Monday, May 20, 2024

TO GRADUATES-THE WORLD ACCORDING TO ME!



Monday, May 20th, 2024

Baton Rouge, Louisiana

 

TO GRADUATES-THE WORLD ACCORDING TO ME!

 Students all over America are graduating this  week from kindergarten, grade school, high school, college and graduate schools. And there is always a commencement speaker. Most of you will never give a commencement address. But as a former Louisiana public official, I was called on to give a number of them in years past.  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 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 – was 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 http://www.jimbrownusa.com

 

 

Monday, May 13, 2024

GET THE POLITICIANS OUT OF REAPPORTIONMENT!



Monday, May 13th, 2024

Baton Rouge, Louisiana

GET THE POLITICIANS OUT OF REAPPORTIONMENT!

If you want to witness political favoritism and inside political wheeling and dealing  at its worst, just witness the mess that has been created by the legislature as well as federal judges in Louisiana.  Dysfunctional politics is about the best way to describe what is happening in the legally required process of reapportioning congressional districts in the Bayou state.

The legislature, by federal law, has to reapportion each congressional district every 10 years. It makes sense, because populations change, and each congressional district should be evenly balanced. So the ball was thrown to the Louisiana legislature and the new governor to come up with a reapportionment plan to take place in the fall elections. And boy did everyone in the process make a mess of the whole effort.

The legislative struggle apparently had two priorities. One to protect current congressmen so they can be easily re-elected. But with one exception. The governor has had a falling out with Republican congressman Garrett Graves, whose district is centered in the Baton Rouge area.  Under the guise of creating a new minority district, the legislature shaped a new territory that meanders all over the state and presents an uphill fight for Graves to be reelected. 

A three judge federal panel voted two to one to throw out the new reapportionment proposal, saying it was drawn strictly to create a minority district. The judges were right. What the legislature did was to create a district that connected predominantly black neighborhoods in and around Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Alexandria, Natchitoches, and Shreveport.  It’s dead wrong to have a district that winds like a snake all over the state.

As syndicated columnist Quinn Hiller wrote this week: “For decades, courts have ruled, with good reason, that district shapes should be reasonably compact, and contiguous, except to take into account  geographical features, such as rivers or mountain ranges, and the districts, where possible, should not divide natural “communities of interest” such as common cultural heritage, or shaped economic bases.”

Having run in statewide elections  on six different occasions, I know from personal experience that voters in northeast Louisiana often have different views on a variety of state issues compared to voters in Cajun country. New Orleans is a world all of its own. Each area of the state should be able to elect a congressman who reflects and votes the views of people that have some common interest. Right now, that’s not the case in the Bayou state.

And just who is the minority that needs to be represented anyway?  African-Americans make up approximately 30% of the state’s population. The fastest growing population groups in the state are Hispanics and citizens with a Vietnamese background. Should they not have some type of representation as a group?  Should legislators be allowed to draw congressional districts that twist like a snake all across the state?

Here’s what we have in Louisiana right now.  In elections, people choose their legislators. But because of how reapportionment has worked, , legislators choose their voters or choose the voters for their favorite congressman.

Just what are the alternatives? What are other progressive states doing to transfer the power of redistricting to a system less driven by self-interest? Fourteen states have assigned the task to officials or panels outside the state legislature. And independent redistricting wears the cloak of good-government reform, as long as a consensus can be built on just who will serve on such panels.

.One idea would be to create a Louisiana Fair Reapportionment Practices Commission. Let nominations for its members come from the legislature, the Supreme Court, the good government groups like PAR and CABL, the various college boards, and perhaps a key business group or two. Then put all the submissions in a hat, and draw out eleven names to serve as members to begin their work right after the new census data is made available.

The goal for such a commission is simple – put the important issue of redistricting into the hands of less vested interests instead of those who in the past have been allowed to define the terms of their own cartel. Simply put, it’s just wrong for legislators to draw these districts and then run in them. There needs to be a better way.

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 http://www.jimbrownusa.com. You can also listen to his weekly podcast at www.datelinelouisiana.com.
 
 

Tuesday, May 07, 2024

I’M TOO YOUNG TO BE EIGHTY FOUR!



May 6th, 2024

Baton Rouge, Louisiana

 

I’M TOO YOUNG TO BE EIGHTY FOUR!

