Monday, April 30, 2012

The Daily Solution

It's easy to complain. It's easy to find fault.  It's easy to get mired down in the problems of the world, our country, and our state.

Starting today, my readers will enjoy at least one "Daily Solution" from my blog. 

I'd like to begin with one of the most effective solutions I've discovered in the last 40 years:  The Four Agreements.  This is a book by Don Miguel Ruiz.

The Four Agreements are:
1. Be Impeccable with your Word: Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using your words to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your Word in the direction of truth and love.

2. Don’t Take Anything Personally
Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.

3. Don’t Make Assumptions
Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

4. Always Do Your Best
Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.

The Four Agreements are posted on my front door, my mirror, my son's mirror, and my husband's computer.  They were posted in my car, but my son wrecked my car on my birthday last year.  I didn't take it personally.

Incorporate The Four Agreements into your life, and you'll be part of The Solution.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Schools for the Corporate Era

Gov. Bobby Jindal (Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster)

Gov. Jindal has reshaped Louisiana's public education system based on ALEC's blueprints

Gov. Bobby Jindal has remade the Louisiana public schools system with impressive speed over the past legislative session. Last week, he signed into law a suite of landmark reform bills that will likely change the direction of public education in Louisiana forever. But not all change is good, and critics say both Jindal’s agenda and the strategy to move it come right from the playbook of conservative advocacy group ALEC, in an effort to revive Jindal’s national political profile.

Louisiana is now home to the nation’s most expansive school voucher program. Charter school authorization powers have been broadened. And teacher tenure policies have been radically transformed. Louisiana already had something of a reputation as a radical-reform state, thanks to the post-Katrina educational climate in New Orleans. But not all change is good, and education advocates have deep concerns about the efficacy of Jindal’s overhaul, and the interests that have pushed it.

“With these laws Gov. Bobby Jindal has sold our kids out for his political aspirations,” said Karran Royal Harper, a Louisiana parent activist and education advocate.

The bills all sprinted through the state legislature. Committee hearings were conducted at a breakneck speed, Democratic lawmakers complained, and members were asked to vote on amendments they didn’t actually understand. When the House took up a bill changing teacher-tenure rules, it ran the session past midnight, refusing to break until they called for a vote.

“There’s just so much more here than what our group can handle,” said Minh Nguyen, executive director of the Vietnamese American Young Leaders Association of New Orleans, a community advocacy group. “We don’t even have the capacity to handle all the bills that are being proposed right now and it’s been really challenging to us.”

ALEC’s 2010 “Report Card on American Education” (PDF) suggested that lawmakers overwhelm their opposition in exactly this manner. “Do not simply just introduce one reform in the legislature—build a consensus for reform and introduce a lot,” the report authors told ALEC members.

“Across the country for the past two decades, education reform efforts have popped up in legislatures at different times in different places,” the report authors wrote. “As a result, teachers’ unions have been playing something akin to ‘whack-a- mole’—you know the game—striking down as many education reform efforts as possible. Many times, the unions successfully ‘whack’ the ‘mole,’ i.e., the reform legislation. Sometimes, however, they miss. If all the moles pop up at once, there is no way the person with the mallet can get them all. Introduce comprehensive reform packages.”

One new law Jindal moved in this fashion will make Louisiana among the most aggressive states in the nation for pushing charter schools and publicly funded vouchers for private institutions. It also includes a “parent trigger” provision, where parents whose children are enrolled in a failing school can hand the school over to Louisiana’s Recovery School District if a majority choose to do so.

However, the key provision expands New Orleans’ current pilot voucher program so that now, students from high-poverty families enrolled in schools that have been rated a C, D or F by the state may move to a private school at the state’s expense.

More than half of Louisiana’s student population, or around 385,000 students, are expected to qualify for the voucher program, according to Tulane University’s Cowen Institute. Only 4,000 vouchers will be available in the first year, experts estimate, but the law makes Louisiana’s program the most expansive in the nation.

