Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Louisian Governor gets Poor Reviews on Speech

Thursday, February 26th, 2009
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


Bobby Jindal had an uphill fight to begin with this past Tuesday evening when he was the Republican pick to give a response to the President’s State of the Union speech. He was thrown into the lion’s den to give reaction to comments of a popular president, just coming into office, with a major segment of the American public pulling for him and giving him high marks. No matter what Jindal might have said, he really could not, and did not gain any traction or score any substantive points.

Jindal was called on to mouth the national party line, and right now, that line is a big stumbling block for the GOP. They are dealing with a President whose popularity ratings stay above 60% in every major recent poll. Tuesday night, MSNBC tracked the reaction of both Obama voters and McCain voters in several focus groups around the country. Both sides were consistently and solidly positive throughout Obama’s speech. In fact, when the President talked about unfreezing credit markets and ending tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas, McCain voters were stronger for the President that the Obama group. The Republicans are trying to mould an alternative to a President who, so far, seems to be right on with an acceptable message to a solid majority of the country, leaving Jindal little wiggle room to respond.

In the focus groups, McCain voters were consistent in liking most of what Jindal had to say. But he lost support even among Republicans when he attacked “National Democrats” and “Democratic leaders in Washington.” In one of the focus groups reporting, with balanced Democratic and Republican voters, three out of thirty two gave Jindal high marks, preferring Obama’s governing over Jindal.

Jindal had several problems to deal with. First, he had just heard the President’s message minutes earlier before he was called on to respond. So he was preparing a rebuttal to programs and comments by the President that Jindal could only “assume” would be discussed.

Second, as part of the offer by the Republican congressional leadership to even have the opportunity of giving the high profile response, Jindal was obligated to include a litany of GOP talking points. And that became a problem for him. He was obligated to rehash the standard Republican line that tax cuts are the only answer to everything ailing the economy. His proposals for creating jobs were “lowering income tax rates for working families, cutting taxes for small businesses and strengthening incentives for businesses to invest in new equipment and hire new workers and stabilizing home values by creating a tax credit for homebuyers.”

But there’s a problem with Jindal’s (or the GOP’s speech writers’) reasoning. Credit markets are frozen, particularly in Louisiana. It’s really tough to borrow money. So businesses are not investing, small businesses are not hiring and people are losing their jobs are unable to find new ones. Many people are hurting and looking for answers. Jindal and the GOP just failed to put any real hope on the table. In short, there was a silence of substance.

The governor also tried to personalize his identity with a background narrative of his rise from a family of Indian immigrants. This was OK. But hard here to make any political headway. It’s kind of like saying: “You folks elected someone with a ‘poor black guy story.’ Well, I have a poor brown guy story.”

If you follow the thousand of responses to Jindal’s rebuttal on the internet, many who listened felt he was talking down to them and compared him to Mr. Rogers. Yes, he could have been more forceful and engaging. But don’t sell Mr. Rogers short. You may not know it, but the wimpy little guy on PBS was a Navy Seal, combat proven in Vietnam with supposedly over twenty-five confirmed kills to his name. And that long sleeve sweater? I’m told it was to cover a number of tattoos on his forearm and biceps. If only many of these GOP verbal attackers who never served a day in the military could get so macho.

The GOP missed a real opportunity in staging Jindal’s rebuttal by not having him deliver his comments before a live audience. Style and image are important in staged events like this. The “talking head” format does not serve Jindal nearly as well as his more engaging manner talking to a crowd. The GOP could have easily arranged a large crowd to listen and cheer in the glow as TV cameras and flashbulbs. Obama fed off the energy of some 40 standing ovations with numerous rounds of applause. Jindal seemed condescending and a bit patronizing when talking directly into a camera with no supporters around. He missed an opportunity to use his ability as an orator to both evoke and then wield the energy of a live audience.

No strike outs or home runs here. Jindal raised his name recognition, but also opened himself up for continuing scrutiny. He is taking a lot of heat form political heads back home in Louisiana. Being a problem solving Governor should be his focus in the months to come. If he can show more results and less rhetoric, he will have much more to crow about in the future on a national stage.

“Governing a great nation is like cooking a small fish – too much handling will spoil it.”
Lao Tzu

Peace and Justice.

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s weekly column appears in a number of newspapers and websites throughout the State of Louisiana. You can read Jim’s Blog, and take his weekly poll, plus read his columns going back to the fall of 2002 by going to his own website at
Jim also has a new book out on his views of Louisiana. You can read about it and order it by going to

Jim’s radio show on WRNO (995 fm) from New Orleans can be heard each Sunday, from 11:00 am until 1:00 pm.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Thursday, February 19th, 2009
Baton Rouge, Louisiana

In state after state across the country, cash-starved governors from both parties are anxiously awaiting federal dollars from the stimulus package that Congress passed just last Friday. One governor though who seems less than enthusiastic over receiving such a windfall is Louisiana's Gov. Bobby Jindal. He stated publicly that he would have voted against the federal program, and has suggested he might not take much of the funding that in the coming weeks will become available. Is Jindal posturing to burnish his conservative image nationally?

