Something Like the Truth

Attorney General Jeff Landry’s cynical legal moves

By Robert Mann

In 2015, a transgender man from Lake Charles filed a federal sex discrimination suit, alleging the financial services company he worked for fired him after he refused his boss’ order to dress as a female. While the court has not decided his case, this man is only one of more than 80,000 LGBT individuals in Louisiana exposed to potential workplace discrimination for their sexual orientation or gender identity.

That’s because it’s legal in most of Louisiana to fire a worker for being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. That’s a disgrace, compounded by Congress’ refusal to pass national workplace protections for LGBT individuals.

Many states are better — almost half have such protections — but Louisiana is not among them. Seven Louisiana locales, including New Orleans and Shreveport, have antidiscrimination laws (as do some companies), but 87 percent of Louisiana’s LGBT individuals enjoy no workplace protections, according to the Williams Institute at UCLA’s School of Law.

Congress will eventually outlaw employment discrimination against LGBT individuals because Americans are decent people and will demand fairness in this arena.  And Louisiana will one day enter the 21st Century, too. The only question is how we will do it — on our terms or after we have further damaged the state’s reputation?

Louisiana’s new Republican attorney general, Jeff Landry, is doing everything he can to postpone this new century. Landry is trashing the state’s already frayed reputation with an ugly crusade against Gov. John Bel Edwards’ April executive order granting protections for LGBT individuals who are state employees or who work for companies with state contracts.

Landry is blocking several dozen state contracts that contained the non-discrimination language, charging that Edwards exceeded his authority when he included the language on contracts. Edwards sued, arguing that Landry’s actions are an abuse of power and an effort to usurp the governor’s authority in setting state policy. On Monday (Oct. 17), a state court judge sided with Landry on narrow procedural grounds.

Edwards is expected to appeal or file a new suit. Before he could do so, however, Landry took the fight to a new level on Thursday, suing Edwards to negate his executive order.

Whatever the outcome of the legal fight, Landry appears eager to stoke fear of LGBT individuals to get ahead (presumably to the governor’s office in 2019). Some might say Landry is defending the state’s Constitution. In fact, he is disregarding the animating spirit of the Constitution. The document’s Declaration of Rights under the section, “Right to Individual Dignity,” says, No person shall be denied the equal protection of the laws.”

Tragically, LGBT people are missing from a long list of those our state Constitution dignifies. They are unequal and unprotected in Louisiana employment law. To his credit, Edwards wants to eliminate discrimination where he can, starting with companies that have state contracts.

Landry’s attack on Edwards’ executive order strikes me as cynical pandering to the religious right. It’s unseemly, an abuse of his power and unworthy of a man who proclaims his Christianity. There is nothing Christ-like in making it easier for people to lose their jobs because of their God-given sexual orientation or gender.

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Rigged? A lesson for Trump: How other losing presidential candidates conceded

By Robert Mann

Donald Trump, October 2016: “I’m afraid the election is going to be rigged, I have to be honest. . . . November 8th, we’d better be careful, because that election is going to be rigged. And I hope the Republicans are watching closely or it’s going to be taken away from us.”

Mitt Romney, November 2012: “I have just called President Obama to congratulate him on his victory. His supporters and his campaign also deserve congratulations. . . . This is a time of great challenges for America, and I pray that the president will be successful in guiding our nation. . . . The nation, as you know, is at a critical point. At a time like this, we can’t risk partisan bickering and political posturing. Our leaders have to reach across the aisle to do the people’s work.”

President-elect Obama with former Presidents Bush (41), Carter and Clinton and current President Bush at the WHite House on Jan. 7, 2009. (Photo by Pete Souza)

John McCain, November 2008: “The American people have spoken, and they have spoken clearly. A little while ago, I had the honor of calling Sen. Barack Obama — to congratulate him on being elected the next president of the country that we both love.

“In a contest as long and difficult as this campaign has been, his success alone commands my respect for his ability and perseverance. But that he managed to do so by inspiring the hopes of so many millions of Americans, who had once wrongly believed that they had little at stake or little influence in the election of an American president, is something I deeply admire and commend him for achieving.”

