Tuesday, October 26, 2010

How will the Coming Election all Shake Out?

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010
Linville, North Carolina


Will the rolling tide of the Tea Party and a Republican onslaught really bring about major changes in Washington following this Tuesday’s election? Don’t count on it. Let’s just say we are in for some fine tuning that should have taken place two years ago, when the Obama Administration first took office. All the political pundits around the country are making their projections and predictions, so let me weigh in on some of the things to expect in 2011.

The US Senate will stay under Democratic control by a slim margin. But the GOP gains won’t make all that much difference -- since it takes a majority to rule, about all the Republicans can do is to continue their stalling efforts by threatening a filibuster. The House will see a Republican takeover. Which means a Republican controlled house can initiate and block about anything they so desire. But a Democratic Senate, and the threat of a Democratic presidential veto also means little, if anything, of substance will become law in the next two years.

So how is the President affected by his party losing control of one body of congress? Much less than many observers might think. In fact, it just might be a big boost for the Obama reelection effort. Here’s why. The time for blaming the Bush Administration for all the country’s woes has long passed. In the past two year cycle, Obama has had a democratically controlled congress to follow his lead. And the public response has been far from favorable.

In politics, it helps to have an enemy. Look at my home state governor in Louisiana. The state is facing major budget cuts and there has been little progress in many areas begging reform – and yet, Jindal’s popularity stays high. He has built his national reputation on beating up on the federal government’s response to the Gulf oil spill, and the dolling out of federal stimulus spending. Yes, Jindal took all the dough form Washington, and effectively had it both ways. But he found the bad guy, and he has been relentless in making the feds a foil.

Under the leadership of next year’s new Republican speaker John Boehner, Obama will now have his bad guy. The President will have someone to blame for the lack of any congressional action over the next two years, leading right up to his reelection efforts in 2010. Divided government may not be all that pretty, but hey, we’re talking politics here.

Some political observers even make the argument that if the Republicans would capture both the House and the Senate, the reelection chances of the President go up even more. Harry Truman was able to prey on what he called “the Republican controlled Do Nothing Congress” back in 1948 to win re election.

In his book “The Pact,” History Channel historian Steven Gillon analyzed how the Republican takeover of congress by the Republicans in 1994 actually helped Bill Clinton get re-elected. “The Republican victory in 1994 saved the Presidency,” writes Gillon, “because it freed him from the liberal wing of his party and allowed him to become nimble and flexible, which he’s brilliant at. And it forced the Republicans to develop a governing philosophy. A campaign slogan may get you through Election Day, but it doesn’t help you solve these very difficult problems.”

Can you believe the New York Times story last week reporting that it took Obama 18 months before he invited Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell to the White House for a head to head visit? Unlike Bill Clinton, Obama is no schmoozer. But that’s all part of the process of getting things done. Former Republican Majority Leader Trent Lott once told me at a wedding reception for Louisiana Senator John Breaux that Clinton communicated regularly. “He’d call middle of the day or middle of the night. I’d go up to the family quarters and have coffee with him at 9:15 in the morning.”

Is there room for a third party to emerge as the 2012 presidential election draws near? Many voters think so. In last week’s national Rasmussen poll, 43% of likely voters believe that neither Democrats nor Republicans in Congress are the party of the American people, and a surprising 38% think both parties are so much alike hat an entirely new party is needed to represent the American People. And in the same poll, 38% of likely voters say they think it is at least somewhat likely that a third party candidate will be elected president of the United States within the next 10 years.

The majority of Tea Partiers will be sucked into the Republican Party, but many independents feel they have no options or political place to go. Neither party has much appeal to them. They see congressional Democrats cowering with the slogan “I didn’t do it.” As one pundit observed: “The story from many Democrats now is that they were all smoking in the boy’s room when Obama ran over to the capitol building and passed all these God-awful bills. And the Republicans? They all talk about Mom and apple pie, and they campaign in togas made out of American flags.”

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire who spent $102 million on his reelection campaign last year, seems genuinely interested in running. He would be an appealing candidate for many independents. I posed the question of a presidential run to Bloomberg at a conference in Washington a few weeks ago. He just smiled.

