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03 April 2004

Saturday Roundup 

Short and sweet version today thanks to very little activity in the state legislature. Before we get to the political stuff, though, you should check out Scott Dyer's latest reporting on the ongoing grade-changing scandal at Southern University. There are a couple of new wrinkles to the story. Dyer informs us that students were possibly paying up to several hundred dollars a pop for grades. Some of them are facing the possibility of federal repercussions because the fraudulent grades may have been used in acquiring federal financial aid. But the big daddy of the story is the naming of the alleged culprit:

For legal reasons, Jackson said, he is not naming the alleged mastermind behind the grade-changing scandal.

But university records show that Cleo Carroll served as the assistant registrar and is no longer on the payroll.

"Everybody knows who he is," Jackson said.

Not me, Mr. Jackson, but thanks for that.

The other big news in the Baton Rouge rag is that Nick Saban may address the legislature in support of a state bill that would limit the ability of agents to contact college athletes in Louisiana. This bill may as well be called the "We Got Screwed by Marquise Hill and We Don't Want it to Happen Again Act." If you don't remember the Hill saga you can read a good recap here, but the short version is that the LSU defensive end signed on with an agent earlier this year while thinking of entering the draft. He eventually decided that he wanted to go back to LSU, but lost his eligibility because he got involved with a professional agent. In the end LSU and Hill were both unhappy with the situation.

William Daniel (a Dem. from BR) is the bill's sponsor, the Advocate quotes him thusly,
"What this is aimed at doing is stopping the unscrupulous practices of these agents coming in and taking advantage of players and costing them their athletic eligibility,"

There are some interesting measures in this bill that would hopefully keep these agents from preying on young athletes in college, but I hope the legislators who speak up in favor of this bill don't try to blow this smoke up my whatever that this bill is about anything other than protecting eligibility in so far as it helps LSU to continue to put its star players on the field. Their supposed concern for these poor athletes is a crock.

The two stories worth mentioning in the Pic are one where Kathleen Blanco reminds the public that she hasn't actually gotten any raise yet, but she wouldn't mind a little bit extra for all her trouble. In the other you can learn about some Court of Appeals judges who struck a blow against transparency of government yesterday when they overturned a lower court's order for the PSC to turn over emails and other electronic communications to the legislative auditor.

So that's it for now, may be posting later, but we'll have to see about that.

02 April 2004

Senate Polling 

Lone Republican David Vitter is out in front in Verne Kennedy's first survey of the race, but "the numbers favor the Democrats."

The poll did not include Democrat Arthur A. Morrell, who could really throw a wrench into the gears come election day. Kennedy's polling was damn near on perfect target during the gubernatorial election, so as this race progresses I'll await these numbers covetously (how's that for a crappy adverb?).

Time-Killing Game of the Week 

Opening Day of Baseball is Monday edition. That whiffle ball game takes a while to load, but it will remind you playing in the backyard with the neighborhood kids. Read the directions carefully and you should be able to whip up on the computer.

I should say that after I saw this post over at Naked Furniture, that I searched valiantly to make this week the deicide edition (or regicide if you prefer to think of JC as simply the King of the Jews), but it was not in the cards. I suppose that would be more appropriate for next week anyway, seeing that it will be Good Friday then, so I'll keep looking.

If you can't manage to play whiffle ball because of computer limitations, then try your hand at Q*Bert. It was one of my favorite games when I visited my cousins in Arlington, Texas as a child. They had it on some non-Atari gaming platform whose name I can't quite remember at the moment, but I freaking loved it.

Race Matters 

An AP story about a new paper by political scientists Philip Klinker and Richard Skinner suggests that race was the deciding factor in the gubernatorial election between Kathleen Blanco and Bobby Jindal.

In two other recent governor's races, for example, pitting a conservative white Republican — Mike Foster — against liberal black Democrats Cleo Fields and William Jefferson, the white's big win could arguably have been attributed to the political conservatism of the Louisiana voter.

But in 2003 Jindal himself ran as a conservative Republican, removing that element from the calculation. Or, as the authors put it: "It seems that the racial divisions in Louisiana are really about race, and not merely a surrogate for the ideological differences that often separate blacks and whites."

...

Most notably, the authors demonstrate that where Duke did well in 1991, so did Blanco in 2003 — far better, in fact, than Landrieu in 2002.

The openly racist ex-Klansman gained a majority of the vote in 26 Louisiana parishes; Blanco averaged 10 percentage points better than Landrieu in these parishes. And in nine parishes where Duke got over 55 percent of the vote, Blanco averaged 17 percentage points better than the U.S. Sen..

Most conclusive, according to Parent, is the two political scientists' examination of results from a far smaller unit than the parish — the precinct. And here again, in the north Louisiana precincts examined by the authors, where Duke had gotten more than 60 percent of the vote in 1991, Blanco averaged 13 percentage points better than Landrieu.

"Race still matters," said Klinkner. "And it's race, it's not just Democrats vs Republicans."

You can sneakily view the study here if you use some creative definitions for what an "institution" is (in my case, I used "http://www.crawlingwestward.blogspot.com").

The reading is quick and the research looks thorough, if unsurprising from my end. I should note that at least one of the authors definitely has a point of view to push about the state of racial politics in America if the title of his book is any measure. I don't think that necessarily calls into question his conclusions--especially since I agree with them--but you fair minded readers should have access to all the facts.

For the record, I'll remind you what I said about this election after two days of study (who needs four months?):

It's hard to imagine race not having something to do with Governor-elect Blanco's strong showing among lots of Republican leaning (and redneck-heavy) parishes in north and central Louisiana. The most interesting map I saw on television on election night was color-coded by Parishes which voted for Blanco and Bush, Blanco and Terrell, versus parishes that went for Jindal (who didn't carry any parish that wasn't also carried by Bush and Terrell. Unfortunately I can't find any map like it on the web, but you can view the results on your own over at the McKeithen's elections site. Here are the results from Saturday; last year's Senate race; and the 2000 presidential election. Most notable in those results is Blanco's very strong showing (in some case where she actually flipped) in parishes that went to Terrell in her loss. Terrell managed to win heavily white and protestant parishes like Lincoln, Jackson, Grant, LaSalle, and Franklin. Blanco carried all of these parishes Saturday night. A notable parish she didn't carry but performed considerably better than Landrieu did last year was Livingston Parish. This one went to Terrell by a nearly 2:1 margin in 2002, but was quite a bit closer Saturday night. That's an important indicator because it was self-proclaimed Duke Country during the '91 gubernatorial election.

