Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Is Louisiana crying Wolf?

Thursday, July 29th, 2010
New Orleans, Louisiana


The “Rally for Economic Survival,” organized and orchestrated by the oil industry drew thousands to the Cajundome in Lafayette, Louisiana last week. “No Moratorium” and “Drill baby Drill” were the T-shirt slogans of the day. State officials made no bones about their willingness to have an open slugfest with the federal government. As the Lt. Governor ranted: “We are not going down without a fight.” All well and good, and there are certainly logical arguments against a long-term moratorium in the Gulf.

But perception is critical when any state is trying to take on the feds. Sure you can go to court. And Louisiana has had initial success with federal judges in New Orleans. No real surprise here, since all four federal judges in the process were loaded down with oil company investments. But the office of Minerals Management, the federal regulator in charge, can bring the permitting procedure to a slow crawl by holding hearings and requesting reams of detailed data extending the process so that it takes months, or even years to complete.

Current polls show a majority of Americans are in favor of a temporary moratorium, and major newspapers throughout the country have overwhelmingly supported a temporary halt in gulf drilling. If Louisiana is perceived as being too greedy and trying to bully the Feds into caving in on the current moratorium, will the rest of the country be supportive? The special needs of Louisiana in the wake of The Katrina and The BP disasters have made the state, rightfully or wrongfully, particularly vulnerable to the “perception factor.”

Louisiana officials continue to argue that there have been thousands of wells drilled in the Gulf of Mexico with only the one current spill. As one Louisiana congressman argued at a recent Washington hearing: “It’s almost an astonishing safe, clean history that we have there in the gulf.”

But the Washington Post reported just this week that federal records tell a different story. “They show a steady stream of oil spills dumping 517,848 barrels of petroleum into the Gulf of Mexico between 1964 and 2009. “The spills killed thousands of birds and soiled beaches as far away as Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Altogether, they poured twice as much oil into U.S. waters as the Exxon Valdez tanker did when it ran aground in 1989,” said the Post.

Robert Bea is a University of California professor who has done extensive environmental studies throughout the Gulf. He has been a guest on my radio shows on a number of occasions. Professor Bea says that the issue of safety in the Gulf offshore drilling is similar to safety issues for airplanes or aspirin. There is a line or acceptability balancing risk and consequences. “The thing that is concerning is that we continue to work close to that line. Because of airline regulation, we get in an airliner with a level of comfort. I don’t have that same level of comfort when I go out to these offshore rigs.”

The state of Louisiana still has a case to make for lifting the moratorium, but it’s not one of “we’re completely right, and the feds are dead wrong.’” A logical argument could be made that whatever the past problems, the petroleum industries’ record was improving before the BP spill. It could further be argued that BP is unique in their bad safety record, and that other companies drilling in the Gulf have used advanced technology to greatly improve environmental protection. On balance, with the need for petroleum, and the significant economic harm that will take place with any long-term moratorium, the argument is in favor of continued drilling.

But how about the argument constantly made by Louisiana officials that all the deepwater rigs are in the process of picking up and moving elsewhere in a mass flight that would cause more economic havoc? And once gone, they will likely not come back to the Gulf. This type of exaggeration won’t help win allies.

It’s been over eight weeks since the announced moratorium, and 31 of the 33 rigs initially operating in the gulf before the BP spills are still there. The Wall Street Journal, certainly a pro drilling proponent, wrote this week that a continuing rig exodus is unlikely. “Oil companies have found few other promising reservoirs where they could immediately transfer their rigs. Moreover, an expected surplus of newly built rigs next year will make it easier to replace rigs that do leave. Most other industry observers agree. “The dire predictions will not come to pass,” said Amy Myers Jaffe, head of the baker Institute Energy Forum at Rice University.

“There is no reason rigs won’t migrate back,” said Tom Kellock, a consultant for ODS-Petrodata, a company providing market intelligence to the oil and gas industry. “Rigs come and go. Four rigs have actually arrived in the gulf since the May 27th moratorium announcement.”

There is a case to be made in favor of scuttling the existing moratorium, and it needs to be presented with a logical and fact based approach. Rallies instigated and paid for by the oil industry will not bring any meaningful results. And elected officials inflaming the locals with the threats of a doomsday moratorium scenario is counterproductive. With the federal government holding most of the good cards, some calmer heads in and about the state capitol in Baton Rouge need to take control of the dialogue.

This is not Louisiana’s first rodeo in taking on the federal government over oil issues. In the 1950s, then Louisiana Governor Earl Long was trying to reach an accommodation over state-federal boundaries with millions of dollars of oil ownership at stake. South Louisiana political boss Judge Leander Perez demanded that Long not give an inch to the feds, and argued that Louisiana should fight the case for as long as it might take. Long’s response became part of Louisiana political lore. “Hell Leander, you can’t fight the feds. They got the bomb!”