 

       Here is a message I received from one of my grandkids this week. “Hey JB, it’s your birthday, and you just turned 84, I know you will live for many, many more.“  I sure hope I do. I understand that I’m getting a bit older and that I cannot ignore life’s ending.  But I’m not going to set around like some Shakespeare character thinking about death. I would hope it is much more productive for me to make the most of my current state in life.  Play the cards we are delt. Then anticipate a lingering good ride. 

 

I have seven grandchildren in all, but only two live in Louisiana. The others are spread across the country from one coast to the other.  My four children pay me a little attention, but the grandkids are special, and teach me as much as I share with them. There’s a Neil Young song that says," It's better to burn out then to fade away.” But perhaps  it’s better to burn slow and see your grandchildren as one gets older.

 

       I do miss my children, as it has become harder to travel.  Yes, I think I’ve been a pretty good father. Perhaps less in the early years, when I was busy jousting with windmills in a quixotic and fruitless effort to make a difference as a public official. But it was a waste. It made little difference. And now they’re caught up in their own lives with not enough time to spend with their patriarch. 

 

There are tidbits of inspiration that have come from my relationship with my children, particularly when they were young.  I’d like to think that I have lived part of my adult life as a stalled adolescent but contentedly stalled.  In fact, it’s helpful as a writer who sees events through the eyes of a child. Children see things without presuppositions. They are unmeasured by experience. 

 

And one more thing I keep in mind. I’ve learned that if you want to be a success in your chosen profession, don’t become consumed.  Life is too short. Remember what Oscar Wilde admonished. 

 

Put your genius into your life, but only your talent into your work.

 

       There is so much uncertainty over a lifetime, often too many choices to be made, and forks in the road that can be life changing. We all can speculate on decisions we have made in the past. But such aera reviews are little more than glancing thoughts for me. I generally find that second guessing is vastly overrated. 

 

I was a big Billy Joe Shaver fan before he passed away too early in life. We were friends, and I attended many of his concerts. He told me don’t worry about how life ends, and he just assumed he was going to live forever. And that was the name of his best-known song.

 

I’m gonna live forever

I’m gonna to cross that river

I’m gonna to catch tomorrow now

 

Nabokov even sets the speed of life that is moving so quickly, too quickly. Forty-five hundred heartbeats an hour. I would hate to think that my later years are part of some runaway train.

 

So if I’m winding down at close to 5000 heartbeats an hour, the question simply put is how many heartbeats do I have left? I want to make the most of the time and not live wasted days.  What’s the Bruce Springsteen song?

 

How many summers staring at nothin’?

How many days are lost in vain?

Who’s counting now these last remaining years?

How many minutes do we have ahead?

Wasted days

Wasted days

 

No one knows how many heartbeats I have remaining, and medical professionals are of little help. Although one needs more medical care as they age, I find doctors will offer too many options. I’m my own best decision maker. That’s why I’m not eating as much, probably take way too many vitamin pills, work out on a regular basis and get more than enough sleep. If the hourglass has been apportioned for me, I’m going to try my best to control my own destiny.

 

       I guess I can sum up my search for a balance life in country singer Toby Keith’s song about dodging death, “Don’t let the Old Man In.”  I’m sure going to try. 

 

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 http://www.jimbrownusa.com. You can also listen to his weekly podcast at www.datelinelouisiana.com.

 

 

 

 

Sunday, April 28, 2024

OPEN GOVERNMENT UNDER ASSUALT IN LOUISIANA!



Monday, April 29th, 2024
Baton Rouge, Louisiana

OPEN GOVERNMENT UNDER ASSUALT IN LOUISIANA!

Does the average Louisiana citizen have a legal right to follow the internal workings of government in Louisiana? Not just in Baton Rouge at the state capital, but in deliberations that take place by school boards, city councils, police juries and any other sanctioned public body? For the past 50 years, open meetings and public records availability we’re stronger in the Bayou State than any other place in the country.

Now I know that some readers of this column may wonder why making public records available for review is so important? Simply put, every one of us are the losers with public officials hide basic information and records from public view. In the old days, pre-1974, it was often impossible for the average Joe (OK, or Jane) to look over deliberations, records, and even the actual contracts entered into by public officials in the state. I found out the problem firsthand shortly after I was elected to the state Senate back in the early 1970s.

