Wednesday, January 26, 2011

New Orleans is Murder Capitol of America!

Thursday, January 27th, 2011
New Orleans, Louisiana


New Orleans is off to a fast start in this New Year to maintain its perennial title of being the murder capital of America. When the city celebrated Martin Luther King Day last week, five people were shot down. Just a few killings often seem to be a good day. The first violent death took place on day two of the New Year. In the few short weeks since then, 16 more murders have been chalked up. At this rate, could a new record high be in the making?

Any murder is tragic, but one can weave through the crime lore of the Crescent City to see some deaths that just can’t be explained. The locals often seem to shrug and accept the blood flowing as a price you pay for living in what always ranks as America’s “most interesting city.” Violence seems to be an integral part of the gumbo that blends a different genre of street smells, music, spices, poverty, and minions of eccentric characters. But then, the killings continue and grow in numbers.

The brutal execution that got to me the worst was the tragic death of a little boy a few years back. Ja’Shawn Powell was two years old, and lived in New Orleans with his mother. His father, a guy named Danny Platt, came to pick up Ja’Shawn for a weekend visit. The boy, according to his mother was really excited. “Oh, my daddy’s here,” he beamed as he ran to the door. “Daddy, daddy, daddy.” His mother said: “He was so happy.”

Then his daddy drove off….. took a knife….. slit this little boy’s throat….. and allowed the toddler to bleed to death.

It’s impossible to make any sense, or even find the words to define such a ghastly act. Horrifying, shocking, sickening, abhorrent, repugnant; no thoughts can describe such a dastardly deed of unspeakable horror. Platt claims he had “a whole bunch of reasons” for taking this little boy’s life. He said “I had a lot of pressure on me.” But he denied that one of the reasons was the $4000 in back child support he owed to the boy’s mother. Hogwash. He did it to keep from paying the money.

In a city that has the highest per capita murder rate in the nation, where multiple killings often happen on a daily basis, a town that is rated as one of the five most dangerous cities in the world, it is still incomprehensible to imagine that a father could take a knife and plunge it into the throat of his two-year-old child.

How could anyone kill their own son? That’s the question posed in the book of Genesis as to whether a father could kill his own son, even at the urging of God himself. According to the scripture in the first book of the Bible, the Jewish patriarch Abraham was told by God to kill his son Isaac to show obedience to God. It was a test, and when God was apparently satisfied that Abraham would undertake such an appalling act, he called out for Abraham to stop.

How does a believer, like Abraham, respond if he had been asked to sacrifice his one and only son? And then there is a separate question. How could a loving God even put one of his followers to such a test? Why would any being, God or man, force such a horrendous choice?

Bob Dylan poignantly and pointedly asked the same question on the title track of his “Highway 61 Revisited “album that came out in 1965. Now follow the symbolism here. Highway 61 runs from Duluth, Minnesota all the way down to New Orleans. It was a major transit route to get out of the Deep South, particularly for African Americans traveling north to Chicago, St. Louis and Memphis, as the highway followed the Mississippi River Valley for most of its 1400 miles. The song puts to the test the moral dilemma of killing one’s own son at the request of the Almighty.

Dylan raises the same concerns about God’s actions that I have felt for years. The lyrics say:

Oh God said to Abraham, Kill me a son”

Abe says, “Man, you must be puttin’ me on”

God say, “No.” Abe say, “What?”

God say, “you can do what you want Abe but
The next time you see me comin’ you better run”

Well Abe says, “Where do you want this killing done?”

God says, “Out on Highway 61.”

So when America’s poet troubadour picks a location to symbolize one of the most heart wrenching choices posed by God to man, a choice by the way that I personally think was dead wrong for God to pose in the first place , the heart and soul of the dilemma runs right through the Crescent City, on Highway 61.

Since the killing of little Ja’Shawn, there have been a series of other family murders in New Orleans. Just a few days after Ja’Shawn was knifed to death, a son killed his 73 old mother, who was a member of her church choir. He stabbed her repeatedly with a butcher knife and robbed her. Why? He needed money to buy drugs.
New Orleans is a city where I was educated, where I have worked and lived off and on for some fifty years. It’s a real tragedy to see the will and the hopes of so many locals seem to slowly drift away. And let’s face it. No outside help is going to sweep in to solve the city’s massive list of problems.

New Orleans needs political leadership, increased community activism, more public dollars into law enforcement, and a renewed focus on juvenile delinquency. But there also needs to be a will. All this can make a difference and all this needs to be done. But it all begins right here at home, on Highway 61.
“There are many things worth living for, a few things worth dying for, and
nothing worth killing for.” Tom Robbins

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

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Return of Edwin Edwards!

