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Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

The Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) agenda, as we have shown here on numerous occasions, promotes unyielding opposition to any legislation that smacks of benefits to workers, the unemployed and the poor.

Among other things, ALEC, led by the Koch brothers, pushes legislation that:

  • Opposes an extension of unemployment benefits;
  • Undermines the rights of injured workers to hold their corporate employers accountable
  • Promotes for-profit schools at the expense of public education;
  • Opposes consumers’ right to know the origin of food we consume;
  • Opposes an increase in the federal minimum wage;
  • Limits patient rights and undermines safety net programs including, of all things a call to end licensing and certification of doctors and other medical professionals.

While the effort to end licensing and certification of medical professionals might play into the hands of State Sen. Elbert Guillory (R-D-R-Opelousas) and his affinity for witch doctors, such a move probably would not work to the benefit of the average patient.

http://louisianavoice.com/2013/12/30/louisianas-chameleon-legislator-sen-elbert-guillory-republicandemocratrepublican-is-candidate-for-lt-gov/

And while ALEC vehemently opposes any legislation that might remotely resemble benefits to the poor or which might invoke that hated word welfare, the organization’s agenda remains something of a paradox when one takes a step back and examines the spate of corporate welfare programs enacted by willing accomplices in the highest reaches of Louisiana politics.

Generous tax exemptions, credits, and incentives have proliferated to an extent not even imagined by the injured or unemployed worker trying to provide for his family—while generating few, if any, real benefits in the way of new jobs.

Probably the most glaring abuse of the incentives offered by our Office of Economic Development are the absurd tax dodges meted out to the movie industry and for what—being able to boast that we’re now recognized as Hollywood East.” That offers little encouragement to the guy trying to pay for a mortgage, a car payment, education of his kids, and health care if he’s hurt or can’t find a job.

By contrast, LouisianaVoice has found a few federal farm subsidy payments to several “persons of interest” which may come as a surprise to Louisiana’s great unwashed. Then again, maybe not.

For example, we have former legislator (he served in both the House and Senate) Noble Ellington, two years ago appointed to the $130,000 per year position of Deputy Commissioner of Insurance despite his having no experience in the field of insurance.

Ellington, a Republican from Winnsboro, also served until his retirement from the legislature as ALEC’s national president and even hosted the organization’s annual convention in New Orleans in 2011 so it stands to reason that he would, on principle alone, reject out of hand any form of welfare—even such as might be to his own financial benefit.

Not so much.

From 1995 to 2012, Ellington received $335,273 in federal farm subsidies while sons Ryan Ellington and Noble Ellington, III, received $89,000 and $25,223, respectively—nearly $450,000 for the three.

Granted, the senior Ellington made his fortune as a cotton merchant so we suppose that qualifies him to the subsidies—except for his position as National President of ALEC which is diametrically opposed to welfare. Oops, we forgot; that’s diametrically opposed to welfare for all but the corporate world. Our bad.

And then there’s Ellington’s successor to the Louisiana House, Rep. Steve Pylant (R-Winnsboro), who introduced a bill during last year’s session that would have required the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) to “adopt rules and regulations that require all public high school students beginning with those entering ninth grade in the fall of 2014, to successfully complete at least one course offered by a BESE-authorized online or virtual course provider as a prerequisite to graduation.”

If that’s not corporate welfare, in that it guarantees a constant revenue stream in the form of state payments to private concerns offering those Course Choice courses, we will shine your shoes free for a year.

During the same time period, 1995 to 2012, Pylant received nearly $104,400 in federal farm subsidies.

His occupation prior to his election to the Louisiana House? He was sheriff of Franklin Parish.

Another ALEC member, State Sen. Francis Thompson (D-Delhi), also received $472,952 in federal farm subsidies for the same time period as Ellington and Pylant.

Thompson holds an Ed.D. Degree from the University of Louisiana Monroe (formerly Northeast Louisiana University) and lists his occupation as educator and developer.

Other ALEC members, their occupations and federal farm subsidies received between 1995 and 2012:

  • Bogalusa Democratic Sen. Ben Nevers—electrical contractor, $20,000;
  • State Rep. Andy Anders (D-Vidalia)—salesman for Scott Equipment, $34,175;
  • Rep. Jim Fannin (R-Jonesboro)—Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, “independent businessman” and also has a background in education, nearly $2600—a pittance by comparison but still indicative of the mindset of the ALEC membership when it comes to applying a heaping helping of double standard to the public trough.

To be completely fair, however, it should be pointed out that Nevers introduced a bill this session (SB96) that called for a constitutional amendment that would make health care available under Medicaid to all state residents at or below 138 per cent of the federal poverty level—an effort that sets him apart from those who parrot the standard ALEC position on medical care for the poor. Of course his bill failed in committee by a 6-2 vote today (April 23) after Sen. Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge) moved to defer action.

Perhaps voters will remember Claitor’s compassion for those without health care in this fall’s (Nov. 4) congressional election.

Two other legislators and two political appointees of Gov. Bobby Jindal who are not members of ALEC also combined to receive nearly $561,000 in federal farm subsidies between 1995 and 2012, records show. They are:

  • State Rep. Richard Burford (R-Stonewall)— dairy and beef farmer, $38,000;
  • State Rep. John Morris (R-Monroe)— attorney, $11,625;
  • Robert Barham of Oak Ridge—Secretary, Department of Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries, $489,700;
  • Lee Mallett of Iowa, LA.—member of the LSU Board of Supervisors, $21,600.

All but Burford and Mallett reside in the 5th Congressional District formerly represented by Rodney Alexander (R-Jonesboro), who now heads the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs.

The 5th District includes the Louisiana Delta which make up one of the largest row crop farming communities of any congressional district in the nation.

Accordingly, the $289,000 paid out to recipients in 2012 was easily the highest of Louisiana’s six congressional districts, more than double the 4th District represented by John Fleming and accounting for 50.6 percent of the statewide total.

For the period of 1995-2012, the 5th District also ranked highest in federal farm subsidies with the $23.7 million paid out representing 31.2 percent of the total and ranking slightly ahead of the 3rd Congressional District of Charles Boustany, which had $21.1 million (27.8 percent).

Of the $292.5 billion paid in subsidies nationwide from 1995-2012, the top 10 percent of recipients received 75 percent of all subsidies, or an average of slightly more than $32,000 per recipient per year for the 18-year period reported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. USDA records also reveal that 62 percent of all farms in the U.S. received no subsidy payments.

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“I have made the decision to wind down the organization over the coming months. It wasn’t an easy decision, and the unavailability of this technology is a real missed opportunity for teachers and school districts seeking to improve student learning.”

—Iwan Streichenberger, Chief Executive Officer of inBloom, in announcing the decision to terminate efforts to gather and store confidential student information in a massive data bank controlled by Rupert Murdoch and Bill Gates.

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We are back from an extended Easter break and the first thing that landed on our desk was an interesting story of national import and one in which LouisianaVoice played a small but important role more than a year ago.

