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Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

In the nearly six-year history of LouisianaVoice, I have written more than 1,600 posts averaging about 1,500 words each (about two million words total).

This will likely be the shortest post ever.

U.S. Sens. John Kennedy and Bill Cassidy VOTED in favor of confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, a post for which she is totally and completely unqualified. This is the woman who favors guns in schools to protect against grizzly bears.

We expected no less of Cassidy after his fawning all over her during the confirmation hearings. I mean, the man embarrassed himself with his unbridled admiration of incompetence.

With Kennedy, we held onto the slim chance that he would show a spark of independence and/or intelligence (though in his TV ads during the campaign, he professed to having backed Donald Trump “from the beginning”).

But in the end, it appears that he’d “rather drink weed killer” than show that he had a spine or a shred of integrity. (On the other hand, in another of his tasteless ads he did say, “You oughta have a gun,” so maybe it was the grizzly bear comment that compelled him to vote in favor of confirmation.)

Whatever.

Just remember that one vote if you don’t remember anything else about John Kennedy.

 

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All those rabid LSU fans who find themselves in the unusual position of backing a team virtually buried in the 19th position among AP’s football elite can take heart; at least the Tigers aren’t 44th.

And those equally insane ‘Bama fans looking to secure another crystal football for their school’s trophy case can be glad the Tide isn’t ranked 46th.

As both teams head into their respective post-season games, 24/7 Wall St., a research firm that publishes some 30 ARTICLES per day on economy, finances, and government, has come out with its rankings of the best- and worst-run states in the country.

And it ain’t pretty.

Alabama is no. 46 out of 50 states but that’s okay. Never mind that it is one of the poorest states in the nation with 18.5 (5th highest) of its citizens living in poverty). The Tide is in the playoffs for the national championship.

Don’t worry about the state’s unemployment rate of 6.1 percent, which is tied for 8th highest in the country. Alabama, which proclaims itself to be the Heart of Dixie, pays the coaches of its two major college football teams, ‘Bama and Auburn, combined SALARIES of $11.67 million—$4.73 for Auburn’s Gus Malzahn and $6.94 million for ol’ Nicky Boy.

(Les Miles, before being unceremoniously cut loose by LSU’s Athletic Director Joe Alleva, himself the possessor of somewhat dubious talent, was pulling down a cool $4.3 million per annum. But all of these salaries pale in comparison to Jim Harbaugh’s $9.004 million salary at Michigan.)

LSU, meanwhile, is headed to this Friday’s Citrus Bowl in Orlando to take on the juggernaut Cardinals of Louisville—without the services of Leonard Fournette who has played his last game for the Tigers. (On that note, now that Fournette has declared himself draft eligible, retained an agent and opted not to participate in Friday’s game, has he, or any other player deciding to go pro, also opted out of attending classes for the remainder of the semester as well? If not, are any of them continuing to reside in free housing, enjoying free meals or using school training equipment for workouts? Just a thought.)

Meanwhile, back home, Louisiana ranks as the 44th best-run (or the seventh worst-run) state, just two notches ahead of Alabama. The two are sandwiched around Kentucky in the rankings while the state geographically wedged between them, Mississippi, is ranked 47th best, or fourth-worst with the fifth-highest unemployment rate at 6.5 percent and the highest poverty rate at 22.0 percent.

Louisiana’s unemployment rate of 6.3 percent (sixth-highest, right behind Mississippi) and its third-highest poverty rate of 19.6 percent (New Mexico’s 20.4 percent is second-highest) are nothing to brag about. Nor is its $4,067 debt per capital (16th highest).

The question, at least in Louisiana’s case, is: Why?

  • Louisiana has some of the highest crude oil and natural gas reserves in the nations;
  • Louisiana is one of the top crude oil producers in the country;
  • More crude oil is shipped to the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP) than to any other U.S. port;
  • Louisiana has several of the nation’s largest ports with exports totaling $10,530 per capita in 2015, second highest of all states, behind only Washington;

So with this abundance of natural resources, why is it that Louisiana continues to struggle with high poverty, low educational attainment and high violent crime.

