Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Baton Rouge, Louisiana


For the fourth year in a row, Louisiana is number one.  That’s right!  Once again, the Bayou State has been named as the home of the worst drivers in America.

One of the major causes of such ranking is Louisiana’s tolerance for drunk drivers. Louisiana has always been a “free and easy” state when it comes to drinking and driving.  Visitors are dumbfounded when they see drive through Daiquiri shops across the state. And the results shouldn’t be surprising.  Fifty-three per cent of all serious injuries and highway deaths involve a drunk driver.  So why hasn’t there been more outrage and should there tougher laws on the books?
Actually, Louisiana has some of the toughest DWI laws in the country.  For a third offence DWI there is no discretion for judges.  An offender with three convictions faces a mandatory sentence of two years in jail. And get this – the party convicted is supposed to have their car seized and sold out from under them.  Have a mortgage?  Tough luck.  Should have thought about that before you went drinking and got behind the wheel. 
In 1996, as insurance commissioner, I wrote the current law. But have you ever known of a third offender DWI having his or her car taken off the road and sold -- or the offender actually serving two years jail time with no suspended sentence?  These are rare occurrences, unless someone else is killed in a collision with the drunk driver.
The problem is one of enforcement.  Many judges and prosecutors ignore the law.  Often the DWI charge is reduced to careless and reckless driving.  And compounding this problem is that computer information systems in one parish are unable to communicate with systems in another parish, so a prosecutor is not aware of previous convictions. 
A driver in the Baton Rouge area was recently charged with his 7th DWI.  That’s seven DWI charges.  Where were the red flags at three, or four or five or six?  How could a guy like this slip through the cracks?
Many states have enacted new laws that cut little slack for drunk drivers. In Virginia, accused drunk drivers who fail breath tests when stopped by police will have their licenses suspended immediately, even before they are tried in court.  New Mexico requires an “ignition interlock” for every convicted drunk driver, even on the first offense.  No exceptions.
In New York, tough new steps have been taken to curb a major drunk driving problem.  Drivers there who have been convicted of being drunk while carrying passengers 15 years or younger face up to four years in prison, even when there is no wreck involved.  And how’s this for a tough sanction:  A Long Island, New York jury recently convicted a drunk driver of murder for killing two people in a head-on collision. The district attorney who brought the charges had been elected on a “take no prisoners” approach to drunk drivers.
Was this too tough a penalty? Not according to the mother of one of the female victims.  She used no euphemisms in describing the damage done.  “As I crawled out of the car, the only thing that was left of Kate was her head. This was murder and no different from carrying a loaded gun around, pointing it at people and having a few shots go off killing them.”  The prosecutor made no bones about how she will act in dealing with drunk driving deaths.  ”We hope that his verdict sends a message that if you drink and drive and kill somebody, you will be prosecuted for murder.”
For far too long, having a few drinks then driving home has been no big deal in Louisiana.  To many drivers, it is still a normal way of life.  Hopefully, much stiffer sentences handed down by tough Louisiana judges, who will enforce the strong laws already on the books, will go a long way in reducing too many pointless and unwarranted deaths. 
Yeah, I know some people are against drunk driving.  But you know, sometimes you’ve got no choice; those kids gotta get to school.”
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, April 02, 2014

Should College Athletes Be Paid?

