Wednesday, February 26, 2014

I'll Take Baseball Over Politics!

Thursday, February 27th, 2014
Tampa, Florida
Just what is America’s favorite pastime? Is it politics or baseball? Politics has always been a major spectator sport, particularly here in my home state of Louisiana. But don’t sell baseball short. Not only has baseball been around longer than any of America’s professional team sports, the game’s highs and lows have been injected in national politics almost from the sport’s inception.
Now I’m a diehard baseball fan. I grew up in St. Louis, and lived next door to the general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, the great former Cardinals shortstop Marty Marion. I was in his box the Sunday afternoon back on May 2, 1954, when Stan the Man Musial hit five home runs on the same day in a doubleheader. All this week, I’m in Tampa, Florida for spring training and will watch five major league ballgames, including a trip to the home stadium of my perennial favorite, the New York Yankees.
The problems of major league baseball have often served as a mirror image of the problems facing America. Its history is both a reflection of this country’s fears and ignorance, and its hopes and promises. Like almost any other cultural phenomenon of such prominence, baseball has served as solace and as a poke to our conscience.
In 1948, the major leagues faced the problem of segregation earlier than the politicians in Washington DC did.  Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers, and won the rookie of the year award in his first season. It took court cases and sit-ins to get the attention of our political representatives to follow suit. Today, the use of steroids and other performance enhancing drugs undermines the image of baseball players as wholesome examples for American youth, and is the focus of an investigation in the nation’s capital, with the possibility of its legislation.
A few years back, the Tampa Bay Rays were the Cinderella team that went from “worst to first,” winning the American League pennant. Maybe it has something to do with their name. They used to be called the “Devil Rays” and their record was terrible. As soon as they dropped the word “Devil,” they became victorious overnight. Is it baseball pure and simple, or is the Religious Right involved?
Maybe it’s impossible to get away from campaigns and politics by focusing on spring training in baseball, but I’m going to give it a shot.  The Fox network will carry many major league games this season. You know -- as in “Fox News.” In the National League, everyone, even the pitchers, get an equal chance to bat. Will Fox say that the National Leaguers are socialists?  Will their commentators argue they should call some home runs out if they are too far to the left?  And I guess you can’t blame the Democrats from bemoaning that every time someone steals a base, they get reminded of the 2000 presidential election.
There is also a lesson to be learned from Babe Ruth as congress considered limiting executive pay and bonuses of corporations who received bailout money. When the Babe was asked how he could justify making more money than the President, he shrugged off the question by answering, “I had a better year.”
I suppose one of the biggest differences between these two spectator sports is the sense of optimism that baseball brings every spring. The crack of the bat, a pop fly against a blue sky, and the green grass seem to offer a sense of renewal. It harkens back to the essence of youth and heroes of the past, and you feel that almost anything is possible in the coming season.  But in today’s political climate, there is little thought of great statesmen and principled political figures.  Political courage today is too often defined by poll watching and sticking a wet finger to the wind.
So when the TV remote offers a choice of politics or baseball, I’ll choose the great American pastime.  It’s baseball hands down. See you next week back in Louisiana.
The difference between politics and baseball is that in baseball,
when you are caught stealing, you’re out.”
Ron Dentinger

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 19, 2014

Blame It All on the Lawyers!

Thursday, February 20th, 2014
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


When political courage wanes and politicians, often in desperation, search for a quick fix to age old problems, particularly as election times draws near, these men (and a few women) of supposed courage often seek out a scapegoat to blame. “Passing the buck” on someone else is standard operating procedure in the halls of congress as well as the state legislature in Baton Rouge. This is particularly true in dealing with the fact that Louisiana has the highest automobile insurance rates in America, and has for years.

The legal profession has always been an easy mark for the blame. Many people agree with Shakespeare when he said, “the first thing you do is to kill all the lawyers.”  Now barristers in the Bayou State have become the whipping boys by insurance officials and a few legislators, in efforts to divert attention from their own ineptitude of failing to address the real causes for high insurance rates in Louisiana.

Of course there is a great need to address the high coast of auto rates.  Louisiana has led the nation for the past ten years in having the most expensive costs that have made insurance unaffordable for many drivers.  Consumer advocacy website NerdWallet found that drivers in the New Orleans area pay an average auto premium of $4,309.61 a year.