Jindal’s set of reforms hews closely to the model reform legislation set out by ALEC, which advocates for the privatization of traditionally public services, like health care, prisons and education. ALEC and Jindal’s school agenda is driven by a conservative ideology that believes private markets can help introduce efficiency and healthy competition into public institutions. As ALEC’s education report card in 2010 laid out, “Families need a market for K-12 schools. The market mechanism rewards success, and either improves or eliminates failure.”

ALEC and Jindal have kept close ties for some time now, education watchers in the state say.

“This is really ALEC at work. It’s a feather in Gov. Bobby Jindal’s cap—he has spent a lot of time traveling around the country lining up donor money and now he can say Louisiana is one of the few states that has a large choice environment,” said Harper, who pointed out that many of the key committee members who supported the legislation are ALEC members or have received campaign contributions from groups with ties to ALEC. Indeed, at its annual meeting last August, ALEC recognized Jindal with its coveted Thomas Jefferson Freedom Award for “outstanding public service.”

“It was a huge defeat for us,” said Damekia Morgan, the statewide educational policy and campaign director of Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children.

Public “Accountability,” Private Free-for-All

Critics say the rushed process hampered conversation on the bills. The voucher bill in particular is still light on specifics about implementation. The state has yet to create a plan for evaluating the private schools that take public vouchers. Evaluation wasn’t even mentioned until a vague amendment that calls for “an accountability system for participating students at participating schools” to be hammered out by the state board of education by Aug. 1.

The lack of an accountability plan is telling, says Morgan. The standards that are devised don’t need to come again before the public before they are codified. “This is all supposedly about demanding accountability for public schools and here we’re handing off our students to private schools without any checks,” Harper also said.

In addition, the parent trigger provisions are also too vague, education advocates say. In California, the lack of specificity around that state’s parent trigger law led to protracted court battles when a community first made use of the law.

These sorts of bills have an undeniable appeal for parents, especially poor parents of color who’ve been locked out of decision making circles and feel like their concerns have often gone ignored by public school administrators. Yet education advocates say that these bills provide only the veneer of choice for parents, while removing parents’ avenues for demanding accountability via collective action.

The parent trigger portion of the new Louisiana laws, for instance, allows for public schools to be converted only to charter schools. The laws give parents no avenue for re-triggering a failing charter school, of which there are many. And while lawmakers hope that parents feel empowered by school vouchers, their options for where they can place their children will be limited to the private school options on the table.

“Clearly these options are not full choice for parents,” said Andre Perry, associate director of Loyola University’s New Orleans’ Institute for Quality and Equity in Education. Perry said his concern was that these reforms, while bold, don’t get to the heart of how educational inequity is created in the first place. Instead, what lawmakers are voting for, Perry said, “is a belief in a philosophy that’s being applied in the name of choice.”

“It’s a catch-22 for parents,” said Damekia Morgan, the statewide educational policy and campaign director of Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children. “Parents are desperate for change. But as a parent myself, I know that the more money we take away from public education systems to go to private entities, the less control I have over what public education looks like.”

Hijacking Obama’s Agenda

These days, the push to deregulate public education is a popular, bipartisan issue. Many of the states that have passed school reform overhauls in recent years did so to become eligible for the Obama administration’s $4.3 billion competitive grants program Race to the Top.

“Republican governors, shrewdly, jumped all over it and packed on their version of choice,” Perry said. “That’s how you see what we have now, where many different political bedfellows are coming together in a strange way.”

Indeed, Jindal spoke the language of the Obama administration last Wednesday when he touted his reform package as a way to help Louisiana children better compete in the global economy.

“[Louisiana children] are going to be competing with kids not only from Texas, Georgia, and other states, but they’re going to be competing for jobs with kids in China and other countries around the world,” Jindal said. “That is why it is so important we give every child in Louisiana a great education.” It could have been a line out of one of President Obama’s own education speeches.

This is one of the reasons why Perry says the presence of ALEC in the school reform policy arena isn’t reason enough for an outcry. Not only is ALEC not the only conservative group pushing for a free market approach to public education, but “there are pillars of each party that push the agenda.”

“The question is more about: what is so compelling about their arguments that is helping advance their agendas? Again, Jindal has been able to usher this through partly because the traditionally based system has failed in many ways. And that’s just the reality.”

