Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Should a Photo ID Be Required to Vote?

Thursday, August 29th, 2013
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


These guys at the Justice Department, led by top cop Eric Holder, just don’t know when to quit.  The U.S. Supreme Court knocks them down and they get right back up, snubbing their noses at a final court decision, and starting a new civil war with states nationwide.  It’s the voting rights challenge redux, with the same issues and the same fight that Holder and his team of lawyers have been undertaking for years. And in their quixotic efforts, once again, they are trying to paint the South as the bad guys.

It’s been less than two months since the Supremes issued their most recent voting rights decision that said the Justice Department could not continue to require special oversight mandated by The Voting Rights Act of 1965.  This law singled out a number of southern states requiring them to “pre-clear” any effort to change the voting laws in their respective states.  And I mean any changes.

If the state’s chief elections officer (a job I held as Secretary of State for Louisiana back in the 80s) wanted to change a voting precinct by a few yards, the state was required to go to the Justice Department to genuflect and ask for permission.  But that was then, and the high court finally said enough is enough.

Nevertheless, Holder and Company are trying to find other ways to skin the cat.  Right after high court’s statement, the Attorney General admonished: “We will not allow the Supreme Court's recent decision to be interpreted as open season for states to pursue measures that suppress voting rights.”  Right on, and most of us would agree.  But the proof is in the pudding.  Just what are discriminatory actions and new state laws the Justice Department interprets as needing their consent?

How about showing a photo ID when a registered voter goes to the polls?  Isn’t showing a government document with a photo a pretty basic requirement of daily life?  When you go to cash a check, “May I see a photo ID please.”  Getting ready to board a plane?  Photo ID required.  When I went to a video store recently to get a SpongeBob DVD for my a grandkid, what did they ask for?  A photo ID.

To fill a prescription my local pharmacist requires that I show an ID. An identification card with one’s picture has become a regular necessity.  So what’s the big deal about showing proof of who you are to participate in electing those who will control our lives in so many ways?

 No way, say those protectors of our constitutional rights.  From the way Holder and the many who disagree with the Supreme Court decision frame it, we are reverting back to the Jim Crow days with Bull Conner and his German Shepherds forcing voters away from the polls.  Requiring a voter to present a photo ID card is an issue of racism, they
say. We are setting back the voting rights of minorities by decades, and we’ll see a dramatic drop in voter participation, so say the Feds.

The Justice Department recently filed suit against Texas for the ID voting requirement, asserting that Hispanics and African-Americans are less likely to have required photo IDs.  Texas allows any type of government issued ID, including driver’s licenses, state issued ID cards, passports and handgun permits.  The Justice Department has threatened suits against North Carolina, Florida, and any other state that holds fast on an ID requirement.

In my home state of Louisiana, the Justice Department has demanded that the state hand over a host of confidential information that is required by state law to be kept secret, including a the social security numbers, date of birth and mother’s maiden name of some 3 million voters.  Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler calls it “data mining,” and labeled the effort “like Big Brother.”

So, are the thousands of voters who show up at the polls and fail to produce a photo ID being turned away or even being challenged?  No.  All these southern states allow “provisional ballots.”  In Louisiana, a voter who shows up at the polls with no picture ID merely has to sign an affidavit that states that the voter is, in fact, legally registered at that precinct.  That’s it.  When the voter first registers to vote, no photo ID is even required, and potential voters can register not only at the various clerk of court’s offices, but also at numerous other state offices including all social service locations.  A new voter can even register to vote online.  Could it be any easier for a new voter to register?

Let me share with you how difficult it used to be for me to vote in Louisiana when I served as Secretary of State, a job that included being the chief elections officer.  My hometown was Ferriday, Louisiana, which is about a 2-hour drive from the state capital in Baton Rouge.  The law at that time did not allow for absentee voting if the voter was in the state on Election Day.  But my job required that my office be open and that I be present to oversee the elections that were scheduled throughout the state. What was a conflicted public servant to do?

