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Archive for December, 2021

As the clock winds down to yet another Christmas, my 78th, I got to reflecting on how much events in general and attitudes in particular have changed our perspectives over the past five years, especially the past two.

Most of all what they have done to lifelong friendships.

A president came along whose biggest achievement was to create such a polarizing force that he divided this country right down the middle – even to the point of debating the validity of concern over a virus that now has taken 800,000 American lives. (to bring that number into focus, it’s 100,000 more than the number of Americans who died in the great flu epidemic of a century ago, when there was no penicillin to fight the illness. It’s nearly 14 times as many American lives as the 58,000 we lost in Vietnam, 15 times as many as our combat deaths in World War I, and twice as many as the number of Americans who died in World War II)

Still, the debate rages between maskers and anti-maskers, between vaxxers and anti-vaxxers, between Trumpers and anti-Trumpers.

I have a friend (I’ll call him Ron, though that’s not his real name) who is very dear to me. We go back decades to when we played baseball together and when we got too old, too fat and too slow for that, slo-pitch softball. He was my best man and I was in his wedding a month later. Together, our marriages have endured 106 years – 53 years each.

He is an avid Trump supporter. I detest the man and all he stands for. Ron is a devout Christian, which poses all sorts of questions from my viewpoint as to how he could possibly support the man, who is anathematic to everything sacred and holy.

I, on the other hand, am not nearly so devout that I don’t sometimes question my faith. Yet, at the same time, I know in my heart of hearts that I am far more charitable, forgiving and understanding than Donald Trump could ever even claim to be.

Yes, I know that is pride talking and pride is supposed to be a sin. At least that’s what we’re told by our Methodist minister. Yet, we are also told to be proud of being American – and I am. So, yes, I am conflicted, just like anyone else who listens earnestly to both sides of an argument. I know I should not be judgmental. But I know I am – just like every other mortal being.

Both Ron and I are stubborn and we know we aren’t going to change the other’s mind. To resolve our political differences, we agreed not to debate. We didn’t want our beliefs to ruin a friendship the way relationships were being torpedoed across the landscape of this nation over Trump vs. anti-Trump. It just wasn’t worth destroying a friendship, we told each other, so we agreed to abstain from discussing politics altogether.

Until last July, when Ron broached the subject in one of our conversations. I fell for it and allowed myself to get pulled into a meaningless, endless debate that was certain to have but one outcome: a damaged friendship.

Ron’s calls to me came to an abrupt halt.

He’ll get over it, I figured.

But then Hurricane Ida passed almost directly over our home in Denham Springs. Houses of my neighbors were heavily damaged or even destroyed.

Well, Ron will call to see if we’re okay, I told myself.

Silence. Crickets chirping in the background.

It’s been nearly four months since Ida visited and Ron still has maintained his silence and I mine. He’s to blame and I’m to blame. Two men, allowing foolish pride to come between them – all because of petty political differences.

In a way, it’s a microcosm of what’s happened to this country. We’re split right down the middle, friend aligned against friend, family member squared off against family member. One faction screaming for the heads of Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer and the other faction demanding the indictment of the entire Trump clan. Republican vs. Democrat, liberal vs. conservative, black vs. white, with browns caught in the middle – and all of it forcing us indoors to escape a pandemic that is real or a hoax, that has claimed 800,000 lives or is no worse than the flu.

It’s Christmas, a time for reflection, a time for giving. That’s what the traditionalists tell us.

So, with that in mind, I’m taking the first step and maybe, just maybe, it can be that very tiny first step toward reconciliation for this entire crazy, mixed-up country we call America. Maybe not, but damnit it’s worth a try.

I’m calling Ron today.

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Well, the Republicans’ morbid fear of something called critical race theory (CRT) being taught to impressionable children in our public schools has finally come to Louisiana. And, predictably, our educational leaders have shown the requisite invertebrate characteristics necessary to placate those who would teach the sugar-coated versions of history as opposed to the hard, often ugly truth.

State Superintendent of Education CADE BRUMLEY was quoted in the Baton Rouge Advocate Saturday as saying he was opposed to “anything resembling critical race theory.” He said, “We have to make sure that no standards open the door for any form of indoctrination of our public school children.”

Really? No indoctrination? But make sure the say the Pledge of Allegiance every morning before classes commence.

I have nothing against the Pledge of Allegiance. I’ve recited it hundreds of times myself, but requiring it of school children without explaining what it means is in itself a form of indoctrination. For instance, are children told that the Pledge is of allegiance to the United States flag and not to a certain president, whoever he may be at the moment?

Are they told that their allegiance is not to 535 members of self-serving members of Congress, but to our nation and to our democratic republic form of government? Are they even told the difference between a democracy, a republic and a democratic republic?

Are our children really ever educated as to the meaning of the Bill of Rights? Or are they just taught the Second Amendment?

Are children taught that the First Amendment gives them the right – responsibility, even – to question actions taken by our government? If they were, the disastrous Vietnam War may have come under earlier scrutiny and perhaps a few thousand American lives might have been saved.

Brumley says CRT is “anything that prompts discussions to be viewed simply around the lens of race.”

And there you have it. The real reason for the gnashing of teeth and wringing of hands. We just can’t discuss race because it might open some old, ugly wounds and we can’t have that. Instead, let’s just pretend that slavery never occurred, lynchings were no more than bad dreams and turning dogs loose on black protesters in Birmingham was just a prank.

Why would we want to dwell on the COLFAX MASSACRE of 1873? Hell, it was just a minor disagreement where three whites and 150 blacks died. A book, The Day Freedom Died, by Charles Lane, explores the tragic event that is very much a part of the history of this state but Brumley obviously would not have that ever mentioned in a Louisiana classroom.

Likewise, a book entitled The Thibodaux Massacre by John DeSantis (I assume no relation to the Florida governor) tells us of that event that occurred in 1877, just four years after the Colfax killings. The DeSantis book details how 10,000 black sugar cane growers, dissatisfied with their pay ($1.25 per day), went on STRIKE. The strike affected four parishes: Lafourche, Terrebonne, St. Mary and Assumption. An all-white state militia was turned loose on the strikers by order of the governor, no less, and before it was over, about 60 people were dead, with many of the strikers’ bodies being dumped in unmarked graves. Survivors hid in the swamps as the killings spread from plantation to plantation.

I was never taught about Colfax or Thibodaux in my eighth-grade Louisiana History class and neither were you and neither will anyone else, according to Brumley or any number of Republican legislators who are obviously calling the shots with the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

I knew nothing about Solomon Northup until I saw the riveting movie 12 YEARS A SLAVE, which told of an educated black man from New York who was drugged and sold into slavery on several Louisiana plantations, including ones near Cheneyville and Vacherie. Much of the award-winning movie was filmed on locations in Louisiana.

That story and the shooting of the movie in Louisiana is part of our state’s history. Instead of learning about Solomon Northup, or Colfax or Thibodaux, our students will learn all about passage of the Right to Work law in 1974. It dealt a critical blow, after all, to organized labor in Louisiana which meant more profits for members of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI).

Students will not learn that Louisiana was one of the very first states to implement the concept of prisoner work release, which led to the growth in size and population of prisons like the Louisiana State Prison at Angola. It was southern plantation owners’ answer to the abolition of slavery.

Prisoners would be hired out to private business for cheap labor. That of course, led to the need for more prisoners and the natural pool of potential labor was found in the newly-unemployed black population. So, more laws were needed for more convictions so there could be more prisoners to be leased to private business, mainly plantation owners. Prison work-release programs quickly spread throughout the South and the practice remains in place today and indeed, has morphed into a prosperous business for private prisons. And our legislature is accommodating the need to keep the process up and running by passing more restrictive laws so more prisoners may be fed into the system.

But you will never see that taught in history classes because Brumley and legislators like State Rep. RAY GAROFALO (R-Chalmette), who at one time chaired the Louisiana House Education Committee, believe that Louisiana schools should teach the “GOOD” aspects of slavery. Honest, he said that.

There will be those from Colfax and Grant Parish, as well as those from Thibodaux in Lafourche Parish, who may feel compelled to offer their own description of events in those two parishes and that’s fine. They’re welcome to do so. I make no effort to provide my own version of the facts. I certainly wasn’t in either place when the shooting started.

I was never taught about the horrid killings that took place in both locationss and therein lies the problem. I never even knew they took place until I was an old, retired geezer.

Let’s not hide the truth from our children. We can’t protect them from everything. After all, your kids have access to the Internet so they have already seen a lot more carnage and graphic sex than you realize. And they have cameras on their phones and the ability to text pictures to each other.

They’re certainly up to taking a little real history.

You have to ask who the real child is in this scenario.

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Editor’s note: The following essay was penned by Tony Guarisco and he graciously consented to my re-posting it full on LouisianaVoice. Tony provides interesting insights into how LSU managed to buy out one coach’s contract and commit itself to another that when combined total more than $100 million.

By Tony Guarisco

It was “wheels-up” in South Bend as “Viper One” lifted into the cold Indiana air. Aboard were LSU administration and athletic officials represented by its President, athletic director, and his assistant.

Their cargo was a 60-year-old football coach and his family. They were on a “Flight of Sighs” to the seamy side. His forsaken “Fighting Irish” football team are left to those he left behind. At least two of his staff followed him.