The local Levee board up in Northeast Louisiana had entered into number of contracts with out-of-state firms. They were rumors of inside wheeling and dealing that were called my attention, and I asked to see a list of all the public records involved in the decision of who got the contracts. Even though I was a legislator, I kept getting the runaround. After months of prodding and threatening to bring in the district attorney and force legal action, I finally got the records I was seeking. The process took place behind closed doors, and there was a calculated cover-up to keep the records from public view.

It was an understatement to say that I was mad as all get out. These were public proceedings with public records that should have been available not just to me as a public official, but to any citizen who wanted to review the process.

As a delegate to the 1973 constitutional convention, I authored a provision that specifically protected public access to government records with just a few exceptions. A few years later, I met with then Governor Edwin Edwards and asked for his support in my proposed legislation to make strong Open public meetings and public records legislation a part of Louisiana’s statutes. He readily agreed, and the legislature overwhelmingly voted in favor of these new laws to give the public greater access to the inner workings of state and local government. At the time, Louisiana could proudly boast of having the strongest public records and open meetings laws as compared to any other state in America. It sure was good to be at the top of one of the best lists for a change.

But little by little, opponents to open government started chipping away. Former governor Bobby Jindal slipped through legislation the allowed most of what happened in the Governor’s Office to stay secret. Other state agencies followed Jindal’s lead. Today, instead of being the beacon for openness and leading the nation in transparency, Louisiana ranks a poor 43rd out of the fifty states. And under proposed legislation that imposes more barriers to obtain public records that is currently moving through the legislature, Louisiana will fall to the bottom of the heap by surrounding itself with even greater secrecy.

It’s a crying shame that most of us live in the state that surrounds itself with such concealment. The documents controlled by state and local officials do not belong to them. They are your and my records. That’s why they are called public records. And our right to have access should not be compromised.
Senator Russell Long put it this way when he was representing Louisiana. “A government by secrecy benefits no one. It injures the people it seeks to serve; it damages its own integrity and operation. It breeds distrust, dampens the fervor of its citizens and mocks their loyalty.”
The singing group, The Fifth Dimension sang it best. “Let the sunshine, Let the sunshine in.” Let’s hope our legislators get the message.

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 http://www.jimbrownusa.com. You can also listen to his weekly podcast at www.datelinelouisiana.com.


Sunday, April 21, 2024

TRUMP HAS FAT CHANCE IN NEW YORK COURT!



Monday, April 22nd, 2024

Baton Rouge, Louisiana

 

TRUMP HAS FAT CHANCE IN NEW YORK COURT!

 

Let’s just call it like it is. Former President Donald Trump doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of been found not guilty in his current New York Court case. Now I know the case has just barely started. But you can take that to the bank, and I’ll tell you why.  Whether you like Trump or not, he just has too many cards wrongly stacked against him.

 

First and foremost, Trump has a judge who seems to be dead set against him. Judge Juan Merchan is the prosecutor’s dream. I’m sure they were doing high-fives in the District Attorney’s Office when they heard that Merchan was going to be the judge trying Trump.  Merchan has donated money to both President Biden and other Democratic causes. He  has even made donations to a group dedicated to “resisting … Donald Trump’s radical right-wing legacy.” And the judge’s daughter actively works as a consultant for a number of Democratic candidates, including Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who was the lead prosecutor in Trump’s first impeachment trial. A juror with this background would not be able to serve on Trump’s jury.

 

Judge Merchan should have removed himself from presiding over the Trump trial. Judges have tremendous sway on what the jury gets to hear and what it doesn’t get to hear. When the judge overseeing one’s trial has contributed money to a group that calls Trump a radical right winger, you know you’re in trouble right from the get-go.

 

The judge has ordered an anonymous jury and put a gag order on the former president. Look, we all agree that Trump shoots his mouth all too much. What he is facing are charges that could send him to jail and destroy his political career. Judge Markham has allowed a veil of secrecy based on the fact that everyone knows who Trump is. But all Trump knows is the names of the jurors. When the Unabomber trial took place in New York and the Oklahoma City bombing trial of Timothy McVeigh was held, both defendants were given basic information about the jurors. But not so with Trump.