This week, insurance officials announced that, voila-they had found the quick fix that will cause the cost of insurance for Louisiana drivers to plummet.  Simply put, blame it on the lawyers.  That’s right.  Greedy lawyers are working in concert with cooperating judges to see that plaintiffs who are injured in auto accidents get big verdicts.  According to this questionable reasoning, juries will be much more sympathetic to big insurance companies.

In Louisiana, any lawsuit with an award that can exceed $50,000 requires a jury trial, unless both sides agree otherwise. A few legislators and insurance officials, who more often than not dance to the tune of the insurance industry, want to allow jury trials in all litigated cases.  The problem for those who are injured and decide to sue, is that they face drastically higher costs, which have to be paid up front.  Insurance company attorneys can beat them down with piles of motions all related to picking a jury.

Anderson Cooper on CNN has done a series of reports (all available on line) about how the nation’s top auto instance companies purposely drag out jury trials in an effort to wear down -- financially and physically -- those damaged in auto accidents.  Many insurance departments turn the other way to this calculated effort by the insurance industry to lessen the amount they have to pay out.

Insurance companies that operate in Louisiana are making big profits.  One recent headline in Bloomberg News read: “State Farm Profit Surges to $3.21 billion as ClaimsDrop.”  Did you get that headline?  “Profit Surges…Claims Drop!” State Farm is Louisiana’s largest insurance company, and it pays their CEO $10 million a year.  So how did the company react to the news of surging profits?  They raised their rates on Louisiana insureds by 3.4%.

Notice that I said they raised their rates.  In most states, insurance companies have to submit rate increases to the insurance department for prior approval.  Bloomberg Business week reported recently that in California, auto insurance rates went down.  Why? Consumer groups point to a voter proposition that required all rate increases to be approved by state regulators.  So when insurance companies are allowed to raise their own rates without pre-approval, like in Louisiana, rates go up.  When pre-approval is required, rates are much less than in the Bayou State.

Allstate, Louisiana’s second largest auto insurance company, was the focus of an investigative series in the Houston Chronicle, where the company was accused of a “carefully drafted plan to deny, evade and delay paying claims.”  The investigation concludes that “the good hands people have put on the boxing gloves, and we’re the punching bag.”  No comment, action, or investigation came from Louisiana insurance officials.

In summary, legislators and insurance officials have turned a blind eye to a variety of problems in the auto insurance field that have caused Louisianans to pay the highest rates in the nation.  Much easier to just blame the lawyers.

Worst drivers in the nation as reported by It’s the fault of the lawyers.

Rampant drunk driving where drivers have recently been cited for 7th and 8th DWIs?  Those darn lawyers.

Louisiana has one of the nation’s highest number of uninsured drivers, many who are illegal immigrants.  Laws on the books require that cars of uninsured drivers be impounded, laws that are rarely enforced.  Heck, has to be the lawyers.

Forbes Magazine reports that Louisiana is a bottom level state for infrastructure -- bad roads and poor safety.  Got to be the fault of the lawyers.

Catch my drift?  There are a barrel of reasons why Louisiana leads the nation in high auto insurance rates.  It’s going to take a concentrated effort by legislators, the governor and insurance officials to put a comprehensive program in place that will cause rates to go down.  Looking for quick fixes by blaming lawyers, judges or any one group is disingenuous and will do little to address what has become a financial crisis for many drivers in Louisiana.  Much more needs to be done.


“Both terrorism and insurance sell fear -- and business is business”
          Liam McCurry

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  (F)

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Needs to Be a Better Way to Pick Judges!

Thursday, February 13th, 2014
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


Last week’s column discussed the election of judges and the undue influence of campaign funds.  A number of responses suggested doing away with judicial elections, and following the federal path of presidential appointment.  But is the appointive process really better than electing judges?  Do citizens get better choices and more competent jurists? Not the way the system works at the federal level.

First of all, presidents do not really choose federal judges outside of the Supreme Court.  At the district court and court of appeals levels, the president, as a general rule, defers to the choice of the state’s U.S. senators.  If the president is a democrat, the democratic senator in the home state of the proposed appointee makes the recommendation.  So to qualify in most states as a federal judge, it’s not what you know but whom you know.

