Thursday, February 28, 2013

Shotguns and Insurance Solve Gun Problem?

March 1st, 2013
St. John, The Virgin Islands


The ongoing gun debate had two new elements added to the mix this past week.  Vice President Joe Biden suggested that a shotgun was all any individual needed for self-protection. And several states proposed legislation that would to require gun owner’s insurance for anyone possessing a firearm.  Do either of these proposals make sense?

Here is what the Vice President suggested in a Town Hall meeting sponsored by Parents Magazine:  “If there are bad guys on the property, walk out on the balcony and fire a couple blasts from their double-barrel shotgun. You don't need 30 rounds to protect yourself," he adds, “and a shotgun's easier to aim than an assault-style rifle. Plus, two shotgun blasts should scare off most intruders,” Biden says.

Is he right?  Maybe, maybe not.  Let me share a personal experience.  Back in the 1970s, I lived out in the country on a long gravel road in a rural part of Northeast Louisiana.  The closest law-enforcement station was 30 miles away, and there were no neighbors close by.

I was home alone, one evening, and it was little after midnight when I thought I saw a faint flickering of light the through the trees.  I got out of bed, and went out on the porch (as the Vice President suggested) for better view, and a yes, I could see several lights on my property, about 100 yards away.  I stood there, watching for a few minutes. Then the lights disappeared.  I called the local sheriff’s office, knowing that it would be a good while before the deputy could be on the scene. Were they approaching the house? I had no idea.  But not wanting to be on the defensive in my own home, I decided to go outside.

Armed with a rifle and a 10 round clip, a semi automatic 9mm pistol, and a spotlight, I slipped out the back door, made a wide circle from the back of my house, and made a rear approach to the area I thought the lights had come from.  Two trucks were parked side by side, and I could hear low voices. 

I anchored the spotlight on a tree limb, and reeled out the cord to a spot some twenty yards away.  I didn’t want to be near the light if shots were fired.  After a few deep breaths, I flipped on the light, fired four shots into the air, and yelled a stream of obscenities.  The two trucks immediately backed up and hightailed off my property. 

An hour later, local Sheriff Buddy Schiele made it to the house and told me that his deputies had stopped the two trucks with four hunters who were illegally hunting deer at night.  They had parked on my property, apparently with plans to walk over an adjoining levee in hopes of finding a deer.  No harm done, but until that moment, I had no way of knowing whether these were bungling trespassers, or bad guys with malicious intentions.
The point of my story?  A shotgun with two shells would certainly not ward of four potential thugs who might have been after more than a deer. I would have been put at great personal risk with just the shotgun.  No Mr. Vice President, you need more in a rural setting when you have only yourself to put up any defense.

How about the proposal to force every gun owner to buy liability insurance?  After all, if you drive a car, you are required by every state in the U.S. to have liability insurance.  So, if drivers have to have auto insurance, why shouldn’t gun owners have to have gun owner’s insurance?

First of all, courts nationwide have determined that driving is a privilege. And not a (second amendment) right as defended by gun owners.  A driver is generally on a public highway, built with taxpayer funds, and the “rules of the road” require liability insurance.  It should be pointed out that a driver is not required to have either a driver’s license or insurance if the vehicle is driven on private property.  I taught my kids and assorted nieces and nephews to drive at our family camp in rural Louisiana, where they could practice on dirt roads.  No license or insurance necessary.

Based on my experience as a former Louisiana insurance commissioner, I can also tell readers that the cost of such proposed gun liability insurance would not come cheap.  New York is presently considering in their legislature a proposal to require every gun owner to have a minimum of $1 million in liability coverage.  I have not sat down with insurance actuaries to figure out specifically what the premium would be, but I would estimate that a gun-owner is looking at a minimum of $2000 a year to pay for such insurance.  The insurance premium could be significantly more for someone living in the inner city.  Such a cost would price the ownership of a gun outside the reach of the average citizen.

Unless the activity to be insured is considered a privilege, then there is no requirement or a "right" to insure any object or undertaking.  I did not have to insure my house, but it just makes good financial sense to do so.  There is no requirement that an individual have life insurance. One makes such a choice to protect their loved ones when they die.  Many people have general liability insurance coverage on any activity that might subject them to a lawsuit.  That would include protection against a lawsuit involving a gun accident. But purchasing such insurance is not mandatory.  It’s a choice.

In the months to come, numerous ideas will be floated in an effort to regulate gun ownership. Certainly there are some people who should not be in the possession of a gun.  But allowing only two shotgun shells, and requiring mandatory gun insurance are not reasonable, much less practical, limitations that should be placed on law-abiding citizens.  The issue is not about hunting. In the face of violent criminal threat, your weapon and your wits may be all you have to protect yourself.