It was on Feb. 20, 2013, that we broke a story which almost immediately (among bloggers, that is; the mainstream media continued to ignore the impact of our revelations for several more months) produced state repercussions against John White and the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE). http://louisianavoice.com/2013/02/20/doe-emails-reveal-secretive-programs-ties-to-gates-rupert-murdoch-and-fox-news-network-agency-in-general-disarray/

That story, of course, was about the agreement between LDOE and inBloom, headed by Rupert Murdoch and supported in large part by a hefty cash infusion of $100 million by Bill Gates, that called for InBloom to provide sensitive personal data on hundreds of thousands of Louisiana school children—with no guarantee from inBloom that the data would not be susceptible to intrusion or hacking.

Yesterday, April 21, 2014, just 14 months after our initial story, came the word that inBloom was shutting down. http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/04/21/inbloom-student-data-repository-to-close/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0

What was Murdoch’s motive for this ambitious program” Well, we’ll let him tell you in his own words: “When it comes to K through 12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the U.S.” http://www.inthepublicinterest.org/blog/jeb-bushs-education-nonprofit-really-about-corporate-profits?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+itpi-blog+%28ITPI+Commentary+Feed%29

Yesterday’s news, welcome as it certainly is, is nevertheless tempered somewhat by two nagging questions:

  • What becomes of all that data inBloom has already received from state school systems across the U.S., Louisiana included?
  • Does one realistically believe that Murdoch and Gates are going to just walk away from a “$500 billion sector” in the U.S. economy?

The answers, in order, are: who knows and not likely.

Subsequent to our posting our original story, White attempted to assuage the public concern about “parking” private student data in the inBloom “garage,” announced on April 19 that he was withdrawing student information from the InBloom database. When inBloom responded by claiming Louisiana was “still part of inBloom community,” LouisianaVoice made a public records request three days later (April 22) in which we asked for “the official letter or email that you sent to inBloom to cancel the data storage agreement…”

White ignored our request and LouisianaVoice filed suit and the case was settled prior to trial with LDOE having to fork over our legal costs plus $3500 in fines. What we finally got was a statement from LDOE saying, “…the Department is not in possession of any public record(s) responsive to the above-written request.” http://louisianavoice.com/2013/05/10/holy-missing-documents-batman-doe-has-no-record-of-inbloom-agreement-cancellation-for-student-data-parking/

The information we literally stumbled upon was contained in 119 pages of emails we had requested from LDOE. (Also among those emails was that now-infamous, somewhat creepy exchange between Peter Gorman, senior vice president of Wireless Generation, the newly-formed education division of Murdoch’s News Corp., and Louisiana Superintendent of Education John White in which White confided to Gorman, “Dude—you are my recharger.”)

The story of Louisiana’s plans to take part in Murdoch’s scheme actually broke a month before our initial story, but included Louisiana only peripherally. A New York non-profit organization calling itself Class Size Matters, in January 2013 made mention of the fact that Louisiana would be participating in the data collection move a month before, but no one in Louisiana (White’s small circle of sycophants at LDOE) had any knowledge of what was taking place with this confidential student information.

When our story about Louisiana’s intentions to contribute personal student data to inBloom broke, friend and fellow blogger Jason France of The Crazy Crawfish (an announced candidate for Chas Roemer’s seat on the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education) immediately re-blogged our post. In quick order, others, like Diane Ravitch, formerly assistant secretary of education under President George H.W. Bush and now an activist against many national education programs like Common Core, helped the story go viral.

As of April 2, 2014, Class Size Matters announced that each of the nine states originally listed as inBloom’s “partners,” including New York, had either pulled out completely, put data sharing plans on indefinite hold or made data-sharing voluntary on the part of individual school districts. Some local New York school superintendents even wrote letters to inBloom, demanding that their data be deleted, a request that inBloom rejected.

When it was launched, inBloom announced that the nine states were “partners” in the data-sharing plan. After protests from parents and privacy advocates, however, three states pulled out completely. The three states were identified as Colorado, North Carolina and Louisiana.

“Because of the egregious over-reaching of the Gates Foundation and inBloom,” said Class Size Matters in a prepared statement posted on its web page, “parents throughout the country have now been awakened to the myriad threats to student privacy…all in the name of ‘personalized learning.’” http://www.classsizematters.org/inbloom_student_data_privacy/

All of which clearly and unquestionably illustrates the importance of reporting the real news, the real issues, as opposed to simply printing press releases and asking questions instead of accepting elected officials’ and bureaucrats’ condescending assurances as gospel—and of the effectiveness of concerted efforts on the part of a determined citizenry to work toward a common goal.

Are we (LouisianaVoice and Crazy Crawfish) proud? Are we bragging? Are we entitled to grab a small share of the credit?

Damn right.

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When a legislator wishes to break away from discussion of a pending bill to recognize a visitor to the House, Senate or a committee, he takes what is called a point of personal privilege.

Accordingly, I would like to set aside for the moment any discussion of budgetary shortfalls, state board abuses, our absentee governor, and kissing congressmen to take a point of personal privilege to talk about my grandson’s high school. I will return to the more sordid subject of state politics in due course, but at the moment, this is more important to me.

Many of my readers already know where I live but they may not know where my grandchildren attend school and I’m happy to keep it that way.

My grandson was one of several Summa Cum Laude students (a grade point average of 3.75-4.0) who were recognized in the school’s annual honors program. Even better, of 300 students in 10th grade, he ranked 28th. I am extremely proud of him and, I believe, justifiably so.

Sitting there watching some of our brightest, most motivated kids being recognized for their academic achievements during the 90-minute awards ceremonies, I was struck by two things:

First, I did not see the first member of our local school board at the program. They may have been there but I never saw them. I found that most disappointing.

Second, and to me, the most significant and most touching, was near the end, following the recognition of group and individual athletic achievements. One by one, about a half-dozen students were called up to receive awards for their contributions to team spirit, encouragement, participation and undying loyalty to their school and classmates.

These were the Special Ed children, most of whom had Down syndrome. One had to be led by the hand to the podium to receive her award. The applause given them by the student body would choke up the most callous observer and their enthusiasm would bring a lump to the throat and a tear to the eye of the most cynical political reporter. I know. Anyone who knows me knows how rare it is for me to be rendered speechless but today I found myself unable to speak for several minutes because of the overflow of emotion that I experienced as I watched those magnificent youngsters receive their awards.

These children are the true innocents among us. They know nothing of discord, racial hatred, violence, mortgages or political corruption—or of the stress and tension that accompany these and other concerns that the rest of us encounter on a daily basis. They know only love in their hearts for their teachers, their parents and their fellow students. And that love was channeled right back at them today when, grinning from ear to ear, they waved their certificates at the cheering student body. A collective, involuntary “aww” escaped everyone’s mouth when one of the students turned back to hug her teacher.

I can’t help believing that these genuinely beautiful individuals are closer to God than any of the rest of us, that they carry the purest spirit of love in their hearts the way our churches and synagogues tell us that we should. Their simple trust and unquestioned devotion towers above anything we could ever hope to achieve on our best days.

