I picked up my daily newspaper on the first day of October, and three stories dominated the news. “The Government Shuts Down,” blared one headline. We have been hearing about this possibility for months as Republicans and Democrats, alike, have dug in their heels, with little effort to avert the closure of numerous government facilities.
Obamacare kicked off on the first day of the month facing a continuing barrage of criticism and unanswered questions. Again, this is a story that has been examined in massive detail since the day the healthcare law passed over two and a half year ago.
Then there was Biggert-Waters. Huh? Never head of it, you say? Well, it was federal legislation, passed without a discouraging word of protest, with the support of virtually every member of the Louisiana and Gulf Coast and East Coast legislative delegations. What will this new legislation do? Stick property owner in flood prone areas with rate increases that some news reports peg as high as 3000 percent.
“But we didn’t know,” protest many members of congress. Here’s what one of the main authors of the legislation had to say after these new unaffordable rate increases were authorized: "As one of the primary authors of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act and a longtime advocate for the people of southern Louisiana, I can state that it was never the intent of Congress to impose the types of punitive and unaffordable flood insurance premiums that residents of southern Louisiana are currently facing," Maxine Waters said. This is the lady who wrote the law, yet she candidly admits she had no idea of the detrimental effect she produced.
Unfortunately, the statement that “we didn’t know,” is true – and this should be of grave concern to every citizen. How does a law this damaging, or any law for that matter, just slip through the cracks? Don’t congressman and senators have staffs trained to monitor proposed legislation that directly affects their districts? Where’s the oversight; the checks and balances? It would seem that in way too many instances, members of congress just don’t know what they’re voting on, or what effect a new law will have on their constituents.
That’s hard to believe, considering the number of representative factions that supposedly keep a close eye on the daily activities of congress,. The average congressman has a staff of 15 employees and the average U.S. Senator hires 35 assistants. In addition, these same members of congress have access to various committee staffs. And that’s just the beginning. There are over 300 caucuses with staffers who supposedly keep an eye out for important legislation affecting their particular interests.
Then there are the lobbying interests. Highly paid lobbyists are retained by special interest groups galore, and numerous public bodies hire such lobbyists to look out for their country, parish, or city interests. In my home state of Louisiana, a number of former congressman and senators are well paid to keep an eye out for what can help or affect the local public bodies.
State officials have national organizations with Washington offices that have a paid staff to look out for legislations that can be detrimental on the local level. When the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act was first introduced, one could assume that it was immediately monitored by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. Did this staff let Insurance Commissioners know that flood insurance rates could dramatically rise? Did members of the NAIC take defensive action? Apparently not. The same goes for staffs of the National Governors Association. Why didn’t coastal governors speak out in opposition to the drastic rate increases that are in the process of taking place?
With all these eyes watching out and reviewing this federal legislation, it would seem impossible for a proposed law to “slip through the cracks.” We would assume that one congressman, one senator, one staff member, one committee member, one lobbyist, one member of one association representing all these coastal states, would say: “Hey, this is really important. This could have huge ramifications on property owners. We’re talking about massive rate increases. Maybe we should look this over much more closely.”
Congressional members from coastal states are hollering for delays in rate increase implementation, something they should have been doing before the legislation was passed into law to begin with. The only proactive state so far is Mississippi, where state insurance commissioner Mike Chaney is suing the federal government, demanding a delay based on “new flood elevation maps that are riddled with errors,” requiring that consumers, “pay for new elevation certificates to prove they are not in a flood zone." He may have a decent case here.
Louisiana State Treasurer John Kennedy, who for years has been critical of the poor property insurance regulatory climate, is proposing the creation of a state run flood insurance company to help stabilize escalating property insurance rates. It’s a good idea, but Louisiana has for years been less than creative in trying to solve its massive insurance problems, which has led to Louisiana having the highest property and auto insurance rates in the nation.
The short-term answer is for congress to delay the implementation of flood insurance increases for the coming year. This gives coastal congressmen and senators, particularly those who dropped the ball along the Gulf Coast, to heavily lobby their cohorts for a workable solution. But the first step in the process for those who represent us in Washington is simply this: start paying attention.
