Wednesday, December 28, 2011

What are you doing New Year's Eve?

December 29, 2011
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


Did you make a New Year’s resolution yet? I always do. Hope and foreboding are at the top of my list and have been these past few years. The New Year always brings a promise of uncertainty. More so for most of us in the coming year. I would rather be absorbed with the more mundane things in life. But that won’t happen in the busy lives that most of us lead.

One resolution I make each year is to maintain my curiosity. It does not matter how limited your perspective or the scope of your surroundings, there is (or should be) something to whet your interest and strike your fancy. I discovered early on that there are two kinds of people; those who are curious about the world around them, and those whose shallow attentions are generally limited to those things that pertain to their own personal well-being. I just hope all those I care about fall into the former category.

And a resolution of hope. Successful and fulfilling endeavors for my children, happiness and contentment for family and friends, the fortitude to handle both the highs and lows of daily living with dignity.

I ask my children each year to give me two gifts for Christmas. First, to make a donation to a charity that will help needy families in their community. And second, to read and re-read the unforgettable holocaust novel Night, by Elie Wiesel, the Nobel Peace laureate who survived the Nazi death camps. I have a Wiesel quote framed on my office desk.

To defeat injustice and misfortune,
if only for one instant, for a single victim,
is to invent a new reason to hope.

Just like many of you, our family welcomes in the New Year with “Auld Lang Syne.” It’s an old Scotch tune, with words passed down orally, and recorded by my favorite historical poet, Robert Burns, back n the 1700’s. (I’m Scottish, so there’s a bond here.) “Auld Lang Syne” literally means “old long ago,” or simply, “the good old days.”

Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And days of auld lang syne?
And here’s a hand, my trusty friend
And gie’s a hand o’ thine
We’ll take a cup of kindness yet
For auld lang syne.

Did you know this song is sung at the stroke of midnight in almost every English-speaking country in the world to bring in the New Year?

I can look back over many years of memorable New Year’s Eve celebrations. In recent years, my wife and I have joined a gathering of family and friends in New Orleans at Antoine’s Restaurant in the French Quarter. Our private party normally clusters in the Rex Room for a complete dinner including an array of seafood appetizers (oysters, shrimp and crabmeat) and flaming Baked Alaska for dessert. Yes, a number of champagne-filled toasts with an occasional family member dancing on the dinner table. Then off to join the masses for the New Year’s countdown to midnight in Jackson Square. We often finish the evening (or early morning) at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville on Decatur Street.

When my daughters were quite young, we spent a number of New Years at a family camp on Davis Island, in the middle of the Mississippi River some 30 miles below Vicksburg. On several occasions, the only people there were my family and Bishop Charles P. Greco, who was the Catholic Bishop for central and north Louisiana. Bishop Greco had baptized all three of my daughters, and had been a family friend for years. And he did love to deer hunt.

On many a cold and rainy morning, the handful of us at the camp would rise before dawn for the Bishop to conduct a New Year’s Mass. After the service, most of the family went back to bed. I would crank up my old jeep, and take the Bishop out in the worst weather with hopes of putting him on a stand where a large buck would pass. No matter what the weather, he would stay all morning with his shotgun and thermos of coffee. He rarely got a deer, but oh how he loved to be there in the woods. Now I’m not a Catholic, but he treated me as one of his own.

One of the most fulfilling and rewarding projects I undertook in my Louisiana state senate days was to help Bishop Greco fund and build the St. Mary’s Residential and Training School for retarded children in Alexandria. He was, for me, a great mentor and friend who touched the lives of so many. He died in 1987, and I will always think of him on New Year’s Day.

New Year’s Day means lots of football, but I also put on my chef’s apron. I’m well regarded in the kitchen around my household, if I say so myself, for cooking up black-eyed peas as well as cabbage and corn bread. And don’t bet I won’t find the dime in the peas. After all, I’m going to put it there.

I’ll be back next week with my views that are cantankerous, opinionated, inflammatory, slanted, and always full of vim and vigor. Sometimes, to a few, even a bit fun to read. In the meantime, Happy New Year to you, your friends and all of your family. See you next year.

“May all your troubles last as long as your New Year’s resolutions. “
Joey Adams

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, December 21, 2011

Huge Insurance Problems in Louisiana!

