Welcome to WeeklyWilson.com, where author/film critic Connie (Corcoran) Wilson avoids totally losing her marbles in semi-retirement by writing about film (see the Chicago Film Festival reviews and SXSW), politics and books----her own books and those of other people. You'll also find her diverging frequently to share humorous (or not-so-humorous) anecdotes and concerns. Try it! You'll like it!

Category: Education Page 1 of 5

There are 150 teacher years in Connie’s immediate family and her first book, written for Performance Learning Systems, Inc., in 1989, is entitled “Training the Teacher As A Champion.” In this day of Betsy DeVos, you can expect to hear some comments on how our educational system is being undermined from the top down.

“The Christmas Cats Fear for the Deer” is 99 Cents on Dec. 2, 3 and 4

The Christmas Cats Fear for the Deer

I checked out the special for my favorite XmasCats.com book and it is 99 cents in e-book this coming weekend, for three days only. I have to admit that this one, in hard cover (which is a limited edition and only available in hard cover by contacting me) is my favorite. I had it done by a small Indiana press and the illustrations and color are superb.

The NEXT book (#5), “The Christmas Cats Care for the Bear” may be the most timely, as it is an anti-bullying tome, but I really love “The Christmas Cats Fear for the Deer,” which is a true story about the deer in Scott County Park and rescuing them, flying them to the North Pole, and making it possible for them to fly with Santa.

The sixth (and final) book will be the final FREE offering in a couple weeks, but this coming Thursday, Friday and Saturday (Dec. 2, 3 and 4) pick up a 99 cent copy of “The Christmas Cats Fear for the Deer.” And the following week, check out “The Christmas Cats Care for the Bear.”

Last FREE book will be “The Christmas Cats Flee the Bee,” and I’ll have more to say about that as that weekend gets closer.

“Storm Lake” & “Writing With Fire:” Journalism Under Fire (Documentaries)

Two new documentaries detail the gradual death of journalism in this country and the rise of digital journalism in India. Both agree that newspapers—whether print or digital—can make a difference and that, without them democracy is at risk.

Rintu Thomas ad Sushmit Ghosh shepherded “Writing with Fire” through to completion and this story of women in India who started a newspaper in 2002 and risked their lives to make it successful won the Audience and the Grand Jury prize at Sundance.

The newspaper, Khabar Lahariya (which translates to “Waves of News”) is the only all-female newspaper in India and its chief reporter, Meera, put it this way: “I believe journalism is the essence of democracy…This is how one fights for justice in a democracy. “ She adds, “Journalists must use this power responsibly. Otherwise, the media will become like any other business.”

Watching the India documentary at the same time as the PBS documentary set in Storm Lake, Iowa and entitled “Storm Lake” provided an interesting contrast.

Art Cullen, the Editor-in-Chief of the “Storm Lake Times” for 40 years would agree with Meera, but the problems of Storm Lake, Iowa—the town where my Aunt and Uncle lived out their lives—seem infinitely less dire than those in Meera’s northern Indian Utar Pradesh area. The saying in India about the area where Meera and her team are writing and working is “as Utar Pradesh goes, so goes the country.”

SUBTLE RACISM

For Art Cullen’s newspaper, which won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Journalism, “The newspaper weaves the fabric of the community in ways large and small.” When Art’s paper won the Pulitzer, it made it harder—not easier—for Whitney Robinson, Sales and Circulation Manager,to sell advertising, because one of the crowning achievements of the “Storm Lake Times” was to trace the life path of a young man who was deported from Storm Lake after a raid at the large Tyson Meat Packing Plant, which was an IBP plant, at that time (Iowa Beef Products).

Julio Barroso was a smiling, happy second-grader, age 8, and then he was gone. Art and his team investigated to find out where Art ended up and discovered him living in Guadalajara, Mexico, twenty-two years later, married, with three children.

Art’s writing about how Julio’s life trajectory was changed by the raid for illegal immigrants and his subsequent deportation may have earned kudos from the awards-panel, but the residents of Storm Lake in northwest Iowa don’t hold with Art’s Democratic-leaning views.