Football season gives pause in Louisiana for the rough and tumble politics ahead. 2014 brings another totally unpredictable Louisiana legislative session, and congressional elections highlighted by a strongly contested U.S. Senatorial race. Then the state jumps into what most political prognosticators predict will be a barnburner of a gubernatorial election in 2015.
We all yearn for the coverage of meaningful issues that touch the quality of life in the Bayou State when the legislature convenes next spring. No, not solving the crises of healthcare, education and affordable insurance. I mean the really important issues that warrant debate that goes on for days. A few examples from past legislative action:
Did you know that in some parts of Louisiana it’s the law that garbage has to be cooked before feeding it to hogs? And throughout the state, biting someone with your natural teeth is “simple assault,” while biting someone with false teeth is “aggravated assault.” It’s illegal for palm readers, fortunetellers, mystics, and the like to officiate at a wedding. And one of my favorites -- you aren’t allowed to tie an alligator to a fire hydrant. We can only imagine what the legislature is gearing up to consider in the next legislative session.
But wait! If you think Louisiana has an oddball legislature that leans toward quirky solutions to nonexistent problems, check out California. There’s great news to report. Moving a notch ahead of us here in the Deep South, California has decriminalized the sale of Caesar salad. That’s right! It’s no longer a crime to put together a Caesar salad in California. What an important gastronomic epitome of a truly civilized state.
A few years back, to shore up California’s “war on crime,” the California State Legislature created a new law that banned the sale of any food product using raw eggs as an ingredient. And what do you find in the smooth, creamy taste with a bit of a bite in the dressing that goes on a Caesar salad? Well, of course, uncooked eggs. So using uncooked eggs for a Caesar became a crime in California. That’s right! Criminal penalties were attached to this new important protection of the public health. You can well imagine the public response. The rallying cry became, “When you outlaw Caesar salad, only outlaws will eat Caesar salad.” Dire predictions were rampant. Would a flourishing black market in contraband romaine lettuce, raw eggs, and Parmesan cheese arise, run by a gourmet criminal element?
But California is similar to Louisiana in one respect. Things don’t change very quickly, and naysayers think it may take some time to bring legislators back to reality. We’ve had plenty of firsthand experience with the same foot dragging here in the Bayou State. So ignoring the roadblocks, a cadre of Caesar supporters, lead by an old friend, Bill Miller with the Libertarian Party, took a more gradual approach, and offered several possible solutions:
Begin a slow return by implementing a five-day waiting period for a Caesar salad, so the government could do a medical background check for raw-egg allergies.
Legalize only “medical Caesar salad” whereby people with a vitamin deficiency could get a doctor’s permission to buy a small amount of Caesar salad strictly for their own personal use.
Launch an anti-Caesar salad TV advertising blitz, perhaps with a commercial showing a frying pan, and then showing the pan with a raw egg in it. The voice-over could be: “This is your brain. This is your brain on Caesar salad.”
Allowing only adults, 21 and over the right to buy Caesar salad, on the grounds that it may be an adolescent’s gateway to stronger stuff, like macaroni salad or three-bean salad.
Libertarian candidates for next year’s congressional elections are springing up all over Louisiana. I can just hear the platform of those running. They could adopt a plank, effectively used in the California fight, that says, “I support the Constitutional right of every Louisianan to keep and bear Caesar salad … or rather to eat and buy a Caesar salad. I’m not going to stand by in my race for U.S. Senator and allow these political eggheads to flourish, and let them think they have the right to micromanage every aspect of our lives.” Right on!
Hey, this may be a pretty good approach. It certainly isn’t any worse than some of the platforms we’ve seen candidates for political office use down here in the Bayou State in recent years. The California Legislature did come to its senses, and Caesar salad is now legal in California. Let’s hope the previous trend doesn’t find its way to Louisiana when the legislature meets next spring.
If it does, you will find me in the forefront of leading the fight against the injustices of banning the salad that I eat five or six times a week. And what will my slogan be? I’ll adopt the libertarian mantra. It’s simple. “Back off Legislature. Just lettuce alone.”