 

Trump is allowed to step outside the courtroom, and even there he is limited as to what he can say.  Here’s what often happens. The prosecution can file charge after charge, and motion at the motion, making all types of outrageous allegations that are front page news, yet the gagged  defendant can do you little more than rant and rave and say nothing. 

 

And why is the judge fearful of letting the trial be televised? In a democracy, the public has a right to see the court system in operation, close up. We have a strong tradition of public trials in this country. In earlier years, citizens would come to town and watch the defendants being tried, knew when judges issued ridiculous rulings, and saw firsthand when justice was perverted. The televising of Trump’s trial would merely be an extension of how things used to be.

 

Some would argue that televising the trial would create a circus atmosphere. But millions of Americans can remember back to the O.J. Simpson trial. Would anyone who watched this riveting melodrama want to keep those proceedings away from the public at large, and not have it televised? Of course not.

 

As Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz wrote in his book “Reasonable Doubts”:

 

Live television coverage may magnify the faults in the legal system, and show it, warts and all. But in a democracy the public has the right to see its institutions in operation, close up.

 

A judge has no business deciding the outcome of the trial against Trump or anyone else. Any judge in state or federal courts should assume the role of  a referee, a mediator if you will.  Not someone who by his or her rulings directly affect the outcome of any trial.  But that seems to be exactly what Trump’s judge is dead set on doing.

 

Maybe I’m wrong about this pre-determined outcome. But with a judge like Juan Merchan overseeing the case, dark clouds are already surrounding the New York courtroom. And this bodes ill will for the former president.

 

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 http://www.jimbrownusa.com. You can also listen to his weekly podcast at www.datelinelouisiana.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday, April 15, 2024

THE SAGA OF O.J. SIMPSON!



April 15th, 2024. (Tax Day)

Baton Rouge, Louisiana

 

THE SAGA OF O.J. SIMPSON!

 

O.J. Simpson died last week. Many younger people will just say “So?” To anyone over 50, his life and his actions created riveting news, and poised him, both good and bad, as one of the most recognizable personalities in American history. O. J. was a little of everything. A football star in both college an in the NFL.  He was the highest paid football player in the pros, and broke the all-time rushing record held by Jim Brown. (Unfortunately, no relation.). But he was also many other things. Yes a hero to so many of us, but also a liar, an actor, an abuser and a killer.

 

Back in his football days, everyone called him “Juice”, because of his energetic athletic ability and  because his initials also stood for “orange juice.” He also was  a member of a world-record-setting 440-yard relay team while at the University of Southern California in 1968. I was a member of the U.S. 440-yard relay team in 1963, and avidly followed O.J.’s track career. I had turned down a track scholarship at USC myself, and briefly  attended law school there. While visiting some old friends at the track facility, someone pointed out the superstar to me as he was working out. In hindsight, I probably should have taken the time to say hello.

 

In June of 2024, 95 million viewers watched for hours as a white Ford Bronco, driven by a friend, attempted to make a low speed escape from a number of law enforcement vehicles as O.J. hid in the backseat.  When the bronco headed back to O.J.’s home, he was arrested and charged with the murder of his wife and a friend.

 

What a trial.  The proceedings were televised and rightly so.  Judges too often keep the public from seeing just what happens in an American courtroom. And what a soap opera it was to watch. Viewers by the millions talked their bosses into letting them watch the daily proceedings around the water cooler, and some even smuggled small handheld tv devices into their desk drawers. To say that America was mesmerized by the trial would be an understatement. 

 

Many felt the case was open and shut against Simpson.  Others felt charges brought by the prosecution were built on fraud, and that the police investigators were racist. Defense attorneys argued that incriminating evidence was either mishandled or illegally planted.  A glove, supposedly worn by the killer, was found at the crime scene. Attorneys for O.J. said the glove seemed way too small for his hand. Then the famous quote was put forth by the defense.  “If the glove don’t fit, you must acquit.” 

 

The trial lasted for more than eight months. Then, on October 2, 1965, the jury reached a verdict. Last week’s Wall Street Journal put the anticipation this way. “No one in America did a bit of work from the moment it was announced that the jury had a verdict. Everyone ran to a TV set. Even President Bill Clinton left the Oval Office to join his secretaries. In court, cries of ‘Yes!’ and ‘Oh, No!’ we’re echoed across the nation as the verdict left many Black people jubilant and many white people aghast.”