One Borrower's Decision to Stop Student Loan Repayments

"I am aware of the total lack of consumer protection associated with student debt. I knew that if I was unable to make my minimum payments, they would hit me with late fees, penalties, etc. They would harass me. In ruining my credit history, they would make it impossible for me to get access to basic services. Forget about taking out another loan – I’m talking about not being able to rent an apartment. And defaulting would not only mean a ruined credit history, it would mean that my debt would double, triple, quadruple, etc…I would be a slave forever.

But I took a long, hard look at the numbers, and I realized that I am already a slave."

Great article:

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Happy DBE in New Orleans, LA
"I would always rather be happy than dignified." ~Charlotte Bronte

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Call your local State Farm agents. Tell them you want the company to Ditch ALEC!
Take Action

More evidence your activism is working! 
ALEC has announced that it is disbanding its "Public Safety and Elections Task Force," the working group responsible for advancing model legislation like the controversial Voter ID and "Shoot First" gun laws that have proliferated around the country. 

Of course the move is a transparent attempt to stem the hemorrhaging of support ALEC's facing, thanks in large part to our efforts, but it's big symbolic victory and shows we have them on the defensive. 

ALEC's trying to whitewash their role pushing extreme legislation that endangers the safety and lives of Americans -- but we won't let them. 

ALEC now claims they will only focus on legislation that will 'put the economy back to work,' but will they work to undo the immense harm that have already caused? 

And it begs the question of how they will use a so called 'jobs agenda' to justify laws -- which they presumably will still be pushing -- that undermine workers' rights, privatize public education, and make it harder to hold corporations accountable for poisoning our air and water or selling us dangerous and defective products. 

We will continue to work with our friends to shine a light on ALEC's agenda and hold members accountable for supporting that agenda.
In another major victory, Blue Cross Blue Shield became the latest company to pull out of ALEC. We are going to keep up the momentum by turning the focus of our next round of grassroots pressure on State Farm.
Please use the link below to find the State Farm agents near you -- contact one or more of the agents directly and tell them you want the company to stop supporting ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council.
You can use the same call report form you've been using for calls to State Farm and Johnson & Johnson executives to let us know how your calls go.
Hopefully this local, bottom-up grassroots pressure will be what it takes to make State Farm join Blue Cross, McDonald's, Coca Cola, Pepsi, Intuit, Mars and the other companies who have so far said "enough" to ALEC's destructive right-wing agenda.
Thank you for your activism!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

"SuperWoman is the adversary of the Women's Movement." ~Gloria Steinem

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Rep. Alan Seabaugh: Shreveport's ALEC-loving, double-dipping, pro-bulling legislator

Rep. Alan Seabaugh (R-Shreveport)
Source:  Facebook
"If you are an ALEC member, your airfare, hotel, ALEC registration, baggage, travel to/from the airport to the hotel, and airport parking will be reimbursed through an ALEC scholarship up to $1900 per legislator.”

Another paragraph, again in boldface, instructed legislators thusly: “You need to SAVE and SUBMIT copies of all receipts and turn them in to my assistant, Patty Wisner, AFTER the trip.  Reimbursement usually takes 2-3 weeks to process AFTER the trip and AFTER you turn in the reimbursement form and receipts.”

The problem with that is that at least 16 Louisiana legislators filed expense reports with the House and Senate for reimbursement of more than $20,750 in expenses related to their attendance at last August’s annual meeting in New Orleans...according to records provided by the House and Senate."

"Rep. Alan Seabaugh (R-Shreveport)...claimed more than $2,000 in expenses that included a $475 registration fee for the same meeting.

Besides the $475 registration fee, Seabaugh also submitted vouchers for payment of $346 in mileage from Shreveport and $456 in per diem payments—a total of $1,277, leaving almost $800 in unaccounted for expenses, presumably for hotel accommodations at the New Orleans Marriott which were not itemized on his voucher that was stamp-dated Aug. 15, 2011.

(Arizona public sector chairman of ALEC, State Rep. Debbie) Lesko’s email specifically said that members’ registration fees and hotel accommodations would be paid by ALEC. Seabaugh submitted a $100 payment on June 13, 2011 for two years’ membership, according to his campaign finance records."