John Kerry, November 2004: “Earlier today, I spoke to President Bush and I offered him and Laura our congratulations on their victory. We had a good conversation. And we talked about the danger of division in our country and the need, the desperate need, for unity for finding the common ground, coming together. Today I hope that we can begin the healing. In America it is vital that every vote count and that every vote be counted. But the outcome should be decided by voters, not a protracted legal process.”

Al Gore, December 2000:  “Just moments ago, I spoke with George W. Bush and congratulated him on becoming the 43rd president of the United States. And I promised him that I wouldn’t call him back this time. I offered to meet with him as soon as possible so that we can start to heal the divisions of the campaign and the contest through which we’ve just passed.

“Almost a century and a half ago, Senator Stephen Douglas told Abraham Lincoln, who had just defeated him for the presidency, ‘Partisan feeling must yield to patriotism. I’m with you, Mr. President, and God bless you.’ Well, in that same spirit, I say to President-elect Bush that what remains of partisan rancor must now be put aside, and may God bless his stewardship of this country. Neither he nor I anticipated this long and difficult road. Certainly neither of us wanted it to happen. Yet it came, and now it has ended, resolved, as it must be resolved, through the honored institutions of our democracy.”

Bob Dole, November 1996: “Let me say that I talked to President Clinton. We had a good visit. I congratulated him. . . . I have said repeatedly in this campaign that the president was my opponent not my enemy. And I wish him well and I pledge my support in whatever advances the cause of a better America, because that’s what the race was about in the first place, a better America as we go into the next century.” Continue reading “Rigged? A lesson for Trump: How other losing presidential candidates conceded”

Donald Trump and the GOP crisis of conscience: “I will support my party’s nominee”

By Robert Mann

Imagine you’re a Republican member of Congress from a Southern state, someone like Sen. Bill Cassidy, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise or Rep. Garret Graves. You know Donald Trump’s candidacy is a joke. He’s the most reckless, corrosive major-party presidential candidate ever. From the moment he announced, you knew he could cripple or destroy your party.

Once he captured the nomination, however, you quietly endorsed him. In May, you lent your name to a press release issued by your state party. Or maybe, like Graves, you ditched the release. But days later, when pressed by reporters at the Baton Rouge Press Club, you coughed up a mild endorsement, affirming your support of “the party’s nominee.” You could not bring yourself to mumble his name.

But you endorsed him still. After he led the racist “birther” movement. After he called Mexicans “rapists.” After he attacked Sen. John McCain for being “captured” in Vietnam. After he made many degrading statements about women (including his own daughter). After he demanded a ban on Muslim immigration. After all that, you endorsed him.

You comfort yourself now with the unsatisfying rationale, “I did my duty to the party. That and no more.”  Since then, you haven’t campaigned for him. You won’t cry when he loses, and you hope his defeat will be a painful lesson that the rhetorical sewage he unleashed should never again poison our nation or your party.

You hope columnist George Will was right when he wrote, “Trump is the GOP’s chemotherapy, a nauseating but, if carried through to completion, perhaps a curative experience.”

Here’s what haunts you: You know, no matter the outcome, history will record that you endorsed Trump and stuck with him because you were afraid of the political consequences if you withdrew your support. Some call it political savvy. Others know it as cowardice.

You were afraid if you spoke out against Trump it would offend his supporters. You know they admire him much more than you. And you know their passion for Trump might spark retribution for those who abandon him.

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Louisiana Republicans groping for response to Trump’s admitted sexual assaults

By Robert Mann

The presidential nominee each Louisiana Republican leader has endorsed was exposed on Friday afternoon bragging about committing sexual assault.

As first reported by the Washington Post,

Donald Trump bragged in vulgar terms about kissing, groping and trying to have sex with women during a 2005 conversation caught on a hot microphone — saying that “when you’re a star, they let you do it” . . .

“I moved on her and I failed. I’ll admit it,” Trump is heard saying. It was unclear when the events he was describing took place. The tape was recorded several months after he married his third wife, Melania.

“Whoa,” another voice said.

“I did try and f— her. She was married,” Trump says.

So, how did GOP members of the Louisiana congressional delegation and those running for U.S. Senate respond to the latest shocking news about Trump? Pretty much the way they’ve responded to every other disgusting revelation: Mostly, they ignored it, undoubtedly hoping you and I will forget that they have endorsed Trump and are too cowardly to withdraw their support.

These men — and they are all men — never wavered in their support of Trump after he mocked a disabled journalist. They stood by Trump when he attacked war hero and former POW Sen. John McCain for being “captured” in Vietnam. They stayed with him when he insulted, repeatedly, the Gold Star parents of a dead soldier. They stuck with Trump after he made racist remarks about Mexicans and demanded a total ban on Muslim immigration.

They never expressed concern about Trump’s long history of misogyny. And when the news broke last weekend that Trump lost $916 million in a single year (1995) and probably didn’t pay income taxes for 15 years, they said nothing.

So why would anyone think that these men would be outraged over Trump’s latest outrage? They’ve tolerated him for this long, so why should anything change? Continue reading “Louisiana Republicans groping for response to Trump’s admitted sexual assaults”

Donald Trump? Louisiana Republicans hardly know him

By Robert Mann

Donald Trump? The name is familiar. He’s the GOP nominee? Well, I guess I support my party’s nominee. Next question.

That, in essence, is where Louisiana’s courageous GOP leaders stand on the presidential race.

Their nominee is a train wreck. For years, he led a racist crusade that argued President Barack Obama is not an American. People he has degraded include immigrants, Muslims, a Latina beauty pageant winner, Gold Star parents, prisoners of war and the disabled. It appears he hasn’t paid personal income taxes since Bill Clinton was in his first term. His businesses have declared bankruptcy four times. He lost $916 million in 1995 alone.

His favorite policy idea is a border wall that cannot be built and which the Mexicans won’t pay for. He favors a “deportation force” to arrest millions of immigrants. He thinks the world has too few nuclear weapons. He’s a fan of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin.

But most of Louisiana’s Republican leaders – particularly its congressional delegation – are strangely mute about their party’s nominee. Still, they’ve endorsed him. But don’t expect them to elaborate or defend him or his policies.

With few exceptions, they are cowardly Vichy Republicans who have accommodated Trump not because they admire him, but because they fear his Louisiana supporters. They would rather appease David Duke’s favorite Republican than stand on principle against Trump’s bigotry and misogyny.

Before we go much further, let’s name them so their grandchildren will know where grandpa stood when Trump’s bigotry was on the ballot: U.S. Sens. David Vitter and Bill Cassidy and Reps. Steve Scalise, Charles Boustany, John Fleming, Ralph Abraham and Garret Graves. There’s also Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, Attorney General Jeff Landry, state Treasurer John Kennedy, David Duke, Rob Maness and Trump’s erstwhile rival for the GOP nomination, former Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Each is on record supporting Trump’s candidacy. But except for Fleming, Maness and Duke (who seem eager to embrace Trump), don’t ask them why. Because Trump is so toxic, these “leaders” must be grateful Louisiana is not a battleground state. They would surely hate to face a decision about whether to campaign with Trump if he showed up for rallies.

In a way, Louisiana Republicans’ endorsement/denial of the churlish bigot resembles the pathetic quandary of Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. Watching Tuesday’s debate (Oct. 4) between Pence and the Democratic Party running mate, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, one might have assumed Pence and Trump had never met. At the very least, it was not clear that Pence was familiar with Trump’s many offensive statements and policy stances.

Repeatedly, Pence denied that Trump said this or that outrageous thing. He claimed he and Trump had never praised Putin, although they did. He insisted Trump had never called for “a deportation force,” when his campaign was founded on just such an immigration policy. Pence scoffed at suggestions Trump had insulted Mexicans and women when we’ve heard the insults a hundred times.

Maybe Google isn’t a thing in Indiana, but in the rest of the world reporters and voters used it on Thursday morning to quickly verify that Trump did, in fact, say what Pence denied.

