Thursday, January 17, 2019

GET HEALTHY-DRINK MORE COKE?


January 17th, 2019
Baton Rouge, Louisiana 
GET HEALTHY-DRINK MORE COKE?

I picked up a recent copy of Men’s Health Magazinewith a lengthy article on weight loss based on research from Louisiana’s own Pennington Biomedical Research Center.  The results were typical-eat less, eat early, breath deep, get and lots of exercise. And sugar?  The Pennington study concludes that all those naysayers who express concern over the dangers of sugar are exaggerating a bit.  “The evidence is underwhelming that sugar is much or any worse than other refined carbs.”  So great news for all you sugar addictors.  Just cut back a bit on the carbs say the folks at Pennington.

There’s always been a disconnect between the accolades LSU gives itself for academic achievement and the bottom line results that come from national rankings. Louisiana’s flagship rarely cracks the top 100 universities in the U.S., with a majority of SEC schools outperforming LSU year after year. In the 2019 university rankings by US News and World Report, LSU comes in at number 140.
But there’s always been one shining star in the LSU System — The Pennington Biomedical Research Center. Pennington has been recognized as a world leader in obesity research and disease prevention. The center’s mission statement reflects the pride it takes in its work:

“Since 1988, the mission of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center has been to promote healthier lives through research and education in nutrition and preventive medicine. As the largest academic-based nutritional research center in the world, we have the unique distinction of housing the greatest concentration of obesity research scientists.”

The center’s mission is commendable considering that the most recent statistics from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention conclude that more than one-third (34.9% or 78.6 million) of U.S. adults are obese. The annual medical cost of obesity in the U.S. is approaching $200 billion. The public picks up on any new study from Pennington Center, because of its stellar national and international reputation.

 The LSU Center released another study not too long back on why so many Americans are overweight. Pennington’s executive director called the study “cutting-edge research.” Their conclusion? The center’s press release cites “a lack of physical activity” as the main culprit. Nothing about Big Macs, fries, and sugar coated almost everything. And, oh yes — no mention at all of soft drinks like Coca Cola.

So who paid for the study? What public interest organization funded this noble effort to get our kids healthier? Why none other than, you guessed it, Coca Cola. The world’s largest producer of sugar loaded beverages wants us to quit worrying about cutting calories. Just get more exercise. That apparently is the key to losing lots of weight. Yeah, right!

The Baton Rouge Advocate’s James Gill succinctly asked: “Why do academics bother was such a charade? Give ‘em a sack full of money and they’ll solemnly go through all the motions of a quest for the truth. All together now: ‘I’d like to buy the world a Coke.’”

Back during my days in public life as Louisiana’s Insurance Commissioner, I proposed legislation that would eliminate sugar loaded soft drinks from dispensaries in public schools. The beverage alliance, including Coca Cola, strongly lobbied against such legislation, arguing that profits from these machines went to buy school athletic uniforms. So you load up the kids with sugar before sending them out on the playing field in great looking uniforms.

The front organization for Coca Cola’s money, called The Global Energy Balance Network, has issued a press release that says, “Most of the focus in the popular media and in the scientific press is that they’re eating too much, eating too much, eating too much — blaming fast food, blaming sugary drinks and so on. And there’s really virtually no compelling evidence that that in fact is the cause.”
No compelling evidence? What! There have been numerous non-biased scientific studies that repeatedly and conclusively prove fast food and sugary drinks cause obesity. To say otherwise insults the intelligence of even the average observer. Coca Cola does a great disservice by allowing their front organization to make such unfounded claims.

The Pennington Center press office told me that this study is ongoing and subject to refining as research progresses. They have their work cut out for them. To leave their initial conclusions that exercise far outweighs poor dietary choices doesn’t pass the smell test. Or for that matter, the taste test.

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, January 09, 2019

HAS COLLEGE FOOTBALL BECOME A PRO SPORT?


January 10th, 2019
Baton Rouge, Louisiana

HAS COLLEGE FOOTBALL BECOME A PRO SPORT?

It’s the end of the college football season with Clemson taking a resounding victory over favored Alabama.   The year also produced a financial bonanza for top tier football schools all over the country. ESPN has paid some 7 billion dollars for the rights to telecast just seven games a year over the next 12 years. Television revenue has doubled for major college football programs over last year. Stadiums are expanding and ticket sales are at an all-time high. So let’s ask this question-is it all about the money?