Each election day, I would rise at 3:30 am and head from my home in Baton Rouge to Ferriday.  My first stop was the local donut shop in Ferriday to pick up several boxes of hot donuts for the polling commissioners who were all old friends.  Then it was off to my polling location (ward 1, precinct 1) and I was waiting at the door at 6:00 am when the polls opened.  A quick visit, the casting of my vote, then hightailing it back to the state capitol to oversee the Election Day activities.  Now that, I think you will agree, is a major effort to cast a vote.

It’s so much easier to participate in our democratic process today.  Merely showing a picture ID seems like a small price to pay and a small effort to make.  The South, like the nation, has made huge strides since the initial voting rights act of 1965.  A politicized Justice Department does a disservice to the citizenry by challenging any state that adopts something so basic as requiring a simple photo ID to maintain the integrity of the democratic process.
“Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.”
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, August 22, 2013

Big Insurance Woes in the Bayou State!

August 23nd, 2013
New York, New York


In the movie Guys and Dolls, gambler Nathan Detroit (played by Frank Sinatra) says:  “How can it get any worse.  What more can you do to me?”  That’s what thousands of Louisiana property owners are saying about the state’s insurance climate for insuring their homes and businesses.  The cost of property insurance is skyrocketing and rates have become unaffordable.  And if a property owner is able to scrape up the spiraling yearly premiums, their claims are often not being paid.  People are moving out of Louisiana and fewer potential home and business owners are moving in. Outrageous insurance costs are one of the major reasons that growth is at a standstill.

I wrote about how projections of increasing premiums could, in some parts of the state, exceed 1000% in this column last week.  The national flood insurance program was re-authorized last year by congress and was given the authority to reduce subsidies to coastal states like Louisiana.  Apparently, coastal state members of congress failed to read the legislation, voted for it, and are now hollering for delays.

But that’s just one part of the problem.  Louisiana has the dubious distinction, year after year, of having the highest property insurance rates in the country.  Homeowners in the state pay an average of more than $1600.00 to insure a home, with much steeper rates throughout south Louisiana.  And the bugaboo that has caused so much damage to the state’s insurance climate is Citizens Property Insurance Company.  A Baton Rouge Business Report front-page headline called Citizens the “worst financial disaster in the last 100 years.”  Louisiana State Treasurer John Kennedy has echoed that view repeatedly and has called on the legislature to abolish it.

The contrarian view was recently offered by Insurance Department officials who, in a letter to the legislature, called the company “a model on the national stage.”  And they are right if you are searching for an example of dysfunction and incompetence.  Respected columnist James Gill, who has written for the state’s largest two newspapers, concluded, “the entire citizens insurance set up is straight out of Alice in Wonderland,” and warned property owners to “brace ourselves for disaster.”  Gill also pointed out that Citizens will pay out well over $100 million for delays in paying claims, and concluded that the Citizens board “seems determined to make plaintiff lawyers as rich as possible.”  Understandably, the Insurance Department did not share Gill’s opinion with Louisiana lawmakers.

A series of lawsuits going back to hurricane Katrina in 2005 are still hanging over Citizens’ head.  And new litigation claims are filed weekly.  With the deadline for the one-year prescription date of August 29th following Hurricane Isaac fast approaching, look for a flurry of suits to be filed within the next two weeks.  Last week, a Metairie homeowner sued Citizens for failing to cover some $73,000 in proven damages plus 50% in penalties following Hurricane Isaac.  Expect more suits to come.

The few defenders of the Citizens’ fiasco point out that Louisiana lies in hurricane alley, and that this exposure makes it necessary to set property rates higher than the rest of the country.  That would make sense if Louisiana were the only state facing hurricane threats.  But hurricanes have wreaked havoc on numerous states along the Gulf and East coasts.
Damage estimates, following Hurricane Sandy that hit the east coast last year, continue to grow and are approaching the $40 billion in insurance losses from Hurricane Katrina that devastated the Gulf coast back in 2005.  Florida, Texas and the entire Gulf coast face continuing threats, yet property owners in surrounding southern states pay significantly less than property owners in Louisiana.