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John Kennedy is praying for you

By Robert Mann

On Sept. 13, Republican state Treasurer John Kennedy, a candidate for the U.S. Senate, issued the following statement:

“Earlier today, the [Charles Boustany] campaign sent out an email alleging that my campaign and other candidates’ campaigns for the U.S. Senate played a role in the shocking story alleging illegal behavior from Congressman Boustany and his staff. I want to be very clear that my campaign played absolutely no role in creating this story alleging Congressman Boustany’s sexual relationships with prostitutes that were later murdered, his staff’s alleged involvement in running the bar and hotel where this illicit behavior took place, or publishing the book‘Murder in the Bayou’ written by Ethan Brown and published by Simon and Schuster.

“With just a few weeks left before Election Day, my campaign is focused exclusively on talking about real solutions to address our country’s problems. My wife Becky and I are keeping the congressman, Mrs. Boustany and their children in our prayers as they deal with this as a family.”

After I read this incredible statement, I tried to imagine what Kennedy must have been like early in his career, particularly in high school. Here’s what I imagine he might have said back then.

Statement by Johnny Kennedy, candidate for 9th Grade Class President, 1966

“Earlier today, the people running the annual Zachary High School Spelling Bee launched an investigation into shocking allegations about Danny Smitherman, who was the winner of this year’s competition and is my opponent for class president.

“I had absolutely nothing to do with bringing to light these troubling charges that Danny cheated and might not deserve the trophy. I did not suggest to Mr. Johnson that Danny had persuaded Jenny Wilson to sit in the fifth row and mouth the letters to Danny. I was not the one who called Mr. Johnson at home Thursday at 10:03 p.m. to report this illicit behavior. Also, the fact that Jenny dumped me last month for Danny had nothing to do with these allegations coming to light three days before the election.

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Millenials mild about Clinton should be terrified of Trump

By Robert Mann

I know you and your fellow millennials were wild about Sen. Bernie Sanders and many are now excited by Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson. As for Hillary Clinton, you think she’s shady and represents the past as much as Donald Trump represents bigotry and greed. You’re not looking to settle but be inspired. You want a candidate whose argument is better than, “I’m not Donald Trump.”

During the primaries, Sanders spoke directly to you and your friends with passion and sincerity we’ve rarely seen from Clinton. Johnson also has a down-to-earth sincerity, although I am immune to his charms and worried about his stunning ignorance about Aleppo, the epicenter of the Syrian refugee crisis.

Whatever the case, here’s some bad news: You thought your time to save the world would wait until you turned 30. You thought you had more years to sew your political wild oats. You thought you could afford to vote for Johnson or even stay home.

Well, sorry, but your reckless political youth was short-lived. You see, your elders are about to drive this country into the abyss by voting for Donald Trump. Like it or not, your generation, along with black and Latino voters, is all that stands in the way of a Trump presidency.

I confess my generation has made a mess. We’ve jeopardized your economic future by ignoring Social Security reform. We let the big banks nearly crash our economy. We’ve done nothing about climate change.

Most of my white contemporaries want Trump to pick the next two or three Supreme Court justices. And they want the court to stop same-sex marriages and end the expansion of voting and reproductive rights.

Many in my generation hope Trump will move quickly to repeal Obamacare and pass massive new tax cuts for the rich. Whites over 50 will cheer as he yanks the United States from international climate change agreements. They won’t protest as the big banks grow bigger, the special interests grab more power and we wait another decade to make college more affordable.

I know what you’re thinking: “Don’t send me on a guilt trip for your generation’s appalling tolerance of a racist and misogynist.” OK, good point.

I understand your disgust with millions of older white people who are eager to hum “Hail to the Chief” to the orange bigot. But here’s the deal: I know how much you want to make the world a better place. You have a hopeful, expansive and optimistic vision for this country that many of my contemporaries lack.

I know you want to tackle poverty, disease and ignorance. I know well your enthusiasm for racial and ethnic diversity and environmental justice. I know you wish to see your country expand civil and human rights for women, minorities, gay people, lesbians and transgender people.

Well, Nov. 8 is the day you can stop the man who would halt or reverse the march of economic and social progress that you and I want.

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North Korea may be plotting nuclear blackmail but don’t expect the press to ask Clinton or Trump about it

By Robert Mann

A distressing event unfolded last weekend as the national political press was busy freaking out over Hillary Clinton’s pneumonia and her labeling half of Donald Trump supporters a “basket of deplorables.”