Initially, college football and other athletic programs were supposed to be extracurricular activities; a break from the rigors of taking classes and qualifying for a degree. No more. Just absorb the words of Cardale Jones, a recent quarterback for national championship powerhouse Ohio State. His message on Twitter complained: “Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain’t come to play SCHOOL, classes are POINTLESS.”

Maybe Cardale has a point. For many colleges, it’s all about the dollars and winning football games. My old friend and University of North Carolina football coach Mack Brown summed it up this way: “When you hear college presidents and athletic directors talk about character and academics and integrity, none of that really matters. College football is growing closer and closer of being like the NFL.”

When it comes to priorities, my home state’s football powerhouse is a case in point. Louisiana colleges are in a financial free-fall, with new budget cuts being imposed yearly. LSU has seen its state-funding cut by over 40% in recent years. The endowment of the state’s flagship university is one of the lowest of any major colleges in the country. In the most recent edition of U.S. News and World Report’s college rankings, LSU weighed in at a lowly 129th in the nation
.
But when it comes to football financial rankings, the Fighting Tigers are high on the list. In the recent Forbes rankings of the most valuable football teams, LSU comes in at number 4, with a current value of just under $100 million, and a football profit last year of $47 million. Coach Ed Orgeron is paid $3.5 million plus performance bonuses and endorsement fees. One of his assistants is paid $ 2.5 million. To compare athletics and academics, the University’s top remunerated professors receive an annual salary of $78,000. 

Most Wall Street hedge funds would love to see blue chip stocks increase at the rate of college football revenue. Schools like LSU are paid over $12 million by companies like Nike, just to wear the company’s logo. But to make that kind of money, the football team has to be a winner. And to win, even the top academic schools often cut corners.

My alma mater, The University of North Carolina, consistently ranks as one of the top academic universities in the U.S. But the alums want a football winner. In recent months, press reports documented that for the past 18 years, thousands of athletes, primarily football players, have taken fake “paper classes’ with no attendance and no work performed.

And just what do these athletes receive? Only enough to cover the basic college expenses — room, food, tuition and books. No pocket money to go to the movies, no gas money, no extras whatsoever. So we have college athletic programs raking in millions on the backs of talented, disciplined, hardworking athletes, without sharing the revenue with those responsible for generating it.  Such a system is ill-defined at best and hypocritical at worst.

Fifty-six years ago, I was lucky enough to attend the University of North Carolina on an athletic scholarship. I was given a housing and food allowance that exceeded my costs, as well as “laundry money” that allowed for weekend dates, gas, and a few frills above the basic scholarship outlays. What I received then was equivalent to some $300 in pocket money if the same were allowed today. But the NCAA tightened up the rules, and college athletes get less today than athletes like me received some years back.

The system in place brings in millions of dollars for those that run the football program, but allows our young college athletes to be exploited, and the exploitation is being committed by their adult mentors.  What a deal-your body in exchange for a pittance of basic expenses.

Something is definitely wrong with the way college football is run. But with all the money coming in, don’t expect much to change. After all, we only care about winning.

********
“Football: A sport that bears the same relation to education that bullfighting does to agriculture.”

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, January 03, 2019

COMPARING AUSTIN AND BATON ROUGE!


December 3rd, 2019
Baton Rouge, Louisiana

COMPARING AUSTIN AND BATON ROUGE!

For as far back as I can remember, comparisons have been made between Louisiana’s state capitol city and Austin, Texas. In the 1960s the population of both cities were about the same. Austin and Baton Rouge were the homes of both the centers of state government and the location of each state’s major university.  Both cities were laid back and growing at an average southern pace.  So how do they rate today?

Austin has become one of the fastest growing cities in America.  The University of Texas is ranked as one of the top public universities in the nation with an endowment that rivals number one Harvard.  US News and World Reportjust released their national rankings as the best place in American to live. Their number one ranking?  Austin, Texas.  And the icing on the cake came in the recent announcement that Apple will invest over one billion dollars on a new high-tech campus.  Apple will create in Austin 5000 new jobs that will increase to 15,000 employees with an average salary of $150,000. The Texas hub was also just named as on one of the top five places to retire in the U.S.

