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The Hayride’s Absurd Attack Against The Louisiana Budget Project

Yesterday, on the website The Hayride, Tom Bonnette, the former Town Talk reporter, posted a hit piece against the Louisiana Budget Project and its founder Melissa Flournoy.

I know Mr. Bonnette, and I know Ms. Flournoy. Mr. Bonnette is plain wrong. His post attacking the Louisiana Budget Project was, in my opinion, irresponsible, unprofessional, and sloppy reporting; it was reckless, bordering on the unethical. Instead of accomplishing what he apparently set out to do– “exposing” the Louisiana Budget Project as a nefarious and egregiously partisan organization (which it most certainly is not), Mr. Bonnette unwittingly exposes his own extremism and biases. With his references to conspiracies like the “new world order” and hackneyed, stupid tropes about the machinations of George Soros, Mr. Bonnette abandons any attempt to frame an objective, truth-seeking narrative and devolves into an almost paranoiac rant. And it’s a shame.

From its inception, the Louisiana Budget Project has been upfront and transparent about its mission, its policy agenda, and its funders. There’s no great mystery here. Anyone with an Internet connection can find this out within ten seconds. No one is attempting to hide anything.

Again, I know many of the folks behind the Louisiana Budget Project and Louisiana Progress, including Ms. Flournoy. Indeed, I actually contributed to The Louisiana Progress Journal. And the plain and simple truth is this: Mr. Bonnette misreported the story. This isn’t a “sham” organization that takes its orders from a boogeyman billionaire intent on ushering in “a new world order;” that is laughable, ridiculous, over-the-top. This is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing Louisiana-centric scholarship on Louisiana issues that uniquely affect working class families. Mr. Bonnette and the folks at The Hayride may not agree with them on substantive policy, and that is absolutely their right. But suggesting that they and dozens of other outstanding organizations all over the country are shams– without conducting an ounce of real research and relying entirely on the fact that a George Soros-backed non-profit organization gave them some funding (which has always been well-known to anyone paying attention)– is shoddy work, and with respect to Mr. Bonnette, it deserves to be called out.

It’s also ironic: If conservatives want to lecture progressives on billionaires giving money to influence politics and policy, then they need to begin by taking a good, hard look in the mirror. The Koch brothers have used their wealth to fund political campaigns that advance economic policies which would make them even wealthier. Soros, on the other hand, has given away billions, all over the world, to help the less fortunate and to expose political and media hypocrisy. Mr. Bonnette mentions Media Matters as an example of Soros’s destructive influence; I think Media Matters is an incredibly valuable resource.

In the past, I’ve called out and criticized two conservative organizations in Louisiana: The Pelican Institute for Public Policy and the Louisiana Family Forum. I criticized the Pelican Institute for holding itself up as Louisiana’s “first think tank,” when, in actuality, it was founded by a New Yorker, created- almost entirely- by out-of-state interests, and built on borrowed scholarship from national conservative think tanks. The Louisiana Budget Project and Louisiana Progress are none of those. And with respect to the Louisiana Family Forum, my criticism was not focused on their sources of funding (with the exception of a nationally-recognized hate group) but on the ways in which they transferred tax-deductible donations from their 501c3 to their political advocacy arm, a 501c4, allowing them to establish a campaign apparatus with tax-deductible money (I don’t know if this is illegal, but it most certainly seems unethical, considering that donations to their 501c4 would otherwise not be tax-deductible). I don’t have the proof, the hubris, or the belief that these conservative non-profits are engaging in some sort of new world order conspiracy; I think they’re guilty of misleading Louisiana. And again, that has never been the case with the Louisiana Budget Project or Louisiana Progress. You can disagree with their policy positions, but as non-profits, they’ve always been on the up-and-up, which shouldn’t be surprising when you consider that both were created by the founder and former President of the Louisiana Association of Non-Profit Organizations (LANO).

I assume that Mr. Bonnette is transitioning from being a journalist into being a partisan blogger, because, without a doubt, his post would never pass muster with his former editors at The Town Talk. It does, however, pass the scrutiny of the editor of The Hayride, Scott McKaywho posted this today on Facebook:

Yeah. Ha. Ha. Ha. Nuclear weapon. Millions of innocent people dead. Parking lot for China. Americans burn the Koran, and we apologize! That’s the last straw! Sand turns into glass (Someone needs to tell David O’Connor that Afghanistan is not a desert). Seriously, this is disgusting, rancid, jingoistic bile, and Scott McKay hopes to capitalize off of his opinions on his website through people like Lt. Governor Jay Dardenne, whose campaign took out $900 in ads on The Hayride.