His candidacy could also be the deathblow to an Obama reelection effort. One scenario is that Bloomberg runs and carries a number of normally Democratic states like Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut and possibly Florida. With no major candidate receiving a majority of electoral votes, the election is thrown to the House of Representatives. With a certain Republican takeover of the House, you can see the outcome. No wonder there is so much interest in who will get the Republican nomination. There is no secret here in Louisiana as to why our Governor, Bobby Jindal, is crisscrossing the country on behalf of Republican congressional and gubernatorial candidates.

Will a new political dynamism come out of Tuesday’s election results? Don’t count on it. Look for a few bipartisan stabs to at least jointly discuss some of the front burner issues that have stagnated any genuine effort to act boldly. Change has been little more than a slogan over the past 10 years. It’s going to take a 2012 national presidential referendum to redefine the goals of the country, and to get this huge contraption called democracy jump started again.


The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter. Sir Winston Churchill

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 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. The show is televised at http://www.justin.tv/jimbrownusa.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Are Universities Doing Enough Teaching?

Thursday, October 21st, 2010
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


Across the nation, colleges and universities are facing a major financial crisis. Federal stimulus funds are running out, and state legislatures are facing a deep decline in revenues. Are flagship universities so important to economic growth that they should maintain their present funding at the expense of other programs? Should taxes be raised to meet the projected deficits? These are front burning questions for lawmakers nationwide, but particularly here in my home state of Louisiana.

Louisiana educators are floating a doomsday scenario for higher education because of budgetary cuts by Governor Bobby Jindal. LSU’s Chancellor Michael Marin said the anticipated cuts represent a “devastating blow that will not be recovered from in our lifetimes, and probably not in the lifetimes of our grandchildren.” LSU System President John Lombardi says: “We are destroying capacity for higher education…for our citizens.”

But have universities like LSU made their case for what they are presently doing with the money that has been given to them up until now? We live in a results oriented society. But as is so often the case of government at all levels, once programs and agencies are created and funded at a certain level, they quickly become sacrosanct and absolved of accountability or show of performance.

If I were a legislator considering the budget for a university like LSU, here are some of the questions that I would ask:

[1] LSU has one of the lowest graduation rates of major colleges throughout the country, including southern schools in the Southeast Conference. Fewer than half the students graduate in six years. Why are we funding students to “hang around” year after year? Granted, the feeder system for high school is weak. But six years? What efforts are made to remediate in the first year, then weed out these students who are not capable of carrying the load?

[2] Endowments are critical for a university to excel, particularly in bad economic times. Many colleges derive as much as 20% of their income from the school’s endowment fund. Better funded schools have in place an all out effort to keep their alumni involved with regular fund drives to increase the endowment. LSU has the lowest endowment of any major university in the country. Every Southeast Conference university, with exception of Ole Miss and Mississippi State has a significantly greater endowment than does LSU. University of Arkansas is $700 million. According to Chancellor Martin, LSU’s present endowment is $300 million. Why the failure to build a strong endowment and what is being done now to encourage more private giving?

[3] Is LSU overrun with administrators? What is the percentage of faculty members to nonacademic jobs? I’ve been told the ratio is seven to one with way too many non teaching jobs. Is LSU a teaching college, or has it become a multiversity festooned with extraneous functions?

[4] Does LSU make undergraduate teaching its first priority? There are significantly more graduate students than undergraduates, so are the graduate students commanding most of the professor’s time and attention? And who is teaching the freshman? Ask any new student about the large lecture classes, with the discussion session often conducted by some fledgling graduate student. Why are not full professors carrying a greater teaching load?

[5] Why sabbaticals? 99% of us don’t get a year off to refresh or write a book. The mission should be to teach. A three month summer vacation should be ample time to travel and write. And what about all this “publish or perish” malarkey? I have a publishing company and I am all for more books being published. But, why, at the expense of the student and tax payer, should a professor be financially supported in the publication of a book, often on a light-weight theme, that few read, just to stay on tenure track? Teaching should be the primary mission of a major university like LSU. But is it?

[6] And what about tenure? There is a major push to abolish it in the elementary education system. Why is tenure so sacrosanct in our universities? Are we protecting professors who have lost the drive to teach and hide behind the mantra of research? Are universities like LSU spending too much money on research and not enough on the focus of the classroom?

There was a time when universities saw their mission as education. The present debate should be about much more than money. The mission of universities like LSU needs to be specifically articulated. Certainly academia should be well funded. But universities should also be “smart funded,” with clear priorities and predictable results to show for the effort. Right now, particularly in Louisiana, there are a number of unanswered questions that taxpayers need to have answered.