Storm Lake is Trump country. The immigrants who flock to work in meat processing plants in places like Storm Lake and Columbus Junction (the poorest town in the state) have a strong streak of anti-immigrant prejudice. There are 2200 packing plant workers. In the local elementary school 50% speak Spanish and 10% speak “other” languages besides English. (The documentary was filmed in 2019).

It is easy to imagine the residents griping about their formerly lily-white town gradually being infiltrated by Mexican (and other) immigrants. I grew up in such a town—although one without a meat-packing plant—and many of the residents of northwest Iowa were Dutch immigrants or from other largely white European countries. With good-paying jobs being out-sourced to other countries, the locals tend to get  restless about losing out to immigrants from anywhere, (even though the locals aren’t generally likely to take on the back-breaking work in the meat packing plants, which offer no medical insurance).

During the pandemic, Iowa’s Republican Governor, Kim Reynolds, forced workers back into unsafe working conditions at meat-packing plants. The meat-packing company let it be known that workers who did not show up for work, perhaps because they were sick, would not get paid. I remember when the medical students at the University of Iowa were volunteering to staff a van to drive to Columbus Junction (IA) to offer workers in that town health screenings for pap smears and the like, because the meat-packing companies offer no health insurance.

There is a discussion of how Big Agra has bought up small family farms and, whereas, a decade ago in the 90s, a farmer could survive on 350 to 400 acres, now he would have to own 1,000 acres.  The big companies now control both the raising of the hogs or cattle and the processing of them. I remember when Rath Packing Plant in Waterloo, Iowa, had unions, but the big companies have all but stomped out concerns that tried to look out for the workers and their welfare.

The other continuing theme in “Storm Lake” dealt with candidate visits from the likes of Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg in the lead-up to the 2020 presidential election. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Andrew Yang. Dr. Jill Biden. They all make appearances at places like the Better Day Café and we are shown caucus night, 2020, in Storm Lake, Iowa.

Art Cullen—who has a dimpled grin like Billy Bob Thornton, but a shock of white hair like Mark Twain—says, “The main anxiety in Iowa was, ‘We’re gonna’ screw this up. And we did.” The father-son team agrees, onscreen, that Iowa will probably lose its “first-in-the-nation” status in presidential elections as a result of the colossal screw-up caused by trying to integrate new technology into the voting process without a series of dry runs, first. You might liken it to the roll-out of Obamacare, which was not without hiccups.

We hear a lot about the 300 “news deserts” that are springing up in the Hawkeye State as one in four local newspapers fold. Two-thirds of Iowa counties are declining in population and, as people move to the cities, small local papers fold. Mom and Pop stores are gone because of the corporate take-over of corporate agriculture and so are Mom and Pop newspapers. Still, those who majored in Journalism, as I did, write because it is what we do. (*Admission: I am a card-carrying member of the National Women’s Press Association, Illinois chapter, and was the official photographer at the 2019 Baton Rouge convention.) So, Art and his team attempt to cut wherever they can, thereby preserving their small hometown newspaper. They were always a “break even” newspaper and, once the pandemic hit ( advertising revenue plunges 50% in March), the question is whether they can keep the lights on. They do, but at what price glory?

INDIA’S “Khabar Lahariya” NEWSPAPER

On the other side of the world in India, the  women who started this journalistic enterprise are of the Dalit, or “Untouchable,” caste. India has four main castes:  priests, warriors, traders, and labourers. Woe unto you if you are born into the Dalit caste.

The opening interview is with a married woman of that caste who is being repeatedly raped by the men of her village. Although she has reported this to the local police, they refuse to do anything. Her husband even initiated a hunger strike to get sympathy for their plight. As the victim, Rampal Yadov, says, “These men can do anything. They can even kill both of us.”

Meena, who was married at 14, has a Master’s degree in Political Science and Teaching. She says, “Working was important for me, and I did not want to waste my education. And we needed the money.” She adds, “Power is very important.  Being a journalist gives me the power to fight for justice.” Her husband (representative of the males of India, it seems) is quoted this way:  “I never expected them to achieve anything. They’ll have to shut down soon.”