 

Reagan speech writer Peggy Noonan hit the nail right on the head. “Before O.J., American blacks lacked confidence in the legal system. After OJ., everyone lack confidence in the legal system. It looked cynical, performative, agenda driven, and not on the level.”

 

The racial divide was vividly on display during O.J.s trial. But is it really any different today?  There’s a strong feeling  among many Americans, both black and white, that the American judicial system is still significantly defective. Many feel that a number of charges against former President Donald Trump are unjustly flawed as his trial begins this week.

 

It's obvious that America still has a long way to go, both with race relations as well as with prosecutorial misconduct and judicial fairness. The “Juice” was finally able to get away from the legal and media mess that he created.  The rest of us still have to put up with it.

 

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 http://www.jimbrownusa.com. You can also listen to his weekly podcast at www.datelinelouisiana.com.

 

 

Monday, April 08, 2024

TREAD CAUTIOUSLY FOR A NEW LOUISIANA CONSTITUTION!



Monday, April 8th, 2024

Baton Rouge, Louisiana

 

 

TREAD CAUTIOUSLY FOR A NEW  LOUISIANA CONSTITUTION!

 

There has been a lot of chatter in recent months about the need to rewrite Louisiana’s Constitution. And for good reason. This original slim document has now blossomed into the nation’s seventh longest state charter with over 83,000 words. The United States constitution, written in 1787, only has 4543 words.

 

Former state legislator Ron Faucheux said it well in a recent column: “Constitutions are not plumber’s manuals that dictate every detail. Instead, a Louisiana constitution should be limited to general principles that outlines the rights of the state citizens and provide basic framework for the scope and operation of government.”

 

Louisiana’s current constitution was written 50 years ago. I happen to know about it quite well. As a state senator at that time, I was a co- author of the legislation to create a constitutional convention, and I was a delegate at the convention that wrote the state’s current document. I can tell you for personal experience. You do not want to rush into any effort for a rewrite or revision. And a rush seem to be taking place for such an effort at the state capital right now.

 

A call for a new constitution in the Bayou State is nothing new. When some obscure candidate for governor back in 1987 published his plan for Louisiana’s future called the Brown papers, one of his initial proposals was to rewrite the state’s constitution. That was 37 years ago. Unfortunately the current document has been  filled with 214 amendments.

 

Delegates back then concluded that a constitution should be flexible enough to allow for changing times. A responsible legislature should have the tools to deal with current emergencies, catastrophes, new innovative programs that needed state funding, and have the ability to curtail or eliminate programs that had outlived their usefulness. What was important in 1974 may be irrelevant in 2024.

 

But the process was not rushed. Delegates met for one year, often five days a week.  We looked back at past Louisiana constitutions, and reviewed documents from states all over America. What took place was a slow, deliberative process that developed into a workable document that should have worked well for years. And there was lots of input from average citizens who wanted to voice their opinion.

 

Former governor Buddy Roemer and I co- chaired the finance committee of CC 73. (the name  for the 1973 convention.).  After the workday was over, we often gathered up members of our committee, met at a local pizza joint, and talked for hours about forming a short, practical and workable section of a new constitution that Louisiana voters would find acceptable.

 

But year after year since then, one special interest group after  another  lobbied legislators to offer amendments that  opened up our present constitution  with provisions that often tie the hands of future governors and legislatures. So there seems to be general agreement that it is time to make major revisions in the present Louisiana Constitution. The question is how we go about it.

 

              The governor wants to tackle a rewrite by calling the legislature  into another  special session to quickly make numerous changes.  But there has been little consideration for public input.  In addition, many legislators are just plain worn down. Since the governor took office less than four months ago, there has  been three special sessions plus this current regular session. Part-time legislators in many instances run businesses back home that need attention.

 

               Louisiana’s new governor wants to hit the ground running and has a loaded agenda for change. That’s fine for legislators to consider.  But when a knew basic document is proposed that affects the lives of every citizen, it is important that a deliberative process take place.  There certainly should be plenty of time for a cross-section of organizations and average Louisiana citizens to give their input. The governing train is speeding out of the station. It’s time to slow things down.

 

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 http://www.jimbrownusa.com. You can also listen to his weekly podcast at www.datelinelouisiana.com.