Chaos reigns in the Middle East, North Korea and Iran continue their nuclear threats to global stability, millions of Americans still don’t have affordable healthcare, gun control and immigration divide the nation in legislative fights, and a federal budget which needs major trimming threatens major changes in the way we live.
But last week, in the face of these concerns, a handful of U. S. Senators, led by my home state’s Mary Landrieu, brought an additional burning issue to our attention, one that they apparently believe is on a par with these critical national concerns -- horsemeat.
Landrieu has been joined by South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham in sponsoring legislation to ban the consumption of horsemeat and prohibit the export of horses for that purpose.
Graham, who regularly joins other senators in a number of quixotic causes, was the one, you may recall, who labeled those who do not give the President free reign to be the judge, jury and executioner in certain criminal cases, “Wacko Nut jobs.” So, in Graham, Landrieu has found a worthy ally in her cause to regulate American taste buds.
Landrieu and Graham argue that horses are great companions and, in Landrieu’s words, “there is no humane way to slaughter a horse.” I guess as opposed to wringing a chicken’s neck, taking a sledgehammer to a cow, or pumping 100,000 volts into a death penalty recipient.
Graham’s opposition to eating horsemeat has little downside if you come from South Carolina. With all due respect to the Gamecock nation, Graham’s constituents are not noted for having a creative pallet. But Landrieu, a Louisianan native, is a different story. How can I say this delicately about my homefolks? We eat anything in the Bayou State. Horsemeat, quite frankly, is rather a tame choice. How much do we live to eat a real variety of Cajun delicacies? Let me count the ways.
There is a festival built around food practically every weekend in some part of Louisiana.
Horsemeat pales in comparison to the variety of the local cuisine. Here are a few culinary indulgences you just might want to try. There is the normal fare of food items that appear on local restaurant menus -- alligator sauce picquante, a variety of crawfish choices, grilled rabbit, squirrel stew, venison goulash, nutria chili, possum fajitas, mountain oysters (cow’s testicles), and my personal favorite, smoked raccoon. Some years back, I spent the better part of a day with former Louisianan Gov. Jimmy Davis (“You are my Sunshine”), whipping up coon stew. So a little horsemeat would be a piece of cake.
Is eating horsemeat really all that unique? Not at all. In fact, consuming horsemeat is growing rapidly in countries around the world. Horsemeat burgers are the current rage in pubs all across England. The Brits have finally learned to spice up their food, and horseburgers are served with a fried egg, pickles, cheese, onion, lettuce, black pepper, mayonnaise with a bit of ketchup thrown in the mix. Sounds tasty to me.
You can find horsemeat in butcher shops, supermarkets and restaurants all over Europe. In France, Belgium and Sweden, horsemeat outsells mutton and lamb combined. The demand has grown so big in Italy, that butcher shops are having a hard time keeping Carne di Cavallo in stock. In France, the mother lode of food delicacies, they even have a horsemeat butchers’ organization called Federation de la Boucherie Hippophagique.
Horses have been a part of the military diet throughout history. From the Romans in the first century to Genghis Khan in the 13th century, the horse was a multiple staple of support. Many warriors traveled with three or four horses each that provided milk, blood and finally meat to fuel the armies. Back in the U.S., horse steak used to be on the menu of the Harvard Faculty Club. So even the intellectuals had no problem with “hippophagy.” (Eating horsemeat.)
Certainly, many Americans have a special affection for horses. But we have to face the fact that all horses eventually have to be disposed of. And the same horses that would be slaughtered in the US under strict guidelines are being shipped to other countries, and both treated and killed in far more cruel ways. So the Humane Society’s concerns over the non-cruel disposal of horses just doesn’t hold water.
Doesn’t it really all come down to an individual’s right to make their own choices, and not be dictated to by politicians in Washington? There is no safety or security issue involved. You may not choose to buy or eat horsemeat. But should your choices be dictated by your government? Economist Tomas Sowell put it this way. “The most basic question is not what is best, but who shall decide what is best.”
These politicians, in their wisdom, have concluded that it’s OK to eat Porky Pig, Donald Duck, Bambi, Bugs Bunny, and even the goose that laid the golden egg. But please, please don’t mess with Mr. Ed.
Sorry Senators, this issue goes beyond eating horsemeat. We do not need you deciding what’s best for us. When a politician begins superimposing their beliefs on others in an arbitrary way, there is a special name for this repugnant action. And it sure as heck is not Freedom.