“Democracy is two wolfs and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch.  Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.”          Benjamin Franklin,   1759

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation 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

Friday, February 22, 2013

Wall Street Banks Too Big to Jail?

Friday, February 22st, 2013
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


After years of financial chicanery, federal prosecutors have decided that Wall Street manipulators are both too big to fail, and too big to jail.  The most recent culprit, in what seems to be a conspiracy to “go soft” on financial shenanigans, is the British owned bank, HSBC, that was granted a criminal reprieve and monetary slap on the wrist for confecting the largest drug and terrorism money laundering scheme in U.S. history.  To give the aura of being tough on crime, the Justice Department levied a fine of $1.9 billion, which amounts to about five weeks of profit for this international bank for highly suspect, if not outright criminal actions, quite possibly extending as far back as 2001.

HSBC is far from the only bank guilty of such deplorable dealings.  There has been a pattern of the largest banks on Wall Street engaging in the most relentless and irresponsible behavior – and this has undermined the entire U.S. financial system.  At a U.S. Senate hearing in Washington last week, Senator Elisabeth Warren from Massachusetts confronted bank regulators and ask if they could identify any example of Wall Street bankers being criminally charged and taken to trial.  The regulators could only say:  “We will get back to you.”

Financial columnist Matt Taibbi concluded in a recent column:  “Nobody goes to jail. This is the mantra of the financial–crisis era, one that saw virtually every major bank and financial company on Wall Street embroiled in obscene criminal scandals that impoverished millions and collectively destroyed hundreds of billions, in fact, trillions of dollars of the world’s wealth – and nobody went to jail.  Not a single executive who ran the companies that cooked up and cashed in on the phony financial boom has ever been convicted.”

In the case of HSBC, it was the financial lapdog for a number of Mexican drug cartels, many of whom were suspected in thousands of murders during the past decade.  The bank also had ties and handled money exchanges for groups linked to Russian gangsters, Hezbollah, Iran, North Korea and Al Qaeda.  This was not your friendly, local neighborhood bank.  So why wasn’t the bank and key employees charged with assorted federal crimes?

Simply put, the Justice Department decided to go soft.  After all, according to the Feds, the whole future of the world economy was at stake. “Had the US authorities decided to press criminal charges, HSBC would almost certainly have lost it's banking license in the U.S., the future of the institution would have been under threat and the entire banking system would’ve been destabilized.”  That according to the Justice Department press conference to announce the fine, but no charges.  So the whole world-banking pyramid could collapse?  Over one bank?  Yeah, right!

As Rolling Stone magazine points out: "At HSBC, the bank did more than avert its eyes to a few shady transactions. It repeatedly defied government orders as it made a conscious, year-long effort to completely stop discriminating between illegitimate and legitimate money.  And when it somehow talked the US government into crafting a settlement over these offenses with the lunatic aim of preserving the bank’s license, it succeeded, finally, in making crime mainstream.”

It’s not just the banks getting off with a slap on the risk when it comes to their criminal behavior.  The bailouts just won’t go away.  The federal government paid out billons of dollars just five years ago purportedly to keep the big banks afloat.  Insurance giant AIG, which is supposedly regulated by state insurance commissioners, is back on the financial scene in a bitter dispute involving more bailouts.  The taxpayers bailed out AIG to the tune of some $200 billion, and ongoing efforts to recoup much of the money have been stymied by the New York Fed.

The financial crash in 2008 was triggered by AIG’s selling of credit default swaps that were supposed to be regulated by state insurance departments.  But again, AIG was one of these “too big to fail” Wall Street icons, so state regulators turned a blind eye, and let this feckless and arrogant company continue to spread it’s toxic insurance derivatives throughout the financial marketplace.

In an effort to recoup some of the losses, AIG is being pushed to bring legal action against the Bank of America, one of the recipients of over $l5 billion in bailout money.  And although AIG would seem to have a valid claim and a solid lawsuit, the New York Fed has let Bank of America off the hook.

Here is what Ohio U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, a member of the Senate Banking Committee(and a former colleague of mine when we both served as Secretaries of State) had to say about the actions of the New York Fed on blocking the law suit: “New York Fed’s behavior in this case underscores that the more we learn about these bailouts, gifts and advantages that Wall Street gets, the clearer it becomes that one set of rules applies to the largest megabanks and another set of rules to the smaller financial institutions and the rest of the country.”