You voted for cuts to our public education system, but you profit from taxpayer dollars for your special-interest PAC trips?

Another smooth move, Mr. Seabaugh.

Read entire article here.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Shale Shocked: ‘Remarkable Increase’ In U.S. Earthquakes ‘Almost Certainly Manmade,’ USGS Scientists Report

This situation is totally out of hand all over the US...has been for years. Watch "Gasland."

Why do you think Louisiana has "Cancer Alley?" It's because we've allowed the oil & gas companies to rape us for decades. Now they're doing it to the whole country.

Companies like Chesapeake Energy come into a small town, pay the landowners a couple thousand dollars, donate to a few charities, then proceed to frack the hell out of our pristine forests.

Our state government LOVES them (and their campaign contributions) - while our well-intentioned citizens keep raising more & more money for St. Jude's.

So far this year, our Governor & state legislature have privatized Medicaid & public education - funded by public tax dollars. Gov. Bobby Jindal forfeited a federal grant to bring internet access to our rural citizens, thereby keeping them from learning about what's really going on with the oil/gas industry. Keeping the citizens stupid, desperately sick, & working for minimum wage is our state's best policy for attracting more oil & gas $$ to our state.

Conditions in Louisiana are indicative of the future of this country if we continue our dependence on oil & gas. Mark my words.  ~DBE
Shale Shocked: ‘Remarkable Increase’ In U.S. Earthquakes ‘Almost Certainly Manmade,’ USGS Scientists Report: pA U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) team has found that a sharp jump in earthquakes in America’s heartland appears to be linked to oil and natural gas drilling operations. As hydraulic fracturing has exploded onto the scene, it has increasingly been connected to earthquakes....

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Original DBE photography at Marilynn's Place, Shreveport, LA

Photo:  DBE
My latest photography show is installed at Marilynn's Place.

Prints are selling fast!

New images will be installed throughout the duration of the show.

Go see it - and ENJOY!!

Don't Just Pressure ALEC's Corporate Sponsors - Name and Shame ALEC Legislators

What's happening with ALEC is good. But not good enough.

Pressured by a coalition of civil rights, clean government and religious groups to quit their memberships in the American Legislative Exchange Council, multinational corporations are indeed exiting ALEC. Now, it's time to demand that the 2,000 legislators who have joined ALEC do the same.

Coca-Cola quit ALEC Wednesday. PepsiCo revealed the same day that it had quietly decided to let its membership lapse. Intuit Inc. confirmed that it is exiting ALEC. And Kraft Foods has announced that: “Our membership in ALEC expires this spring and for a number of reasons, including limited resources, we have made the decision not to renew.”

Translation: Kraft -- like other corporations that produce consumer products and, thus, must appeal to the great mass of Americans -- no longer wants to be associated with a shadowy group that links corporations and legislators in order to advance extreme (and extremely unpopular) agendas.

Since the Center for Media and Democracy's "ALEC Exposed" project was developed last summer in cooperation with The Nation, millions of Americans have become aware that ALEC uses corporate money to craft one-size-fits-all "model legislation" that its member legislators then propose and pass in the states.

The "ALEC Exposed" project revealed the backstory of how this 40-year-old group uses an elaborate system of corporate-guided "task forces" to promote:

* Restrictive Voter ID laws and array of related initiatives that threaten to suppress voting by residents of rural regions, students, senior citizens and people of color.

* Anti-labor laws designed to limit the ability of Americans to organize and have a voice in their workplaces and the public life of their communities, states and nation.

* Tort "reform," deregulation and corporate tax-slashing schemes that eliminate tools to assure multinational corporations act responsibly and contribute to the communities and states where they operate.

* Money-in-politics initiatives that seek to remove barriers to domination of elections by corporations and billionaire right-wing donors -- such as longtime ALEC supporters Charles and David Koch.

* Privatization schemes that undermine public education and public services, posing particular threats to rural communities and urban neighborhoods that rely on strong public institutions.

* Kill-at-Will laws that prevent police and prosecutors from effectively investigating shootings such as that of Trayvon Martin in Florida, Bo Morrison in Wisconsin and others who have been killed since states began to enact so-called "Castle Doctrine" and "Stand Your Ground" laws.

