29 November 2003

Shopping is more important 

The front page of most state papers today dealt with "the busiest shopping day of the year" (except the Advocate which fronts LSU's stomping of Arkansas and a nearly $100 million construction project at Southern University), so it was strange to find this bit of news about the future of LA's charity hospitals tucked into a box in Baton Rouge.

Marsha Shuler informs us of a possible windfall of $100 million from the federal government to help pay for the state's charity hospitals and treat Louisiana's 846,000 uninsured residents. Hidden away on page 2A where the story continues in the print edition though is the bad news that Louisiana will need to come up with at least $43 million of it's own money in matching funds to access the federal dollars. Of course there's not a single lawmaker in the state with any plan to raise revenues right now, so the only option will mean cuts from other parts of the budget. I don't think that's such a bad thing, but budget cuts are as hard to make as tax increases in this state. I'll be interested to see if one hundred million federal dollars is enough to light a fire under the collective body of lawmakers, but I'm only mildly confident.

A look at Leblanc 

Laura Maggi writing in the T-P has a profile of Jerry Luke Leblanc. He stands to be the next commissioner of administration for Kathleen Blanco. This position is a very powerful one in any administration, so the person to fill it is not of inconsequential importance to folks interested in LA politics. Of course the general nature of these profiles of elected and unelected state officials is pretty soft, but this is worth reading if only to get a good idea of Leblanc's politics (conservative Dem; not completely averse to taxes) and his history (son of a lawmaker; driving force on house appropriations committee). The main criticism is of a questionable bill regarding parking tickets at UL that got out of control in the legislature. There is also some general grumbling among conservatives that Leblanc may not be conservative enough for their tastes.

There's not much more to the story than that, though you should go make sure for yourself. I imagine that we'll see some more profiles in other papers when Blanco finally makes a formal announcement for this post, but that might still take a week or so, and until then this is all we got.

Things I missed 

Some, um, "Internet trouble" prevented me from posting yesterday, so I'll link to a couple of good pieces from the Friday papers about the way things go in Louisiana, without much other comment. The first is a Will Sentell story about the strange practice of a governor actually choosing the legislative leaders who preside in the statehouse. Of course this story is barely even a beginning to understanding why Louisiana works this way, but it's worth a read anyway. I have one question it would have been nice for Sentell to answer though. Who was the first governor to pick the speaker and senate president? It shouldn't take a historian or political scientist to answer that question. There is some suggestion that Huey Long was the first, which wouldn't be surprising in the slightest, but it's very unclear. I guess I'm demanding in my reporters.

The other story that I wanted to mention from yesterday is the first I've seen in a major paper about the burgeoning fight in the house of the Louisiana GOP. One good quote:

"It's time to clean house," said Carl Tritschler of Lafayette, who is calling for the resignation of the current party leadership, citing a series of events that he says would not have occurred if the party had stronger people in leadership positions.

"In the wake of yet another disastrous year for Republicans in Louisiana, it is time once and for all for the Keystone Kops of Louisiana politics to step aside before even more damage is done to the once proud Louisiana GOP," he said.

I believe Tritschler supported Jay Blossman for governor, so I don't think it would be in the Republican Party's interest to really give half-a-damn what he has to say, but the funniest part of his quote is "the once proud Louisiana GOP." The GOP has only really existed with any force in this state since the early seventies, and they've always been pretty hapless, so I wonder if maybe Tritschler lived somewhere else before.

It's really fun watching these public feuds, so I'll keep linking to them. I know there's a pretty good fight of a similar nature going on among national Dems right now, but the mechanisms of the battle that goes on in the local level are so much more fun to watch.

27 November 2003

One more reason to be thankful 

I don't live anywhere near Yellowstone Lake. I saw this story in the paper this morning and after spending the last week reading Krakatoa, I'm a little paranoid about catastrophic subterranean events that could be cropping up around the globe:

Below the blue waters of Yellowstone Lake, a mysterious dome 2,100 feet across and 100 feet high is causing concern among scientists and citizens who don't know whether it's a harmless curiosity or a hazard on the verge of exploding.
The dome, also called a bulge, is less than a mile from shore and was recently explored by researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey, using unmanned submarines and sonar.
"It could be the precursor to a hydrothermal explosion," said Lisa Morgan, a geologist leading the team.
Hydrothermal blasts occur when super-heated water, often under extreme pressure, rapidly flashes to steam, hurling rocks and sometimes gouging out huge craters.
News of the dome comes at a time of increased activity beneath Yellowstone, which experienced a magnitude 4.4 earthquake in August.

