Showing posts with label Jindal. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jindal. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

'Tell 'em I lied!'

At least Uncle Earl was honest about lying to voters.

OF COURSE, "Uncle Earl" is the late Gov. Earl Long, little brother of Huey and his heir to the Long dynasty in Louisiana politics.

Ol' Earl
was not a "reform governor," and he made no bones about that. Ask Blaze Starr.

That being what it was, doesn't
this sound pretty familiar still? From "I Remember Earl" in the late, lamented Baton Rouge "alternative" paper, Gris-Gris (June 15-21, 1976):
[Then-Attorney General Jack] Gremillion was walking by the governor's office when he recognized a contingent from Pearl River waiting to see Long.

He went into Long's office. "Governor, those people from Pearl River who you had me promise a road to are here."

"What the hell road are you talking about?" asked Earl.

Gremillion reminded Earl that he had specifically ordered him to promise the Pearl River folk a road during the recent campaign.

"Hell, I don't have time for them. Send them away."

Gremillion pleaded, "But Governor, what can I tell them?"

"Tell them I lied!"

NOW THAT my home state has "progressed" so much since the 1950s, and now that "reform" has taken hold, how shall we measure how far Louisiana has advanced?

Well, I certainly think we can say everything's bigger in the Bayou State now. The gub'na has reformed the whole game of lying to the voters, for one thing, introducing the idea of "economies of scale."

So instead of lying to a little group of piss-ant voters from a little piss-ant town about building them a little piss-ant road, the modern "reform" governor efficiently (and more effectively) tells great big lies to all the state's voters about how he would "prohibit Legislators from giving themselves pay raises that take effect before the subsequent election."

And then Gov. Bobby Jindal smartly leverages his "reform" image to deny that he's lied at all:
Asked if the campaign promise mirrors the governor’s current stance, press secretary Melissa Sellers responded in the affirmative, saying the governor still maintains the same position. “(Jindal) said this again at a press conference last week after the House's vote and continues to point out that not only is the Legislature's move to double their pay completely unreasonable, but it should not take effect until after the next election," Sellers says.
ADMITTING TO LIES can be counterproductive, the modern "reform" governor realizes, compromising his political capital and rendering him less effective in bringing honesty to state government.

Progress. You've got to love it . . . right, Louisiana?

Yep. It's official. Jindal's toast.

Well, that didn't take long. Another "reformist" Louisiana governor has been eaten by the natives.

IN THIS CASE, the "natives" would be the Louisiana Legislature. The poverty-stricken public servants -- who surely must be underpaid and underappreciated if sheer repetition of a sob story has the power to make it true -- have voted to pull themselves up by the taxpayers' bootstraps. And some struck a "let them eat cake" pose toward those who object to paying more for the same old dysfunctional policymaking:
Sen. Ann Duplessis, D-New Orleans, asked colleagues to go along with House changes in her Senate Bill 672 that reduced the proposed legislative pay from $50,700 a year to $37,500. Lawmakers currently get a base salary of $16,800 a year.

Although floor debate was almost nonexistent in both houses, Duplessis suggested that people -- many of whom have jammed radio talk shows, Internet blogs and the Capitol switchboard -- just don't understand how much time lawmakers put in to the part-time job.

"We will not let a few radio (talk show) people dictate what we know is important," Duplessis said after the vote. She said lawmakers have been in session off and on since February and will probably be called back for one or two special sessions before a regular fiscal session next year.

She said the pay raise is needed to help lawmakers offset pay lost from their regular jobs.

"We should be focusing now on moving forward with the people's business," she said. "Once people understand what we do, what our schedules are like . . . they will understand."
RIIIIIIIIGHT. Do you think the Times-Picayune reporter kept a straight face writing that one up?

The "people's business" -- like once-again trying to sneak creationism through the back door of the high-school science lab. And passing pay raises for themselves . . . while health-care, social services and higher education get the business.

"Fiscal restraint" ain't for you and it ain't for me, it's for those sick people and eggheads behind the tree.

And what does the Great Reformer, Gov. Buddy Roemer Gov. Bobby Jindal, propose to do about that "Marie Antoinette meets the Dukes of Hazzard" orgy at the capitol, a mere three floors below his office?

Same as the last time we checked in -- nothing. Here's the gub'na's statement after Monday's Senate vote for final passage:
"I'm very sorry to see the legislature do this. More than doubling legislative pay is not reasonable, and the public has been very clear on that.

"I will keep my pledge to let them govern themselves and make their own decisions as a separate branch of government. I will not let anything, even this clearly excessive pay raise, stop us from moving Louisiana forward with a clear plan for reform."