The Internet has abounded with heartwarming videos of these kids inserted into football and basketball games near the end of play and being allowed to score the “winning” touchdown (even though in reality, the team was down by several touchdowns) or score a basket (meaningless in terms of the final outcome but so very important to that one kid).

In one such instance, the player missed shot after shot but the opposing player, whose team was hopelessly behind with no chance of winning, nevertheless kept rebounding and giving him the ball to try again until he finally made the bucket. In each case, without exception, the special players who got the chance of a lifetime to play were treated to explosive cheers and standing ovations from appreciative and supportive student bodies. They are wonderful stories and the videos deserve to go viral. The videos not only make us feel good for that special player in particular, but they also renew our faith in our youth in general.

But sometimes the story doesn’t occur on a playing field or on a hardwood court.

Today was not a sporting event; there were no touchdowns and no baskets. But there was deserved recognition in the form of those certificates and those students were just as appreciative as the ones who were given the opportunity to play those precious few moments for their teams.

And so were we.

To the school administrators and teachers who saw to it that these kids—who ask nothing more than to be accepted and who haven’t learned to take, only how to give of themselves—were not overlooked, that they were included and recognized for their loyalty, their contributions and their school spirit:

Thank you.

A class act all the way.

 

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Here’s the political shocker of the year: Gov. Bobby Jindal says that the Republican Party would be better off selecting a governor as its 2016 presidential nominee.

Wow. Who saw that coming?

Jindal might wish to ask former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney how that scenario worked out for him.

Wonder how Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida feel about that little snub?

Better yet, wonder who he had in mind? Gosh, there are so many: Chris Christie of New Jersey, Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, Ohio’s John Kasich and Rick Perry of Texas whom Jindal was quick to endorse a couple of years ago before Perry’s political machine sputtered and died on some lonely back road. Then there are those former governors Jeb Bush of Florida, Mike Huckabee of neighboring Arkansas, and Sarah what’s-her-name up there in Alaska.

Oh, right. We almost forgot because well…he’s just so forgettable, but there’s also Jindal who recently placed about 12th in a 10-person straw poll at that wild-eyed, frothing-at-the-mouth Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).

But he’s running. You betcha (sorry, Palin, we couldn’t resist). He is so intent in his as yet unannounced candidacy that he has already drafted his own plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.

Presidential candidates are usually expected to exhibit voter empathy and to be spellbinding orators who are capable of mesmerizing of voters en masse. John Kennedy comes immediately to mind. So do Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. I mean, after Clinton took two steps toward that audience member in his debate against President Bush the First in 1992 and said, “I feel your pain,” Bush never had a chance. Clinton looked that voter dead in the eye and spoke one-on-one as Bush was checking his watch.

Jindal has all the empathy of Don Rickles, but without the charisma.

As for oratory skills, to borrow a line from a recent Dilbert comic strip, he should be called the plant killer: when he speaks, every plant in the room dies from sheer boredom.

So much for his strong points: let’s discuss his shortcomings.

Jindal believes—is convinced—he is presidential timber. The truth is he has been a dismal failure at running a state for the past six years and he’s already written off the final two as he ramps up his campaign for POTUS.

Yes, we’ve been beset by hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Ike and Gustav. Yes, we had the BP spill. All of those provided Jindal valuable face time on national TV and still he trails the pack and when you’re not the lead dog in the race, the view never changes.

Because of those catastrophes, the state has been the recipient of billions of federal dollars for recovery. Nine years later, Jindal cronies still hold multi-million contracts (funded by FEMA) to oversee “recovery” that is painfully slow. The state received hundreds of millions of dollars to rebuild schools in New Orleans. Construction on many of those schools has yet to commence. The money is there but there are no schools. (Correction: Largely white Catholic schools have received state funding and those facilities are up and running.)

Jindal tried to restructure the state’s retirement system—and failed. Yes, the retirement systems have huge unfunded liabilities but Jindal’s solution was to pull the rug from under hard-working civil servants (who by and large, do make less than their counterparts in the private sector: you can look it up, in the words of Casey Stengel). As an example, one person whom we know was planning to retire after 30 years. At her present salary, if she never gets another raise over the final eight years she plans to work, her retirement would be $39,000 per year.

Under Jindal’s proposed plan, if she retired after 30 years, her retirement would have been $6,000—a $33,000-a-year hit. And state employees do not receive social security.

Never mind that state employees have what in essence is a contract: he was going to ram it down their throats anyway—until the courts told him he was going to do no such thing.

He has gutted higher education and his support of the repeal of the Stelly Plan immediately after taking office has cost the state a minimum of $300 million a year—$1.8 billion during his first six years in office.

He even vetoed a renewal of a 5-cent per pack cigarette tax because he opposed any new taxes (try following that logic). The legislature, after failing to override his veto, was forced to pass a bill calling for a constitutional amendment to make the tax permanent. Voters easily approved the amendment.

Then there was the matter of the Minimum Foundation Program, the funding formula for public schools. Funds were going to be taken from the MFP to fund school vouchers until the courts said uh-uh, you ain’t doing that either.

Jindal’s puppets, the LSU Board of Stuporvisors, fired the school’s president and two outstanding and widely admired doctors—all because they didn’t jump on board Jindal’s and the board’s LSU hospital privatization plan. Then the stuporvisors voted to turn two LSU medical facilities in Shreveport and Monroe over to a foundation run by a member of the stuporvisors—and the member cast a vote on the decision. No conflict of interest there.

Six months after the transition, the Center for Medicare Medicaid Services (CMS) has yet to approve the transition and if it ultimately does not approve it, there will be gnashing of hands and wringing of teeth in Baton Rouge (That’s right: the administration won’t be able to do that correctly, either) because of the millions of dollars in federal Medicaid funding that the state will not get or will have to repay. Jindal will, of course, label such decision as “wrong-headed,” which is an intellectual term he learned as a Rhodes Scholar.

And from what we hear, his little experiment at privatizing Southeast Louisiana Hospital (SELH) in Mandeville by bringing in Magellan to run the facility isn’t fairing too well, either.

By the way, has anyone seen Jindal at even one of those north Louisiana Protestant churches since his re-election? Didn’t think so.

For some reason, the word repulsive keeps coming to mind as this is being written.

Jindal’s firings and demotions are too many to rehash here but if you want to refresh your memory, go to this link: http://louisianavoice.com/category/teague/

The LSU Board of Stuporvisors, by the way, even attempted to prevent a release of a list of potential candidates for the LSU presidency. One might expect that member Rolf McCollister, a publisher (Baton Rouge Business Report), would stand up for freedom of the press, for freedom of information and for transparency. One would be wrong. He joined the rest of the board to unanimously try to block release. Again, led as usual by legal counsel Jimmy Faircloth who has been paid more than $1 million to defend these dogs (dogs being the name given to terrible, indefensible legal cases), Jindal was shot down in flames by the courts and the Board of Stuporvisors is currently on the hook for some $50,000 in legally mandated penalties for failing to comply with the state’s public records laws.

It would be bad enough if the administration’s legal woes were limited to the cases already mentioned. But there is another that while less costly, is far more embarrassing to Jindal if indeed, he is even capable of embarrassment at this point (which he probably is not because it’s so hard to be humble when you’re right all the time).