So what should responsible legislators and insurance officials do to make a dent in the rising costs of property insurance in the Bayou State?  First, abolish Citizens.  It’s been a disaster from day one. And if it’s such a good idea as its defenders say, then why hasn’t any other state adopted the Louisiana approach? I have received calls from a number of other states seeking my opinion of the Citizens concept.  My answer?  Take a look but keep your guard up.  No other state even gave the idea a second look.

Florida has a similar state run company. But to back up all insurance companies operating in the state from a major disaster, they have created the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund.  The state has the largest exposure to hurricanes, by far, with 85% of its population living in close proximity to the coast.  The Florida fund recently reported that it’s in the best financial shape since it was created in 1993. A major Florida homeowner insurance company recently announced a 19% rate reduction.

Coastal states from Texas across the south and up the east coast all have nonprofit, state-supervised property agencies run by insurance companies operating in each state.  This system is similar to the plan that was in place before the Louisiana Legislature caused so much havoc by forming Citizens.  To make a comparison, the Texas plan is solvent and has money in the bank.  The Louisiana Citizens concept has a current debt of over $1 billion, and has just asked the state for permission to borrow another $100 million.  So the old plan has been working fine in a number of other states that have substantial funds held in reserve.  In Louisiana, the plan is dead broke.  It makes you wonder -- just who has this figured out right?

There are a number of ways to bring much more affordable insurance to Louisiana homeowners.  Other states have applied the old adage: “where there’s a will, there’s a way.”  For Louisiana state officials who could make a big difference in making insurance more affordable, it has become “we got lost along the way.”

“It’s not hurricanes that are causing high insurance rates, but bad public policy.”
Policy Analyst Michelle Minton

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers 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, August 15, 2013

Insurance for National Disasters Needed!

Thursday, August 15th, l29013
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


Property owners along the Gulf and East coasts are in a panic over projections of outrageous property flood insurance rates that, in some cases, could lead to increases of greater than 1000 per cent. Louisiana newspapers have reported proposed massive increases all over south Louisiana. The Lake Charles American Press reports that properties in suburban New Orleans could see rate increases going from $400 to $28,000 dollars.  Is that an exaggeration?  Yes.  Is there really a problem finding affordable flood insurance along America’s coasts? Yes, and a growing one.

The current national flood insurance program has been around since 1968.  Actually, it was created not so much because of hurricane damage, but due to widespread flooding along the Mississippi River in the early 1960s.  More and more levees were built up and down the river, which created major flooding in unprotected areas.  Private insurance companies could not handle the damage claims so the federal government stepped in.  The program was extended to cover hurricane damage along the Gulf Coast, and if a homeowner didn’t get flood insurance, they were unable to get their home financed.

A year ago, Congress reauthorized the national flood insurance program through 2017.  But in the process, a number of changes were made to make the program more financially sound.  Many states that had little or no flooding were becoming more outspoken about taxpayers all over the country picking up the tab for the coastal states that often flood.  Michigan Congresswoman, Candice Miller, who called for the program’s abolishment, was one of many outspoken critics. “The National Flood Program is a typical Washington boondoggle with an endless bureaucracy overseeing out of control spending.”  She went on to say that since 1978, Michigan’s claims have totaled $45 million, as compared with $106 billion in Louisiana.

The new program caused rates to skyrocket along the Gulf Coast. As one can well imagine, the Louisiana congressional delegation, along with similar delegations all along the Gulf and East coasts, are screaming to high heaven, and demanding that the new program be delayed for another year.  So how did all these members of congress, who are now in panic mode, vote on these increases last year?  Every member of the Louisiana delegation, and virtually every senator and congressman along both coasts, voted for the new program and the huge rate increases.  We often hear of how our representatives rarely read the laws they are voting for.  This is certainly a classic example.

