Thursday, July 24, 2014

TOO MANY INNOCENTS GETTING THE DEATH PENALTY!


Baton Rouge, Louisiana

TOO MANY INNOCENTS GETTING THE DEATH PENALTY!

There is a reason the death penalty is rarely enforced anymore, particularly in the federal judicial system.  Too many innocent victims are being convicted, based on cover-ups and the withholding of exculpatory evidence by some federal and state prosecutors.  A recent study published in the National Academy of Sciences concludes that some 4.1 percent of inmates on death row are innocent.  More than four percent.  If that were the rate of airplanes crashing, would you fly?

Legal scholar John Whitehead, who writes about the pursuit of justice for The Rutherford Institute, and who has appeared on my nationally syndicated radio program, says the criminal justice system in the U.S. is consistently error-bound and flawed.  He writes of a recent Columbia University study on 5,760 capital cases where “the report found an overall error rate of 68%.  In other words, courts found serious reversible errors in nearly 7 out of 10 capitol cases….with the most common errors involved prosecutorial  suppression of evidence and other misconduct.”

Receiving the death penalty is a regular occurrence in my home state of Louisiana.  What also is becoming the norm is the fact that a number of those convicted, and on their way to the gas chamber, are eventually found to be innocent.  For years, the Bayou State has held the title of having the highest incarceration rate in the world.  It now has taken on the dubious title of having case after case of death row inmates being convicted based on the withholding of evidence that would prove their innocence.

New Orleans has become the cesspool for the innocent being convicted of capital crimes and sentenced to death.  One of the most egregious is the case of New Orleanian John Thompson, who was convicted back in 1982 of first-degree murder and given the death sentence.  He came within days of being executed after spending 14 years on death row and 18 year’s total in prison.  Five different prosecutors were involved in the case and all knew that a blood test and other key evidence had been hidden that showed Thompson was innocent.
On his deathbed and dying of cancer, one of the prosecutors confessed to a colleague that he had hidden the exculpatory blood sample.  The colleague waited five more years before admitting that he too knew of the hidden evidence.  Thompson, after 18 years, received a new trial, and his lawyers were finally able to produce ten difference pieces of evidence that had been kept from Thompson, that overwhelming showed he was innocent.  The new jury took less than 35 minutes to find him not guilty.
Hiding evidence that can find the accused innocent is nothing new for prosecutors in New Orleans, both in state and federal court as well as with the FBI. The Innocence Project of New Orleans reviewed a number of convictions over the past 25 years in the city and concluded that prosecutors have a “legacy” of suppressing evidence. The Project said 36 men convicted in Orleans Parish alleged prosecutorial misconduct. Nineteen have since had their sentences overturned or reduced as a result. In 19 of 25 capital cases, the prosecutors withheld favorable evidence.

Then there is the chilling case of Dan Bright, convicted and put on death row for a murder he did not commit. Evidence came out years after his conviction that the FBI, thanks to a credible informant, had been in possession of the name of the actual killer all along. Luckily for Bright, because of the unconstitutional withholding of key evidence by the prosecution and the FBI, his conviction was thrown out, and he now is a free man.
The foreman of White’s jury, who recommended that he be put to death, was Kathleen Norman, who was a guest on my radio show on several occasions before her untimely death several years ago.  She was so incensed over White’s wrongful conviction and the hiding of evidence that would have cleared him by the FBI, that she became head of the Louisiana Innocence project, helping others like White mount a credible defense.

Questionable conduct by rogue prosecutors who withhold information that could prove the innocence of an accused is far too prevalent.  Whether one is for or against the death penalty, there is ample evidence that convictions of a capital crime can be a crapshoot based on the whims of some prosecutors who too often withhold exculpatory evidence.  Tough luck if you are innocent.  Too often, justice is being compromised.  And that’s just not right!

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This is the world we live in, and justice is not always fulfilled!”
Bobby Lee Swagger-movie Shooter.

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 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 http://www.jimbrownusa.com.



Thursday, July 17, 2014

WHY ARE PROPERTY INSURANCE RATES GOING UP IN LOUISIA


Thursday, July 17th, 2014
Baton Rouge, Louisiana

 What on earth is happening out there?  Is a major hurricane churning in the Gulf and taking dead aim at Louisiana?  Is the Mighty Mississippi on the verge of overflowing its levees and about to flood thousands of acres, driving hundreds of thousands from their homes? Something drastic must be up. After all, State Farm Insurance Company just raised its rates on Louisiana homeowners by as much as 20%.

Note that I said that State Farm raised its rates. In most states, insurance companies are subject to a pre-approval process wherein the insurance department determines if the increase is warranted, so that the property owner can be assured that the increase is both fair and necessary.  But Louisiana is different.  In the Bayou State, insurance companies are not required to get rate increases pre-approved.  So the answer to the question of how come big insurance companies can stick it to homeowners, whether or not such an increase is justified, is simply this -- they do it because they can.

