The drums of war, again

By Robert Mann

Hear that? It’s the sound of beating drums. They’re war drums, to be precise. Our political percussion section loves to play these familiar tunes. It practices its bellicose beats at every opportunity.

It’s remarkable how eager we are to dance to those ancient rhythms. Want to persuade Americans to support another war? Easy. Show videos of brutality against Americans by a violent group nobody knew about six months ago and scream that they’ll soon attack us on American soil. In short order, we will whip ourselves into a mad frenzy and march off to another war.

The latest existential threat is the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, also known as ISIS. The ruthless group not only killed American journalist James Foley, it controls large swaths of Middle East territory. Now, a growing chorus of hawks believes we must bomb them.

Perhaps we can destroy them from the air. If not, however, we might find ourselves inextricably drawn into another ground war.After more than a decade of hopeless, tragic fighting in that region, are we seriously thinking of rushing back in? Have we lost our collective minds?

Among those using the ISIS threat to goad us into another war is Gov. Bobby Jindal, who questioned President Barack Obama’s mettle in an op-ed on the Fox News website. “The murderous fools who cut the heads off of Americans must be destroyed, and sent to their reward, such as it is, in the next life,” Jindal wrote.

It’s not only Jindal.

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A dupe or a liar? Jindal’s frivolous federal Common Core lawsuit

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By Robert Mann

If there was ever a politically motivated, frivolous lawsuit, it would be the thinly veiled campaign document that Gov. Bobby Jindal filed in federal court on Wednesday, alleging that the federal government coerced states like Louisiana to participate in Common Core.

In his suit, Jindal seems to say that he and other governors were forced by President Obama to apply for federal funds and join a national consortium, all of which supported the implementation of the Common Core standards in their states.

“In short, through regulatory and rule making authority, Defendants [the federal government] have constructed a scheme that effectively forces States down a path toward a national curriculum by requiring, as a condition of funding under the President’s Race to the Top programs, that States join ‘consortia of states’ and agree to adopt a common set of content standards and to implement the assessment protocols and policies created by that consortium, all under the direction of the United States Department of Education,” Jindal says in his suit. “It is impossible to square the executive actions at issue with settled Congressional authority or the Tenth Amendment.”

Funny, but that’s not what Jindal said in 2009, when he eagerly applied for the “Race to the Top” money. If he was being coerced into applying, he had an odd way of showing his displeasure.

“We are excited about the opportunity for our schools to ‘Race to the Top’ and attract more funding to help students succeed,” Jindal said in a press release on Nov. 5, 2009. “The strategies promoted in this competitive grant program are a step in the right direction and will provide the resources needed to support a sustainable model of growth.

While participation in this new initiative is voluntary, the Department of Education is encouraging local school boards and superintendents across the state to strongly consider this opportunity to provide flexible funds to our schools. [Emphasis added] Our children only have one chance to grow up and get the skills they need to succeed. We must take advantage of every opportunity we have to strengthen our education system and provide more opportunities for Louisiana children.”

Jindal also proudly put his signature on the documents which formalized Louisiana’s participation in the consortia that drew up the Common Core standards. He now claims he was coerced. If so, he must have been bound and gagged afterwards, because he never registered a complaint at the time.

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Rick Perry’s ‘crimes’ pale in comparison to Bobby Jindal’s

By Robert Mann

Some liberals have celebrated the recent indictment of Texas Gov. Rick Perry on charges of abuse of power. I’m not among them. His opponents couldn’t beat Perry at the polls, and they seem eager to derail his nascent presidential campaign, so they’ve applauded his indictment on flimsy charges that any impartial juror with an ounce of common sense should reject as laughable. I’m no Perry fan, but this looks like a destructive attempt to criminalize politics.

Long story short: Perry vetoed the budget for the state public corruption unit headed by the Austin-area district attorney after she was jailed for drunk driving. Perry made no secret that he was trying to force the DA to resign. In response, a Texas prosecutor charged Perry with two felony counts.