Louisiana US Senator, Mary Landrieu, recently issued an email alert to her supporters saying: "For a year now, I've been leading the effort in Congress to stop flood insurance from rising out of reach for the average homeowner and business owner.”  Good to know Senator, but where was your concern last year when you voted to implement these high rate increases?

So far, about the only proposed solution is to delay the implementation of rate increases for a year. As Louisiana’s largest newspaper, The Time Picayune, lamented: “What is important at the moment is to slow things down so that homeowners aren't slammed by rates they cannot pay.”

But that’s only a temporary fix and little more than putting a finger in the dike.  A long-term solution needs to be put in place to solve this financial headache once and for all.

How do we begin to solve the affordability problem?  First of all, we need to recognize how vast this exposure for national disasters has become. I live in hurricane alley, and we all understand that hurricanes are a major part of the puzzle to be solved.  Hurricane Sandy, which devastated coastlines of New York and New Jersey, show that this is not just a regional problem. All coastlines are at risk.  Over half of all Americans live within 100 miles of the coast.

But hurricane protection is just one part of the problem.  Right now, as you are reading this, twelve Midwestern states are experiencing widespread flooding.  Torrential rains have unleashed a wave of damage that is wiping out thousands of homes.  Without flood insurance, they are out of luck.  And what about wildfires out west?  My weekend national radio program is heard in Banning, California (KMET-1490 AM), where the local Banning News reports a brutal fire season with over 4300 wildfires that has burned some 111 square miles or more than 71,000 acres.  Wildfires are a rampant and growing problem that needs a national insurance response. Then there’s the recent massive damage caused by tornados in Oklahoma, Alabama, Georgia, Kansas, and a host of other states.

Get my point?  Natural disasters happen all over America, and have increased way beyond the ability for state programs to be effective and affordable.  So has any plan been proposed which is encompassing, and yet affordable for homeowners that doesn’t use taxpayer dollars?  Yes.  A comprehensive proposal was unveiled back in May of 1995 at a catastrophe insurance conference held in New Orleans sponsored by the American Insurance Services Group.  The speaker to the thousand plus in attendance was a wet behind the ears insurance commissioner from Louisiana.  “The proposal calls for a Natural Disaster Insurance Corporation (NDIC) that would sell disaster reinsurance for residential and commercial properties while also providing primary coverage for residential properties,” he told the crowd.

Yes, I’m the culprit.  I went on to tell the group that, “if a major hurricane strikes New Orleans, it could put 26 feet of water in the downtown area and cause insurance losses greater than $26 billion.”  That’s right on the money as to what happened during Hurricane Katrina ten years later.  I concluded by saying: “We are going to have a huge problem with catastrophic insurance losses all over America if we don't get a national disaster program in place.”

I testified a few months later before a Senate panel in Washington on Senate Bill 1350.  Private insurance would take a small portion of its premiums and contribute to a state fund.  The state fund would then be backed up by a national fund.  The national fund could borrow to pay for any shortfall, but no federal tax dollars would be involved.  Each state could buy in and have a rate set according to the risk.  Hurricane prone states like Louisiana would pay in more than a state like North Dakota that experiences much less in natural disaster damage.  The U.S. Senate adopted my proposal, but the legislation became hung up and died in the U.S. House of Representative’s.  That was the plan then. And the good news is that a number of states are coalescing around this same plan now following the devastation of Hurricane Sandy.

It’s taken almost 20 years, but it looks like it could be the right time for problem solving.
It’s just not a handout for the coastal states.  The whole country will benefit.  And at a price that’s affordable.  We certainly cannot be any worse off than we are now.

“Do you know what happens when you give a procrastinator a good idea? Nothing!”

Donald Gardner

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, August 07, 2013

Liberty vs Security. Can We Have Both?

Thursday, August 8th, 2013
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


A few weeks ago, I began to think we had given up.  There were new revelations, almost daily, about how some government agency is scooping up and harvesting all available tidbits of our personal lives.  We’ve all heard about the usual suspects -- the NSA, GSA, DOS, DOE, IRS, FEC, DEA, FBI, DOD, USPS, and how federal agencies know everything from your current shoe size to your last flirtatious email or phone call.

The Internet makes it so easy for government agencies to find out everything about you.  That was the conclusion of a new book I read over the weekend.  In Digital Disconnect, Robert McChesney writes: “The domination of the Internet by a handful of monopolists, as well as the emerging cloud structure of the Internet, is perfect for the government. It need deal with only a handful of giants to effectively control the Internet.”

It’s like one stop shopping. One letter to your telecommunications company from the FBI or the NSA, and voilà, your life becomes an open book for a litany of governmental information trackers who say that they are looking for the terrorist needle in a haystack.  Unfortunately, the whole nation of more than 300 million citizens has become their haystack.

Sure, we all agree that in this new world of digital technology, the definition of just who are the real threats to our security, and how we defend ourselves has changed.  But do we just ignore constitutional guarantees for the sake of security?  Does the fourth amendment mean anything anymore?  Has it become irrelevant, and is it being ignored on a daily basis?  Americans want to feel safe and secure, but they should want accountability and some understanding of how the security system works.

Instead, congress has allowed the National Security Administration to operate in complete secrecy, not even telling members of congress how they operate.  The NSA has a secret budget, operates under a secret law, with a secret court system.  The President has apparently authorized his operatives to secretly follow his secret interpretation of the law.  The Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court appoints the secret court.  So with congress standing passively on the sidelines, in dereliction of their duty, demanding no oversight -- we have all three branches of government in collusion to hide the entire process from the American people.  We have allowed these constructors of this secret process to put in place a truly Orwellian apparatus for spying on the entire nation.

It’s as if America’s world today has morphed into Kafka’s world of The Trial.  “It's in the nature of this judicial system that one is condemned not only in innocence but also in ignorance. Where was the judge you’ve never seen? Or was it High Court you never reached?”

James Madison is considered to be the father of our Constitution, and he expressed deep concern for the vast accumulation of governmental power.  In the Federalist Papers, Madison wrote: “The accumulation of all powers legislative, executive and judiciary in the same hands, whether of one, a few or many, and whether hereditary, self appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.”  Are we approaching that definition in America today?

If we honestly thought that that the gathering of these gazillions of electronically created messages could stop a terrorist, many of us would be more reconciled to giving up some of our privacy.  But outside of a few vague hints of discovering danger, the Obama Administration has failed to point to any specific threats that have been identified.  And there have been continuing examples of our security system dropping the ball on leads that fell right in their laps.

In the case of the Boston bombers, the FBI received not one, but two direct calls from Russian security agencies warning about the potential dangers of the two brothers born in the Russian province of Kyrgyzstan.  The warnings were ignored, and we know the tragic results.  Basic gumshoe police work and the following up on the electronic data of those who were suspect would have averted this catastrophe.

Fox news commentator Judge Andrew Napolitano put it this way.  “Would we all be safer if the feds could knock down any door they wished and arrest any person they choose?  Who wants to live in such a society?  What value is the Constitution if those in whose hands we have reposed it for safekeeping are afraid to do so?”

Can we have it both ways… living safely yet freely?  Yes, but there has to be more trust. Many Americans don’t sense that trust by those in Washington who are supposed to be leading.  Tell us the dangers and put forth a well thought out plan to protect the nation.

Most Americans know that freedom and security are not mutually exclusive.  A democratic zeal to live freely challenges Americans to defend its liberties in many ways.  And that means some compromise in defending our inalienable right to be free. There is a balance for our leaders to find.  Right now, they have a good ways to go.

“Liberty and good government do not exclude each other; and there are excellent reasons why they should go together.”  Lord Acton -- 1877
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