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Millions of rabid college basketball fans have been glued to their TVs over the past month as March Madness reaches its crescendo. And the big bucks have been rolling in.  With coaches getting bigger salaries, and colleges splitting huge TV and admission revenue -- there are lots of winners. But one group is being exploited and shortchanged -- the players themselves.
There’s certainly no shortage of income.  This year in the NCAA tourney, television income is estimated to approach $2 billion with an additional $200 million from ticket sales and sponsorships. A thirty second spot for Monday night’s championship game will cost nearly $2 million. And college football is awash with a fabulously increasing income, as well.
The average compensation for these NCAA tourney coaches is at least twice that of the typical university president.  Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski will pocket some $7.5 million this year. In 40 states, the highest paid public employee is the football or basketball coach, which shows a perverted sense of priorities at these institutions of higher learning.  
Fans pay through the nose to attend major college athletic events.  As an LSU football season ticket holder, I personally pay $1025 just for the right to buy one seat.  The seat ticket itself is $64 per game.  So there are big bucks coming into major college programs all over the country.
All this income comes from the hard-working, disciplined players on the fields and courts. Yet these college athletes are paid only the basics -- room and board, tuition, books. No extras. So we have college athletic programs raking in millions on the backs of talented athletes, with no sharing of the revenue with those responsible for generating it.  Such a system is ill defined at best, and hypocritical at worst.  The universities are reaping the value produced by their recruits, while the players are given only enough for subsistence.
When I attended the University of North Carolina on an athletic scholarship, a little more than 50 years ago, I was given a housing and food allowance, as well as “laundry money” that allowed for weekend dates, gas, and a few frills above the basic scholarship. What I received then was equivalent to $300 in pocket money if the same were allowed today.  But it’s not.  The NCAA tightened the rules, and college athletes get less today than athletes like myself received a half century ago.
Supporters of the present system will argue that there’s the opportunity for these athletes to move on to the pros and make big financial returns.  But we all know that very few make it to that level.  Further, many of them may not even end up with the basic skills necessary to succeed in other occupations, since only a minority of student-athletes in major sports even graduate. 
The system in place now exploits our college athletes, and this exploitation is administered by their adult mentors.  What a deal. Your hard work and self discipline for the entertainment of others in exchange for a pittance that barley covers your basic expenses.  A little monthly expense money is not going to corrupt the system. $300 a month for athletes on a full athletic scholarship seems reasonable.  March Madness, as always, is a financial bonanza.  But not for the kids that make it happen.  They deserve a better shake and a little larger piece of this huge financial pie.
The coaches own the athletes’ feet, the colleges own the athletes’ bodies, and the supervisors retain the large rewards. That reflects a neo-plantation mentality on the campuses that is not appropriate at this time of high dollars.”
Walter Byers, the former executive director of the NCAA.
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, March 26, 2014

Congress All Talk-Little Action on Flood Insurance!

Thursday, March 27th, 2014
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


Louisiana’s congressional members of both parties were throwing cheers and high fives. They had done it.  They had put an end to the proposed outrageous flood insurance rates.
 “I’m very proud,” beamed democratic Senator Mary Landrieu.  Her challenger in the coming fall election, Congressman Bill Cassidy, papered the state with press releases exclaiming, “This is a great day for Louisiana.”

None of back slapping statements alluded to the fact that these same members of congress had been responsible for the huge premium increases in the first place. Every member of the current Louisiana congressional delegation, as well as state insurance officials had been asleep at the switch when federal legislation proposed the massive increase in the cost of flood insurance for Louisiana property owners, and they had failed to oppose it. No one wanted to talk about that.

Even the press was gushing over the purported legislative victory.  A Times Picayune editorial bellowed, “Hallelujah. Homeowners can stop worrying about whether they will still be able to afford their homes or whether excessive flood insurance premiums will force them out.”  The Morning Advocate chimed in calling the legislation a “remarkable achievement” and “a victory made for Louisiana.”

So property owners in flood prone areas can rest in peace knowing congress has stopped the huge rise in the cost of flood insurance.  Right?  Well, not quite.  The Times Picayune editorial stated that $200,000.00 in flood coverage would cost $2,000.00 a year.  But remember, this is just for the current year.  Under the new legislation, insurance rates can then rise up to 18% a year every year thereafter.  In addition, a yearly fee or surcharge of up to $250.00 can and will be levied on each policy.  Every year.

Just how much will these increases cause the cost of a flood policy to rise?  The first year will see a jump from $2000.00 to $2360.00. After three years this same $2000.00 policy will jump up to $3286.00.  After five years, the increase will total $4575.00.  And ten years from now?  That same $2000.00 policy will cost the property owner $10,223.00.  And this does not include that surcharge of up to $250.00 per year.  According to congress, these rates are supposed to be affordable for the average homeowner?  Come on, man!