Targeting a public corruption unit’s budget to overthrow a wayward district attorney is clearly hardball politics. Perry may well have gone too far. Perhaps he deserves to be impeached (although even that is doubtful). What I do know is that he does not deserve prison.

Texas politics is notoriously wicked. You’d think what Perry did wouldn’t faze anyone in Austin. Still, if the prosecutor considers Perry’s veto threats a shocking abuse of power, I suggest he study the appalling methods Gov. Bobby Jindal is using to rid Louisiana of Common Core’s education standards.

I don’t know if Jindal’s outrageous actions technically violate any criminal statute, but if Perry has earned a prison term for his deeds, then Jindal surely should get a life sentence for how he’s abused his powers in an illegal and politically motivated attack on Common Core.

It’s well known that Jindal once strongly supported Common Core. He pitched it with all the passion of Ron Popiel hawking a Showtime Rotisserie. (“Set it, and forget it!”) Jindal was among the governors who helped write the standards. He signed the documents and legislation committing Louisiana to Common Core.

Then, after getting grief from conservatives – particularly tea party types - Jindal abandoned Common Core and started attacking the standards as Soviet-style central, big-government central planning.

Curiously, however, he gave only lukewarm support to state legislators who tried to remove the state from Common Core during the recent legislative session. Thanks in part to Jindal’s unwillingness to speak out, it survived.

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Louisiana should treat the Rick Perry case like Ebola

By Robert Mann

Can’t I believe that Texas Gov. Rick Perry is a wretched person and a terrible governor without also wishing to see him behind bars?

For some reason, with some political partisans, the two opinions are not mutually exclusive.

For those not paying attention in the past 24 hours, a Texas grand jury has indicted Perry, the outgoing Republican governor who appears to be running for president. The charge: public corruption.

It’s a complicated case and you can read all about it on the web. Long story short: a county district attorney who also runs a Texas public corruption unit got arrested for drunk driving in 2013. She spent 45 days in jail, but refused to resign. This DA was also investigating Perry for some unrelated potential criminal activity. Perry tried to force her to resign. She wouldn’t, so Perry vetoed her budget in an attempt to force her from office.

Perhaps the DA should have done the right thing and stepped down. Perhaps the allegations she was investigating would have led to Perry’s indictment on other charges. We may never know. Perhaps Perry could have found another way to push her from office.

Perhaps. Perhaps.

But this case is not merely about criminal activity. It’s about a disturbing trend in American politics. To sum it up: I can’t beat you at the polls, so I’ll indict you. I may not send you to jail, but I’ll send you into political purgatory.

This story, sadly, is about the criminalization of American politics.

I’m not suggesting that politicians never commit crimes for which they should be imprisoned. Richard Nixon comes to mind, as does Louisiana’s own Richard Leche, a corrupt governor convicted and imprisoned in the early 1940s.

I think Gov. Bobby Jindal is an awful governor who falsely professes to care about our children and who tolerates unethical behavior within his administration. I think Sen. David Vitter is a disgraceful hypocrite. His election as governor in 2015 would sully the office, which is saying quite a lot.

But I don’t believe either man should be thrown into jail.

Is it possible that a public official could so poorly represent his constituents that some of them actually die (Jindal’s refusal to accept Medicaid expansion has almost certainly resulted in deaths) and yet shouldn’t be sent to prison?

In fact, in our political system, that’s exactly the case. In the end, I’d rather see the voters of Iowa and New Hampshire reject Perry for president because he was a terrible governor. In our system of government, we should find that kind of judgment much more satisfying than seeing someone tossed into jail after being tried on politically motivated charges.

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Under Bobby Jindal, Louisiana’s culture of corruption hasn’t changed

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By Robert Mann

The sneaky, dishonest way Gov. Bobby Jindal and the Legislature shoveled an extra $30,000 in annual retirement benefits to the head of the Louisiana State Police should forever prevent Jindal from bragging about having cleaned up his state’s politics.

It won’t, but the events that resulted in an illegal retirement boost for Col. Mike Edmonson – Jindal’s appointed police chief – suggests that Louisiana politics remains a cesspool of cronyism.

