Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Bring Congress Out of the 18th Century!

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012
New Orleans, Louisiana


The approval rate for members of Congress seems to be in free call. Few constitutients approve of the dysfunction taking place in the nation’s capitol. Just 10 years ago, Congress had an approval rating of 65%. But no more. The most recent Harris and CBS polls show approval rates dropping to an all time low of 9%. Like the guy sings in the Limbo Rock song, “How low can you go?”

Let me tell you just how bad it is. More Americans approve of polygamy than they do of Congress in Washington. At the height of the gulf oil spill, BP had a shockingly low 16% approval rating. Even Paris Hilton has a 15% approval rating. And would you believe that 11% of those surveyed are OK with America becoming Communist? Just about every low life trend or person you can think of does better than the folks you and I send up to Washington.

When these polls are taken, usually there’s a distinction between how voters view their own congressman compared to how they view Congress as a whole. But even that favorable local feeling is dropping. A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showed a strong majority of voters want to clean house, including their own congressman.

Apparently public criticism is falling on deaf ears, and we hear nothing but excuses from the Republic-can’ts and the Demo-don’ts. There are tough decisions to be made regarding entitlement programs and raising revenues that require urgent action, that are getting little more than a wink and a nod from Washington. So it comes as no surprise to most of us that the favorable support of Congress continues to plummet.

Lobbyists rule the roost. They are there from the new congressman’s first day in office, and the solictitation of campaign funds -- the mother’s milk of political survival -- starts from day one. In my home state of Louisiana, newly elected Congressman Jeff Landry was the Tea Party’s poster boy for opposing the Washington culture of bowing to special interests. On election night, he told his followers that it’s going to be a new day in Washington, and “we need to get our country back on the right track.” Three weeks later, Landry was in the heart of Washington at the posh Capitol Hill Club on the hunt for Washington campaign dollars. So Landry’s two months away from being sworn into office, and he’s already asking for money from K Street lobbyists and other Washington power brokers.

A visit with Landry doesn’t come cheap. The “meet and greet” with the new Louisiana 3rd District Congressman is priced at $5,000 for the “PAC Gold Level; $2,400 for the individual Gold Level; $2,500 for the PAC Silver Level, and $1,000” just to get in the door. All of a sudden, just weeks after getting elected, many new congressmen like Landry find that Washington changed miraculously from a “cesspool” when they were campaigning, into a “hot tub” once they got elected. This is not a personal knock at Landry so much as an example of how “business is done” in Washington.

How can the system dispense with the influence of lobbyists? One suggestion, that I think makes sense, is to bring our congressmen home. The idea was shared with me this weekend on my “Common sense” radio show. My guest was Tea Party founder Jenny Beth Martin from Atlanta who was named by Time Magazine as the 15th most influential world leader of 2010. Jenny Beth simply wants to get Congress “out of Washington and back to the people.” She proposes that we use the new technology of telecommunications to create a “virtual Congress.”

The lady makes good sense. She says: “That way, elected officials would spend more time in their communities. Constituents should be the ones with fulltime access to their members of Congress, and lobbyists should be the ones forced to stand with their hats in their hands in order to gain access.” She further makes the point that if millions of Americans can telecommute, why can’t members of Congress attend committee meetings by video conference? If I can regularly Skype my grandkids, why can’t my congressman add the big screen to his or her office, tune in meetings, the go back to handling problems of constituents right out of the home district?

During the time following the American Revolution, it was necessary for the original Congress to meet under one roof. But why should a twenty-first century legislature be constrained by eighteenth-century technology? Why should congressional members have to rush away from their constituencies back to Washington just to cast votes? They belong in close proximity with those who elected them, not at high priced cocktail parties in Washington at the behest of rich special interest promoters.

As it is now, we might catch a glimpse of our members of Congress when they are interviewed on television. How refreshing it would be to see your congressman at various school events, or run into him or her at your local coffee shop. As Jenny Beth told me: “Back in their districts most of the time, these congressmen will be surrounded by skeptical constituents, rather than fawning supplicants. And they’ll continually have to justify any political decision they make that’s contrary to the will of the voters.”

There are a number of other proposals out there to make Congress more responsive to those who elected them. Texas Governor Rick Perry, during his short run for president, suggested a part time Congress. Term limits is an idea that continues to have high favorable support. Others are saying that congressional districts have grown too large, and more members of Congress should be added. All these ideas have merit.

But there’s nothing more important than reestablishing a closer relationship between the congressman and the people he or she represents. In the old days, it was called “retail politics.” A handshake and face to face interaction. Let a voter blow off steam, or bring up what could be a good idea.

