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Posts from the ‘Social Activism’ Category

THE SORDID END OF JOE AGUILLARD

Originally posted on The Party of Louisiana:

Louisiana College President Joe Aguillard Paid Former Assistant Joseph Cole Approximately $70,000 In “BIackmail” Money To Conceal Scandalous and Potentially Illegal Activities Amidst Rumors of Drug Use, Pornography, and Allegedly Improper Sexual Relationships Between President Agullard’s Special Assistant and Two Teenage Boys at a Local Hotel Room.

ALEXANDRIA, LOUISIANA, February 26, 2014: This morning, the website Faith on View published a blockbuster report revealing the Board Minutes of a meeting that occurred on November 15, 2011. According to the documents, President Aguillard is accused of fabricating accreditation documents for the Southern Association of Colleges System. As best as can be surmised, it appears that these documents may have been improperly altered and forged. Rather than subject himself to the whistleblower protections, Mr. Cole attempted to engage directly with college leadership in order to structure a fair and equitable severance agreement.

According to the minutes, President Joe Aguillard, his attorneys, and the majority of the Louisiana…

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Sen. Karen Carter-Peterson Files Bill To Repeal The Louisiana Science Education Act

For the fourth consecutive year, Louisiana State Senator Karen Carter-Peterson filed a bill to repeal the unconstitutional, misguided, and misnamed Louisiana Science Education Act (the LSEA), a law that allows public school science teachers the ability to introduce New Earth Creationism and “Intelligent Design” Creationism as valid alternatives to the fact and the scientific theory of evolution. The repeal effort, which has been spearheaded by science education advocate Zack Kopplin, is endorsed by 78 Nobel laureates, nearly 100,000 petition signatories, and the world’s leading scientific organizations, including “the American Institute of Biological Sciences, the American Ornithologists Union, the American Society of Mammalogists, the Botanical Society of America, the Natural Science Collections Alliance, the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology, the Society of Systematic Biologists, and the Society for the Study of Evolution.” Collectively, these organizations represent more than 10 million members.

Since its passage and enactment in 2008, the LSEA has been the subject of international attention, controversy, and ridicule. As a direct result of the LSEA, the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology canceled a planned international conference in New Orleans in 2011, resulting in more than $2 million in lost revenue. More recently, the law has provided cover for teachers in Sabine and Caddo Parishes who bully and belittle students for not believing in New Earth Creationism.

When Senator Carter-Peterson first introduced a repeal bill four years ago, now former State Senator Julie Quinn ridiculed Nobel laureates as people with “little letters behind their names.” The next year, State Senator Mike Walsworth, who also supports the law, demonstrated his scientific ignorance by butchering his pronunciation of the word “molecular” and then suggesting, absurdly, that supporters of evolution believed that E. Coli could “evolve into humans.” Last year, State Senator Elbert Guillory defended the law based on his experience with a witch doctor in rural Africa.

There is no rational justification for a law that allows public school science teachers to tell students that the universe is only 6,000 years old; New Earth Creationism and Intelligent Design are narrowly-held religious beliefs, not scientific fact. Indeed, this issue was already settled nearly thirty years ago by the United States Supreme Court in Edwards v. Aguillard, a case that, ironically enough, involved a similar Louisiana statute titled “The Balanced Treatment Act.”

This year, Zack Kopplin is quick and to the point. “I have a question for Louisiana’s legislators,” he says. “Will you be on the right side of history? If you vote against the repeal of the Louisiana Science Education Act, you are hurting our students.”

Why I Will Vote For Representative John Bel Edwards (After He Clarified His Position On The War On Drugs)

Yesterday, I published an essay titled, “Why I Can’t Vote For John Bel Edwards (Unless He Changes His Position On The War On Drugs).” Representative Edwards, for those of you who may not know, is a two-term Democratic member of the Louisiana House of Representatives and, thus far, the only Democratic candidate in next year’s gubernatorial elections.

As I mentioned yesterday, I was troubled by a pre-filed piece of legislation that was co-authored by Representative Edwards, House Bill 103 (or HB 103). HB 103, which is also co-authored by Republican Representative Franklin Foil, as I explained in my previous post, purports to dramatically increase the mandatory minimum sentences in cases involving intent to distribute Schedule One opiates, particularly heroin, and opium derivatives, quadrupling the current minimums and mandating, instead, 20 year sentences, though it seems to reserve a probationary status after five years.

I want to make this abundantly clear: I am vehemently opposed to the continuation of one of the most expensive and most destructive wars in American history, the War on Drugs. Our laws are antiquated and broken, and because of our zeal in “fighting” this war- a war that targets, almost entirely, American citizens engaging in “consensual crimes,” we continue to exacerbate and perpetuate enforcement against primarily poor, minority Americans who simply do not have the prerequisite financial resources, the support network, or the education to seek specialized treatment. Instead, in our new age of privatized prisons, inmates are economic commodities: the more, the merrier.