In a story we broke more than a year ago, former state Alcohol and Tobacco Control commissioner Murphy Painter refused to knuckle under to Tom Benson and Jindal when Benson’s application for a liquor license for Champions Square was incomplete both times it was submitted. Budweiser even offered an enticement for gaining approval of a large tent and signage it wanted to erect in Champions Square for Saints tailgate parties: a $300,000 “contribution” to the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District (Superdome), whose board is heavily stacked with Jindal campaign contributors.

http://louisianavoice.com/2012/09/04/new-lsu-teaguing-by-%CF%80-yush-may-be-imminent-raymond-lamonica-rumored-on-way-out-as-system-general-counsel/

And:

http://louisianavoice.com/2013/02/page/3/

Jindal fired Painter. Because firing him for doing his job might be bad press, more solid grounds were sought and Painter was subsequently arrested for sexual harassment of a female employee and of using a state computer database to look up personal information on people not tied to any criminal investigation (something his successor Troy Hebert ordered done on LouisianaVoice Publisher Tom Aswell).

The female employee recanted but Painter nevertheless was put on trial and once more the Jindalites were embarrassed when Painter was acquitted on all 29 counts. Unanimously.

But wait. When a public official is tried—and acquitted—for offenses allegedly committed during the scope of his duties (the Latin phrase is “in copum official actuum”) then Louisiana law permits that official to be reimbursed for legal expenses.

In this case, Jindal’s attempt to throw a state official under the bus for the benefit of a major campaign donor (Benson and various family members), will wind up costing the state $474,000 for Painter’s legal fees and expenses, plus any outstanding bills for which he has yet to be invoiced.

So, after all is said and done, Jindal still believes he is qualified for the highest office in the land. He is convinced he should be elevated to the most powerful position in the world. If he has his way, it won’t be an inauguration; it’ll be a coronation.

So intoxicated by the very thought of occupying the White House is he that he has presumed to author a 26-page white paper that not only critiques Obamacare but apparently details his plan to replace the Affordable Care Act. Could that qualify as another exorcism on his part?

His epiphany, however, appears to be more akin to the Goldfinch that regurgitates food for its young nestlings than anything really new; it’s just a rehash of old ideas, it turns out.

During his entire administration—and even when he served as Gov. Mike Foster’s Secretary of the Department of Health and Hospitals—he devoted every waking moment to cutting Medicaid and depriving Louisiana’s poor citizens of health care. Even as head of DHH, according to campaign ads aired on the eve of the 2003 gubernatorial election, he made a decision which proved fatal to a Medicaid patient. That one campaign ad was aired so close to the election date that he was unable to respond and it no doubt contributed to his losing the election to then-Lt. Gov. Kathleen Blanco but he won four years later.

Nevertheless, his sudden interest in national health care prompts the obvious question: where the hell has he been for six years?

Not that we would for a moment believe that his newfound concern for healthcare is for political expedience but he apparently isn’t stopping there as he sets out to save the nation.

“This (health care plan) is the first in a series of policies I will offer through America Next (his newly established web page he expects to catapult him into the White House) over the course of this year,” he said.

We can hardly wait.

 

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On Dec. 7, 2010, Discovery Education, a division of Discovery Communications, announced that Louisiana and Indiana had joined Oregon in adopting the Discovery Education Science Techbook as a digital core instructional resource for elementary and middle school science instruction. https://www.discoveryeducation.com/aboutus/newsArticle.cfm?news_id=663

Thanks to a sharp-eyed researcher, Sissy West, who writes a blog opposing the Common Core curriculum, we have learned that on Nov. 30, seven days before the deal between the state and Discovery Education was made public, State Sen. Conrad Appel (R-Metairie) purchased Discovery Communications stock, according to financial disclosure records filed with the State Ethics Board. http://nomorecommoncorelouisiana.blogspot.com/2014/03/crisis-of-confidence.html

Appel is a major proponent of education reform in Louisiana, including the controversial Common Core curriculum.

He also is Chairman of the Senate Education Committee and was in a unique position to know not only of the pending deal between Discovery Education and the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) as well as the company’s agreement with Indiana and Oregon, as well as Texas and Florida.

The Discovery Education Techbook is touted as a “Core Interactive Text” (CIT) that “separates static text from a fully digital resource.” http://www.discoveryeducation.com/administrators/curricular-resources/techbook/K-8-Science-digital-textbook/index.cfm

Appel’s financial disclosure form indicates his Discovery Communications stock purchase was between $5,000 and $24,999. APPEL REPORT PDF

Discovery Communications is traded on NASDAQ and on the date of Appel’s purchase, the company’s shares opened at $40.96 and closed at $40.78.

And while there was no significant movement in the stock’s prices on the date of and the days following Discovery’s announcement of the agreement with BESE, the stock hit a high of $90.21 per share on Jan. 2 of this year, meaning Appel’s profit over a little more than three years, on paper, was in excess of 100 percent. Put another way, he doubled his investment in three years. The stock closed on Thursday (March 27) at $75.72, still an overall gain of 85 percent Appel.

The most significant thing about Appel’s Nov. 30, 2010, purchase of the Discovery Communications stock is the volume of shares traded on that date. More than 7.5 million shares of Discovery Communications stock were traded that day, more than double the next highest single day volume of 3.1 million shares on Aug. 1, 2011. Daily trading volume generally ran between 1.1 million and 1.9 million shares in a monthly review from December 2010 through March of this year. http://finance.yahoo.com/q/hp?s=DISCA&a=10&b=30&c=2010&d=02&e=28&f=2014&g=m

While there is no way to know with any certainty, it is possible that the Discovery Education’s Techbook deals contributed to the surge of trading activity on Nov. 30.

Appel’s 2012 financial report reveals that he also purchased between $5,000 and $24,999 of Microsoft stock on June 4, 2012, the same date that the Louisiana Legislature adjourned its 85-day session. MICROSOFT

Ten days earlier, on May 25, the Louisiana Legislature approved the implementation of Common Core in Louisiana after the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation poured more than $200 million to develop, review, evaluate, promote and implement Common Core.

www.gatesfoundation.org/How-We-Work/Quick-Links/Grants-Database

And while no one is suggesting that Appel is involved in any type of illicit behavior or insider trading, the timing of his stock purchases might raise a few eyebrows. It could appear to some as more than coincidental—and ill-advised—that such transactions and official state actions would occur in so close a timeframe not once, but twice, and would involve a single individual who promoted Common Core legislation and who served as chairman of a key legislative committee that dealt with education issues.

Perception, as they say, is everything.

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The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) may have suffered a mass exodus of sorts in the wake of its Stand Your Ground mantra that led to the shooting of Trayvon Martin, but ALEC is far too strong to let a few defections stand in the way of its political agenda in such areas as public education (even to borrowing from John White’s playbook), weakening workers’ rights, diluting environmental protections, healthcare and now even in the way U.S. senators are nominated and elected.

For that reason alone, the upcoming legislative session which begins at noon on March 10—less than two months from now—will bear close watching for any bills that might appear to have originated at ALEC’s States & Nation Policy Summit last month in Washington, D.C.

