By now you've likely heard that President Obama's new budget contains plans for big new investments in infrastructure to spark new job growth and expand America's middle class. That in itself is not controversial, but I'm reading some articles from leading economists that say infrastructure spending doesn't really create many jobs or sustain local economies. So we don't really know if that's the way to go.
Much more disturbing (and clear for all to see) is that the President, in getting money for those infrastructure investments and for his $4 trillion dollar budget, has a hope to take Louisiana's oil revenue and share it with the entire nation beginning in 2017. He wants to take a big chunk of our states' local economy and give it away to everyone else because he says that coastal waters belong to the whole country and should be owned and experienced by all Americans.
It's the kind of thing that makes you sit up in your chair and say WHAT?!
I invited Sidney Coffee, Policy Adviser for America's WETLAND Foundation, into "The Think Tank" this morning to help me better understand this. Sidney had previously worked on the legislation that got Louisiana a greater share of oil and gas revenues.
"We knew, at some point, there was going to be an effort by someone to try to reverse this. These are tremendous sums, up to $500 million a year that would be calculated in 2017 and we would actually being receiving them in 2018. Our Congressional delegation, more unified on this issue than almost any other before or since, they all fought very hard for this. The State did it's part, the Congress did it's part, and now that the money is coming in a few years, and there's a money grab to try to take it back."
The Coastal Restoration Protection Authority will have to cut funds. So how do we turn to Congress and say 'we said all along that this is about whether or not we survive,' but now coastal restoration is the first thing we cut? I don't get it.
"We don't get it either. The people spoke. They want these funds, these dedicated funds, that could not go to anything more critical right now. What happens on Louisiana's coast affect every single person in this state and in this nation, sometimes in ways we don't even think about. Never has it been more critical that every penny we have goes straight into coastal restoration."
Should we feel better that Congress has a record of getting nothing done? Does this even have the possibility of getting passed?
"One light is probably that Lisa Murkowski of Alaska is chair of the Energy Committee, and her state would be affected by this too. I'm sure that she won't want this legislation to go through her committee!"
In the second half of the show, Congressman Charles Boustany of Lafayette and State Rep. Kirk Talbot of River Ridge joined the conversation. With GOP control of both Houses of Congress, is there a chance this legislation could succeed?
"No, there isn't," Boustany said. "We will block this in the House of Representatives with certainty. This is a grave threat and injustice to Louisiana. Our delegations going well over 50 years back fought to get revenue sharing... I was there in that debate and we were successful. Now for the first time the President, for the first time in six years, puts this in his budget without any real explanation. This is a gross travesty and we will do everything we can to stop it."
"We're all concerned," Kirk agreed, "but the fact that the Republicans have majorities in both Houses, it would take an act of Congress to undo this. Senator Vitter was quotes in the paper as saying this has a zero percent chance of happening. But my concern is that President Obama and his administration will find a way to do an end run around Congress, which he's done on a lot of things. That would be my fear."
To hear the entire conversation, click the link below.
There are about 7 billion people in the world. And if I understand religious beliefs, some entity that none of us have ever seen decided to make us. 2.2 billion of us were sent to specific male reproductive organs. When we came out we were Christians and we were the true religion.
Then another entity, sent down (or up, I’m not sure from where the heavenly light arrived) another 1.8 billion sperms that came out as Islamists and they were the true religion.
Then there was the arrival of another 1 billion little folks and they were Hindus and they were the true religion.
Those were followed or preceded by (I couldn’t find any witnesses to arrival times) Buddhists - 376 million of them and they were the true religion.
Another 394 million arrived as something called “Chineses traditionalist” and they were the true religion.
The Power must have been a little short on the Jewish supply, only 14 million of those, but still, they were the true religion.
Africa got a shipment of 100 million of their own “traditionalists” and they were the true religion.
If we sort through another box of arrivals, we’ll find Tenrikyos, Zoroastrianists, Rastafarians, Coa Dais, and Juches. They number in the millions and all are the true religion.
On the sideline are 1.1 billion not assigned to any “true vehicles,” calling themselves Agnostics and Atheists. They admit to having a little trouble seeing proof that the chosen came out of the right organ at the right time, on the right continent, in the right religion, convinced that they are the only “true” faithful.
And let me guess, all of this makes you defensive, angry and in many, many, many cases - violent. This makes sense to you? Really?
It’s being reported that many European cities have large “pockets” of disadvantaged, marginalized and mistreated Muslim populations. Many say that no one should blame them for the violence of a few (a few when compared with numbers of 1.5 billion), but what about perception of the group and dangers therein?