Well, for starters, you can tie the first two of those to the third: high poverty and low education rates equal high crime. Every time.

All that notwithstanding, however, the overriding question is how can a state with such an abundance of the world’s most valuable commodity fail to profit?

Market news has been replete with stories lately about how the poor oil companies are taking hits with some reporting net profits down by as much as 37 percent. Still, even with lower earnings, some, like SHELL, reported net profits of a paltry $2.24 billion for the second quarter of 2016. That’s three months’ profits, folk. Three months.

Yet, Louisiana continues to give away the store to big oil through more than generous tax breaks while allowing them to walk away from the ravages they have inflicted on our coastal marshes.

With so much revenue derived by the oil and chemical industries through these tax breaks, there is no reason why this state’s citizenry continues to wallow in the depths of financial despair and desperation.

With a more reasonable tax structure in which big oil, big chemical plants, and their related industries (ports, trucking, and rail) could be asked to bear more responsibility for wrecking our coastline, polluting our air and water, and tearing up our highways, Louisiana could forge ahead of most of those states ranked ahead of them.

Yet we continue to place the greatest burden on the backs of those who can least afford it: the middle and low income groups through the most inequitable form of taxes. Louisiana has the third-highest average (9.01 percent) in state and local SALES TAXES in the nation.

Ever wonder why that is? For starters, the average taxpayer doesn’t have the time or resources or a PAC to generate organized opposition to this rigged tax structure or to purchase legislators’ votes. Big oil, Big Pharma, and Big Banks do.

Do you think it was sheer coincidence that former State Sen. Robert Adley was appointed by Gov. John Bel Edwards as Executive Director, Louisiana Offshore Terminal Authority? http://gov.louisiana.gov/news/governorelect-edwards-announces-cabinet-executive-staff-bese-board-appointments

Think again. Here is LouisianaVoice’s overview on why Big Oil has the influence it exercises in this state: https://louisianavoice.com/2016/08/28/ag-jeff-landry-joins-jindal-legislators-in-protecting-big-oil-from-cleanup-responsibility-follow-the-money-for-motives/

(Be sure to click on Copy of Campaign Contributions)

But at least the NCAA playoffs and the Citrus Bowl—and national signing day—will keep the natives content for a while longer.

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No sooner had The Donald pulled off the biggest political upset since dewey-defeats-trumanthan the speculation on who would hold which cabinet position had begun. And it got downright scary.

There was former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani being touted as Attorney General.

Yep. That’s all we need: A doddering old has-been who has all he can handle to remember his own name standing in as the premier legal authority in the land. He’s probably the only one who could make John Mitchell look good.

And Newt-for-God’s-sake-Gingrich as Secretary of State?

And the Republicans thought Hillary was bad in that role?

Next thing you know, Trump will be tossing out Charles Koch’s name as Secretary of the Interior.

And how about Chris Christie as Secretary of Defense?

Or Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback as Secretary of the Treasury? I mean, look what he’s done for that state’s finances.

But according to The Wall Street Journal, in a story quickly picked up by state media, a familiar name (to Louisianans, that is) is being pitched as a potential choice for Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Bobby Jindal.

Are you kidding me?

Apparently not. http://www.wdsu.com/article/report-former-gov-bobby-jindal-being-considered-for-cabinet-role-in-trump-administration/8263712

For some reason the locals believe that because he worked for former Gov. Mike Foster as Secretary of Health and Hospitals and for former President George W. Bush as a special adviser to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, he somehow has a shot at a similar role in the Trump administration.

I would refer those reporters to chapters 30 through 37 of my book Bobby Jindal: His Destiny and Obsession. Those chapters include the sordid details of how Jindal single-handedly dismantled the state’s model public teaching hospital system to benefit a few greedy political hangers-on—even to the point of signing off on a contract containing 50 blank pages. A rhetorical question: would anyone reading this ever sign his or her name to any document containing even one blank page?