“If you want to understand how big the federal government is, read selected portions of the Washington telephone directory containing listings for all the organizations with titles beginning with the word National.” ~George Will

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers and websites throughout the South. 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

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Louisiana's Huge Financial Mess!

Thursday, July 22, 2010
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


The present financial disaster in Louisiana has cost the Louisiana economy almost three billion dollars. Check this figure again. Not three million, or 300 million, but three billion dollars. And the timing could not be worse. The Bayou state’s economy is on a plunging downward spiral. Education will experience major cutbacks, new construction projects are on the verge of grinding to a halt, and basic government services may come to an abrupt end. So why the huge financial hole? It’s the oil spill, right? Read on.

Sure, the oil castrophe all along the Louisiana coast will have a damaging economic effect on the state’s already dwindling economy. But if the new capping procedure put in place last week holds up, cleanup efforts can quickly become more effective with projections of relative normalcy along the Gulf coast within a year. So the oil spill damage to the economy will hopefully be mitigated, with the continuing financial help from BP and the federal government.

However, there is a different cause of a $3 billion loss to Louisiana citizens that continues year after year with little apparent concern being expressed from a host of responsible public officials.

What if you were to consider moving to Louisiana, but were told there is a mandatory surcharge that applies in no other state, requiring you to pay the sum of $1100 or more, just for the privilege of living there? And every other Louisiana citizen who buys a home and owns a car has to pay the same surcharge. Would you move there?
That is exactly what is happening in Louisiana now. The surcharges are from the cost of insurance, and if you live in Louisiana, you now have to pay the highest premium costs in the nation. And not just by a small amount when compared to other states. Louisiana exists in its own world of escalating insurance costs that are completely out of line with the rest of the nation.

Consider auto insurance. The southern average of states surrounding Louisiana is significantly below the national average. The U.S. national average rate is $1,812 as of April 2010. Mississippi comes in much cheaper at $1,537 (15.2% less expensive than national figures). Alabama is even cheaper at $1,457 (19.6% less expensive). Texas has an average of $1,767 (2.5% less). The Louisiana average rate is $2,245 -- a whopping 23.9% above the national average.

When you add up the extra amount of money it takes for a car owner to live in Louisiana compared to the national average, the extra sums paid total $1000. And for the most part, these extra premium costs are sucked away to out of state banks for the benefit of national insurance companies.

What about property insurance? The latest figures show that Louisiana is also at the top of the list for having the highest premium rates. The average national premium for home insurance is $690.62. The south has a higher rate because of the hurricane threat. The average homeowner premium for southern states is $801.75, which is 16.1 % above the national average.

Mississippi, Louisiana’s neighbor right on the Gulf, comes in at $964 (down 5.1% from last year). Texas, which also shares a coast with Louisiana, has an average rate of $932 (down 0.9%). Alabama has a rate of $790, and Florida, with the greatest hurricane exposure in the country, has a higher rate a $980. Florida is regularly chastised by Louisiana insurance officials and legislators as being too reckless with their regulatory approach.

Florida’s rate actually dropped last year, and considering their hurricane risk, the Florida rate is, on average, surprisingly only $980 (down 0.1%).
So how did Louisiana do? The average cost for a Louisiana homeowner continued to be the highest in the country at $1392. This is an increase of 0.2% from last year. No surprise, since Louisiana officials pay scant attention to insurance rates and make little effort to lower them.

Rates in the health and workmen’s compensation fields show the same trends. In the auto and property areas alone, Louisiana property owners are paying some $1100 more than the average of all other states throughout the country.
Are Louisiana public officials, including legislators and insurance bureaucrats, up in arms demanding accountability and confecting a litany of ways to get insurance rates to come down? There’s been nary a peep or a whimper. Insurance issues were hardly mentioned in the most recent session of the legislature.

The cost of insurance is the biggest single drawback to business development in Louisiana. $5 Billion dollars that could be used to fill huge and continuing budget holes is being wasted away. But Nero fiddles while Rome burns. And when the oil debacle is old news, a much greater burden of high and unfair insurance costs will continue to hold back struggling Louisiana for decades to come.

“The way to To get started is to quit talking and begin doing.”
Walt Disney –

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers and websites throughout the South. 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

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Do Justices Really Make a Difference?

Thursday, July 8th, 2010
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


About the last thing on anyone’s mind right now, particularly in my home state of Louisiana, is whether or not Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan will be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. It’s pretty much a “done deal,” right? Whoever the President wants, the president gets, regardless of political party. Oh, in the Kagan case, the republicans will throw up some half-hearted concerns about Kagan being too liberal and not enough of a “strict constructionist,” whatever that is supposed to mean. So why should the average American care?