Brian Kelly had to wrestle with the reason for his change of heart – was it the challenge of sport or the siren of lucre? The sunrise view of “Our Lady’s” golden dome from the vantage point of his new home would be gone forever. Looking down, he could see his former campus and the iconic figure of “Touchdown Jesus” holding its arms at half-measure saying, “I tried to tell you!”

The Brinks truck that carted seventeen million dollars for the outgoing coach to Destin is returned to Baton Rouge with a larger $100,000,000 haul for the next guy. From where does all this money come?

 Private money funds LSU athletics!

It is a myth that “no public money” is being used for LSU athletics. It’s past time to put the quietus on that bromide. The truth is that it is almost all “public money!”  

Donations to the 501(c)3 Tiger Athletic Foundation (TAF) are the coins of the realm. Federal tax deductions fund sports entertainment at the university. For example, money destined for the common good is diverted to the TAF through federal tax write-offs. This is called “supplanting.”

As for season ticket holders, Tiger Stadium is truly “Death Valley” As a precondition to buying a ticket, fans must “donate “a fee to the Foundation for the right. -a clever, but questionable legal subterfuge. The administration is complicit in this dubious scheme. 

LSU is rife with allegations of Title IX violations of sex and abuse scandals committed by its male athletes. The fired coach had multiple allegations of dismissing and hiding Title IX misconduct. He was never held accountable, except for losing too many games. His “buy-out” was paid with tax- deductible taxpayer money.

The LSU Board of Supervisors “Rubber-stamped the new hiring contracts. A clause intertwining the coach and athletic director contracts was approved without serious scrutiny.

If the donations become scarce, is the State liable to make up the difference from its treasury? Should a fiscal note be attached to the agreement, or does the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget require prior approval? Will an annual audit be conducted? How much, if any public funds, might be in jeopardy?

 Who cares about any of this? It’s all free money!

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Scenes from the carnage inflicted on the unfortunate folks in Illinois, Arkansas and Kentucky by a 200-mile-long tornado cell were heartbreaking but the victims should be forewarned that their frustration is only beginning as the insurance adjusters move in to give insulting settlement offers to those who have lost everything.

And if they are duped into counting on FEMA, I’m afraid that frustration level will only increase.

But while that was happening, another heartbreaking scene, a manufactured one, was unfolding in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

No one was physically hurt (though I can’t vouch for any possible psychological pain), nor did anyone lose their home or possessions but the spectacle should be one that provokes shame and disgust for all Americans.

It seems that a mortgage company had what it thought was a magnanimous IDEA to dump $5,000 in one-dollar bills on an ice-skating rink and allow 10 teachers to dive in and scoop up as much as they could stuff into their clothing in less than five minutes to the cheers of onlooking hockey fans – whatever money they managed to grab to be used for classroom school supplies.

Has it really come down to this? We pay a damn football coach $10 million a year while public school teachers in South Dakota are reduced to scraping up dollar bills on an ice hockey rink while hockey fans cheer them on? Seriously?

We pay U.S. representatives $174,000 a year and U.S. senators $193,400 a year and the governor of South Dakota gets $114,000 a year and teachers are asked to get down on their knees and pick up as many one-dollar bills as they can in five minutes to the entertainment of a hockey crowd. Are you kidding me?

Do we not value our children and their education any higher than turning teachers into court jesters during intermission of a hockey game?

Isn’t it enough that underpaid teachers must reach into their own pockets to purchase classroom supplies?

Isn’t it degrading to know that a local Louisiana school board couldn’t even provide computers for a computer classroom but that an anonymous benefactor all the way out in California had to come to their rescue by donating the money for that specific purpose?

It’s bad enough when convicts in a prison rodeo risk their lives to grab a few dollars attached to an angry bull as paying fans cheer them on but to ask teachers to scramble out onto a public ice rink and to compete with fellow educators for a few dollars to purchase supplies and to pay for classroom repairs is just insulting.

Some might say I am overreacting, but I happen to hold teachers in the highest esteem – not because two of my daughters happen to be teachers but because teachers at Ruston High School more than 60 years ago saved my damn worthless life. I was a kid going nowhere until three English teachers, Miss Charlotte Lewis, Miss Maggie Hinton and Mrs. L.J. (Mary Alice) Garrett and two history/civics teachers, Earvin Ryland and Morgan Peoples, took a personal interest in my development and insisted that I was somehow worth salvaging. I would never have made it without their intervention, care and nurturing.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, was equally appalled, tweeting that the spectacle “just feels demeaning. Teachers shouldn’t have to dash for dollars for classroom supplies. No doubt people probably intended it to be fun, but from the outside it feels terrible.”

I couldn’t agree more. To see the video of those teachers scrambling for a few dollars to help their students just broke my heart.

And to know it’s really no better in Louisiana is simply infuriating. Only the ice rink is missing.