At the federal and state levels, the regulators and prosecutors seem to be intimidated, even afraid to prosecute the very powerful.  So we have two classes.  One class that can be arrested for even the most minor of crimes, and the other class whose members are above the law. Time and again during the countries’ financial meltdown in 2008 and the aftermath that continues today, the barons of Wall Street can flaunt their noses at the law and continue to reap huge bonuses with taxpayer dollars.

As my local banker friend, Preston Kennedy in Zachary, Louisiana told me, the answer is simple. “The solution demands the political will to break up these greedy and corrupt giants that threaten to engulf the financial system.”  He’s right.  But does congress have the will?


Greed is good.”  Gordon Gekko

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation 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

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Major Challenges for Next Pope!

Friday, February 14th, 2013
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


For most non-Catholics, the retirement and resignation of Pope Benedict XVI is of passing interest. I’m not Catholic, but the Catholic Church has played a significant role in my life for many years.  So the next pope, and his response to those who are calling for a number of epochal changes in church doctrine, is of major interest to me. With a new pope coming in, is this the time to initiate a new consideration of changes in the Catholic Church? 

I was married in the church, and my three daughters were baptized by Bishop Charles Greco, the late and beloved Patriarch of the central and north Louisiana parishes.  When my children were quite young, we spent a number of winter weekends with Bishop Greco at a family hunting and fishing camp on Davis Island, in the middle of the Mississippi River, some 30 miles below Vicksburg. On most of these occasions, the only people there were my family and Bishop Greco. And he did love to hunt deer.
On many a cold and rainy morning, a 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 out there, in the woods. And even though I was not Catholic, he treated me as one of his own.  After hunting, the Bishop would patiently sit for hours and answer my barrage of questions about the history and the relevancy of the Catholic Church.
During the years I practiced law in Ferriday, Louisiana, Father August Thompson became a mentor and good friend. He urged me to actively become involved a number of social issues within the community, and his urgings eventually led me to run for public office and to being elected a Louisiana State Senator.
Father Chris Naulty, now pastoring in New Orleans, toured our family through the Vatican, even taking us down under St. Peter’s to the historic catacombs, and opened my eyes to the vast history of the Church and to the influence of Catholicism world wide.  In my hometown of Baton Rouge, Fathers Miles Walsh and Cleo Milano are my sparring partners when I raise questions about the future direction of the church.  Father Miles pastors at Lady of Mercy, which is close to my home.  The Church has a marvelous adoration chapel that is open 24 hours a day.  It’s my resting place for meditation and solitude several times a week.

As an observer of the church hierarchy, I have viewed Pope Benedict as an interim leader, who was 78 year old when he became pope, and who mainly held the line on much strife within the church.   During Pope Benedict’s reign, voices of moderation or change were challenged or generally ignored.  Catholics worldwide want more openness, more discussion and better communication.  As Billy Joel sang about the church: “Virginia, they didn’t give you quite enough information.”

The new pope will have to confront the issue of a dwindling number of priests to minister to a flock of over one billion Catholics.  The problem has become especially acute in the U.S., where the average age of a priest has risen from 35 in 1970 to 63, today.  More than 27% of parishes do not even have a resident priest.

What about priests being allowed to marry?  There is nothing in the bible that prohibits it.  In the Eastern orthodox Catholic Church, priests can be married.  A married Episcopal priest who converts to becoming a catholic priest can stay married. Peter, the first pope, and the apostles that Jesus chose were, for the most part, married. The Oxford Dictionary of Popes reports, “for the first 1200 years of the Church’s existence, priests, bishops and 39 popes were married.

Women joining the priesthood, an increasing responsibility for nuns including the offering of the Sacraments, facing up to the sex abuse scandals, allowing for more evangelical services that are not as strong on ritual -- all are issues that have a growing constituency that will require attention and reasonable understanding by the new pope.

Will the next pope shake off the shackles of strong traditional ritual and the inflexibility of the past?  Will the new leader allow and encourage modernization?  Father Eduardo de la Serna, an Argentine priest, wrote this week in a Buenos Aires daily:  “I dream of a pope free from the titles of nobility, of crowns, of palaces. I dream of a pope who presents himself as everyone's brother.”

Will the Catholic Church adapt as the world around it changes?  Non-Catholics like me, who have strong feelings for the church, will be on the sidelines.  But we will be watching and hoping for a strong progressive new leader.

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation 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

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

The Push Behind Immigration Reform!