Louisiana’s share of the federal pie is at least $7.68 billion, according to the Center for American Progress, a think tank that analyzed the combined impact of the bill’s tax cuts and major spending programs. In addition, there are billions of additional dollars that will b available through competitive grants to both the state and local governments. All told, the White House estimates that the new legislation will preserve or create 50,000 new jobs in the state. Much of the money would come to Louisiana automatically, but some of the new dollars would have to be specifically requested.

And that’s where the legislature comes in. Despite Jindal’s possible opposition to all or some of the stimulus funds, he does not hold all the cards. As the stimulus bill worked its way through Congress, South Carolina veteran Democrat Rep. James Clyburn amended the legislation allowing state legislatures to take the federal funding even though their governors objected. So like it or not, Jindal could see the legislature in Louisiana go over his head and ask for funds he might be opposed to receiving.

Government watchdog C. B. Forgotston pointed out in a column this week the specific provision in the law which gives final say to the legislature.
SEC. 1607. (a) CERTIFICATION BY GOVERNOR Not later than 45 days after the date of enactment of this Act, for funds provided to any State or agency thereof, the Governor of the State shall certify that: 1) the State request and use funds provided by this Act , and; 2) funds be used to create jobs and promote economic growth.(b) ACCEPTANCE BY STATE LEGISLATURE If funds provided to any State in any division of this Act are not accepted for use by the Governor, then acceptance by the State legislature, by means of the adoption of a concurrent resolution, shall be sufficient to provide funding to such State.

How will legislators in Louisiana respond if Jindal is dead set on rejecting some of the federal funds? Rep. Clyburn responds that: “I represent people; I don’t represent concepts or political philosophies. I don’t think I can set here and let their political platforms cause misery for the people I represent.”

A number of other Republican governors have enthusiastically embraced the stimulus package, and have given vocal support to the President even as Republican members of Congress were lockstep in their opposition. Governors strongly in support of the plan and anxious to take the money include many with national ambitions like Jindal. The list includes California’s Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Connecticut Republican Governor M. Jodi Rell, and Florida’s Governor Charlie Crist. During the primaries, both Crist and Jindal were on the McCain vice presidential short list. And all three of these Republican governors joined 14 Democratic governors in signing a letter to President Obama lauding his economic plan.

Even arch conservative Republican governors were lobbying hard for more stimulus dollars. Gov. John Huntsman from Utah went to Washington and asked for up to $14.4 billion for roads, rail and sewer projects and for construction of a prison, courthouses and veteran’s nursing homes. Alabama’s Republican Governor Bob Riley made no bones about transpiration money he wanted in heavy arm twisting in Washington. He said he was “going to make sure Alabama does not miss out on the money we’re entitled to.”

Jindal did not go to Washington to lobby or make a wish list. So he may be playing well to the national Republican conservative base, but could run into major legislative opposition back home. And if he cannot keep peace in his own back yard, he may undercut his national acclaim that he has brought civility and reform to Louisiana.

A number of Louisiana legislators are concerned that, with a $2 billion dollar budget deficit to fill, they need to grab onto all the federal dollars that are available. Taking on the Governor by exercising their right to go directly to Washington is something they would rather not do. But paraphrasing the congressman from South Carolina, do they draw a line in the dirt and argue the philosophy of the stimulus plan? Or do they go bring home the bacon?

Jindal speaks to the nation next Tuesday evening giving the Republican rebuttal to the President’s state of the union address. We may find out then what prevails in Louisiana…..philosophy or practically.

"Three groups spend other people's money: children, thieves, politicians. All three need supervision."
-- Aristotle

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s weekly column appears in a number of newspapers and websites throughout the State of Louisiana. You can read Jim’s Blog, and take his weekly poll, plus read his columns going back to the fall of 2002 by going to his own website at
Jim also has a new book out on his views of Louisiana. You can read about it and order it by going to

Jim’s radio show on WRNO (995 fm) from New Orleans can be heard each Sunday, from 11:00 am until 1:00 pm.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

US Supreme Court Needs to get more done

Thursday, February 5th, 2009
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


Thirty Seven words. A pretty simple job to read a short paragraph from the U. S. Constitution. In Article 11, Section 1, the oath given to the President says: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of the President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States” Seems to be a pretty routine recitation.