The Baton Rouge population base has been stagnant, although there has been significant growth in surrounding parishes, primarily due to the influx of Katrina relocators. The capital city’s ranking on the US News’best places to live is 100. (Lafayette is listed as number 107, New Orleans at 111, and Shreveport at 119 No other Louisiana cities were listed.)  LSU doesn’t crack the top 100 national universities, coming in at 140. The LSU endowment is one of the lowest of any college in the U.S., and one of the least funded of all SEC colleges.

So why the disparity? What happened that has allowed Austin to thrive and for Baton Rouge to just trudge along as just another slow growing average southern state? There were several major turning points that accelerated the differences.

First, a major thriving university can be the catalyst for flourishing cities across the country.   Governor Huey Long continually professed his commitment to LSU pledging to make it the Harvard of the South.  But he failed to put into place permanent finance guarantees.  So LSU, just as today, was required to go hat in hand each year to request funding from the state legislature. Texas on the other hand, directed a significant portion of the state’s oil and gas revenue to set up a continuing revenue stream to the state’s flagship university.  LSU struggled while the University of Texas thrived.

Second, the assassination of President John Kennedy dealt another blow to Baton Rouge.  The original NASA Space Center was to be located in New Orleans. LSU would have received major funding as a research center for the NASA project. But after Kennedy’s death, Lyndon Johnson changed the locations to Houston, and saw that millions of dollars of research funds went to the University of Texas.  If the Center had stayed in Louisiana, Baton Rouge would have greatly benefited by the federal dollars to be spent on the project.

Third, the 1973 constitutional convention dealt a blow to LSU, and thus Baton Rouge, by not adopting one board to govern higher education. As a delegate to CC73, I pushed for such a “one board “concept but was unsuccessful in getting this concept adopted. In the years that followed, every college in the state wanted to become a little LSU will full funding for graduate programs.  The tax dollars splinted, and mediocrity thrived.  LSU’s leadership compounded the problem by failing to aggressively build an endowment of financial gifts from alumni and supporters; something many other SEC schools have done effectively. 

Fourth, Austin has worked hard to become a clean city.  Businesses and potential newcomers like that about Austin. They pick up their trash. A great slogan of “Don’t Mess with Texas.”  Baton Route? Just look out your car window as you drive around the city.  When was the last time you heard of someone being given as ticket for littering?  And how many times have you cringed as the car in front of you lowers their window and throws out a cup, a wrapper or a cigarette butt?

Baton Rouge and every Louisiana city has had some bad luck, but they all can do better.  It’s a new year.  Either commit to grow and thrive or stay passive and dwindle. It takes political leadership and vision.  Let’s hope for a better 2019.

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 9:00 am till 11:00 am Central Time on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.







Thursday, December 27, 2018

NEW YEAR THOUGHTS FROM THE BAYOU STATE!


December 27th, 2018
Baton Rouge, Louisiana

NEW YEAR THOUGHTS FROM THE BAYOU STATE!

Do you make New Year’s resolutions? I always do.  A New Year always brings with it promise and uncertainty, but this coming year brings with it a greater foreboding than we have experienced in the past.  The Chinese have a saying: “May you live in interesting times.” But their definition means dangerous or turbulent. We in Louisiana and throughout America certainly live in “interesting” times today.

One resolution I make each year is to maintain my curiosity.  It doesn’t matter how limited your perspective or how narrow the scope of your surroundings, there is (or should be) something to whet your interest and strike your fancy.  I discovered early on that there are two kinds of people — those who are curious about the world around them, and those whose shallow attentions are generally limited to those things that pertain to their own personal well-being.  I just hope all those I care about fall into the former category.

Another resolution is to continue to hope.  I hope for successful and fulfilling endeavors for my children, happiness and contentment for family and friends, and for the fortitude to handle both the highs and lows of daily living with dignity.

Each year, I ask my children to give me two gifts for Christmas.  First, I ask them to make a donation to a charity that will help needy families in their community.  And second, I ask them to re-read Night, the unforgettable holocaust novel by Elie Wiesel, the Nobel Peace laureate who survived the Nazi death camps.  I have a Wiesel quote framed on my office desk:

 “To defeat injustice and misfortune, if only for one instant, for a single victim, is to invent a new reason to hope.”