Thankfully, Louisiana is fortunate to have some intelligent, compassionate, and ethical people who think deeply about policy, people like those involved in the Louisiana Budget Project and Louisiana Progress.

One more thing from Scott McKay’s Facebook, which puts this all into context:

Mr. Bonnette thinks he’s exposed “evil.” He thinks that George Soros, a Hungarian Jew, sent “fellow Jews to slaughter” when he was a child. And why? Because, as a kid, in order to survive, Soros told the Nazis he was a Christian. Mr. Bonnette’s comments, which mimic comments made by people like Ann Coulter and Glenn Beck, are nothing more than hate-mongering hyperbole. It turns my stomach: Blaming a Jewish child for sending “fellow Jews to slaughter” is an almost unfathomably loathsome remark, no matter how you land on the political spectrum. And attempting to connect this stupid conspiracy theory to the Louisiana Budget Project– to pat yourself on the back for “exposing evil”– borders on delusional narcissism.

Councilman Jerry Jones’s Epic Takedown: “This Is Not The 1960s”

Without a doubt, Greg Aymond and Von Jennings didn’t see this coming.

(Scroll to the 29 minute mark)

Alexandria City Councilman Jerry Jones has only been in office for two months, and already, he is the target of an absurd and scurrilous ethics complaint, a complaint that bears the imprimatur of local attorney and blogger, Greg Aymond.

From almost the moment Mr. Jones was sworn in, Mr. Aymond has publicly criticized and ridiculed him, labeling him an “Uncle Tom,” doctoring photographs of him to make it appear as if he is a slave and, bizarrely, a rabbi (this was meant as an insult), and publishing a series of patently untrue and hateful allegations about him.

As we learned recently, Mr. Aymond’s latest tactic against Councilman Jones: Filing an ethics complaint, alleging, among other things, that he had a charge account at Council President Harry Silver’s men’s clothing store and implying that Jones exchanged his vote for Councilman Silver’s Presidency, neither of which is true. At the heart of the complaint is the allegation that Councilman Jones was not an actual Councilman until his paperwork was processed by the Louisiana Secretary of State, an allegation that is laughable on its face. Jerry Jones, like every other elected or appointed public official in Louisiana, became a duly-recognized official the moment he was sworn in by a judge. At that moment, he became invested with the rights, responsibilities, and powers inherent to his office. Greg Aymond’s complaint, which was filed on behalf of perennial Council meeting gadflies Gayle Underwood and Jules Green, is nothing more than a political farce.

It’s relatively easy to connect the dots here. Jerry Jones was appointed over the objections of three Councilpersons, who had supported Von Jennings for the position. Ms. Jennings, who launched a spectacularly unsuccessful campaign for Alexandria Mayor in 2010 and who, before that, was fired from the City Administration, immediately made clear her intention to challenge Mr. Jones in the November elections. As I can personally attest, Ms. Jennings, as a candidate for Mayor, deployed an almost comically divisive and hate-mongering campaign-by-proxy, and it backfired. The Town Talk fills in the rest of the blanks (bold mine):

Jules Green, a District 4 resident, and Gayle Underwood, who lives in District 5, filed the complaint, Jones said. The duo is represented by Alexandria attorney and blogger Greg Aymond, who has been a vocal supporter of Von Jennings, a candidate against Jones in the upcoming District 3 election.

Aymond has referred to Jones as an “Uncle Tom” on his blog.

….

Jones was appointed that day to replace Jonathan Goins, who resigned on Dec. 2. Mayor Jacques Roy cast the deciding vote after the council was split with three votes in favor of Jones and three votes supporting Jennings, who had the endorsement of many members of the district’s three neighborhood groups.

I take exception with only one thing, the use of the word “endorsement.” Ms. Jennings claimed that she had the “endorsement” of “members” of “neighborhood groups,” but without question, the same could be said about Mr. Jones, who had just as many people speak in favor of his candidacy and just as many votes as Ms. Jennings had. But setting that aside, it should be abundantly clear what is going on. Mr. Jones did not do anything illegal, unethical, or improper, but no doubt, that is not the point; this is about Mr. Jones’s political opponents attempting to foster the implication of impropriety, the hushed rumors of him being “accused” of ethics violations.

But there’s only one problem with this strategy: These people do not know Jerry Jones.

As he forcefully demonstrated today, Councilman Jones may be new to the City Council, but he fully appreciates the ways in which a small group of people have, over the years, colluded with one another in an attempt to consolidate power and personally destroy anyone who poses a threat. And although he may be young and still catching his bearings, Councilman Jones did something today that was bold and refreshing: He exposed the collusion between Greg Aymond– the former member of the Ku Klux Klan and racial provocateur, the man who referred to him as an “Uncle Tom,” the man who considers the noose as a symbol of the “freedom of expression” and, for a long while, brandished it on his website, the man who published a missive about African-American leaders in Alexandria titled “N**** Street Thugs,” the man who said “blacks” are “lacking in ethics”– and a small but vocal group of African-Americans who seek positions of leadership and power.