ALEC, while striving to change laws to meld with its agenda, nevertheless denies that it is a lobbying organization. That way, corporations and individuals who underwrite ALEC financially are able to claim robust tax write-offs for funding ALEC and its companion organization, the State Policy Network (SPN).

ALEC has a strong presence in Louisiana. Former legislator Noble Ellington, now a deputy commissioner in the Louisiana Department of Insurance, is a former national president of the organization and Gov. Bobby Jindal was recipient of its Thomas Jefferson Freedom Award a couple of years ago when ALEC held its national conference in New Orleans.

Current Louisiana legislators who are members of ALEC are:

House of Representatives:

  • Rep. John Anders (D-Vidalia), Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force;
  • Rep. Jeff Arnold (D-New Orleans),      attended 2011 ALEC Annual Meeting;
  • Rep. Timothy G. Burns (R-Mandeville), Civil Justice Task Force Alternate;
  • Rep. George “Greg” Cromer (R-Slidell), State Chairman, Civil Justice Task Force (announced he was resigning from ALEC and from his position as Alec state chairman of Louisiana on April 17, 2012);
  • Rep. James R. Fannin (R-Jonesboro), ALEC Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force;
  • Rep. Franklin J. Foil (R-Baton Rouge), Communications and Technology Task Force;
  • Rep. Brett F. Geymann (R-Lake Charles), ALEC Communications and Technology Task Force;
  • Rep. Johnny Guinn (R-Jennings);
  • Rep. Joe Harrison (R-Gray), State Chairman, member of Education Task Force; (solicited funds for “ALEC Louisiana      Scholarship Fund” on state stationery July 2, 2012);
  • Rep. Cameron Henry, Jr. (R-Metairie), ALEC Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force;
  • Rep. Bob Hensgens (R-Abbeville);
  • Rep. Frank Hoffmann (R-West Monroe), ALEC Education Task Force;
  • Rep. Girod Jackson (D-Marrero), (resigned last August after being charged with fraud);
  • Rep. Harvey LeBas (D-Ville Platte),  ALEC Health and Human Services Task Force;
  • Rep. Walter Leger, III (D-New Orleans), ALEC Education Task Force;
  • Rep. Joe Lopinto (R-Metairie), (attended 2011 ALEC Annual Meeting where he spoke on “Saving Dollars and Protecting Communities: State Successes in Corrections Policy”);
  • Rep. Nicholas J. Lorusso (R-New Orleans), ALEC Public Safety and Elections Task Force;
  • Rep. Erich Ponti (R-Baton Rouge;
  • Rep. John M. Schroder, Sr. (R-Covington), ALEC Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force;
  • Rep. Alan Seabaugh (R-Shreveport);
  • Rep. Scott M. Simon (R-Abita Springs), ALEC Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development Task Force;
  • Rep. Thomas Willmott (R-Kenner), ALEC Health and Human Services Task Force;

Senate:

  • Sen. John A. Alario, Jr.(R-Westwego), ALEC Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force;
  • Sen. Jack L. Donahue, Jr. (R-Mandeville), ALEC Civil Justice Task Force member;
  • Sen. Dale Erdey (R-Livingston); Health and Human Services Task Force;
  • Sen. Daniel R. Martiny (R-Metairie); Public Safety and Elections Task Force;
  • Sen. Fred H. Mills, Jr. (R-New Iberia), ALEC Civil Justice Task Force member;
  • Sen. Ben Nevers, Sr. (D-Bogalusa), ALEC Education Task Force member;
  • Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia), ALEC Communications and Technology Task Force;
  • Sen. Gary L. Smith, Jr. (R-Norco), ALEC Communications and Technology Task Force;
  • Sen. Francis Thompson (D-Delhi)
  • Sen. Mack “Bodi” White, Jr. (R-Central), ALEC Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force.

All ALEC meetings are held under tight security behind closed doors. During one recent conference, a reporter was not only barred from attending the meeting, but was actually not allowed into the hotel where the event was being held.

Apparently, there is good reason for that. It is at these conferences that ALEC members meet with state legislators to draft “model” laws for legislators to take back to their states for introduction and, hopefully, passage. Some of the bills being considered for 2014 are particularly noteworthy.

We won’t know which proposals were ultimately approved at that December meeting in Washington, however, because of the secrecy in which the meetings are held. We will know only if and when they are introduced as bills in the upcoming legislative session. But they should be easy to recognize.

One which will be easy to recognize is ALEC’s push for implementation of Louisiana’s Course Choice Program in other states. Course Choice, overseen by our old friend Lefty Lefkowith, is a “mini-voucher” program which lets high school students take free online classes if their regular schools do not offer it or if their schools have been rated a C, D or F by the state.

Course Choice has been beset by problems in Louisiana since its inception first when companies offering classes under the program began canvassing neighborhoods to recruit students and then signing them up without their knowledge or permission. Vendors offering the courses were to be paid half the tuition up front and the balance upon students’ graduation, making it a win-win for the vendors in that it didn’t really matter if students completed the courses for the companies to be guaranteed half the tuition. Moreover, there was no oversight built into the program that would ensure students actually completed the courses, thus making it easy for companies to ease students through the courses whether or not they actually performed the work necessary to obtain a grade. The Louisiana Supreme Court, however ruled the funding mechanism for Course Choice from the state’s Minimum Foundation Program unconstitutional.

Three other education proposals by ALEC appear to also borrow from the states of Utah. The first, the Early Intervention Program Act, is based on Utah’s 2012 law which has profited ALEC member Imagine Learning by diverting some $2 million in tax money from public schools to private corporations. But Imagine Learning did not offer test scores for the beginning and ending of the use of its software, little is known of what, if any, benefits students might have received. The Student Achievement Backpack Act and the Technology-Based Reading Intervention for English Learners Act also appear to be based on Utah’s education reform laws.

The former provides access to student data in a “cloud-based” electronic portal format and was inspired by Digital Learning Now, a project of Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education when he was Florida’s governor.

Not all of ALEC’s proposals address public education.

For example, do you like to know the country of origin of the food you place on your table? More than 90 percent of American consumers want labels telling them where their meat, fruits, vegetables and fish are from, according to polling data. ALEC, though, is resisting implementation of what it calls “additional regulations and requirements for our meat producers and processors,” including those that would label countries of origin.

ALEC’s “Punitive Damages Standards Act” and the accompanying “Noneconomic Damage Awards Act” would make it more difficult to hold corporations accountable or liable when their products or practices result in serious harm or injury.

The organization’s “Medicaid Block Grant Act” seeks federal authorization to fund state Medicaid programs through a block grant or similar funding, a move that would cut Medicaid funding by as much as 75 percent. U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) has pushed similar block grant systems for Medicaid in several of his budget proposals.

In what has to qualify as a “WTF” proposal, ALEC for the second straight year is seeking approval of a bill to end licensing, certification and specialty certification for doctors and other medical professionals as requirements to practice medicine in the respective states and to prohibit states from funding the Federation of State Medical Boards.

