America is forcing thousands of soldiers to repay enlistment bonuses decades after going to war. When I read that, I thought, there's gotta be something more to it. The Pentagon and Congress could not be this stupid.
GOP Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said this morning that the Pentagon should immediately stop trying to recover enlistment bonuses paid to nearly 10,000 soldiers in California who signed up to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan. The government has 45 auditors who are assigned to check on the cases of 20,000 more National Guardsmen and women.
I asked Larry Korb, Senior Fellow for the Center for American Progress and former Assistant Secretary of Defense to come on and help explain what's going on here.
The Pentagon said this "has some complexities." What does that mean?
"You got a couple of issues - there was some fraud, some people who have actually been convicted of taking money they shouldn't have. The next thing is that when a soldier comes up for a bonus, you have a good idea of what you're supposed to get. If you're supposed to get 10 and they give you 20, you might ask, or maybe there's a wink and a nod. Having said all that, it's the auditors job to go in and check that out."
OK but it wasn't the soliders themselves committing fraud, right, so what happens to the recruiters and higher ups who thought this was a fair plan of action?
"What I'm dumbfounded about is where's the Undersecretary for Personnel and Readiness? Where's the Secretary of Defense on this? The California Guard called Congress - where was the National Guard bureau? The head of the National Guard is now one of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, where was he on this? To me, that's the real failing. The people who committed the fraud should pay for it, but not these soliders."
In the second half of the show, I spoke with Shad Meshad, President and Founder of the National Veterans Foundation.
"I think you and the whole nation should be aggravated about this. This has got to be the most heinous, stupid thing I've ever heard of - it's just beyond reason, that they went back for multiple tours because of the bonuses, then come back and try to move on with their lives... and now the government is saying we made a mistake and we want our money back? That's unethical and unfathomable."
To hear the full show - prepare to get angry - click on the link below.
Should the Libertarian & Green candidates be allowed to participate in the Presidential debates?
Some are urging the Commission on Presidential Debates to reconsider their policy of allowing only candidates who have an average of 15% in the 5 national polls into the fall debate. Should they? Using this model, only Clinton & Trump will be allowed to take the stage, excluding Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson whose national polling average is 8.8% and Green Party candidate Jill Stein who is polling at 3.4%.
What if voters want to hear all points of view so they can make an educated decision? In a recent Pew Research Center survey they found that 4 in 10 voters think neither Clinton nor Trump would make a good president... and that most voters are with the two-party system. Another poll by USA Today & Suffolk University found that 54% of voters want 3rd party options. Should our democratic electoral system include all candidates in the debates or not?
As always I turn to Political Analyst Ron Faucheaux for some guidance. He's just had a piece published in the Wall Street Journal about this very topic.
"In this election, you have so much public discontent with the two major candidates... the proposal I made is that you can keep the 15% requirement for the second and third debates, but for the first debate, lower it to three percent, so that you can have both Stein and Johnson in the debate," Faucheaux said. "The idea there is that voters really need the information, and need the chance to see what all the options are. If they don't move up over the course of the campaign, then don't include them later. But at least give them some access to these public debates. Otherwise they have no chance at all of winning the election."
The two third party candidates have about 13-14% combined. If nothing else, shouldn't the commission allow that and say to Congress, there is a building movement out here that doesn't like what you are doing, and these numbers suggest you should be changing?
"That's exactly right. One national poll this year showed that 54% of American voters would like to have third options to look at in elections. Another showed 41% of voters didn't think either of the major party candidates would be a good president. So clearly voters are saying, we want to look at all of the options. It doesn't mean they're going to vote for those other options, they're just saying we want to look at them. If the minor party candidates have a voice, and the voters have a choice, I think it's healthier for our democracy."
To hear the rest of the conversation with Ron, click the link below.
Facebook may have been deliberately suppressing conservative news. If true, is it legal? Can Facebook be forced to change?
Could the fictional story in Morrison's book become a reality?
"I spent ten years covering the big internet companies, and the short answer is, they are amassing huge amounts of our data, data we don't even appreciate we're giving out," he said. "They are much more granular in the information they collect about us than we can even imagine... if they can manipulate our emotions, they can certainly manipulate our opinions. They story you referenced, that they are suppressing conservative views, is a disturbing one."
"Really what happened here is that some low level contractors were injecting their bias, conscious or unconsciously, into the stories they were putting up... and it could very well have just been the opposite, where conservative leaning employees might have done the same thing... regardless of whether they're suppressing liberal or conservative views, the fact that this is even possible highlights Facebook's ability to set the agenda and possible impact public opinion," he continued.
"We think of Facebook as a neutral platform, and it sells itself as one. So we have to be very careful about what comes out on Facebook."
Dr. Robert Hogan, LSU Professor of Political Science, joined me after the news to explain the story from his point of view.
"Social media sites have come to play a large role in Presidential campaigns in recent years... it's a major force in American politics today, so when you hear a story like this, that gives you some pause. i think people may not be fully aware of how FB works and how news gets to them. It raises serious questions," he said.
Could it be enough of a concern to where the government intervenes and puts in some sort of regulation there?
"What we're finding out is that the things that are on the "Trending" list is not simply put there by a mathematical algorithm, but is actually made in almost an editorial sense. And to the extent that humans are involved in that, it'll be subject to their biases... there have been calls to regulate old style media and there may be calls to regulate here but, it sounds to me like the nature and direction of that is coming from conservatives, who generally don't like government regulation, so I doubt you see much government intervention here.
To listen to the full interviews with Morrison and Dr. Hogan, click the link below.
I was always jealous of those who knew and were close to Hokie Gajan. I’d see him in the hallways, and occasionally he agreed to venture into the Think Tank. I knew Hokie was special, because I could see that EVERYBODY thought he was special. I’ve got to confess, if I had been a great athlete, hero of LSU, icon of the Saints, and beloved by a city, I would have bragged about it all the time. You knew about Hokie only from someone other than Hokie.
My personal memories are few but clear. Every time I shook his hand my brain asked me, “Is that a hand or a catcher’s mitt?” When I did brag to him that I had “almost become an athlete,” he laughed. When I attacked Hokie on my show for stealing all my knowledge of sports, he laughed. I once said to him, “I want to be tough like you one day.” He said, “You’ll never be as tough as me, I have four daughters...you only have one.”
Not long ago, I actually stopped and watched Hokie walk down one our WWL hallways. He was bent over, covered with arthritic bumps and he shuffled because of many surgeries. He ran into 3 people, one by one he made them all laugh. No pity, no complaining, just love of life and people around him. Some call Hokie “a man’s man.” Actually, he was a one of a kind man. NEVER to be another like him.
Why are Jefferson Parish residents so much happier with their quality of life than New Orleanians?
A new UNO poll says people who live in Jefferson Parish are 94% satisfied, while residents in NOLA are only 66% satisfied - and that's an eight-point drop from 2013, while results from Jefferson remained pretty much unchanged.
I invited UNO Political Science professor Dr. Ed Chervenak into "The Think Tank" this morning to see if he could help explain these findings. "Historically, people are more satisifed in JP because it is a suburban parish. Its a much more prosperous parish, has a much stronger tax base, and government is able to deliver services much more efficiently. Whereas in Orleans Parish, its a relatively weak base, but given its population, it requires a lot of services and so the needs outstrip the resources, and I think that's why you see a bit more negativity," he said.
I kept thinking, aside form the bliions of dollars flowing into New Orleans after Katrina, everything you read says people are starting to abandon the suburbs for the city - is that trend reflected in the study?
"We havent seen that in our poll - certainly we have had an influx of peo ple from outside New Orleans since Katrina. I don't know if we've 'bucked the trend' we're seeing in the rest of the country, where elderly people in particular are moving back to cities for public tanspotiation and access to health care. We just went through a different situation as a results of having to recover from that disaster."
I also asked Ryan Berni to chime in - he's a Senior Adviser to Mayor Landrieu. What does he think about the report?
"I think we take the long view on these kinds of things - these are just a snapshot in one period in time. I think people have reason to be more optimistic about the city, especially when you take the longer view. There was a lot of polling done with the tenth anniversary of Katrina last year, and a lot of that research showed that 70, 80% of the public was optimistic about our future and where we had come from."
To hear the entire conversation, just click on the link below.
If our state Attorney General takes over coastal lawsuits against oil & gas, will it help the cause of Louisiana parishes or oil and gas? Jeff Landry is taking over coastal lawsuits filed by three parishes against oil and gas firms. Will that move make Louisiana’s case stronger? Will it make oil and gas pay... or not pay at all?
I invited Loyola Law Professor Rob Verchick and Congressman Garret Graves into the Think Tank this morning so see about getting some clarification on this.
