Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

No headline needed

Faith leaders and anti-abortion groups are ramping up their efforts to reelect President Trump, rewarding a president who has become an unlikely hero of the Christian right because of his commitment to socially conservative causes.

The Faith and Freedom Coalition (FFC) will spend tens of millions of dollars on a voter mobilization effort that aims to register 1 million Christians in key battleground states and reach 30 million people nationwide.

The group, which is led by conservative activist Ralph Reed, will pump literature into more than 100,000 churches across 18 states, primarily focusing on the presidential battlegrounds but also with an eye on contested House and Senate races.


Read Full Post »

A friend forwarded an email to me the other day. It said the following:

Ronald Reagan is remembered for saying, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

Taking the thought a bit further:

Teddy Roosevelt: “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

Franklin Roosevelt: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”

Winston Churchill: “Never give up. Never, never, never.”

Harry Truman: “The buck stops here.”

John Kennedy: “Ask not what your country can do for you but rather, ask what you can do for your country.”

Barack Obama: “It’s important to make sure that we’re talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.”

George W. Bush: “Africa is a nation that suffers from incredible disease.” (Okay, they can’t all be winners.)

Donald Trump: “Look, having nuclear—my uncle was a great professor and scientist and engineer, Dr. John Trump at MIT; good genes, very good genes, OK, very smart, the Wharton School of Finance, very good, very smart —you know, if you’re a conservative Republican, if I were a liberal, if, like, OK, if I ran as a liberal Democrat, they would say I’m one of the smartest people anywhere in the world—it’s true!—but when you’re a conservative Republican they try—oh, do they do a number—that’s why I always start off: Went to Wharton, was a good student, went there, went there, did this, built a fortune—you know I have to give my like credentials all the time, because we’re a little disadvantaged—but you look at the nuclear deal, the thing that really bothers me—it would have been so easy, and it’s not as important as these lives are (nuclear is powerful; my uncle explained that to me many, many years ago, the power and that was 35 years ago; he would explain the power of what’s going to happen and he was right—who would have thought?), but when you look at what’s going on with the four prisoners—now it used to be three, now it’s four—but when it was three and even now, I would have said it’s all in the messenger; fellas, and it is fellas because, you know, they don’t, they haven’t figured that the women are smarter right now than the men, so, you know, it’s gonna take them about another 150 years—but the Persians are great negotiators, the Iranians are great negotiators, so, and they, they just killed, they just killed us.”

All of which got me to thinking about how my (very distant) cousin (by marriage) Jeff Foxworthy might describe a Trumpster in the same way he did with his classic “You might be a redneck” shtick.

With a little help from my friends, here are some possibilities:

  • If you think Medicare and Social Security are socialist entitlement programs….you might be a Trumpster.
  • If you think misdemeanor is another bimbo that Michael Cohen paid off to keep quiet…you might be a Trumpster.
  • If “No Collusion,” “Witch Hunt,” “No Obstruction,” and “Fake News” comprise 90 percent of your vocabulary….you might be a Trumpster.
  • If you think tax reform giving millionaires and corporations huge tax breaks actually helps you….you might be a Trumpster.
  • If your tax reform increases the federal deficit by another trillion (with a “T”) dollars….you might be a Trumpster.
  • If you think putting babies in cages is a good idea….you might be a Trumpster.
  • If you think six bankruptcies is the definition of “very stable genius”….you might be a Trumpster.
  • If you think dismissing intelligence reports while embracing Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un, Bashar al-Assad and other murderers is leadership….you might be a Trumpster.
  • If you suffered from stone bruises during the Vietnam war but can’t remember which foot it was….you might be a Trumpster.
  • If you want immigration reform while employing undocumented Latinos at your golf courses….you might be a Trumpster.
  • If you oppose “chain migration” after your wife’s family is safely in this country….you might be a Trumpster.
  • If you think grabbing women by their genitalia against their will makes you a stud….you might be a Trumpster.
  • If your choice for Commerce Secretary is the former head of the Bank of Cyprus, a major Russian money-laundering bank….you might be a Trumpster.
  • If your idea of decisive leadership is flip-flopping on policy—sometimes within mere hours….you might be a Trumpster.
  • If you truly believe the press is the “enemy of the people”….you might be a Trumpster.
  • If you get your news from Fox and/or Media Wars (Alex Jones)….you might be a Trumpster.
  • If you run a scam university and make a huge political contribution to the Florida attorney general who is investigating you and then see the investigation disappear….you might be a Trumpster.
  • If the only bank that will loan you money is the Deutsche Bank (which conveniently ignored money laundering activity by your company)….you might be a Trumpster.
  • If you are a Christian who thinks Jesus would approve of adultery, bullying, lying pathologically, ridiculing disabled people….you might be a Trumpster.
  • If you think Farsi is an Iranian brand of binoculars….you might be a Trumpster.
  • If you think Taxes are how folks get around in the city….you might be a Trumpster.
  • If you think trickle-down economics is peeing on the leg of the 99%…..you might be a Trumpster.
  • If giving your opponents derogatory nicknames is your idea of issue-oriented political dialog….you might be a Trumpster.
  • If you think the presidency is just an extension of The Apprentice…..you might be a Trumpster.
  • If you’re given a clean bill of health by a doctor who subsequently had to withdraw his name from nomination as head of the VA because of past behavior….you might be a Trumpster.
  • If your former EPA Secretary thinks he needs a $43,000 soundproof booth for communications….you might be a Trumpster.
  • If your director of the Office of Management and Budget would never talk to a lobbyist who didn’t give him money while he was a congressman….you might be a Trumpster.
  • If your director of the Office of Management and Budget gets kicked out of the room for coughing during an interview….you might be a Trumpster.
  • If your former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention purchases tobacco stock….you might be a Trumpster.
  • If the number of people who were fired or resigned from your administration exceeds the roster limits for an NFL team….you might be a Trumpster.
  • If you’re so insecure that you have to lie and say you received the most Electoral College votes since Ronald Reagan….you might be a Trumpster.
  • If your daddy greased the skids so you could slide through Wharton Business School….you might be a Trumpster.
  • If you repeatedly stiffed contractors and refused to pay your undocumented laborers on your real estate construction ventures….you might be a Trumpster.
  • If you managed to tell more than 3,000 documented lies in your first two years in office….you might be a Trumpster.
  • If you think that ripping money from the Pentagon’s budget is the same as having Mexico pay for the wall….you might be a Trumpster.
  • If you think advocating for the abolition of NATO isn’t playing into Putin’s hands….you might be a Trumpster.
  • If Queen Elizabeth washed her hands with bleach after shaking hands with you….you might be a Trumpster.
  • If you live in a trailer park and think for one nano-second that your life is going to be all better now….you might be a Trumpster.
  • If you think someone is inferior because of the color of their skin….you might be a Trumpster.
  • If you’ve ever received a laudatory tweet from yourself….you might be a Trumpster.
  • If you’ve ever developed stone bruises on your thumbs from tweeting….you might be a Trumpster.
  • If multi-syllable words give you migraines….you might be a Trumpster.

And finally, most important of all:

If you can think for yourself….you most definitely are not a Trumpster.

If you’re offended by this list, you’re certainly free to compile your own list of “you might be a brain-dead, tree-hugging libtard.”

Who knows? They might be funny and I can take a joke—or an honest difference of opinion.


Read Full Post »

If you like to get away from the stress-inducing news of the day (and who doesn’t like to do that these days?), there’s a very good book by a retired Ruston pathologist that I would recommend very highly.

Shadowshine: An Animal Adventure (Guernica World Editions, Toronto, 2019), is a novel by Dr. Johnny Armstrong (whom, despite his being from my hometown, I have somehow never met face to face).


Dr. Armstrong defines the word Shadowshine as “illumination, usually in the form of moving spots in a shaded background, created by the reflection of light from ripples on the surface of water.”

And while it is not an official word in the English language, the definition is certainly one with which most of us can identify, especially if we’ve ever taken the time to just relax and watch that wonderful creature called nature.

Shadowshine, is what I would describe as a story akin to Watership Down, The Hobbit, or Homer’s Odyssey-lite.

It’s a delightful story about Zak a possum who has a bit of trouble maintaining his train of thought. Orphaned as a baby and raised by squirrels, he is unique in that he is bi-lingual, speaking the language of both rodents and the other animals of his community.

As if that’s not confusing enough, Zak is initially unaware that he is a possum and instead, considers himself a poet.

But don’t ever make the mistake of confusing him with Walt Kelly’s Pogo: he doesn’t have the philosophical mind of Pogo, though like Pogo, he is a friend to (nearly) every creature he meets.

But he and an odd collection of cohabitants, including a vegetarian wolf, a skunk, a mastodon, caribou, bobcats, an owl and a mysterious, mythical-like black panther, among others, come together in a joint effort to save themselves—and a curious tribe of strange creatures who walk upright and have cleavage above their back legs and who don’t appear to be very intelligent—from a marauding evil-doer named Mungo, who likes to burn villages and destroy all who stand in his way.

To do this, he must travel far to the north, away from his friendly environs, to sometimes hostile territory where the weather is bitterly cold and unfriendly. Still, he perseveres in his efforts to gather valuable information about Mungo to bring back to his community.

Without fully realizing it, he is protected along the way by that black panther, Moksoos, who moves in mysterious ways like some kind of Deity, which he most surely must be. But to explain how would be to ruin the story.

Instead, I would like to lift a brief passage from the book that quickly became my favorite quote from Sir Sark, the 800-year-old mastodon he meets during his journey. It’s Sir Sark’s treatise on life and death in the animal kingdom—a lesson we humans would do well to learn:

“Life and aging and their implications have little to do with death. Old age and death are merely a part of the progress of life from the viewpoint of the individual bubble inside the foam on the great wave. And that view can be described as a floating awareness on a river of time. It can peer up and down and out both sides and backward. But it cannot see forward.

“You see, possum, it seems that in one’s youth, one is floating in a broad river that moves so slowly it looks as though it is almost stagnant. Though the river itself is attractive, one might say gorgeous, for some reason the scenery on the shore doesn’t quite meet the river’s standard, so one’s attention is drawn to one’s self and to the water and to how to get it to move along faster.

“But eventually, one looks around and notices that the river really has begun to speed up its flow. And strangely, the shore is now quite beautiful and so fascinating that one wonders why one had not studied it more early on and what one must have been missing while studying one’s self and the water.

“As a little more time goes by, the river begins to move quite rapidly and is becoming narrow and the shore is becoming more and more interesting. The objects on the shore are becoming so attractive that one reaches out to touch them, but it is difficult because the river is moving swiftly as if in a narrow canyon, so the objects get left behind. Objects now so beautiful that they have stolen one’s heart go right by and are gone forever. And as faster and faster rolls the river, more and more objects come up into view that are now alive and have become dear friends and a part of one’s own life, but they are so quickly ripped away that a part of one’s own life goes with them.

“Now as narrower and faster yet goes the river, more and more precious become the friends on the shore. At this point, they are going by so rapidly that one hardly has time to focus before they are gone. And if one so much as even tries to focus on a friend as it goes by, then a whole row of friends who come after it will be, ever so painfully, completely overlooked!

“It is all quite confusing and frustrating, but I suppose one has to accept one’s lot. It could be worse. One could be a possum and miss it all but perhaps a little stagnant water and flotsam.”

This book would make a great animated feature movie and I hope some astute script writer stumbles across it and sees its potential.

You can order the book from Amazon by clicking HERE. The book is $25 and the Kindle edition is $10.99—both well worth the price. Or you can pick one up soon at your local independent book store.

Book signings by Dr. Armstrong will be announced here as they are scheduled.


Read Full Post »

When Ivor van Heerden had the temerity to criticize the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers following the failure of the levees during Hurricane Katrina, LSU was both quick in its decision to can him. Van Heerden’s observations, whether accurate or not (they were), was placing LSU’s quest for federal funding in jeopardy, so he had to go.

When Dr. Randall Schaffer tried to warn the LSU School of Dentistry that a joint replacement device developed by Dr. John Kent, head of the school’s Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Department, was defective, Schaffer was not only fired by LSU, but his career ruined in the process. Never mind that the device wound up costing the state tens of millions of dollars. He had to go.

I could go on, but instead, I’ll let you read about other examples HERE.

The purpose of all this is not to re-hash well-documented examples of LSU’s propensity for taking a self-serving approach to problem-solving, but to shed some additional light on what may be evidence of a double standard at Louisiana’s flagship university.

First, there was a NEWS REPORT by a Baton Rouge television station indicating that the two principals at University Laboratory School (ULS), secondary principal Frank Rusciano and elementary principal Myra Broussard, had established their own business so that they could be compensated for aftercare programs at the schools for the 2017-2018 school year.

In setting up a system whereby parents could have their credit cards drafted for the after-school program but then did not deposit those funds into the University account to “ensure that they (the principals) would get paid,” a REPORT by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor said. The audit said 63 percent of ULS purchases randomly reviewed by auditors, were for items or services “not typically allowed by University policy…” and that the actions by Rusciano and Broussard appeared to represent “an attempt to circumvent University disapproval and University policy.”

So, just how did LSU and ULS respond to the report?

Well, the two principals were “suspended pending an investigation” and interim Dean Dr. Roland Mitchell said outcomes “are in process and will be completed no later than June 30, 2019.