Then there is the “Equal State’s Enfranchisement Act,” which is considered an assault of sorts on the 17th Amendment. For more than a century, U.S. senators were elected by state legislatures, a practice which often led to deadlocks and stalemates, leaving Senate seats open for months on end. But 101 years ago, in 1913, the 17th Amendment was ratified, changing the method of choosing senators to popular vote by the citizenry.

While ALEC’s proposal doesn’t mean full repeal of the 17th Amendment, it does mean that in addition to other candidates, legislatures would be able to add their own candidates’ names to ballots for senate seats. ALEC, apparently, is oblivious or unconcerned with a national poll that shows 71 percent of voters prefer electing senators by popular vote.

To keep track of these and other ALEC bills introduced in the upcoming session, just keep an eye on the member legislators and the bills they file.

And keep reading LouisianaVoice.

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It’s small wonder that Gov. Bobby Jindal wanted to get out of town quickly—he departed the state for an extended trip to Asia to recruit business and industry investment in Louisiana—given the flak he is receiving from the legislature and radio talk show hosts over his hiring of a consulting firm at a cost of $4.2 million to somehow magically find $500 million in state government savings. http://theadvocate.com/csp/mediapool/sites/dt.common.streams.StreamServer.cls?STREAMOID=sZuDzNJoJK2fudmeRm9FJpM5tm0Zxrvol3sywaAHBAlauzovnqN0Cbyo1UqyDJ6gE0$uXvBjavsllACLNr6VhLEUIm2tympBeeq1Fwi7sIigrCfKm_F3DhYfWov3omce$8CAqP1xDAFoSAgEcS6kSQ–&CONTENTTYPE=application/pdf&CONTENTDISPOSITION=Alvarez%20Marsal%20Government%20Savings%20Contract.pdfhttp://theadvocate.com/news/8045923-123/vitter-super-pac-raises-15

And that contract doesn’t even take into account Pre-Jindal recommendations by the firm that may ultimately end up costing taxpayers $1.5 billion which, of course, would more than offset any $500 million savings it might conjure up that the Legislative Fiscal Officer, the State Treasurer, the administration, the legislature and the Legislative Auditor have been unable to do, largely because of a time honored political tradition affectionately known as turf protection.

One might even ask, for example, why representatives of the consulting firm, Alvarez & Marsal, who somewhat smugly call themselves “efficiency engineers,” were wasting their time Friday at the gutted Office of Risk Management. Isn’t there already a promise of $20 million in savings on the table as a result of Jindal’s privatization of that agency four years ago? For just that one small agency, that’s 4 percent of the entire $500 million in savings Jindal is seeking through the $4 million contract. (The elusive $500 million savings, for the real political junkies, represents only 2 percent of the state budget.)

The Baton Rouge Advocate also got in on the act on Saturday with Michelle Millhollon’s excellent story that  noted that the actual contract contains no mention of a $500 million savings. http://theadvocate.com/home/8131113-125/vaunted-savings-not-included-in

That revelation which is certain to further antagonize legislators, including Senate President John Alario (R-Westwego) whom Jindal will now probably try to teague for his criticism of the governor’s penchant for secrecy.

Hey guys, your contract is only for four months, so why waste your time in an agency that supposedly is on the cusp of a $20 million savings? That ain’t very efficient, if you ask us.

Legislators immediately voiced their displeasure at the contract. “There’s a lot of people who don’t like it,” said Rep. John Schroder (R-Covington), a one-time staunch Jindal ally.

Rep. Tim Burns (R-Mandeville), chairman of the House Governmental Affairs Committee (if he hasn’t been teagued by now), said when the dust settles any cost cutting will ultimately be the responsibility of state officials. “Even the best PowerPoint presentation isn’t going to cut government,” he said. “The trick is to make the political choices.”

The contract raises immediate questions how Jindal, now entering his seventh year in office, could justify the move in light of his many boasts of efficiencies his administration has supposedly initiated.

Ruth Johnson, who is overseeing the contract for the Division of Administration, defended the deal with the simplistic and less than satisfactory logic that “Sometimes you have to spend money to save money.”

And while Jindal has indicated he wants a final set of recommendations in April, the contract runs through 2016, meaning the final cost could far exceed the $4.2 million Alvarez & Marsal is scheduled to receive for its review.

Jim Engster, host of a talk show on public radio in Baton Rouge, on Friday predicted during an interview with State Treasurer John Kennedy that Alvarez & Marsal’s final report will most likely bear an uncanny resemblance to the 400-plus-page interim report of Dec. 18, 2009, by the infamous Commission on Streamlining Government.

The hearings by that commission, you may remember, gave birth to the term teaguing, a favorite tactic employed by the Jindal administration when a state employee or legislator refuses to toe the line. A state employee named Melody Teague testified before that commission and was summarily fired the following day. Six months later her husband, Tommy Teague, was fired as head of the Office of Group Benefits when he was slow in getting on board the Jindal Privatization Express. Mrs. Teague appealed and was reinstated but her husband took employment elsewhere in a less volatile environment.

The Alvarez & and Marsal representatives have pleaded ignorant to questions of whether their report will draw heavily from the four-year-old commission report and even professed to not know of its existence.

A curious denial indeed, given that Johnson was also the ramrod over the streamlining commission during Jindal’s second year in office. Does she not share this information with the firm or was all that commission work for naught? Or part of Jindal’s infamous deliberative process? Curious also in that Alvarez & Marsal is specifically cited—by name—no fewer than six times in the report’s first 51 pages, each of which is in the context of privatizing the state’s charity hospital system. The report quoted the firm as recommending that:

  • “The governor and the legislature authorize and direct the LSU Health System to adopt the recommendations of Alvarez and Marsal for the operation of the interim Charity Hospital in New Orleans. The governor and legislature direct every other charity hospital in Louisiana to contract for a similar financial and operational assessment with a third party private sector consulting firm, such as but not necessarily Alvarez and Marsal, that specializes and has a proven track record in turnaround management, corporate restructuring and performance improvement for institutions and their stakeholders.”

That’s right. That is where the seed was apparently first planted for the planned privatization of the LSU Hospital system, even to the point of directing the LSU Board of Stuporvisors to vote to allow a Shreveport foundation run by one of the LSU stuporvisors to take over the LSU Medical Center in Shreveport and E.A. Conway Medical Center in Monroe. Alvarez & Kelly performed that bit of work under a $1.7 million contract that ran for nine months in 2009, from Jan. 5 to Sept. 30 (almost $200,000 per month).

Alvarez & Marsal also received a $250,000, contract of a much shorter duration (10 days) from Jindal on April 9, 2013, to develop Jindal’s proposal to eliminate the state income taxes in favor of other tax increases. That quickie, ill-conceived plan was dead on arrival during the legislative session and Jindal quickly punted before a single legislative vote could be taken

But Alvarez & Marsal’s cozy if disastrous relationship with state government goes back further than Jindal, even. http://www.alvarezandmarsal.com/case-study-new-orleans-public-schools It’s a relationship that could become one of the most costly in state history—unless of course, the state chooses to ignore a court judgment in the same manner as it has ignored a $100 million-plus award (now in the neighborhood of a quarter-billion dollars—with judicial interest) stemming from a 1983 class-action flood case in Tangipahoa Parish.