“The secret in education is in respecting the student.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

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 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. The show is televised at http://www.justin.tv/jimbrownusa.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Major Insurance Problems for Gulf Coast!

Thursday, October 14th, 2010
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


Just when you thought the insurance crisis along the gulf coast, particularly in Louisiana, could not get any worse, along comes congress to really muck up the problems faced by property owners who are trying to protect the value of their property. If congress and the Obama Administration have their way, look for already sky-high insurance coverage costs to leap even higher. And not one discouraging word is being heard from state officials on behalf of the property owner.

Here’s the clinker that will cause these big premium increases. Right when congress goes back to work after the November election, the first order of business will be the administration's $3.8 billion spending plan for the coming year. Included is a new income provision with a dull, but important title that few will understand. It’s called deduction disallowance for excel non-taxed reinsurance premiums paid to affiliates (yawn). But a little explanation will enlighten us on the negative impact this provision will have on property owners in Louisiana and other states throughout the Gulf South.

The key word here is “reinsurance.” You and I don’t buy it, but most insurance companies do. When an insurance company insures property, they often find another company to take part of their risk. Something like the bookie that lays off part of the bet he takes. A company like State Farm, Allstate and most other insurers selling property insurance will shop around for someone to partner up with in case there is a major disaster. The majority of insurance companies looking for reinsurance go to Europe and work with reinsurers like Lloyds of London, Swiss Re, Munich Re and numerous other companies that operate worldwide.

These reinsurers can make money, for they are insuring a wide variety of risks all over the world. A disaster in Japan may cost such a company a bundle in one year, but profits are being made elsewhere. Just like an American company operating in my home state of Louisiana who “spreads the risk” across the country, reinsurers “spread the risk” worldwide.

And yes, these foreign companies do pay U.S. taxes. Off shore companies pay an excise tax that is roughly equivalent to the corporate income tax paid by American insurance companies. But if this “disallowance “provision is passed into law, guess who ends up paying? The increased tax will be passed along to the American insurance companies who then will pass it on to the property owner. And your property insurance costs will take a big leap.

On my radio show recently, I was joined by several representatives from The Brattle group, a Washington, D.C. research firm. They estimate that the new reinsurance tax proposal will cost American property owners some $10 to 12 billion in higher premiums and drive away some one fifth of presently available reinsurance. Louisiana and the gulf south will see the biggest increases, with the likelihood that many homeowners’ will be priced out of the property insurance market.

And what about trade sanctions? If the U.S. sticks foreign insurers, look for countries where these reinsurers are located to retaliate in kind. Numerous American companies that have a strong presence in Louisiana for instance, also operate in a number of other countries worldwide. AIG and Pan American are two such companies. British giant Lloyds of London sells more insurance in Louisiana than any other state. So here is what will happen. More taxes at home, retaliation abroad, and the property rates go even higher.

This, unfortunately, is not the only bad news. Two percent deductibles have become the norm, adding thousands of dollars of exposure without adequate insurance coverage for most homeowners along the coast. So the owner of a $600,000 house has to come out of his or her pocket for the first $1200.00.

If your rates go up and you are stuck with high mandatory deductibles, just be glad if you don’t live in Louisiana. What if you were to consider moving to The Bayou State, 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.

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. 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.

Reasons for high rates in Louisiana are varied and numerous. At the top of the list is the unfathomable creation of a hybrid state run insurance company called Citizens. It has been called Louisiana’s biggest financial disaster, and reeks with corruption and ineptitude. The financial records are so bad that the state auditor refused to issue an opinion of the company’s financial condition. The cost to the taxpayers has now topped $2 billion.

Many other states are facing increasing rates, though few of Louisiana’s magnitude. But with congress dabbling in potential tax increases on reinsurers outside the U.S, the outlook for more affordable rates on homes and commercial property, particularly along the Gulf Coast, becomes increasingly grim.

“It’s not hurricanes that are causing high insurance rates, but bad public policy.”
-Policy analyst Michelle Minton
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 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. The show is televised at http://www.justin.tv/jimbrownusa.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Are Voter Frustrations Boiling Over?

