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On Sunday, there were simultaneous invasions in the Livingston Parish community of Watson (it’s not officially a town yet but local leaders are working to put a referendum on the ballot).

Forty-four young people, led by a native of nearby Bogalusa, poured into several homes in Watson, recruiting elementary, middle and high school students to their cause, pulling local children into a grueling training regimen for a two-hour standing-room only performance be an audience of appreciative residents.

It was the fourth time in recent years that The Young Americans, a troupe of young people, white, black, brown and yellow, from across the U.S., Europe and Asia performed as a fund-raising project of the South Live Oak Elementary School. Following their performance, they presented the school with a check for more than $1,000. It was the fourth time that I have attended the show and the fourth time that I have been impressed at the abundance of talent possessed by YA members, all of whom range between 18 and 22 years of age.

It was also the fourth performance in which one or more of my grandchildren have participated. This year, there were four of my descendants among the scores of local children recruited to perform alongside the 44 Young Americans in a series of song and dance routines that was nothing short of spectacular.

Founded more than a half-century ago, The Young Americans is a charitable organization dedicated to the promotion of the arts. With schools around the country cutting back on arts funding because of fiscal problems, The Young Americans College of the Performing Arts has turned out some impressive alumni who have moved on to film, television, movie and musical careers.

Among those alumni are Nia Peeples of Fame and Walker, Texas Ranger; Mary Bond Davis of Hairspray; Steve Issacs of The Who’s Tommy, Jim May, orchestra conductor for The Lion King, and Mark Walberg, among scores of others.

Another alumnus was Bruce Sampson, a native of Bogalusa and the associate director of the previous three local performances before moving into the audience this year, giving way to his successor.

Sampson has been involved in entertainment most of his life, accepted at age 15 to the American Musical Theater program and The Young Americans. He signed his first recording contract at 17 and embarked immediately on a summer concert tour, opening for such acts as Maynard Ferguson and Kool and the Gang. All three of his daughters have come through the Young Americans.

But the real story here is how 44 kids from such a wide range of backgrounds come together to take their audience on a high energy tour of music from around the world and, for the old-timers, a dish of The Beach Boys, The Four Seasons, The Supremes, Aretha Franklin, The Temptations, The Contours, and other pioneers of rock ‘n’ roll. Of course they lost the older members of the audience but won the hearts of the kids with the One Direction, New Kids on the Block and a couple of other groups I can’t possibly identify.

The only thing conspicuously absent, at least from my point of view, was Brenda Lee and Roy Orbison.

But for two hours, they, along with all the local school kids who made their show business debuts, made us forget politics, crime, the economy and all the other problems we face on a daily basis.

Over the years, they have created specialty shows for corporate anniversary celebrations, sales awards ceremonies, foundation fundraising events, trade shows and, of course schools where they involve dozens of local kids in their baptism to show business.

The next stop will be in Marksville. If you get the chance to catch them in a performance, don’t pass up the opportunity. You could even approach your children’s principal about bringing them to your school.

For those interesting in either booking or auditioning to join The Young Americans should go to this link:

http://www.youngamericans.org/index.php/booking-the-young-americans/

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At the repeated suggestions of several readers, we have added a feature to LouisianaVoice which we hope will increase our readership. (At least that’s what we’ve been told.)

At the bottom of each story we now have links readers may go to share our stories with others via Facebook, Twitter, Tumbler, Linkedin, and others.

And I personally have never really gotten into social media, there is even a button readers may click on to “like” us—whatever the heck that is. My car, after all, still has an 8-track player and my cell phone has a rotary dial and I still watch movies on Beta tapes—though they and the 8-tracks are getting harder and harder to find.

After adding these links we scrolled through a few stories to see what kind of hits we were getting and found that our story on U.S. Rep. Steve Scalese’s speech to David Duke’s group has already been forwarded more than 3,000 times on Facebook.

And that’s a good thing…we think.

At any rate, please feel free to avail yourselves to the new LouisianaVoice feature.

As for us, well, we’ll just keep writing about good ol’ Louisiana politics.

—Tom Aswell, Editor

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It took a while but we have an update on Chance McNeely, the 26-year-old who recently made the quantum leap from a policy analyst for the governor’s office to Assistant Secretary of the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), Office of Environmental Compliance.

Before we get to that, however, let’s review a couple of items.

What’s it been, five years now that state classified employees have gone without a pay raise?

And didn’t the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) recently raise premiums and reduce benefits, all because Gov. Bobby Jindal manipulated premiums to help cover gaping holes in his state budget, thereby reducing the OGB reserve fund from more than $500 million to something like half that amount?

And hasn’t Jindal issued two expenditure freezes and two hiring freezes within the past 12 months, even specifying that no agency could “use employee transfers, promotions, reallocations or the creation of new positions” in order to circumvent the freezes?

So how is it that Chance McNeely, with a degree in agricultural business and all of four years’ experience (three of those as a legislative assistant for the U.S. House of Representatives. And just what does a legislative assistant do in Washington?), is deemed to be qualified to oversee something as critical as environmental compliance?

As this is being written, there is a federal trial ongoing in Baton Rouge over leaks of toxic chemicals at a DuPont chemical plant in Ascension Parish. But it’s a whistleblower suit, not one initiated by any regulatory agency. And does anyone remember the 1978 death of a truck driver at Bayou Sorrel? That happened when the driver exited his truck and was overcome by lethal chemical fumes.

Most of the state’s environmental issues are situated in South Louisiana, primarily along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans—the corridor that has been dubbed, deservedly so, as Cancer Alley.

But North Louisiana is not immune. The most controversial issue in the state right now is that proposed open tray burn of 15 million pounds of M6 artillery shell propellant at Camp Minden. Experts say cancer-causing emissions could be spread from Shreveport to Monroe.

We don’t know Chance McNeely, but it is the position of LouisianaVoice that given our track record in protecting Louisiana’s air and water, the job of environmental compliance should be entrusted to (a) someone with an environmental background and (b) someone with vastly more experience.

And the position most certainly should not have been handed to someone who purportedly is planning to walk away come next September in favor of entering law school.

But, adding insult to injury, McNeely’s salary, according to State Civil Service records, just increased by a whopping 57 percent—from $65,000 per year to $102,000.

This for someone who has worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst (we don’t know what that entails, either) for all of nine months when there are thousands of state employees who have been working for decades for much less than half that.

And DEQ Secretary Peggy Hatch can stand on top of the State Capitol and proclaim (as she already has, but not from atop the Capitol) that McNeely was her first choice for the job, but we aren’t buying it for one nano-second. She hired McNeely at Jindal’s specific instructions and was given her talking points as well.

If, as she claims, it was her idea to recruit someone with no experience for a position as important as environmental compliance for the entire State of Louisiana, then we contend she is no more qualified for her position than he.

But again, we know whose decision it was to make this horribly ill-advised move. And if the citizens of Louisiana were not already aware of how Jindal has turned his back on this state in favor of his own self-promotion, then this move should underscore it.

It’s the biggest slap in the face of the state’s four million citizens since, well, since 1996 when Gov. Mike Foster appointed a 24-year-old named Bobby Jindal as head of the Department of Health and Hospitals.

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If I were to write non-stop between now and the 2016 presidential election, I could never capture the accuracy or the relevance of Lamar White’s CenLamar post of today.

If you do nothing else during the holiday season, please take the time to read this:

http://cenlamar.com/2014/12/21/barry-and-bobby/

 

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