Religion For Me, But Not For Thee

This morning I came across a different spin on the school voucher reforms passed in the Louisiana legislature earlier this year. In case you’ve forgotten, HB976, passed as Act 2, allows families to use school vouchers to go toward tuition at religious schools.

Well, it seems that Livingston and East Baton Rouge Parish Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Watson, after voting for the bill, realized that could include (Gasp!) Muslim schools.

“I actually support funding for teaching the fundamentals of America’s Founding Fathers’ religion, which is Christianity, in public schools or private schools,” the District 64 Representative said Monday.

“I liked the idea of giving parents the option of sending their children to a public school or a Christian school,” Hodges said.

So apparently, she’s only OK with vouchers being used for tuition at the right kind of religious schools. With right=Christian.

“Unfortunately it will not be limited to the Founders’ religion,” Hodges said. “We need to insure that it does not open the door to fund radical Islam schools. There are a thousand Muslim schools that have sprung up recently. I do not support using public funds for teaching Islam anywhere here in Louisiana.”

Now, I’m actually OK with vouchers being used for private and religious school tuition because I believe parent and student choice over the schools they attend should be the top priority in education. But, Rep Hodges, seriously? I mean, really? Fortunately, you did everyone a favor and were explicitly clear in your bigoted views which is something that the religious right isn’t always. I would implore you to go ahead and really think about what religious freedom truly means. Spoiler alert, it doesn’t just apply to Christians.


CODOFIL Controversy

Before I start, I have nothing against the French language or those who speak it and hope to further develop that part of Louisiana culture. Also, I know LA Rep. Stephen Ortego (D-Carencro) personally and can attest that he is genuinely a good guy looking out for the best for his constituents. That being said, recent “woe-is-us” complaints about Gov. Jindal’s line item veto of a $100,000 increase in funding for the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana is a bit ridiculous.

Comments like below give a crystal clear example of why it is so damn difficult to ever actually cut government budgets.

It’s only $100,000, and I know we have more than 100,000 Cajuns in this area of the state,” State Rep. Jack Montoucet, D-Crowley said Thursday. “We can show (Jindal) that no matter what he does in Baton Rouge, we are going to survive like we did for hundreds of years, and we’re going to be part of this state whether he wants to include us or not.”

Sure, it’s only $100,000 of other people’s money. Why not force all LA taxpaying citizens to spend a portion of their tax dollars on something people who really want to learn the language could spend themselves? But if the government doesn’t fund this program further, that clearly means that people will no longer speak French, which apparently is what Gov. Jindal secretly wants anyway. At least that’s how I interpret Jack Montoucet’s words. However, in a quick check of the wildly popular Rosetta Stone language software program, one could buy all 5 levels of the French program for a whopping $399! Not to mention that this cut does nothing to affect French immersion programs in LA schools. So, I’m fairly certain that we will not suddenly see a drastic dip in French speaking Louisianans.

Also, Earth to Montoucet, there is no grand conspiracy to rid Louisiana of French speakers. I understand that you are simply trying to best represent your French speaking constituents. So to that aim, I suggest that instead of railing against the government for prioritizing the state budget, you look to private organizations and efforts to make up the difference.

Perhaps even, you could exert leadership along with Ortego and Pierre to work toward removing alleged dependence on state government largesse from the further development of French in Louisiana entirely. Given the relatively inexpensive options available for teaching the language, and the clearly passionate constituency of those who care about the issue, I don’t imagine this should be too difficult a task.

This is just another example of what we face in the long slog toward identifying necessary functions of government and the often-times painful process of cutting from the budget those nonessential functions. But if at every turn we face headline producing shouts of “Not Us! It’s just $100,000,” what hope do we truly have of making any significant progress of living within our collective means?



LA GOP Convention Madness

Today, June 2, 2012, I was in attendance as a delegate in support of Ron Paul at the Louisiana Republican State Convention in Shreveport. Before the convention began I told someone if we make it through without someone being tazed I would feel the day was a success. As it turns out, I wasn’t specific enough. Why would I suggest such a thing? For some reason, the Louisiana GOP felt it was necessary to load up the Shreveport Convention Center with Shreveport and Louisiana State Police. I guess they thought us rowdy Ron Paul people would create a scene or something. (Apparently they’ve been reading our blogs) In that regard they were correct, but not in the way they were expecting.

First, some background. The Louisiana convention delegation is made up of 25 delegates from each of the 6 LA Congressional districts. The Louisiana State Central Committee wrote into their original rules the authority to elect 5 additional delegates for each district, bringing the Convention total to 180. After the results of the district caucuses, Ron Paul delegates won 111 seats for a 62% majority, including sweeps of the 1, 2, 5, and 6th districts. Now, the LA GOP saw the writing on the wall for Ron Paul supporters to be elected to a potential 32 of 46 delegate seats to the Republican National Convention. This of course was not pleasing to them. A humorous but sad aside; an older woman in the delegation told a female Ron Paul supporter that she knew the reason she liked RP was so he could legalize drugs for her, and what is she, 19 (because age makes her views irrelevant?). Great attitude lady. Anyway, so what do the “powers that be” do? Change the rules of course, 19.5 hours before the Rules Committee was scheduled to meet. And for good measure, they appointed their own chairmen to the 3 convention committees.

