Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Major Insurance Problems on the Gulf Coast!

Thursday, April 28, 2011
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


All this week, Florida’s largest newspaper, the Miami Herald, has been writing both feature articles and editorials about the problems facing Florida property owners in finding affordable insurance. Day after day, headlines conveyed the intensity of the struggle -- “Storm Warning: Prop up Insurance,” was a typical lead, along with, “Is Citizens Insurance ready for the big one?” and “Lawmakers still scrambling on wind insurance.” Florida, like all gulf coast states, has problems of both insurance affordability and availability. But here’s the difference between the Sunshine state and the Bayou state. Florida is giving the problem serious attention. It’s a front and center concern for the governor, the legislature, insurance regulators, and the news media. In Louisiana where I live, there is hardly a whisper.

When Florida Governor Rick Scott took office a few months ago, his first words of commitment were: “The lack of available and affordable property insurance is the biggest threat to our economy.“ Just this week, Scott began exploring how to sharply curtail or even shut down the state’s Citizens Property Insurance Company. The Miami Herald editorialized just last week that the Florida legislature should allow no more property insurance rates in the state. The Florida governor and the legislature are taking the insurance problem head-on.

Florida has significantly more hurricane exposure than does Louisiana. Ninety percent of all homeowners live within a few miles of the Gulf or the Atlantic Ocean. A hurricane crossing the Florida peninsula slows down, at best, only 15 miles per hour. Yet in spite of all this exposure, property insurance rates are cheaper in Florida than in Louisiana. In Perdido Key, on the Florida-Alabama border, many Louisianans have beach homes or condos. On average, they pay significantly less on these properties than they do on their homes in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and other Louisiana cities. Property insurance rates for commercial real estate have gone down, somewhere in the neighborhood of 30% to 40%, according realtor Steve Ekovich of the Tampa office of Marcus & Millichap, and insurance is more available.

Look at the figures released by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. In Louisiana, for every $100 of residential property insurance, the homeowner paid, on average, $1.006. In Florida, a similar homeowner paid only 69.3 cents. Louisiana has, hands down, the most expensive property insurance rates in the entire U.S. Yet Florida has much more exposure. Why?

Simply put, Florida officials, from the Governor on down, have made insurance affordability a front burner issue. In Louisiana, it has been little more than a blip on the radar. The Louisiana legislature began meeting just this week, and newspapers across the state ran stories listing the state’s top issues and concerns. Insurance wasn’t mentioned. Louisiana is a state with the highest automobile and property insurance rates in the entire comity, yet not one solution was suggested by Louisiana insurance officials or legislators.

Like Louisiana, Florida has a Citizens Property Insurance Company that is state created and sells to those homeowners who cannot find insurance anywhere else. The difference is in legislative support. From day one, the Florida Company has received state funds on a regular basis to build up reserves. By properly managing the company, Florida Citizens has almost $ 4 billion in cash in the bank to pay claims. There is also in place a bank line of credit and proceeds from municipal bonds that put total available funds at close to $7 billion.

Florida has also created a Hurricane Catastrophe Fund to back up and reinsurance losses for both Citizens and other private insurance companies operating in the state. This year, Citizens purchased nearly $9.8 billion in coverage. So all tolled, the Florida state created company has the ability to handle claims of up to $16.8 billion.

So how does Louisiana stack up? Well, for starters, due to inept and corrupt management before Katrina hit, no back up funds were arranged, and Katrina and Rita claims now exceed well over $1 billion. There was only minor reinsurance in place when the two major storms hit in 2005. The company was recently tagged with a $95 million legal judgment for failing to pay claims on time, and the former CEO is serving time in jail for misappropriating for his personal use hundreds of thousands of dollars. There is no wonder why the company, created by the legislature and overseen by the Insurance Department, has been called the biggest financial disaster in Louisiana history.

There have been eight major hurricanes that have hit Florida since their legislature created Citizens. Yet 40 new companies have come into Florida to sell property insurance, and ten of their companies sell windstorm coverage right along the most exposed areas of the Florida coast. But to qualify for the available insurance in these storm-prone areas, strict building code requirements are in place. The roofs of such insured homes must have been updated since 1996. And all window protection, including required shutters, must meet specific state and local regulations.
Has Florida solved its property insurance problems? Hardly. Increasing costs and continuing hurricane exposure makes any effort to control insurance rates all the more challenging.