Heroin is a particularly insidious and dangerous drug, and perhaps ironically, its danger is often a result of a complete lack of oversight, controls, and regulations. In other words, its illegality makes it exponentially more dangerous.

Opium, it’s worth noting, was the first drug to be banned as “illegal” in the United States, more than a century ago, primarily as a reaction against Chinese immigrants and their opium dens in California. And here we are, a century later, still attempting to eliminate a drug that will not relent. Something is not working.

Since the late 1970s and beginning, in full, during the 1980s, legislatures throughout the country began passing mandatory minimum sentencing laws for drug offenders. The worry, as I appreciate it, was the discretionary sentencing by judges didn’t send a strong enough message. Reformers wanted coherence and simplicity.

As we have learned during the last thirty plus years, these mandatory minimum sentences have done almost nothing to curb or prevent drug use or drug dealing. To be sure, however, there is data suggesting that draconian laws against one particular type of drug only resort in wide-scale substitution. When, in the early 1990s, we focused on prosecuting crack cocaine, the price of crack increased and the price of heroin dropped. Suddenly, heroin was, again, the drug du jour. Recently, as the price and penalties of marijuana have increased, many users began smoking chemical combinations, like K2, and even bath salts, over-the-counter mixtures that were far more harmful and entirely more deadly (no one has ever overdosed from marijuana).

I think it is critical that we finally begin to re-examine our pedagogical and ontological understanding of drug use, drug possession, and drug distribution: How do we educate society on the phenomena of drug dependency? What really motivates this almost basic and almost universal proclivity that we share toward addiction? How can we best address the spectrum of addiction, everything from coffee and cigarettes to alcohol and cocaine and heroin? What role does access to health care play in this discussion? Are people without health care more likely to become addicted to illegal, dangerous drugs? Are people with health care more likely to become dependent on dangerous pharmaceuticals? Qualitatively, what is the difference, if any, between a poor person on speed and a wealthier person on Adderral? Or a poor person on heroin and a wealthier person on valium or Oxycontin?

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Yesterday, I spoke with Representative Edwards, and though we disagree with one another on the merits of his proposed legislation, I found him to be a profoundly genuine and earnestly receptive guy, a rarity in politics. He explained to me his concerns: Recently, the local Louisiana media has focused on a rash of heroin overdoses in Louisiana. (No, this has nothing to do with the death of actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman; they pre-dated his high-profile death by months). The stories are both heartbreaking and eye-opening.

I cannot fault Representative Edwards for seeing this problem and feeling compelled to address it. As he pointed out to me, the vast and overwhelming majority of heroin dealers are not actually heroin addicts; for them, this is a business. And they are peddling toxic, highly-addictive illegal drugs and selling them indiscriminately.

I think we should fundamentally rethink the regime we have established with regard to illegal drugs and that there is a simple and obvious way to neuter these drug dealers without needing to pass ever-increasing Draconian laws about sentencing, laws that seem to only benefit the balance sheets of private prisons. I also expressed to Representative Edwards my concerns about the statutory construction of the term “possession with intent to distribute,” because I believe that it has less to do with “intent,” as we generally understand the word, and more to do with quantity. Because of this, we regularly charge and sentence people who struggle with drug addiction as if they are drug dealers, which seems antithetical to the widely-held belief that prison for addicts should be focused on rehabilitation, while prison for dealers should perhaps be more concerned with retributive justice. Representative Edwards assured me he would look into the possibility of strengthening the statutory definition of “possession with the intent to distribute,” and I appreciated his candor and his consideration; this would be huge. If a conviction on “intent to distribute” requires more than a measurement of quantity and also requires a showing of actual “intent” or mens rea, it would go a long way in ensuring that our laws are more fairly and equally applied.

Finally, I think it’s worth noting, to his credit, that Representative Edwards supports changing existing law in order to ensure that second and third offense possession of marijuana are treated as misdemeanors, not as felonies. This actually makes him one of the most progressive elected officials on this issue in the entire State, and it’s not a minor issue.

Again, we may disagree on the efficacy of mandatory minimums for heroin dealers; I still would prefer a different schematic. But I don’t fault his ultimate intention and his commitment, as expressed to me, to ensure that any law like this would target opportunistic black-market drug dealers who earn their living selling deadly drugs that, for the most part, are grown and sold in Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan (Representative Edwards didn’t add that last detail; I did. But it’s true. 80% of heroin comes from Afghanistan).

I spoke too soon about Representative Edwards. He is a politician who listens, who engages, and who truly seems to appreciate a robust conversation on policy, without any sense of pretension or arrogance. That’s a breath of fresh air.

He earned back my vote through the sheer force of his decency and respect.

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