There certainly is no patent for good “Common sense” emanating from Washington these days. So come back home, Congressman, and listen and learn from those who elected you. And maybe, just maybe, your popularity will rise above being a polygamist.


Members of Congress should be compelled to wear uniforms like NASCAR drivers, so we could identify their corporate sponsors. ~Caroline Baum

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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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Birth Control vs Freedom of Religion?

Thursday, February 16th, 2012
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


I’m confused about the controversy surrounding the debate over the President’s new birth control rule. Some religious leaders, especially U.S. Catholic Bishops, as well as a litany of republican politicians, have criticized the White House proposal that all health insurance plans have to offer birth control options. But is it the birth control requirement that has engendered so much animosity, or is really more an issue of government interference in church related policy? Is it pelvic politics or religious freedom?

The White House has offered a birth control alternative that allows a religious employer to decline contraception options, but requires that the employer’s insurance company make these same options available directly to the employee. If any employee of such an institution desires the birth control option, the insurance company has to supply it free of charge to the employee. But no service is free. Somebody has to pay for it. If the insurance provider cannot charge additional cost to the religious based plan, the new charges will end up being paid by the other policyholders buying health insurance. Like you and me. There’s no free lunch.

To say that a religious institution is not supplying contraceptives to their employees under such a plan is nothing more than an accounting gimmick. If you’re the boss and you make arrangements for your employees to be covered by some outside source, you’re the one making the decision. Call the process what you will, but under this new plan, religious institutions are not really exempt from the new federal rule.

So should any institution be exempt from the birth control rules? It may be reasonable, as a guideline for any future legal challenge, to consider the purpose of the institution. The mission of a church is to teach religion. Therefore, any employee of a church would come to work knowing that the focus of such a religious entity is to teach religious doctrine. And part of that doctrine may be the prohibition of contraception.

But the primary purpose of a hospital is healthcare. In my hometown of Baton Rouge, we are fortunate to have a first rate catholic hospital called, The Lady of the Lake. It is an outreach commitment of the Franciscan Missionaries. The medical care is excellent. I’ve visited The Lady of the Lake Hospital numerous times, and never once have I gotten the impression that there is an effort to spread catholic doctrine. The mission of Lady of the Lake and other religious affiliated hospitals I have visited is to provide healthcare.

Remember that these religious affiliated hospitals operate on more than just insurance and patient proceeds. In addition, Medicare, Medicaid, as well as federal, state and community grants, provide funds and are all from public resources. So with so much public money involved, how do you justify giving certain institutions exemptions from the rules? Shouldn’t there be uniformity where tax dollars are involved? If the rules are unfair, throw out the politicians who voted for and implemented such rules, and then lobby to change the rules for all.

Offering birth control to employees by any business, church related or not, is certainly not a new precept. The Wall Street Journal reported this week that, “Contraception is the single most prescribed medicine for women between 18 and 44 years old, and nine out of ten insurers and employers already cover it.” Twenty-eight states already have mandated the same contraception availability healthcare coverage that is proposed in the new federal plan.

The Guttmacher Institute, a non partisan research organization, released a study last year that concluded 98% of American Catholic Women have used artificial birth control. The Public Religion Research Institute reported last week that 52 % of Catholics back the new plan and believe that birth control should be part of any insurance option offered by Catholic universities and hospitals. So it would seem that a majority of Catholics oppose the special exemption from the new plan being demanded by Catholic institutions.

So now we continue down this “slippery slope.” I would doubt that Catholic bishops believe they alone are entitled to exemptions when their beliefs are at odds with public policy in regard to health care. So what about Christian Scientists who traditionally oppose medical procedures? And the Jehovah Witnesses who believe human blood transfusions are wrong.

Can Jewish orthodox businesses restrict what medical procedures their employees can receive? Can ultraconservative Muslim businesses demand that medical clinics be segregated by gender? Can certain treatments be banned from being offered to employees of exempted special groups? Does religious freedom mean that religious institutions have the right to restrict or interfere with public policy, in this case regarding healthcare?

The founders of our country felt quite strongly about the importance of the separation of the church and state. The government should not choose favorites, and allow religion to practice outside the constraints of public authority. But this separation works both ways. George Washington clarified this distinction by saying: “The United States should have a foundation free from the influence of clergy.”

Thomas Jefferson continued Washington’s dialogue by pointing out that there are obligations on both church and state to maintain responsible separation. “The United States government must not undertake to run the Churches. When an individual, in the Church or out of it, becomes dangerous to the public interest he must be checked.” What Jefferson is saying is that there are freedoms to believe and freedoms to act. There must be a fine, but firm line between supporting religious beliefs and protecting all citizens in an equal manner. According to our founders, it should be
a hard line to cross.