The difference between Florida and Louisiana is one of effort and priorities. The Florida Insurance Commissioner is lobbying hard for a national catastrophic program for gulf coast states. Florida congressmen are pushing a number of programs in Washington. The legislature meets regularly to discuss insurance issues, and Governor Scott makes no bones about the fact that insurance issues will be at the top of his legislative agenda.

There is a proactive effort in Florida to protect consumers. Here’s what the Miami Herald said this week about current Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty: “He has not hesitated to take on the insurance industry when he thought consumers were being scalped.” The new House Speaker said this week that property insurance issues are of huge concern to Florida legislators. “This is a very complex issue and I hope we see some solid solutions come forth, but it won’t be easy,” he said.

No, it won’t be easy, but there seems to be a major good faith effort by Florida officials to keep affordable insurance front and center. In Louisiana, property insurance issues have faded away and are barely a blip on the perennial screen, with little comment or concern expressed by any public official. So is it any wonder why Louisiana property owners continue to pay the highest rates in the nation?

Louisiana business and homeowners, when you look across the board at all the higher insurance costs they are absorbing, are paying some $3 billion more than if they were paying the national average of such costs. Think what an additional $3 billion in the Louisiana economy would mean to the economic vitality of the state. So why isn’t more being done by Louisiana officials? A good question to be asking as election season approaches.

“It’s not hurricanes that are causing high insurance rates, but bad government 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

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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Losers All Around in Bonds Case!

Thursday, April 21, 2011
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


Now let me try to understand. Bankers, investment brokers and insurance magnets, whose greed and fraud reached into every household in America, don’t even get as much as a slap on the wrist. But home run champ Barry Bonds will go to jail as the scapegoat for major League Baseball, which choose to turn a blind eye to how much drugs had infected the sport. In walks the federal government who took on the role of the omnipotent umpire When all is said and done, all parties to this pathetic case are real losers including the prosecutors.

The Feds spent close to $140 million in their effort to nail Bonds. Compare that to the costs of the Clinton/Lewinsky investigation of $40 million. After an eight year investigation where hundreds people were investigated, Bonds was convicted on one count of “obstruction of justice.” The supposed crime is a catch-all offense where the accused is supposed to “attempt to interfere” with the judicial system, whatever that means.

Just what did Bonds do to “obstruct justice”? According to the prosecutors, he was “evasive” when asked about using performance enhancing drugs. He was essentially convicted of giving a long, rambling monologue to a grand jury of whether he knew if the substances he took were illegal. No federal crime was involved, the steroids can be legally purchased with a prescription, baseball did not ban such drugs until 2003, and it wasn’t until 2004 that baseball began penalizing players who tested positive.

So after spending well over $100 million, and carrying on a 10 year investigation involving hundreds of federal agents, the best the feds were able to come up with was that “he was evasive.” And for that you could go to jail for up to 10 years? By that standard, a whole host of presidential appointees should be in prison today. Remember Valerie Plame?

It would be interesting to hear the jury’s reaction if the question would have been framed differently, by asking: “If you have broken no federal law and the government has no business asking you a question involving your own private life, do you have the right to be “evasive?” Why is some rogue prosecutor wasting time and tax dollars trying to force Bonds, or any other player into admitting that they had taken steroids that were not illegal at the time the substances were taken?

Bonds is certainly no honorable fellow here. He cheated to win a whole host of baseball records including being the home run king. He cheated on everyone around him and his checkered baseball career will forever be imprisoned in a purgatory of suspicion and asterisks. He tainted the game and should have been banned from baseball by the baseball powers that be. But justification for a federal crime? Hogwash.

Those who run baseball, including the owners, are also part of this scandal. The major league officials just didn’t care. More “pumped up” players -- more revenue. Revenue tripled during the steroids era, as fans flocked to the ball parks to see records being broken. In 2007, former U.S. senator George Mitchell prepared a report that connected dozens of baseball stars including seven MVPs, to using performance-enhancing drugs. And baseball officials just looked the other way.

The entire Bonds fiasco was followed in great detail by law professor, Dr. Roger Roots. He summed up the case by concluding: “Since the first grand jury inquiry, the baseball steroid investigations have been typified by investigator misconduct, prosecutorial overreaching and fake grandstanding over infidelity to the rule of law or fair play in sports. Baseball’s ongoing steroid self-inquiry is in fact a ten-year record of warrantless searches, coerced statements, illegal leaks, and strong-armed threats and intimidation.”

The Bonds scandal is the shame of virtually everyone who was party to this witch hunt over the past 10 years. From Bonds, to the baseball owners, to the judicial system itself, there are no good guys here. Those of us who follow and love the sport of baseball have every right to question the credibility of everyone involved in this whole sordid mess. We fans are also the losers.

"What bothers me is that you've got a very powerful federal government that has the money and time and resources to ruin someone's reputation," Rep. Jack Kingston of Georgia

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, April 13, 2011

What Could Lincoln have Done?

Thursday, April 14, 2011
Port Hudson Battlefield, Louisiana


One Hundred and Fifty years ago this week, the first shots of the Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter in South Carolina. During the next four years, carnage, mayhem and death were the order of day after day. By the time the dust settled and the South had surrendered, some 620,000 soldiers had died on the battle field. The Union lost around 360,000 soldiers, and the Confederacy lost 260,000. More than twice that number were injured. Fifteen decades later, here’s the question that needs to be asked: Was it really necessary to have this war?

Here in my home state of Louisiana, we are surrounded by remnants of the bloody battles that took place. When I began my law practice in Northeast Louisiana across the Mississippi River from Natchez, my home was the Lisburn Plantation, just north of Ferriday. To make his final siege of Vicksburg in one of the final and decisive battles of the Civil War, General Ulysses S. Grant commandeered my future home to headquarter for several days before crossing the Mississippi River and attacking Vicksburg from the South.

As Grant undertook his offensive against Vicksburg, Union Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks’ army moved against the Confederate stronghold at Port Hudson on the Mississippi River just north of my current home of Baton Rouge. On May 27, after their frontal assaults were repulsed, the Federals settled into a siege which lasted for 48 days. On hearing of the fall of Vicksburg, the Confederate garrison of Port Hudson surrendered, opening the Mississippi River to Union navigation from its source to New Orleans. There were 12,208 casualties at Port Hudson of which 7,208 were Union soldiers. Hundreds of similar battles took place with devastating results of death and destruction for both North and South.

Could Lincoln have done more to stop the fighting? Was there a middle ground to buy time for ongoing discussions? It was not like the South’s eventual leaders, from Jefferson Davis to Robert E. Lee, were from a foreign land. Davis was a U.S. Senator, and Lincoln asked Lee to take over command of the entire U.S. Military. They were colleagues in government. Couldn’t Lincoln have been more persuasive?

Lincoln stayed at the Willard Hotel in Washington the night before he was sworn in as President. The Willard, situated just across from the White House, was then the nation’s largest hotel. For the previous three weeks at the same hotel, 131 delegates from 21 states met continually to find a solution for saving the Union without war. Judges, legislators, and even former president John Tyler argued, cajoled, and pleaded with one another for a way out of the looming conflict. As a last effort, the delegates pleaded with Lincoln to join them for some direction and leadership. Lincoln declined.

Imagine the public reaction today if either George Bush or Barrack Obama stood by and let some six million Americans kill one another in battle. That’s the number of deaths based on today’s comparative population. There would be open revolt and an immediate cry for new leadership. Did Lincoln fail the test then? Oh, he did take action. Lincoln suspended parts of the constitution including habeas corpus, arrested numerous political opponents, and shut down several hundred newspapers. Sounds like Iraq redux, but at least that’s half way around the world and not here in our own backyard.

Was Lincoln obsessed with freeing the slaves? Here are his words in a letter written to New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley on August 22, 1862: "My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union.”

So was it a total commitment to keep the union intact? Not if you believe Lincoln’s words a few years before the Civil War began. “Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable—a most sacred right— a right, which we hope and believe, is to liberate the world. Nor is this right confined to cases in which the whole people of an existing government may choose to exercise it. Any portion of such people that can, may revolutionize and make their own so much of the territory as they inhabit.”

Professor David Goldfield has written a new book called “America Aflame, How the Civil War Created a Nation.” He’s a guest on my radio show this weekend. Goldfield computes the total monetary cost of the war to around $6.7 billion in 1860s currency. He asserts that if “the government had purchased the freedom of four million slaves and granted a 40 acre farm to each slave family, the total cost would have been $3.1 billion, leaving $3.6 billion for reparations to make up for a century of lost wages. And not a single life would have been lost.”

What about the morality of a president declaring unbridled warfare on his own citizens? One can well argue that saving human lives would have been far more important than keeping the Union together. How can a President responsible for so much bloodshed be thought of as the greatest President in US history? I understand that Lincoln wanted to avoid the Civil War. However, was preserving the Union worth the cost of spilling so much blood on both ends of the battle field?

Lincoln went on to lead the country in reconstruction, and offered exemplary leadership as the nation healed it’s all too deep wounds. Maybe it was because he was brand new at the job as the war began. But it seems clear that when real leadership was called for in an effort to save hundreds of thousands of his fellow citizens, Abraham Lincoln blinked. And the country is still, after these 150 years, still reeling from this national tragedy.

“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter, and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”
~Abraham Lincoln
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, April 06, 2011

An Ugly Decision by the U.S. Supreme Court

Thursday, April 7th, 2011
New Orleans, Louisiana


There is an aura of myth that surrounds Lady Justice, who is pictured standing tall with the balanced scales of justice in her hands. She is blindfolded to assure impartiality and fairness. But if she read the decision about the death row inmate from New Orleans that was handled down by the U.S. Supreme Court last week, one could only wonder whether she dropped her scales, pulled off her blindfold, and wept.

If there was ever any doubt about the lack of fairness, competence and fundamental decency among the current majority composition of the Supreme Court, such doubt was put to rest by a decision that would make any oppressive and dictatorial government proud. Heavy words, that’s true. But one would have to look long and hard to find a more repugnant decision.

Here are the facts. New Orleanian John Thompson was convicted back in 1982 of first degree murder and given the death sentence. He came within days of being executed after spending 14 years on death row and 18 year’s total in prison. Five different prosecutors were involved in the case and all knew that a blood test and other key evidence had been hidden that showed Thompson was innocent.

On his death bed dying of cancer, one of the prosecutors confessed to a colleague that he had hidden the exculpatory blood sample. The colleague waited five more years before admitting that he too knew of the hidden evidence. Thompson, after 18 years, received a new trial, and his lawyers were finally able to produce ten difference pieces of evidence that had been kept from Thompson, that overwhelming showed he was innocent. The new jury took less than 35 minutes to find him not guilty.

Hiding evidence that can find the accused innocent is nothing new for prosecutors in New Orleans, both in state and federal court as well as with the FBI. The Innocence Project of New Orleans reviewed a number of convictions over the past 25 years in the city and concluded that prosecutors gave a "legacy" of suppressing evidence. The project said 36 men convicted in Orleans Parish alleged prosecutorial misconduct. Nineteen have since had their sentences overturned or reduced as a result.According to the Innocence Project in New Orleans, favorable evidence was concealed in a quarter of the murder convictions from 1973-2002. In 19 of 25 non-capital cases, the prosecutors withheld favorable evidence; in the other six cases, the courts ruled that evidentiary hearings were needed.

With full justification, Thompson sued the prosecutor’s office in New Orleans for ripping away and stealing 18 years of his life. He had two sons that he never saw grow up. A New Orleans jury awarded him 14 million dollars. Some said it was too much money. Would you give up 18 years of your life in solitary confinement on death row for 14 million dollars? On appeal, the Fifth US Circuit Court of Appeals, reputedly the most pro prosecutorial circuit in the nation, upheld the award in favor of Thompson.

But a bitterly divided Supreme Court said to Thompson “no way.” In a 5-4 decision, his case was tossed out by the Supreme Court– not because they disagree that the prosecutor’s office hid evidence (in fact all 9 justices agree on that point). Instead they tossed the case because, in their divine judicial opinion, they didn’t see any “pattern” of the prosecutor’s office doing this to other people besides Thompson (because one life ruined is apparently not enough). Sounds like a John Grisham novel with a bad ending, right? If only that were so. Unfortunately, this is real life and John Thompson gets nothing for his 18 years in jail. Not a red cent. Tough luck fella. The system failed you, but “stuff happens.”

This was not a decision based on a conservative interpretation of the law, even though the so called conservative block voted in lock step to deny Thompson’s claim. A true conservative justice would be strongly opposed to government oppression and the encroachment on the liberty of a falsely accused person. After all, when a prosecutor can operate with impunity, totally absent of any criminal or civil check on their actions, the seeds of fascism are planted. No, a true conservative judge would have held these rogue prosecutors fully accountable.

John Thompson, stunned by the Supreme Court's decision, says he intends to spend his life working to help wrongly convicted inmates. He has founded a new group called Resurrection after Exoneration. Sadly, he will not have the financial resources that the lower courts rightly concluded should have paid to help him pursue his goal.

The judicial system failed John Thompson. Along with Lady Justice, we all should shed a tear.

“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”
- Elie Wiesel

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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