As an added bonus, I would refer you to Chapter 17 of the book which details how Jindal’s Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols landed a cushy lobbying position with Ochsner Health System after helping negotiate a deal whereby Ochsner would partner with Terrebonne General Medical Center to take over operation of the state’s Leonard Chabert Medical Center in Houma.

At least the WSJ thought to mention failed GOP presidential hopeful Dr. Ben Carson as also being under consideration for the Health and Human Services post.

That would, after all, make a little more sense. After all, Carson did pipe up from time to time on behalf of Trump’s candidacy. We heard nary a peep from the Louisiana wannabe wunderkind Piyush Jindal after he removed himself from the Republican presidential sweepstakes last November…and no one noticed (of course they didn’t notice while he was running, either). All he did was join the board of some Texas corporation and quickly fade from memory—helping the Republican Party but crushing my book sales in the process.

Hey, Donald, here’s a heads-up. After Tuesday’s race for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by David Vitter, there are two former U.S. Representatives who ran unsuccessfully for the upper chamber who are now unemployed.

And they both just happen to be doctors.

But how can you trump (pun intended) a Rhodes Scholar?

If James Comey wasn’t doing such a splendid job, you might even consider Louisiana State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson to head up the FBI. Think how regal he’d look sitting behind old J. Edgar’s desk.

But while you’re at it, you may be needing a new Secretary of Immigration and Border Protection. We understand David Duke just pulled an astonishing 3 percent of the vote in that same U.S. Senate race and may be looking for something to do. And we already know the rapport he has with minorities. Why, he’d fit right in.

And while you’re at it, you may be on the lookout for someone to replace Jeh Johnson as Secretary of Homeland Security.

There’s this fellow who previously did such a stellar job running the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control—into the ground. Troy Hebert did even worse than Duke, racking up a whopping .5 percent of the vote in the 24-person Senate race. That’s one-half of one damn percentage point. Imagine what he could do for Homeland Security.

He may even still have his badge from his ATC days.

Yep, Donald, if you’re looking for washed up political has-beens to lead your administration—and it appears that you are—we have a boatload of ‘em down here in Louisiana.

Take your pick.

Please.

(Apologies to Henny Youngman.)

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Contests for the U.S. House and Senate are going virtually unnoticed as the nation becomes more and more transfixed, shocked—and disgusted—at each new charge of sexual abuse and deleted emails that arises in a sordid presidential race no one dared imagine could ever happen in this country.

Also generally overlooked are scores of local elections scattered across Louisiana’s landscape.

One of those is the race for Mayor-President of East Baton Rouge Parish.

Incumbent Mayor-President and erstwhile candidate for Lieutenant Governor Kip Holden is term-limited and has now set his sights on the 2nd Congressional seat now held by U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond.

Predictably, the job has attracted quite a few applicants—12 to be precise. One of those is Republican State Sen. Bodi White of Central, coincidentally, the largest fundraiser to date.

With just over three weeks to go before the Nov. 8 election, White has begun his TV ad blitz. And like candidates before him (including Holden in his initial run) has included a campaign promise to “improve public education” by “building more schools.”

White knows full well there is no way he can make good on such a preposterous promise because the mayor-president has absolutely zero to do with education. That’s the responsibility of the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board into whose operations the mayor and parish council have no input.

He knows that but to voters who do not know, it sounds wonderful, like a promise from on high. And that’s the sad part; voters are generally uneducated on the issues and their decisions are often based on cockamamie sound bytes like the one currently being aired by White. He could just as easily say he’s going to build a wall along our southern border and make Mexico pay for it. There are, I’m certain, voters who would buy into that just as quickly.

But there’s more to white than blustering campaign rhetoric.

In 2008, he introduced a bill in the Legislature to create the Central Recreation and Park District and take Central out of BREC (BREC is an acronym for Baton Rouge Recreation—we don’t get it, either).