THERE ARE TWO possibilities here. Either Jindal was in cahoots with the Legislature all along and is blowing smoke up the voters' butts, or a governor who wields near-dictatorial powers just got rolled by a body that strives for color coordination, lest its fairer members become "hormonal."

And once you get rolled by the Legislature once, it's going to happen one more time . . . and one more once . . . and one more twice. . . .

In fact, by caving in the face of extortion -- and, really, that's the most charitable explanation for Jindal's non-action -- the new governor didn't salvage his "clear plan for reform" at all. What he did was kill it -- such as it was.

No, the only agenda on the table now is the Louisiana Legislature's. Because, as Jindal has made clear, whatever crazy-ass thing its members want, they are apt to get.

Let me know how that "reform" works out for you, Louisiana.

Me, I'm going to crack open a cold one, sit back and enjoy the show (from a safe distance . . . like Nebraska). It's Roemertime.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Rebels without a cause? Or a clue?

Who'd a thunk Louisianians would get upset over something besides California baseball coaches suggesting they didn't know the Civil War was over? (It's over???)

BUT IT'S TRUE! The Louisiana Senate wants to triple legislators' base pay, while the House of Representatives -- overcome by modesty, it seems -- voted to merely double it. And the angry voters of the Gret Stet are having none of it.

L'étendard sanglant est levé, y'all.

Blog posts and newspaper accounts are filled with talk that les citoyens are rallying aux armes. Le jour de gloire est arrivé!

Naturellement, this isn't a case of people rising up in favor of something -- you know . . . liberté, egalité, fraternité -- but instead, people rising up against lawmakers who have the abject nerve to raise their own pay when they've accomplished precious little of late.

As in forever.

Bad schools, bad roads, bad ethics, bad economy, bad government and a receding coastline are just fine so long as taxpayers don't have to pay too much out of pocket for it. But if they think they're getting overcharged for doodly squat . . . formez vos bataillons!

Well, at least until the next crawfish boil . . . or until somebody restocks the icebox with Abita. Laissez les bon temps rouler, cher!

SEE, THIS IS the kind of stuff that happens every time Louisiana gets a "reform" governor. Fella rides into Baton Rouge talking the messiah talk, but voters soon find out he can't walk the messiah walk. Or even walk, period, and chew gum at the same time.

When Gov. Bobby Jindal was on the campaign trail slinging around 31-point action plans, you wanted to think things could be different this time. I mean, what was the alternative?

Vote for the non-reform good ol' boys?

Still, in the back of your mind was the spectre of Buddy Roemer. Big talk, no walk. In politics, messiahs don't happen -- pretenders do. And really, if you're depending on a state politician to save your butt, one has to wonder whether that's a gluteus maximus worth saving.

The only thing that has surprised me is the sheer speed with which Jindal has morphed into Roemer. This incompetent ideologue, this cynical "reformer," this press-ducking, Legislature-bullied gutless wonder has been reduced to wimpering "Stop, or I'll tell the voters on you!"

Well, Baby Bobby Blunderbuss didn't need to, as reported in The (Baton Rouge) Advocate:
Reacting to public outcry and threats of recall, members of the House approved a legislative pay raise plan Friday that more than doubles — instead of triples — their base salary.

The amended plan, passed on a close vote, proposes a $20,700 increase in lawmakers’ base pay — putting it at $37,500 effective July 1. Lawmakers’ total compensation package would hit nearly $60,000.

Legislators would still be guaranteed annual increases in their base pay — without future votes. Future raises would be tied to changes in the Consumer Price Index.

The original plan, approved by the Senate, would have translated to a compensation package of some $70,000 annually for rank-and-file lawmakers. It had tied legislative pay to that of U.S. congressmen with increases in those salaries triggering one for state lawmakers.

Gov. Bobby Jindal said after the vote he remains opposed but will do nothing to stop the raise from going into effect if approved by the Legislature.
[Emphasis mine -- R21]

“Even though they reduced it, I still think it’s too much,” Jindal told reporters who questioned him at a Lake Charles appearance.

“There is still time for them to turn back. They will have to answer directly to the people,” Jindal added in statement issued by his office.
I DIDN'T DO IT, nobody saw me do it, and I won't veto anything. Or, to quote the late Freddie Prinze on the '70s sitcom "Chico and the Man," "Ees not my yob, man!"

The hell it isn't.

But it's not like we didn't see this coming. Well, at least I did. In 1987, I voted for Roemer.