In fact, the state probably has no choice but to ignore the judgment as an alternative to bankrupting the state but that does little to remove the stigma attached to a horrendous decision to accept the recommendation of Alvarez and Marsal which subsequently was rewarded with a $29.1 million three-year state contract from April 4, 2006 to April 3, 2009 to “develop and implement a comprehensive and coordinated disaster recovery plan in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.”

In December of 2005, the Orleans Parish School Board adopted Resolution 59-05 on the advice of the crack consulting firm that Jindal somehow thinks is going to be the state’s financial salvation.

That resolution, passed in the aftermath of disastrous Hurricane Katrina was specifically cited in the ruling earlier this week by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal that upheld a lower court decision the school board was wrong to fire 7,500 teachers, effective Jan. 31, 2006. The wording contained in the ruling said:

  • “In December 2005, the OPSB passed Resolution No. 59-05 upon the advice and recommendation of its state-selected and controlled financial consultants, the New York-based firm of Alvarez & Marsal. The Resolution called for the termination of all New Orleans Public School employees placed on unpaid “Disaster Leave” after Hurricane Katrina, to take effect on January 31, 2006.1 On the day that the mass terminations were scheduled to take place, Plaintiffs amended their petition to seek a temporary restraining order preventing the OPSB from terminating all of its estimated 7,500 current employees at the close of business on that day. The trial court granted the TRO and this Court and the Louisiana Supreme Court denied writs on the issue. The TRO was later converted into a preliminary injunction that restrained, enjoined and prohibited the OPSB, et al, from “terminating the employment of Plaintiffs and other New Orleans Public School employees until they are afforded the due process safeguards provided in the Orleans Parish School Board’s Reduction in Force Policy 4118.4.” Nevertheless, Plaintiffs and thousands of other employees were terminated on March 24, 2006, after form letters were mailed to the last known address of all employees of record as of August 29, 2005.”

The appellate court upheld the award of more than $1 million to seven lead plaintiffs in the case of Oliver v. Orleans Parish School Board but adjusted the lower court’s damage award, ordering the school board and the Louisiana Department of Education to pay two years of back pay and benefits and an additional year of back pay and benefits to teachers who meet certain unspecified requirements.

Immediately following Katrina, state-appointed Alvarez and Marsal set up a call center to collect post-Katrina addresses for a majority of staff members in time for the anticipated layoffs. But when the state began the hiring process for schools that had been taken over, the terminated employees were never called, prompting plaintiff attorneys to charge that the entire procedure was intentional and part of the state’s plan to take over the Orleans Parish school system.

Plaintiffs said that then-State Superintendent of Education Cecil Picard chose Alvarez & Marsal to prevail upon the school board to replace acting parish Superintendent Ora Watson with an Alvarez & Marsal consultant.

So, Watson was replaced, 7,500 teachers were fired, and the teachers sued and won, leaving the Orleans School Board and the state liable for a billion-five and the firm that started it all is hired by Jindal to find savings of an unspecified amount. What could possibly go wrong?

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Besides my grandfather, whom I consider the greatest man I ever knew and who greatly influenced my personal life, two other men have had an equally tremendous impact on my professional life.

In 1966, tired of climbing poles for the telephone company because it was far too much like work, I walked into the offices of the Ruston Daily Leader in response to an advertisement in the paper for an ad sales representative. It didn’t take publisher Tom Kelly long to realize I had no aptitude for sales and he soon “promoted” me to sports editor.

It was while serving in that capacity that I returned to the classroom, pursuing a major in physical education at Louisiana Tech University with the goal of becoming a baseball coach. It was also about that same time that Wiley Hilburn, only five years my senior, left his position at the Shreveport Times to return to his hometown of Ruston to head the Journalism Department at Tech. Seeing something in my writing that impressed him (I still don’t know what it was), he convinced me to abandon my aspirations of coaching baseball in favor of a journalism major. I often joked with him over the ensuing years that I might someday find it in my heart to forgive him.

It was those two men, Tom Kelly and Wiley Hilburn, who cajoled and encouraged me and molded and shaped my career as a writer. I owe the two of them a debt that can never be repaid.

Today, Thursday, Jan. 16, 2013, Wiley Hilburn died and on this day, I feel a void and a sadness much like the way I felt the day my grandfather died. Though deeply personal, I shall endeavor to share a little of what I know about him.

He had been battling cancer and we were told it was in remission. The news was all good until he recently developed pneumonia. That, along with his already weakened condition, was just too much for his 75-year-old body to endure and today one of my two mentors and a dear friend was ripped away and I feel cheated and empty inside.

During my return to Tech as a student, I left the Daily Leader and took a job with the larger, more regional Monroe Morning World (now the News-Star) where I primarily worked the editing desk laying out the pages and writing headlines. I was fairly proficient at writing headlines for the stories and in my concurrent headline writing class at Tech, Hilburn—deliberately, he confided in me later—always gave me wire stories that he thought would be difficult to write headlines for. “But you still always finished before anyone else in the class,” he would tell me later. “I would get so frustrated trying to challenge you.”

Hilburn loved jokes and he especially loved—and appreciated—practical jokes, even when he was the butt of the joke.

Once, when after graduation, I ran the Ruston Bureau for both the Morning World and the Shreveport Times, he dropped by my office to ask if I had any Times stationery. He said a group of Tech administrators that included Alex Boyd and Weldon Walker, among others whose names I don’t recall, were hand circulating a get-rich-quick chain letter on the Tech campus and he wanted to pull a prank on them.

Together, we crafted a letter to Tech President F. Jay Taylor, who was in on the plot from the beginning. The letter, ostensibly from Times Editor Raymond McDaniel, “informed” Taylor that the Times had become aware of the chain letter and while the perpetrators were not breaking the letter of the law since they were not using the mail to solicit investments, they were nonetheless violating the spirit of the law and that “our man in Ruston, Tom Aswell, will be investigating the matter.”

Taylor, himself a lover of practical jokes (I’ll get to his momentarily), dutifully called the men into his office. There were three or four of them and as Taylor read the letter aloud in the serious and deliberate tone that the circumstances dictated, each one saw his career flash before his eyes. Boyd, knees weak and visibly shaken, had to sit down and kept muttering that his career was finished. Kaput. Walker, however, was defiant. “Aswell wouldn’t do that to me! He’s a friend of mine!” Finally, Walker, ignorant of Wiley’s involvement and by now grasping at straws, hit upon the only obvious solution: “Get Hilburn in here! He’ll straighten this out! He worked for the Times!”

Playing the string out to the end, Taylor obligingly called Hilburn to his office and upon his arrival, he found the men in a collective state of despair. Unable to keep a straight face in the presence of such morose trepidation,  Wiley gave it all away by cracking up with laughter.

Far from amused, a furious Walker swore revenge and we knew he was serious.

A year or so later, right around Christmas, I had moved on to the Baton Rouge State-Times and in a moment of mischievous inspiration, called Walker. “You still want to get even with Hilburn?” I asked.