I suspect this is a poor analogy, but I’m struggling to understand my own feelings concerning a group of which I feel potentially threatened, even though common sense says the whole is not all bad.
Here is the analogy. I’m totally dog crazy. I’ve had dogs as my companions since I was 4 years old. At one point I had 5 dogs. But there is a group called pit bulls. I am told that we can’t condemn the breed as vicious because only a few are violent. And, then I’m told that’s because they have been abused (as in disadvantaged, marginalized and mistreated). But I don’t see similar vicious attacks attributed to Collies, Cocker Spaniels, German Shepherds, Dobermans, or any other breed…just as I don’t see the same level of violence in Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, or Judaism. I am afraid of pit bulls. I can’t tell the killer pit bulls from the good pit bulls and their constant appearance on the news for killing and maiming reinforces what is probably an irrational fear.
You’ve heard it a thousand times: not all cops are bad, not all media slants the news, not all priests are pedophiles and virtually every group with bad actors says the same. Were there not Germans who were Nazis just to get a paycheck to put food on the table for their families… Nazis in name only, who had no urge for war. But because of a few, pit bulls got pulled into the maw of Hitler and his disciples? Is it not always the few that harm the many? And when that happens, how can you eliminate the few without targeting the whole?
That is my fear. My fear that if Muslims don’t provide proof that the whole is working to eliminate the few, then others will attempt to eliminate the whole.
When I see thousands of Muslims lining the streets in France, Germany, England and Belgium protesting their own cancers, I think i will begin to lose my fear of the “peaceful group.” When i see the Muslim communities around the world finding and eliminating the horror within their ranks, I will begin to lose my fear of the “bad” pit bulls. Until then, the assurances that Islam is not dangerous, irrational, and violent are just words. One of the strongest vestiges of evolution is survival. Survival is often irrational.
What do we do with a flood protection bowl with a big ole hole?
Voters in St. Bernard decided they don’t want to pay for flood protection. It’s a vote that threatens New Orleans and Jefferson residents, because our $14 billion dollars’ worth of flood walls are not complete without the St. Bernard link, which makes us susceptible to flooding again. Shouldn't that worry us? And what do we do now?
As always, I turn to the experts. Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority President Steve Estopinal and Lake Borgne Basin Levee District Executive Director Nic Cali joined me in "The Think Tank" this morning.
This seems like a real problem, is it? "Yeah, it's a serious problem! I'm disappointed they didn't pass the tax. It's probably our fault, we probably didn't do as good of a job of explaining why it has to be done. We can improve on that. We're not in desparate straits yet but we're in very serious trouble," Steve warned.
When I think of the $14 billion flood protection system I think of a big wall surrounding us - if St. Bernard doesn't pay for their part of the wall, doesn't it create a hole? "No one is an island - St. Bernard is on the cutting edge of flood protection for the metro area, there's no doubt about that. We have an issue coming up right now where we're going to have to do some repairs to an interior levee in St Bernard 8 miles from New Orleans, but those repairs will directly impact flood protection for about 2.5 square miles of urban land in Orleans Parish. The way floods occur have no respect for political boundaries, and so we're struggling right now to figure out a way to pay for about $4 million of repair to a levee in a parish that doesn't have $4 million to spend on it," he continued.
So regardless of how good the rest of the flood protection system is, it's only as good as it's weakest link, right? Isn't that St. Bernard now? "That's not St. Bernard now, but if we don't provide the maintainance and improvements that are necessary in the Lake Borgne Levee District, St. Bernard will very rapidly become the weakest link, and then we're all vulnerable."
Click the link below to hear the rest of my interview with Steve Estopinal and Lake Borgne Basin Levee District Executive Director Nic Cali.
Was justice done in Ferguson? Everyone has an opinion on it, but the fact is, the system of using a grand jury to decide whether or not to bring charges is not a popular system - so much so that half the states in the US don't use them at all.
In the reading I've done about grand juries, I've discovered that our founding fathers believed that grand juries should be used to block the government from bringing wildly unpopular prosecutions. I read in Bloomberg that because the grand jury hears only what prosecutors want it to hear, it no longer functions as a meaningful check on their authority. Prosecutors can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich if they want to.
I could read all day but I wanted to talk to an expert, so I called Harry Rosenberg, a former US Attorney. I asked him to explain why we have grand juries at all, and why we don't just prosecute!
"Grand juries are often perceived as a rubber stamp for the district attorney or Federal prosecutors. What's helpful is to understand the purpose of a grand jury is not to serve as a trial jury, but to determine whether or not there is enough evidence to proceed with a criminal charge," he started.
But that's where I get confused - if the prosecutor is going to tell them there IS enough for a charge and they go along the prosecutor, then I don't understand the need for a jury!