So now Louisiana voters know what they're agin' . . . or one of the things they're agin', at least. That's not important now.

What's important is this: What are Louisianians for? Until voters in the Gret Stet can answer that one, what they have -- assuming they can maintain their outrage, which is debatable -- is a revolution without a rudder.

And a rudderless "revolution" will drift no place good.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The importance of seeming earnest

When a politician allows himself to be sold to the voters as a "messiah," watch out. The only thing you can be sure of is that's exactly what he ain't.

IN LOUISIANA'S gubernatorial election last fall, it seemed the biggest things Bobby Jindal had going for him were the aura of competence and relative honesty. It is starting to look as if the great tragedy of Louisiana's gubernatorial election last fall is this was the best of a sad lot from which to pick.

WAFB television in Baton Rouge
reports on what may be the latest act in the Gret Stet's ongoing tragedy -- or comedy, take your pick. Let's call it either Oedipus Dreck or The Importance of Seeming Earnest:

A few key words passed by the legislature could pull the rug out from under Governor Jindal's most important accomplishment - ethics reform. Legislators changed the standard of evidence needed to find someone unethical from "reliable, substantial" to "clear and convincing." So, what does that mean?

The change from just "reliable and substantial" evidence needed to "clear and convincing" could mean fewer people get punished for breaking state ethics laws. So, what does Governor Jindal think of all this? We had trouble getting answers. Governor Bobby Jindal's press secretary, Melissa Sellers, would not let us speak to the governor Friday for answers to our questions about ethics reform. The governor received the Golden Mic award from the Louisiana Association of Broadcasters, which is where 9NEWS tried to get comments from him. He's been called Louisiana's golden boy and he says he set the gold standard for ethics reform. "I think the legislature and the media got tired of me saying "gold standard," but it was important we did indeed set that gold standard."

However, political analyst Jim Engster says if Jindal does not speak up and help fix this crucial ethics standard of evidence change, his golden status could melt away. "Many would think it's much easier to convict somebody of ethics charges under the old standard, so instead of the gold standard, we may have something less than that," Engster says. He says starting August 15th, Louisiana's ethics laws could actually get weaker, instead of stronger. The state's legal standard for finding someone unethical would change from reliable, substantial evidence needed to "clear and convincing" unless legislators make an amendment this session. "There isn't a lot of time to address this and the governor could make it happen in a hurry if he wants to," Engster says.

And now, the suffering citizenry of Louisiana might be staring "The ethics reform that ain't" right in its smirking face. That's the problem with voting for a messiah: There's only been one of those who was worth a damn.

He came around some 2,000 years ago, and He never campaigned for the job.

Being that that's not going to happen again -- the job has been filled, and it's a permanent gig -- wishing and hoping (and voting) for an earthly messiah to fix all what ails you is the most foolish of fool's errands. And if the definition of insanity is doing the same damn thing over and over but expecting a different outcome next time, then what Louisiana is really asking for is Nurse Ratched.

Or is that Wretched?

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

A demagogue by any other name . . .
or, Jerry Lee Lewis is so screwed

Bobby Jindal knows just what to do with pervs down there in Louisiana. He's gonna lock the "monsters" up and throw away the key.

And when -- if -- they get out,
they'll have to register as sex offenders for life. And there are a lot of places "monsters" won't be able to live.

Take the guy who set his eye on a 14-year-old girl. He wanted her somethin' bad. But there was a slight problem, apart from her being just barely 14. He was 22.

And to make things worse -- at least from the perspective of such a "monster" -- was that the relatives who took her in after her mother died were about to send her off to boarding school. So he ran off with her.

Worse than that, they were second cousins.

And worse than that, the poor child had a child by the time she was 15 -- just barely.

IF BOBBY JINDAL had been governor, the horndog would be in jail for a good long time and then, after that, would have to wear a scarlet penis for the rest of his life. And, with the exception of some nooks and crannies in the bayous and piney woods, a cry of "Damn straight!" would arise all across the Gret Stet.

Just one thing, though.

Romeo and Juliet: SVU were my maternal grandparents. They were married Dec. 24, 1905, and stayed that way until my grandfather died in 1956.

They never had it easy, not with 15 kids over the years and a Great Depression, to boot. Yet, 11 children made it to adulthood and all of those survived to old age. Two are alive still.

Not bad work for a sex offender and his victim.