These new “Supplemental Rules” could most accurately be described as…. corrupt, power-grabbing bullshit. I was also elected to a seat on the Rules Committee. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the committee meeting to finalize the rules for the convention. However, during the meeting, the body (made up of a majority Ron Paul supporters) voted to remove the appointed chairman and elect Alex Heilwig. Rough video of this is below.

Now, back to the Convention itself. The first order of business was a prayer that I would best describe as a political admonition to just sit back and let the powers that be do whatever they want regardless of the will of the 62% majority body. 4 minutes later, self-appointed Chairman of the Convention, Roger Villere, asked Scott Wilfong, “Chairman of the Rules Committee,” to give the report from the committee. At that time, Alex Helwig, the duly elected Chairman of the Rules Committee, challenged this while contesting the legitimacy of Wilfong’s alleged chairmanship. The result? Shreveport and LA State Police assaulted him, breaking at least one of his fingers. Video of the dust-up below.

Immediately proceeding those events the delegation proceeded to nominate a new Convention Chairman. The motion carried, and as you can see in the above video, the delegates turned their chairs around to continue the Convention since Roger Villere refused to acknowledge this entirely legitimate and proper procedural move. So, what would Villere and the LA GOP do next? Of course, it’s not a real party until the cops assault 2 political activists.

What you saw in that video, was elected Chairman Henry Herford being forcibly dragged away from the proceedings before being injured and subsequently arrested by Shreveport Police. After that craziness calmed down, the majority of the delegation continued with the business of electing delegates to represent Louisiana at the Republican National Convention. Roger Villere continued to have the minority portion of the delegation proceed with their own elections.

So, what next? Now the RNC will receive both results of elected delegates and choose who to seat at the convention in Tampa in August. Ask yourself, which process seems more legitimate to you? What country do we live in where political parties can change rules whenever the results don’t seem to be going their way? What country do we live in where a political party hack can have police assault an elected member? That’s right, here in the USA. Also, I forgot to mention that the event was on private property so there is a question as to whether the police even had the authority to remove anyone.

Anyway, there you go ladies and gentlemen. This is what the Louisiana Republican Party has become. And you wonder why rLOVEution is under way…

Positive News in Law Enforcement

I don’t know how many of you read Radley Balko’s site. Those of you who do will be quite surprised with what I’m about to share with you, others may or may not but I suggest you keep up with him if you’re interested in drug war/police militarization/law enforcement issues from a libertarian perspective.

A lot of you are probably familiar with the common refrain of  “no wrongdoing was found” or “proper procedure was followed” coming from police supervisors in response to cases of police brutality. However, I have good news! I have discovered a case that will delight the hearts and minds of civil libertarians, and from Jefferson Parish, Louisiana (mostly suburban New Orleans)  of all places.

According to the Times-Picayune,

“A Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s deputy has been fired after he repeatedly tased a Marrero man during an arrest last November and Sheriff Newell Normand said he wants to pursue criminal charges against the former officer. Deputy Robert Hoobler was terminated by Normand earlier this month after using his Taser on Leron Anderson at least three times.”

The story begins with a probably unsympathetic individual being taunted, reacting violently to his abuse, and then being subsequently tased into submission by the police. After which the deputy is cleared of any wrongdoing for following protocol.

Here’s the amazing turn though;

“The incident was reviewed by the Sheriff’s Office, which is protocol and no wrongdoing was found. But Normand said he became “overwhelmingly concerned” after watching video of the incident because he believes Hoobler used the Taser three more times than was warranted. It appears Anderson was tased four times.

Normand said he did not hear any racial slurs on the video, but he saw Hoobler issuing unnecessary warnings to stop resisting before firing the weapon.

“The video reveals clearly that he’s not resisting,” Normand said.

The sheriff said he believes Hoobler ordered those commands in an attempt to justify the tasing. Normand said he will conduct an internal investigation into why Hoobler’s actions were cleared of wrongdoing despite evidence there were problems. That investigation will commence after a criminal investigation into Hoobler’s actions.

Normand said his office has told the Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s Office it wants to pursue criminal charges, and if that office declines to prosecute, he will forward the case to the FBI to investigate for possible civil rights violations.”

For those of you keeping score at home, the Sheriff didn’t just accept the results of the internal investigation, reviewed video himself, made note of the farcical “stop resisting” ploy used in many of these cases, is investigating the investigators, fired the deputy, is pursuing criminal charges, and will take it to the feds if the DA fails to do anything. Normand-7, status quo-0. Bravo Sheriff, bravo.

Your Check Isn’t In The Mail

This year, the state of Louisiana stopped issuing paper checks for income tax refunds. Instead, they now issue debit cards from Chase with the balance loaded on the card. Recipients can get their funds by using the card at an ATM, at a store for purchases, or by going into a Chase branch and having a teller withdraw the total amount. If you file electronically, however, you can still request your refund be direct deposited to your bank acount.

A number of people find this process to be burdensome, and if you don’t live near a Chase branch, it could be. However, I have one simple solution that will allow most everyone to be made happy next year. If the Louisiana Department of Revenue would simply add a couple lines to the income tax forms to allow filers to input their bank information for direct deposit, we could avoid all the complaints about the cards while maintaining the cost savings (estimated to be in the $300-500 million range) of not issuing checks. Other states, as well as the IRS, already allow this on their forms so we aren’t talking about any revolutionary change.

Disclosure: The author works for JPMorgan Chase. The opinions expressed are his own.