Meena’s husband is wrong. She leads the group into digital posts on YouTube and the hits on their stories rise from one million to 150 million over time. Meera Devi leads a staff of 24 who seem to be having great difficulty trying to use cell phones to write, illustrate, and post their stories. The stories deal with rape, murder, illegal Mafia mining operations, and, ultimately, the election being held that puts a Trump-like figure named Yogi Aditajanath of the BJP Party into power. The parallels are unmistakable.

Yogi stirs up chaos by making much of the election be about protecting sacred cows, rather than the real issues of the area. Here is one of Yogi’s pronouncements:  “When the law of the land becomes ineffective, then society must take matters into its own hands, and I believe the time has come now.”

One of the reporters dares to ask him what he would do about Hindus who misbehave and he answers, “Hindus can never be terrorists” with a straight face. Meena says, “Freedom of women will be snatced.  A climate of fear is being created.  Everything is about religion and discord.”This seemed very much like the United States of America at this point in history.

Meena insightfully points out that “The symbolism of the cow is a distraction for this government’s corrupt policies.” She is more interested in the average Indian household being able to have “a toilet in every house.” (Reminded me of “a chicken in every pot” from the Hoover years.)

Reporter Shiyankali does a story on the police failure to investigate rape accusations and, one week after her story, a suspect is arrested on a rape charge.

The brave women of “Khabar Lahariya” face real risk. A female journalist in Bangalore who had been critical of the Hindu national party was murdered. Meera, herself, says, “Neither are we a democracy nor are the women free. Hail Mother India.”

However, by film’s end, she says with justifiable pride:  “We made our journalism the voice of democracy.  We didn’t let the Fourth Pillar fall, and we continue to hold a mirror to society.”

“Writing with Fire” won both the Audience and the Jury Prize at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. ‘Storm Lake” is going to be screened (and available virtually) at the upcoming Denver Film Festival.

Van Gogh Immersive in Chicago Is Mesmerizing

Van Gogh.

The Van Gogh Immersive Exhibit in Chicago is now touring various cities in the U.S.

I tried to get tickets for the showing in Chicago for my July 23rd birthday, but the soonest I could get us in was August 17th. The price for 2 tickets with a “flex” schedule option was about $131.00.

This allowed us to show up at 3 p.m. or slightly before or after and stay pretty much as long as we wished, although the actual program itself seemed to run about 35 to 45 minutes.

First, be advised that there are a lot of steps to gain entrance to the building. This would not be a good exhibit (in Chicago, anyway) if you have difficulty climbing stairs.

They route you through the gift shop and there were many very nice things in the gift shop. They were priced as high as you would expect. A reproduction of a Van Gogh painting on a silk scarf ended up costing $83.

You are handed a cushion and the seating is primarily benches scattered throughout the building. It is much like drifting through a regular museum with the occasional seating in front of a painting. There were also some folding chairs with backs that one could retrieve from along the walls, which turned out to be a nice relief after being seated for quite a while with no back on the benches.

Van Gogh on floors and walls in Chicago.

We entered when the program, which is paired with music, was about 20 minutes from being over. We stayed through a brief intermission and then watched the entire program from the beginning. I would say that we were there roughly an hour, from start to finish.

Van Gogh Immersive Exhibit

Van Gogh Immersive Exhibit

Van Gogh.

“Once Upon A Time in Venezuela:” Examines the Fate of the Village of Congo Mirador

This documentary that showed at the 43rd Denver Film Festival was helmed by Annabel Rodriguez Rios and Sepp R. Bruderon (editor/writer) who visited the remote village of Congo Mirador many times over the course of years, watching it shrink from a village with population of 700 to 30 families and, ultimately, to an abandoned village.

Chief among the inhabitants of the village is Tamara Vilsamil, who is a rabid Chavez supporter and seems to be doing quite a bit better, financially, than the rest of the village. She brags, at one point, that she owns 50 hectares of land and that it is “as good as money in the bank,” saying that she can always sell a cow if she needs money.