"Coastal restoration is something that affects the entire state, so the Attorney General respresenting the State has the right to intervene to make sure all of these claims are being organized to the best interests of the state in general. What we don't know is exactly what Landry in this capacity is going to do, whether he's going to have the effects of strengthening the lawsuits or weakening the lawsuits, from the plaintiff's point of view," explained Verchick.
"The Parishes sued based upon state authority or state liability, so the Attorney General says look, I'm the state's chief legal officer, so I'm going to intervene and basically take over control over these so we don't have dozens of disparate efforts out there trying to manage these different lawsuits," Congressman Graves told us.
The cutting waste versus new revenue debate continued on WWL today with Louisiana State Treasurer John Kennedy insisting there is a lot for government to gain by running a tighter ship.
"The legislative auditor last year did 36 audits," Kennedy told WWL's Garland Robinette. "The total amount of waste and inefficiencies that the legislative auditor in these 36 reports identified just last year, in 2015, is 1.745 billion dollars."
Kennedy said it wouldn't surprise him to find that none of the agencies audited were required to do anything to change their wasteful ways.
Kennedy also sent the governor several reports from studies dating back years on areas where government can be cut -- reports Kennedy says were never acted upon.
"If his staff bothers to read the reports, they will find that many of the issues that are addressed in these reports are the same issues that we are struggling with today."
Kennedy said he knows the governor has a copy of is paper done by the Public Affairs Research Council on January 29, called ' A Plan to Control State Spending.'
"So the argument put forth by some that there's no specificity in terms of how we can control our costs, and therefore, we can't reduce our spending, and therefore, we have to implement the largest tax increase in the history of Louisiana, otherwise we are going to terminate the TOPS program, shut down Nicholls State University and eliminate LSU football, in my judgement, is a little over the top," said Kennedy.
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards today said he welcomes proposals for cuts to try and close a budget deficit the governor says is more than $940 million, but repeated his argument that cuts alone won't close the gap.
"We cannot simply cut our way out of this particular jam," said Edwards.
Edwards rebutted State Treasurer John Kennedy's claim that the savings can be found in state consulting contracts or repealing state laws that require money go to certain programs.
"The idea that there's enough savings on those contracts alone to solve our problems is really not based in reality," Edwards told WWL's Garland Robinette. "We can achieve some savings there and move it into the general fund...but for those people who want to try, that, too, is in the call."
Edwards said he wasn't using scare tactics when he told Louisiana in a prime-time address last week that the TOPS program could be suspended or critical health care services like dialysis could be cut. He warned that's the only way to balance the budget without finding new revenue.
"If that sentiment wins out, then those things will happen," he asserted. "I'm trying to engage in truthful conversation with the people of Louisiana."
Edwards has asked lawmakers to consider an increase in state sales tax among other ways to increase revenue.
Arizona has virtually eliminated illegal aliens from their state. Are results good or bad? Can Louisiana do the same?
Arizona passed some laws a few years back that meant that undocumented workers in that state, about 85% of them from Mexico, are barred from receiving government benefits, including non-emergency hospital care, punitive damages in civil suits, drivers licenses, are not eligible for in-state tuition and more.
To better understand all this, I invited Steve Camarota, Director of Research at the Center for Immigration Studies, onto the program to explain the effects of these new laws, and how exactly Arizona chased off illegal immigrants, and how that effected their state's economy. Is Arizona better off? Or worse?
"Immigrants overall make the US economy at least 1.7 trillion dollars bigger," Camarota said. "Illegal immigrants add 300-400 billion dollars. But in all the research, the consensus is 98% of that economic activity goes to the immigrants themselves in the form of wages and benefits, which it should, since they're the ones doing the work.
"So in a town of 100 people, when 50 people move in, you can say, look our town's economy is 50% bigger, but it doesn't answer the fundamental question - is the original population of the town better off? It just means the economy is bigger. In the same way that Bangladesh has a bigger economy than Norway, that doesn't mean Bangladesh is richer than Norway, because what matters is per capita income... per person.
"The other thing is, because immigrants are so poor, when you count them and look at per capita, that income becomes lower. But that again doesn't tell you whether or not the native born population is better off."
To hear the rest of the conversation, click the link below.
C.B. Forgotston is dead. It’s a loss that few outside of his circle of friends and family will notice and that’s as big a tragedy as his death. C.B. absorbed a lot of hate and anger in an attempt to make our lives better.
He had the education and experience to see the weakness of our legislative and legal system and the courage to reveal the truth. He stayed angry over what he found in the hopes that we would too. It would seem that in the end he decided it was a battle lost.