As I listen all the gun rights advocates voicing support of the sacred Second Amendment, I find myself wondering how we have reached a point where their noise is allowed to drown out the pleas for common sense gun laws, i.e. bans on assault weapons, bump stocks, thorough background checks, etc.

The NRA, with its lobbying prowess and its purchase of members of Congress, has taken over the debate and its sycophants are lined up to chant a-la the Stepford Wives the gospel of the rights of the gun owners, supposedly represented by sportsmen who go out in search of big game in order to put meat on the family table.

All too often, however, the true sentiment is more accurate expressed in more realistic terms:

For a clearer image of this decal, I pulled this from an online website:

When, in the wake of the Parkland shootings that left 17 dead, Donald Trump incredulously said we should “take the guns first, go through due process second,” (something even the most diehard advocate of gun control has never said), his conservative BASE went into a state akin to apoplexy, and rightly so.

Of course, to paraphrase Mark Twain’s comment about New England weather, if you don’t like what comes out of Trump’s mouth, you need only wait a couple of minutes because his position is certain to change. There appears to be no limits to his imbecilic utterances and actions.

Yes, the Second Amendment clearly says, “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

There’s no debate about the wording but there is nothing in that that says we have an unlimited right to any and all types of arms. In fact, when the Second Amendment was adopted, there were no such things as assault weapons, grenades, land mines, tanks, missiles.

But no one—NO ONE—would argue to take away your rifle, your double-barrel shotgun, or your Colt 45 six-shooter. So, let’s clear the air of that silly argument.

But while gun rights advocates hold up the Second Amendment as the holy grail of the Spirit of Freedom and the American Way, there’s another amendment those same people seem to conveniently overlook:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

What we have instead is a growing chorus of “fake news” echoed by the Trump base because, like Trump, their vocabularies are so painfully limited and their intellect, like their dear leader’s, so mired in simple banalities that they can only parrot his talking points—talking points that, it turns out, were field tested by an outfit called CAMBRIDGE ANALYTICA.

How’s that for irony: cries of fake news prompted by a foreign company that coined the phrase?

But never mind all that: the term fake news has been so popularized by Trump that it’s caught on with such LUMINARIES as Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, the Chinese state media, the Russian foreign ministry, Spanish foreign minister Alfonso Dastis, and others of similar stripe.

Now we even have politicians trying to turn the phrase into attempts at CENSORSHIP, a movement every bit as dangerous as any perceived threat to gun ownership.

Had there been censorship;

  • Meat packing plants would still be turning out diseased meat for our ingestion.
  • The Teapot Dome scandal might never have come to light.
  • Sweatshops where children and women slaved away for 14 hours a day might still flourish—in factories with locked doors so workers would be unable escape in case of fire.
  • Worker safety in any form, in fact, might be non-existent.
  • Minimum wage might still be pennies per hour—with no benefits.
  • Automobile safety? Who needs that? Who could even afford an automobile?
  • Without freedom of the press, Tammany Hall and Boss Tweed may never have been reined in.
  • Nixon would’ve gotten away with his crimes.
  • We might still be losing American lives in a place called Vietnam were it not for writers like the late David Halberstam. (In fact, it was the failure of the press to follow up on the lies of the Johnson Administration that allowed the so-called Gulf of Tonkin incident propel us into an unprecedented escalation of that war.)
  • The Pentagon Papers would never have come to light.
  • McClure’s Magazine could never have exposed illegal practices by the railroads or by Standard Oil.
  • Inhumane treatment of the mentally ill would have remained a dark secret.
  • Seymour Hersh might never have revealed illegal CIA spying on Americans—in America because of press freedom.

There are many, many other examples—far too many to list here—that illustrate how a free press has contributed to the well-being of Americans. So, to all you out there who have obediently latched on to the FAKE NEWS term as your rallying cry, you’re in good company. You should be proud of yourselves for being able to think for yourself and for being able to express your individuality in the same way as the rest of the Trumpettes—just like Cambridge Analytica intended.

But it remains a mystery to me how 35 percent of the people in the most advanced nation on the face of the earth can remain so inconsistent in supporting one amendment to the Bill of Rights, a doctrine you have elevated to sacred status, while at the same time belittling another of those same amendments.