Next is the holy shit! part:

Mary Bay, an area of the lake near the dome, was created by a hydrothermal blast more than 13,000 years ago that scientists consider to be one of the biggest explosions in geologic history. There are at least five other craters in Yellowstone Lake caused by enormous eruptions.

It's not time to start sacrificing virgins to the fire gods yet, but I'll be watching the news that surrounds this story with quite a bit of interest until scientists present some answers one way or the other.

Flexing her muscles 

Despite some pretty loud opposition to Hines from certain members of the Senate, Kathleen Blanco has decided not to settle for a compromise candidate and instead stuck with her gut. It's unclear whether Sen. John Hainkel, who would be the out-going Senate President, will mount a challenge to Blanco's selection.

Marsha Shuler reports on the leadership posts in this morning's Advocate. Another possibility to fill the position was Noble Ellington, and while he claims that he's not a fan of Don Hines' politics, he lets on the real reason he's upset in a fairly revealing quote included in Shuler's story:

Of Hines' selection, Ellington said: "That's her right. By the same token it's also the right of the Senate to elect."

Ellington congratulated Hines. But, he added, "I think it's a mistake, not because of any ill feeling for Dr. Hines. It's the difference in politics and where we come down."

. . .

Ellington said he supports Blanco and even did a television spot for her during the governor's campaign.

"I think she's a great lady. I want her to be the most successful governor we have ever had, but it's a situation that's going to get sticky and I don't think it had to be."

Looks like Noble's a little upset because he's not being appropriately rewarded for his "hard work" during Blanco's campaign. That's life I guess.

Happy Thanksgiving 

I'll let you guys know right now that Thanksgiving just may be my favorite holiday. There's nothing I enjoy more than spending a long day with all my brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, and parents. We eat and drink all day courtesy of our loving parents and do as much sitting around as possible. This year the holiday will culminate on Friday morning with a grudge match basketball game between the two older men in the family against the two younger men. I have proven to be in the worst shape despite being the youngest. That didn't stop us from rolling to at least our second victory in a row last year. I'll fill you in on the results when we play Friday.

In the interim I expect to be posting intermittently throughout the holiday. I'm not making guarantees, so you'll just have to keep checking in to find out for sure.

Until then I hope everyone enjoys the day. I suggest that you drink plenty of beer and wine and enjoy your day off in whatever way you see fit. To Mary, who is stuck in Indianapolis this Thanksgiving, the Prados unfortunately do not eat Turducken, though if I'm sober enough to get in a car Thursday night I expect to eat a fried one at a friend's house. I imagine that it will be rubbed raw with Tony Chachere's and doused with Tabasco. If that's not a Cajun Thanksgiving, I don't know what is.

26 November 2003

I'll work for you 

In this week's print edition of The Independent Nathan Stubbs reports that Melinda Mangham is considering a bid for the seat that will open up if Jerry "Luke" Leblanc accepts the commissioner of administration position that has been offered to him by Kathleen Blanco.

Mangham is an English teacher of many years at Lafayette High School and was probably considerably more effective than the guidance counselors there in getting students into college with scholarships. I took her during my senior year and along with a history teacher at LHS probably didn't have a better instructor who prepared me for college. I imagine that I agree with most of her politics as well. She's been a member of the Democratic State Central Committee for a number of years.

She also has the name recognition that comes with being married to the man who ensured LSU's first undefeated season and national championship in fifty years at the Sugar Bowl in 1959. That's when Mickey Mangham hauled in a touchdown pass from Billy Cannon for the game's only score in a victory over the 8-2 Clemson Tigers. LSU hasn't been undefeated or national champion since then.

If Mangham runs for this seat she'll surely have my vote and possibly some time as a volunteer on my part. I know many of her former students who would offer the same. So just go for it. We need good Democrats to come from this area.

