Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Thursday, September 10, 1009
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


Remember old Capt. D.C. Boycott? Sure you do. He was the notorious Irish landlord who cut the wages of his tenant farmers and got ostracized. Since then, we regularly hear of someone proposing a “boycott.” And that’s what both the Obama critics and the Jindal belittlers are suggesting the opponents of both do this week. Obama speaking to school kids and Jindal visiting in church apparently, according to naysayers of each, will lead to some dark, obscure political agenda.

Turn off the TVs in schools and boycott the President’s talk say the right wing hysterics. And a Monroe, Louisiana Christian coalition is urging church members to stay away from Jindal’s “obviously political” trips for Sunday worship. Our kids will be indoctrinated by Obama’s magnetic pull to socialism, and Jindal will continue to use the Good Lord to further his hold on the Christian right. So do you agree? I don’t. . Both sides need to lighten up.

First, the President’s “invasion” into the hearts and minds of our nation’s school children. Who even came up with this idea? Right wing Republicans are going bonkers over the thought of the President having the audacity to invade our classrooms.

Here, the words of Florida Republican Party chairman Jim Greer just a few days ago: “The idea that school children across our nation will be forced to watch the president justify his plans for government-run healthcare, banks and automobile companies, increasing taxes on those who create jobs, and racking up more debt than any other president, is not only infuriating but goes against the beliefs of the majority of Americans, while bypassing American parents through an invasive abuse of power.” I had no idea our kids could absorb all that.

So did you hear the speech? Pretty innocuous with little more than a review of the basics. Study hard, do your homework, stay in school and strive to be the best you can be. The kind of speech one would expect any president to give, Republican or Democrat. And here’s the caveat: Many presidents have addressed the nations school age kids, the last being George Bush who specifically spoke to students about drug abuse.

Last week, former First Lady Laura Bush endorsed the Obama efforts to speak to the nation’s schools. “I think there is a place for the president of the United States to talk to school children and encourage school children,” she said." It was hard to deduce from Obama’s comments that he was attempting to encourage the subversion of the republic through good grades.

Across the political spectrum we also have under the gun Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who has dissolved all legal boundaries between church and state by traveling each Sunday by state helicopter to visit various churches, primarily in the northern part of the Bayou State. The converted catholic governor has been receiving criticism in local and national press for intertwining public funds for travel and protection to both worship and speak at religious services. But is he setting a new precedent for Louisiana governors? Hardly!

In my 28 years of public life, I personally spent many a Sunday, and other days of the week, tagging along on state aircraft with most of the living governors, as we were invited to participate in religious services and pageants. Public appearances in all venues, especially churches, have been considered both a political necessity and part of the job for decades. Governor Davis not only showed up, but climbed to the pulpit to lead the singing. So did Gov. John McKeithen. I was along with them on a number of occasions as a young state senator. Edwin Edwards was a youth minister at the early age of 14 in the Church of the Nazarene, and because of his longevity in office, spoke to hundreds of churches during his public life.

The most dramatic and moving service I ever attended as a public official was on Easter Sunday in 1980 during my third term as Commissioner of Insurance. I was invited to come as a guest to the Church of the Pentecostals in Alexandria by Pastor Anthony Mangun who I had known for over 40 years. He and his dad were influential ministers in the southern Pentecostal movement. Rev. Mangun’s wife, Mickey, has sung at every inauguration of a new Louisiana governor as far back as I can remember. Mickey’s father also heads up the state Pentecostal- movement in Arkansas, and the whole Mangun family has been close friend of President Bill Clinton for a number of years.

I went up to Alexandria to witness a performance of the Messiah, an annual performance by the church, and one of the most dramatic musical events I have ever seen. It rivaled any Broadway production with a cast to some 200, with numerous animals on stage, unbelievable lighting and angels that soared 30 feet in the air. Just as the performance began, there was a flurry of activity at the back door and President Bill Clinton, unannounced, walked into the church. He had been speaking in New Orleans, and with only a small staff in tow, had diverted his plane to Alexandria.

Following the service, the President joined Reverend Mangun on the stage. They prayed together, and talked about their longtime friendship. Then the President spoke. The Lewinsky scandal involving the president was just a few weeks old, and Clinton was quite candid. He openly expressed pain and regret for the hurt he had brought to is family and the country. He talked about his religious convictions and how he had turned to Reverend Mangun and other close friends to help him through his crisis. Many in the church were openly crying as Bill Clinton talked for more than an hour.

A public official doing his job in asking for forgiveness? Or just good politics? No one questioned the propriety of the President coming in his official capacity at taxpayer expense to bear his soul. And maybe it was fitting that he did so in Louisiana where many others have done the same before him.

Presidents and Governors are at the call of the public 24 hours a day. They have options to pick and choose how to communicate on a variety of issues. President Obama did so this week in addressing students, an appropriate choice. Governor Bobby Jindal opts to communicate through Sunday worship services around the state. There is a check and balance on the propriety of the decisions they make. It takes place every four years. On Election Day.

I hope I live to see the day when, as in the early days of our country, we won’t have any public schools. The churches will have taken them over again and Christians will be running them. What a happy day that will be!”

