The origins of the budget shutdown
The New York Times takes a remarkably detailed look at the complex web of well-financed conservative interest groups that are backing the House Republicans in their shutdown of the federal government. Not surprisingly, it turns out the billionaire Koch brothers are behind much of the current mayhem. “A group linked to the Kochs, Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, disbursed more than $200 million last year to nonprofit organizations involved in the fight,” The Times reports. “Included was $5 million to Generation Opportunity, which created a buzz last month with an Internet advertisement showing a menacing Uncle Sam figure popping up between a woman’s legs during a gynecological exam.” The newspaper reports several dozen loose-knit organizations signed a “Blueprint to Defunding Obamacare” and supply House conservatives with everything from talking points to suggested Twitter postings in their effort to deny basic health coverage to millions of low- and moderate-income Americans.
Higher ed: Hundreds of endowed chairs go unfilled
Here’s one more byproduct of Louisiana’s ongoing failure to properly finance its public colleges and universities: Hundreds of endowed chairs and professorships, most of which were created by private donations in an effort to draw top academic talent into Louisiana, are going unfilled. The Shreveport Times reported Sunday that 76 endowed chairs, valued at $1 million each, and 263 professorships are unfilled – a combined $113 million in gifts that are not being taken advantage of. While reasons vary from campus to campus, Robert McKinney of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette pinpoints a key factor. “With no faculty merit increases, our salaries are not at the national average,” he said. While the university has searched for chairs and found some good candidates, they have not been able to finalize the deals because Louisiana salaries can’t compete. “In the state, we’ve had a 10 percent drop in full-time tenured faculty,” largely because of better salaries in other states, McKinney said. “Professors go from campus to campus.”
Mark Ballard on Obamacare and race
While much of the debate over health-care reform in Louisiana has centered on money, The Advocate’s Mark Ballard says the subject of race lingers just below the surface. He notes the percentage of African-American adults in Louisiana without health insurance far outpaces whites, while there are no such disparities when it comes to children, thanks in large part to the state expanding Medicaid to that population. “Race is an inevitable part of the Obamacare debate, says Linda Johnson, a retired member of the elected Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. … Decisions about health care are being rationalized by all the chatter about finances and private enterprise, but the result is hard-working people have been refused medical care because their employers can’t afford to provide adequate insurance, she said. ‘These decisions, right here in Louisiana, are devastating to the minority community. That’s what the minority community sees,’ Johnson said.”
Louisiana at odds with federal benefits rules
Following a June ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that invalidated a key section of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, federal agencies have begun offering benefits to same-sex married couples nationwide. Louisiana has moved in a different direction. As Melinda Deslatte for The Associated Press reports, the Jindal administration made two decisions recently that not only differ from the federal policies, but also put legally married gay couples out of compliance with state law. “The state revenue department said it won’t recognize same-sex marriages for tax filings, despite a new IRS rule that allows legally married gay couples to file joint federal tax returns and a Louisiana law requiring taxpayers to use the same filing status on state and federal tax forms. [Also,] the Louisiana National Guard said it won’t process requests from same-sex couples seeking benefits, despite a Pentagon directive to do so.”