Can you put lipstick on a pig? Well, business leaders are certainly giving it their best shot in an effort to counteract the fact that Louisiana’s outrageously expensive insurance rates make the Bayou State an environment hostile to the attraction of new businesses. But, last week, compounding the problem, new figures showed automobile rates continue to rise, along with insurance rates for every homeowner. And unfortunately, both legislators and insurance regulators are assuming a blasé attitude -- “that’s just the price you have to pay for living in Louisiana.”
Newspaper headlines blared out across the country about the skyrocketing insurance costs of driving an automobile in Louisiana. USA Today: “Louisiana Car Insurance Costs Most – the state can’t catch a break.” The San Francisco Chronicle: “Louisiana Tops State Rankings of Car Insurance Rates.” National Auto Week: “Drivers in Louisiana are hit hardest on Car Insurance Premiums.” New York Daily News: “Louisiana has the nation’s most expensive car insurance.” Similar headlines appeared in newspapers coast to coast.
Just how bad are the Louisiana rates? Compared to surrounding states they’re stunning. At an average rate of $2699, the Bayou State far outpaces its neighbors to win the dubious distinction of having the highest car insurance rates in the nation. Texas weighs in at $1,545, making it over $1000 cheaper to insure in Texas than in Louisiana. To the east, Mississippi, a state that fares worse than Louisiana on most lists, car insurance averages a paltry $1,345. Should it really cost $1,354 more for car insurance in Louisiana than in Mississippi? To the north, Arkansas comes in at $1,545, which is $1,154 less than insuring in Louisiana. In every other state in America, the cost of insuring a vehicle is not just less, but a lot less.
Thousands of Louisianans have a camp or beach property in Texas, Mississippi, Alabama or Florida, where legal residence is claimed, in order to obtain a much cheaper rate. Take note of some of your fellow employees or neighbors who drive around your city with out of state license plates. Even at the state capitol, some of the top assistants to statewide officials drive cars registered in other states.
Why are Louisiana rates so high and so out of line with the rest of the nation? Lawsuit abuse -- “It’s those damn lawyers,” shout the insurance companies. But a check of the laws shows that both Mississippi and Texas allow for punitive damages that dramatically increase jury verdicts, where Louisiana does not allow such damages. Doctors in Louisiana only have to buy the first $100,000 of malpractice coverage, with a state fund picking up the excess. The problems go way beyond “those damn lawyers.”
Louisiana brags about its wonderful differences and the special charm of living in the deepest of the deep southern states, and rightfully so, when it comes to the culture, music, food, architecture, plantation homes, football and ambience. But the lousy roads, drunk driving, uninsured drivers, and poorly trained drivers are part of Louisiana’s differences as well, and they aren’t so wonderful.
Then there is regulation, or the lack thereof in Louisiana. In most states, there is a pre approval system that requires insurance companies to submit a rate increase request to the Department of Insurance. Yes, there is a submissions process in Louisiana. But, in Louisiana, the insurance company can go right ahead and raise their rates before regulator review. This makes as much sense as closing the gate after the horse is already out of the barn.
Last week brought a double whammy to Louisianans who buy insurance. On top of the rampant auto rates, Louisiana homeowners really took it on the chin. The state run Citizens Property Insurance Company has voted to borrow $100 million to pay for its own negligence. The company has failed time and time again to follow the law, and from its inception it has refused to institute even the most fundamental financial standards that even the poorest run company would put into place as a matter of course. There is little doubt that any neutral observer would conclude what a headline in the local press summed up well: Citizens Property Insurance Company is the most dysfunctional and incompetent agency in all of Louisiana state government.
This state run fiasco has received blistering criticism from Louisiana state treasurer, John Kennedy. After Citizens voted to borrow the $100 million last week, Kennedy didn’t hold back any punches. "This company is insolvent and yet again it has decided to reach into the pocket of taxpayers," Kennedy said Thursday. "It's time for the legislature to revisit this concept. Let's talk about whether there's a better way."
Kennedy is right that it’s far past time to abolish this inept and feckless state created atrocity that was doomed to failure from the beginning. When you borrow money, there comes a time to pay the piper. Tragically, every Louisiana property owner will have to cough up additional assessments on their property to pay for the borrowing. And has there been any legitimate necessity to borrow in the first place? There have been no major insurance claims in the state. No hurricanes, flooding or hail storms of any consequence. Not one private insurance company has had to undertake deficit financing. If they did, any responsible insurance department would have shut them down. Citizens Property Insurance Company will stick it to Louisiana homeowners for one reason -- to support its own continuing incompetence.