Now there is no question that the political dynamics of any election can change the way people vote, but it's difficult not to attribute some of Blanco's strong showing in certain parishes to her race. Unfortunately it's very difficult to poll this information because respondents generally won't admit to reasons of race when asked why they vote a certain way.

Someone give me a fellowship.

Highway spending 

The US House passed the highway spending bill discussed in this morning's Advocate. Louisiana's entire House delegation voted for the bill (except for Billy Tauzin {blogger spell-checker says "Taoism"} because he's still on the mend at Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore). That's not surprising because a boat load of funding for I-49 through Lafayette and on to New Orleans is tied up in the bill. Now the project can be stalled by my fair city's contentious City-Parish Council who can't decide whether or not to block the passage of the interstate through the city and divert it in a thirty mile arc through outlying farmland, or just let them roll on through the "north" side of town.

Reminder 

Louisiana registered Democrats are voting for their delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Boston tomorrow. The LA Democratic Party has a list of polling places by Congressional district over at the website. It is unlikely that the polling place would be anywhere near your normal precinct, so if you're interested you may want to check it out here.

Update @ 1:30 pm: if you're in Lafayette Parish, you can either vote at Local Union 1897 (who knew there was a union presence here?) at 418 Madeline Ave., or you can vote at "Pat Walker's" (could be a house, could be a business? I suspect the latter.) on 4416 Johnston St., Ste. 1F. Help shape the Louisiana Democratic Platform at the convention.

Local Yokels 

The small-town yahoos in Lafayette are going nuts over today's grand opening of the Grand, a sixteen screen stadium seating-style multiplex. Multiple stories about it on the front page of the local rag this morning have forced me to talk about it on my little site. Frankly, I'm ashamed to admit that I'm a bit excited about the prospect too. I do have a problem though. Despite door-to-door topiary coverage by all manner of oak trees in my neighborhood, I can stand next to the Pradomobile and see the bright ass sign with the television screen and electronic marquee of the new theater. Considering the lights I feel like I may as well be living next to an airport and not deep inside a neighborhood across a major Lafayette thoroughfare from the new complex. Oh well, I won't feel so bad when I finally make it over there to see a movie.

Thanks Houston 

Since Baton Rougers love to point out that it's actually Houston's fault that they are so polluted (I'm sure it has nothing to do with filth spewing nontstop from those plants up and down the Mississippi), we should give a big fat gracias to the home of los dos Bush presidentes for likely driving up the cost of fuel in the Baton Rouge area this summer and who knows how long beyond that.

The five parish area can't comply with federal ozone regulations and the consequence is the addition of either ethanol or MTBE (unlikely thanks to lawsuits all around the country that suggest MTBE is actually worse for the groundwater than CO2 is for the ozone). This story has been floating around for awhile, but the last I read about it, I was under the impression that the city would receive a pardon on the changes pending a new review by the EPA and state DEQ. Now the city is being advised to prepare for the worst.

I don't see a big problem with this. If the air and ozone are so bad then the city ought to do something about making it better. If that means some changes at the pump then so be it. That's the cost of the automobile dependent world we live in. I do wonder how this will effect those of us who travel through Baton Rouge who may need to get standard gasoline. The stories I've seen so far haven't answered this question. Anyone in the know on something like this? Does it even matter to mix standard with the ethanol laced gas that may come in to the market?

Here Come the Letters 

It looks like Will Sentell from the Advocate will get the last word on the departure of LSU Chancellor Mark Emmert. He may have committed a cardinal sin in Baton Rouge by reminding the paper's readers that despite the hundreds of thousands of dollars thrown at him by the state and "friends of LSU" it probably wasn't a very difficult decision for Emmert to make. In the end LSU is still a third tier university, while the University of Washington is among the finest public institutions in the country. Combine that with an agenda for LSU that is likely to be stymied by lack of state revenue, and the Washington job would be very difficult to pass up even by someone who didn't grow up a stone's throw away from the university.

At this point it's probably time for me to define my biases against LSU. First of all, I'm not opposed to the school bettering itself. In this case, I trust the old proverb that a rising tide carries all ships. By LSU becoming a better university, the rest of the state institutions should see their profiles rise. It's possible that this is already happening considering the news last week about UL's first recognition in the Princeton Review's Colleges guide (however meaningless those rankings actually are, but that's a whole different issue). However, state legislators have shown not just indifference, but antipathy to any threat to LSU's status by other state universities. In this case I'm speaking of the years of fighting to take the "Southwestern" out of the University of Louisiana's name. When they finally did it, and the university's baseball team was on display in front of the nation at the College World Series, legislators intervened to prevent the sale of baseball caps that didn't include "at Lafayette" prominently on the front of the hat. The next year all manifestations of the university logo (especially the jerseys of athletic teams) were required to include "at Lafayette" in absolute proximity to "University of Louisiana." The message was clear: let there be no doubt that LSU is the premiere Louisiana university, despite the fact that there has never been any confusion about that state of affairs in the first place.

All this is to say that many LSU supporters (not all by any means) have a view of the importance of their university that is vastly out of proportion to reality. People who have followed our little vermillion-headed step child in Lafayette have known this for a long time, but Will Sentell pointing it out on the opinion page of the Advocate could bring him more than he bargained for.

Speaking of LA 3... 

Since I brought the district up in the last post I may as well link to this report on Charmaine Caccioppi (does anyone know how to pronounce this?) the freshly announced Democrat in the race of the Congressional seat, which Jim Brown warned us about yesterday.

Manuel Torres describes her as a policy wonk who has spent most of her life working for Louisiana Senators J. Bennet Jonston and Mary Landrieu. One nugget that could hurt her is that she hasn't lived in the district in God knows how long. She is apparently in the middle of a move to Raceland from Metairie.