OBVIOUSLY, times and mores have changed, as is evident
in this story from WAFB television in Baton Rouge:

We found a man who is considered a sex offender by law. He asked to have his identity protected, so we'll call him "Sam." Sam says he is not a monster and should not be behind bars. "When I was 18, I did not research the law to find out if it was okay if I slept with a 14-year-old. I did not know that. That's why at the time, I made a stupid decision," he says. Sam says he was in love with his 14-year-old girlfriend. He met her at church. They dated. Then, he says his feelings for her got out of hand. "Before I know it, I got arrested and everything and then I caught the charge. Immature. I take full responsibility and I should have known better, but sometimes you put yourself in a situation and it's hard to go back sometimes."

Sam served five years probation, with counseling and psychological evaluations. Eventually, a local judge determined Sam was not a threat to society and waived his charges. That was about 12 years ago. "Then, all of a sudden, they came with a letter saying I have to register as a sex offender." The state Legislature passed new laws in 2004 to disregard court-appointed waivers and force people like Sam to re-visit their past. "When does my life move on? When do I escape the shadow of my mistakes?" he asks.

YOU'D HAVE TO THINK that someone smart enough to have graduated from Brown and then Oxford, like Jindal, would know that there are sex offenders, and then there are sex offenders.

"Sam" in the Channel 9 report broke a law by acting upon a natural impulse with a girl who also was a teen-ager. It was wrong, by our contemporary standards, and there were rightful consequences.

But "Sam," and those like him, are no more "dangerous sex offenders" than was my grandpa, who broke no law in 1905. My grandfather was in love with my grandmother, and he eloped with her before her uncle could send her off to a convent . . . not boarding school.

Of course, Bobby Jindal does know better -- just like he damn well knows that "contemporary standards" are a recent innovation in all corners of a state where modernity still fights a mighty battle to fan out from a tenuous beachhead.

What Louisianians need to remember is they're not so far removed from the days of the Southern demagogue, who curried favor with the booboisie by railing against the black man -- or, alternatively, Standard Oil -- all in a bid to line his pockets and build a political empire. If the ordinary voter got anything out of the deal at all, he found -- too late -- that it came with a great (and previously hidden) cost.

SO WHY is Bobby Jindal demagoguing the "sex offender" issue -- and in the process hiding genuine societal threats amid a fog of injustice that will envelop a bunch of people who did something stupid, but not unnatural, when they were kids?

That's what I want to know about this "reform" governor who held so much promise but is quickly degenerating into just another doctrinaire Republican, dispensing the same old stuff from the same old GOP manure spreader.

Naturally, the Louisiana Legislature probably will be stupid enough to pass this Jindal foolishness unmolested. Just like some God-fearin', prevert-bashin', good ol' boy will watch the Channel 9 report and yell "Damn right they need to lock up them PREverts! Kill them sumbitches!" at the TV set.

Right before he gets that quizzical look on his face, turns to the wife/shack-up/girlfriend, and sayeth:

"Honey, HOW old was you when Junior was born?"

Thursday, January 17, 2008

And he could there do no mighty work. . . .

Is Louisiana fixed yet?

After all, it
has been the better part of a week since the Messiah took office. Robert Kennon Buddy Roemer Bobby Jindal, by his mere presence and tough talk on ethics, was to instantaneously transform a state that's been mired in varying degrees of dysfunction since the dawn of the 18th century.

SO, WE FIND that, thus far, the status quo is hanging tough in the Gret Stet. The business community and LSU are fighting over the resignation of Chancellor Sean O'Keefe, forced out amid political machinations by the school's new president and its board of supervisors.

Also in Baton Rouge, existing downtown casinos, through front organizations, are airing anti-casino TV ads to keep a competitor from opening and sucking gamblers to a new "resort" in the southern part of town, where -- on a different matter -- some residents are fighting tooth-and-nail to stop the kind of mixed-use, commercial/residential development that most American cities lust after.

Meanwhile, murder rates are soaring in both New Orleans and Baton Rouge, and the mayor of the Crescent City is still a preening doofus.

And my alma mater, Baton Rouge Magnet High School, is still a dump. Despite having one of its own in the governor's mansion.

Any moment now, I expect that disillusioned Louisianians will begin denouncing Jindal, asking what use have they for a messiah who can't turn water into wine, much less a Third World entity into something resembling a functioning civic society. And do it instantly.

Remember, you read here first that -- even under the most miraculous permutations of great good fortune -- the best Bobby Jindal can do is futz around the edges of Louisiana's pathology, perhaps fixing a doodad here and a thingamabob there. Maybe a couple of thingamabobs, which probably would earn him a vice-presidential slot on the 2012 GOP presidential ticket.