A cynic might conclude that congress merely bought some time to get through the next election before property owners find out what a sham this new solution is.  Remember, these figures only apply to flood insurance rates.  Property owners in Louisiana still are paying the highest property insurance rates in the nation -- far above the national average of $2,700.00.

When you add flood insurance costs to the regular property insurance premium of a home in the $200,000.00 range and add the surcharge, many Louisiana homeowners will pay more than $5000.00 for the first year, then a continuing and dramatic rise in rates that will be required to own a home.  And this is something to high five about?  It’s obvious that congress, particularly its Louisiana members, needs to go back to the drawing board and find reasonable solutions to this immense and growing problem.

There are workable options, and that’s a discussion for another column.  But all the cheering over this quick fix by congress is little more than smoke and mirrors. Louisianans need real long-term solutions for a problem of homeowner affordability that will not go away and cannot wait.  Not even till the next election.


“It’s not hurricanes that are causing high insurance rates, but bad public policy.”
Policy Analyst Michelle Minton

Peace and Justice

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, March 19, 2014

Louisiana Governor Back on Campaign Trail!

Thursday, March 20th, 2014
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


It shouldn’t have surprised anyone paying attention to Louisiana politics.  Former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards made it official this week. He will be a candidate for the U.S. Congress in the coming fall election.  The political prognosticators say the congressional district has been gerrymandered by the Louisiana legislature to favor a republican candidate.  Edwards feels otherwise.

Edward Washington Edwards, the Silver Fox, has run for office in twelve different elections, and won eleven times.  That’s what he does. EWE is a consummate politician who loves the political limelight. He would have run for governor again if he could, but state law prohibits him from doing so.  He was elected four times to congress back in the 1960s.  Now, for a variety of reasons, he wants to go back again.

The 6th district meanders from east of Baton Rouge, through parts of the capitol city, then down both sides of the Mississippi River to deep South Louisiana in Lafourche Parish.  It was cut up to protect an incumbent republican, and it’s a mishmash of irresponsible legislation.  Louisiana legislators should be held in contempt for cutting up this, and the other congressional districts throughout the state in such a reckless way.

This district is rock solid republican so that it’s almost out of the question that a democrat can win.  Edwards is quick to quote Billy Joel’s song, Only the Good DieYoung, in saying, “You didn’t count on me!” And he could be right.  Edwards could be the only democrat that has any chance of winning the 6th district.

At his announcement on Monday, Edwards was asked about whether age would be an issue.  He is 86, and will be 87 on Election Day.  His response?  “I’m not going to make age an issue.  I’m not going to point to how young and inexperienced all my republican opponents are.”  Touché!  He also pointed out that there is a republican candidate running for congress in South Carolina who is one hundred and one.  “I will have served seven more terms before I get that old,” Edwards retorted.

What about not be able to get much done because he would be new a member with no seniority?  “It’s a new day in Washington,” he said. “Look at the three leading candidates for the republican presidential nomination.  Three U.S. senators (Rubio of Florida, Cruz of Texas, and Paul of Kentucky) all of them have been in Washington less than two years.”  He also pointed out that he worked with republicans when he was in congress back in the 60s, and wants to continue to do so – a democrat wanting to work with republicans -- something that doesn’t happen too often in Washington.

The big question mark here -- can he win?  It all may come down to the transformation of charisma into actual votes. Edwards is a political rock star.  Whether voters hate him or love him, most are captivated by his ability to entertain.  They laugh at his wit, and love to hear him talk. But how many of those who find him entertaining will vote for him?

He can go down the bayou towards Thibodaux and garner republican Cajun voters that no other democrat could get.  The question is: will he be able to entice enough of these normally republican voters to vote for him.

With a 32-year-old wife and a new baby at eighty-six, many would think the former governor would be otherwise occupied.  But he’s looking for one more grasp at the golden ring. And maybe a bit of redemption.  Whatever his reasons, don’t count the Cajun Prince out.


“In this day and age where liberals and conservatives are at each other's throats, it's nice to know there are still places like Louisiana where they view politics purely as entertainment.”
Ned Stark

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