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


Merry Christmas Louisiana. Here’s your present from the public officials you sent to the state capitol. A big boost in your property insurance premiums! All from the same folks who have been sticking you with higher rates for years because of their poor oversight and downright incompetence. So get out your checkbook and enjoy your holidays. More increases are on the way.

Just two weeks ago, State Farm policy holders were blindsided with a whopping rate increase of as much as 14% in some parts of the state. Many customers are wondering why there was such a rate increase was implemented. The economy has stagnated, there is little inflation, and prices across the board are down. Insurance rates are dropping in many other states, but Louisiana continues to have the highest premium costs in the nation. There have been no recent serious weather related damages throughout the state. So how can an insurance company justify a rate increase during this troubling economic climate? Simply put, they did it because they can.

In the majority of states throughout the U.S., insurance companies have to file a request to raise rates before the insurance department. Actuaries and other insurance officials scrutinize these requests to be sure the rate request is justified. But not in Louisiana!

The insurance industry did some heavy lobbying a few years back and poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the coffers of willing legislators and insurance regulators. And Voila! No more prior approval to raise rates required. Such “sweetheart deals” do not exist in Texas, Mississippi, Arkansas and in virtually no other state throughout the south. And guess what? Property insurance rates are much lower outside Louisiana.

So that was the bad news two weeks ago. But now, if you own a home, here’s your New Year’s present. Every property owner in the state is about to be stuck with yet another assessment on their property because of the incompetence and outright fraud on the part of those who both formed and have run the state created Citizens Property Insurance Company.

Just last week, the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that Citizens will be stuck with a judgment approaching $100 million for failing to pay claims to property owners following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in a timely manner. Private sector companies followed the law and paid the money owed for damages appropriately. But the incompetence and tardiness of the public officials in charge rose to the level of mismanagement. The requirements that other companies complied with were ignored by Citizens.

Following the court’s ruling, Fred Herman, the New Orleans attorney for a large number of unpaid homeowners, blasted the public officials in charge by saying, “It demonstrates the utter and abject failure of Citizens to perform their statutory and contractual obligations to their insureds… Those are the types of things that people need to understand when they’re re-electing them.”

And the bad news for Louisiana homeowners could get much worse. There is a separate claim of incompetence against Citizens by 10,000 more homeowners that could cost property owners an additional $50 million. And this money, that could exceed $150 million, does not come out of the state treasury. It will come from an assessment on every Louisiana property owner, regardless of who his insurance company might be.

Citizens Insurance Company was a disaster waiting to happen from its very inception. Created by the Louisiana Legislature at the behest of the Insurance Department, Citizens had to be one of the most poorly constructed business operations ever conceived by a state legislature. The company was broke from day one, with no capital and no surplus available to get Citizens started on a sound financial footing. It became obvious early on that no one at Citizens had any idea of how to run an insurance company.

In addition, a mother’s mantra of any successful insurance company is that there must be adequate reinsurance. There must be a safety net in case a storm like Katrina comes along. The legislature and the insurance department failed to require that Citizens have sufficient reinsurance, and that single negligent decision stuck every policy holder in the state for a bill that will far exceed $1 billion. By virtually every standard that any private insurance company must measure up to, Citizens has failed miserably.

Citizens was a inauspicious cataclysm from day one. With these massive new assessments now being saddled on the backs of Louisiana property owners, the Citizens debacle continues to get even worse. The best solution would be to shut the company down completely. At a minimum, Citizens needs major restructuring with more requirements for both legislative and auditor oversight.

Unfortunately for those stuck with the bill, there seems to be little concern at the state capitol to straighten out this publically created disaster that continues to fester and grow.
“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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Wednesday, December 07, 2011

No freedom of Choice in What We Eat?

Thursday, December 8th, 2011
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


Louisiana has been called the culinary Mecca of America. Folks in this part of the country can take just about anything edible and make it, not just good, but quite exceptional. And when we say anything, we mean anything. There is virtually no limit to what a Cajun will put in a gumbo. So when one of our own politicians starts talking about banning anything we want to eat, “them’s fightin’ words.” But that’s what one of Louisiana’s U.S. senators wants to do.

Democrat Mary Landrieu has for years led a national fight to ban the sale of horsemeat for consumption in the U.S. Now I’ll admit that most of us do not regularly run down to our local supermarket to check on whether a fresh shipment of horsemeat has arrived. But I’m not all that enamored by eating nutria, a large rat, that is regularly publicized as a tasty dish by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. So, to each his own.