That's about it, though . . . fixing some doomaflatchies and whatsits. Because Jindal can't legally do anything about the real problem with Louisiana -- the people who live there.

It takes people to make a culture, and it takes people to generally care so that government might generally work. Your score in the Louisiana Bowl, after 300 years of play, is Violent Dumbasses 76, Prosperous Functioning Society 14.

The coach, alas, is only as good as his players.

LET'S LOOK, in a metaphorical vein, at the governor's old school and mine -- Baton Rouge Magnet High.

Over the past generation or so, it has been allowed to fall into an extreme state of disrepair. Quite literally, it has been falling apart around students, teachers and administrators . . . which is not exactly the way a state tells its best and brightest young people "I love you. Please stay."

Football programs quickly learn they can't recruit good players when Whatsamatta U's athletic facilities are falling apart. Louisianians never learn, however, and demographic data has shown for some time that the state pays the price.

When I was a child, Baton Rouge's public schools were pretty dumpy, and the school system pretty much sucked. Except for one school -- Baton Rouge Magnet High.

Now, as reported by the Baton Rouge Business Report (and everyone else), the school system still pretty much sucks and the facilities have nosedived well into "Good God ALMIGHTY!" territory:

About a year ago, workers employed by the East Baton Rouge Parish School System were looking to perform some fairly routine repairs to Baton Rouge Magnet High School. But the more they looked, the more problems they found. For starters, the brick and mortar of the venerable main building were no longer even connected to the exterior walls.

The findings were no surprise to Dot Dickinson, who watched a tile fall from the ceiling before a performance of the school’s orchestra, which included her son, in the mid-1990s. Luckily, the wayward tile landed on empty seats.

“Seems someone would have noticed the need for maintenance at that time,” she says.

Most likely someone did. But at the time, every public school in the parish needed work, and there was virtually no money to pay for it, school officials say. The system isn’t in the crisis mode it was in 10 years ago, but there are still a number of school buildings that are drafty, leaky, moldy or otherwise disheveled.

The School Board was scheduled to discuss—and most likely finalize and vote on—the system’s facility plan on Jan. 10. The futures of Baton Rouge Magnet High, which is in line for a $62 million renovation, and Lee High School, which the system had considered closing before Superintendent Charlotte Placide proposed building a new Lee High on the same site, have elicited the strongest emotions.


Revenues over the next 10 years, including a $20 million surplus, are expected to be more than $489 million, assuming the renewal of a one cent sales tax. That covers what the system believes are the most pressing needs.

But making all the needed repairs could cost about $800 million if everything is fixed by 2011, system spokesman Chris Trahan says. Meanwhile, the parish’s older schools will continue to deteriorate. Placide says the system needs more money to catch up, but will parish voters pony up, especially since so many abandoned the public school system years ago?

For more than three decades, the system didn’t build a single new school. From 1964-98, parish voters approved enough tax renewals to keep the system operating, but not nearly enough to make any significant capital improvements, Trahan says. There were no bond issues, and no dedicated stream of revenue for infrastructure. The system didn’t even have a building maintenance fund like most districts.

Placide says there are “various reasons” why voters wouldn’t approve significant fees for capital improvement, which she didn’t attempt to list, but allowed that the problem was “related to the desegregation issues the community struggled with for some time.” The parish settled its 47-year-old desegregation case with the federal government in 2003.

IN OTHER WORDS, since 1981 -- the beginning of "forced busing" as a desegregation tool in Baton Rouge -- white residents steadily and relentlessly removed their children and their financial support from the public schools. The numbers don't lie.

Sheer racism may or may not have played a major role in the ethnic and financial "cleansing" of the local schools. For the first wave fleeing the East Baton Rouge public schools for brand-new private schools (and to neighboring parishes), race played a big role. Or at least I suspect it did.

For later waves of refugees, that abandonment probably was due to being sick and tired. Sick of fighting against growing urban decay and the resulting educational dysfunction, and bone tired from the fight.

Nevertheless, the result was the New Orleanization of the capital city's public schools, and civic support for public education cratered. Again, from the Business Report article:

In 1997, the system put together a comprehensive facilities plan that identified millions in needed work. Perhaps hoping to take advantage of goodwill engendered by the end of forced crosstown busing the previous year, school officials put together an ambitious proposal, asking voters to approve a 25-year, $475 million bond issue and a 35-year 1% sales tax for constructing and maintaining new school buildings. Both propositions were soundly defeated at the polls.

Thus chastened, school officials came back the next year with a proposition that had been drastically scaled back: a penny sales tax, levied over five years, about half of which was earmarked for a pay-as-you-go repair and construction fund. The tax passed and was renewed for another five years in 2003, and the system built seven new schools with that money.


