Thursday, August 14, 2014

DID OIL PRODUCING STATES MAKE A DEAL WITH THE DEVIL OVER OIL?


Baton Rouge, Louisiana

DID OIL PRODUCING STATES  MAKE A DEAL WITH
THE DEVIL OVER OIL?

Do energy companies have a responsibility to mitigate the damage caused by their drilling for oil and gas in Louisiana?  That’s the issue now being litigated in the controversial levee board lawsuits now in the courts. 
Louisiana was seduced by an outside industry full of vast economic promises. The money came in easily and there can be no dispute that many new jobs were created.  But when you put the financial tally to paper, has it been worth it?
A number of Louisiana politicians, including Governor Huey Long in the 1930s, and Plaquemines Parish dictator Leander Perez in the 1950s, made off like bandits by creating family controlled corporations and awarding themselves public oil leases that made them hundreds of millions of dollars.  Oil company cash has flowed into state and local political campaigns for decades.
Perez was particularly aloof from the public interest when he used his political clout to blackmail then Governor Earl Long back in the late 1940s to reject a federal-state split of off shore oil.  President Truman forged a compromise on the federal-state land dispute by offering Louisiana two thirds of all off shore oil out to a three mile boundary, then one third of all production from that point on out into the Gulf. Perez opposed the deal as his “vested interest” made him greedy, and Louisiana ended up receiving not one penny after a protracted battle all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. The failure to take this settlement has cost Louisiana, by several studies, more than $500 billion (that’s billon with a “B”) in lost revenue.
Back in the early 70s when I was first elected to the Louisiana senate, 40 percent of the state’s budget came from oil and gas royalties.  This year, some one-billon dollars is budgeted from oil and gas income, but the state budget has grown to $28.5 billion.  So the mineral income is a diminishing return. But still, there’s been a continuing flow of oil money filling the Louisiana state treasury.  But what about the environmental damage left behind? Numerous oil pits and petroleum waste dumps crisscross the state, with a maze of corporations making it often impossible to determine who caused the damage. The hundreds of miles of pipeline cutting through the south Louisiana marsh cause a football field loss of Louisiana land into the Gulf every day. The continuing coastal erosion caused by oil production has dramatically weakened the wetlands hurricane protection system.
History shows that Louisiana and a number of southern states were in the economic doldrums before the advent of oil.  Other Gulf States with no minerals had to create new jobs with the limited resources at hand. Taking the approach that their future economic development was in the heads of their students, these states have jumped ahead of Louisiana in a number of economic and environmental measurements. That’s why universities in surrounding states like Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and the Carolinas are ranked considerably ahead of Louisiana’s academic institutions. They had to use their brain power.  But in Louisiana, it was oil.
Remember the 1950s movie Thunder Bay?   Jimmy Stewart plays an oil wildcatter who discovers oil in the Gulf. When the locals rise up in arms, Stewart makes no bones about what they face.  “There’s oil under this Gulf.  We need it.  Everybody needs it.  Without oil, this country of ours would stop and start to die.  And you would die.  You die,” he tells the crowd.  “You can’t stop progress.  Nobody can.”
Stewart might have been right, but history tells us, time and time again, that with resources and power, there is responsibility.  Did Louisiana accept the riches of the land, but fail to demand that those who set the rules, those who govern, be good stewards of these bountiful resources? Or did the state just stand by, pocket the money, and demand little in protection and environmental accountability?
It may not be completely fair to call it a deal with the devil.  But you have to take the bad with the good.  The bucks have been rolling in for years. And now it’s payback time.  So as the blame game and finger pointing continue, there is plenty of fault to go around.  And that’s what this lawsuit against the oil companies is really all about.
*****
“Modern technology owes ecology an apology.”
Alan M. Eddison

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.



Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Nixon, Watergate and Louisiana!


Thursday, August 7th, 2014
Baton Rouge, Louisiana

RICHARD NIXON AND LOUISIANA!

Forty years ago this week, Richard Nixon became the first and only president to resign from office.  Those of you too young to remember the events surrounding Watergate missed one of the most riveting episodes of American history.  Nixon survived a number of bitter political fights, but he had always been able to bounce back.  However, it was his own words in secret recordings that he personally authorized in the Oval Office that finally led to his downfall.

Throughout his political career, the 37th President made a number of trips to Louisiana.  Nixon’s first visit to Louisiana was with his wife Pat in 1941, shortly after they were married. “I remember how we were moved by the wonderful food and the good music, but most of all by the warmth of the hospitality,” he often recalled.  He made fast friends with trumpeter Al Hirt and clarinetist Pete Fountain, both of whom he later invited to perform at the White House.

Nixon lost his first bid for President in a close defeat to John F. Kennedy in 1960. Some 10,000 votes could have changed the outcome, and some political observers still feel the election was stolen from Nixon by election shenanigans in Chicago.  Two years later, he tried for a political comeback running for governor of California, but was defeated by then Governor Pat Brown, whose son is the state’s governor today.  Nixon told reporters he was through with politics, and they “wouldn’t have Nixon to kick around any more.”

But rumors surfaced a few years later that he again might be interested in the Republican nomination.  I was class president at Tulane Law School in 1966, and had the chore of arranging speakers.  On a whim, I wrote Nixon asking him to address the Tulane student body.  To my surprise, he accepted.  Over a lite lunch at the Tulane Student Center, he quizzed me about Louisiana politics and asked a number of questions about my background and future plans.  I found him engaging, funny, and quite the dominating figure one would expect of a former Vice President.