Thursday, October 7th, 2010
Linville, North Carolina


And I thought voters were distrustful, angry and confrontational, a few years back when I held public office. My favorite author, Charles Dickens, would have said, “Hey Brown, you ain’t seen nothing yet.” (Actually, I’m not sure Dickens would have said anything close to this, but he’s dead now – so, no harm, no foul. But you get my drift.) The fact remains that this coming federal election is viewed by many, including yours truly, as a herculean and rather grim battle between good and evil, left and right, the good guys and the scum, Wormwood and the Patient, and Saint Michael vs. Satan. But guess what? There will be no victors. We all lose on November 2nd.

Last week in the nation’s capital, I participated in the Washington Ideas Forum sponsored by the Atlantic Magazine, and there was a strong consensus of the current national mood. Remember the National Lampoon movie “Christmas Vacation?” The hero is surprised by a Christmas bonus of a subscription of the Jelly of the Month Club. His reaction reflects what many voters think of those representing them: “Cheap, lying no good, rotten, four-flushing, low-life, snake-licking, dirt-eating, inbred, over-stuffed, ignorant, bloodsucking, dog-kissing, brainless, hopeless, heartless, worm headed sack of monkey bleep!” Again, you get my drift.

You can go on YouTube and see the various political commercials airing across the country. In Delaware, Tea Party candidate Christine O’Donnell began her positive ad this week, and the first words out of her mouth were: “I’m not a witch!” In Louisiana, it would seem to be all about the sexual conduct. In Connecticut and Illinois, it’s all about who fudged on their resume’. The nation is at war, the economy continues to be at a crawl, unemployment is on the rise, and public education languishes while many other industrial nations pass us by. But can you point to any candidate for congress who gives the slightest acknowledgement to these national problems?

You see, dear voter, you and I are looked on by these politico wondercan’ts as being too dumb to understand what the issues are all about. We are the Rodney Dangerfields of the political process and we don’t get any respect. The Washington crowd has all the answers, and your and my opinion has become irrelevant.
“Goldfinger” is my favorite Bond (James Bond) movie. Remember when Bond (James Bond) is tied down on a table with a laser beam about to cut him in half, and he tells the bad guy, “You expect me to talk?” Goldfinger answers: “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die. There is nothing you can talk to me about that I don’t already know.” That well reflects the attitude of too many members of congress who think they have all the answers, spend all the money putting us all the more in debt, and then look on the peons back home like you and me as irrelevant to their personal “get me elected” agenda.

One example of our delusional leadership is what’s happening in the Middle East. Don’t you remember? We are at war there and have assumed a massive cost in dollars and American lives. The financial cost is approaching one trillion dollars and the weekly military expenditures in Afghanistan are running $2 billion a week. Yet you will not find a congressional campaign anywhere in the country that acknowledges the mess that has been created.

I had the chance to visit in Washington last week with Ahmed Chalabi, who is the leader of the Iraqi National Congress and the former Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq. He talked of the bitterness of many Iraqis towards the U.S. “We wanted a provisional government after the demise of Hussein. The Americans wanted occupation. We thought America would be liberators, but instead they became occupiers.”

Then he said something quite disturbing. “The vast majority of Arabs think the 9/11 tragedy was instigated within the U.S. You are the strongest country in the world. It’s hard for many Arabs to believe that 19 young men with box cutters could do so much harm to America.”

The Taliban is hiding out in the western mountainous region of Pakistan with little effort by the government there to weed them out. America has poured $10 billion into Pakistan. We spend billions on Middle Eastern oil, and the proceeds get funneled to the very enemy American soldiers are fighting. We seem to be at war with our allies, and the U.S. is the only country in the history of the world to pay for both sides of the fight.

We are decades away from peace in that region, the cost is staggering to our economy, yet not a word, not a suggestion, and not a voice of concern is being raised by any candidate in my home state of Louisiana or nationwide.
So the choices get tougher as Election Day approaches. Do you throw the present bums out, and end up with new bums? Remember the 1960s song by The Who called “Won’t be Fooled Again?” There’s a line that goes: “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” It looks like a crapshoot folks. There is a lack of any strong will to address what ails this nation by candidates on both sides of the isle. So if you roll the dice, unfortunately, you may lose either way.

“We are angry about our incompetent, dysfunctional government that pays no attention to the desires of the people.” Carl Paladino

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 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. The show is televised at http://www.justin.tv/jimbrownusa