Back in the days when I served as Louisiana Insurance Commissioner, I worked with Texas Commissioner Bob Hunter on a variety of insurance issues affecting our respective states.  Currently, he’s the Insurance Director for the Consumer Federation of America.  I called him to get his view on the dramatically rising property insurance rates in Louisiana.  “Puzzling,” he said.  “A real outlier.  Maybe a slight increase because of inflation.  But such a big increase is really questionable.”

The national insurance reporting publications indicate why property insurance rates should be going down, not up.  The FPN Insurance Journal reported that natural catastrophes caused less than half the damage this year compared to the past 10 year average.  USA Today reports that we are experiencing one of the quietest years for hurricanes and other national disasters in many years.  The Insurance Journal reported that insurance companies nationwide have seen rate reductions in the past three years.

With no major storms in recent years, “more capacity will become available and prices will start to come down,” says Shivan Subramaniam, chief executive of commercial property insurer FM Global.  So all over the country, insurance rates for homeowners have stabilized and should begin to decrease.  But not in Louisiana?  Huh? Surrounding coastal states have just as much exposure to natural disasters as Louisiana does.  But they are experiencing no huge rate increases.  When there is no prior approval of rates, up they go.

Let me share a story of how effective proper regulation can be.  Under the old system, the governor appointed a six member rating commission.  Insurance companies had to appear before the commission and make their case for any rate increase.  As insurance commissioner, I served as chairman of the commission, and then Governor Mike Foster made the appointments.  The system served as a good check and balance.

State Farm asked the commission for a major increase in December, 1997.  Governor Foster called me and asked that I convey to the members that he wasn’t for any rate increase, particularly as the holidays were approaching.  I told the commissioners of the Governor’s concerns, but State Farm did a major lobbying job of wining and dining them.  In spite of joint objections from both the Governor and me, the commission unanimously approved the State Farm rate increase.  The next morning around 6:30 am my phone rang.  “Jim, Mike Foster.  Sorry to bother you so early, but I have one question.  Did you tell my appointed commissioners of my concern that no rate increase should be given to State Farm?”  I told him, yes, I had conveyed his message to each of the seven commissioners. “Thanks, that’s all I needed.”

Three hours later, Governor Foster called a press conference and fired all seven commissioners.  An insurance company needs to have a fair rate in order to stay in business.  But gouging the property owner without justification and some type of check and balance is not fair to the insured, and bad for economic growth in the state.

The legislature, the governor and the insurance department could learn a good lesson from the Foster years.  Be fair, but don’t let rate increases take place at a company’s whim.  Property owners deserve better.

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

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 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 http://www.jimbrownusa.com.

Friday, July 11, 2014

THE SEARING OF A GREAT CITY’S SOUL!


Friday, July 11th, 2014
New Orleans, Louisiana

THE SEARING OF A GREAT CITY’S SOUL!

The Queen City of the South is under siege.  No, not from hurricanes. This time, the siege is from within.  New Orleans is known as the city that care forgot.  But it’s been hard to let the good times roll in the Big Easy when the dice keep coming up snake eyes. 

New Orleans is in a battle to stay afloat as it deals with major street crime, corrupt politicians, and a dysfunctional criminal justice system where even federal officials can no longer be trusted.  Author James Lee Burke writes about this corruption and dysfunction in his novel Last Car to Elysian Fields.  “One of the most beautiful cities in the Western hemisphere was killed three times, and not just by forces of nature.”

New Orleans is a city that for years has had the highest per capita murder rate in the nation, where multiple killings often happen on a daily basis, a town that is rated as one of the five most dangerous cities in the world.  But even with such a reputation, it was hard to fathom the recent shootings of 10 tourists on Bourbon Street.  And such violence is not a unique event.  Just last year, “Gunfire erupted at a parade to celebrate Mother's Day, injuring 19, including two 10-year-old kids,” according to police. Such violence goes beyond the street shootings that seem to happen almost daily in New Orleans.  When a gunman indiscriminately fires into a crowd, it’s an act of terrorism.

Many crimes go unreported out of the sense of frustration that nobody will do anything about it, anyway. Recently, a young relative of mine was walking uptown from the French Quarter.  Just across Canal, in one of the busier sections of the city, a man steps out of nowhere and without rhyme or reason, punches him in the face. In an instant, my relative had become a victim of the “knockout game,” a brutal ritual where street thugs approach an innocent bystander and try, in one blow, to knock him out. He suffered a concussion and had his jaw wired shut for weeks.  This type of street violence seems to happen all the time.

Another blow to confidence in the city’s leadership hit this week, when the former two term Mayor Ray Nagin was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison for taking bribes while in office.  Nagin will be remembered as the mayor who ran off to Dallas with his family when New Orleans was plummeted by Hurricane Katrina.  And when the murder rate continued to clime under his watch, the best observation he could offer was: “Oh well, it keeps the New Orleans brand out there.”