Like many of you, our family welcomes in the New Year with “Auld Lang Syne.”  It’s an old Scotch tune, with words passed down orally, and recorded by my favorite historical poet, Robert Burns, back in the 1700s.  (I’m Scottish, so there’s a bond here.) “Auld Lang Syne,” literally means “old long ago,” or simply, “the good old days.”  Did you know this song is sung at the stroke of midnight in almost every English-speaking country in the world to bring in the New Year?

I can look back over many years of memorable New Year’s Eve celebrations.  In recent years, my wife and I have joined a gathering of family and friends in New Orleans at a French Quarter restaurant.  After dinner, we make a stop at St. Louis Cathedral for a blessing of the New Year. Then it’s off to join the masses for the New Year’s countdown to midnight in Jackson Square.

When my daughters were quite young, we spent a number of New Year holidays at a family camp on Davis Island, in the middle of the Mississippi River some 30 miles below Vicksburg.  On several occasions, the only people there were my family and Bishop Charles P. Greco, who was the Catholic Bishop for central and north Louisiana.  Bishop Greco had baptized all three of my daughters, and had been a family friend for years.

On many a cold and rainy morning, the handful of us at the camp would rise before dawn for the Bishop to conduct a New Year’s Mass.  After the service, most of the family went back to bed.  I would crank up my old jeep and take the Bishop out in the worst weather with hopes of putting him on a stand where a large buck would pass.  No matter what the weather, he would stay all morning with his shotgun and thermos of coffee.  He rarely got a deer, but oh how he loved to be there in the woods.  Now, I’m not a Catholic, but he treated me as one of his own.

New Year’s Day means lots of football, but I also put on my chef’s apron.  I’m well regarded in the kitchen around my household, if I say so myself, for cooking up black-eyed peas as well as cabbage and corn bread. And don’t bet I won’t find the dime in the peas.  After all, I’m going to put it there.
I’ll be back next week with my customary views that are cantankerous, opinionated, inflammatory, slanted, and always full of vim and vigor.  Sometimes, to a few, even a bit fun to read.  In the meantime, Happy New Year to you, your friends and all of your family.   See you next year.

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 9:00 am till 11:00 am Central Time on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.



Thursday, December 20, 2018

THE HOLIDAYS OFFER US A SECOND CHANCE!


December 20th, 2018
Baton Rouge, Louisiana

THE HOLIDAYS OFFER US A SECOND CHANCE!

Most of us have been swept up in the momentum of the holiday season. We have passed Thanksgiving, reached the Christmas milestone and are approaching New Year’s Day, the third in the trilogy of holidays.

Sure, there is a lot of our attention on holiday shopping, football, and social events. But it is also a time to reflect of what the three holidays can mean to all of us.  A second chance, and maybe even a new beginning.

On Thanksgiving Day, we recognized and celebrated the new start of the Pilgrims who made the two-month journey from England to America back in 1620.  They too wanted a second chance.  They were searching for a better life with the freedom to live and worship in their own way, free from the intolerance they faced under King James I and the Church of England.  Their leaders created the Mayflower Compact, which established a new set of laws so that they could be treated equally and fairly as part of their new way of life.  A rebirth.  A new beginning for all of them.

The second link in the trilogy, and to Christians the most important, is the Christmas season. The Bible teaches that Christ died on the cross to give believers a second chance.
There is one book that I try to read over the holidays every year — “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens.  In the early 1960s, I had a golden opportunity to study English Literature at Cambridge University in England, where the writings of Dickens were my focus.

Dickens was a major literary personality in his day, and newspapers serialized many of his stories.  He initially published under the pen name of “Boz,” and he used this pseudonym for many of his early novels.  He entertained his wide London audience with humor in books like, “The Pickwick Papers” and “The Life and Times of Nicholas Nickleby.”  Dickens pulled at the heartstrings of his readers with the drama of “Oliver Twist” and “A Tale of Two Cities.”  But as the Christmas season approached in 1843, Dickens began using his own name, and took on the role of a crusader with the publication of “A Christmas Carol.”

Most of us have seen this poignant Christmas story filled with an array of colorful characters like Ebenezer Scrooge, Tiny Tim, Bob Cratchit, The Ghost of Christmas Past, The Ghost of Christmas Present, and The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.  But the real lessons of the spirit that emanate from this special time of year come, not from miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, but from his dead partner, Jacob Marley.  While alive, Marley failed to help others, and in death he is damned to the agony of recognizing the pain and suffering of others, and being unable to help in anyway, and this is his special hell.