Landrieu is pushing for an outright ban on both the slaughter and the export of slaughter horses. She was on the forefront of the initial fight in 2006, when congress banned the use of federal funds by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to inspect the slaughter of horses at any meat processing plant in the country. Under the law, any plant that is not inspected by this federal agency is prohibited from shipping horsemeat across state lines. So, no inspection, no sales, and the horse slaughter market was shut down.

Is there a market for U.S. horsemeat? Yes, and it’s big time in a number of countries. “Carne di Cavallo,” can be bought in most butcher shops in Italy. In Sweden, horsemeat is so popular that it outsells lamb and mutton combined. In every European country you will find horsemeat to be quite popular. In France, the mother lode of food delicacies, they even have a horsemeat butcher’s organization called Federation de la Boucherie Hippophagique. It’s estimated that 700,000 tons of horsemeat are consumed annually worldwide. And for good reason.

As Gary Picariello writes in Yahoo News, “a typical filet of horsemeat is similar to that of beef. The meat is leaner, slightly sweeter in taste, with a flavor somewhat between that of beef and venison. Good horsemeat is very tender, but it can also be slightly tougher than comparable cuts of beef. Horsemeat is higher in protein and lower in fat. The most popular cuts of horsemeat come from the hindquarters: tenderloin, sirloin, fillet steak, rump steak and rib. Less tender cuts are ground.”

Here’s what restaurateur Jonathan Birdsall told me about possible horsemeat demand in the U.S. “I’ll bet I could name half a dozen American chefs chomping at the bit to do things to horse back fat or loins that’d show off a delicacy few of us probably never suspected Mr. Ed to be capable of. Braised on a nice bed of hay, maybe, with a few roasted finger-length carrots.” Hmmm. Think it’s worth a try?

Like I said, we eat about anything down here in Bayou Country. I wrote a cook book some years ago (available at www.the that includes such delicacies as my “world famous” squirrel stew, venison goulash, possum and chestnuts, rabbit in sour cream, and Louisiana Governor Jimmy Davis’s favorite, fried coon file’.

I was traveling through Cajun country a few years ago, and stopped at a rural general store for a cup of coffee. An old fellow was on the porch cooking up a pot of something that smelled good. “Whatcha’ cookin’?” I asked. “Got me a gumbo,” he replied. I asked what kind of gumbo, and he told me, “an owl gumbo.” When I asked him what an owl gumbo tasted like, he smiled and said, “Oh, about like a hawk gumbo.”

Seeing that our locals regularly eat alligator sauce picquante, and add to a stew or gumbo just about anything else that flies or crawls, it’s hard for many of us to get too worked up over a little horsemeat. I know that many have a special affection for the majestic horse. But all horses eventually have to be disposed of. And the same horses that would be slaughtered in the U.S. under strict guidelines are now being shipped to other countries and both treated and killed in far more cruel ways.

It’s hard to figure why a Louisiana senator has such a beef with letting someone chose to eat horsemeat. Isn’t it really a freedom of choice issue? She apparently has no problem with eating Porky Pig, Donald Duck, and Bambi. So what’s the big deal about eating Trigger and Mr. Ed?

Since we have a French background here in Louisiana, could the politicians in Washington be dangerously close to inciting another revolution by telling what we can or cannot eat? Instead a big fuss being made over, “Let us eat cake,” the new battle cry could well be, “Let us eat horse.”


“Food shortages in the United States are so acute that in some states we are already eating horsemeat, and in Oklahoma a state official urges that we eat crows, which he says, taste like roast duck.”

Clarence Birdseye, American Magazine (July 1943)

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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Monday, December 05, 2011

How Bad Are Healthcare Mandates?

Thursday, December 1st, 2011
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


Here’s our plot line. You’ve been in a coma for the past four years and just regained consciousness. You are concerned about your medical expenses, so you check to see what the President and congress have done to make healthcare more affordable. What you find is that both republicans and democrats are deadlocked in a bitter debate on just what needs to be done. The healthcare mandate is a major bone of contention and you remember this same controversial issue raging four years ago. You recall how each side split up. Democrats opposed the mandate and republicans were all for it. Right? Hey friend. You will soon find out that both parties did major flip-flops when it comes to mandating healthcare coverage.