How could the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court only have to read out 37 words and screw it up? That’s just what Justice John Roberts did when he swore in Barrack Obama as the 44th President of the United States. The President recited it back, though he seemed to know something was a miss. Roberts messed it up so badly that a “do-over was necessary later that night in the White House. (Maybe Obama had an inkling about the Chief Justice when as Senator he voted against confirming Roberts to the court several years ago.) I’m being a bit cynical here, but is Robert’s lack of preparedness in not being able to give a simple oath of office indicative of the lack of the work ethic by both Roberts and the entire Supreme Court?

Justices on the nation’s highest court complain about their low salary. But the plain truth is that the court as a whole just does not work very hard. Some 10,000 petitions are filed in the Supreme Court each year, and almost all of them are turned aside. This year, the court might consider some 60 cases. They never worked too hard in the past, but at least up until some 15 years ago, the normal load was 125 cases or more. But no longer. The Supremes need more time for other pursuits.

Come summer time, there are no thoughts of carrying out the constitutional responsibility of considering cases of those who feel they are aggrieved. No, it’s time to head off for speaking junkets and lucrative teaching posts far and beyond. Last summer, Justice Anthony Kennedy picked up extra bucks teaching law in Salzburg where he has hung out each summer since 1989. Justice Samuel Alito prefers the beach and teaches in Malibu at Pepperdine University’s Oceanside campus. Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg has bonded with the popular tourist town of Sorrento, Italy overlooking the Bay of Naples where she regularly teaches. And the Chief Justice was paid $15,000 to teach a one week course in Vienna last summer. He should have stayed home and practice giving the oath.

ustices also benefit from the ethically troubling practice of regularly taking all expense paid junkets, often financed by private interests with business before this very court. Many are labeled as “educational seminars” with large honorariums being received for a lecture. The court has soiled its reputation by accepting such freebies, and it is obvious the members are incapable of effective self-policing.

Congress is proposing a 30% pay increase bringing salaries up to $231,000 a year with the Chief Justice earning $280.000, plus benefits and regular cost of living increases. But with the increase comes some restrictions that do not make the Justices happy. Limits on outside income. Get paid more but say in Washington and get more work done. NO way say the Supremes. They are opposing any such limitations, because right now they have lots of time off and are allowed whatever they can make on the side.

he justices also exasperate any strong public sympathies by covering the court’s work in a shroud of secrecy. No television coverage of any kind. It’s a good thing many of these judges write books for extra cash, or they would keep the aura of invisibility surrounding them. Justices do surface to peddle their books on TV. We saw Justice Antonin Scalia on 60 minutes for the sole purpose of hawking his memoirs. So too did Clarence Thomas and a host of other justices who put pen to paper and met with the press for the sole purpose of selling books.

With so little public availability, it’s no wonder that in a recent Zogby Poll, only 24% of adults could name two Supreme Court justices. 77% could name two or more of the Seven Dwarfs.

And when it comes to the work of the court, or lack thereof, the Justices do not even pick the few cases that are chosen for review. There is an arrangement among the court’s members known as the “cert. pool” where clerks for each Justice meet and make recommendations as to what cases will be considered. So we have a system where a young clerk just out of law school is allowed great sway over what cases get reviewed.

rofessor David Stras, who teaches law at the University of Minnesota, has studied the whole problem of the law clerk pooling system and says: “The pool system does put enormous influence and power in a single clerk. I’m quite sure there are cases that fall through the cracks.” Special Prosecutor Ken Starr wrote in a recent law review article that there: “is an unjustifiable influence of the cert. pool and a hydraulic pressure to say no.”

In a hearing last year before the Senate Judiciary Committee, chairman Arlen Specter suggested that perhaps the court should not take the summers off and work more. Justice Anthony Kennedy responded: “I don’t think my colleagues would say we are under-worked. We are very proud that we get work done every year on schedule and on time. Our docket is 100 percent finished on July 1st.”

And the Justice is right. As long as the court takes only a handful of cases and let’s their law clerks do most of the work, it’s easy to “get work done” on time. But by not giving proper attention to a number of major legal issues, the court is shortchanging the citizens they were sworn to protect. But with lifetime tenure, summers off to travel the world and be paid for it, and a large salary increase on the way, there is little pressure to do any work at all. Including the simple task of correctly reading 37 words to the new President.
The court of last resort is no longer the Supreme Court. It's "Nightline."
Alan M. Dershowitz

Peace and Justice
Jim Brown
Jim Brown’s weekly column appears in a number of newspapers and websites throughout the State of Louisiana. You can read Jim’s Blog, and take his weekly poll, plus read his columns going back to the fall of 2002 by going to his own website at

Jim also has a new book out on his views of Louisiana. You can read about it and order it by going to .
Jim’s radio show on WRNO (995 fm) from New Orleans can be heard each Sunday, from 11:00 am until 1:00 pm.