“Hell, yes.”

“Well, think about this for a classified ad in the Daily Leader: ‘Don’t throw that old Christmas tree away. We recycle and we will pay you for your old tree. Just drop it by (Hilburn’s address, then in the Cypress Springs subdivision in Ruston) with your name and address on a tag and we will mail you $5.’”

“I love it,” Weldon blurted. “I’m gonna do just that.” I was just as thrilled to be part of a plan to turn the tables on Hilburn because I, too, loved practical jokes—and still do.

That weekend, Betty and I traveled to Simsboro just seven miles west of Ruston to spend the weekend after Christmas with her parents. I immediately grabbed my mother-in-law’s Daily Leader issues and began looking for the ad. Nothing. Not a word. Zilch. Disappointed, I called Weldon and asked, “What happened?”

“I’ll tell you what happened,” he thundered. “You and that s.o.b. Hilburn are what happened! I’ll tell you one damned thing: I better not find one damned Christmas tree in my yard or it’s gonna be somebody’s ass!” I could almost see the veins bulging from his neck.

Thoroughly confused by now, I called Hilburn who, laughing and without prompting from me, informed me that Tom Kelly had intercepted the ad before it got into the paper and, recognizing Wiley’s address, called him in. Hilburn asked who took out the ad and when Kelly showed him, Wiley suggested that Weldon’s address be substituted and a single page proof be printed. Wiley then took the page proof and stuck it in Weldon’s mailbox and when Weldon saw that…well, it was far better than the original plan. Only after he was finished did I inform Wiley that I was in on the plan for Weldon’s revenge, all of which made the entire episode even more hysterical to both of us.

On another occasion, a July 4 weekend, I drove over to Canton, Texas, to attend the world’s largest flea market and returned with several antique typewriters and a fire truck siren—items I had absolutely no use for. Almost, anyway. One fine day, with nothing else to do, I wired the siren into the ignition of Wiley’s old red Volkswagen Beetle and then walked across the campus to the Wyly Tower and took the elevator up to Taylor’s office and told him what I’d done.

Without a word, he picked up the phone and dialed Hilburn’s office. “Wiley,” he said, “I’ve had my car in the shop and they just called to say it’s ready. Could you give me a ride to pick it up?”

“I’ll be right there,” Hilburn replied.

We laughed like high school sophomores as we listened to the wail of the siren as he drove across campus to pick up his boss and by the time he walked into the office, Taylor was in tears.

Wiley Hilburn loved life and he loved and kept up with his students. He could tell you where each of his former students were long after they had left Tech. And make no mistake about it, his students loved and respected him.

But as much as he loved life and those around him, his life was still incomplete: Regrettably, he never got to see his beloved Chicago Cubs win the World Series—or even play in one.

This morning, feeling somehow that the end was near, I sat down and composed the following in his honor. It’s not classic poetry but I believe it accurately—and adequately—conveys my sentiments:

The Coffins That Pass Me By

As I pass from middle age to my golden years,

And contemplate how time can fly,

It’s not the setting sun that brings the tears,

But the coffins that pass me by.

 

Whether ’twas friend or foe matters not a drip,

For one and all, life’s wells run dry;

And it’s not that I fear making that trip,

It’s those coffins that pass me by.

 

Friends and loved ones will pay their respects

As they share stories and laugh and cry;

And each one standing there quietly reflects

On the coffins that pass us by.

 

Whether ’tis loved one or stranger who goes on first,

Our own fate is to one day ride

On that dreaded journey we all have cursed

In that damned coffin that once passed us by.

Go in peace, my friend.

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In the relative short existence of LouisianaVoice, we have deliberately avoided antagonizing the so-called mainstream media. First of all, we really don’t even like that term and second, we saw no reason to go out of our way to make additional enemies now that we have been removed from Gov. Jindal and John White’s Christmas card lists.

But today’s (Jan. 15) shameless publication—without proper vetting—of what obviously was a verbatim press release either from Jindal or White’s offices, perhaps both, does a serious disservice to The Advocate’s credibility and is nothing less than an insult to its readers’ intelligence.

The nine-paragraph story, credited to the Capitol News Bureau, is nothing more than a puff piece extolling Louisiana for having the best “policy environments” (whatever that may be) for improving public schools. http://theadvocate.com/home/4857391-125/studentsfirst-group-rates-louisiana-education

While the story does attribute the report to an outfit calling itself StudentsFirst and while it did mention in passing that StudentsFirst is headed by Michelle Rhee, it was woefully inadequate in explaining what—and who—StudentsFirst and Michelle Rhee are.

A maximum of five to 10 minutes of research would have shone a glaring light on both that would have gone far in putting this hoax of a story into its proper perspective.

We feel The Advocate owed that much to its readers.

And it failed. Miserably.

If you think we are feeling smug about this, think again. Investigative reporting, in our simplistic definition, simply means telling the full story. We are truly saddened to see a publication fail so glaringly in its duty to inform fully.

StudentsFirst has poured funds into the campaigns of Board of Elementary and Secondary Education candidates but more important, Rhee was forced out as head of the Washington, D.C. school system in 2010 after reports of widespread cheating on standardized testing surfaced. The episode turned into one of the biggest student test score cheating scandals in the nation and was the subject of a Frontline story on LPB on Jan 8, 2013.

We first reported on this organization and its leader on that date almost exactly a year ago at http://louisianavoice.com/2013/01/08/1st-in-education-reform-%CF%80-yush-john-white-release-glowing-report-from-michelle-rhees-less-than-credible-studentsfirst/ and at http://louisianavoice.com/2013/01/13/%CF%80-yush-white-hawk-yet-another-national-study-lauding-la-education-reform-oops-part-of-study-gives-state-an-f-grade/

Our friend Jason France over at the Crazy Crawfish blog also called out Jindal and White on the (forgive the bad pun) whitewash. http://crazycrawfish.wordpress.com/2013/01/08/1013/

At the time, we commented that we were “being asked to believe Jindal and White when they regurgitate a highly suspect report churned out by Michelle Rhee.”

Some things, apparently never change and now the State Capital’s daily newspaper is allowing itself to be used in such a sordid, unabashed manner.

Shameless. Shameless and sad.

And now, a few hours after first writing this post, we learn that the Lafayette Advertiser ran essentially the same self-serving press release—with no questions asked. The Advertiser even included quotes from Jindal meant to give us all that warm fuzzy feeling. http://www.theadvertiser.com/article/20140114/NEWS01/301140013/Louisiana-ranks-first-nation-education-reforms

At least Washington Post writer Valerie Strauss did a little digging and debunked Rhee and her report, saying that the report “has no solid evidence to back it up” and that The report card “wouldn’t be worth mentioning, except that she (Rhee) remains a force in the public education debate and is able to attract major money from private donors.” Strauss also noted that the fact that criteria used in arriving at the grades are not a factor in improving student achievement “doesn’t seem to matter.”

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/01/14/michelle-rhee-gives-the-nation-a-d-in-school-reform/

Good to know there are still a few real reporters out there.

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