My attorney friend, Eric Duplantis, who practices law and writes in the small town of Franklin, Louisiana, puts it this way: “In life, Marley’s worst sin was not his venality, but his indifference.  After death he realizes this.  But it’s too late.  Death gave him compassion, but his sentence for a lifetime of indifference is an inability to act on the compassion he feels.”
Marley is given a single opportunity to do a good act, after which he must return to his Hell.  The ghost gives Scrooge the greatest gift of all.  Marley gives Scrooge the chance of redemption.  The message here from Dickens is that even someone as lost as Ebenezer Scrooge can be saved if he seizes this one-time gift of a second chance.

Here’s hoping that the coming year brings you the opportunity of a second chance if you feel you need one. We all generally do. But whether you do or you don’t, may you and your family have a blessed and healthy holiday season and a very happy New Year.  As Tiny Tim said in “The Christmas Carol,” God bless us every one.

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 9:00 am till 11:00 am Central Time on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.




Thursday, December 13, 2018

STATE REGULATION IN LOUISIANA ALLOWS HIGH INSURANCE RATES!


December 13th, 2018
Baton Rouge, Louisiana

STATE REGULATION IN LOUISIANA ALLOWS HIGH INSURANCE RATES!

A headline in several regional newspapers caught my eye. “Homeowners Insurance Rate Increases Have Slowed,” said one front page banner. I guess that’s supposed to be good news. But in my home state of Louisiana, rates have skyrocketed since 2005 — by an astounding 50%. No other state in the country has experienced such dramatic increases. And we continue to read that it’s all the fault of Katrina. There have been only a few major weather-related losses in recent years, but the rates continue to go up. There must be something rotten in Denmark. Hmmm – make that Louisiana.

Bob Hunter, director of insurance at the Consumer Federation of America, pulls no punches in laying the blame right at the feet of insurance regulators. He points out that insurance companies are using a number of tricks to eliminate their risk while the homeowner takes it on the chin with rates that continue to climb. “It simply requires regulation,” says Hunter. “Why haven’t rates gone down? Are they (insurance companies) gouging?” Ya’ think?

A significant factor in rates staying high is the continuing problems of AIG. This mammoth insurance conglomerate, that has a large presence in Louisiana, was the first major insurance company to be bailed out as the recent Wall Street crisis evolved. Congress authorized an injection of more than $130 billion in taxpayer funds to AIG and its numerous subsidiaries. 

Here’s why major international insurance groups like AIG are important to small states like Louisiana. It’s not the population of a state that matters. It’s where the risks are located. And there are a number of major companies operating in Louisiana that have significant exposure for insurance purposes. Just imagine the cost of insuring the offshore oil industry operating along Louisiana’s coastline. How about the nation’s largest chemical industry located up and down the Mississippi River? And there are major risks to insure in the first, third, and fifth largest ports in this country all located in Louisiana.

 In short, Louisiana is in the top five of states that have the highest industrial insurance risks. That means Louisiana is a major customer for many insurance companies both nationally and worldwide. Other large industrial states share similar major industrial risks and need large national and international insurance companies to offer needed insurance protection, but none of them have had the excessive increases in insurance rates that Louisiana has.
In virtually every other state, there is a consumer protection office, often located under the office of the Governor or the Attorney General. The mandate of a consumer protection office is to independently check and audit regulated companies to be sure that they are following the law. But in Louisiana, there are no impartial checks and balances. And the loser, of course, is the policy holder, the ratepayer, the consumer.

Although the company has a major presence in Louisiana, insurance officials have chosen not to audit AIG’s activities. In years past, no insurance group was immune from being audited, particularly as financial problems began to occur. In 1993, Louisiana joined Texas in doing the first major audit of Lloyd’s of London, the world’s largest insurance company. But since the deregulation mode has obtained a firm grip on Louisiana, major companies like AIG have become free from state oversight.

The concern for Louisiana policy holders should be: why does it take an official in another state to initiate an investigation of potential mismanagement and misuse of funds that come out of the Bayou State? In Louisiana, there is no pre-approval limitation of increasing your insurance rates that are now the highest in the nation. And Louisiana law specifically prohibits giving its citizens separate insurance consumer protection by the Attorney General or any other official office.