If you add up the much higher charges incurred by Louisiana insurance purchasers as compared to surrounding states, the local folks are stuck paying out well over $1.5 billion a year more. That’s $1.5 billion that has been taken away from the local economy. It’s $1.5 billion that Louisiana families could be using to educate their kids, and improve their quality of life. It’s an injustice to Louisiana taxpayers that elected officials seem unwilling to address. And all Louisiana families are the losers.
Although I lean towards libertarian thinking, I’ve never been particularly enamored with Kentucky U. S. Senator Rand Paul, who, like his father, is a staunch libertarian. Maybe it’s his messy curly hair. But I certainly don’t consider Paul to be a “wacko nut job” as Senator McCain called him on the floor of the U.S. Senate last week. If Paul is a “wacko nut job,” than I guess I’m one too.
The subject was the use of drones, and could they be used against American citizens on U.S. soil. Paul raised the question, a legitimate one in my opinion, as to whether America is now regarded as a battlefield where a U.S. citizen can be considered to be an enemy combatant who can be killed without due process of law. Paul further asked, “Is any president the judge, jury and executioner all in one.” The Senator’s concerns went to the heart of just what are the constitutional rights guaranteed to any U. S. citizen.
The drone question itself has raised many questions by skeptics as to their actual value, and could such strikes be doing more harm than good. Recently retired General Stanley McChrystal, who was commander of joint forces in Afghanistan, concludes that drone strikes have caused America to be hated in many areas of the Middle East. And he wondered just how Americans would feel if drones began being lobbed into the U.S. by Mexico.
“What scares me about drone strikes is how they are perceived around the world,” General McChrystal said in an interview. “The resentment created by American use of unmanned strikes … is much greater than the average American appreciates. They are hated on a visceral level, even by people who’ve never seen one, or seen the effects of one.”
The President and his attorney general, Eric Holder, could have stopped the debate early on by directly answering Paul’s direct question. Paul, with good reason, charged that “no American should be killed by a drone on American soil without first being charged with a crime, without first being found to be guilty by a court.”
In a letter to Paul, Holder answered a bit vaguely when he said,” The White House has no intention of doing so.” No intention? But is there a possibility? Is this a definitive “NO?” Remember that Barack Obama ran as an antiwar candidate, who was persistent in affirming basic constitutional rights. Paul, again with good reason, quickly began a filibuster on the Senate floor and charged, “When the president responds that ‘I haven't killed any Americans yet at home, and that I don't intend to do so, but I might,’ it’s incredibly alarming and really goes against his oath of office.”
And that’s when Senator John McCain, whom I have always respected for his military service and sacrifice, along with his Republican running buddy Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, went ballistic. McCain said it was "ridiculous" and "a stretch of the imagination” that any American would be targeted. But he couldn’t explain why the president would not definititively agree. Then, using an unattributed verbatim quote from a WSJ editorial published on March 7, McCain dug in deeper and charged,: “If Mr. Paul wants to be taken seriously he needs to do more than pull political stunts that fire up impressionable libertarian kids..." McCain added on his own: "I don't think what happened yesterday is helpful to the American people."
Reflecting an out of touch older Republican leadership that has driven the party into a series of recent national losses, McCain missed the point. Young voters, who overwhelmingly sense a degradation of their individual liberties, have bypassed presidential Republican candidates in droves. They feel, as do many Americans of all ages, that they are entitled to answers to basic questions about their rights, protections and their freedoms.
Jonah Goldberg summed up this concern well in the Chicago Tribune: “… a fundamental, dogmatic faith in the Constitution is a good thing. A dogmatic view that the president isn’t a king but a servant of the people is a good thing. A dogmatic insistence that the president give a member of Congress a straight answer about when the government can kill Americans is a good thing. And a dogmatic conviction that an American life has special status in the eyes of the government is a good thing, too.”
Rand Paul was making, what I believe to be a good faith effort to bring clarity to both the foreign affairs and the internal security landscape of the United States. For years, there have many gray areas. That was OK when the battles were halfway around the world. But these confrontations are coming home to roost. And “dogmatic convictions” should be clearly defined. That’s what Rand Paul was trying to do.
“Dogmas are not dark and mysterious,” G. K. Chesterton wrote. “Rather a dogma is like a flash of lightning – an instantaneous lucidity that opens across a whole landscape.” The nation’s protections of freedoms and constitutional guarantees have been clouded post 9/11. With all the gibberish spoken by many in Washington concerning our most fundamental rights and freedoms, substantially more clarity is in order. And if it takes a filibuster to get some attention over these “gut issues” of what it means to be an American, then go for it Senator Paul.