Thursday, February 7th, 2013
New York, New York


Immigration reform is back on the front burner as a major issue in Washington, and the Republicans are taking the lead.  When Senator John McCain was asked why Republicans were actively joining Democrats in a bipartisan effort to legalize millions of illegal immigrants, McCain forthrightly replied:  “Simple.  Elections -- the Republican Party is losing the support of Hispanics.”  In other words, principal has gone by the wayside, and politics is the driving force to survive and succeed in the nations’ capitol.
What happened to the laws on the books concerning illegal immigration?  When you break into my home, you are committing a crime.  But when you break into my country, it has become, to our leaders in Washington, merely an embarrassing inconvenience.   Republicans are now throwing in the towel, and giving up on seeing that current law is enforced.  Has it become OK to set aside the law and ignore its violation for political purposes?  It would appear so.
And what’s all this stuff about “undocumented workers?”  The lead Republican in this effort to legalize those who have illegally entered the United States is Florida’s Senator Marco Rubio.  He conveniently refers to these illegals as “individuals who are living in the United States without proper immigration documents.”   That’s like saying that your local drug dealer is in possession of large amounts of cocaine, but just forgot to get a doctor’s prescription.
Deleted from the new bipartisan rhetoric is the word “amnesty.”  Neither party wants to own up to the fact that a blanket exoneration is given to 11 million illegals who will now receive instant legal status.  Republicans and Democrats, alike, vehemently deny that amnesty will take place under the new proposed plan.  That’s because illegals will have to get in line for both a green card and citizenship after paying a fine and back taxes.  Come on now. That’s about as close to amnesty as you can get. Does it make it any less so because you refuse to call it that?
Senator Charles Schumer makes no bones about what he thinks the new proposal will mean:  “On Day One of our bill, the people without status [i.e., illegal immigrants] who are not criminals or security risks will be able to live and work here legally.”  So probationary legal status becomes automatic.  The hundreds of thousands foreigners who also want to obtain legal status and have been following the specific laws on the books, and who have been on a waiting list for years, will find themselves in a secondary status.  The new message is that if you come in illegally, you get to jump to the head of the line.
What about the idea that a “path to citizenship” must be cleared for this large reservoir of illegals to move towards becoming Americans?  Do the undocumented want one?  Boston College immigration expert Peter Skerry points out that “a quarter century after the 1980s amnesty, only 41% of the nearly 2.7 million individuals who became legal permanent residents had gone on to exercise the option to naturalize. In other words, when offered the chance to become citizens, the overwhelming majority of the undocumented have settled for less.”
Many proponents will argue that these illegals are filling open jobs for farm labor, as well as domestic and construction jobs that are available.  But does one have to be a lawbreaker to perform these tasks?  There are millions of non-citizens who have skills and want to come to the U.S. legally.  If the country has a need for skilled and unskilled workers that cannot be filled by U.S. citizens, than certainly open up the doors.  But do so for those who want to enter the U.S. legally and obey the law.
Then there’s the fairness issue.  Many illegals crossed into the U.S., smuggling in their very young children with them.  These young illegals grew up in the U.S., and they know of no other country or language.  Certainly it doesn’t seem fair that these kids are burdened with their illegal status through no fault of their own. But do you blame U.S. citizens for the poor decision-making on the part of the parents who broke the law?  The parents of such children will argue that they were only trying to make a better life for their kids. This is certainly a noble goal. But U.S. families have to make sacrifices and difficult choices in order to help their families, too. The difference is that they do this lawfully.  There are consequences and risks when the law is broken. These parents who entered the country illegally put their children at such risk.
Perhaps Congress can work out some exceptions in the face of important needs and right now the U.S. volunteer army is significantly shorthanded.  Women are being called into combat.  There may be place for those who want to become citizens to go to the front of the pack by volunteering to serve in the armed services for 3 to 5 years.
Cynics might point out that Republicans are stirring up a hornet’s nest that they may well come to regret.  Hispanics overwhelmingly supported Barack Obama and Democrats across the country in both state and national elections.  As editors of the National Review pointed out this week: “Take away the Spanish surname and Latino voters look a great deal like many other Democratic constituencies.  Low–income households headed by single mothers and dependent on some form of welfare are not looking for an excuse to join forces with the likes of Republican Paul Ryan.”
Any thoughts that an amnesty proposal will bring Hispanics into a growing GOP tent seems to be little more than wishful thinking.  Republicans never had a significant Latino vote, and won’t in the immediate future.  The John McCains of the congress need to put partisan opportunities aside and build election victories on principals, not politics.
“All the problems we face in the United States today can be traced to an unenlightened immigration policy on the part of the American Indian.”

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation 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