More Bush Address 

The Pic has the best report this morning on George Bush's visit to our fine state to address the LSU commencement exercises. Some interesting notes from the article are one, my memory isn't what I thought it was. Bill Walsh informs us that Dick Cheney did not, in fact, speak at the graduation last year. Rather he sent his wife at the last minute, because he had to be in DC to break a tie in a Senate vote for Bush's $350 million dollar sop to the rich.

Also, there is little doubt that Louisiana is in play for Kerry this year, despite all the talk about how a Massachusetts liberal can't win a state like Louisiana. I don't know what to think about this little tidbit:

Former U.S. Rep. Jimmy Hayes, now a Washington, D.C., lobbyist, said he saw a poll conducted three weeks ago on behalf of a potential Democratic candidate for the 3rd Congressional District race showing Bush's favorable rating in "the mid-30s."

"If you are in the mid-30s in the 3rd, you are in trouble statewide," Hayes, a Republican, said. "I think Edwin was higher," he said, referring to former Gov. Edwin Edwards.

But U.S. Rep. David Vitter, R-Metairie, a Senate candidate, said his own statewide poll, conducted in mid-February, showed Bush's approval rating at about 55 percent.

I would think that Bush's favorable ratings statewide would have dropped since mid-February considering the almost ceaseless negative press, the further erosion of support for the Iraq war, and the call up of a new crop of Louisiana reserve forces. Whatever the case, there is very little possibility that George Bush could be in the 30s in Billy Tauzin's district and on his way to 60 percent statewide. I will say that the 3rd district is apt to be Bush's worst considering the sugar and shrimp interests there that have spent the last three years railing against Bush trade policies, but still it would have to depress his numbers statewide to below 55%. All I mean to say is that these polls are unlikely to both be right. My heart yearns for the correct one to be the 3rd's.

And if you're looking for a reason to give the finger to Emmert as he makes his way out the state's backdoor:

LSU Chancellor Mark Emmert said he has been trying for more than a year, working through the president's friends and supporters, to persuade Bush to speak at commencement. He said he found out a few days ago that the president had accepted.

Fundrace.org doesn't show any donations by the chancellor, but I'm not confident in their database, and I'd be willing to bet a few dollars that the old chancellor has thrown a some bucks Bush's way.

01 April 2004

Good God, No! 

Distressing search term of the day:

"crawfish boil ban"

I have heard of no such thing, but any chance of this would surely lead to riots in the streets, looting, and maybe a coup d'etat of state officials.

Frightening 

Jeffrey links to this photographic diary of a young Ukranian's motorcycle tour of Chernobyl. I've seen it linked to at other sites (sorry I can't remember where if I'm missing out on someone) but I never took the time to look at it. The pictures of "Ghosttown" are horrifying to me for reasons I can't quite grasp. There's nothing gruesome or particularly graphic, but the desolation of an entire city is difficult to fathom. Not so anymore.

Headline of the Day 

From ABC news AP wire

Study Says Speed Humps Can Help Kids

Oops, don't tell that to {insert high-profile alleged pedophile here}.

It's about time 

Hopefully this bill passes without trouble. Symbolism can be useless most of the time, but it's a joke that a state with the black population the size of Louisiana's hasn't made MLK day an official state holiday before this.

I Told You So 

President Bush is slated to give the commencement speech to LSU on May 21, 2004. Now is it okay for me to hate the school?

Update @ 4:57: btw, if I remember correctly, that's Dick Cheney last year, George H. W. Bush the year before that, and now his majesty in the flesh. Combine this with Mark Emmert's "USC is the Al Gore champion", and I think the "flagship" could use a little liberal blood transfusion.

Age of Aquarius 

Slate's Ryan Grim reports on the interesting and precipitous drop in acid use around the country, but the data must be wrong as the wealth of bad poetry and fiction available on the web only seems to be growing.

LA 3 

In Jim Brown's weekly "I was screwed" (if you're a regular reader of his column, he always begins with some indispensable insider knowledge of the comings and goings of Louisiana politicians, followed by some reference or another to how he was screwed by federal prosecutors and the courts who would eventually send him to jail--nothing wrong with that; it's just a little predictable), he talks about the soon-to-be-candidacy of Charmaine Caccioppi. Apparently she is the uber-insider Democrat in the race for Billy Tauzin's open seat. Brown believes she has all the apparatus in place to grab the backing of the national party and the money that comes with that. She'll certainly be an interesting candidate to watch.

TFN 

The Football Network continues to f*ck it up. Anyone with half a brain shouldn't be surprised that they continue to struggle to find private capital to run the network. It's too bad the state hopped on this venture like a man just out of jail on a ten dollar hooker, but what the hell, it's only our tax dollars. Today they're in the news because they pushed back their relaunch date and extended the furlough of the majority of the thirty people they ever hired in the first place.

If you're not familiar with the saga, you can relive the whole affair through the wit and wisdom of Timshel by following these helpful links:

Dec. 15 Dec. 19 Jan. 17 Jan. 20 Jan. 22 Feb. 11 Feb. 19 Mar. 18 Mar. 21

Health care news 

Kathleen Blanco proves that the President isn't the only one who can come up with a bold plan for the problems facing our little corner of the world.

You can read about her health care initiative here and here.

Maybe someone can help me on this, but it seems like much ado about nothing to this lowly blogger. There's no particular priority on a bill because she doesn't think the state has the money to even begin the first stage of the multi-year phase in that would be required to begin extending insurance to the more than 800,000 Louisianians without it. Granted, it's nice to see some news that there's a plan out there would insure citizens of the "gret stet", but it sure looks like it's not going anywhere for the time being.

Appointments 

There were some testy reactions to Kathleen Blanco's BESE appointments yesterday. The center of the controversy was LFT chief Steve Monaghan. Read the story and it will look like a real comedy. This guy has a serious sense of entitlement that other lobbyists would be wise to emulate:

Monaghan said LFT's pick for the board -- former state Sen. Bill Jones of Ruston -- was unfairly submarined because of fierce opposition to the nomination from Sen. Robert Kostelka, R-Monroe, who unseated Jones last fall after a bitter campaign.

"Once again in Louisiana, small-time, small-town politics trumps everything else," Monaghan said while aides to the governor listened at the school.

He said LFT officials also are angry that Blanco, whom the group backed with money and manpower in last year's general election, failed to keep them abreast of board appointee developments.

Now, I'm a big supporter of unions in general, but it's nice to know that my elected officials can make decisions without keeping large special interest groups "abreast of ... developments" just because they were big contributors and volunteers. As I understand it, that's the way government is supposed to run. It's not like the choice was bad for teachers anyway. The appointee who took the place of Monaghan's choice is a very involved unionized (fmr. pres. of her union) teacher too. But oops, she's in the LEA, and that just ain't gonna work for Steve Monaghan.

Cheaters 

I read yesterday's AP account of the grade changing scandal at Southern University, but I didn't really grasp the extent of it until I saw this report by Scott Dyer. The numbers are pretty amazing. I'm sure that this probably goes on in a lot more places than I realize, but this investigation implicates more than 500 students and graduates, all of whom--if guilty--now are the proud bearers of fraudulent degrees.

I wonder if this student might have faked her high school diploma, too:

Jackson said the scandal came to light in March 2003, when a student who had enrolled in a Southern graduate program presented credentials showing that she had earned a bachelor's degree from that department.

The department had no record that the woman had ever graduated and alerted the university's auditors, Jackson said.

The auditors discovered that unauthorized entries had been made in a number of academic records, Jackson said.

Here's a suggestion to any readers who might be considering faking your degree a la "Catch Me if You Can." Don't try to use the fake degree to be admitted to a graduate program in the same department at the same school whose credentials you doctored. At least switch departments. What the hell was she smoking?

The worst thing about this scandal is the implications it has for all the men and women who actually earned degrees from Southern. I suspect it will be a long time before the paper isn't looked on with at least a hint of suspicion by employers and partners.

31 March 2004

All good things... 

Here's a good essay about what's gone wrong with ESPN's "SportsCenter" since it's peak with Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann (blogger spell-check says "wolverine"? WTF!?). The short version is that current anchors and producers are trying too hard to script and franchise the wit and wisdom of Dan and Keith rather than trying to let each anchor have his or her own voice.

The fact is that it's the same old story for most great television shows. Even the best sitcoms turn their finest characters (in SC's case the "anchor") into one dimensional caricatures of the original product as a show ages. Consider dumb Homer, baby-hungry control-freak Monica Geller, sex-starved Sam Malone, and countless others. News programs like 20/20 saw Barbara Walters and John Stossell turn into one note journalists. It's hardly surprising that this would happen with what was for a very brief time the best sports news show there ever was.

Unfortunately, Matt Feeney doesn't bring up the problem SportsCenter has with it's constant mid-program game shows, utterly meaningless interviews, and the brief ascendancy of Stuart Scott, but you can't write about everything.

Fundraising alert 

Dick Cheney, one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, is riding into town on April 5 for a David Vitter fundraiser at the New Orleans World Trade Center. No word on whether or not they have any hunting plans.

Whaaaaa? 

via Alterman

This is a neat site, not just because it gives you "footnotes" on the Daily Show, but nearly all your favorite shows. It's no Television Without Pity, but they don't do the Daily Show anyway.

O'Franken 

and the rest of the cast of Air America is streaming live from New York. Listen here before the spectacular failure.


Troy Hebert 

Martyrs don't whine. Get over yourself.

When he began his 10-minute “personal privilege” talk, Hebert said that he wanted to “get past this bag of rocks I’ve been carrying around for the past week.”

Known for his humor as he speaks to the full House, Hebert likened himself to an animal caught in a trap. He said that he once was a trapper, and when he set a trap for a squirrel, he was never quite sure what he’d find.

“A young coon is not going to stay in a trap,” he said, and would chew its leg off because “he knows the price of freedom isn’t free.” Like that raccoon, he said he and others will be limping the rest of their lives.

“Charlie DeWitt, I sure admire your limp,” he said to the former speaker of the House from Alexandria, who wanted to be re-elected but was passed over when Blanco endorsed Rep. Joe Salter, D-Florien.

Hebert, who is white, told Rep. Willie Hunter, D-Monroe, he would like to join the Legislative Black Caucus because “you wouldn’t let one of your committee chairman be removed. You wouldn’t idly stand by” like the Rural and Acadiana caucuses — of which he is a member — did when he was removed.

After discussing how he’d been loyal to the Blanco administration and was even wearing one of her election pins, Hebert said it’s interesting that the word loyal begins and ends with “l” because “if you’re going to be loyal, it takes two. I believe in being loyal to the people who sent me here."

ugh.

Tauzin Still in the "Cupe" 

Timshel prayers still directed squarely at Congressman Billy Tauzin. The Pic reports that fever is slowing his recuperation, and he remains in the hospital more than two weeks after surgeons removed a tumor from his intestine. His spokesman is optimistic that things are looking up for him, but there is still some doubt about the future of the cancer. Tauzin may undergo "precautionary chemo" in response to the threat. That's a preemptive strike Timshel hopes is more effective than other ones I've been reading about in the news.

District 45 runoff news 

Regulars here already know that I'm not exactly pleased with my choices for the runoff to represent my district in the state House. Hell, I wasn't pleased with the choices when we had five candidates, much less the narrowed down version. The Advocate's Angela Simoneaux explores the problem in this story about a debate at UL last night.

If voters in District 45 are having a hard time choosing between Buzz Durio and Joel Robideaux, it is not surprising; even the candidates have a tough time drawing lines of demarcation.

...

Although the two seem to disagree over whether the successful candidate should be a certified public accountant or not, there was not that much debate at a "debate" between the two Tuesday at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

When asked by a student to list the issues on which they disagree, they both seemed at a loss.

"We both want our community to be better, or to be the best it can be," Robideaux said.

"You had a lot of good people in this race; we started out with five excellent people," Durio said. "Now there are two good candidates."

And a newbie at the Advertiser managed to find a couple of disagreements between the candidates. Durio would cut taxes and spending to reduce the budget deficit, while Robideaux is only interested in "fixing" the Stelly plan (read decimating it's income tax portion, iow repealing the whole thing). Durio's website says he would do the same thing, but through what he says are more practical legislative mechanics.

Also Durio says he could support some increases in higher ed tuition costs while Rodibeaux would oppose any increases.

I'll probably vote for Durio. I ended up voting for him in the primary on the advice of some folks I respect, and the more I read about him, the more he seems at least reasonably attentive to the problems in this state. Also, that last story quotes him as supportive of civil unions as an alternative to gay marriage, which is a brave position in conservative Lafayette, even if I don't think it's nearly far enough. Mary said he was a good guy who had the good sense to employ her in the last post I made about this race as well, and that's a recommendation I don't take lightly. That doesn't mean I'll be running out to plant a sign in the front yard or anything, and I'll be holding my nose when I'm at the polls, but it is what it is.

Busy, busy 

State lawmakers were up to all kinds of no good yesterday. They're looking to make quick work of these early bills in order to get to the big stuff later on (like that important constitutional ban on fagdom).

The State Quality Jobs Program was set up to give tax rebates and other incentives to companies that create lasting jobs at good pay and provide insurance. An audit by administrators found the distressing news that the program may have been providing rebates to companies who didn't earn them. This is hardly surprising, but if the total is only $240,000 I'd say state lawmakers should be pretty happy with their efficiency.

The Pic's Robert Travis Scott does a good job of explaining why legislators are so upset:

The Department of Economic Development responded Tuesday to criticism that one of its key job-growth programs is riddled with financial reporting problems so severe auditors cannot figure it into the state budget.

Department officials testified before the House Appropriations Committee a day after the state legislative auditor reported that the department was doing a poor job verifying information related to its Quality Jobs Program.

Well, that is a big deal.

In other legislature news, Republican Jay Dardenne filed a resolution which would compel legislative auditors to begin a full accounting of the state's public pension system and its officials. This is likely only the first step in some probable changes in the way officials will be handling pensions in response to some of the outrageous stories we've seen in the last two months.

And because civil minutiae is sometimes important too, a Senate judiciary committee approved SB-65, which would change civil references of "illegitimate child" to "child born out of marriage" and "legitimate child" to "child born of marriage". Meanwhile the House moved a bill out of committee that would require clerks of court to provide notary of and forms for restraining orders to victims of alleged sexual or domestic abuse and stalking at no cost. Both seem like laudable work by our fair legislature if you ask me, which I assume you do if you're reading this. So, there.

Headline of the Day 

La. water quality not worst

News like that is bound to have us all dancing in the streets by day's end.

Sweet Jesus 

If there's truth to this story, it really is awful. The report relies a lot on speculation by experts, but it would be a shame if sex-slave trafficking in New Orleans is as bad as some at a Tulane conference made it out to be yesterday. I didn't think there was much left to read about New Orleans that could surprise me, but every squirrel eventually finds an acorn, as they say.

30 March 2004

More Advertising 

Mentioned this in passing yesterday, but I thought I should remind any Lafayette readers that, Jason Berry, one of the authors of Vows of Silence: The Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II, will be at the Jefferson Street Market downtown at 6:00 this evening. Berry may be familiar to Lafayette readers because he broke the story of priestly abuses in Acadiana about twenty years ago that set off the first national storm of criticism against Church protection of pedophile priests. That was back when he was writing for the local weekly, The Times of Acadiana.

This new book contains some extremely incendiary charges not yet seriously considered by most Catholics. If the charges are true it would mean a notorious molester is not only protected at the highest levels of the Vatican, but the Pope himself is showering the Legion of Christ and it's founder with attention not normally paid to obscure religious orders. You can read about the book here, just scroll past the section on the Passion.

And if that's enough for you, get to the Jefferson Street Market to listen to what Berry has to say.

Huzzah! 

Kos reminds us that despite all the problems in the world, if we just look hard enough there is always some good to be found slipping through the cracks. For a few glorious days the New York Yankees will have the worst record in baseball.

I can't believe it 

Who knew the kooks out there were still pursuing the "Vince Foster was killed as part of White House coverup" angle?

Some Free [self]Promotion 

In December I helped index a book on Louisiana Politics written by LSU political scientist (and chairman of the department there) Wayne Parent. It's called Inside the Carnival: Unmasking Louisiana Politcs (buy it at that link). Anyway, my own impression of the book is that it's equally accessible to audiences that are new to Louisiana politics or those that have been steeped in study of the strange nature of the machinery of this state for the better part of the last century. If you're interested in a toe hold then this book provides a detailed outline of the competing and aligning interest groups that have shaped the direction this state has taken over the last eighty years. If you crave more than that it is there as well.. Parent uses loads of demographic and electoral analysis to support some conclusions that should be new and surprising to most readers. It's definitely worth your time and dollar, if I do say so myself.

But you don't have to take my word for it. Adam Nossiter covers Louisiana politics for the Associated Press, and he'll tell you there's a lot there for you too, so pre-order your copy, and when May rolls around I'll expect a two page response from all of you.

Condi to Testify 

link... For real, yo. Don't really think it will make much of a difference unless they ask her some very specific questions related to some things that Clarke said. I really just wanted to push the Passion post down so any new people who might stop by here today won't think I haven't posted in two or three weeks.

Thoughts on the Passion 

This has been done to death by everyone, and I'm very late to the game, so I'll keep this short and sweet. The two main criticisms of the movie are its violence and its possible anti-Semitism. That's what I'll try to address here. Also, any scripture or notes on the Gospels that I will quote are from the St. Joseph Edition of the New American Bible published in 1991 by the Cathlolic Book Publishing Co. in New York. It's the Bible that I have read, and it informs my criticism of this movie. I can't speak for any other editions because I haven't read them. In a biblical literature class I took at Loyola a few years ago (taught by a {fmr?} Lutheran minister) this was one of five or six translated editions deemed acceptable as textual material for his purposes. I'll appeal to his authority that my translation is a suitable text for a discussion of the Passion of the Christ.

on violence

After reading review after review of the movie I expected to see a non stop violent beating of Jesus from the first minute of the movie to the last. I was surprised to find the first twenty or thirty minutes blood free. However once the beating begins, it doesn't stop for the rest of the film. At times there is little question that the filmmaker revels in what he can produce for his audience depicting the torture suffered by Jesus. Everything you've already read about the scourging is straight from the movie. Jesus has the skin ripped from his back and stomach, and it's all captured on film, often in slow motion.