Thursday, January 20th, 2011
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


After eight and a half years in a federal prison, Louisiana’s prodigal son has come home. And far from quietly slipping back into home confinement, the former Louisiana governor was greeted with the fascination generally reserved for a rock star. There was the kind of media coverage and public fascination generally reserved for a President or the Pope. Even the Kingfish would have been envious. Edwin Edwards is back.

I played a minor role in the Edwards homecoming, being the publisher of his recently released biography, “Edwin Edwards-Governor of Louisiana.” Written by my colleague, Leo Honeycutt, it became an immediate best seller. On the day of Edwards’ release last week, ten Louisiana television stations came by my office for interviews. The entire state seemed to be consumed by the frenzy of the return of the most controversial public figure in the state’s history. Love him or hate him, only a few were not caught up in the fascination of the state’s longest serving governor.

I had been approached in 2008 by B.I. Moody, a friend and supporter of mine over many years, who built Moody Publications into the largest newspaper chain in the state. B. I. and Edwards had shared office space when they first started out in business back in the early 1950s, and they had remained the closest of friends over the years. B.I. felt that a balanced legacy of Edwards had not been fully presented.

“Anyone born after the late 1970s would only know of the controversy surrounding him. History so far has not highlighted his many accomplishments,” B.I. had told me. He had read my first book about my time in public life, and asked if I might find an author to take on the task of writing a more balanced and fairer presentation of the Edwards story. I had formed a publishing company called The Lisburn Press, using the name of my old plantation home in Ferriday, Louisiana.

I accepted the task, and interviewed a number of local and national authors. Leo Honeycutt lived in Baton Rouge, and had been a television personality locally and up in Monroe, La. for a number of years. As a newsman, he had covered and talked with Edwards extensively. I read his 15 year old novel, “Over the Edge,” and knew that Leo had a descriptive writing style full of expression and understanding of the nuances of Louisiana. After several interviews, from a field of other well qualified writers, I decided on Leo to collaborate with the former governor, who continued to captivate while sitting in a federal prison.

Leo spent weeks at a time in solitude immersed in the project in a cabin on Lake St. John up in Concordia Parish. His first draft was 1600 pages, with over 3000 footnotes. I sent him back to the drawing board for rewrite after rewrite. I also spent a great deal of time reviewing some of the legal ramifications of many of the charges made by both Leo and EWE. It took the better part of the year to get the book in final form. Designing a cover and selecting photos from the thousands available that reflected Edwards’ time in public life took more months. Our hopes for a one year project extended four fold.

So how many copies of the first edition should we print? After all, the guy had not been governor for 16 years and had been in prison going on eight years. Was there really all that much interest left in the “Silver Fox?” Or was he a has been, and would all this effort be just for the history books? Start with 5000 copies? Knowing that he would soon be out of prison and there would be some spike of interest, maybe a 10,000 copy run? OK, let’s go with 10,000 books, since we did have a warehouse large enough to store the entire inventory.

The truckload of the Edwards biography arrived in the bookstores less than two weeks before Christmas. The first printing of 5000 copies sold out in two days. A quick call was made to the printer in Canada requesting another 10,000 copies. We paid overtime for the printer to work the weekend around the clock, and another truckload arrived a few days before Christmas. That run sold out in a week.

With approximately 50,000 copies sold, the Edwards Biography is well on its way to being the largest selling Louisiana book in the state’s history. With the former governor back home, we are projecting sales of another 50,000 books before year’s end. And how about the new Edwin Edwards autobiography? He says that he has his own take on what transpired during his investigation and trial, and that he has many insights that so far have not been revealed. Edwards Redux? Stay tuned!

The colorful Cajun has been roundly roasted by some editorial writers for years, as the cause for Louisiana’s sad state of affairs. Louisiana is close to the bottom on many quality of life lists. He has not been in public office for sixteen years, and three other governors have followed in his path. Yet, according to some, it’s all his fault. Fifty years from now, there will be those who still point to Edwin Edwards’ influence as the state’s major problem.

But could it be that this charismatic character represents the pulse of Louisiana? Is it possible that most public officials in the Bayou State are no better and no worse than the voters who put them in office? That’s a subject for another book. And I could be just the guy to publish it!

“People say I've had brushes with the law. That's not true. I've had brushes with overzealous prosecutors.”
Edwin W. Edwards

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 The show is televised at

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Politics of a Killer?

Thursday, January 13th, 2011
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


Are there political lessons to be learned from Saturday’s tragic shootings in Tucson? The talk show pundits on both the left and right would have us believe that the other side’s hyper-partisanship has been the catalyst for a growing vehemence and hatred that led to the terrible violence by one deranged killer. Are there underlying causes to explain this shocking event that can be directed towards either side of the political spectrum? Many talk show hosts would have you believe so. But killings tragically happen, and birds fall from the sky. And often, the cause is not political.