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First of all, Robert Mann doesn’t need me to defend him. His accomplishments speak for themselves, The Hayride’s cheesy, amateurish PHOTOSHOPPING efforts notwithstanding (that’s about the sloppiest job I’ve ever seen of pasting someone’s head onto a photo of a homeless person, by the way).

The fact that The Hayride and I are poles apart politically is of no consequence; it’s their right to take their position just as it’s my right to take mine.

But for a publication that depends on the protections guaranteed by the First Amendment to personally attack a writer over his First Amendment rights is beyond the pale. To imply that he possesses no qualifications as a journalist is disingenuous, at best.

The Hayride editors and our POS attorney general would be wise to recall a quote attributed to Voltaire: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

To attempt to re-write history by saying Mann “invented the narrative” that the Hurricane Katrina response was the fault of the federal government is flat-out incorrect. Who can forget, “heckuva job, Brownie”?

But Mann isn’t a journalist, according to The Hayride. To that, I would refer The Hayride editors to a few of Mann’s excellent books: A Grand Delusion: America’s Descent into Vietnam (probably the preeminent examination of how the US became involved in that debacle); The Walls of Jericho: Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, Richard Russell and the Struggle for Civil Rights; or Daisy Petals and Mushroom Clouds: LBJ, Barry Goldwater, and the Ad that Changed American Politics. That, folks, is journalism at its finest. And to The Hayride’s contention that Mann is not a journalist, I would respectfully ask how many books has Scott McKay, aka MacAoidh, written?

But I digress. This whole thing has its roots in Mann’s description of one of POS Attorney General Jeff Landry’s flunkies as a flunky when the flunky was dispatched to a meeting of the LSU Faculty Senate meeting to read a letter attacking covid vaccines, a move that Mann suggested was in contrast to Landry’s staking out a position of pro-life.

The Hayride, following Landry’s cue, went BERSERK over Mann’s tweet.

When I say they took their cue from POS Landry, it was no exaggeration. Landry immediately DEMANDED that Mann be drawn and quartered by the LSU administration for daring to criticize our idiot AG. And I don’t use the term idiot lightly.

Fortunately, LSU President WILLIAM TATE immediately issued a firm commitment to protecting Mann’s First Amendment rights, POS Landry’s bruised feelings be damned.

Lest we forget, Landry has abused his office since the day he was sworn in. Following the first primary in 2015, Landry trailed incumbent AG Buddy Caldwell by two percentage points. Geradine Broussard Baloney was third at 18 percent. Baloney endorsed Landry in the November runoff and after Landry was elected, Baloney’s daughter, Quendi Baloney, WAS HIRED for the AG’s Fraud Section, which was somehow appropriate, given that in 1999, she had been charged with 11 felony counts of credit card fraud and theft, eventually pleading guilty to three counts and receiving a suspended prison sentence.

Landry was involved up to his neck in a $17 MILLION SCAM to hire Mexican welders and pipe fitters under H-2B visa rules through three companies owned by him and his brother, Ben Landry. Nice chops for an AG who opposes immigration.

He tried, unsuccessfully, it turned out, to force Gov. John Bel Edwards to appoint Carolyn Prator, a conservative operative and wife of Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator, to the Red River Waterway Commission. (Sheriff Prator, you may recall, opposed Edwards’ early release of some prisoners because it took away his department’s car washers.)

Landry, along with State Treasurer John Schroder, ramrodded a provision through the STATE BOND COMMISSION that barred the state from doing business with any financial institution that discriminates against a firearm entity or firearm trade association – a silly, asinine, knee-jerk move that could conceivably cost the state millions of dollars. That, my friends, is the very definition of putting politics ahead of the interests of the citizens of Louisiana.

Landry put supporter, contributor and oilman Shane Guidry on the AG’s payroll as an investigator of some sort and later had AG AGENTS combing the state and neighboring Mississippi on Guidry’s behalf, looking for the biological mother of Guidry’s adopted daughter in order to stop her from communicating with the daughter – even though no crime had been committed.

Landry even managed to ignore his own stipulation that any employee of the AG’s office who runs for public office must resign when he gave his blessings for Assistant AG LIZ MURRILL to announce that she would run for attorney general should her boss run, as expected, for governor in 2023 – and keep her job.

With all that baggage, you’d think that Landry had enough to worry about without getting his drawers in a wad over Mann’s observations, but I guess not.

This, folks, is your attorney general, elected by the good citizens of Louisiana. And we wonder how we wind up at the bottom of all the good lists and at the top of all the bad ones.

In two simple words, it’s leadership and integrity – or the lack thereof. So long as we continue electing people like Landry, and about 95 percent of the legislature, we are going to continue to wallow in the sticky mud of political corruption, ineptitude and indifference.

And we have only ourselves – not Bob Mann or The Hayride – to blame.

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