The scourging scene is a particularly telling one, because it can be contrasted so starkly with what is portrayed in the actual gospels. Also, having just watched Braveheart on USA Network last weekend, we can see what informed Mel's artistic decisions in the Passion. Recall the climactic scene from Braveheart in which William Wallace suffers great torture at the hands of the English crown. He is repeatedly tortured because he won't confess to crimes against England. He dramatically refrains from crying out in pain, and because of this continues to suffer at the hands of his punishers. At one point he's strung up on the rack, and he very symbolically lifts his arms up into the air and out at his sides recalling a certain crucified messiah figure that most of us have heard about. It's not surprising that Mel Gibson recreates this scene with Roman soldiers whipping Jesus repeatedly with reeds. He's left bloody and writhing on the ground, but Jesus, like William Wallace before him (oops, after him), doesn't ever cry out in pain. He even stands up in defiance of the Romans, just like William Wallace manages in the face of his English persecutors. Because of this, our torturers are made particularly unhappy, and decide to beat down Jesus some more. This time with some kind of strange hooked cat-o-nine tails. The beating that ensues is disgusting. Blood drenches the soldiers and the ground around Jesus. It goes on for countless minutes, once again in slow motion.

Let's see what the Bible says about the scourging.

Matthew: "Then he released Barabbas to them, but after he had Jesus scourged, he handed him over to be crucified." 27:26

Mark: "So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas to them and, after he had Jesus scourged, handed him over to be crucified." 15:15

Luke: "[N]o capital crime has been committed by him. Therefore I shall have him flogged and then release him." 23:15-16
"I found him guilty of no capital crime. Therefore I shall have him flogged and then release him." 23:22 Then Luke's Pilate doesn't even bother with a scourging, at least it's not specified in the text, though other footnotes in the Gospel of Matthew say that preliminary scourging was practiced on all to be crucified.

John: "Then Pilate took Jesus and had him scourged." 19:1 John's Gospel spends a lot of time on the mockery at the hands of the soldiers during the scourging, but there is no discussion as to what took place.

The point of all this is to say the discussion of the violence against Jesus in the Gospels is mostly incidental. Some would say that those who read the Gospels when they were produced would know what was entailed by the scourging and would certainly understand how terrible it was. I don't disagree with this, but there is little question that Gibson makes the violence against Jesus the absolute central point of the entire Passion. That is most definitely not the case in the Gospels.

In fact rereading the Gospels after seeing this film, it appears that theme of all of them (at least the synoptic Gospels) is the condemnation (until Jesus' death) of lowly, sinful humans. The main stories are not Jesus' suffering, but Judas' betrayal, Peter's denial, Caiaphus' scheming against a threat to his religious authority, Pilate's indifference to the crucifixion of an innocent to protect his tenuous hold on power. In Gibson's movie the ultraviolence is so consuming to the viewer that the rest of the story is almost completely obscured. The Gospel authors certainly had precedence to describe great suffering (they would have been familiar with Job) but they choose to highlight the failures of nearly everyone around Jesus in their accounts of the Passion. This is contrasted with the innocence and love of God and Jesus that he would die for these men who fail him at every turn. That Mel Gibson chose to focus almost entirely on the physical pain of Jesus seems to be a very unsophisticated view of the message of the Gospels.

on anti-Semitism

Like I said yesterday, after seeing the movie I believe the charges have some merit. The most particular instance of creeping anti-Semitism is the sneaky ability of Satan to keep showing up standing directly behind the Sanhedrin Council. They follow Jesus around to watch him scourged and to walk him carry the cross to Golgotha, and there's good old Satan looking on from behind them. Twice we see from the pov of Jesus as he's being beaten mercilessly Satan turn up in the midst of the men with the robes and staffs. While Jesus is being scourged Gibson could have had Satan walking amongst his torturers, but he is very pointedly standing among the Jewish elders. Of course this could be coincidental (I doubt it because despite what I think about this movie, I believe Gibson is a skilled filmmaker), but it definitely reinforces to the viewer that "Satan stands with Jews."

Then Gibson relies very heavily on John for his final scene with Pilate and Jesus. Consider this exchange "We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God." Now when Pilate heard this statement, he became even more afraid, and went back into the praetorium and said to Jesus..."Do you not know that I have the power to crucify you?" Jesus answered him, "You would have no power over me if it had not been given to you from above. For this reason the one who handed me over to you has the greater sin." (John 19:7-12)

No other Gospel has anything resembling this exchange, yet Gibson found it appropriate for his movie. The notes on John's Gospel that accompany it in my Bible spends a lot of time discussing the Gospel's author and his battle with the Jews of his own time. He wrote a Gospel specifically meant to advance his own theological agenda, and he relied heavily on symbolism and "artistic license to do so." Gibson feels the statement essentially absolving Pilate for his sin and further condemning the Jews was necessary even though no other Gospel notes anything similar. You can judge whether or not that's a coincidence.

That's all I'll say about it.

Polozola 

Sunday I mentioned the strange legal situation that arose when Judge Polozola took jurisdiction over a state case in which he was a litigant to seal the records in order to prevent the Edwards legal team from using them in a motion to vacate Polozola from the Edwards federal case.

Did you get all that? Don't fret, because today Penny Brown Roberts sorts the situation out and talks to some experts who explain just how rare the whole thing is.

The First Gentleman 

Before I get into this, let me say that I honestly don't think I would have a problem making less money or having less power than my wife or girlfriend. In fact, I'd absolutely love a sugar momma, and if there are any well-off women out there looking to "shower patronage" on a virile young man who is smart and occasionally funny, there's an email address for you over on the sidebar. However, I don't know if I wouldn't find this at least mildly emasculating:

Gov. Kathleen Blanco issued an executive order Monday creating the Office of the First Gentleman, which entitles her husband, Raymond "Coach" Blanco, to receive "support staff, office facilities and reasonable office facilities" while carrying out his duties as a host and goodwill ambassador for the state. The executive order is virtually identical to one issued in 1997 by Gov.Mike Foster creating a similar office for his wife, Alice. Like his predecessor, Raymond Blanco is expected to serve as the state's official host, which makes him a "de facto state officer," according to the executive order...Blanco gets no salary or per diem for hosting dignitaries and promoting worthy causes such as "beautification and historic preservation."

It's a long way down from the day Mike Foster announced to the state that a Kathleen Blanco governorship would have to go through "Coach."

