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Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Bobby Jindal said in a 2015 address to the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) that teachers are still at their jobs only by virtue of their being able to breathe.

That was when he was touting his ambitious education reform package that was designed to promote and enrich the operators of charter and virtual schools by pulling the financial rug from under public education in Louisiana.

That, of course, only served to further demoralize teachers and to punish those students from low-income families who could not afford charter schools but all that mattered little to Jindal. And perhaps it’s no coincidence that his former chief of staff Steve Waguespack now heads LABI.

Lest one think that sorry attitude toward teachers and the teaching profession went away in January 2016 when Jindal exited the governor’s office, leaving a fiscal mess for his successor, John Bel Edwards, think again.

Here’s a little wakeup call for those of you who may have been lulled into a false sense of security now that the husband of a teacher occupies the governor’s office: That disdain for public education has carried over into the halls of Congress via this proposed new tax bill now being ironed out between the House and Senate.

Much has already been written about how the tax bill is supposed to benefit the middle class when in reality it does just the opposite—yet those blindly loyal zealots, those supporters of child molesters, those adherents of the Republican-can-do-no-wrong-because-they-wrap-themselves-in-a-flag-and-wave-a-bible-in-one-hand-and-a-gun-in-the-other mantra continue to drink the Kool-Aid and cling to the insane theory that Trump, Rand Paul, Mitch McConnell, Bill Cassidy and John Neely Kennedy have their best interests at heart.

These delusional people get all bent out of shape when a jock refuses to kneel at a football game because they consider it an affront to our military (it’s not) while this tax bill rips more than $40 billion from HUD, including programs that help provide housing for homeless VETERANS. How’s that for honoring our fighting men and women? Where the hell are your real priorities?

Any of you die-hard Republicans out there on Medicare? Are you ready to take a $25 billion HIT? You will under this tax “reform.”

All you Trump supporters who have been so critical of the federal deficit prepared to see that deficit increased by a whopping $1.4 trillion? Sens. Cassidy and Kennedy are. So are Reps. Steve Scalise, Clay Higgins, Mike Johnson, Ralph Abraham and Garrett Graves.

Those of you with college kids presently on tuition exemptions like TOPS might want to get ready; your son or daughter is going to have to declare those benefits as taxable income. Is that why you voted Republican?

And while all this is going down, you can take comfort in the knowledge that the proposed tax “reform” will eliminate the tax on inherited fortunes (you know, the kind that made Donald Trump Donald Trump) and will maintain the “carried interest” loophole which taxes the fees of private-equity fund managers (read: the mega-rich, Wall Street bankers, etc.) at low capital gains rates instead of the higher income tax rates.

But after all that’s said and done, the part of the tax bill that really turns my stomach, the part that sticks in my throat, is a provision that is of so small an amount as to be insignificant—if it weren’t for the principle of the whole thing.

Call it a carry over from Jindal, a snub of teachers, or whatever, it’s galling.

Here it is:

Teachers, particularly elementary teachers, traditionally spend hundreds of dollars per year of their own money on materials and supplies for their classrooms. And it’s not for them, it’s for the children. Keep that in mind, folks. While there are parents out there who would rather buy meth and booze and cigarettes than supplies for their kids, there are teachers who quietly enter the school supply stories and stock up so that kid will have a chance.

Call it personal, if you wish, and it might well be. When I was a student at Ruston High School, I was injured right after school one day. My English teacher, Miss Maggie Hinton, never hesitated. She led me to her powder blue 1953 Chevrolet Bel Air and took me to Green Clinic—and paid the doctor to patch me up. You never hear the Jindals of the world tell those kinds of stories. They don’t fit their agenda.

Under the present tax laws, these teachers, who on average spend $500 to $600 per year (school principals, by the way spend an average of $683 of their own money annually on snacks and other food items for students, decorations and supplies like binders and paper), can take a tax deduction of up to $250 for those expenditures. (And to interject a very personal story, once, while I was making a purchase for a school in Livingston Parish at Clegg’s Plant Nursery, the owner would not accept my money. He donated the items because he, too, supports public education.)

Now understand, that’s a tax deduction of up to $250, not a tax credit, which would be a dollar-for-dollar tax cut. A deduction benefits the teacher only $40 or so off her taxes. But at least it’s something.

The Senate version of the new tax bill would double that deduction to $500, thank you very much.

So, what’s my beef?

Nothing much…except the HOUSE version would eliminate the deduction in its entirety.

That’s right. While the Republicans want to take care of the fat cats (those in Trump’s income bracket would realize tax breaks of approximately $37,000), teachers, under the House version of this tax bill would no longer get even that paltry $40. Zero. Zip. Nada. Nothing. Thank you, Garrett Graves, et al.

That really angers me and it should anger every person in Louisiana with even a scintilla of a conscience.

Because teachers are my heroes. Nearly fifty-seven years after graduating from Ruston High School, my heroes are still named Hinton, Ryland, Perkins, Garner, Lewis, Peoples, Edmunds, Barnes,  Johnson, Garrett & Garrett (any I omitted is only because I took no classes under them). They took a personal interest in a kid with no real promise and made him a little better person. They and my grandparents alone have stood the test of what a true hero should be.

And I am proud to defend the honor of teachers everywhere in their memory.

And the fact that five Louisiana House members—who, by the way, are all up for reelection in 2018—voted for this tax “reform” bill that slaps my heroes in the face really pisses me off.

Did I mention those five are up for reelection next year? That’s 2018, less than a year from now.

A smart voter remembers who represents him.

Those not so smart should go fishing on election day.

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When I was a student at Louisiana Tech, I worked part time as a disc jockey at KRUS radio station in Ruston. Occasionally, I would have a “Golden Oldies Show,” during which I played only old rock & roll records.

I saw a story in the Washington Post recently that conjured up memories of old news stories and at the same time made me wonder if the Republicans in Congress were paying attention all those years.

The story, headlined, “GOP abandons any pretense of fiscal responsibility,” noted that the Republican Party has essentially abandoned its platform of fiscal restraint, “pivoting sharply in a way that could add trillions of dollars in federal debt over the next decade.”

https://politicalwire.com/2017/10/07/gop-abandons-pretense-fiscal-responsibility/

So, doing the minimum research, it was almost too easy to find stories that reveal that the tax cuts proposed by Trump would further widen the gap between wealthy and low-income Americans. http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/42177-trump-s-proposed-tax-cuts-would-further-widen-the-gap-between-rich-and-poor

The Trump-led (and that’s a very loose term) Republican tax reform would cut taxes for the very rich and place the burden on the rest of us.

In 1970, the bottom 50 percent of U.S. wage earners averaged $16,000 a year in today’s dollars. In 2014, that figure had skyrocketed to $16,200.

The top 1 percent, meanwhile, saw their average income increase from an average of $400,000 a year to $1.3 million during the same time period, hardly enough to keep the lawn watered in the Hamptons.

Some might dismiss these sources as typical liberal media, but the conservative U.S. News & World Report seems to agree with their assessments.

More than two years ago, on May 20, 2015, the magazine ran a story headed simply as THE PARTY of RED INK.

That story did cite the $1.2 billion budget deficit that Democratic Gov. Martin O’Mally left for his Republican successor, but for the rest of its story, USN&WR hammered one Republican state governor after another. Those included our own wunderkind Bobby Jindal (a $1.6 billon deficit), Chris Christie (a staggering $7.35 billion structural budget deficit), Scott Walker of Wisconsin ($2.2 billion deficit), and Sam Brownback of Kansas ($1 billion shortfall).

Their collective answer to these budgetary nightmares? Cut taxes.

But along with tax cuts go cuts to services.

Back when I was a student at Tech—and given, that’s been a long time; Terry Bradshaw was emerging as a top draft pick back then—my tuition was $99. Today, my grandson, a computer engineering student at Tech, is forking over $9,000 per quarter to stay enrolled.

In Louisiana, cuts to higher education, public education, referral services to the mentally ill, services to children with disabilities, foster child services, and other cuts have had devastating results. Yet, the Republicans go merrily along with their vision of fiscal reform.