“The school system is one of the greatest detriments to economic growth that we have here,” says Fred Dent, chairman of a Baton Rouge financial consulting firm and spokesman and founding member of TaxBusters, which works for lower taxes and streamlined government. “When we keep getting headlines about the lack of performance of schools, it does not engender a lot of trust for any school board that has that problem. … It’s not about the money, it’s about performance.”


Thirty percent of children in East Baton Rouge Parish do not attend public schools, nearly double the state average of 16%, which the Louisiana Department of Education says is the highest rate in the nation. The private schools can pick and choose whom they want to let in, while public schools take all comers. Public schools tend to have nearly all of the special education and special-needs students, while private schools grab many of the high-achievers.

For middle- and upper-class children, private schools are the rule, not the exception. Nearly 77% of the students left in East Baton Rouge public schools are poor, as measured by how many qualify for free or reduced lunch. Often, poor children come from unstable homes or dangerous neighborhoods, and they bring those problems with them to school. Parental involvement in a child’s education, a key factor in academic success, is often lacking in poorer homes.

EVERY STATISTIC in this story is staggering. And very few of them can be ameliorated by even as great and talented a political messiah as Bobby Jindal.

In Baton Rouge -- and in New Orleans . . . and all across the Gret Stet -- the problem with public education lies in the people. The people have the freedom to elect good stewards of the public trust . . . or lousy ones.

The people can commit themselves to strong public education for the good of society . . . or not. They can give public education -- and desegregation -- a chance . . . or not. They can vote for taxation sufficient to support good public schools and then hold officials accountable . . . or not.

The people of Baton Rouge, and Louisiana, can be OK with the sorry state of one of the state's best schools . . . or not.

So far, the people's job performance hasn't been exactly inspiring.

And the Business Report article makes it sound like passing the tax renewal won't exactly be a slam-dunk. Even in the face of damning evidence that Baton Rougeans have fallen down on their job -- the job of creating a functioning civic society that offers all its citizens equal access to the necessities of modern life.

Like a decent education.

IN STATES not Louisiana, public education has a history dating to 1635, with the establishment of the Boston Latin School. Universal education as a function of the state had one of its early champions in Thomas Jefferson, and the idea took off in the mid-19th century.

As it has been understood in the United States, free public education is a basic service civic society -- through local government -- provides to all its citizens without regard to status, creed, nationality or race. As it has played out in Baton Rouge, among other unfortunate examples, free public education is what you get when you are unable or unwilling to pay for private or parochial school.

And like the segregated education African-American children routinely received in the South of my childhood, public education in my hometown once again is separate and unequal. Some 83 percent of those children on the public side of Baton Rouge's resegregated educational realm -- many of whom are doomed to attend classes in substandard, crumbling facilities -- just happen to be black.

Separate. Unequal. Still.

Faced with the picture of children -- if not theirs, somebody's -- trying to learn in squalid classrooms such as those at my alma mater, Baton Rouge High, "activists" like Fred Dent balk at setting tax rates adequate to erase the shame of a city.

"It’s not about the money, it’s about performance.” That's what the man says.

Really? Couldn't it be just a little bit about, "I got mine. Screw the ghetto dwellers"?

Or does Dent really think the rational response to a crumbling, failing school system is to cut off the money and kill the sucker dead? And he and his ilk are working to replace the unacceptable entity with . . . what, exactly?

MEANWHILE, it'll probably take a brutal fight to pass enough of a tax renewal to assure repairs to Baton Rouge High, Lee High and all the other dung heaps where Baton Rougeans are content to warehouse their children. If it even passes at all -- despite all the shocking pictures, despite all the gallons of ink used to print the story of a city's shame.

"America's Next Great City," as its mayor laughably calls it.

Louisianians wait with bated breath for one of their occasional political messiahs to pull off a miracle well beyond the pale of mortal man. And soon enough, they'll crucify him because cheap grace was something that would not materialize out of his insufficient incantations.

A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house. And he could there do no mighty work. . . . And he marvelled because of their unbelief.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Louisiana, help thou mine unbelief

My friend Rod Dreher has written an op-ed piece for The Wall Street Journal about Louisiana's latest flirtation with reform. There is sweetness and light and new hope down on the bayou; the wunderkind Bobby Jindal will be governor, having won in a primary-election landslide.

Well, you know what I think about this. If you don't, it's here.

At any rate, Rod is "proud and hopeful" that the folks back home apparently did The Right Thing. I
am, too. Kind of.