Opening Day 

For obvious reasons all the papers take a look at Blanco's "state of the state" speech which opened the first regular session of the state Legislature under her governorship. Nothing much has changed in these stories since yesterday, but if you feel like reading about it anyway, you know you can just click on the links.

The Advocate helpfully provides a story about lawmaker reactions to Blanco's speech in particular and her agenda in general. It's the typical mish-mash of Louisiana politicians crossing party lines equally as much to support or oppose a Governor's plan, but reading it can give you a good handle on where most of the legislators stand in terms of their support for Governor Blanco.

And if you're interested you can read the text of Blanco's speech here.

Something about Mary 

Either she needs a better spokesperson or she's doing her damnedest to earn her reputation as a bit of a "quick-tempered" Senator. Whatever the case, considering this Pic report it's a good thing she doesn't have to campaign again until 2008.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., got into an argument with families of murder victims last week as the Senate was preparing to vote on a bill making it a crime to kill an unborn fetus.

The confrontation came during a half-hour meeting in Landrieu's office Wednesday with a group that included the parents of Laci Peterson, the pregnant California woman who was killed on Christmas Eve 2002.

The Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call, which first reported the story Monday, said the meeting turned into a "shouting match." It quoted an unidentified participant as saying that Landrieu "berated" Sharon Rocha and Ron Grantski, the mother and stepfather of the 27-year-old Peterson, who was 8 ½ months pregnant when she was killed and her body was dumped in a river. Her husband, Scott Peterson, is being tried in the killing.

Landrieu told the newspaper that the meeting was "contentious," but denied rebuking the couple. "It was just a polite, mildly heated exchange," she said.

They were arguing over an amendment to the bill which would increase funding for domestic violence prevention which Landrieu supported but the families believed would unnecessarily stall the Unborn Victims Act. According to both parties Landrieu's support for the main provision of the bill was never in question.

To be fair to Landrieu, I'm not sure I would be on my best game if a bunch of hysterical men and women came to my office waving pictures of their dead children in my face, but she should probably try to avoid having stories written about her "berating families of murder victims" in the future.

29 March 2004

So what? 

Drudge is making one hell of a big deal about the transcript of Condi's "testimony" being released in full to the press, but what the hell does that change about anything? The commission has asked for Condi to testify under oath, but whatever she has said to them in past private "conversations" don't mean much if she had no compulsion of honesty. Her exponentially increasing stack of lies to the press over the last three years have left her without a shred of credibility. This transcript release is like the chaffing from a fighter plane under attack.

Actionable Intelligence 

Jeffrey probably has the best prediction I've seen anywhere (scroll down to "pointless out of the blue prediction") in the last year. Seriously he could probably sell this idea to some bigshot producer on the title alone. Get yourself out of the library and on a plane to Hollywood post haste.

Back 

More on The Passion later (maybe tomorrow as I try to digest what I watched), but here's the short version. After reading that I would likely watch two hours of unceasing violence and gore, it was a pleasant surprise to go the first twenty minutes or so without a single drop of blood spilled. The violence itself was realistic in the sense that it looked real, although you have to engage in some serious suspension of disbelief to watch Jesus endure the nearly endless torture at the hands of those Roman soldiers and believe he could live through it much less manage to carry a giant cross up a hill afterwards.

The charges of anti-Semitism seem to have some merit, even if it may not be explicit.

Required Reading 

I'm going to see the Passion of the Christ this afternoon. I can't wait to spend a couple of hours wathcing JC get beaten to a pulp. Anyway, you should know that my viewing will likely be informed by this Garry Wills review which I just read last night.

That's good reading not just because it dispenses rather quickly with the film and moves on the much more important topic of the Legion of Christ and the Renner and Berry book about the truly frightening group, but also because author Jason Berry will be in Lafayette tomorrow night to talk about the book at the Jefferson Street Market.

First Baptist 

This will probably only interest the few people who read that are familiar with the gigantic Baptist church that's been constructed on Lee Avenue in downtown Lafayette, but it opened for business yesterday to more than 2000 congregates.

An extensive Google search didn't turn up a cached file of a story no longer on The Independent's website, but the local weekly ran a story not too long ago about the controversy that surrounded the $18.5 million project. Anyone that's driven down Lee over the last few years couldn't have missed the gargantuan construction that many locals (maybe it's only my friends and I, who knows these things?) are referring to as Fort God. The church was built after a fire destroyed the old edifice that had been standing on the site for the previous forty some-odd years.

The reason I'm bothering at all is my concern for the fate of a local bar that had been in place before construction began on First Baptist 2.0. This story doesn't mention what happened to it, but the Ind discussed the problem a bar owner was having because after the construction he was told that he violated a city ordinance that prevents selling alcohol within a certain proximity to a church. Before Fort God's construction he was not in violation of the ordinance, and in response to the reporter's question about the problem he suggested that maybe churches shouldn't be allowed to build within a certain proximity to his bar. I'll have to drive by to see if it's still there, but I sure hope he's doing okay.

You can see pictures of the construction in progress here.

Shields' Weekly Trivialities 

Maybe it's not all trivial, but it's rare the non-trivial stuff is news to people who read the paper closely. Whatever. All I mean to say is that I'm not sure why I look forward to it every Monday morning. This week's column informs us that Senator John Breaux and his wife cleaned up first prize at some VIP charity function. It shouldn't surprise people familiar with Louisiana cooking that a Crowley native could serve up the best food among a bunch of rich Washingtonians, but whatever "Shrimp Tortilla Bites" are doesn't sound particularly exciting or complicated. I'm a little disappointed that there wasn't more creativity out of the Breauxs.

Critical Mass 

The regular session of the state legislature begins today, and every political reporter in the state has been assigned a story discussing what we Louisianians should expect from our lawmakers. That's not surprising, but it makes for boring reading when you go through about four or five of them. You can take your pick from these names: Marsha Shuler, Melinda Deslatte (this piece is more about budgeting in particular than the session in general, but I'll include it with the rest anyway), Louis Rom, Mike Hasten, Robert Travis Scott (that one's actually from yesterday, sue me.)