Jindal’s obsession with tax cutting, service cutting, and privatization was such a dismal failure that Newsweek on June 1, 3015, published a story headlined HOW BOBBY JINDAL BROKE the LOUISIANA ECONOMY.

But a March 26, 2015, story was even more revealing. That story, admittedly by a partisan Democrat writer, nevertheless cited a report by an outfit called WalletHub, a commercial personal financial web site that rated all 50 states on their dependence on federal dollars to prop up their respective economies.

The REPORT basically said that red states, America’s stalwarts of fiscal responsibility, suck more money out of the federal treasury than any others and that some of the poorest states, of which Louisiana is certainly one, depend on federal funding for 30 to 42 percent of their total revenue.

Louisiana depends on federal dollars for 42.2 percent of its budget That just happens to be the highest percentage in the nation. Mississippi is right behind, drawing 42.1 percent of its budget from the feds, according to a report released in May of this year. http://www.governing.com/topics/finance/gov-state-budgets-federal-funding-2015-2018-trump.html

Yet, who screams the loudest to get the federal government out of our lives? Well, that would be the Republicans, who control both Louisiana and Mississippi.

And yet, there they go again, to paraphrase Mr. Reagan. The Republicans in Congress are pushing that same agenda of tax cuts for the rich, cuts to services, increased military spending, heavier tax burdens on the middle class, and economic stagnation for what now, something like the 35th straight year?

And yes, I am keenly aware that some of those years included the administrations of Clinton and Obama and that some of those years Democrats controlled Congress. But that only goes to prove my oft-repeated point that there is little difference in the two parties when Wall Street, big oil, big Pharma, the NRA, and defense contractors exert such a heavy influence on the national agenda.

But with the Republicans, it’s not so much a political philosophy as it is an obsession, a mindset.

They adhere to the Laffer Curve at all costs. That’s the theory advanced by one Arthur Laffer, who says that tax cuts pay for themselves by stimulating economic growth.

Anyone seen any economic growth around these parts in the last couple of decades or so? Anyone? Bueller? Anyone?

The Laffer Curve might be appropriately named were it not such a cruel joke.

 

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No sooner had I posted a story earlier today lamenting the depth of political corruption and chicanery in Louisiana than up pops yet another story about which every single one of the state’s 4.5 million citizens should be irate.

While this is not a call for the pitchforks and torches, the citizenry should be up in arms over a letter to State Rep. Helena Moreno (D-New Orleans) from a New Orleans teacher named Gwendolyn V. Adams.

It’s a letter that should go viral because it hammers home once again the question of one of the best examples of political corruption in the state.

Legislator’s Tulane scholarships.

Tulane is one of the biggest tax scams going. Act 43 of the 1884 legislature obligated Tulane to give scholarship waivers to state legislators and to the mayor of New Orleans and they in turn select the recipients of the scholarships.

Altogether the 145 scholarships cost Tulane something on the order of $7 million per year, based on current tuition costs. https://admission.tulane.edu/sites/g/files/rdw771/f/LegislativeScholarshipFAQ.pdf

So, what did Tulane get in exchange for such a legislative requirement?

Tax exemptions. Specifically, property tax exemptions totaling about $25 million per year. https://louisianavoice.com/2013/10/22/deja-vu-all-over-again-house-clerk-butch-speer-denies-public-access-to-tulane-legislative-scholarship-records/

The scholarships are supposed to go to deserving students in legislators’ respective districts who otherwise might not be able to afford a college education. Instead, they quickly became a form of political patronage whereby family members, judges and political cronies shoved deserving students aside, taking the scholarships for their kids. http://www.tulanelink.com/tulanelink/scholarships_00a.htm

I first wrote about the issue way back in 1982 and it has been written about by numerous publications and reporters since but the abuse persists as legislators continue with their “in-your-face practices of doling out scholarships to family, friends and political hacks.

The story I wrote was about then-State Sen. Dan Richie awarding his scholarship to the relative of Rep. Bruce Lynn of Shreveport who gave his scholarship to Richie’s brother.