In recent polling data, two-thirds of the 1,000 American adults polled couldn't name a single current justice, and just 1 percent was able to name all nine sitting justices. Less than one-third of voters have any view of Kagan at all. This lack of governmental knowledge really is not all that big of a surprise when you look at other historical events that have most Americans perplexed.

• More Americans could identify Michael Jackson as the composer of "Beat It" and "Billie Jean" than could identify the Bill of Rights as a body of amendments to the Constitution.

• More than 50 percent of respondents attributed the quote "From each according to his ability to each according to his needs" to either Thomas Paine, George Washington or President Obama. The quote is from Karl Marx, author of "The Communist Manifesto."

• More than a third did not know the century in which the American Revolution took place, and half of respondents believed that either the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation or the War of 1812 occurred before the American Revolution
So it’s of little surprise that nominee Kagan registers so low on the national recognition scale. If you were one of the few that sat glued to C-Span through the Senate Judiciary Hearings last week, here is what you would have found out:

On TV cameras in the court room, that are presently prohibited, Kagan is for them. Good for her on this issue. Her colleagues have for years thrown up the hoary arguments the television would undermine the high court’s “ethos” and bring forth the justices’ faces to C-Span-watching terrorists. Bunk. TV court room coverage works well in many state judicial systems including Louisiana’s. In fact, I argued the first televised case before the Louisiana Supreme Court back in the mid 1990s. The issue involved the right of law enforcement officers to seize cars that were uninsured. I won the case, by the way, and the television broadcast was no big deal. So mark one for the nominee.

But her score takes a justified hit on a whole host of other issues including her decision as dean of Harvard Law to bar recruiters from the school's career services office over the Pentagon's policy against openly gay soldiers. Kagan said she was trying to balance Harvard's nondiscrimination policy, which she believed "don't ask, don't tell" violated, with a federal law that required schools to give military recruiters equal access as a condition of eligibility for federal funds. But that was the law, later upheld in a legal challenge unanimously by the Supreme Court. With two wars going on at the time, Kagan would have seemed to have substituted her personal view rather than what the law required.

There are a number of positions Kagan argued before the Supreme Court as Solicitor General that undermine and impede basic freedoms, and that should concern those asked to promote her to the nation’s highest court. One such troubling case involves former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman, convicted of bribery in 2006. The Supreme Court last week unanimously vacated Siegelman’s conviction, after ninety-one state attorneys general urged that the conviction was unjust and should be overturned.

Kagan filed a petition urging the Supreme Court to deny hearing Siegelman’s appeal. The facts showed that an Alabama business man made a large donation to support the creation of a lottery with the profits to go to public schools. The governor appointed the contributor to a spot on Alabama’s hospital oversight board. A tit for tat? Not even close. If governors were indicted for appointing a campaign contributor to a board or commission, there would not be one chief executive still serving anywhere in the country. Kagan supported a conviction where there was no crime.

The list of similar questionable actions by Kagan is long. Her positions are often detrimental to individual rights and freedoms. If she is the best the country has to serve on the nation’s highest court, then the cream is far from rising to the top, and it’s mediocrity that is on the assent.

So is there a chance she will not be confirmed? Absolutely not. The lady’s a cinch, for as even some republicans are saying: “Elections have consequences.” Though mediocre in qualifications, Kagan is the President’s choice, and the democrats will offer support in lock step. The same scenario would be playing out if the unqualified nominee were a republican under a republican administration.

In the meantime, enough about these trivial concerns. Who cares who interprets our laws and protects our basic freedoms? After all, the new season of American Idol is not all that far off. And that’s when the voting really matters.

“So what if he is mediocre? There are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren't they?”

Senator Roman L. Hruska of Nebraska

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers and websites throughout the South. You can read all is 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

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Friday, July 02, 2010

Thursday, July 1st, 2010
New Orleans, Louisiana


When the deep water Horizon well first began spurring thousands of gallons of oil into the Gulf, sympathy from around the nation poured into Louisiana. The country and the world watched in horror as the Bayou State once again wrestled with the elements of nature and the manmade disaster that followed. “First Katrina, now the oil. How many hits can the state take?” was a common expression of concern. But as more states become directly affected by the polluted waters, and the state’s leadership continues to call for more drilling, national sympathies are beginning to wane. Is Louisiana pushing the envelope, and trying to have it both ways?

With a few exceptions, Louisianans are in lock step, demanding that the BP well be capped, that a monumental cleanup effort be undertaken and paid for by BP and the Feds, and that deep drilling in the Gulf be allowed to continue. It’s hard for many onlookers throughout the rest of the country to comprehend why a state undulated in an oil spill hat could well destroy marshlands and the fishing industry for decades, still is demanding the right to continue drilling.