Reading Rod's piece, I delight in how well he channels the deepest emotions of all us Louisiana expatriates. And I want to believe. I want to believe in hope, because my home state . . . it do get into your blood and you can't get it out:

You notice something, though, when Louisianians meet in exile. Everybody misses home and will take any opportunity to talk about it. Our friends--Yankees, mostly--get the biggest kick out of our honest-to-God tales of Bayou State life (political and otherwise). My wife, a native Texan, confessed that when we first started dating, she thought my stories about my homeland revealed me to be a pathological liar--until I took her there to see for herself. She visited my Uncle Murphy's grave and saw the headstone he'd won playing bourré (a Cajun card game) with an undertaker. He had it inscribed with the epitaph: "This ain't bad, once you get used to it."

Louisiana makes a lot more sense if you read the beloved picaresque "A Confederacy of Dunces" as an exercise in literary naturalism. There's simply no place like Louisiana. You will not find more generous and life-loving people anywhere, and Lord knows, you won't eat or drink better. It's hard to get over that. But you do, mostly. Last Sunday, I ran into a couple I know at a Krispy Kreme shop here in Dallas. We got to talking about the Jindal victory, and the wife, a non-native who had fallen in love with Louisiana as a Tulane student, said warmly that she'd love to move back. The husband gave her a look that telegraphed, "Yes, we all would, dear, but come on."

Despite all the sentimental longing for LSU Tigers tailgating and the scent of Zatarain's crawfish boil on your fingers, moving home rarely crosses the minds of us expatriates. Louisiana is a great place to be from, but the sense of fatalism that pervades life there casts doubt on whether it will some day be great place to be. In Louisiana, to be educated is to love the state and hate the state--and, for many, to leave it.


I want to believe, despite my memories of voting for the reformer Buddy Roemer in 1987. Despite my
memories -- following the news in subsequent years from my new home in Nebraska -- of how Roemer got chewed up and spit out by the unholy trinity of Dat's How We Do Things in Loosiana, Dat's Loosiana for You and, the grafters' favorite, How You Gonna Hep Me Out Here? (wink wink).

I want to believe in the power of one man -- this Brown- and Oxford-educated son of immigrants who came home instead of doing the sensible thing -- to right in a term or two what the natives
took 300 years to f*** up this badly.

Dammit to hell, I want to believe. I want to believe. But then I remember this:

And I remember this:

I HAD LEFT LOUISIANA by the time David Duke beat out the incumbent Roemer in the 1991 gubernatorial primary. The onetime Klan leader and Nazi foot soldier damn near became governor of Louisiana, losing to the crook Edwin Edwards but nevertheless winning a majority of the white vote.

Did I mention that, before running for governor, he served in the state House, representing Metairie, a mostly-white suburb of New Orleans?

When Duke made the governor's runoff, I threatened to never set foot in the state again if the little Nazi won. And I was dead serious. I was prepared to boycott everything about Louisiana, cutting off my pittance to the LSU Alumni Association and even giving up my beloved Community Coffee.

I told my parents this . . . my parents, the ardent Duke supporters. And on Election Day, they cast their votes.

For David Duke. I guess that tells you everything you need to know.

HOPE REQUIRES that I believe that the citizenry of my home state wants reform. Wants change. Wants better than what they have now.

I am to believe this of the self-same Louisiana citizenry that tolerates sending their children -- or somebody's children -- to unsafe, crumbling public schools . . . the same Louisiana citizenry that has embraced the likes of David Duke as a mainstream candidate for high office . . . the same Louisiana citizenry that is OK with maintaining a Third World enclave in the richest country in the world.

Compared to that leap of faith, it's kid stuff to believe Jesus Christ makes Himself present flesh and blood, soul and divinity in a wafer of unleavened bread and a chalice of wine. As a Catholic, I most certainly believe the transubstantiation thing.

As a native Louisianian, when it comes to the reality of true reform back home . . . not so much.

This I do know: You can't turn a supertanker heading full-steam for Hades on a dime. It takes a lot of effort and a lot of time. And if it's the SS Louisiana, a lot of dumb luck, too.

Oh, Louisiana,
I believe; help thou mine unbelief.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Louisiana elects a Band-Aid, buys a little time

A New Orleans blogger apologizes for saying Louisiana governor-elect Bobby Jindal was "a right-wing nut job." He, apparently, should have said Jindal "seems like a right-wing nut job."

Well, we all have our opinions. And calling somebody a nut job, in the realm of politics, is definitely a venial sin.