The consensus is that Blanco's agenda isn't particularly ambitious, but lawmakers and political observers alike are interested in how she approaches the maneuverings and politics of pushing what modest goals she has. More interesting are the regular slate of amendments and exemptions being pushed by lawmakers that happen every session. We'll have a few to look for at Timshel, but God knows when they'll come to the floor for votes. At any rate, news is always better when it's about things that have already happened than extended speculation on things that are supposed to happen.

Quick Hit 

Slow day for political news, so I'll start the morning off with a link to this story about Newman High School (Archie Manning-approved) baseball/basketball coach Bill Fitzgerald. The Newman Greenies were on the cover of the Sunday NY Times Magazine yesterday, but I had no idea until I began to read the story about the over-zealous and myopic baseball parents at one of New Orleans' finer prep schools. Reporter Michael Lewis played for the coach in the 1970s and laments the weak-willed world we live in where parents and their money end up stifling their children's growth.

28 March 2004

Re: Clarke 

Most people generally say it much better than I can; that's why I stick to Louisiana stuff that no one else bothers with. I'm sure I'll be out of business the minute some enterprising Louisiana blogger emerges who actually wants to talk about the "gret stet" on a regular basis. So. be. it. That aside, the best thing I read tonight about the wealth of administration missteps in the Clarke affair came from a Marshall post a little earlier this evening:

One other point. We certainly don't know yet. But I think the early signs are that this perjury attack on Clarke was a major, major blunder. I don't think the perpetrators of this ugly stunt even thought they'd ever get into a courtroom. That wasn't the point: this was watercooler ammo. Something you get on to the news so that when Mr. X asks Mr. Y over the watercooler what he makes of Clarke's testimony, Mr. Y responds, "Hell, that guy? He's probably gonna indicted for perjury. You can't believe anything that guy says."

Still, Clarke -- who was unflappable on the shows this morning -- and Hill Democrats seem to have immediately called First & Co.'s bluff. Not only have they welcomed the release of Clarke's materials, they've called for the release of more documents, correspondence and testimony from him and Rice. Selective declassificaiton would be very difficult in the current context -- and could complicate efforts to keep so much other stuff out of the public's view.

This was a very high stakes bluff, not least because it looked like the worst sort of Nixonian tactic, using the coercive machinery of the state to bludgeon political opponents. But if they were going to play hardball at this level, they should have been certain they had him dead to rights. And it seems like they didn't. Now even a number of partisan Republicans I know feel like this looked ugly and wrong. To use they Napoleonic aphorism again: this was worse than a crime. It was a mistake.

When you walk into a crowded room, walk up to a man, put a gun to his head and pull the trigger, make sure the gun's loaded. If not, you have the worst of all worlds -- like the White House.

'Nuff said.

Sunday Reading 

Trying to keep it short again today, but we'll see how that goes. Here's some more on the LA GOP conservative takeover. Villere is talking the moderate talk--at least he was in an Advocate story that doesn't appear online--now that he's been elected, but we'll know where he really stands when they start promoting their candidates in the fall election.

Kathleen Blanco tried to appease state teachers in an address to the Louisiana Federation of Teachers yesterday. She said raises are on the way, but not until the buget is under control. Teachers mumbled and grumbled, but considering the myriad problems facing this state, they seem to have gotten the message. Advocate editors don't weigh in on whether or not we have the moulah or the will to pay our teachers, but they're definitely on board with the massive hike on state official salaries. Their reasoning is that pay needs to go up to attract stronger candidates for office. I don't disagree with this idea, but the raise that has been proposed would move state lawmaker salaries way over any reasonable assessment of what is "competitive".

Another good read off that Baton Rouge opinion page is Gerard Shields' brief profile of 3rd District Democratic candidate for Congress Reggie Dupre. He spews the standard rhetoric of any candidate from the coastal area, but you may as well read it from his own mouth.

I haven't been linking much to stories about the ongoing saga which is the Edwin Edwards legal challenge to Judge Polozola's presiding over his federal trial. Mostly that's because I think Edwards belongs in jail, and despite his age and whatever little bit of good he may have done for the few people in the state he cared about besides himself, I don't really have much sympathy for him. But despite all that, I'm not sure that a judge should have the right to seal records regarding his fitness to serve because of some concern that "the national interest" is threatened by a legal challenge regarding a single criminal prosecution. Nonetheless, that's exactly what happened yesterday. Apparently the legal wrangling put Polozola in the unlikely position of actually having jurisdiction over a motion in a civil case in which he is a litigant.

Meanwhile, in Sodom and Gommorah on the Mississippi, Mayor C. Ray Nagin is embroiled in a major political battle with a coalition of black ministers who have opposed him since he began his campaign against fmr. Police Chief Pennington. The differences came to a head with the federal raid of Mayor Morial's brother Jacques' French Quarter home. The differences hinge on racial issues, the discussion of which seems to be frightening a lot of people who have tried to stay above the fray. Whatever the case, statements like this should give pause to those of us who care about the city:

"Those of us who have spent our lives trying to building bridges between the races agree that this is the most toxic political and social environment we've witnessed in terms of racial polarization in the last 20 to 25 years," said Clarence Barney, a businessman who led the Urban League of Greater New Orleans from 1966 to 1996. "It's not healthy for any of us."

Finally, I wish I could get a column out of the Advertiser by local Donna Greco online so I could point out to the few people who are regulars here just what an absolute loon this woman is. She takes on some anti-war protesters who demonstrated across the street from our federal courthouse (yes, we have one of those) last weekend. But before she gets to that she takes us on a journey from watching dancers at Downtown Alive! to Palestinians dancing in the street on 9/11, apparently conflating the anti-war protesters with the America-hating Islamists populating much of the Middle East. Then, in case we didn't get the point, she reminds us that most of the protesters undoubtedly are the same people who are trying to tax us to death and make government responsible for everything that ever goes wrong in life.

I have a ton of problems with the direction the Advertiser has taken in recent years. Mostly this direction is characterized by cost-cutting and ceding more and more newsprint to national wire service material, but one of the few things that remains consistent and makes the paper readable is a few regular columnists. Bill Decker is one I'll mention in particular. But this Donna Greco has no business writing a column in a paper with a daily circulation in the tens of thousands. She is slow-witted, uninspired, spiteful, and entirely unoriginal. I'll be happy when her name no longer appears in print.

No Surprises 

Religious conservative Republicans take over state party

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