The response to revelations regarding the role ALEC has played in warping the legislative processes of the states has been remarkable.

Civil rights groups such as the NAACP and the Urban League have focused on concerns about the damage done voting rights issues, unions have focused on concerns about attacks on labor rights and threats to economic fairness, immigrant rights groups have raised issues. And, following the Trayvon Martin shooting, ColorofChange began to challenge corporations to reconsider their association with ALEC.

Responsible corporations -- or, at the very least, corporations that do not want to lose market share in the face of consumer boycotts -- are exiting ALEC.

But the group's most extreme backers are doubling down. A representative of the Koch Companies announced that, "Yes, we plan to continue our membership in and support of ALEC." That decision, along with indications from tobacco and drug companies that they will stick with ALEC for now, have the potential to keep the group going.

But ALEC will loose a good deal of infuence if major companies continue to respond to the call from groups such as ColorofChange to "stop supporting the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization which has worked to disenfranchise African Americans, Latinos, students, the elderly, the disabled, and the poor."

That's vital to challenging the one-size-fits-all assault on lawmaking in the states. But just as the challenges to the corporate sponsors of ALEC are essential, so too are challenges to the legislators who maintain membership in the groups.

These legislators are not thinking for themselves. They are taking their cues from an inside-the-beltway, corporate-sponsored group that effectively demands that they dismiss the will of their constituents in favor of the demands of those corporations. It's a dangerous calculus for democracy. And it is time to start asking legislators why they are answering to multinational corporations rather than hometown voters.

The Maine's Majority movement
has asked legislators in that state to give up their American Legislative Exchange Council memberships, "Given what we now know about ALEC and its detrimental effect on Maine's public policy, there's no excuse for Maine legislators to continue their involvement in the organization," says Maine's Majority executive director Chris Korzen. "The fact that Coke, Pepsi and Kraft have left ALEC speaks volumes to how toxic the group has become. It's time for Maine's ALEC members to follow suit."

Maine Majority is naming and shaming Maine legislators who are allied with ALEC -- identifying "known ALEC members" and urging them to "terminate their ALEC memberships."

Activists in other states can be just as bold.

The ALEC Exposed project maintains a list of legislators who are allied with ALEC. Here's the link:

Now that multinational corporations have begun to bow to grassroots pressure and agreed to end their affiliations with the American Legislative Exchange Council, it's time to demand that elected legislators Exit ALEC.

(Source:   The Nation)

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Good Life

Photo: DBE
We don't know how much the average citizen would be willing to risk for the survival of the poor majorities. But by all indications, they are afraid of losing the good life.

"What's wrong with wanting a good life?" people may ask, taking it for granted as their manifest destiny. We have already hinted at the answer: the precipice of dehumanization. In our world, structurally speaking, "the good life" is only possible at the cost of a "bad life" and death for the poor.

No matter how we sugarcoat the language and the concept; no matter how necessary it is to support a culture of peace, dialogue and cooperation; no matter how we celebrate the rhetoric of solidarity among all peoples in world cultural objective reality the world is fundamentally antagonistic. Humanity truly is divided between oppressors and oppressed. And it will go on being that way as long as the good life of the affluent countries remains untouchable.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Forget the Money, Follow the Sacredness (How People Become Sheeple)

March 17, 2012, 6:15 pm

"Despite what you might have learned in Economics 101, people aren’t always selfish. In politics, they’re more often groupish.

When people feel that a group they value — be it racial, religious, regional or ideological — is under attack, they rally to its defense, even at some cost to themselves. We evolved to be tribal, and politics is a competition among coalitions of tribes.

The key to understanding tribal behavior is not money, it’s sacredness.

The great trick that humans developed at some point in the last few hundred thousand years is the ability to circle around a tree, rock, ancestor, flag, book or god, and then treat that thing as sacred.

People who worship the same idol can trust one another, work as a team and prevail over less cohesive groups. So if you want to understand politics, and especially our divisive culture wars, you must follow the sacredness."

Read the entire op-ed here.