"While it is an abberation for the grand jury not to side with the prosecutor, there have been recent instances in Louisiana where matters have been presented to a grand jury, and they've either decided not to pursue further action or to come forward with no true bill. In the Merritt Landry case earlier this year, the grand jury went from hearing some of the evidence you'd think would lead to indictment to saying 'we're not going to take any action.' So there is somewhat of a check and balance to the system."
So what are we to understand about the decision not to bring any charges in Ferguson? "McCullough could have gone forward and charged Darren Wilson without using a grand jury at all. Whether he used the grand jury to be transparent, as he professed, or whether it was to help him use the grand jury as buffer for whatever action they may take, it's hard to actually know where the truth lies. But he chose to skip his entire discretionary process and use the grand jury to decide whether to come forward with a charge or not."
"What happened in Ferguson is an abberation on multiple levels... you have the district attorney giving the jurors, over four months, almost 70 witnesses, hours of testimony and reports, a considerable number of documents. The norm is to provide the jurors with a couple of hours or at most a couple of days of summary testimony by a law enforcement officer, and then they decide if there is probable cause or enough evidence to charge. Here, they acted almost as a trial jury rather than a grand jury."
Click the link below to listen to the whole interview, it's fascinating stuff.
I never did want to learn about politics. This job forced me to. If you run a “think tank” you learn that people really like to think about politics. I find this “poly-tics” a strange thing. Poly means multiple and tics mean blood suckers, but voters seem not to notice or care. They just love to debate a subject that needs no debate. No part of the debate will ever change their dogma. No part of the debate will ever prove them wrong.
But here are some of the things I think I’ve learned. Notice I say “I think,” because in a think tank you never know…you are constantly looking for truth to overturn your theory. If you’re not, you’re not really thinking. You’re just reciting what you think you already know.
1. Whatever you want proved I can find the expert to do just that. If it’s political, I simply call think tanks. Think tanks are all conservative or liberal. For those that call themselves “non-partisan” either a conservative or liberal will tell you they’re lying. If it’s the economy, I can get you the liberal economist who will tell you Obama is doing just fine. If you want “Obama the devil,” I’ll get you a conservative economist. Who knew “the numbers guys” were more swayed by dogma than numbers!
2. We all say we are really, really, angry at those darn politicians, especially those in Washington. But then we always vote for those we supposedly hate, over and over and over again. The same goes for attacks ads that we hate and then believe, if it’s our belief being read back to us.
3. We’re told gridlock is bad and nothing can or will get done. But, put me in front of any politician right now and I guarantee they will rattle off a list a mile long what they’ve accomplished. But oftentimes that list is followed by a caveat that sounds like this, “if the Democrats/Republicans/Obama hadn’t stopped me.”
4. I can even get you historians who say our founding fathers pre-programmed gridlock into the Constitution (especially James Madison), because it’s a good thing! I can even find you experts who proclaim all this political sound and fury signifies nothing, because it’s always been this way throughout history.
5. So this is my think tank education, so far. Independents, go ahead and vote. We should vote. Men and women died to give us that opportunity. But, don’t lean too much on a belief that you’re making much of a difference. Democrats and Republicans will worship at the altar of dogma regardless of whether truth be found. We are assured this is the best system in the world. Even though (to me) that seems like having the least cancer in the cancer ward, but I must say it is still a reliable way of being told we’re not going to change the process.
So what to do? Let’s leave the fear and loathing to the media. Let’s leave the “I’m right” and “you’re wrong” to the liberals and conservatives, and let’s find a way to laugh. Life is short and “politics” won’t affect much as long as they keep doing nothing. Let’s learn from Twain and Carlin.
Mark Twain: “In politics people’s beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand, and without examination, from authorities who have not themselves examined the questions at issue but have taken them at second-hand from other non-examiners, who opinions about them were not worth a penny.”
George Carlin: “This country was founded by a group of slave owners who wanted to be free! So they killed a lot of white folks in order to continue owning the black folks, so they could wipe out the red folks, in order to move west and take land from brown folks, which eventually gave us the wealth and technology to kill yellow folks. Which means the motto of our country should be…“You give us a color and we’ll wipe it out.”
But a word of caution for Mark and George followers: when humor does not join a herd, the “dogma people” can get very angry. This, so far, I have learned from thinking.
Former basketball great Charles Barkley says brainwashed members of the black community are holding the black community back. Because to be accepted you gotta go to jail, you gotta be the right color black and you can’t speak too intelligently.
It all started with a report that some of the Seattle Seahawks rank-and-file players think that their QB Russell Wilson isn't black enough - it is an issue that has extended into African-American society in general, though it has gotten better recently.