-Rev. Jerry Falwell

Peace and Justice


Jim Brown’s weekly column appears in numerous newspapers and websites throughout the south. To read past columns going back to 2002, go to

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Thursday, September 3, 2009
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


Louisiana taxpayers just can’t get a break. It’s bad enough that the economy continues to languish, unemployment rates are on the rise in the Bayou State, and home foreclosures are increasing. Even the movie business in the hottest month of the year is way off. One would think that in the midst of the economic turmoil, state agencies would lay low, and not add to the financial turmoil. But it was not to be. Louisiana officials continue to dole out state funds and leave federal dollars on the table for other states to gobble up. And with next year’s budget deficit predicted to be well over one billion dollars, the choices could rapidly come down to a major ax falling on spending or a call for tax increases.

Tax amnesty kicks off this new month with an archaic, inefficient and unfair concept of letting delinquent tax cheats pay up years of Top of FormBottom of Forback taxes with no penalty. What kind of message is it that one can just refuse to pay your state taxes, set the money aside and earn interest, and then wait for the tax holiday that seems to crop up every few years? Isn’t it the law that one pays taxes or it is a crime if you do not? The tax cheats get off the hook with no penalty, and the law abiding taxpayer thus carries an even larger burden to make up for the guy who violates the law.

And why does the state even consider such a tax holiday? Where is the creative thinking to tie the hands of delinquent taxpayers in any number of ways? Haven’t paid your taxes? No drivers license, no hunting license, no welfare checks, no building permit, no hand gun permit, no business license of any kind. The Department of Revenue computer list should be made available to any agency or business who deals with any public agency. LSU football tickets? Not if you owe back taxes. Go to register for college? You are refused if back taxes are owed. The list is extensive where the public has dealings with public entities. All it would take is a simple check of the computer delinquency list. No pay, no play. If such a system was in place, delinquent taxes would be flowing in. And law abiding taxpayers who follow the law would not be carrying an undue load.

What about the decision by the state Department of Transportation to reject any plans for high-speed rail between New Orleans and Baton Rouge? States all over the country are seeking a slice of the billions of dollars in the federal stimulus package for similar train service. California alone submitted 42 applications seeking $1.1 billion and other states the size of Louisiana are seeking as much as $400 million for such faster passenger rail service. Louisiana officials say the plan would not pay for itself. So what mode of transportation does? Do state and local highways run self sufficiently? Don’t taxpayers subsidize airports all over the state including New Orleans and Baton Rouge?

And wouldn’t rail service between the state’s two largest cities relieve highway traffic that crowds the same routes? As the population grows south of the state capitol, adding a lane to I-10 will cost billions because it is necessary to build numerous bridges along the route. A good comparison can be made in New Mexico where a rail line was built between Albuquerque and Santa Fe to avoid adding lanes to I-25. The length is 90 miles, the same distance between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. A number of critics blame the Governor for putting his national aspirations ahead of the state’s interests. That would be regrettable for as the head of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber said this week: “There isn’t a better project than intercity rail to illustrate the future of these two regions being linked.”

“Ya want fries with that?” That’s what they are saying in Northeast Louisiana, my old stompin’ grounds, where some $37 million dollars in state economic development funds will be spent on a sweet potato plant to produce french fries by a Nebraska company. Legitimate questions are being raised as to why a similar request by Louisiana’s largest sweet potato producer, Bruce Foods, has been put on the back burner. I listened to Bruce Foods president Si Brown on the radio last week saying he would have built just as big a facility and hired as many or more workers than the Nebraska company for only $1 million. And keep all the profits here in Louisiana. Some real troubling questions are being raised here, but so far only a blasé’ shrug of the shoulders from legislators.

And how bout them Saints? They remain the only NFL team getting state help as legislative approval for tax dollars was given last week. The new Saints contract is a better deal than owner Tom Benson had under Gov. Mike Foster. State funding is direct in the amount of $6 million. But the side deals of concessions, more luxury boxes for the Saints to sell paid for by taxpayers, garage revenue and a fully paid for office building that Benson owns and the state will lease adds up to a whopping package of some $23 million a year. But how about those 4000 jobs? Yeah, if you want to work parking cars, and selling beer and pretzels. It’s a bad business deal for the state. It only makes sense if there is enough value in bragging rights of having an NFL team.

And if state dollars were not being thrown around enough, the state insurance department announced last week that all homeowners statewide could well see a significant increase in insurance rates if the state run Citizens Property Insurance Company had to pay penalties for not paying legitimate claims on time. Citizens was a creation of the insurance department and the legislature, and has proven to be the biggest financial disaster in the state’s history with losses through mismanagement exceeding $1 billion. Kafka would find a great story line for his novels about ineptitude as would anyone who studies the Citizens fiasco. State Treasurer John Kennedy is one of the few state officials calling for the abolishment of Citizens. If he is successful, policyholders will have a much better shot at lower insurance rates.

Is all this too depressing? Please do not get too worked up or to upset. There is some good news on the horizon as the weekend approaches. LSU is a 16 1/2 point favorite over Washington. After all, we do have our priorities.
“Money has lots of friends, hanging round the door.
When it’s gone and the spending ends, they don’t come round no more.”
Jazz Singer Billie Holiday

Peace and Justice
Jim Brown
Jim Brown’s weekly column appears in numerous newspapers and websites throughout the south. To read past columns going back to 2002, go to