Me, I think -- looking south from up here in Omaha, Neb. -- that Jindal might be a lot of things, but "nut job" isn't one of them.

I am not a right-winger, and I'm not even a Republican.
The last New Deal Democrat standing . . . maybe.

BUT IF YOU ASK ME -- which you haven't -- Louisiana is in such bad shape that I don't think standard politics, or standard political thinking, cuts it anymore. I mean, I pretty much deplore how Jindal toes the Bush party line in Congress on many things. And I say this as someone who's the oddest of political birds, the Socially Conservative Political Progressive.

Jindal, however, passed the Who'll Run Louisiana Test on three counts:

1) He has a brain . . . and something of a plan,

2) He has a strong reputation of not being "ethically challenged," and ran on an ethics-reform platform,

3) He's not your typical Louisiana knuckle-dragging, good-ole-boy incompetent.

IN THE SHAPE LOUISIANA'S IN, that's all that matters.

The Crescent City blogger (Editor B, whose site I greatly enjoy, by the way) is disturbed by Jindal's seeming support for the "intelligent design" approach to "origin studies"-- which, by the way, is distinct from "creationism" ("science" slathered over a literalistic approach to the Genesis account of creation).

I can appreciate how that might be of interest. On the other hand . . . so what? As a Catholic, I (with my Church) am agnostic on how God created the universe and life on earth. If scientific evidence points toward evolution over billions of years, fine.

(My problem with "intelligent design" isn't that I think it ultimately is untrue, it's that I think it's philosophy, not hard science.)

BUT I DIGRESS. "Intelligent design" isn't an issue, because it's not gonna be taught (the courts will see to that), and Jindal has bigger fish to fry than trying to make it so.

The bottom line is whether Jindal can make any difference in bringing effective governance to what pretty clearly is a failed state. The problem with Louisiana is the same as it was 140 years ago (and more) -- a deeply deviant civic culture.

Simply, Louisianians have had serious, serious problems figuring out this self-governance thing ever since Thomas Jefferson bought the place and imposed democratic rule. Louisianians, I am ashamed and sad to say, have had serious, serious problems in crafting government capable of fostering an overall standard of living on a par with the rest of the First World.

FOR A WHILE NOW, I have referred to my home state as high-functioning Third World.
And New Orleans might not even be that.

In a situation as desperate as that, all the fine points of political haggling go out the window.

There is no such thing as a messiah in politics, but Louisiana simply has no chance whatsoever (and it is down to its last chance before descending to some sort of permanent American Chechnya) without a critical mass of competent, visionary and honest leaders.

I think Jindal came closest to that standard, and I'm glad that Mitch Landrieu will keep his job as lieutenant governor. Frankly, faded country-music star Sammy Kershaw would have been an embarrassment the state hardly could have afforded.

BUT EVEN WITH SOMEONE like Jindal as governor, I think the state still faces extremely long odds. And I think I've found the near-perfect "little story" that illustrates the "big story."
(You've heard this before, but it's worth repeating over . . . and over . . . and over again.)

Go to these links:

* Home is where the heartbreak is

* More scenes from 'America's next great city'

THESE POSTS contain pictures of my alma mater, Baton Rouge Magnet High, that I took last month when I was back home on vacation. I suspect there are schools all over Baton Rouge -- all over Louisiana -- that don't look much different.

This doesn't look like the United States. This looks like a rural school in a poor Chinese province -- I know; I just saw one last week on the NBC Nightly News. That poor Chinese school looked like a tiny version of Baton Rouge High.

What does it say about Baton Rouge, or Louisiana, when conditions most American communities would deem unfit for stray animals are thought to be perfectly OK for children? And when such has been deemed OK for children for a very long time?

After all, it takes a couple of decades of complete neglect for a school to turn into the kind of dump BRMHS is now.

Trust me. When I graduated from Baton Rouge High in 1979, it was the nicest public school I'd ever attended. (My entire school career was spent in Baton Rouge.) Back then, BRMHS was nice. All the other public schools I'd gone to were varying degrees of dumps.

Now, this is what the city's "flagship" public school looks like.

And this is exactly what a failed state looks like.

If the electorate doesn't care any more than that for public-school children -- for their own children, and for the children of every family that can't afford private school -- all is lost.

BOBBY JINDAL CAN'T FIX THAT. He can't make Louisianians give a damn or even pretend like they belong to a functioning civilization. Only Louisianians themselves can do that.

But until they do, Jindal is the only slim hope of even postponing the day when the rest of the country gives up on Louisiana for good.