“The problem with writing about religion is that you run the risk of offending sincerely religious people, and then they come after you with machetes.” Humorist Dave Berry

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the South and on websites worldwide. 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, February 02, 2012

Why The Reluctance to Endorse?

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


Endorsements are coming right and left from major party officials in the Republican primary presidential race. Even so, The Wall Street Journal ran an opinion page column last week that concluded endorsements don’t make all that much difference in the final outcome. Nevertheless, the three current major Republican candidates continue to seek out anyone they can get to join their campaigns.

A number of evangelical Christian ministers have endorsed former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum. Newt Gingrich has picked up recent support from Herman Cain, who dropped out of the presidential race last month. Sarah Palin has given a wink and a nod to Gingrich. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has garnered the most endorsements and continues to be the front runner and gather momentum. But just as interesting is the list of major Republican heavyweights who are sitting on the sidelines.

Florida’s U.S. Senator Marco Rubio has close ties to both Romney and Gingrich, and finds himself in a political triangle. Going back as far as 2006, Gingrich has shared suggestions for Rubio’s book, 100 Innovative Ideas for Florida’s future. Romney perceptively endorsed Rubio for Senator in the early stages of his campaign when few gave the then Florida Speaker much of a chance. And though Rubio says he has no interest, both candidates have put him on their candidate for Vice President short list. So Rubio is playing it coy to shore up his options in this current campaign.

One of the most sought after endorsements is that of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. His father, the former president, has endorsed Romney, while his brother, also a former president, is officially staying neutral. Governor Bush may now be more inclined to endorse Romney following his big victory in Florida this week. However, Bush seems more interested in promoting his educational initiatives rather than in becoming involved in someone else’s presidential race.

Governor Bush rolled into my hometown of Baton Rouge this past Monday to speak at a conference on educational reform. But he didn’t just show up. An advance team was sent in three days ahead to plan the Governor’s itinerary. VIP receptions were arranged, with photo opportunities for the party faithful. A private jet delivered Bush and his traveling staff to Baton Rouge, and a contingent of security guards were in attendance as the Governor arrived and made his way to the podium. The only thing missing was Air Force One.

Until recently, many republicans were hoping that Bush would jump into the race for President. Some were even dreaming of a brokered convention, where no consensus occurs, and Bush would become the go to guy. Not likely. To many of the party faithful, there still is the stigma of the Bush name being associated with the failing economy and the Iraq War. But time passes and people forgive and forget. Four years from now, if President Obama is re elected, the timing could be just right for a third Bush to emerge. Jeb Bush would be just 62 when the next presidential election rolls around. I pressed the Governor on his future plans when we visited here in Baton Rouge, but he just smiled and talked about his education initiatives.

The Sarasota Tribune says Former first lady Laura Bush wishes there were one more candidate in the Republican presidential primary. Speaking to a sold-out audience in Sarasota on Wednesday, when asked if Jeb Bush will run for president someday, Laura Bush said, “George and I wish he would, we wanted him to this time.”

And then there is Louisiana Governor, Bobby Jindal. Many political prognosticators thought the second term Louisiana Governor made a big mistake when he early on endorsed Texas Governor Rick Perry for President. Perry quickly crashed and burned. But was Jindal also a loser? Hardly. He told any who inquired that Perry was a close friend, from a neighboring state that shares numerous issues along the gulf coast. Allies of the Louisiana Governor also point out that he built up some major IOUs in the second largest state in the nation, a state that generates big-time campaign contributions for someone who, say, might have an interest in a future presidential bid.

With Perry out of the race, Jindal, just like the Florida Governor, is withholding any endorsement. Interestingly, Jindal’s top adviser, former chief of Staff Timmy Teepell told a gathering of reporters that President Obama is well positioned for re election. “It’s going to be a much tougher battle than most people think for Republicans to beat Obama.”

So if Obama is reelected, the present bunch of candidates, most of whom are in there mid 60s or older, will be fading away. Jindal needs to chalk up some major state legislative successes to build a better campaign resume. But no close observer will be a bit surprised to see Bobby Jindal emerging early on as a top tier candidate in the next campaign. And guess what? That next presidential election is only 1730 days away.


“When I was a boy, I was told that anybody could be elected President. Now I’m beginning to believe it.” Clarence Darrow

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

And tune in to Jim’s NEW weeknight radio program, from 7:00 PM until 9:00 PM central time, Monday through Friday, on flagship station 1150-WJBO. You can listen live on the worldwide web at Jim will also host a special three hour show this Friday evening, February 3rd, from 5:00 PM until 8:00 PM central time, filling in for nationally renowned talk show host Jason Lewis over the Genesis Communications Network.

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