Wait, what? The story broke on March 18, almost two months ago and Mitchell said the outcomes will be completed “no later than June 30.” That’s almost three-and-one-half months to consider what a state audit has already determined.

Or three-and-one-half months for folks to forget and a determination of no cause of action to be reached.

Remember, van Heerden and Dr. Schaffer got the axe immediately with no due process accorded them. Same thing for Drs. Roxanne Townsend and Fred Cerise. Ditto for John Lombardi and Stephen Guillot.

But wait. The story apparently doesn’t end there.

LouisianaVoice has been told that Mitchell, who oversees the Lab School, and the school’s superintendent, Dr. Amy Westbrook, who oversees the two principals, told the LSU Human Resources manager that the two principals needed to be terminated.

But the same source said that when the Human Resources manager began the process, a telephone call was received from the governor’s office and Gov. John Bel Edwards “asked” that the principals not be fired.

“I voted for Edwards and would like to do so again,” a Lab School parent said. “My kids went to U-High and had a great experience there. I liked the principal a lot. But if this is true, it’s so outrageous that the public needs to know. A lot of well-connected people have their kids at the Lab School, including the Jindals. A lot of them donate to the LSU Foundation and to political campaigns, so the principals at the Lab School have a lot of pull—more than the LSU President in many ways, and certainly more than the Dean of the College of Education or the head of HRM.

“That’s compounded because many of the people involved, like the dean, the HRM, and the Lab School superintendent, are interim because of the many departures LSU has experienced in recent years.

“I, along with many taxpayers, are frustrated about self-dealing by politicians and their friends.”

On Wednesday, I sent an inquiry to both Edwards campaign manager Richard Carbo and to the governor’s press office in which I provided our source’s claim, adding:

“If true, I would like to know why the governor has intervened in what would clearly be an internal matter.

“If not true, has the governor had any contact with officials at LSU on this matter? If so, what was the nature of that contact?

Carbo responded three minutes later:

From: Richard Carbo <richarda.carbo@gmail.com>
Sent: Wednesday, June 5, 2019 3:35 PM
To: Tom Aswell <louisianavoice@outlook.com>
Subject: Re: INQUIRY

Thanks Tom. 

 I’m digging into this and will let you know.

By Saturday, I still had not heard a word from either Carbo or the governor’s press office, so I followed up with another email to Carbo:

From: Tom Aswell
Sent: Saturday, June 8, 2019 8:55 AM
To: ‘richardacarbo@gmail.com’ <richardacarbo@gmail.com>
Subject: RE: INQUIRY

Still waiting.

One-and-one-half hours later, at 10:31 a.m., Carbo responded:

From: Richard Carbo <richarda.carbo@gmail.com>
Sent: Saturday, June 8, 2019 10:31 AM
To: Tom Aswell <louisianavoice@outlook.com>
Cc: richardacarbo@gmail.com
Subject: Re: INQUIRY

The official side should be responding.

Two-and-one-half hours later, there was still no response from the “official side.”

Could it be that the concern of our source about “self-dealing by politicians and their friends” might have been well-placed?

Read Full Post »

He showed up on his first day on the job at the Louisiana Office of Risk Management in March 1997, moving over from another state agency. I had been working at ORM for a little over six years. He was assigned to a different section than the one in which I worked, but we formed a friendship almost immediately.

John Michael Burch was a 24-year-old ultra-right-wing Reagan conservative and it didn’t take much prodding to elicit an opinion from him. He’d already earned his political stripes as a White House intern (during the administration of President George H.W. Bush, before joining ORM) when he somehow managed to find himself seated next to England’s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher at dinner. He adored England’s Iron Lady and her politics. He also was a big fan of Barbara Bush, Larry Hagman (TV’s J.R. Ewing).

But John, who died suddenly Sunday night of a heart attack at age 49, was anything but one-dimensional. He’d worked for the state 24 years and was looking forward to retirement. He wanted to retire to Kauai, geologically the oldest of the main Hawaiian Islands. He never made it.

As we get older (I’m 75), we’re constantly mindful of our own mortality. The reminders are there every day: the aches and pains we didn’t have 20 years ago; the pill organizers we have to use to keep track of our medications; the energy kids have today that we once had, and the most painful of all, the young ladies who insist on calling you “sir.”

But John was young, a man in his prime eagerly contemplating a retirement in a virtual Eden. He was too young to be ripped from our midst.