Several old-time residents of the city on stilts talk about “the fatal night,” which, they say, has come. Throughout the time that the documentary is filming sedimentation continues to plague the village with remarks like “sedimentation is killing us all.”

The backdrop of the documentary is an upcoming election and, at one point, ring-leader Tamara says, “I’m going to get our comrades and kick their asses.” There is a lot of talk about North American government planning to take over the town and the nation and a lot of jingoistic talk about “the Fatherland.”

Near the end of the film Vilsamil and another representative from the watery town journey to Maracaibo. She says, “Going to Maracaibo is as important as Obama going to Cuba.” We see the duo being served breakfast in what appears to be the palace in Caracas and Vilsamil says, “Confo is running out of time. The town is already lost.  It’s just mud and snakes left.”

The final scenes of the film show a deserted, watery, abandoned wreck of a town

“Til Kingdom Come” Explores the Evangelical/Jewish Connection

“Til Kingdom Come” has played both the 56th Chicago International Film Festival and the 43rd Denver Film Festival, spelling out the close relationship between evangelical Christians and the Jewish community in Israel. The 77-minute film is directed by Director Maya Zinshtein.

It’s difficult to understand how this symbiotic partnership has flourished, given the prophecies in evangelical texts that have 2/3 of Jews being killed and 1/3 ultimately converting to the evangelical view of things, in the final analysis. The film’s write-up says, “They donate sacrificially to Israel’s foremost philanthropic organization, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, because they fervently believe the Jews are crucial to Jesus’s return.”

There are also the disturbing positions of evangelicals on same sex marriage, gays, legalized abortion, and many other issues, including the Arab Palestinians’ right to live peacefully on the West Bank. (This is the issue that Vanessa Redgrave championed, to her detriment, many years ago when she was receiving a 1977 Best Supporting Oscar for her film work in the Holocaust drama “Julia.”)

At the outset of the film, we hear rural Kentucky Pastor Boyd Bingham IV say, “We are the people who brought DJT to power and he pushes our agenda.” It should be mentioned that VP Mike Pence is a noted evangelical, as is Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

According to the film, there are 650 to 800 million evangelicals around the world. They have single-handedly become some of the biggest donors to Israel, raising $4 and $5 million at a crack, even while, on the film, an official from Louisville, Kentucky, proudly proclaims that the state is now down to only one facility where a legal abortion can be obtained. (Shades of the sixties!)

There is film of the youngest Bingham preacher at the Binghamtown Baptist Church on a 1982 pilgrimage to Israel and his great joy at the moving of the Israeli consulate to Jerusalem. (It is Israeli Premier Bebe Netanyahu’s goal to annex the West Bank.)

Two million Arabs live under Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem now. When the embassy was moved, 58 PalestiniIsrans were killed and 2,771 were injured, all in protest of the move.

It was an interesting documentary, which is more than I can say for “I Am Greta.”

“Meat the Future” Explains How Meat Can Be Grown in Labs and Replace “Real” Meat

Now playing the 43rd Denver Film Festival, “Meat the Future” is a Liz Marshall documentary that explains the brainchild of cardiac surgeon Uma Valeti, who has formed Memphis Meats to bring meat grown in laboratories to market.

Dr. Valeti actually was a trained cardiac surgeon at the Mayo Clinic, but he had been haunted for years by the idea that, in order to eat meat, animals must be grown to adulthood and then slaughtered. Not only did the idea that “in the midst of life, we are in death” affect him as a child, he also became aware of the growing demand for meat that cannot be met by standard methods.

In the course of this film, we meet Ira Van Eelen, whose father in Amsterdam may have been the Godfather of Clean Meat, starting experiments with growing meat in a lab as far back as 2010. Dr. Valeti took the idea and has made it a reality—if an expensive reality—making it possible to cultivate meat that tastes like meat, from the cells of chickens and ducks and beef cattle, in a cultured lab setting over the course of 4 weeks, whereas it takes from 14 to 24 months to raise an animal from birth to slaughter.