Some Seahawk players fought back, saying that the report was false, and Wilson himself said he had no idea what that would even mean, that he's just a well-educated and well-spoken man and that has nothing to do with how black he is.
Barkley went on WIPE Radio in Philadelphia and said "When you're black, you have to deal with so much crap from other black people... young black kids that do well in school, the loser kids tell them, 'oh you're acting white, you speak intelligently, youre talking white.' It's a dirty dark secret in the black community, one of the reasons we're never going to be successful as a whole... because of other black people."
You can listen to Barkley's full comments here:
I've always been reluctant to do shows that polarize people on a racial basis but I think this one affects everybody.
I asked Captain Black aka Nadra Enzi to come on and help me understand this - he's an anti-crime activist and a frequent guest on the show.
"Let's be honest. Black people have been defined by everybody else but themselves for so long that now we are seeing a legitimate argument between the kind of culture that produces a Dr King or a Malcolm X and the kind of culture that produces people like we see on WorldStarHipHop or end up on the 6 o clock news."
"At the end of the day, its our children, its our neighborhoods, its our very quality of life that's being obliterated. And not by the tea party, not by the GOP, but by a subculture in our own ranks and I don't think it's out of bounds to talk about it. The lives we save by having that conversation may be our own!"
We took calls from folks all over the city who had their own opinions about it and I think it was a fruitful discussion. Click the link below to listen to the whole episode.
Do you welcome or worry about technology that can control our brains and bodies? It sounds strange but people are being turned into partial cyborgs for really good reasons like health issues, missing limbs, corrective vision and more.
Scientists are now implanting technology in our bodies and brain. It comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes... some folks now have electronic limbs, others brain chips that reduce paralysis. Is this the future? And how far can we let technology go when it comes to body and brain control?
As I always do when I have these kinds of questions, I invited an expert into the Think Tank to explain in layman's terms just what the possibilites and pitfalls of augmenting our bodies with computers are.
Dave Snyder is a contributing editor of The Futurist magazine and a self-described "evangelist for the future." He knows a lot about the things coming down to us. So what's his take on these new developments? Is it hocus pocus or is it a building movement?
"It's an absolute building movement, it's where the technology is taking us! The next three or four or five years, all this medical tech will be so miniaturized, you won't even be able to recognize people who are wearing it. Just yesterday, two Polish scientists accounced that a man who had his spinal cord severed in an accident was able to walk. That's never been done before but they have achieved this just yesterday. There is a very solid wave over the next five to ten years of innovations like this all over."
But then this morning I see that US stock futures are up above 16,000 and that we are now supposed to shrug off Wall Street worries. Confused? Me too, so I asked Dr. Rajesh Narayan, an international banking expert and Cameron Professor of Finance at LSU to come in to the Think Tank and help clear some of this up.
"The world is not going to end tomorrow, but I think we are in a holding pattern and these are the symptoms of coming out of that pattern. You're seeing high levels of volatility and what the media often refers to are these tantrums in the stock market or bond market, reactions to what the Fed says about it's monetary policies. The markets are desparate for signs of growth and they're finding that difficult to come by."
The American economy is doing better than most, so why is our federal reserve concerned about problems in Europe?
"Not much is happening by way of growth in Europe. There's political change in France and Italy. Germany is on the verge of a recession. Spain has unemployment rates in the double digits. These big economies in Europe are not showing the signs of growth we'd like to see five or six years after the crisis, and that depresses global demand considerably."
Dr. Narayan helped me conclude that things are probably going to be okay. Click the link below to listen to our full conversation:
Are fears about the Ebola virus becoming a worldwide pandemic warranted or not?
After today's news that Thomas Duncan, the first patient to be diagnosed with Ebola in the US died in the Dallas hospital where he was being kept, do you trust that our healthcare system can prevent it from spreading across America?
From the beginning of the Ebola outbreak we were told not to worry about it here in America. Our healthcare infrastructure would stop any spread of the virus. Now headlines warn --stop Ebola before it turns in a Pandemic (as in a disease that spreads all over the world)! This leads to the old question: who do you trust?
A Spanish nurse who treated two missionaries with the disease has now come down with Ebola too - and authorities in Europe want to make sure her dog doesn't have it!
I've tried to avoid talking about Ebola on "The Think Tank" so far because it seemed to me like maybe it was too much hype - but now I gotta wonder. To better understand it, I invted Dr. Scott Gottleib from the American Enterprise Institute and Dr. Fred Lopez from the LSU Health Sciences Center to come on and explain it to me. Even with these experts telling me what they know, I'm still a little confused.
Take a listen to our conversation by clicking the link below: