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.
Congress is going “new law” crazy. In the nation’s capitol, hundreds of proposed new laws are being introduced every month, creating numerous new regulations and crimes. And Louisiana congressional members are joining right in this push for more federal intrusion into what was previously the purview of the states. Senator Mary Landrieu has proposed 29 new laws and resolutions in this current year alone. Her opponent in next year’s senatorial election, current Congressman Bill Cassidy, is right on her heels with 17 new offerings.
Anyone who actually takes the time to read the U.S. Constitution will see that there are only three crimes specifically enumerated as federal offenses: treason, piracy and counterfeiting. So why has Congress undertaken an overzealous expansion of criminal laws?
A report from the Heritage Foundation’s Center for Legal and Judicial Studies recently determined that there are some 4500 federal crimes listed in the US Code. It used to be that Congress would create one particular crime by passing a new law. But in recent years, multiple crimes are listed within the same statute. One new law enacted right after 9/11 contained 60 new crimes. Was that really necessary?
Our representatives in Washington now want to delve into any number of local crimes, flaunting the intention of our country’s founders. Drugs, robbery, car theft, the list goes on and on. What happened to the 14th amendment and states rights?
Many of the federal crimes on this expanded list are bewildering and seem to be punitive and arbitrary. Harvard law professor William Stuntz puts it this way: “We are coming even closer to living in a country where laws on the books makes everybody a felon, and prosecutors get to decide what the law is and who has violated it.”
Did you know that it is a federal crime to deal in the interstate transport of unlicensed dentures? For this you get one year in jail.
Another law says you can go to jail for six months if you pretend to be a member of the 4-H club?
And you can get six months for degrading the character of Woodsy Owl, or his associated slogan: “Give a hoot — Don’t pollute.” I’m not making this up.
And you will love this one. It’s a federal crime to disrupt a rodeo. Now in Louisiana, we yield to no one in our desire for orderly rodeos. But getting taken into federal custody for excessive heckling? Give me a brake!
In this day and age, the average citizen can get hauled off to jail for trivial things that no sane person would regard as a crime -- as many of these laws make little, if any, sense. As you can see from these examples, it’s not a liberal or conservative thing. There’s a new collaboration in Washington -- an unholy alliance between anti-big business liberals, and tough-on-crime conservatives. They all seem to be trying to show that they’re serious prognosticators cracking down on the social problem of the month, whether it be corporate scandals or steroid use.
The Louisiana legislative delegation is not immune from federalitis, and it has joined in the parade of parochialism within the federal system. Senator David Vitter has proposed legislation to make it a felony for the interstate sale of paraphernalia that straps on a rooster’s leg during a cockfight. And Senator Mary Landrieu wants to ban the transportation of horses across state lines to be shipped out of the country for consumption. Just imagine the decline of the American way of life we’re headed for if we don’t pass these proposed laws without further delay!
Our members of Congress go to Washington today and seem to get intoxicated with the power that comes with the job. It’s similar to the effect of Tolkien’s ring. Decent and intelligent people get the ring of power and it changes them. They can’t put it down. They can’t let it go. The more laws you pass, the better you look back home. And when there’s crime involved, you come across as a tough guy, right?
Congress today doesn’t seem to understand the difference between the violation of a regulation and a crime. There are a number of actions that are illegal, but not criminal. Further, a crime does not necessarily have to be a federal crime. Have we reached the point where people in Louisiana and throughout the country have come to accept that any federal agency with power is somehow a police power? Both conservatives and liberals ought to be worried about the expansion of federal criminal law if we value our liberty, which our Founders specifically understood to mean leaving general police powers at the local level.
In 400 B.C., the Greek orator Isocrates stated: “Where there is a multitude of specific laws, it is a sign that the state is badly governed.” Tasedus wrote in the 1st century A.D. of Rome: “Formerly we suffered from crimes. Now we suffer from laws.”
A little more common sense in Washington would go a long way in allowing Congress to deal better with problems of national concern. Leave the parochial to the states. And for goodness sake, let us get a little rowdy at our rodeos.