There are no better examples of rank political persuasions over judicial choices than right here in my home state of Louisiana.  As quoted in last week’s column, Huey Long said it best: “I’m all for appointin’ judges as long as I can do the appointin.”  Cronyism has been the deciding factor in a number of federal appointees to the bench.

At the court of appeals level, incompetent judges have sparked a wave of concern and criticism.  Because the U. S. Supreme Court is hearing fewer cases as each year goes by, the federal court of appeals is the last vestige of hope for any effort to overturn a lower court decision.  Out of more than 10,000 appeals filed last year at the nation’s highest court, only 65 were even considered.  The action is at the court of appeals level.  And hands down, the worst such court in the nation sits right there in New Orleans.

If you have any doubt of this, google the U.S. Fifth Circuit, and you’ll see these headlines pop up:

Fifth Circuit Covers Up Serious Judicial Misconduct
Another Conflict of Interest Uncovered on the Fifth Circuit
Judicial Diva Gone Wild?  Chief Judge Tells Fellow Judge to “Shut Up.”
Chief Judge Attacks Fellow Judge
Judge Clement Makes Friends with Big Oil
Pattern of Misconduct Demands Full Investigation of Fifth Circuit Judge

These are just some of the most recent headlines.  Similar conflicts and personal vendettas have been going on at the Fifth Circuit Court for years. The Fifth Circuit regularly leads all appeals courts throughout the country in its decisions being over turned by the U.S. Supreme Court.  In an exposé of the Fifth Circuit’s recent rulings, the Times Picayune quoted both Justices on the Supreme Court as well as prominent law professors who regularly lambasted verdicts handed down in New Orleans.  University of Houston law professor David Dow said it seems clear that the Supreme Court “has lost confidence in the Fifth Circuit’s handling of capital cases.”  And retired Justice Sandra Day O’Conner was equally blunt in criticizing the Fifth Circuit saying it was “paying lip service to principles of jurisprudence, and that often the Fifth’s reasoning “has no foundation in the decisions of this court.”

It’s a shame for those who have to deal with the Fifth Circuit that its standing is so soiled, and that the reputation of some of its members has degenerated to the point of such serious criticism.  During the civil rights era, Louisiana federal judges like John Minor Wisdom, J. Skelly Wright and Albert Tate were held in high regard nationally.  Their work was admired and quoted in the nation’s best law schools.  But with such a mediocre judicial stature on the Fifth Circuit today, Louisiana won’t be in the running for one of its own to move up to the nation’s highest court.
Federal court watchers have a name for federal judges who lack the scholarship, the temperament, the learning, and who are simply in the wrong occupation.  They are called “gray mice.” It seems pretty obvious that the Fifth circuit Court of Appeals is full of such critters.  Unfortunately, there is not much, short of impeachment, that the disciplinary system can do about them.  But the court’s continuing incompetence places one more stain on the reputation of Louisiana.
Federal judges are the only public officials in America who hold their positions for life. No matter how incompetent their actions are on the bench, or how outrageous their decisions, they are, for all practical purposes, immune from any review of what they do. Their power comes from Article III of the United States Constitution, which gives all federal judges lifetime appointments. Removal only happens through an elaborate impeachment process, in which the House of Representatives brings the charges and the Senate conducts the trial of the judge.

As Judge Burton Katz wrote in his criticism of lifetime appointments: “In our 200 plus years as a nation, only a few federal judges have been formally impeached. The impeachment process itself, because it is unwieldy, divisive, and time consuming, is rarely invoked. Hence, federal judges are, frankly speaking, judges for life. No one can touch them. They are derisively called Article III Judges because their behavior is frequently autocratic, capricious and grandiose. Horror stories abound from the darkened chambers of the federal courts. When judges become lifetime appointees, it seems that at times they think they are in lockstep with God.”

This stinging criticism certainly does not apply to a number of hard working and well-meaning judges within the federal system.  But the Fifth Circuit out of New Orleans has set itself up as the poster group for how not to pick federal judges.  There needs to be a better way.


“While we should always retain a high level of respect for the judiciary in principle, we shouldn’t be afraid to treat individual occupants of the office with the contempt and scorn they deserve when they issue bad rulings.”
Max Boot

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