You can’t have it both ways. I’ll repeat that: You can’t have it both ways. Either the Bill of Rights is the basis of freedom in this country or it’s not. If you support one, you must support them all. It’s a package deal.

Yet we have ELECTED OFFICIALS taking up the call of fake news any time there’s a news story with which they do not agree or that puts them in a bad light.

We are not perfect in the press, far from it. In fact, I recently misinterpreted the intent of a bill by State Sen. Dan Claitor and pilloried him for it when in fact, I should have been praising him. I thought his bill was a serious attempt at mandating retirement of all elected officials at age 70 when in fact, he was trying to show the hypocrisy of the law requiring that all judges retire at 70.

But despite our occasional shortcomings, FREEDOM OF THE PRESS is every bit as important to the ability of Americans to remain free as the freedom to bear arms. Period.

If you can’t agree with that, you are a hypocrite in every sense of the word.

The worst kind of hypocrite, in fact, because you’re lying to yourself.


A handful of distinguished retired journalists (and me) meets once a month at a Baton Rouge Piccadilly Cafeteria (I told you we were retired) to solve the ills of the state, nation, and the world. Occasionally, we even delve into local Baton Rouge politics.

One of those, Ed Pratt, with whom I had the pleasure of working at the old Baton Rouge State-Times back in the ‘70s, is an occasional attendant but because he is still gainfully employed (unlike the rest of the over-the-hill-gang), he doesn’t join us each month.

But several months ago, at a lunch he did show up. The subject that day was the future of the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS) and the legislature’s failure to adequately address the looming fiscal cliff that will see about a billion dollars fall off the books with the expiration of a temporary sales tax.

On March 9, Pratt, who still does a regular op-ed column for the Baton Rouge Advocate, WROTE a piece that accurately illustrated the direct connection between the continued funding of TOPS and the return on investment of apartment developers and restaurant owners, investments that exist in the immediate orbit of the state’s institutions of higher learning.

And while Pratt’s analysis singled out the spurt in apartment, condo, and restaurant development, primarily in the immediate proximity of LSU, other colleges and universities have also witnessed similar private investment, particularly in student housing.

Those investments could be in peril if the legislature continues to shirk its responsibility in setting the state on firm fiscal footing.

Take my alma mater, Louisiana Tech, for example, and Grambling State University, just five miles from Tech. There has been an explosion of housing construction around those two campuses. And because Tech has embarked on an ambitious program of student recruitment to bump its enrollment to something like 20,000 or so over the next few years, construction workers have been particularly busy in Ruston. (The enrollment at Tech when I was there was something like 4,000. But they had rotary dial pay phones, Cokes in 61/2-ounce glass bottles, manual typewriters, carbon paper, and 8 p.m. weeknight curfews for female students back then, too.)

But the way they’ve gone about with their student housing construction at Tech is quite creative and is being emulated by every other campus in the state, according to Ruston political consultant Dr. Gary Stokley, a retired Tech professor.

The Tech Alumni Foundation approaches alumni and other supporters with an “investment opportunity” that, as long as TOPS is maintained, is virtually risk-free. (And no, it’s not a Ponzi or pyramid scheme.)

Tech, despite having torn down some of its dormitories, is growing and with an increase in enrollment, students need housing. And, of course, students would prefer a home environment with private baths and kitchens as opposed to dormitories with a community bath and no kitchen.

By working with the school’s foundation, which actually negotiates the construction contracts, investors enjoy a generous tax write-off, plus they will own a percentage of the apartments or condos. The school takes care of filling the housing units and collecting the rent and is also responsible for the maintenance of the buildings. The dollars generated by student rent pays off the debt. The advantage to the school is that it is relieved of the burden of having to go through the State Bond Commission to obtain funding for the construction. The alumnus or supporter who ponies up the money does nothing but sit back and reap the rewards of his investment.

If you have the funds to sink into the project, it’s a win-win proposition.

“Tech is one of the first schools to come up with this method of financing construction of student housing,” said Stokley. “Other schools have since replicated that method.

“Tech and Grambling have a tremendous impact on the economy of Ruston and Lincoln Parish as do others schools on their communities,” he said.

“A four-year student at Tech has an economic value of a million dollars on Ruston,” he said, “so the retention of students is critical. If TOPS craters, enrollment will drop and these apartments will sit empty.

“It’s a domino effect. If TOPS is cut or eliminated, it affects not only students’ families, but the ripple effect impacts colleges and the community as well.” Stokley said it was not unrealistic to envision some universities actually shutting down or converting from public to private schools with even higher tuitions—which could further reduce enrollment.

There are already all those extra fees that students voted to impose on themselves—before tuition began rising so sharply seven or eight years ago. “At Tech, we have the $62 million Davison Center that students voted to pay a portion of by assessing themselves fees totaling $8 million,” Stokley said. “That’s an added fee tacked onto already rising tuition. If TOPS is cut, that’s money that will have to be made up by students’ parents or by students taking out student loans. If that happens, the money for private apartments and condos just won’t be in the budget.”

Combined with the threat to TOPS, banks are lobbying Congress to cap the amounts of government student loans which could place additional financial hardships on students.

With federal student loans, the interest rate is fixed and often lower than private loans which can have variable interest rates of more than 18 percent. Plus, with federal loans, students are not required to begin repayment until they graduate, leave school or change their enrollment status to less than half time. Private loans require payments while still enrolled.

For other advantages of federal over private loans, click HERE.

If you are a parent with a kid enrolled in a Louisiana public university who is on TOPS, you may wish to turn your attention from March Madness long enough to give your House and Senate members a call to suggest that they take time away from campaign fund raising long enough to do the job they were elected to do.

Better yet, here are the links to the HOUSE and SENATE. Scroll down and click on the name of your members to get their email addresses to contact them that way.

A lawsuit making its way through U.S. District Court in Lafayette alleges that a female employee, Jordan Carter, was dismissed from her job at Swiftships, LLC in Morgan City because she was pregnant and management did not want to grant her maternity leave.

The lawsuit, which also says Carter was promoted prior to her pregnancy but never received a promised increase in pay that was supposed to go along with the promotion, carries far more significance that your normal discrimination lawsuit, however.

Between fiscal year 2007 through 2016, Swiftships held seven federal CONTRACTS totaling $386 million. Those included $103.4 million in contracts with the U.S. NAVY for non-nuclear ship repair. The duration of those contracts ran from Sept. 22, 2014, through March 20, 2018.

Carter was employed by Swiftships for nearly 21 months, from April 22, 2013, to Jan. 9, 2015.

Prior to her termination, she was demoted. She said her supervisor told her she was demoted because of her pregnancy.

One witness told Smith that she was aware of two other pregnant women who were terminated by Swiftships prior to giving birth.

Federal contracting regulations strictly prohibit employee discrimination in any form.

  • Last April 24, Swiftships was awarded a $27.4 million modification to a previously-awarded contract “for the accomplishment of continuous lifecycle support for the Iraqi Navy.” The shipbuilding firm is providing TECHNICAL EXPERTISE in preventative and planned maintenance, repairs and platform overhaul support services for Iraqi patrol boats, offshore vessels, and defender boats. Work under the contract, which was scheduled for completion this month, was performed on Umm Qasr Naval Base, Iraq.
  • In October 2015, the U.S. Navy EXTENDED Swiftship’s contract to operate and upgrade a repair facility for Iraqi patrol boats built in Morgan City. The one-year extension was worth almost $11 million for Swiftships.
  • Swiftships has delivered almost 300 vessels through Foreign Military Sales, (FMS) the preferred method for selling defense systems abroad.

Under FMS, the Department of Defense procures defense articles and services for the foreign customer using the same acquisition process used to procure for its own military needs.

Recent policy changes in the U.S. Government’s Federal Acquisition Regulations have opened the door to foreign governments, allowing them to participate in FMS procurement negotiations. In general, the government-to-government purchase agreements tend to ensure standardization with U.S. forces; provide contract administrative services that may not be available through the private sector; and help lower unit costs by consolidating purchases for FMS customers with those of DoD. DCS allows the foreign customer more direct involvement during the contract negotiation phase; may allow firm-fixed pricing and may be better suited to fulfilling non-standard requirements.