Current New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu has asked for state and federal help, and for good reason.  After Katrina, the governor sent in 300 hundred national guard troops to maintain order. And this time, he needs to send in a lot more.  Recently, the governor of Colorado committed more than 600 guardsmen to help feed cattle whose welfare had been threatened by the blizzards. If you can bring in more guardsmen for cattle, the state should be willing to do it for people.

Some might argue that the presence of soldiers on the streets will dampen tourism.  Not so in my opinion.  After Katrina, I hosted a daily radio program in New Orleans and was out each evening for walks and to meet friends for dinner.  National guardsmen were prominent throughout the downtown area, and we all felt much safer because of their presence.  So turn loose the National Guard Governor, to give a comfort level to the millions of tourists who help drive the state’s economy.

New Orleans can be either a unique place to live and work, or it can slowly drift into the cosmos due to a justified fear of crime.  There’s a fight to keep the bright, dynamic young leadership in the city and be an integral force in molding the future of New Orleans.  But it all begins with feeling safe, doesn’t it?  And right now, the Crescent City still has a long way to go.

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 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 http://www.jimbrownusa.com



Thursday, July 03, 2014

HURRICANE SEASON -- DO YOU FEEL LUCKY? WELL DO YA?

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

New Orleans, Louisiana

HURRICANE SEASON -- DO YOU FEEL LUCKY?  WELL DO YA?

It’s the kickoff for hurricane season and forecasters are predicting 8 to13 named storms with anywhere from 3 to 6 of these storms growing into major hurricanes. Here on the Gulf Coast, we certainly perk up when this time of year rolls around.  For years, a good story in south Louisiana went like this:

“I’m a Catholic, so I certainly know a good bit about suffering,” she would say.
“Yeah, I’m a Louisiana homeowner, he answered.
“Oh, so you understand.”

Louisiana homeowners know a good bit about suffering, particularly when it comes to being stuck with the highest property insurance rates in the nation. The New York Times reported earlier this year that Louisiana continues to lead the nation in having the highest annual premiums at $2,700. No other state in the South comes close. If you live in industrialized New Jersey, the cost is $1,697.  New York homeowners, on average, pay even less -- only $1,369.

But that’s not the whole story. Congress merely put its finger in the flood insurance dike with legislation that supposedly capped the skyrocketing rates of property owners in flood prone areas.  But what our minions in Washington didn’t tell us is that the rates will continue to climb dramatically in the years to come.  The legislation is just a quick fix to hoodwink voters in order to get through the next election cycle.

Because of the devastating hurricanes that seem to hit the gulf coast at least once a decade, the federal government has bailed out these southern states, literally and financially, time, and time again. Some cynical members of congress have even suggested that it’s time for many homeowners to relocate. But attitudes are beginning to change, because other oxen are being gored.  Mother Nature has given the Gulf South a pass in recent years, but she is causing havoc in other parts of the nation.

Oklahoma has suffered an unprecedented surge in both earthquakes and tornadoes, and are clamoring for federal help.  New York and New Jersey have a long way to go to recover from last year’s Hurricane Sandy.  In Texas, hurricanes and wildfires have cost some $28 billion in recent years.    California witnessed rapid growth in both drought and wildfires, and earthquakes remain a constant threat.  A Wall Street Journal study published earlier this month concluded that almost every state in the nation is subject to some major disaster.

So has a national plan that doesn’t use taxpayer dollars been proposed which is both comprehensive and affordable? Yes. Such a proposal was unveiled in New Orleans in May of 1995 at a catastrophe insurance conference sponsored by the American Insurance Services Group. I attended as Louisiana’s Insurance Commissioner. The proposal called for a Natural Disaster Insurance Corporation (NDIC) that would sell disaster reinsurance for residential and commercial properties while also providing primary coverage for residential properties. We all agreed back then that there would be a huge problem with catastrophic insurance losses all over America unless a national disaster program was put in place.  And that’s just what’s happening across the country now.
Here is how it would work.  Private insurance would take a small portion of its premiums and contribute to a state created fund.  The state fund would then be backed up by a nationally created fund.  The national fund could borrow to pay for any shortfall, but no federal tax dollars would be involved.  Each state could buy in and have a rate set according to the risk.  Hurricane prone states like Louisiana would pay more than a state like North Dakota that experiences much less in natural disaster damage.  That was the plan then. And the good news is that in reaction to the devastation of Hurricane Sandy and the tornados in Oklahoma and Missouri, a number of states are coalescing around this same plan now.
It’s taken almost 20 years, but it looks like it could be the right time for problem solving.  It’s just not a handout for the coastal states.  The whole country will benefit.  And at a price that’s affordable.  We certainly cannot be any worse off than we are now.
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“Do you know what happens when you give a procrastinator a good idea? Nothing!”
Donald Gardner

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 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 http://www.jimbrownusa.com.