It’s the nasty underbelly of local politics, an unholy alliance, and as Councilman Jones deftly pointed out, it’s being undertaken by people who will, at one moment, extol the virtues of Martin Luther King, Jr. and denounce the terrible legacy of racism, and yet, at the next moment, seek the service, opinion, and confidence of a man who has spent the last thirty years of his life trafficking in the politics of racial divisiveness. This is not ironic; that is too nice of a word. This is cynical. This is about fueling those flames, re-litigating those battles, re-drawing those lines.

And it won’t work. Jerry Jones represents both the present and the future of Alexandria when he says (bold mine), “There is no big race issue that’s about to happen in the middle of MacArthur Drive with folks attacking each other. This is not the 1960s. This is 2012. We go to school together. This man (Aymond) may have not wanted us to go to school together, but thank God, someone had the sense to let us go to school together.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” Councilman Jones said. And thank God for that.

Louisiana College’s Stunningly Stupid Lawsuit

Yesterday, Louisiana College filed suit against the federal government, seeking to prevent the government from enforcing a policy that mandates insurance companies to provide for birth control and contraception medication.

I don’t want to get into the nitty gritty debate. Suffice it to say, I think the Obama Administration struck a fair compromise on this issue, allowing religious institutions the flexibility to maintain their own autonomy while, at the same time, ensuring that vitally important contraceptive coverage is still guaranteed for those women in need, including the nearly 98% of Catholic women who use or have used birth control.

For Louisiana College, in my opinion, this is nothing more than an attempt to grab at the headlines. And truth be told: I’d be cool with Louisiana College’s lawsuit about this if they weren’t the beneficiary of tens of millions of dollars in public subsidization, mostly tax-free. They are, essentially, suing the federal government for requiring that someone else (their insurance provider) pay for birth control for their female employees, because Joe Aguillard and the Dean of their new law school– whatever his name is– don’t want to pay, even indirectly, for birth control. This has nothing to do with abortion, got that? Nothing.

Two men telling women what they can and cannot do with their own bodies, pathetically acting like their beliefs are being assailed, both full of sound and fury but signifying nothing.

To them, I’d say: I have a religious and moral objection to having my tax dollars subsidize your institution. To them, I’d say: There are much worse things than knowing that your money may possibly help someone get birth control. For example, there could be rumors about people engaging in behavior that contradicts Levitical law. But who knows if this is true, right? It’d simply be dangerous, scandalous, disastrous rumors involving someone’s personal life, and after all, that should be beyond the pale.

Yet if LC has to pay, even indirectly (through a private insurer), for someone’s birth control pills, then the administration wants to know about the personal lives of their employees. Apparently, they’re really worried that their female employees could, secretly, be exploiting their own insurance policies to abort babies. (After all, that’s what birth control coverage is about, right? It means aborting babies, right?).

The simplest explanation is this: Louisiana College wants a headline. We’re going to give it to them. They want to be culture warriors. They want to raise money for their ill-begotten law school. That also may happen. They may raise a few bucks off of this ploy.

I recognize that my contribution is indirect, but nonetheless, it exists. So, until you refuse to accept my money and the public’s money to help keep your institution afloat, you can either feign righteous indignation OR you can begin to actually pay proper taxes, like the rest of us, and contribute to the very system from which you disproportionately benefit.

And to the City of Shreveport, Louisiana, to Mayor Cedric Glover: If you are giving Louisiana College a single penny to help them launch their “law” school, then the people of Shreveport need to know that you’re handing their money to these people– politicized cultural “warriors,” zealots who think their religion somehow makes them above the law– because, somehow, they are more “moral.”

I have an ax to grind, to be sure. My grandfather, a medical doctor who is currently a resident of an assisted living facility in Alexandria, helped to invent the birth control pill, when he was a researcher in Michigan during the 1950s. He didn’t make a dime off of it, and I have nothing to gain either by speaking out. But Joe Aguillard and Louisiana College, they’ve been the beneficiaries of taxpayer money for years and years.

To Mayor Glover: With all due respect, drop the funding. I realize it may be difficult (I doubt Governor Jindal has the courage), but if LC is as earnest and as righteous as it claims to be, it can surely survive without being paid by people who are morally opposed to its mission. At the very least, Mayor Glover, you’d force LC to be consistent. And man, that would be awesome.

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