In the closing hours of the 2014 legislative session, legislators passed legislation with an amendment granting Edmonson and another state trooper – both enrolled in the state’s DROP retirement plan, but still working and earning full salaries – additional retirement benefits.

Of course, the amendment didn’t mention Edmonson or anyone else by name. That fact didn’t give legislators pause. They passed the bill without the required fiscal impact statement. Only after Jindal’s signature did we discover the retirement honey pot and its cost.

Had they asked any questions, legislators might have realized they were giving $300,000 in extra retirement benefits to just two individuals. Actually, they spent much more money than that, as the fiscal analysis (conducted after the bill passed) only assessed the impact of the bill’s first five years. Edmonson is 55. He stands to collect the extra money for several decades.

When state Treasurer John Kennedy and the state’s news media (including dogged bloggers C.B. Forgotston and Tom Aswell) challenged the propriety of the deal, no one seemed to know where the amendment originated. After first denying authorship, Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia), a close Jindal ally, finally acknowledged his role.

Could the LSU Board of Supervisors get any older, whiter?

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By Robert Mann

It’s not enough that Gov. Bobby Jindal has stuffed his LSU Board of Supervisors with white males (there is only one woman and one African-American and they are the same person); he’s now appointed a white male who doesn’t even reside in Louisiana.

It’s well known that former U.S. Rep. Jim McCrery, once of Shreveport, gave Jindal his start in politics by making him an intern in his Washington, D.C., office. Jindal obviously wants to return the favor by giving McCrery — now a well-paid Washington lobbyist — a plum appointment.

He did so on Thursday, by putting McCrery on the LSU Board.

The only problem is that the LSU Board is chock full of old, white guys. The state’s flagship university badly needs some diversity.

Doesn’t Jindal know any black Washington, D.C., lobbyists?

Advice for incoming college freshmen: My top-ten list

By Robert Mann

Over the next few weeks, thousands of anxious and excited young people will descend upon university campuses across the country to begin their college careers. As a college professor, I always love the first week of the school year, as I get to witness the fear, excitement and wonder in the eyes of so many remarkable young people as they start a new chapter of their lives.

Walk across any college campus on those first few days and you’ll see all kinds of dramas unfold. Parents bid tearful goodbyes after moving their child into the dorm. New students head off to their first classes, some are confident and full of purpose; others, tentative and a bid intimidated. For many, it’s the first time they’ve lived in a “big city.”

They’re all eager to prove themselves in this new world, but are understandably fearful. I imagine they ask themselves, as I once did, “Do I really belong here? Will I make it? Will I fit in?”

Last spring, my church honored me with the opportunity to speak to a luncheon of our graduating high school seniors. I did my best to share with them the most practical advice I could give about college. While you can find my notes for the entire talk here (First United Methodist Church Senior Luncheon), I offer you an abridged version of my talk. Perhaps it will be helpful to the college freshmen in your life.

1. Learn time management and good study habits. There will be no one waking you up, no one to remind you to go to class, no one telling you to study and no one reminding you of that test. Get a planner. Read your syllabus. Write down all the due dates for the assignments. And don’t wait until the last minute to write your papers.

2. Anticipate that you will have conflicts with roommates and other people you encounter. Don’t give up on people too quickly. Of course, don’t stay around people who might hurt you in some way and you certainly don’t want a roommate who stays up all night if you’re the type to go to bed early. But embrace and enjoy the different people you’ll meet.

3. Get to know your professors. Go to class. Sit on the front row. Go to their office hours. You never know what opportunity (job, scholarship or internship) might come your way because you got to know that professor.

4. Travel abroad if you can. Do internships. Join student organizations. There are a million opportunities for fun and out-of-class learning. Find what suits you, but don’t miss out of the other side of college. Get involved in something that doesn’t involve sitting in a classroom.

5. If you need help, ask for it. Whether it’s help learning how to improve your writing, or dealing with emotional distress, homesickness or despair that you’ve got the wrong major. Ask a professor or a departmental counselor to point you in the right direction. Every college has staff to help you in ways you can’t even imagine.

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