So the bottom line is: thanks to the legislature and the Insurance Department, the Louisiana insurance policy holder has less protection than policy holders in just about any other state in America. And while the AIG shenanigans continue to be ignored in Louisiana, the politicians in Washington keep telling us that companies like AIG, for the good of the country, have to be saved no matter what, regardless of the huge burden on the taxpayers. 

The way the politicians see it, these companies are too big to fail. And the fleecing of you and me, the taxpayer, well, that’s just collateral damage.
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, December 07, 2018

GARTH BROOKS AND ME IN LOUISIANA!


December 6th, 2018
New Orleans, Louisiana
GARTH BROOKS AND ME IN LOUISIANA!

Did you see the Garth Brooks televised concert at Notre Dame Stadium last week?  Over 85,000 country music fans packed the South Bend football field for one of largest concerts ever viewed.  And the crowd’s biggest response, hands down, was when Brooks roamed the huge stage singing: “I spent last night in the arms of a girl in Louisiana.”  It was his signature song titled Callin’ Baton Rouge. The crowd went nuts.

If you come from Louisiana, it’s almost a congenital requirement that you are born with a love for music. Particularly string music, from country, zydeco, blues, rock and even an abundance of classical aficionados. I’m certainly in that number. Two of my first legal clients as a practicing lawyer in Ferriday were Jerry Lee Lewis and Mickey Gilley. I paid my way through law school by playing my banjo on Bourbon Street at a place called Your Father’s Mustache. Yep, music is in our DNA down here in the Bayou State.

Garth Brooks is a mega star when it comes to selling albums. Fourteen have debuted as No. 1, and he’s sold over 135 million albums. I attended his opening Friday night concert, where the entire crowd stood up the entire evening and sang along with the crooner. Even younger kids in their late teens and early 20s seemed to know the words to every song. He ran and jumped across the stage, while singing, during the entire performance. I was exhausted myself just watching him perform.

A few years back, I attended one of his concerts here in the state capitol. The crowd went into a tizzy when he sang “Callin’ Baton Rouge,” a song Brooks told the crowd was his all-time favorite. After he finished, the swarm of fans burst out chanting “L.S.U.-L.S.U.” He had the whole stadium in the palm of his hands, and would have received a unanimous vote for Mayor, Governor, President, or anything else. He was the Man and certainly the king of country music.

It was different the first time I heard Garth Brooks sing. Back in 1980, I had just been elected as Louisiana Secretary of State. On a Saturday night, I had spoken to a civic club in Kentwood, right on the Louisiana-Mississippi line in the southeastern part of the state. To get back to the state capitol in Baton Rouge, I followed the back roads that took me through Greensburg on down highway 16 into the small community of Montpelier. As was my custom when I would travel that route, I stopped off at the Bear Creek Restaurant and Saloon for a bite to eat and a cold beer.

A full house and a rowdy crowd on a Louisiana Saturday night, as I visited with the bartender, a guy named Jesse. A young singer and guitar player was on the stage, and a net had been put up in front of the platform to inhibit beer bottles from being thrown by any disorderly patrons. Few listened to the young fellow, but being a frustrated strummer myself, I paid attention to his forlorn country songs that he told the indifferent crowd he had written himself.

“Gotta nice sound,” I shared with Jesse.” Who is he?”

“From Oklahoma. Comes over every now and then to perform. Let’s see. His name is Brooks….Garth Brooks.”

As I got up to leave, I paid my tab, dropped a few bucks in the tip jar, and shared my opinion with Jesse. “He’s got a pretty good mellow voice. Who knows? He might make it big one day.” I headed off into the night towards the city whose name would become one of Garth Brooks all-time hits.

When I wrote my first book about my time in Louisiana politics, I raised the question about whether all I went through in my 28 years as a public official was worth it. I answered by quoting from my favorite Garth Brooks song. “Our lives are better left to chance. I could’ve missed the pain, but I’da had to miss the dance.”

From singing in a Louisiana country saloon to becoming a country music mega-star. At 56, he can’t do much better. Here’s hoping Garth Brooks will keep on performing and keep on singing about that gal in Louisiana for many years to come.

*******

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.