Even as the ecological damage to the Louisiana marsh increases daily, a number of recent polls reflect that some 75% of Bayou State residents favor continuing deepwater offshore drilling. `But across the nation, support for such drilling is dropping as sharply as BP’s stock. The most recent Pew research center nationwide poll showed that a majority of Americans surveyed (52 per cent) opposed increased offshore drilling.

Florida residents, who just two months ago strongly favored drilling in the Gulf (66 % favorable-27% unfavorable), now oppose such drilling by 51-42 percent. And Florida governor Charlie Crist said this week he may call for a special legislative session to put a drilling ban on the November ballot. A Florida candidate for Attorney general reflected the feelings of a cross section of Florida residents, saying: “I believe there are millions of Floridians who, as they watch in the horror unfolding…want the state government to say, ‘Stop it, we don’t want it here, we don’t want it anymore.’”

The spill, and whether or not to drill, has become election year fodder far beyond the Gulf. Candidates in a number of states are waging emotional campaigns in what looks like a frantic effort to turn the oil spill into referendums of who is a fault, and whether or not to continue production efforts in the Gulf.

In several of Michigan’s congressional races set for this fall, republican and democratic candidates alike are campaigning for a permanent state ban on drilling in the Great Lakes. Canada alone has drilled 513 natural gas wells in Lake Erie. In the Pennsylvania Senate race, Democrat Joe Sestak is accusing his Republican opponent, Pat Toomey, of putting “Big oil ahead of the American people” by not supporting the moratorium while accepting $96,000 from the oil and gas industry. The rallies against Big Oil and for a moratorium, with some TV ads using sound effects from horror-movies, set the campaign tone in a host of other states including Missouri, California, Illinois and even Kentucky.

New Orleans federal Judge Martin Feldman sure didn’t do Louisiana any favors in his ruling last week rejecting the federal government’s imposition of six-month moratorium. It wasn’t the ruling that heaped more criticism on deep water drilling in the Gulf as much as the perception that the judge was financially involved in the oil companies that his ruling helped. Feldman, according to numerous press reports, filed disclosure reports, required by all federal judges, showing that he held investments in a whole range of oil related companies doing extensive business in the Gulf. In fact, on the same day as his ruling was issued overturning the drilling moratorium, Feldman sold his stock in Exxon Mobil Corporation.

According to federal law, federal judges are required to step aside from cases that present financial conflicts or cases in which the judge’s impartially might be questioned. His “impartially” is being “questioned” in editorials and other news commentary nationwide. Feldman is also receiving criticism from conservatives who aren’t as concerned over the moratorium as much as Feldman’s “judicial activism,” a no no to those on the right. Still others feel that Feldman reached the right result, but with questionable and even sloppy reasoning in his written opinion, that may give leeway for the federal government in its coming appeal.

Another New Orleans Judge, with no ties or financial investments in the oil industry would probably have reached the same result and overturned the moratorium. A judge with no conflicts and who might issue a much better researched and reasoned opinion, would be less open to attack when the appeal reaches the Fifth Circuit Court Appeals next week in New Orleans. The perception of many across the country is that it’s just one more example of judicial impropriety, and typical of “the Louisiana Way.”

Louisiana is also taking its share of national hits for not doing more to anticipate and protect its marshes. The New York Time wrote a front page article this week concluding that the state’s response plan was inadequate largely because the state failed to fully develop a plan. Included in the lack of an adequate response were:
The state’s oil spill coordinator’s office has had its budget slashed by 50% over the last decade.

Last year, the legislature cut funding from the state’s oil spill research program.
The state’s oil spill contingency plan included “pages of blank pages and charts that are supposed to detail available supplies of equipment like oil-skimming vessels.” A plan for a worst-case scenario was labeled “to be developed.”
Louisiana officials attacked the federal response plan, after having approved and signed off on the same Coast guard response plan just a few weeks before.
CBS News also raised questions about why Louisiana was not putting to use help that had been authorized by the President. Six thousand National Guard troops had been approved and funded by the Feds, but the troops needed to be called up by the Louisiana Governor. After weeks, only 1600 guardsmen had been activated by Louisiana officials.

Maybe political analyst James Carville is correct in suggesting that that Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who headed up the war effort in Afghanistan until being fired last week by the President, be hired to take command of the entire Gulf oil spill response. I’m a big McChrystal supporter, and would endorse such an idea. McChrystal has a reputation for “kicking some butt.” Perhaps his boot could include some Louisiana officials as well as the whole federal response team.
“A little less conversation, a little more action please. All this aggravation ain't satisfactioning me. A little more bite and a little less bark.”

Elvis Presley

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers and websites throughout the South. You can read all is 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