Archive for September, 2012

Half-a-century ago, in the late fifties, a wave of popular music swept across America that captured the imagination of a nation that was just beginning to morph from national innocence to prolonged skepticism and disillusionment. The catalyst of that transformation was, of course, the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The subsequent murders of Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King and John Lennon only fueled that growing undercurrent of national distrust and resentment that permeates our society even today.

You couldn’t dance to that music, so far removed was it from the histrionics of Chuck Berry, Elvis, Gene Vincent and Little Richard, so it was never showcased on American Bandstand but the movement gave birth to some of the most memorable song lyrics ever recorded and it would eventually help fuel the groundswell of protests to the Vietnam War in the ensuing decades of the sixties and seventies and launched the careers of a new crop of singers who would contribute admirably to the genre.

We’re talking about American folk music and the popular but short-lived ABC musical variety show, Hootenanny.

The movement began inconspicuously enough around 1958 with the number-one, Grammy winning Tom Dooley by the Kingston Trio. In short order we had Harry Belafonte with The Banana Boat Song (Day-O), the Brothers Four with Darling Sporting Jenny, and the Highwaymen with Cotton Fields.

Remember the Kingston Trio in their follow up hit, The MTA, quoting Thomas Paine with the opening (spoken) line, “These are the times that try men’s souls”?

How prophetic.

Those performers and those songs opened the door for Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, the New Christy Minstrels, the Chad Mitchell Trio, Barry McGuire, Melanie, John Denver, Neil Young, Peter, Paul and Mary, Buffalo Springfield, and Arlo Guthrie, son of arguably the most famous folk singer of them all, Woody Guthrie. Even Shreveport’s Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Leadbelly, considered himself a folk singer even though record executives tried to market him as blues. He wrote such folk classics as Goodnight Irene, The Rock Island Line, and House of the Rising Sun (Yes, the Animals’ hit was originally a folk song).

Just as the movement was on the wan, the Vietnam War spawned a whole new generation of songs: One Tin Soldier, For What It’s Worth, Eve of Destruction, Running Through the Jungle, Fortunate Son, War (What is it Good For?), Barry’s Boys, and others. One man, Pete Seeger, spanned both eras and performed well into his nineties.

But let us return to the greatest of them all and perhaps the best folk song ever written, one that resonates louder and more clearly and with more tragic irony today than ever. Let us etch the lyrics of Woody Guthrie’s This Land is Your Land into our consciousness, grasp the words’ meaning in their totality and never allow the song’s message to wander far from our lips:

As I was walking a ribbon of highway
I saw above me an endless skyway
I saw below me a golden valley
This land was made for you and me

The last line tells us everything we need to know about this country and a national feeling of shared pride that was somehow lost along the way: This land was made for you and me.

This land does not belong to the James River Corp., the Chesapeake Energy Co. or to the Koch Brothers. It belongs to you and me—to preserve, to hold and to nurture. Not to pillage, rape and squander her bounty. To that end, we could learn a valuable lesson from the Native Americans.

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California, to the New York Island
From the redwood forest, to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me

Politicians and their campaign contributors should not control this land. This land is not owned by Big Pharma or ExxonMobil or Archer Daniels Midland, though you’d never know it by walking the halls of Congress or by strolling down K Street in Washington, D.C., or by examining laws and regulations that were written so as to contribute to the richest one percent or to benefit corporate America at the expense of you and me.

In the squares of the city – In the shadow of the steeple
Near the relief office – I see my people
And some are grumblin’ and some are wonderin’
If this land’s still made for you and me.

How is it that corporations like General Electric can ship jobs overseas where they can exploit cheap labor, rake in record profits, yet pay no corporate income taxes? How is it that this once great land has become a debtor nation with China holding most of the IOU chits? Is this the land we inherited? Is this what politicians and Tea Partiers gush about when they become so misty-eyed while referring longingly to “the American Way?”

As I was walking a ribbon of highway
I saw above me an endless skyway
I saw below me a golden valley
This land was made for you and me

I’ve roamed and rambled and I’ve followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts
And all around me a voice was sounding
This land was made for you and me

The sun comes shining as I was strolling
The wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling
The fog was lifting a voice come chanting
This land was made for you and me

As I was walkin’ – I saw a sign there
And that sign said – no tress passin’
But on the other side …. it didn’t say nothin!
Now that side was made for you and me!

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California, to the New York Island
From the redwood forest, to the gulf stream waters
This land was made for you and me.

Attached here are several YouTube videos of various artists performing the song. Perhaps the most poignant is that of the New Christy Minstrels http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-hSjIDBj5pI&feature=related because it contains disturbing video clips of what this country has become as opposed to what we would wish it to be.

Others include Bruce Springsteen http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1yuc4BI5NWU&feature=related not because we necessarily prefer his version but because of his spoken observations while introducing the song during one of his concerts.

We include a link to Harry Belafonte’s version http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iqAyiKaS5uQ simply because he has such a pleasant voice, not laced with anger or outrage.

The Kingston Trio is included http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=07spb387Opc because we feel it is the most rousing version and does the best job of capturing the true spirit of the song.

But no compilation would be complete without two very special versions of the song. The first, by Woody’s son Arlo, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pqZ3oNsMVr0&feature=related as he performs (in a tuxedo, if you can believe that) with, of all things, the Boston Pops and finally, by Woody himself http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wxiMrvDbq3s&feature=related

Next Wednesday, October 3, will mark the 45th anniversary of Woody Guthrie’s death.

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Piyush Jindal is still on his whirlwind tour of New Hampshire to attend a Republican breakfast and Iowa to campaign against a state supreme court judge who had the audacity to help make unanimous a ruling that the state’s one man-one woman marriage law was unconstitutional but now Jindal may already be planning another jaunt—this time to Florida to take on three more state supreme court judges.

Apparently there are simply no more problems in Louisiana that demand his attention so he is free to look elsewhere. Nice to know everything is under control here.

Though nothing official has come from Jindal’s office, the atmosphere appears favorable for him to charge into the state on his noble steed in concert with David Koch to rescue the state and Gov. Rick Scott from the evil judges who were part of a 5-2 majority that blocked an unconstitutional ballot initiative seeking to nullify the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare).

The Tea Party group Americans for Prosperity, chaired by David Koch of Koch Industries, the driving force behind the American Legislative Exchange Council, joined the Florida Republican Party’s effort to remove the three judges, which would give Gov. Scott, a Tea Party member, control over nearly half the court.

“Many states, like Ohio, gave their citizens the right to vote against the Affordable Care Act,” sniffed the Americans for Prosperity, sounding like a true victim, “but not Florida. Our own supreme court denied our right to choose for ourselves. Shouldn’t our courts protect our rights to choose?”

First of all, the Florida Supreme Court’s decision had nothing to do with denying anyone’s “right to choose.” The decision was to remove the unconstitutional ballot initiative after the initiative’s own defenders admitted that the ballot language was misleading so the court’s decision simply said that voters should be able to understand what they are voting for before they cast ballots.

Even more important, however, is that the Koch group, by supporting the ballot initiative, is also endorsing a questionable constitutional theory known as “nullification.” Because the Constitution provides that duly enacted federal laws “shall be the supreme law of the land,” states do not have the authority to block or supersede an Act of Congress such as the Affordable Care Act, whether through a ballot initiative or otherwise.

Nullification was last in vogue with the nineteenth century slaveholders and Civil Rights era segregationists. But the Tea Partiers have revived the concept and the Florida judges apparently hurt their feelings.

Tea Party self-appointed historian Tom Woods has published a book defending nullification. Of course he also once published an article describing the Confederacy as “Christendom’s Last Stand.”

So now Americans for Prosperity and Koch desire to punish three judges for putting the law above conservative ideology. They are hellbent on turning over Florida’s highest court to the Tea Party governor. If successful, this campaign will send a chilling message to every elected judge in the country (Louisiana’s judges are elected) that they can adhere to the Constitution at their own peril.

Sounds like a perfect opportunity for Piyush. After all, his most recent trips just happen to be in the states where the nation’s first presidential primary and first presidential caucuses are held. And Florida is almost certain to be a swing state in future elections.

Too bad Piyush doesn’t realize that his political fortunes are sinking faster than that big hole in Assumption Parish.

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“I think a special session would simply cost taxpayers dollars that would be better spent on health care and higher education. So, I don’t think there’s a need for a special session,”

–Gov. Piyush Jindal at his condescending best, saying he believes his administration has been providing lawmakers enough information about the budget cutbacks for the LSU Health Care System hospitals and closures of Southeast Louisiana Hospital in Mandeville and J. Levy Dabadie Correctional Center in Pineville as he dismissed the idea of a special session.

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The scene at the Louisiana Department of Education on Monday and Tuesday could best be described as something slightly less than a feeding frenzy—but barely.

In show business, the auditioning for acting roles is referred to a cattle call. For Louisiana charter school wannabes, it’s called a request for applications and after the July 31 deadline for applications, applicant interviews were scheduled for Sept. 24-25—Monday and Tuesday of this week.

But you would never know that by making an inquiry of the department’s public information department.

When asked about the beehive of activity in the building on Tuesday, a spokesperson for the public information office allowed as he had no knowledge of what was going on.

Perhaps that is why State Superintendent of Education John White is paying $12,000 per month for a part time communications manager for the department—even though he already has a full time press secretary.

Just in case your math is a little rusty, that computes to $144,000 per year, although Deirdre Finn, the former deputy chief of staff for former Florida Republican Gov. Jeb Bush, is being contracted for only four months, from July 23 to Nov. 30, but may be renewed for up to three years.

She replaces René Greer who was paid $110,000.

And get this: She will be working part time, dividing her duties between Baton Rouge and Tallahassee.

All while, the Baton Rouge Advocate noted Monday, state aid to public education has been frozen for four years and public school districts have been forced to lay off teachers.

Does the word arrogant carry a special meaning here?

That, of course, begs the question of whether she will obtain a Louisiana license plate for her vehicle. She will probably follow the example of Carol Steckel, chief of the Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) Center for Health Care Innovation and Technology who says she maintains her primary residence in Alabama and does not intend to remain in Louisiana. In other words, it’s a virtual (DOE loves that word) certainty that she will not register her car in this state; ergo, no Louisiana license plate, no tax revenue from high-priced, out-of-state workers who were hired because there obviously was no one in Louisiana qualified to churn out PR flak.

(We would love to do a story about the number of out-of-state types have been hired at six-figure salaries and to give their individual and cumulative salaries but that would take some serious digging in all the state agencies.)

Jindal policy director Stafford Palmieri and DHH chief technology officer Zachary Jiwa are two other administration hires who neglected to pay taxes in Louisiana by obtaining state license plates for their vehicles.

The same question may well be asked of Heather Cope of Seattle who has been hired as the new executive director of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) at $125,000 per year.

One of her first tasks will be the hiring of a counterpart to Finn for BESE, a move that is unprecedented for the board at a time when state civil service employees have gone without a pay raise for more than three years.

The proposed hiring also has caught the attention of House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Fannin (D-Jonesboro), who said the proposed hiring of public relations employees may warrant attention from his committee. “If they have those extra dollars, they may have more money than they need in their budget,” he said. “It just doesn’t make sense to me,” he added.

When asked about the part-time status of Finn and of her splitting her time between Baton Rouge and Tallahassee, the same public information spokesperson said, “We don’t have a problem with that. She’s always available when we need her.”

Well, so are those 900 phone number operators. Of course, we hear they charge by the minute and that they’re pretty expensive, too.

We’ve heard of working from home, but when that home is in another state…?

While Jindal and his minions continue hell bent on their objective to hire at least one executive from each of the other 49 states, the charter school vultures were circling the department Monday and Tuesday.

Word was every available room in the Claiborne Building was being used for interviews with charter school applicants.

The guard desk in the building foyer contained a temporary sign instructing charter applicants to sign in as a group (not as individuals) and to wait until called for interviews.

Throughout the foyer, groups of proposed charter schools milled and talked among themselves and inside the cafeteria nearly every table was occupied with charter school representatives waiting for their turn for interviews.

Many of these were church-affiliated charter schools that will be subjected to none of the accountability required of public schools. Others were for-profit schools. All of them were casting greedy eyes at funding that will be ripped from local school boards to finance their schools.

And we haven’t even mentioned the online computer courses for which other vultures are circling or the vouchers that will further decimate public education.

In fact, the department has been saying for weeks that it will have names and social security numbers for students given vouchers so that local school districts the voucher students leave can cross-check them against students they know are attending the public schools.

The last word two weeks ago was that State Superintendent John White told the school districts he would have the information in a week. But as yet—nothing.

The times, they are a-changing but not necessarily for the better.

Just what is the arrogance saturation level for this state?

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This is about arrogance. More specifically, it is about the arrogance of two men, both from Louisiana and each elected to represent his constituents to the best of his ability.

And to that end, each has failed miserably while taking his individual insolence to new levels—in very different ways. One we have written about extensively in the past. The other, not so much, though perhaps he may well warrant closer attention in the future.

We are talking about Gov. Piyush Jindal and U.S. Sen. David Vitter.

The first, Jindal, has repeatedly displayed his cowardice, his spinelessness, by taking actions to close state facilities without bothering to notify affected legislators of his plans in advance. He has consistently ignored the plight of hundreds of state employees he forced into unemployment by cutting services and corporate taxes, further exacerbating the state’s budgetary crisis.

Vitter’s vote on a Senate bill last week can only described as despicable and hypocritical.

We will get to him presently.

It was not enough that Jindal announced the closure of Southeast Louisiana Hospital in Mandeville and C. Paul Phelps Correctional Center in Dequincy without extending the courtesy of a heads up to the legislative delegation in southeast and southwest Louisiana, the two areas affected.

But in doing so, he appeared to give little regard to or concern for the hundreds of employees at the two facilities who will be adversely impacted by layoffs or, in a few cases, transfers.

Then, on the heels of the announcement of the C. Paul Phelps closure The Baton Rouge League of Women Voters held a panel discussion to discuss Jindal’s continued privatization of state agencies, including the Office of Risk Management, the Office of Group Benefits, charter schools, educational vouchers, state hospital privatization and Medicaid cutbacks.

Invited to attend were representatives of the Jindal administration and proponents of privatization as well as four opponents, including an education coalition representative and Dr. Fred Cerise, former head of the LSU Health Care System.

One end of the head table was fully represented. On the other end, not a single person appeared on behalf of the administration. Cowardice. If an administration cannot publicly defend its actions—and make no mistake, Jindal never does—then that can only be described as cowardly.

Oh, they all had excuses. Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater said he had to attend a State Bond Commission meeting. But that meeting was over before the panel forum began across town. Bottom line, no one from the administration could—or would—find the time to defend the governor’s program.

Of course, Jindal had plenty time to attend a Republican unity breakfast in New Hampshire a week before and agreed to participate in a Sept. 26 Leaders of Iowans for Freedom “No Wiggins” bus tour—a rally in opposition to the re-election of Iowa Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins who voted with the majority to rule the state’s one-man, one-woman marriage law unconstitutional.

We have to wonder how our governor, who, metaphorically speaking, has more snakes than he can kill right here at home, can find time to involve himself in a supreme court race in Iowa. Does the state Medicaid budget’s gaping budget hole not keep him sufficiently occupied without his having to traipse off to Iowa? Isn’t the fiscal plight of the state’s colleges and universities of enough concern to deter him from having breakfast in New Hampshire?