On May 6, 2008, he revealed his ownership interest in a tract of land BREC wanted for a park. Then on May 14, 2008, White and BREC director Bill Palmer announced a “compromise” under which White would withdraw this legislation to take Central out of BREC.

That “compromise” consisted of a resolution for BREC to purchase some of White’s business partner’s land and develop the adjacent land for the company by whom White was employed.

Not too shabby a deal if you can swing it and apparently his position as a state representative gave him just the political stroke to pull it off. No abuse of his office there.

In addition, BREC agreed to pay Parcel 52, LLC, $130,000 to help build a 750-foot-long road with curbs and sidewalks to the BREC site. The road goes through the center of the eight-acre commercial property owned by Parcel 52, LLC, and adds significant value to the commercial property, which could be developed for 10-20 commercial sites or offices. http://www.tigerdroppings.com/rant/politics/bodi-white-proof-that-louisiana-has-low-standards-brec-bribed-him/28772800/

Parcel 52, LLC was registered with the Secretary of State. The partners in the company were Brandon and E. Gordon Rogillio, Jr.  and Rep. Mack (Bodi) White. White, who later relinquished his interest in the property, is a realtor who works for Brandon Rogillio. http://centralcitynews.us/?p=3373

Gordon Rogillio later explained that White invested nothing in the property and received nothing in the transaction. http://centralcitynews.us/?p=3427

White’s boss prospered nicely, however, and therein lies the possible quid pro quo.

A timeline provided by a local newspaper, the Central City News, published by former State Rep. Woody Jenkins, further revealed details of the entire transaction: http://centralcitynews.us/?p=3373

In a throwback to the days of raging newspaper wars (days we sorely miss, by the way), a rival publication, Central Speaks, attempted to exonerate White from any wrongdoing in the BREC flap. http://www.centralspeaks.com/old/rep-bodi-white-brec-sports-park-just-the-facts/

Just another day in good old-fashioned Louisiana politics.

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“Just because a cat has kittens in the oven doesn’t make them biscuits.”

It’s a quote attributed to Malcolm X, reprised by Kelsey Grammer in an episode of the number one sitcom Frasier, but actually has its origins in New England. It means, “Just because you were born here, it doesn’t make you one of us.”

It could just as easily be updated to apply to State Superintendent of Education John White’s lame explanation of a settlement of a lawsuit by the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) against citizens James Finney, a technical college math instructor and Mike Deshotels, a former educator and past executive director of the Louisiana Association of Educators.

White was quoted in the Baton Rouge Advocate as saying the ruling by 19th Judicial District Judge Janice Clark “merely resolved what had been a conflict between two laws” because federal law instructed the department not to release data that could be used to personally identify a child while state law mandated the disclosure of all public records.

http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/courts/article_76e860ca-8bd9-11e6-9963-cf5829bedcf3.html?sr_source=lift_amplify

Bull feathers.

Department legal counsel Joan Hunt said in a Wednesday email to members of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) that a declaratory judgment was sought to resolve “tension” between free disclosure of public records and protection of student information according to federal law.

Balderdash.

Neither Deshotels nor Finney ever requested information that would identify a single student.

Period.

And John White knew that. Period.

Since becoming Superintendent of Education in January 2012, White has made a career of stalling on compliance with public records requests if not denying them outright.

LouisianaVoice was once forced to sue white over public records and won an award of $2800 ($100 per day for each day delayed per request), plus court costs. The only downside of that judgment was that White was not held personally liable, meaning the $2800 and court costs were picked up by Louisiana taxpayers.

But in suing two Louisiana activist citizens (who admittedly had been something of a nuisance to White with their monitoring of the department), White reached a new low in attempting to avoid being held accountable for the manner in which he runs the department.

His lawsuit, in terms of disgraceful acts, ranks right down there with those judges in Monroe who sued the Ouachita Citizen, a newspaper in West Monroe. The newspaper’s sin? It made public records requests of the court.

Do we detect a disturbing trend here? You bet we do. The Louisiana Department of Education, district courts, and other public bodies have virtually unlimited financial resources at their disposal and most, like the Department of Education, have in-house legal counsel like Joan Hunt. They can initiate lengthy—and costly—legal action against any citizen and people like John White and district judges don’t have to pay a penny of the costs of litigation, courtesy of Louisiana taxpayers.

Private citizens do not enjoy that same advantage. It’s not a level playing field. And even if the public body does not sue, it can drag its heels on compliance, forcing the citizen making the request to either give up or enter into expensive legal action with no guarantee the court will uphold the public’s right to know.

At last Monday’s hearing, Judge Clark let it be known that her patience was wearing thin with public officials who attempt to hide behind legal maneuvers in an attempt to avoid compliance with the law.

The LDOE attorney opened by saying the department had “informal guidance” from the federal government that “we do not have to comply with FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests.”

Perhaps sensing the mood of the court, the state withdrew its demands for attorney fees from Deshotels and Finney, adding that “only two people are interested in the data.”

Judge Clark said it was an “improper purpose” to deny information to the public as a retaliatory action.

“Counsel should meet and work this out,” she said. “The public (meaning the court) takes a dim view of public officials using public resources to delay compliance with public records laws.”

Deshotels attorneys J. Arthur Smith and Chris Shows met outside chambers for more than two hours with LDOE attorneys but were unable to arrive at an agreement on the release of the requested documents.

When informed of the continued impasse, Judge Clark, visibly angry, said, “I am issuing a subpoena for John White to be in court at 9:30 tomorrow (Wednesday) morning for cross examination.”

When White got word of that, it was something akin to Moses coming down from the mountain with the 10 Commandments. Suddenly minds came together and miraculously, there was accord and LDOE agreed to three stipulations which settled the suit filed in April by White and the department against Deshotels and Finney. http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/education/article_536e2fac-b5e2-575c-87f6-1a991bf0f455.html?sr_source=lift_amplify

The first stipulation mandates that the suppression of data in the economically disadvantaged and English language learner or English proficiency sub-groups of the Education Department’s multi-stat reports is not in compliance with the Louisiana Public Records Act.

The department agreed not to suppress student enrollment data in responding to requests made under the act in the second stipulation.

The final stipulation says requested data will be made available to the public dating back to 2006.

Deshotels said the declaratory judgment filed against him and Finney was never about clarifying the legal issues relative to certain public records and student privacy as claimed by White.

Instead, he said White’s action was “purely an attempt to discourage citizens from seeking to independently research the claims and conclusions made by White and his staff.” “If citizens are forced to face legal challenges and high legal fees for seeking public records, the Department can continue to manipulate and spin what should be factual information about the operation of our schools.”

Sadly, Judge Clark’s ruling will do little to expedite timely compliance with future public records requests to other state agencies.

Even as this is being written, former commissioner of administration Kristy Nichols has already cost the state more than the original judgment against her in another lawsuit by LouisianaVoice.

LouisianaVoice received a pittance in a lawsuit in which the Division of Administration (DOA) under Nichols had dragged its heels for more than three months on several separate public records requests.

LouisianaVoice calculated DOA owed some $40,000 in penalties for non-compliance but was awarded less than $2,000, plus costs and legal fees, by the court. Even then Nichols appealed the decision. And although the court held Nichols personally liable, meaning she alone was responsible for the penalty, the state is picking up the tab for that appeal, which partially upheld the district court ruling.

Nichols, still not satisfied, and still not paying a cent of the legal costs (though LouisianaVoice is paying its legal costs, applied for writs to the Louisiana Supreme Court.

As of this date, the state has spent far, far more than the penalty imposed on it in trying to avoid paying the penalty and LouisianaVoice has spent more than it will ever be awarded, provided the Supreme Court even upholds the lower court.

And while the obvious question is: Is throwing good money after bad a wise way to spend state funds? An original penalty of less than $2000 has now cost the state several times that in defense costs and the tab is still running.

And John White’s obfuscating dribble notwithstanding, that’s what Louisiana citizens are faced with in trying to hold its state government accountable.

 

 

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