Wednesday, June 25, 2014


Thursday, June 26th, 2014
Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Twenty-Eight years ago this week, President Ronald Reagan traveled to West Berlin, and at the Brandenburg Gate admonished: “Mr.Gorbachev take down that wall.”  The Berlin Wall had been 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 had many observers feeling that we could be on the brink of war with the Soviet Union. 
The wall was initially a 25-mile long barbed wire fence.  In the months that followed, the “wire wall” became concrete with guards aloft who shot 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,” only if they 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 U.S. Track Team competing in track meets throughout Europe.  A meet promoter approached me to compete at a major competition in East Berlin.  Since I had never been to East Germany, 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.  America did not recognize East Germany as a legitimate country at the time. It was considered a Russian puppet state, and the U.S. maintained no diplomatic relations with the East Germans. Once I crossed to the other side of the wall, I would be on my own.
On the afternoon of the meet, I entered East Berlin at Checkpoint Charlie. It was an evening event, 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 had made it a point of honor for their national pride.
The 100-meter dash was about to begin when my agent brought over an American who wanted to talk to me. He said he was with the American Embassy in West Germany, and told me in strong terms that it would be completely unacceptable for me to run the high-hurdles race that was soon 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 regarded as illegitimate. He implied that by competing I could start an international incident, and 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 who had no real understanding of the international consequences supposedly at stake. I wanted to compete, but I certainly wasn’t going to go against the wishes of my country.
As the announcement was being made that I would not compete, I headed for the locker rooms, 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 qualifies as a baptism in politics.
Thirty-one years have gone by since the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, and we no longer fear one super power. Instead, there are brush fires worldwide that have overwhelmed America’s resources.  Let’s hope in the future, we will continue to argue about tearing down walls and not about destroying countries.
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 18, 2014


June 19th, 2014
Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Iraq is imploding as Republicans and Democrats alike are scratching the heads as to what went wrong.  Meanwhile, party gridlock in Washington has brought any sense of responsible governing to a standstill.  The President faces what may well turn out to be his single biggest crisis during his time in office, and he spent most of last week vacationing on California golf courses.  Are we observing a freak show or what?

In the nation’s history, there has always been the loyal opposition by the political party out of power that served as a check and balance -- a good thing.  But there was still a sense on the part of both parties that some cooperation was needed to make progress and move the county forward.  We saw such cooperation across party lines under Reagan in the 80s and Clinton in the 90s.

Then came 9/11, and after a short-lived euphoria of rallying the nation together, both parties saw an opportunity for political gain. Gridlock seeped in, and during the past ten years cooperative effort between the Republicans and Democrats has been non-existent.  Over 90% of the members of congress profess to be Christians.  Yet those we elected to lead have given little credence to the words of Jesus in Mathew 12:25.  “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand.”

The same non-negotiable division exists in Iraq today under the impotent leadership of President Nuri Maliki and his U.S.-installed Shia regime.  The loyal and vicious opposition are the Sunnis, and the two religious factions have been at each other’s throats for 1400 years.  Maliki failed miserably to bring in his opposition as part of a new Iraqi government, and the U.S. only gave lip service to a joint governing effort.  Now it’s open warfare and any chance of peace seems out of the question.

You and I have been have been conned. That’s right -- we’ve been lied to, deceived, hoodwinked and misinformed.  We were told by Bush, Cheney and company that Iraq needed to be invaded because they had weapons of mass destruction that put our country at great risk.  And then it turns out that there were no WMDs. None!

Once in, history shows us how difficult it can be to get out.  We were conned by Obama, who poured billions into Iraq, but allowed Maliki to call all the shots.  Then, without any real long-range game plan, this administration pulls out and abandons the Iraqi people, allowing the country to fall into the abyss of total civil war.

This unforgiving war has cost 4500 U.S. soldiers their lives, wounded more than 40,000 of them, and an additional 45,000 troops have returned home with mental and physical problems, and cost over $1 trillion.  And what do we have to show for it?  Iraq is in ruins, and the political chaos becomes worse as each week passes.

We were conned by Republicans and Democrats alike when both parties told us our goal should be to reshape Iraq into America’s image, and democracy could and should be exported throughout the Middle East. Nation building in the Arab world?  What a joke.  We have created this monster of anarchy that seems to be spreading like wildfire. 

And no--we can’t blame the Iranians who will no doubt be moving into the Iraqi leadership vacuum with troops in their effort to shore up the teetering Maliki regime.  The fault lies directly at the feet of the past two presidents, one Republican and the other a Democrat, as well members of congress from both parties who stood by acting as administration cheerleaders, and refused to ask the tough questions that needed to be asked.

The Iraq issue has been bungled from the beginning.  Let’s just hope and pray that both parties will put aside their petty partisan differences and try to find some way out of this unfathomable and intolerable crisis.


"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves…”
Julius Caesar -- Shakespeare
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 11, 2014


Thursday, June 12th, 2014
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


Kids all over Louisiana graduated last week from kindergarten, grade school, high school, college and graduate schools.  And there was always a commencement speaker. Most of you will never give a commencement address. But as a public official, I was called on to give a number of them.  And guess what?  I don’t remember any of the advice that I gave to these newly minted graduates.

In the 80s, when I served as Louisiana Secretary of State, I was asked to be the commencement speaker at two Louisiana universities.  In 1983, I spoke to the graduating class at Northwestern University in Natchitoches.  Future Pro bowler and Saints quarterback Bobby Hebert was in that class and heard whatever words of wisdom I had to offer.

In 1985, I was called to share advice and admonitions with the graduating class of Louisiana Tech in Ruston, which included future NBA all star Karl Malone.  I’m sure my challenges to “work hard… change the world… and follow your dreams,” came across as some old guy who was over the hill giving advice to graduates who were primarily worried about getting a job and paying off their college loans.