Hedging his bets 

I'm not sure what's newsworthy about this Gerard Shields report from Washington DC. The first paragraph informs us of the shocking news that Republican lawmakers aren't ready to shelve the Energy Bill yet even though it has been thwarted for the time being by filibustering Democrats (and a few Republicans).

I'm convinced that Shields is still angling (read sucking up) for the exclusive scoop on what Billy Tauzin plans for the MPAA lobbying gig and/or his future in the House of Representatives. Why else would he quote the Congressmen so extensively on this matter? The House (and admittedly the committee Tauzin chairs) passed the Energy Bill without fanfare. The real mechanisms of power that are holding the bill up reside in the Senate, wouldn't it be better to get some word at all from staff or the two LA Senators themselves about the prospects for the bill's future?

To Shields' credit, there is some very good information about MTBE and certain provisions in the bill that could cost the Louisiana oil and gas industry a pretty penny. I imagine that's why our two Senators came out in support of the bill, even though MTBE has contaminated the water at over 1000 sites in Louisiana alone, and over 150,000 across the U.S.

(much more on MTBE and how it sunk the bill in this story from The Times)

Like I always say, just go read the whole thing.

Capitol politics 

Marsha Shuler has a good report on some of the jockeying going on for the Senator who will have the honor of presiding over the chamber during the next session. These stories probably require more attention than I've paid them on this blog, so I apologize for my neglect. The story ledes with news that Sen. Francis Heitmeier from New Orleans has emerged as another candidate to fill the post. It seems pretty clear at this point that Kathleen Blanco will only support a traditional Democrat in the position, which has left Sen. Hainkel and his hand-picked "compromise candidate," Democratic Sen. Noble Ellington out of the loop.

As noted in this report, some members see this as a bad sign for the chances of Blanco delivering on her promise to have a big tent in her administration that welcomes Republican voices as well as Democratic ones. It seems to me that the upset Senators are really just positioning themselves to vote against the lawmaker who Blanco eventually selects to run the Senate. This could shape up to be a very interesting showdown of political will very early in Blanco's term as governor. I can't wait to see what happens.

This should be great for ratings 

via drudge

After who knows how many seasons of non-stop partying and the implicit encouragement from the producers to have lots of sex as often as possible, it was only a matter of time before something like this happened at a Real World house:

A 22-year-old woman claims she was sexually assaulted at a converted commercial building being used as a production studio for the MTV show "Real World" in San Diego.

The alleged victim told police that she met the suspect, identified as Justin, after consuming several mixed drinks at a Broadway nightclub the night of Nov. 14., according to a search warrant in the case.

Justin, said to be an acquaintance of a male "Real World" cast member, offered the woman a drink, which she drank, according to a search warrant obtained by authorities.

The next thing she knew, the woman said, she woke up at 10:30 the next morning on a bed at the production studio/residence on North Harbor Drive -- thinking that someone had had sex with her while she was unconscious.

Until police do their jobs I guess there's no telling what happened that night. Oh wait, there are a bunch of cameras and crew people all over the houses 24/7. This should be the easiest case to investigate in the history of television rape cases.

It is quite a coincidence that this story broke on the night of the finale of the Real World Paris, but I'm not suggesting that this is a publicity stunt even if it will do a number for the ratings for the next Real World season. I guess they'll have to start a new rule where any cast member who lets a rapist sleep over gets tossed out of the house. "I just don't feel safe with you around anymore David. . ." They'll probably have to air a special hour-long episode so we can see how the cast members make the whole disgusting affair "all about me." I'm hooked already.

25 November 2003

I'd buy that for a dollar 

Via The Talent Show comes news of a special product available exclusively for Thanksgiving from Jones Soda. It's Turkey and Gravy Flavor and unfortunately it's all sold out.

This vaguely reminds me of the episode of "The Simpsons" when Homer drinks can after can of crab juice in New York City while waiting for the traffic cops to take the boot off his car. The big difference being that I love gravy so damned much I might consider drinking it even without the addition of carbonation; not so with crabs. Is that too much information for you guys? I didn't think so.

Anyway, my gut feeling after reading Greg's post about this stuff is that it's fake, but a Google search reveals way to much attention paid to this story for it to be some kind of prank supported by a fake website. I thought pumpkin flavored beer for the fall was going too far, but at least that will get you drunk; this soda is just ridiculous. To my friends who are allergic to poultry though, this may be your only chance to taste turkey on Thanksgiving. You know who you are.

Leaks bite back 

Remember that memo that was leaked (that's a hilarious column without the news that comes tonight) to Sean Hannity that supposedly proved Democrats were out to "politicize the war on terror"? It seems that Senators Leahy and Kennedy, who raised many objections that the memo was improperly obtained by staffers working for the Republican Senate Judiciary Committee, were right. Josh Marshall has the goods on the story. It's unclear if anything illegal happened, but it's certainly a very ugly scene for Orrin Hatch, who employs one of the staffers apparently responsible for the theft and subsequent leak of the memo. At least give some credit to Hatch since judging by this press conference he realizes the political expediency of getting all this out into the open as soon as possible:

It is with deep regret that I must report today that the interviews conducted to date have revealed that at least one current member of Judiciary Committee majority staff had improperly accessed some of the documents referenced in the media reports and which have been posted on the Internet.

While this individual denies responsibility for releasing the documents to the press, it is now clear that some of the committee files, as Senators Durbin, Leahy and Kennedy feared, were compromised, and worse, by a member of the Senate Judiciary majority staff.

In addition, preliminary interviews suggest that a former majority committee staff member may also have been involved.

. . .

Well, we first want to find out if anybody on our staff had anything to do with this, and, like I say, I'm mortified to say that at least one member that I know of has compromised the computer system -- not the system, but has had access to these materials.

I really can't comment much beyond that, other than the sergeant at arms is going to have to follow up.

I'll grant that Hatch has little choice at this point but to cooperate fully with this investigation, and now it's very important to find out who was involved in dissemination of the material, but his statements in the press conference seemed at least mildly reassuring that the bottom will be gotten to.

The funny thing about this whole affair is that a document that was supposed to be so damaging to Democrats didn't really last in the public conciousness for longer than a short news cycle, and now it could have ramifications of seriously damaging the reputation of at least one Republican Senator. It's good to see that the politics of self-destruction can have consequences for their perpetrators.

I am Sean 

Salon's gossip column is reporting the Sean Penn wants to return to Iraq and file (embedded?) dispatches back to the San Francisco Chronicle.

I don't agree with the charge of liberal media bias, but jumpin' Josaphat! When high-pro liberals get silly activist itches like this and then embarrass themselves and progressivism all at once it really burns my britches. Please Sean, don't go back to Iraq. You're a fine actor and producer. I can't stand the thought of your stories being plastered all over O'Reilly and Hannity's idiotic television shows demeaning your career up to this point (we can give you a pass on Fast Times). Maybe Brownstein will just tell him no. . .

Everyone thank Jesse 

Why? Jesse reads the Corner so we don't have to.

At least wait until she's inaugurated 

Within two weeks of Governor-Elect Blanco's victory over Republican Bobby Jindal the Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT) is already agitating for a pay raise. The general feeling at their annual convention seems something like this: "Well, she's a Democrat and she was a teacher once, and she's a mother, so we're sure to have a friend in the mansion." Don't take my word for it though, here are quotes from the actual story:

"I am optimistic because she is a woman and a mother," Smith said. "I am hopeful."

. . .

Just the mention of her name at the convention, Skelton said, triggered spontaneous applause from delegates.

"There is almost an affection people feel for her," he said.

. . .

He said teachers are inclined to give Blanco the benefit of the doubt, at least for now.

"Everybody is aware she is a former school teacher," Troullier said. "And she is a mother. She has to have concern for kids."

That's the kind of goodwill that will evaporate in an instant if they don't get what they want. Aside from teachers fawning over Blanco at their convention there's lots of good info about the state of teacher salaries in LA, which are the second lowest in the southeast (though they have grown more than any other state in the region, which tells you how bad they must have been not too long ago).

Of course there's a massive budget shortfall looming, so giving teachers a raise probably isn't in the cards anytime soon. I'll also say that I'm of the mind to ask teachers to continue to sacrifice with smaller raises until the money can be found to fix school infrastructure and bring them closer to the 21st century in terms of technology. In an ideal world there would be enough money for both those needs, but this isn't an ideal world, and I'd have to say that money should be spent first that directly benefits students in the classroom, then give the teachers their due.

Of course you can't even think of raising taxes. There was an unrelated story in my local paper about a miniscule increase in already comically low property taxes drawing the ire of the public. The headline is factual, but reading a few paragraphs into the story helps to understand what happened: "City property taxes leap 39 percent" Here's the kicker:

The owner of a $100,000 home in the city of Lafayette last year paid $128.10 in city taxes. This year, the same homeowner will pay $178.10. Homes in the city are not homestead exempt from city taxes.

“I think it’s a crying shame,” Green said. “I think it’s really a disgrace that every time police and firemen get a raise, it’s usually the senior citizens that own property that get slapped in the face with it.”

As far as I can tell (please correct my math if I'm wrong here) $178 on a $100,000 home is less than .02% on property. A 39% raise is nothing, but the assessor's office received upwards of 30 phone calls when the bills arrived this week. Keep in mind that voters approved these "mills" last year, and now they come home to roost and the city receives a flood of complaints. Mr. Green is particularly mad because renters don't pay for police and firemen. I guess he would prefer if the city raised the sales tax (which on balance would probably end up costing him more per year than the piddling he pays on his property).

At any rate, I just added this to show how difficult it will be to raise revenue in any way to pay for teacher raises. It's a pretty shite state of affairs here in Louisiana. This is just one more example.

But will Bruce write a song about this? 

A couple of months ago a man was shot in his car after leading police on a brief chase through Acadia Parish. Yesterday a grand jury indicted the officers on manslaughter charges, which means the men are facing possible sentences of forty years. This case was greeted by an almost total press blackout during the investigation, so the fact that the details were announced yesterday are something of a big story around here. It wasn't very pretty:

Twenty shots were fired that night, Harson said: 17 by Forman, a black officer, and three by Boulet, a white officer. Francis was a black man.

The first 10 shots Forman fired came during a chase through the town, which began after Francis began exhibiting "erratic behavior," Harson said.

Francis had hit several vehicles with his car, and fled when the officers tried to pull him over, Harson said. The autopsy found no alcohol in Francis' system, and no medications that could have caused him to act erratically.

"There was nothing in his system that would explain his behavior," Harson said. "We're at a loss."

An off-duty officer learned of the chase, and managed to block Francis' car with his truck, Harson said. Boulet then approached the scene and blocked the rear of Francis' car with his police unit.

After Francis' car was trapped, Forman fired seven shots into the car and Boulet fired three, Harson said.

Two of Forman's bullets struck Francis in the jaw and hand, and one of Boulet's bullets hit Francis in the back of the head, killing him, Harson said.

Francis was seated in his car when he was shot, Harson said.

Reporter Angela Simoneaux notes the race of the officer and victim because there were the usual reflexive charges of racism against the police when the story initially broke that a black man was gunned down in his car by police officers.

The officers appear to offering a defense that will argue that they were doing all they could to prevent the dead man from continuing so recklessly into a popular hangout area that night. They thought if he were allowed to continue that he would kill someone.

I'll make the normal disclaimer that I don't know all the facts to this case, and I usually try to avoid making generalizations and judgments about matters when I don't feel like I have a good handle on the entire story, but on the face of this it looks like the two police officers used force about as recklessly as the victim who was running into cars and avoiding the police. What struck me wasn't the multiple shots fired into the car after it was already blocked in by two automobiles (although that seems particularly awful), but the fact that an officer fired ten shots from his moving vehicle at another moving vehicle. It seems as if he took lessons from Lethal Weapon or Beverly Hills Cop movies.

I suppose the courts will flesh this out in the appropriate manner, and whether or not these men go to jail isn't for me to decide, but dear Lord, I hope they never get their hands on guns with the assignment to protect the public interest ever again.

24 November 2003

Promoting the community 

I have some new sites to add to the Daily Reading list today. For progressives interested in community activism and news about the NOLA area there's a new group putting together a local operation with some grander ambitions called New Breed New Orleans. Right now it's not much more than a collection of links and mission statements, but look for bigger and better things to come in the next few months.

Also, I don't know why I didn't have Scoobie Davis on the sidebar, but here he is from here to eternity (or until I get bored and end this foolish hobby).

And last, but certainly not least is the somewhat righty blogger displaced from--gasp!--Texas out of a desire for the frontier-style living of Alexandria. He's Mark Adams and I linked to him late last week with a promise to add Down to the Piraeus to the blogroll as soon as I got around to it. Now I'm around to it, so if you didn't make it there then, make it now.

A special thanks to Chris who sent me the link to New Breed New Orleans. He'll be back in the friendly confines of Lafayette, La and the Blue Moon Bar on Wednesday night to play with a group of Cajun music all-stars. He normally drums for the Lost Bayou Ramblers, and while I never thought I would be a fan of Cajun music (what with all the fiddling and accordion playing), I've never been disappointed by these young men. So if they're playing in your area you should go ahead and check them out.

Finally, I'll be out of the house tonight, braving the first blast of frigid weather in Lafayette this winter to watch my alma mater take on my first love: the Ragin' Cajuns of the University of Louisiana. It's the Cajun's first home basketball matchup of the season. Loyola doesn't appear to have improved much since I finished there. They don't have much hope to fare well tonight either, considering they're classified NAIA and are the usual doormats of the "vaunted" Gulf Coast Athletic Conference (GCAC) (get a load of that website).

I'm a little conflicted about who to root for in this matchup, but my gut says Cajuns. I'll root for Loyola to find a president who doesn't have sex with high school students (that's a vicious cheap shot that I'm only mildly ashamed of). I'll be posting later friends.

My girl likes to party all the time. . . 

Eric Celeste believes he has all the answers for increasing newspaper readership among young people (18-34 yr. olds, not pre-teens). Writing in the Dallas Observer Celeste suggests liberal use of "colorful" language and smarter writing. I guess Celeste is some kind of a media critic, and this is a good piece, but at some point I think he's just trying to be shocking. But hey! I'm young and now I'm reading and linking to his column, so I guess it worked.

Young people want the world as they see it: without filters. It's why they love The Daily Show. Because it's smart, informed, crude and passionate. Like young people. Young people will argue vehemently with you for hours about party politics, about religion, about love and war and peace and that weird new $20 bill. They will curse when they argue, using words like "fuck." Then, once they are done, they will go out to a bar and get fucking blasted-ass drunk and go home with another young person and fuck like bunnies until they pass out. That's their world, and if you wanna live in it, you'd better print it.

If the lives of twenty-somethings were actually one long generic sex-romp movie, this guy would actually get the million dollar consulting fee he wants to show newspapers how to appeal to people like me.

"Dire Straits" for LA GOP 

Bill Decker is an editor and sometime contributor to my hometown's daily paper. In the past I've found his columns pretty hit or miss, but he's turned in some solid writing about the recently completed gubernatorial election. Today he explores the future of the state GOP, and while I don't think things will be as dramatic for the state party as others have predicted, Decker gets off a line that's worth quoting in my own space:

So, what’s up with Louisiana’s Republicans, anyway? Why can’t the party solidify its gains – they’ve been huge, including two terms for Gov. Mike Foster and as many as five of the state’s seven U.S House seats – and take the next step?

The real problem is a strange one for a party whose ranks have been swelled by opposition to welfare. Republicans project a sense of entitlement that, in dim light, can resemble hubris.

Decker puts his finger on something there that I've never really been able to conceive before. It's almost taken for granted by Republicans in the state that everyone thinks and votes just like them, so when Democrats come in and win major statewide offices in consecutive years, there's a feeling that heads must roll. This is a feeling that lots of dedicated partisans get after any loss. Partisans tend to believe that most people agree with them and that their ideas are better than the other guy's, so any loss must be the fault of weak political strategy, bad leadership, a stupid electorate, etc. Rarely will partisans admit that perhaps most voters just don't feel the same way about things.

I'll admit to having these kinds of thoughts all the time. I try to reign them in when they get the better of me, but it's pretty difficult. In this case though, Republicans are looking for scapegoats for their big losses in Louisiana over the last two years. Whatever is going to happen should happen soon though, because next year is about the most important year for Republicans in any state. I hope the party is sufficiently weakened to fail to deliver LA to Bush, but at this point we can only wait and see.

Update @ 10:50 am: link added. my apologies.

A love letter to Ken Johnson 

Gerard Shields (Advocate DC correspondent) fawns over Rep. Billy Tauzin's press-secretary in a profile of "the most often quoted man on Capitol Hill."

In the profile we learn that Johnson is dedicated, innovative, powerful, and wealthy. He also likes outlandish belt-buckles.

There is minor discussion of some of the criticism Johnson and Tauzin have come under over the years, but for the most part the piece reads like a mash note. Gerard Shield usually does very solid work, so I wonder if he's been sitting on this profile for some time and just mailed it in since Thanksgiving is coming up. I guess it's also possible that he's trying to butter up Johnson so he can get an early scoop on whether or not Tauzin will actually retire and take the Movie Industry lobbying job that he's been rumored to be in negotiations over. Whatever the case it would have been nice to see at least some discussion of the questionable "fundraising" efforts during Tauzin's tenure in the US House of Representatives and what it means for someone of Ken Johnson's apparent reputation to flak for a man who has so brazenly flouted ethical conventions all these years.

Sigh, as Mick Jagger says, you can't always get what you want.

"I quit" 

Okay, not me, but that's what nearly 8.5% of Louisiana high school students say. The only state with a worse dropout rate is Arizona, who lose more than 10 percent of their high school students every year. Alaska rounds out the worst three and is the only other state that has a dropout rate of over 8%

These numbers are briefly discussed in this morning's Advocate. They seem to be featuring all the worst aspects of Louisiana living in their last few editions.

Unsurprisingly the numbers are demonstrably worse for black students, who drop out at a rate that's not quite twice as high as whites. The story presents a pretty bleak outlook of the horizon for education as well. Will Sentell makes a brief mention of educator's desires to expand mentor programs and create better availability of GED programs, which hardly inspires a lot of confidence for the future of LA schools.

As an aside here I'll note that I began my freshman year at one of the better public high schools in the state with more than six hundred classmates, but I graduated with a class of 323. Of course all of those weren't dropouts since many transferred and/or moved. Also expulsion cases who never return aren't marked as dropouts. I imagine there are all kinds of other cases that don't count as dropouts, but the fact that my class was almost reduced by half over four years seems quite staggering to me.

The terrible state of LA's public schools are probably the second reason parents don't want to raise children here and young people who leave the state don't come back (jobs being the first). Vouchers aren't a solution, but neither, as they say, is dumping money into systems with no accountability for how it is spent. It looks like the No Child Left Behind Act will only inspire teachers and administrators to game the system rather than actually turn schools around and help students. There are lots of questions begging to be answered, and LA is clearly worse off than most other places.

Now we have a new administration ready to enter office, and Blanco claimed that education would be a top priority of her governorship. I hope she can take an honest look at this and offer the state some solutions.

23 November 2003

But that just means the courts work. . . 

This headline was on the front page of the metro section in the Sunday Advocate:

Number of wrongful convictions in La. immense

This is a pretty good story that uses the wrongful convictions of twenty people in Louisiana since 1966 as a jumping off point for a report on all the trouble left in the wake of freeing someone from jail who has been mistakenly convicted. It describes the problems of law enforcement officials ever being able to try anyone else for the crime, lost evidence, shaded memories of witnesses, etc.

Barrouquere also looks at the lives of a few of the people who have been freed after particularly long periods of time and the trouble they have putting their lives back together after extended periods in Angola:

"The fact is that legal innocence and factual innocence may be two very distinct things," Adams said. "It is very much to the advantage of many defendants to blur the distinction."

Laurie White, the attorney who represented Bibbins, said that "blurred line" does not serve many of those who are freed.

"Their lives are ruined," White said. "How do you explain to somebody what you've been doing for the last 28 years?"

Some former inmates keep their paperwork to show what happened to them, while others don't talk about it, White said.

I wish that the reporter would have looked a little bit more at why people are wrongfully convicted, but I guess that's a subject more fit for a book, not a limited number of inches in a newspaper. The whole thing is definitely worth a read, and it raises lots of interesting questions about how to best serve the public and the accused. Of course everyone wants to have the right people convicted of a crime and assurances that innocents aren't incarcerated, but we'll never move forward as a society until we're all willing to take an honest look at the criminal justice system and attack the problems that aren't quite as apparent on the surface of the thing. This kind of story is a good one to get a debate started, hopefully there will be more like it around the state and nation.

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