The President designates countries and international organizations eligible to participate in the FMS program. The Department of State makes recommendations and approves individual programs on a case-by-case basis. Currently, around 160 countries are eligible to participate in FMS.

The Carter lawsuit is not the first litigation in which Swiftships was named as a defendant.

  • In 2015, Swiftships found LIABLE for $2.1 million in unpaid fees owed to MTU America, plus more than $400,000 in legal fees.
  • Last month, Swiftships, with annual revenues of $50 million, was found liable for $689,000 plus legal interest and legal fees for BREACH OF CONTRACT.
  • In June 2015,Valerie Landreneau, a female employee of Swiftships’ Morgan City facilities, filed suit in state district court against Swiftships after claiming that a former co-worker attacked her after learning about her SEXUAL HARASSMENT complaints against him.

If Carter or Landreneau should prevail in either or both of their harassment lawsuits, an adverse decision could result in the cancellation of hundreds of millions of federal contracts currently held by Swiftships.

Carter is represented by attorney J. Arthur Smith of Baton Rouge who has also claimed (though not in the lawsuit itself) that he has been informed that Swiftships “raids employees’ 401K accounts in order to remain afloat (no pun intended) but has failed to repay the money. Smith says a witness has informed him that Swiftships employees have had their 401K funds “borrowed” and used “to run the company,” and that “many of the employees did not get their money reimbursed as promised.”

Federal law also prohibits companies from raiding employee retirement and/or insurance funds.

Why would DeSoto Parish Sheriff Rodney Arbuckle abruptly resign less than midway through his fifth consecutive term in office?

Arbuckle, who stepped down, effective today (Friday, March 16), attributed his decision, which he said has been a year in the making, to HEALTH PROBLEMS being encountered by one of his grandchildren.

But could there have other overriding factors that prompted his decision? Possibly. There are several prior and ongoing questions involving the DeSoto Parish Sheriff’s Office which, taken together or separately, could have nudged him out the door prematurely.

The first, going back about four years to an investigative audit REPORT by the Legislative Auditor’s Office in Baton Rouge revealed a major issue involving a former deputy sheriff whose private company ran half-a-million dollars’ worth of private background checks through Arbuckle’s office.

The company, Lagniappe and Castillo Research and Investigations, ran 41,574 background checks through the sheriff’s office during the 11-month period between April 1, 2012, and February 28, 2013, the audit report said. That’s 41,574 background checks in a parish that has a population of only 27,000.

Lagniappe and Castillo charged its customers $12 for each background report but paid the sheriff’s office only $3 per report. That represents a profit of more than $372,000 on income of more than $498,000—and sheriff’s office employees actually ran the checks. Robert Jackson Davidson, who retired as chief investigator for the sheriff’s office in May 2013, is listed as 50 percent owner of the company by the Louisiana Secretary of State’s corporate filings.

And then there is the more recent problem of LACE. That’s an anacronym for Local Agency Compensation Enforcement whereby the district attorney’s office pays the salaries of law enforcement officers to beef up traffic patrol for the parish. LACE has been hit with similar problems in State Police Troops B and D when it was learned that troopers were reporting hours worked on LACE detail that were not actually worked.

In the case for DeSoto Parish, it was sheriff’s deputies who fudged the numbers on their timesheets and three of Arbuckle’s deputies have already left under a cloud.

A new investigative audit by the Legislative Auditor’s Office has been ongoing for some time now and that report is also expected to be highly critical of the LACE program and possibly other areas of operation.

Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera told LouisianaVoice on Thursday that he did not know just when that report would be released. The auditor’s office traditionally sends the head of the agency being audited a management letter in advance of the public release of the report in order to give management a chance to respond in writing. That response is usually included in the release of the audit report. There was no word from Purpera’s office as to whether or not that management letter had been sent to Arbuckle.

A check by LouisianaVoice of about 600 LACE tickets handed out by sheriff’s deputies revealed that not a single LACE ticket was issued to a resident of DeSoto Parish. Every single recipient checked was from other parishes or even from out of state.

Of course, I-49 cuts through DeSoto Parish which would explain at least a high number of out-of-parish motorists’ receiving tickets—but 100 percent would seem somewhat improbable.