I introduced him to the packed crowd, and it was obvious from his remarks that he was running for president again.  He invited my wife to be and me to join him for a Republican Party fundraising dinner that evening, and future governor Dave Treen joined us.  Treen and I both felt like we were listening to the next president.

As the evening ended, his chief of staff asked if I would consider joining the campaign by heading up a Nixon for President group being formed in New Hampshire, the first primary state.  I was tempted, but chose instead to begin a new family and a new law career in the Crescent City.

My only other meeting with Nixon was in July of 1972 at the St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church in the south Louisiana town of Houma.  We both were there for the funeral of Louisiana Senator Allan Ellender. An hour before the funeral, over a thousand people were packed into the street in front of the entrance. Metal barriers had been set up to keep the crowd at bay, and the church was surrounded by state troopers, local police officers and numerous Secret Service agents. It became obvious why there was so much security. President and Mrs. Nixon were to join a long list of dignitaries to remember the Senator.

I had no official invitation, and was just one of the crowd standing on the outside of the barriers. I was a new state senator then, and I hollered out a greeting to a colleague, state Senator Claude Duvall, who was inside the barrier. It was a stroke of luck, because Claude was in charge of the seating arrangements. He graciously opened up the gate, and led me into the cathedral. Half an hour later, the official delegation that had just arrived from Washington was escorted into the church sanctuary.

When the President entered, he was led by the Secret Service to sit directly in front of me.  I introduced myself and reminded him of his visit to Tulane, and the offer to go up to New Hampshire.  He said that I had missed a great opportunity.

 Watergate proved otherwise. But he also told me that if I had to be living and working somewhere, Louisiana was one of the best places to be.  He sure was right about that.

*******

"You know, I always wondered about that taping equipment but I'm damn glad we have it, aren't you?"

President Richard M. Nixon to Watergate co-conspirator H.R. Haldeman

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.





Wednesday, July 30, 2014

VOTERS UNHAPPY WITH CHOICES IN U.S. SENATE RACE!


Baton Rouge, Louisiana

VOTERS UNHAPPY WITH CHOICES IN U.S. SENATE RACE!

If recent polls are any indication, Louisiana voters are not too keen on any of the choices for U.S. Senator in the coming fall election.  A number of national surveys have found that every candidate running has a higher negative than positive rating in the Bayou state.  Maybe it’s time for Louisiana to consider offering a third choice.  None of the Above.

In a recent poll released by the non-partisan Public Policy Polling organization, incumbent senator Mary Landrieu receives a favorable rating of only 42%, but has a negative in the state of 52%.  Her major challenger, Republican congressman Bill Cassidy, doesn’t do any better with 28% of voters favoring him, but 36% finding him unfavorable.  Tea Party candidate Rob Mannes weighs in at a paltry 14% favorable with a high 28% unfavorable rating.

So what gives?  Are Louisiana voters ambivalent about their choices?  Are they turned off by politics all together?  And are they searching for some other alternative?  Maybe it’s time to consider a third choice-None of the Above.

Bearing in mind the negatives she brings to the table, incumbent Landrieu should consider herself lucky to be still competitive in this race.  She’s been in lockstep with a highly unpopular president, voting with Obama some 97% of the time, and has been a staunch supporter of much-maligned Obamacare.  The Senator has become a Washington establishment figure, rarely returning to the state, and is considered out of touch by many of the locals back home.

Landrieu brags about her political clout, particularly as the new Senate Energy chairman. But she’s been chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee for years, and the current immigration policy put forth by her committee and congress is in shambles. Her current TV spots tell voters how important she is in Washington at a time when the electorate across the nation holds incumbency in low regard.  Landrieu just doesn’t come across as “one of us.”

Her main challenger, Congressman Bill Cassidy, has yet to put together a cohesive campaign.  Cassidy’s whole focus is to tie Landrieu to the unpopular president and criticize her for her past actions in the senate.  His strategy is to attack and oppose.  In conservative Louisiana, Cassidy is trying his best to make the race a fight of the right vs the left.  But he’s getting little traction.  With Landrieu’s negatives, Cassidy should be way ahead in this race.

Cassidy is missing a great opportunity.  His campaign should offer voters his strong belief that ideas matter.  Cassidy has mistakenly framed the elections in terms of right vs left.  He should be talking about the past vs. the future. Cassidy has overlooked the dynamic comparison that Landrieu is an out of touch, establishment, typical Washington politician, where he is offering a roadmap for Louisiana’s future.  That’s exactly what Newt Gingrich did 20 years ago when he set out his Contract with America.  Simply put, Cassidy is running, like Landrieu, a campaign out of the past and is missing a golden opportunity to project a forward thinking vision.

The third candidate, Col. Rob Mannes, is hampered by Louisiana’s unique “jungle primary,” where all candidates run in the same race.  If Mannes were challenging Cassidy in any other state, where a party primary is held, his Tea Party affiliation would give him a much better chance.  He actually helps Cassidy by assuring a run off, that will make it more difficult for Landrieu to prevail.

When I was a state senator back in the 1970s, I proposed legislation that would include an additional choice for voters.  None of the Above.  If the choice of none of the above received the most votes, a new election would be required.

 I wasn’t successful at the time.  But if the choice was available in the current Louisiana U.S. Senate race, the polls show that None of the Above would win in a landslide.  And to many voters here in the Bayou State, that wouldn’t be all that bad.

********

“It's time to consider giving voters a binding None of the Above line on ballots”
Wall Street Journal Editorial

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 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!

********

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.