Is there a conservative case to be made for an individual healthcare mandate? There is. Here’s why. Responsible individuals are going to buy health insurance knowing full well that they run the risk of financial disaster if they don’t have proper insurance coverage. The irresponsible person, even if he or she can afford it, takes the attitude that if they face a health emergency, they can always go get free care at the hospital emergency room. Your premiums go up to cover their medical costs. So the present system penalizes those who are responsible, and rewards those who are irresponsible.

So one would assume that conservative republicans would be in support of such a mandate. Before you were forced to hibernate a few years back, that assumption was well founded. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich had made the conservative republican case back in 2007 when he said: “Personal responsibility extends to the purchase of health insurance. Citizens should not be able to cheat their neighbors by not buying insurance, particularly when they can afford it, and expect others to pay for their care when they need it.” An “individual mandate” should be applied. Gingrich was taking the party line of most republicans going back a number of years as a way of offering an alternative to Hillarycare.

In 2008, Tommy Thompson, The Secretary of Health and Humans Services under President George W. Bush, said, “Just like people are required to have car insurance, they should be required to have health insurance.” Add to that list of supporters former Senate majority Leader Dr. Bill Frist of Tennessee, and all the Senators who co-sponsored legislation with an individual mandate — Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Senator Chuck Grassley (R.-Iowa), Bob Bennett (R-Utah), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Judd Gregg (R-N.H.).

Here’s what Senator Grassley said just two years ago on Fox News: “There isn’t anything wrong with an individual mandate, except some people look at it as an infringement on individual freedom. But when it comes to states requiring it for automobile insurance, the principal then ought to lie [be] the same for health insurance. Because everybody has some health insurance costs, and if you aren’t insured, there’s no free lunch. Somebody else has to pay for it….I believe there is bipartisan consensus to have individual mandates.”

Where are President Obama and the democrats in this debate? If you go back to the presidential campaign of 2008, Obama made no bones about his strong opposition to forcing Americans to buy health insurance. The President said then that “If things were that easy, I could mandate everybody to buy a house, and that would solve the problem of homelessness. It doesn’t.” There’s no support here from the president for the individual healthcare mandate.

So now you are wondering, what happened? How can President Obama now endorse and defend the very program he once strongly rejected? And what happened to the pro individual mandate position of Newt and his fellow conservative republicans?
Obama and the democrats bit off too much to chew. They paid faint attention to the Hillarycare debacle back in the early 1990s. Not only were there way too many changes in the proposed system, the timing was wrong. As the country sunk deeper into a recession, republicans were having a field day accusing the president of letting the dwindling economy slip off the front burner. He used too many green stamps on healthcare, and got stuck in the debate over economic recovery as the republicans gained traction by attacking Obama’s failure to prioritize the needs of the country.
Republicans smelled blood early on, and choose to let the president go it alone on healthcare reform. The earlier GOP support for the individual mandate fell by the wayside as republicans, particularly those strong conservatives who hollered so much about personal responsibility completely flip-flopped.

The healthcare law is now planted at the feet of the U.S. Supreme Court. All or part of it could be declared unconstitutional. There is a provision that does away with the pre-existing condition clause, but both sides are in agreement that this requirement is constitutional and necessary. If the court does away with the individual mandate, the whole law is put in jeopardy. Such a fragmented law would allow a person to not buy health insurance, get sick, and then rush off to purchase a policy to cover their needs forward. Under such a scenario, insurance premiums would skyrocket.
So should the government compel us to buy something, whether we want to or not? Hey, it happens all the time. You are mandated by law to do a number of things. You must buy auto insurance if you drive a car and purchase flood insurance to get a home loan in areas that flood. The government mandates that you pay taxes, and that you send your kids to school. Isn’t health insurance just another mandate?

The whole issue now sits firmly before the U.S. Supreme Court. And just like the case in Bush v. Gore, politics will play a role in how a final decision is reached. A ruling declaring Obamacare unconstitutional will strike a major blow to the President’s reelection chances. The conservative block of republican appointed justices that include Roberts, Thomas, Scalia, Alito and Kennedy know that. And they just may find such a scenario too tempting to pass up.


“There is hardly a political question in the United States which does not sooner or later turn into a judicial one.”
Alexis de Tocqueville

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

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