Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Don't Worry, Be Happy in Louisiana!

Baton Rouge, Louisiana


Bayou State residents are well aware that Louisiana is a pleasant place to live.  Some would sarcastically say that we are fat, dumb, and happy down here in the deepest of the deep southern states.  The state motto is, after all, Laissez les bons temps rouler.  For you out of staters, that’s pronounced Lay say lay bohn tohn roo lay, and means “let the good time roll.”  So it should be no surprise to the locals that in a survey of 100 cities listed as the happiest, and published by the U. S. National Bureau of Economic Research, Louisiana walked away with the top rankings.

The top five happiest cities in the U. S. include Lafayette, Houma, Shreveport, Baton Rouge and Alexandria.  Lake Charles weighed in at number eight.  The unhappiest?  New York City.  What?  The Big Apple?  How can that be?  Simple.  The cost of living in New York causes two thirds of the city’s population to just get by.

With a number of family members now living in New York City, including several of my grandchildren, I’m up there for a week at a time, once, sometimes even twice a month.  The differences are vast to say the least.  Let’s start with my five “Fs.”  Food, family, faith, fixin’ flats, and football.

Food? Sure there are great number of good bistros and cafes in New York.  But the cost of a decent meal is twice what you would pay for the best dining in New Orleans or in a number of first-rate south Louisiana restaurants. And these “fine dining” establishments seem to think flavoring their food consists of sprinkling on some salt and pepper.  It’s rare to find the Cajun holy trinity of seasonings (bell pepper (poivron), onion and celery) in New York Cuisine.

Family seems to play a more significant role for residents of Louisiana, where you find the highest percentage of those still living in the state of their birth.  Your friends want to know about how “your mama and them” are doing. An active family life is very much the Louisiana way, and this creates a happy environment.   In New York City, you find waves of newcomers who have heeded Frank Sinatra’s call that if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.  But hundreds of thousands make a long commute each day from outside the city because of the high cost of just about everything.  Most New Yorkers I have come to know are transplants and have immediate family members that live a great distance away.

Faith matters more in the Bayou State. A recent Gallop poll found that 54% of Louisianans consider themselves quite religious.  In New York, the number is 32%.  Local pastors tell me that church attendance is up, particularly in Catholic and Pentecostal ministries.  African American church attendance has always been high down our way.  Faith brings contentment, and this leads to more happiness.

And how about fixin’ flats?  No, this is not just another Jeff Foxworthy humorous put down.  Folks down our way seem more self-sufficient.  Many have gardens, and neighbors pitch in more to lend a hand or volunteer for a good cause.  In New York, everyone seems too busy, too self absorbed -- oblivious to those beyond their own immediate circle.

The final “F” consumes most Louisianans this time of year.  September means football -- tailgating outside Tiger Stadium, heading to the Superdome to cheer on the Saints, and packing into Cajun Field at UL-Lafayette.  But it’s also a symbol for intense athletic participation at all ages, from high school sports to packed golf courses and barbeques on the weekends. Music has a life of its own all over the state. Locals in Louisiana are a lot more active outdoors than are New Yorkers, and this leads to more pleasure.

Sure, many folks in Louisiana have a multitude of problems.  And the state has a good way to go in dealing with education and healthcare troubles.  But within their limitations, Louisianans just do a better job of making the best of it.  If New Yorkers would spend some time down here, they would learn pretty quickly why the happiest cities in America are all located in Louisiana.


“This state has a depth that is simultaneously beyond words and yet as natural as breathing. How can a place be both other-worldly and completely pedestrian is beyond me; however, Louisiana manages to do it. Louisiana is spooky that 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  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

Thursday, August 28, 2014


Baton Rouge, Louisiana


Is the Ferguson, Missouri community unique in its inability to deal with a troubling death with still unanswered questions?  Of course not. Ferguson is any town when reason disintegrates into the chaos of aggressive confrontation.

Ferguson is not a community in decay or a broken ghetto as some news outlets have portrayed it.  It will surprise many of my Louisiana readers to learn that I attended high school in Ladue, a small community right next to Ferguson, and to know that I regularly made the fifteen-minute drive there for weekend dates.  The racial demographics have changed, but the town is still made up of working class neighborhoods that continue to sprawl throughout St. Louis County.

That’s not to say that Ferguson is the safest place to be roaming about.  The Wall Street Journal reports, “the city has 190 crimes per square mile, compared with a national median of 39.3.  If you live in Ferguson, you are twice as likely to have your car stolen or get mugged, or have your house broken into than if you live in Averageville, U.S.A.”  Kind of makes you feel right at home if you happen to live in New Orleans.

Louisiana communities, by comparison, have been relatively peaceful.  Racial confrontations in Jena back in 2007, and in New Orleans following Katrina come to mind.  Although the Bayou State has a proliferation of crime significantly above the national average, racial calm has generally prevailed.  And give the devils their due.  Politicians, particularly out of the state capitol, may be incapable of balancing the state budget, and solving a long list of quality of life problems.  But racial strife has been minimized by active mayors and other officials both black and white, who have been fairly successful at defusing potential racial confrontations.

In the Ferguson crisis, no one comes out in a positive light.  No one.  Guilt and innocence is determined on television, as one rumor after the other is reported as fact.  Typical was MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, who tweeted out: “I think the security problem in Ferguson is not solvable through policing. Until charges are brought against Wilson, this will go on.”  Wilson was the police officer who fired the shots that killed Brown.  So much for any fair investigation taking place.