So what practical advice can I share that might make a real difference in the lives of those graduating, today?  Instead of listing tired platitudes, I suggest that you let common sense that can be carried and nourished through the years be your guide.

At this stage of your lives, you are not all that special.  No, you are not the future.  At least, not yet.  You have been given a toolbox.  Hopefully, you had teachers who opened your eyes to possibilities of what has meaning for you. But now it’s up to you to use these tools to make your own path.  Here is my short list of thoughts that should come from your toolbox.

First, recognize that there really haven’t been that many good ideas.  If we’re all so smart, then why were more people killed in this past century than in every other century combined?  I submit that the only really good idea was the Sermon on the Mount.  I hope you have read it, but if not, you should. It’s simply a challenge to live a life that is free from hypocrisy, full of love and grace, and full of wisdom and discernment. Pretty simple stuff. Maybe one of you will come up with another good idea in future years, and then we’ll have two good ideas.

Second, forget the Code of Hammurabi.  Remember the old axiom, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth?”  Vengeance gets you nowhere.  I had my run in with the federal government, and I was pretty bitter for years.  But reprisal is a waste of time.  Try maintaining a loving family and good friends.  And keeping your health. All the rest is small stuff.

Now here is a short list of the small stuff that does make sense.

Don’t get swallowed up by your computer. It’s actually a pretty neat world out there, full of many choices, so use your time to soak it all in.

Keep music in your life.  And remember all you Cajuns and Rednecks like me: all American music -- jazz, rock and roll, swing, the Beatles, Broadway, and many other forms were derived from the blues that came right out of this deepest of the deep southern states.

Cigarettes?  I like author Kurt Vonnegut’s description.  A fire at one end and a fool at the other.

Read and keep plenty of books.  Have a pencil handy to underline something profound that you might go back to and read again.  And keep your books.  Mine are old friends.

And that’s about all the small stuff I can pass on for now.  So snap a baccalaureate selfie, toss your graduation cap into the air, and as you proceed, make a commitment to keep adding to your toolbox. Remember that the road to success is dotted with many tempting parking places.So stay the course.  Reach for the moon.  But don’t miss out on all the small pleasures that surround you every day.  Enough said.  Good luck with your life.

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 04, 2014


Baton Rouge, Louisiana


A popular Louisiana Governor died 15 years ago this week. John McKeithen was the first Governor I ever met.  When he was elected as chief executive in 1963, Louisiana was still a 19th century state struggling to operate in the 20th century.  McKeithen was the catalysis that caused a major realignment of priorities.

In the face of the high racial tension in the South in the 60’s, McKeithen, who had received a strong segregationist vote, preached moderation.  He was a visionary. He built the Superdome, which he said was “the greatest building in the world.” He viewed  the Mississippi River as a continuing renewable resource, and in my opinion, his greatest achievement was in enticing the chemical industry to locate along America’s major tributary from Baton Rouge to New Orleans.

I met John McKeithen in a Chicago elevator.  It was 1968, and on the spur of the moment, I drove to Chicago to view the Democratic Convention.  The party headquarters was at the Sheraton Hotel facing Lake Michigan, and I was on my way to the top floor to get a better view of the protests taking place over the Vietnam War.

When the elevator door opened, there were two people inside -- Senator Russell Long, and Louisiana Governor John McKeithen. Rumors had been circulating around the convention that McKeithen was under consideration as a possible choice for Vice President on a Hubert Humphrey ticket.
Sticking my hand out, I introduced myself. “Governor, I’m Jim Brown from Ferriday.” McKeithen smiled.  He was visibly surprised.
“Why Jim, what are you doing up here?” he asked.
“Governor,” I said, “I came all the way up here to support you for vice-president.”
McKeithen laughed, slapped me on the back, and told me he could not be more pleased.
I later learned that the Senator and the Governor had been on their way up to Vice President Humphrey’s suite to urge him to put McKeithen on the ticket. When he was not tapped for the job, the Governor left in a huff and headed back to Louisiana.

My path would cross with “Big John” from time to time, and he seemed to relish in telling those around us about my trip to Chicago to support his candidacy.  Since I lived near his home in Caldwell Parish, he suggested I run for the state legislature.  With his encouragement, I announced for state senator in the summer of 1971.

On the campaign trail, I crisscrossed the rural Northeast Louisiana senatorial district, and ended up on a Friday night in October in McKeithen’s hometown of Columbia, to shake hands with the crowd attending the Caldwell High Spartans’ home football game.  The Governor was home from the state capitol for the weekend to watch his daughter who was a Spartan cheerleader.

I was outside the stadium shaking every hand that walked by, and when the Governor came in the gate, he stopped to visit and check on my campaign.  Just then, it started to rain.  As the local fans came by us, they all smiled and acknowledged their hometown Governor.  He stood by my side as the rain continued, and introduced me to everyone entering as their next state senator.  When the game began, he wished me well and left soaking wet.

McKeithen’s frugality was legendary. He refused to install a state watts line in his Columbia home.  With three daughters, the phone line was always busy.  When there were important issues to discuss with staff in Baton Rouge, a call was made to the state police headquarters some 30 miles away in Monroe.  A trooper was dispatched to diplomatically suggest that the girls get off the phone so the Governor could conduct state business.

John McKeithen was the state’s first two-term governor. He was Louisiana’s “transition governor,” bringing the Bayou State into modern times. And he was the guy who convinced me to get involved in Louisiana politics.  Governor, you died way too young at 81.  Thanks for your service to the people of Louisiana.  And many thanks for all you did for 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