Or could it be more than mere coincidence that the first presidential primary and party caucus will be in New Hampshire and Iowa, respectively, in about three years? Could Jindal be that brazen, that disturbingly obvious? Well, yes. Could he really be that delusional, fooling himself into thinking he has a prayer? Yes again.

Piyush would be wise to awaken to the realization that Timmy Teepell is no Karl Rove.

LouisianaVoice has submitted a public records request to determine the cost of Jindal’s two trips including costs not only for Jindal, but for his security detail and any staff members who went along, including travel, lodging, meals and salaries—and including Jindal’s pro-rated salary for the days he is out of state.

Just for argument’s sake, let us say he made each trip in a single day. Giving his annual salary of $130,000, that would mean he should rebate the state a minimum $712 in salary while he was out of state attending to non-governor-type business—plus all the other expenses incurred on the trip for him and his entourage.

Now let’s talk about Vitter.

There was a bill up for a vote in the Senate last week. The Veterans Jobs Corps Act of 2012 would have made it easier for veterans in the future to transition to civilian life.

With veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars experiencing unemployment rates 3 percent higher than the general population, the bill would have put a lot of those veterans to work.

A majority (58-40) voted for the bill but that was two votes short of the three-fifths majority needed to overcome a budgetary point of order thrown up by Republicans.

Republicans said the bill violated the Budget Control Act by adding a program that would increase the deficit. Only five Republicans voted for the bill.

Vitter was one of 40 Republicans who voted no.

That’s correct. U.S. Sen. David Vitter (R-Louisiana), given a chance to vote up or down on a measure to help veterans, chose to vote down.

We’re talking about a $16 trillion deficit and the Republicans were quibbling over a budget item of $200 million per year over five years.

Given the propensity of Republicans to consistently vote for larger and larger appropriations for the Pentagon and military contractors and given Republicans’ support of two wars that have cost this country more than $4 trillion, a $1 billion appropriation to help our veterans re-enter the work force should not seem so unreasonable.

Given that most of these Republican chicken hawks have never experienced military service, it certainly is curious that they are so reluctant to lend a hand once these military personnel have sacrificed so much to defend the rhetoric of the pompous congressmen who while beating their collective breasts, are so quick, yea eager, to send them off to war.

It is heartless enough that military personnel with traumatic head injuries are unable to obtain adequate or timely medical treatment once they are no longer useful as fighters and as unwitting enablers of military contractors who milk the Pentagon budget of untold billions of dollars in unchecked cost overruns and outright fraud.

But when it came time to put his money where his patriotic, flag-waving mouth is, Vitter, rather than reaching out to the veterans, turns his back on them. What a coward.

And we thought his frequenting New Orleans prostitutes and cavorting with the D.C. Madam after all of his preaching about family values was hypocritical. That was child’s play, a victimless crime, as they say. His vote on the Veterans Jobs Corps Act dwarfed that transgression. There were thousands of victims of that callous action.

To demonstrate the Republican stance on American exceptionalism and righteous wars, one need look no further than to a statement made by Andrew Card, President George W. Bush’s chief of staff who, when asked about the timing of the March 2003 Iraqi invasion, dubbed Operation Iraqi Freedom, said, “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.”

There you have it. A half-century ago President Eisenhower said, “We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.”

Despite that admonition, war—and the influence of that military-industrial complex—has become a marketing concept, a product to be introduced with the appropriately hyped mixture of patriotism, mom and apple pie, along with the oft-repeated need to defeat the newest threat to the American Way of Life, whatever that is.

And Vitter is right there with his fellow Republicans—until it’s time to help those who supported that policy—the men and women in uniform.

In 2003, he voted in favor of HR 1559, the Emergency Wartime Supplemental Appropriations Act. In 2008, he voted in favor of HR 2642 to approve funding for the Iraq and Afghanistan War—funding that has now exceeded the $4 trillion mark.

But in 2012, he and 39 other Republicans just could not bring themselves to waste a five-year, billion dollar expenditure to help military veterans return to the workforce.

We should be so very proud of our junior senator.

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