The practice has continued unabated ever since with scholarships going to recipients like family members of former Crowley Judge Edmund Reggie, who received some 34 years’ worth of Tulane scholarships valued at about $750,000, based on 1999 tuition rates. The son of former St. Tammany Parish District Attorney Walter Reed received a scholarship valued at about $172,000 over four years. http://www.tulanelink.com/tulanelink/scholarships_13a.htm

The latest to come to light is Rep. Moreno who, although she represents a district in Orleans Parish, awarded her scholarship to the son of her Jefferson Parish political consultant Greg Buisson, whose company, Buisson Creative, was paid nearly $14,000 by Moreno in 2010.

She is currently a candidate for New Orleans City Council at-large.

Here is Adams’s letter to Moreno:

Dear Rep. Morano (sic):  

I write to you as an educator for 27 years as a classroom teacher, 4.5 years as a professional development educator for teachers, and private tutor/LEAP tutor at  a local charter school, and express my profound disappointment in your decision to award $150,000 to the son of a Metairie-based political consultant on your payroll.  

For the years 2012-13, 2013-14, and 2014-15, you gave your Tulane University Legislative scholarship – worth over $150,000 in free tuition – to the son of your paid political consultant, Greg Buisson. Greg Buisson, a resident of Metairie, is a long time controversial fixture in Jefferson Parish politics.

According to the New Orleans Advocate (October 24, 2013), “State Rep. Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans, has awarded her scholarship for the last two years to Collin Buisson, son of Greg Buisson, a veteran political consultant who has been handling Moreno’s campaigns and communications since she quit television journalism and went into politics in 2008.”

Greg Buisson has been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees from his Jefferson Parish political connections and Buisson could certainly afford to pay his son’s Tulane tuition. For a number of years, Buisson has been on Moreno’s political payroll, earning thousands of dollars as her political consultant. In fact, I understand he ran your unsuccessful campaign for Congress in 2008. 

Rep. Moreno, are you now the Queen of Cronyism in regional politics? 

Further, the following article discusses your dismal record that includes awarding hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships to students outside of New Orleans.

Rep. Moreno, you do not deserve promotion to New Orleans City Council At-large. You’ve proven yourself to be disloyal to the thousands of hardworking families and deserving students in your own Legislative District 93 – qualified students from McDonough 35, Joseph S. Clark, St. Augustine and other schools in the district you are supposed to represent. You’ve passed over these students to award much more than $150,000 to your privileged political consultant – a Metairie, Jefferson Parish resident! It’s just beyond insulting!  

What is your excuse? Were these scholarship monies awarded to the family of your political consultant in lieu of payment for services that should have been recorded in the State of Louisiana Board of Ethics Campaign Finance Disclosure Forms? Is the only way to get your attention: pay for play?  

We don’t need this corruption in New Orleans city government.  

I cannot imagine you serving as New Orleans City Council President. Maybe the Jefferson Parish School Board? Do not reward political cronyism. 

Sincerely,

Gwendolyn V. Adams

 

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Earl Long, Jimmie Davis, John McKeithen, Edwin Edwards, Dave Treen, Bubby Roemer, Mike Foster, Kathleen Blanco, Bobby Jindal, John Bel Edwards.

Each of these governors has left his or her mark on Louisiana. Some have been good, some bad, and some, for lack of a better term, indifferent.

Earl Long, for example, gave Louisiana school children hot lunches. His brother Huey gave them free text books.

Davis gave the state a civil service system that, while not perfect, was designed to protect workers from a political spoils system.

But what none has been able to do is to lift the state out of the quagmire that defines Louisiana as one of the worst places to live in terms of quality of life, income, job growth, education, and overall health.

It’ll be left up to the historians to determine if that is the fault of the governor, the legislature, or the general political climate that has been allowed to permeate the system, leaving the state’s citizens with a mass feeling of resignation to the prospect that that’s just the way it is.

If it’s the latter, then we have allowed our state to move into a downward spiral from which becomes increasingly difficult to recover. Only those with the power and resources which, when combined, produce political influence, may prosper in such a climate.