Asked how he was, he would invariably respond, more than a little cynically, “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.” He left ORM after a few years and moved up to the Division of Administration where he worked on agency budgets, first for the Department of Corrections, which was frustrating enough, and then the Department of Education, which he found to be maddening.

John would never leak a story to me—or anyone else. He took his job seriously and refused to be drawn into undermining his bosses. But that didn’t mean he would not reveal his personal feelings about his first boss, Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols (“never showed up in the office until about 11 a.m., terrible boss.”) and then current Commissioner Jay Dardenne (“Extremely hard-working. No matter how early I got to the office, he was already there working. A completely different work ethic from Nichols.”).

He also had complete disdain for former Angola Warden Burl Cain and Superintendent of Education John White and did reveal to me that Angola was corrupt “from top to bottom” long before the Baton Rouge Advocate did a stellar job of showing just how corrupt. If I didn’t know John Burch better, I’d swear he was a source for their stories—except I know he wasn’t.

About Senate President John Alario (R-Westwego), John said he was probably the most capable lawmaker in the entire legislature and State Sen. Francis Thompson (D-Delhi) was “sneaky smart. Don’t ever make the mistake of underestimating him.” For most of the rest of the legislature, he had almost universal contempt, which of course, he had to keep concealed because of the necessity of working with legislators on budgetary matters.

His love affair with the Republican Party ended with Bobby Jindal. Disgusted with the direction the party had taken, he became in independent, confiding in me that the Republicans no longer stood for anything but themselves.

John, however, had a wonderful sense of humor, which I believe drew the two of us together as friends. I was puttering around with stand-up comedy at a local comedy club and he would drop in from time to time. But it was at coffee breaks and lunches, first in the old Education Building and later in our new headquarters, the Claiborne Building, that his humor shone through.

Once during lunch in the Claiborne Building, there were several of us at a table when I looked up and saw a woman walk in with painted-on eyebrows that arched far too high onto her forehead. “She’s either very surprised or paying really close attention to somebody,” I observed. If he’d had milk in his mouth at the time, I believe he’d have squirted it out his nose, he was laughing so hard.

But the line that kept him laughing for years occurred a few years earlier in the old Education Building. There were more than a dozen men who took our morning break together and sat together in the break area. One of those was a real blowhard who loved boasting of his own (imagined) importance. I’ll call him Sam, but anyone who was there that day will know exactly who I’m writing about. He claimed to be a member of the Hammond Country Club and any time anyone would mention any prominent person from Hammond, his automatic response would be, “Yeah, he always sits at my table when we have a function at the country club.”

One day, I brought up the name of a Hammond attorney who attended a comedy show I promoted in Hammond. “Yeah,” said Sam, right on cue, “he always sits at my table when we have a function at the country club.”

I looked at Sam and before I could even think better of it, said, “Sam, just how many tables do you wait on, anyway?”

Sam, by way of further description, once dyed his graying hair jet black with liquid shoe polish for his upcoming high school reunion. Problem was, the dye started running all down his neck at work, prompting even more running jokes (no pun intended) about Sam from everyone, including John. No one, after all, was exempt from his biting humor.

He also got a good laugh at my expense when I told him about a luncheon I attended at Texas A&M at which George Bush the First was guest speaker. Spotting a white-haired lady sitting down front when the event ended, I rushed down and asked if she would pose in a photo with me, which she graciously did. Back home, I called my wife into my office to show her the picture of me and Barbara Bush. She took one look and said, “That’s not Barbara Bush.” It wasn’t. I’d approached her from behind and never really looked at her face. I’m sure she wonder who the hell I was. John loved that story.

He idolized comedian Don Rickles. From time to time, I’d send him a link to a Rickles clip and he always responded the same way: by reminding me once again that there was no one funnier.

But John had a softer side, too. When I was placed on administrative leave, effectively convincing me it was time to retire, because I’d started publishing LouisianaVoice, it was John who was first to call me at home to offer condolences. When I had a book signing for my book Louisiana Rocks, John was first in line to get his copy.

When he emailed me that I’d “really stepped in it this time” after I’d written on a Friday that State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson would be retiring because of the controversy over the infamous San Diego trip, he was just as prompt to write, “Don’t gloat too much” the next week when Edmonson did, in fact, announce his retirement.

Visitation will be from 9 a.m. to 12 Friday at Seale Funeral Home in Denham Springs with services at n 12. Burial will be at St. Margaret Catholic Cemetery in Albany.

We will miss John’s acerbic sense of humor. We will miss his keen political observations. We will miss his work ethic. We will miss his loyalty and his friendship.

But most of all, we will miss John Michael Burch.


Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: