.S. Senate to ask questions, and probe more into the breakdown in classified security programs.   All the top security folks were there. The FBI, the Justice Department, the national security agency, and even the FISA court that is supposed to oversee this whole group of the so-called protectors.  The hearing was scheduled for this past Thursday afternoon. Of the hundred US senators, only 47 of them showed up.  The rest were apparently bee lining home for the Fourth of July weekend.

In my home state of Louisiana, there was mixed reaction from the congressional delegation over lax security oversight.  Fifth District Congressman Rodney Alexander was forthright in complaining that the government had over stepped its boundaries. “Congress is just as much to blame for giving the government the legal leeway to collect sweeping information.”  He deserves credit in calling for much more stringent oversight.

Senator Mary Landrieu, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, seems fairly oblivious to the security leaks and reluctant to take any firm stand.  “I've been following the story like everyone else," Landrieu said, “and have mixed feelings because my constituents are happy wthat the federal government has been aggressive and breaking up some terrorist plots.”  She went on to say:  “On the other hand, there’s some concern about an invasion of privacy, so I’m just going to listen.”   Landrieu apparently espouses the old political line that “I have friends on one side of the issue, and friends on the other side, so I’m just going to stand up for my friends.”

Unfortunately, too many members of congress have become cheerleaders for the intelligence community rather than aggressively asserting their constitutional role of being a watchdog over the federal bureaucracy.  Americans want to be safe and they want to be assured that that their representatives are giving them the best bang for their buck.

When it comes to insisting on an efficient monitoring of the nation’s security system, the NSA has dropped the ball.  But so have members of congress.  They should forget the short workweeks and get back to the job their constitutents elected them to do.  That means being an aggressive watchdog, asking tough questions and protecting both our security and our freedom.


“Government’s first duty is to protect people, not run their lives.”
Ronald Reagan

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

Thursday, June 13, 2013

America Being Spied Upon!

Friday, June 14th, 2013
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


My regular morning coffee group gets to the nuts and bolts of what’s wrong with America each morning as we hash it all out over strong chicory and beignets.  Quite frankly, the nation would be better served if members of congress would just heed the advice of our over 70 gang who collectively have a lot of common sense.  All of us are a bit surprised over the outrage regarding the Obama Administration’s “secret surveillance” program that has apparently been going on for years.

Senate majority leader Harry Reid from Nevada summed it up very well: "Right now I think everyone should just calm down and understand that this isn't anything that is brand new, it's been going on for some seven years…”  What Reed is saying reflects the same warped view that’s been expressed by way too many voices in both political parties.  If our representatives standby and allow the government to abuse power long enough, it becomes okay. We just suck it up, and allow one constitutional provision after another to get thrown under the bus.

Spying on all of us by the government as well as by the private sector has been going on for some time.  Like it or not, you are being digitally frisked and strip-searched every hour of every day.  Your smartphone, computer, all other electronic communication devices pour out digital bits and bytes that are collected by more groups than any of us can imagine. Even your cable connected TV or DVD player sends out information on what programs and movies you watch.

Just test out the collective system.  Do a bit of trolling on the Internet and check out some possible purchases.  Then go to Facebook, or any of the other numerous social media sites, and, voilà -- your potential purchases magically appear on your computer screen.  Remember Gene Hackman’s movie back in the ’90s called “Enemy of the State?  Hackman plays the role of a National Security Agency analyst, and he tells the attorney played by Will Smith, “the agency has been in bed with the telecommunications industry for decades, and they can suck assault drain off the beach.”

But should a government agency have access to so much of what used to be considered your private information?  We used to allow and expect law enforcement and security agencies to go after the bad guys.  But the net now ensnarls everyone.  The Obama Administration, we now find out, has put in place a system that gathers data on virtually every aspect of your life, including your emails, your phone calls, your video chats, photographs, connection logs and just about every communication that you make.  If they are supposedly going after the bad guys, then you and I -- all of us -- are being profiled as bad guys.

The foundation for so much of this government over reach is the so-called “Patriot Act,” passed by a weak kneed congress following the 9/11 attacks.  Those readers who
regularly follow my columns know that I’ve been writing about the atrocities emanating from the Patriot Act for years.  As I wrote back in 2005:  “"Simply put, the Patriot Act is one of the most egregious acts against basic rights and liberties that we have witnessed in our lifetimes. This appalling law has, for all practical purposes, driven a stake through the heart of the Bill of Rights.”

There were some members of congress who raised strenuous objections to this loss of freedom.  Then Senator Obama opposed the Patriot Act and railed that the surveillance policy in place by the Bush Administration "puts forward a false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we provide.  This legislation gives people no rights to appeal the need for such a search in a court of law, and no judge will hear their plea; no judge will hear their case.”

Stephen Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the American Federation of Scientists, summed up Obama's change of heart this way: "Clearly, he took a critical stance towards surveillance as a senator. That has been all but absent from his policies as president.”  Obama now, following in the Bush era’s footprints, seems to feel that there is nothing wrong with using executive power to bend the law.  That is, as long as he’s the executive who’s doing it.  Remember the 1971 song by the Who, Won’t Get Fooled Again?

Meet the new boss,
Same as the old boss.

Obama tells us to trust him (cause you know,) he needs all of us “to not question the government and help them prevent terrorist attacks.”  Forget the constitution.  We need to rely on government paternalism.

The New York Times, normally an Obama mouthpiece, editorialized:  “President Obama issued the same platitude he has offered every time he is been caught overreaching in the use of his powers:  Terrorists are a real menace and you should just trust us to deal with them because we have internal mechanisms (that we are not going to tell you about) to make sure we do not violate your rights.”  Are you persuaded?  My coffee buddies certainly aren’t.

Even the congressman who authored the Patriot Act has some real concerns over the abuses happening today.  Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, a Republican from Wisconsin, said this week that the National Security Agency went way beyond its authority when it obtained a secret order to seize the log records of millions of Americans.  “As the author of the Patriot Act, I'm extremely troubled by the FBI's interpretation of this legislation,” he said. "I have always worried about potential abuses of the Patriot Act. Seizing phone records of millions of innocent people is excessive and un-American.”

As I headed for coffee today, I dug out my 30-year-old copy of George Orwell’s, “1984.”  The cover was a bit tattered, the pages had yellowed, but the message still rings true.  “There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they want to.”

There is a Latin motto that reads, “Scientia Est Potentia” -- Knowledge is power.  But when the government is able to gather up the reams of data that profile, and even define every aspect of your life, such knowledge and such power forces “we the people” to give up freedom for supposed security. The government is only working for our good?  Tell that to my friends over coffee.  They’re very skeptical.  Just like me.

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

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Little Confidence in the Political System!

Thursday, June 6th, 2013
Las Vegas, Nevada


Do young voters really care about who runs their local, state and federal government?  Whatever buzz inspired younger voters to support Barack Osama in 2008 has been severely diminished by the gridlock in Washington.  Voters under thirty (and the rest of us, for that matter) have witnessed nothing but conflict and partisan politics while the economy languishes and major problems go unresolved.  The idealism of youth, many would argue, is being replaced by a cynicism towards those in charge, and this includes the President right down to the local level.

Recently, I sat down with a number of young people in New Orleans who are living in an upbeat, revitalized part of the city called the Warehouse District.  Some of the Crescent City’s more famous restaurants along with new upscale shops and warehouses that have been turned into apartments and condos are located in this area. Similar neighborhoods, filled with young people, can be found in cities across the country.

These young people told me that they are just not that interested in politics at any level.  In the 2012 election, the turnout among registered voters below 30 was a bit less than 50%.  But half of all young voters have not registered.  So that means a turnout of less than 25%.  This was a slight drop from the 2008 election.  But many young voters tell pollsters, “yes I vote, but it really won’t make much of a difference.” As one 28 year old told me in New Orleans, “Government is just not relevant to what I’m trying to do.  You hear all these promises, but nothing really changes.  I don’t think any politician can make a difference in my life.”

Another young man, who is developing a graphics design company, said he could sum up the problem in one word.  “Engagement.  There’s a disconnect because most elected officials don’t engage with the people they represent. They tell us things, they do all the talking, but they never seem to listen.  We have no way to express ourselves.  There is no interaction.”

Software pioneer Tim O’Reilly echoed these thoughts in an article in TechCrunch magazine, where he wrote: “Too often, we think of government as a kind of vending machine. We put in our taxes, and get out services: roads, bridges, hospitals, fire brigades, police protection…. and when the vending machine doesn't give us what we want, we protest. Our idea of citizen engagement has somehow been reduced to shaking the vending machine.”

This vending machine analogy is a good one.  Not only do you often not get what you want, both the machine and government have made the decision of just what you can buy or get in the first place.  You are at the mercy of the information that the system allows you to have.  Oh, but you, as a citizen, have the right to access whatever information you want…right?  Public records and all?  A free flow of information, right?  Hardly.
Freedom of information has been a hallmark of American democracy since the nation’s founding.  Make the information available, and then let the public decide. But the way it should be and the way it is in practice is not always the same. In the ‘70s, when I served as a Louisiana State Senator, I authored and enacted into law what at the time was considered to be the strongest open meetings and public records legislation in the country.  And today, we have the technology – the Internet, the huge online data bases, and the cloud -- that should make access to this information we need to make good decisions about our government so much easier.

But in spite of the advanced technology, little by little, particularly at the state level, questionable barriers have eroded the access to public information.  High copying fees, long wait times, locked government data bases, the refusal to produce requested documents based on bogus security issues, and capricious personal decisions have thwarted the public’s right to know.  Many of these obstacles are put in place by public officials wanting to conduct their business in secret.  Many citizens, particularly the younger, more idealistic voters are turned off by what they see as political cynicism.  They rightly feel that the information is paid for with their tax dollars, and that they have the right to see it.  Too many elected officials are offering only the vending machine, where in a world of the cloud and other advanced technology, most of this information should be easily available to whoever cares to access it over the Internet.

My young voices in New Orleans were unanimous in feeling that the agenda of most bureaucrats and elected officials is to keep the status quo.  One young woman put it bluntly:  “Look, we’re all into networking and building businesses with new technology.  Most of us see government not as a help, but as a hindrance.  We just need for them to open up their information base, then just get out of the way and leave us alone.”

Another young man asked, where’s innovation, where’s the creativity in government?  He quoted Einstein’s thoughts that “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”  “I have a number of bright, imaginative friends that are doing some really cool things and creating value,” he said. “Where’s the vision in the public sector?”

Knowing that I’d been Louisiana’s chief elections officer as Secretary of State back in the ‘80s, my group zinged me over the archaic election process, “You can do about anything on line at home, around the clock.  You can text, call an 800 number to vote on American Idol.  But voting?  Long lines, limited time, hanging chads; why so many barriers?  That’s so last century!”

What these young people are saying is that the boundaries need to come down. No more toleration of the vending machine.  Make government a two way street.  Let technology put many decisions -- more power of government -- in the hands of citizens.  Will this inspire younger voters back into the participatory fold? Will politicians stand in the way of what they will perceive as radical change?  And if they do, are we just going stand by and allow the gridlock of partisan politics and the alienation of young voters to continue?


“I'm not afraid to shake up the system, and government needs more shaking up than any other system I know.”
Ann Richards

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