When we become so complacent and inured to low expectations and even lower achievements, only those who are unscrupulous, devious, and manipulative will see a path to riches—to the detriment of those of us who allow it to happen.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. We don’t have to be satisfied with the status quo where we keep electing the same political opportunists who belly up to the trough to get first shot at the goodies, leaving the scraps for the rest of us.

Those people never seem to go away and whose fault is that?

I’m beginning to have serious doubts, for example, about the state’s Restore Louisiana program created to help victims of the 2016 floods. How many homeowners have actually been helped so far as opposed to those who find endless obstacles created by bureaucratic red tape—all while employees of the program continue to collect paychecks? How much of that recovery money is being eaten away by salaries of those who are supposed to be helping flood victims?

The governor says the hurricanes that struck Texas and Puerto Rico may slow the recovery process in Louisiana.

Why is that? Hasn’t the money already been appropriated for Louisiana? Why should the recovery process be slowed by those events if the money is already in place to help?

Perhaps it’s all just a part of the overall attitude of our politics as usual which has the state ranked as the third worst state in which to live, according to 24/7 Wall Street, the service which produces some 30 news releases per day on such things as state rankings, college rankings, the economy, and other issues.

LSU football has dropped out of the top 25 rankings. Louisiana has never been in it—except perhaps in the rankings of corruption, graft and ineptitude.

It’s latest ranking, released today, shows that Louisiana 10-year population growth of 6.4 percent is the 13th lowest. Could that be because our unemployment rate of 6.3 percent, according to the service, is third highest in the nation, or that our poverty rate of 19.6 percent (that’s about one of every five people in the state) is also third highest, or that our life expectancy at birth of 75.4 years is the fourth lowest?

What have our leaders done to address these issues?

  • They have fought increasing the minimum wage;
  • They have rejected efforts to ensure that women are paid the same as men for performing the same work;
  • They have robbed our colleges and universities of funding, forcing them to raise tuition which, in turn, is putting a college education out of reach for many;
  • They have decimated our medical teaching universities by giving away our state hospitals;

They have consistently looked the other way as the bad news mounts up but have proved themselves to be most diligent in:

  • Protecting the right to bear semi-automatic weapons;
  • Giving away the state treasury to business and industry in the form of general tax breaks that have to be made up by the rest of us;
  • Enacting tougher and tougher penalties for minor crimes that have produced a state with the highest incarceration rate in the civilized world;
  • Allowing our infrastructure (including more than a billion dollars in maintenance backlogs at our colleges and universities) to crumble beneath us with no solution in sight because of a lack of funding;
  • Protecting young girls by dictating a minimum age for exotic dancers while allowing the state to become a feeding ground for predators calling themselves adoption agencies that in reality, are little more than baby brokers;
  • Enacting legislation for faith-based charter schools and then raising holy hell when one of those applicants turns out to be an Islamic school.

Sure, we can stick out our chests and proclaim that at least we aren’t Mississippi which has the fifth-highest unemployment rate at 5.9 percent, the highest poverty rate (22.0 percent), and the lowest life expectancy at birth (74.5 years).

But in the final analysis, that’s really grabbing at straws.

Arkansas and Alabama rank ahead of Louisiana (fourth and fifth worst states in which to live, respectively).

Arkansas’s poverty rate is fourth-highest at 19.1 percent and its life expectancy at birth is seventh-lowest at 75.8 years.

Alabama has an unemployment rate of 5.7 percent (seventh-highest), a poverty rate of 18.5 percent (fifth-highest), and the second-lowest life expectancy at birth (75.2 percent).

Well, who, you might ask, is lodged between Louisiana and Mississippi for second-worst state in which to live?

That would be West Virginia, with the fourth-highest unemployment rate (6.0 percent), the seventh-highest poverty rate (17.9 percent), and the third-lowest life expectancy at birth (75.4 years).

Do you find it interesting that these same five states are always clustered at the bottom of all the rankings?

Know what else is interesting?

They’re all red states.

Isn’t it time we changed the mentality in Louisiana?

Isn’t it long past the time when we should be breaking out of the pack?

Shouldn’t we be asking really hard questions of our elected officials—from governor all the way down to the courthouse?

And the really soul-searching question:

Shouldn’t we turn off Dancing with the Stars and football and become involved in the recovery of a rotting state?

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If you really want to know what’s wrong with our political system and the people we elect to office, it can be summed up in the current race for State Treasurer.

Here are the Duties of that office:

According to Article IV, Section 9 of the Louisiana Constitution, the treasurer is head of the Department of the Treasury and “shall be responsible for the custody, investment and disbursement of the public funds of the state.” The Treasury Department website outlines the treasurer’s duties:

  • receive and safely keep all the monies of this state, not expressly required by law to be received and kept by some other person;
  • disburse the public money upon warrants drawn upon him according to law, and not otherwise;
  • keep a true, just, and comprehensive account of all public money received and disbursed, in books to be kept for that purpose, in which he shall state from whom monies have been received, and on what account; and to whom and on what account disbursed;
  • keep a true and just account of each head of appropriations made by law, and the disbursements under them;
  • give information in writing to either house of the Legislature when required, upon any subject connected with the Treasury, or touching any duty of his office;
  • perform all other duties required of him by law.
  • advise the State Bond Commission, the Governor, the Legislature and other public officials with respect to the issuance of bonds and all other related matters;
  • organize and administer, within the office of the State Treasurer a state debt management section

https://www.treasury.state.la.us/Home%20Pages/TreasurerDuties.aspx

Nowhere in al that does it even once say or even imply that the job has once scintilla to do with:

  • standing with President Trump to create new jobs or to cut wasteful spending, as former Commissioner of Administration Angele Davis would have us believe in her TV ads;
  • fighting to make drainage and infrastructure top priorities in the state budget, as State Sen. Neil Riser insists in his TV ads;
  • having the guts to say “No! No to bigger government, no to wasteful spending and to raising your taxes,” as former State Rep. John Schroder proclaims in his TV ads, or
  • stopping cuts to education, healthcare and wasteful government spending, as the TV ads of Derrick Edwards insist.

http://www.wafb.com/story/36425632/la-treasurer-candidates-launch-tv-ads-analyst-calls-them-flimsy-on-duties-of-office

So, why do they insist on campaigning on issues in no way related to the actual duties of the position they are seeking?

For the same reason candidates for Baton Rouge mayor (former Mayor Kip Holden and State Sen. Bodie White, who ran unsuccessfully for the job, come to mind) consistently campaign every four years on improving schools and reducing the number of school dropouts when the mayor’s office has zilch to do with the school board:

They consider the average voter to be unsophisticated, ignorant fools who don’t know any better. Or they’re so stupid they don’t know any better themselves. Those are only two choices.

Period.

Their campaign ads clearly illustrate the complete and total disdain the treasury candidates have for Louisiana voters. They obviously think they can throw up (ahem) fake news and pseudo issues that leave voters in complete darkness about each candidate’s relative qualifications to hold the job.

And by so doing, they send a loud message that neither is qualified for—or deserving of—the job.

When John Kennedy, who had previously served as Secretary of Revenue, an appointive position, ran for treasurer in 1995, he ran a somewhat relevant ad that said, “When I was Secretary of the Department of Revenue, I reduced paperwork for small businesses by 150 percent.”

That ad carried a message that actually resonated with small business owners drowning in paperwork and which at least sounded germane to the office of state treasurer—never mind that it was physically impossible to reduce anything by 150 percent. Once you reduce something by 100 percent, you’re at zero.

All of this rant about the four candidates for treasurer and the lame campaign rhetoric of candidates for Baton Rouge mayor—and just about any other political office you can name—just illustrates to what lengths politicians will go to cloud the real issues and to shy away from discussing matters they can actually address when in office.

How many times have you heard a candidate for U.S. Representative or U.S. Senate implore you to send him to Washington so that he can “make a difference”?

It’s disingenuous at best, fraud at worst.

So, on Oct. 14, be sure to go to the polls and cast your vote for one of the four frauds running for treasurer.

It’s the Louisiana way.

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