Two tragedies took place last week. A highly unstable punk kid did have some political misgivings. But they were not influenced nor directed from viewpoints on the left or the right. On the Internet, he ranted about government thought control, and how the country should return to the gold standard -- hardly partisan issues. Few of us trust the government’s involvement in our personal lives, but almost none of us reacts with violence. No, the cause of this tragedy in Tucson appears to be exclusively the shooter’s internal demons.

The news media that claim neutrality had no problem inflaming the debate al this week by assuming there was a political angle to the shooter’s actions. What part of the political spectrum was Jared Lee Loughner coming from? He just had to have an agenda we were continually told.

Some said the attack was linked to the bull’s eye directed at some twenty democratic congressmen including last week’s victim, Rep. Gabriele Giffords. The popular political website, The Daily Kos wrote: “Mission Accomplished, Sarah Palin.” How unfair and offensive were both the comments and the bull’s eye. It was tasteless on both sides. News commentary has become segmented by political philosophy and as such it has become shamelessly irresponsible.

Conservative columnist David Brooks pointed out, these “were vicious charges made by people who claimed to be criticizing viciousness. We have a news media market in which the rewards go to anybody who can stroke the audience’s pleasure buttons.”
There is a great deal of anger in the country now. I hear it each week on my national radio show as callers vent from coast to coast across the political spectrum. And they vent with justification. A recent survey by the Pew research Center found there is “a perfect storm of conditions associated with distrust in government -- a dismal economy, an unhappy public, bitter partisan-based backlash, and epic discontent with Congress and elected officials.”

Members of Congress are the most accessible branch of our national government and like it or not, they represent symbolically what many voters see as an out-of-control and out-of-touch federal government. Most constituents are just plain angry. But in the mix, there are a few who are deranged, and in them, the anger that most of us keep under control, explodes in violence.

In our democracy, any nut case can walk into a town hall meeting and confront their representative or senator face to face – and Congresswoman Giffords was always having small meetings in grocery stores and other retail establishments and this made her vulnerable to the walking time bomb, Jared Loughner.

Despite what pundits on both the left and the right continue to pontificate, Jared Loughner had no political agenda. Jared Loughner’s actions were driven by the psychotic delusions of his mental illness. He could not protect himself from his demons inside, and our society could not protect those slaughtered last week from his deadly outbursts.

There can be a link between derangement and politics. Jared Loughner lives in the epicenter of hatred, resentment -- all distorted by what seems to be an extreme mental illness. He is not alone in this country. In a book by research psychiatrist E. Fuller Torrey called “The Insanity Offense,” he concludes that some one per cent of seriously mentally ill in this country, some 40,000 people, are violent. Fuller says they account for about half the rampage murders in the United States.

Yet a number of states, including my home state of Louisiana, are proposing deep cuts in mental health treatments. Of particular concern are disturbed inmates who are soon to be released, but who have been given little treatment for their unstable condition. There is a low priority in this country for aggressively providing treatment to the mentally ill who are becoming increasingly disruptive. How do you stop such individuals from owning guns? What are the standards for involuntary treatment? Many tough questions need to be addressed.

Jared Loughner posted his favorite books on his YouTube page. Their general and similar themes centered on government stripping an individual of their own free thinking. “Animal Farm,” “Brave New World, “Mein Kampf,” and “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” to name a few. But the book on Loughner’s list that summed him up best was Harper Lee’s, “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

“He was out of his mind,” said Atticus. “Don’t like to contradict you, Mr. Finch-wasn’t crazy, mean as hell. Low-down skunk with enough liquor in him to make him brave enough to kill children.” I don’t know about the liquor. But Harper Lee got it right in regard to Jared Loughner. He has to be both crazy and mean as hell. The polarizing ideology here is not on the left or right. It’s in the jumbled mix of a ground up dysfunctional character and conscience in the psychotic mind of Jared Loughner.

A larger question is what will happen after all the political hysteria dies down? Can we as a country do more to prepare for another day when one of our communities is thrust into a confrontation of disorder, cruelty and horror? The answer is that there is a way. Whether or not there is a will; that is the question.

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 The show is televised at

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Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Bad News on Insurance Rates!

Thursday, January 6th, 2011
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


So happy New Year! And by the way, get ready for higher property insurance rates along the Gulf Coast, particularly in Louisiana. One would think that if anything, homeowner’s rates would be going down. After all, there has been virtually no hurricane activity in the Gulf for the past four years. And with the national economic slump, home prices have dropped which should translate into lower insurance rates. Not so say the experts. Here are a few reasons why many states, particularly my home state of Louisiana, will see higher rates in the coming year.