Reports by local critics of Arbuckle cite him for purchasing vehicles for the sheriff’s office without going through the public bid process. But sheriffs offices are on a state vendor list that exempts many such purchases from public bid. But on those not exempt, critics claim there is mischief afoot in the way Arbuckle goes about his purchases.

Then there is Arbuckle’s annual budget which reflects revenues of $12.3 million, which is nearly double the $4.9 million of next-door neighbor Sabine Parish, which has a population of 24,200—only a little fewer than DeSoto.

But it’s the office expenditures that are the real eye-openers. Arbuckle’s office had expenditures of nearly $14.1 million for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2017. That is $3.3 million more than the $10.8 million spent by the sheriff’s office in Natchitoches Parish, which has a population of 40,000—and a university. It also is more near three times the $5 million spent by the Sabine Parish Sheriff for the same year.

So, just what did Arbuckle spend all that money on? For starters, the bulk of that $15.2 million, $11.2 million to be exact, went for salaries. It would appear that Arbuckle hired deputies almost indiscriminately. Arbuckle himself was the second-highest-paid sheriff in the state (only the Beauregard Parish sheriff made more).

His department’s salary figures compare with salary expenditures of $3.7 million for Sabine and $7.9 million for Natchitoches.

Even more telling is a comparison of the year-end fund balances for the three sheriffs’ offices. Sabine Parish ended the fiscal year with a fund balance of $7.5 million and Natchitoches Parish had a fund balance of $8.2 million. Arbuckle’s DeSoto Parish Sheriff’s Office, however, finished the fiscal year with a whopping fund balance of $52.2 million.

Arbuckle apparently need not concern himself with the state law that a sheriff is responsible for any operating deficit at the end of his term of office.

DeSoto’s embarrassment of riches was due in large part to the Haynesville Shale and a couple of major facilities—eight energy companies, International Paper, and SWEPCO—in the parish which accounted for $256.5 in assessments and $3.5 million in property taxes (4.73 percent of total assessed valuation). Both figures would appear to be extremely low.

Arbuckle also is a principal in no fewer than six corporate entities, three of which are for-profit companies. One is a fence construction company and a second is a real estate development firm. The third, and possibly the most significant, is an outfit called Dirt Road Rentals, which rents or leases equipment to oil and gas field companies.

The company was chartered in July 2013, just about the time the Haynesville Shale boom kicked off. With so much activity taking place with the Haynesville Shale, it would seem to be a golden opportunity for a sheriff who, if he chose to do so, could lean on the oil and gas field companies to lease equipment from him lest their trucks get pulled over for traffic offenses.

Which could explain the need for all those extra deputies.

But a sheriff would never stoop to such tactics.

Would he?

A disturbing email crossed my desk (via the old-fashioned way, the post office—from an anonymous sender) on Wednesday, one which could hold legal implications for certain medical practitioners affiliated with Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge.

The email, dated Feb. 6 but just received by LouisianaVoice, was from Dr. James Rhorer of Professional Emergency Physicians Associates of 7777 Hennessy in Baton Rouge. It was sent to about 125 recipients to warn them about the practice of photographing ER patients or parts of their anatomy and posting them on social media.

“If patients choose to photo, video, or snap themselves, that is their choice,” Rhorer said. “For us, however, there is a different standard. Simply stated, the body part belongs to the patient, not to us! We do not have the right to deliver any image (even with no facial recognition) to a social media platform.”

Rhorer said that photographing patients, even if the patient’s face is concealed, “will get you into hot water.”

He said that images obtained for educational purposes “must follow the organizational release signed by the patient for the sole use in an educational setting. Facebook, Instagram, Snap Chat are not registered as educational platforms!”

Rhorer indicated that his email was more than a mere warning. “Disclosures must be made to a patient who has had a body part photographed on social media if it is discovered by the organization.

This has occurred and the patients were NOT ok with it.” (emphasis ours)

In boldface type, Rhorer admonished the recipients, “Do not photograph (or record) any part of any patient without the strictest adherence to privacy and release policies. This is not allowed at OLOLRMC.”

Attempts to reach Dr. Rhorer for comment Thursday morning were unsuccessful.