As President Obama is bluntly finding out, it can be lonely out on a limb when the rest of the world fails to respond to a call for help. Despite the yeoman efforts of his administration, only a few other nations are even paying lip service to the President’s call for military help in response to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons, which killed more than 1,400 Syrians, including hundreds of children, when it was unleashed in a Damascus suburb on August 21. Even our once staunchest alley, Great Britain, has been sidelined by its parliament who voted overwhelming to stay out of any military action. Only one other major power has agreed to stand side by side with the President and his call for military intervention if all else fails. France.
France? Are you kidding? Wasn’t it the French, under then-President Jacques Chirac, who strongly opposed invading Iraq? And if you go back to the 1960s, those of us who are a little older will remember French President Charles De Gaulle’s strong opposition to America entering Vietnam. Since we have little to show for the billions spent and the lives lost in both invasions, maybe the French opposition wasn’t all that bad an idea.
However, the French have received little appreciation or even a few good words from American military leaders. Who can forget General Norman Schwarzkopf’s comment that, “Going to war without France is like going deer hunting without your accordion.” And then there was General George Patton in World War II who said, "I would rather have a German division in front of me than a French one behind me."
And boy, have we gotten mad at the lack of French support. In the congressional cafeteria at the nation’s capitol, they changed the menu from French fries to freedom fries. That really showed them. And for the record, I don’t remember reading of any politician advocating the probation of French kissing.
I remember a 1995 episode of The Simpsons, where groundskeeper, Willie, is directed to become a French teacher at the local elementary school. “The French?” he hollers, “They’re nothin’ but a bunch of cheese-eating surrender monkeys”
But that was then. Although we’ve had conflicts and disagreements with the French, if you take a history lesson in Franco-American relations, you will see that when it’s crunch time, we can generally count on them. France has come out strongly in support of America’s tenuous situation in the Middle East, and the U.S. seems eager to let bygones be bygones.
Without the support of the French, America could well have lost the Revolutionary War. Founding Father Thomas Jefferson contemplated joint democratic values while serving as US Ambassador to France living in Paris. Many regard Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America” as the best book written on the unique and exceptional American new form of government, that was later adopted by the French.
Many of us were close to speaking French as our native language. Napoleon’s agreement with Thomas Jefferson and Robert Livingston allowed for the creation of 15 new states, doubling the size of the United States. To give thanks to the French dictator, my home state of Louisiana agreed to hide him at what is now called The Napoleon House in the center of the New Orleans French Quarter. Unfortunately, before he could get to the Crescent City, he was captured and sentenced to exile on the Isle of St. Helena in the Atlantic Ocean.
There is a little Yankee bad taste from Napoleon’s involvement in the Civil War. France was avowed to be neutral, but it was common knowledge that Napoleon III was pulling for South. Oh well!
And don’t come down here in South Louisiana and make any derogatory comments about France. Thanks to die hard Frenchmen, who immigrated first to Canada, and then migrated down the Mississippi as Acadians, the French tradition, language, culture and bon appétit is alive and well, and growing throughout Cajun country. In Abbeville, a small community just south of Lafayette, many of the signs outside retail stores are written in French. Several radio stations play only Cajun music with a daily rendition of the Cajun national anthem Jolie Blond, often played by my old friend, fiddler Doug Kershaw.
If the Good Lord told me I have one more trip to make to another country before I pass on, I would choose Paris, and a ramble through southern France for the food, the ambience, the architecture, the Shakespeare Bookstore, a walk along the Seine. And the pretty girls. Ah, to be 25 again, in 1963, when I spent months in Paris experiencing the special ambiance that is rarely found elsewhere. If you want to relive that Franco jolie vie, take a friend or loved one to see Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris.”
Certainly the French have their own national interests at heart. But they have also made it clear that what America says matters. Over time, there are historical allies and there are strong allies. Right now, France and the U.S. can claim to have both -- a solid past, and a present relationship that would seem to be in the best interests of both countries. We in Louisiana certainly hope so. So pass the French bread. And for breakfast tomorrow, let’s have French toast and French roast coffee with French chicory, Louisiana style. And please, don’t shy away from an occasional French kiss.