Democratic Governor Jay Nixon jumped to pre judge by calling for the “vigorous prosecution” of Wilson.  Attorney General Eric Holder had no problem immediately jumping into this local dispute by sending in 40 FBI agents, and demanding a third autopsy on Brown.   He traveled to Ferguson to lament about his personal experiences in not believing the police.  The New York Times quoted Holder as telling locals in Ferguson that “he could understand mistrust that many young blacks felt towards the police.”  More pre judgment. As for the President?  He has just stayed put on the golf course.

The Mayor and county officials loaded up with military weapons and armored vehicles to create an atmosphere of a war zone.  Far from defusing the crisis, their actions just poured more fuel on the escalating fire.

Ferguson is 67% black, but the Mayor, the chief of police, and 5 of the 6 council members are white, and local African Americans claim an unfair radical balance.  But these white officials were elected by this majority black city.  Elections have consequences, and voting results show a lack of black participation.  If you don’t go to the polls, you have only your self to blame.

Michael Brown told his family a few weeks before his death that he saw the face of God and “now I believe.”  Then he went ahead and robbed a convenience store of cigars and ruffed up the clerk.  Let’s just say he was no angel.

And we have not heard a peep from the shooter, Officer Darren Wilson.  The failure of the Ferguson police department to give out Wilson’s side on just what happened is troubling to those who want to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Like so many of these racial confrontations including Watts, Jena, Rodney King, O.J., Travon Martin and many others, this too shall pass. There is a leadership quotient that is missing in Ferguson.  Chaos and confusion has to be addressed by community leadership way before confrontation happens. 

Every city and state can make mistakes.  But Louisiana seems to have gotten it right far more often than other parts of the country. Ferguson, as it goes forward, could well learn a lesson.

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

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Louisiana Senate Incumbent in Fight of Her Political Life!

August 22ed, 2014
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Louisiana United States Senator Mary Landrieu has always been a survivor in Bayou State politics. She’s been successful in four races for the U.S. Senate, but the elections have always been close, and until now, her opponents have never had the full weight of the national republican campaign apparatus behind them. But this time it’s different. Landrieu is in the political fight of her life. She’s under an all out assault by republican organizations all over the country.
There’s a good reason why so much attention is being paid to this Louisiana election. The stakes are sky high. Which party controls the U.S. Senate may be determined by who wins in Louisiana. The Bayou State’s unique “jungle primary” pushes the runoff election back until early December. Every other state election will have been decided by then. And if control of the senate comes down to one vote, which a number of political prognosticators believe could happen, the Louisiana election will captivate the political eyes of the nation.
Can Landrieu pull it off again? Landrieu’s biggest hurdle is not her two aggressive opponents, but rather a number of problems she has created on her own. The lady is facing a high mountain to climb because of two things: her controversial senate record, and her continuing campaign blunders.
Her political problems were highlighted after she became the deciding vote to pass Obamacare in the Senate, for which she was dubbed “Obamacare Mary,” a yoke Landrieu’s had to carry for legislation highly unpopular in Louisiana. Adding to her burden, she’s been a longtime champion of The Patriot Act — a distasteful law that allows widespread spying on every American citizen.
She’s received criticism for her vote to tax Louisianans on all out of state Internet sales, a tax increase also highly unpopular back home. Another Landrieu proposed tax would double the security passenger fee – a fee that air travelers would have to pay on each flight. In 2011, she became chairman of the Senate’s Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, yet her opponents charge that her leadership on immigration reform has languished as she’s failed to offer any suggestions or legislation to curtail the mass of illegals crossing into the United States.
Landrieu has been a champion of the U.S. Export-Import Bank, which is presently under siege because of allegations of corruption and cronyism. Most recently, her republican opponents are on the attack for her attempts to block legislation that would have imposed human rights sanctions for atrocities in Venezuela.
But aside from her voting record, Landrieu’s bigger problems involve the handling of her politics. In recent years, she’s rarely returned to the state, and is running a re-election campaign orchestrated from Washington, driven by millions of dollars in campaign contributions from all over the country. Last year the Baton Rouge Morning Advocate reported that Landrieu was forced to pay penalties and interest three different years for failure to pay property taxes on her Capitol Hill home, valued at $2.36 million, on time. Just last week, USA Today and CNN reported that Landrieu has flown in private planes on multiple occasions for campaign events paid for with taxpayers dollars, a violation of federal law.
She is also being accused of running a campaign that is aloof from local involvement, with key supporters complaining that phone calls go unreturned. In the northern part of the state, key public officials, including the Mayor of Monroe and the Public Service Commissioner have volunteered to help the Senator get out the democratic vote, but have received no response. Apparently, the entire Landrieu campaign is television driven by out of state public relations firms.
Nevertheless, Landrieu still has a lot going for her. She is the incumbent and has done her share of political favors over the past 18 years. But, at least for now, her campaign has lost any sense and understanding of retail politics. Voters are not happy with incumbency and the Washington insider mentality. Landrieu is making a big mistake by not engaging, relating to, and personally engulfing a constituency that is skeptical and needs some major reassurance.
And yes, the election is not yet over, but Mary Landrieu is close to being on the ropes. She has less than 10 weeks to turn it all around.
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

Thursday, August 14, 2014


Baton Rouge, Louisiana


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  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