In the cascade of this and other political news, you might have missed the troubling report that North Korea detonated a large nuclear bomb, its fifth since 2006 and its second explosion this year. Worse, a top advisor to North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un reportedly told a Japanese lawmaker that the communist regime’s burgeoning nuclear program is aimed at the United States.

Please don’t feel bad if you overlooked this important development. Our TV journalists have been terribly busy interviewing medical professionals about respiratory diseases and moderating cooking segments. Surely you don’t expect the host of a morning news show to explain the threat of nuclear war when he must address the more urgent task of reviewing Rick Perry’s latest moves on “Dancing With the Stars”?

There are vapid horserace questions to ponder and Machiavellian political stratagems to dissect. The TV executives know there’s no joy in exploring nuclear proliferation when their hosts can instead discuss Trump’s latest insulting tweet and the intricacies of a new poll from Iowa and why it might be devastating news for Hillary Clinton.

Political journalists have a well-known, severe allergy to policy reporting. This is one reason why they feed us a surfeit of lazy, superficial political analysis from vapid “strategists” who know the Electoral College map cold but couldn’t tell you the difference between Aleppo and Alpo. God forbid the networks and major newspapers give us more information and insights about what the candidates might do if elected. Boring!

Nothing brought home the danger of this lazy coverage more than the failure of reporters to demand from Clinton and Trump a strategy to prevent North Korea from building missiles, tipped with nuclear warheads, that it might use to blackmail South Korea, Japan or the United States.

While North Korea isn’t close to testing an intercontinental ballistic missile that would threaten the continental United States, The New York Times reports that “leaders of two government-run research institutes in Seoul have recently said that they believed North Korea was now able to mount a nuclear warhead on a short-range Scud or medium-range Rodong missile.”

If that doesn’t jar the talking heads out of their silly obsession with poll numbers and campaign spots, perhaps nothing ever will. We need to know, and soon, what the two candidates propose to do about a dangerous regime that could make Iran appear tame and reasonable by comparison. The next president could confront the most serious international nuclear confrontation since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

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Good, slim or none? What are Democrats’ chances in this year’s Louisiana Senate race?

By Robert Mann

Gov. John Bel Edwards’ victory over U.S. Sen. David Vitter in last year’s governor’s race gives hope to Democrats across Louisiana. If a little-known Democratic state representative could knock off a well-financed two-term incumbent Republican, why shouldn’t Democrats also have a legitimate shot at Vitter’s Senate seat this November?

Vitter is not running for re-election and Democrats have proven, against the odds, that they can compete in one of the reddest of red states. Even better, this time Republicans are dividing their loyalties among five major candidates, while Democrats have known quantities in Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell and attorney and business executive Caroline Fayard.

Campbell served 26 years in the state Senate. Fayard lost a 2010 runoff for lieutenant governor to Republican Jay Dardenne, who is now Edwards’ commissioner of administration. Campbell seems to have an edge, having earned Edwards’ strong endorsement earlier this year.

So, the stars are aligned for a competitive race that a Democrat could win? Well, not so fast.

I’m the first to admit I unwisely discounted Edwards’ chances against Vitter. Louisiana voters had not elected a Democrat to statewide office since 2008 and there was little I saw to indicate they would suddenly change their behavior.

What I overlooked was that after eight years of Bobby Jindal’s misrule, voters ached for change. No ally of Jindal, Vitter should have been that change – except that Edwards and his allies transformed the race into a referendum on the morally challenged Republican. He went down in a landslide, sunk by voters who were turned off by his 2007 prostitution scandal.

This time, however, the contours of the race are vastly different, meaning that capturing the Senate seat should be far more daunting for a Democrat than was the work of beating Vitter.

While not impossible, it will be difficult to make this race a referendum on personalities. Unlike the 2015 governor’s race, the Louisiana Senate election occurs in conjunction with the presidential election, during which ideology and party identification are almost always at the forefront of voters’ minds. (It is worth noting that Vitter won reelection in 2010, a mere three years after his prostitution scandal, precisely because ideology, not personality, defined his reelection campaign.)

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