Huge claims for the BP Gulf Oil spill will definitely boost insurance rates for the oil industry. No one at this stage can even guess what the final insurance costs will be from both the damage and years of ligation from the Gulf spill. Most of the larger oil companies are self insured, which means they will have to divert funds from operating costs into designated reserve funds. Independent companies, that produce both oil and gas, will see their insurance costs go up. Higher insurance costs mean cut backs, possible layoffs, and higher prices for both oil and gas. And those insurance companies that have taken a big hit over the Gulf spill will have no choice but to raise rates for all lines of insurance, including homeowners.

Citizens Property Insurance Company in Louisiana continues to run amok, and be a factor in higher insurance rates. Louisiana taxpayers are on the hook for well over a billion dollars because of the state created company’s mismanagement. The company is now bragging that it has reduced the number of policies it is selling. But this becomes a catch 22. As Citizens looses customers, the overall risk increases. A new study by the Insurance Information Institute pointed out the Louisiana state run plan still maintains a “precarious financial condition.” Simple translation -- it’s broke, and will be for years. Last month the company asked the Louisiana Insurance Department for an increase that in some south Louisiana parishes will top 24%.

Yes, the number of Citizens policies is dropping, but often in a troubling way. Just last Sunday, The Times Picayune reported that when property owners make claims against Citizens, the company drops the homeowner for future insurance. Wasn’t Citizens created to be the state’s property insurer of last resort? Apparently not. Make a claim against Citizens, and boom…you lose your insurance coverage.

And to rub the salt into homeowners’ wounds even more, Louisiana is holding back some $350 million in rebates that are due homeowners from the Citizens debacle. Now remember that this rebate is owed to all homeowners who buy insurance from any company, not just Citizens. It would be a simple matter for the Insurance Department to send information as to who is entitled to such a rebate to the Department of Revenue, and the state tax collector could then give a tax credit to all homeowners entitled to the rebate. But they way the system works now, few homeowners even know about the rebate, so these hundreds of millions of dollars will go back to the state general fund.

Apparently our politicians know quite well what they are doing.
Much of the blame for rising rates can well be directed at state insurance regulators. Too many insurance companies try to game the system. Florida newspapers are full of recent stories revealing how a number of insurance companies tell Florida regulators they are losing money and need higher rate increases. Yet these same companies, who are publically traded, have made filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission stating that they are making a tidy profit. A number of these same companies that are hoodwinking Florida regulators are operating in Louisiana, pulling quite a bait and switch.

Here’ how they do it. Many companies operating in both Florida and Louisiana create sister companies set up to provide management services, claims adjusting, and other jobs. The same owners are often involved and operate with no employees of their own. It gets a bit complicated here, but companies often pay affiliates based on a percentage of premium, so any rate increase to the insurance company is also an increase in what the affiliates get paid. Expenses are deducted, the company says it’s not making money, and gets a rate increase even though the wholly owned affiliate is making a big profit. Guess who gets stuck with paying higher rates?
And who is checking to be sure that an insurance company is not overcharging? State regulators are supposed to aggressively audit companies on a regular basis. Unfortunately for the small business owner and homeowner, few states aggressively investigate charging practices of national companies that operate in their home state.

Liberty Mutual, which operates in Louisiana, agreed to pay a multimillion-dollar settlement in several states after they were accused of bid rigging and paying kick backs to insurance agents who steered customers to the company. Customers were cheated out of a chance to get the lowest price. Other major companies including Zurich Financial, AG, Ace, CNA, and Pennsylvania Manufacturers all agreed to pay New York $120 million for overcharging customers. These same companies operate in Louisiana and the Gulf Coast, but no similar investigations are taking place in this part of the country. So are you being overcharged?

AIG is the largest insurance entity operating in Louisiana, for example, and yet it has never been audited by Louisiana state regulators. Taxpayers had to bail out AIG to the tune of $180 billion, putting many Louisiana policyholders at risk. Insurance is regulated at the state level, so if your home state does not join in an effort to audit national companies, then the policy is that you are on your own.

What is Louisiana doing about continually rising rates? It will spend one million dollars in the coming months to study health insurance premiums. But Louisiana regulators have no control over health rates. Medical insurance rates are not subject to approval by the state department of Insurance. So Louisiana has the highest property insurance rates in the country, the highest auto rates in the country, yet one million dollars will be spent to study health rates over which the state has absolutely no control. Is there any wonder why insurance premiums keep going up?
“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 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 The show is televised at