SLAUGHTER

In order to feed humans, pigs and cows and other living mammals are slaughtered. It’s a reality that has driven many to become vegetarians. Even Dr. Valeti admits having tried vegetarianism for a while. The success of things like tofu burgers, however, has not been nearly as close to “the real thing” as the cultured meats that Valeti’s Memphis Meats has been able to produce.

Early news articles (April, 2016) showed a pound of what appeared to be ground beef with the label $18,000 – 1 lb. of ground beef from Memphis Meats. The three original investors put $3.1 million together but, since their successes, investors like Bill Gates and Richard Branson, along with David McLennan, the CEO of Cargill, have come onboard to underwrite the group’s efforts.  Draper Fisher Jurveston, an investment firm for those looking to underwrite promising technologies, reports that the group now has “more money coming at them than they want to take” and mentioned a figure of $4 billion.

What are the “good” and the “bad” things about “clean meat”? (“clean meat,” as a term,has tested more positively than “cultured meat” in P.R. studies).

THE GOOD:

  • Animals are a big part of the carbon footprint problem and, with this technology, the need to raise so many animals on feed lots, is bypassed, thereby decreasing the carbon footprint of the industries that are now producing our meat. The film mentions a timeline of 20 to 30 years by which time animals would not need to be raised for meat. This is, as the film put it, ‘a huge paradigm shift.”
  • Supply – The documentary posits the belief that, despite all the efforts that currently exist to feed the world’s people, we need to step up production. Comparing 4 weeks of preparation time (clean meat)  to 14 to 24 months (real meat) is educational.
  • No more slaughtering living creatures for our beef, pork, poultry or fish.

 

THE BAD:

  • As you can imagine, meat producers are not at all sure that this idea is a “good” thing for them, their industry, or the public They maintain that the government must learn how to regulate cell-based meats. Both Sonny Perdue (Secretary of Agriculture) and Dr. Scott Gottlieb of “Face the Nation” appearances talk about “clean meat.”
  • The Good Food Institute says we need the equivalent of a Manhattan Project to move the initiative forward. Why do I get the feeling that, just like the electric car, the “old way” meat people will kill the idea of cultured cells becoming edible meat, just as the fossil fuel industry killed the electric car?
  • Expense – currently, it is prohibitively expensive to create “clean meat” with figures of $1700 per pound mentioned. The use of markets and technology to solve problems cannot be supported enthusiastically enough, but I do wonder if this Bold Brave Idea might end up like the hydrogen car. (Remember that one?)

How Trump Might Try to Cheat to Win

BEE GONE: A POLITICAL PARABLE

This is a slightly truncated version of the original “Washington Post” article that explains one of the likely methods that DJT will/would try to use to steal the November 3rd presidential election.

Could Trump steal the election? Here’s one way to find out. (Sept. 30, 2020)

The disastrous debate that unfolded in Ohio should prompt us to take the possibility that President Trump will try to steal the election far more seriously — even as it also renders that outcome much less likely to succeed.

Trump exhorted his far-right army to mobilize for a sustained conflict over the election results. He refused to say whether he’d accept a legitimate loss. And he confirmed he’s expecting the Supreme Court to help invalidate countless legally cast ballots.

It’s this last point that presents a way to gauge Trump’s chances of executing some version of his corrupt designs.

The short version is this. At Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearing, Democrats can press a line of questioning that might illuminate whether Trump can pull off one of his most-discussed means for rigging the election: getting a GOP state legislature to appoint substitute pro-Trump electors to the electoral college, regardless of the popular vote in that state. 

Trump is telegraphing his scheme

At the debate, Trump said he “can’t go along” with a result tallied up from millions of mail-in ballots, which will mean “fraud like you’ve never seen.” He urged supporters to “watch” the voting “very carefully,” i.e., to engage in voter intimidation.

And asked what he expects of the high court and Barrett, Trump said:I’m counting on them to look at the ballots.”

Trump did also say he might not “need” the court to settle “the election itself.” But that only inadvertently confirms that he believes the court is at his beck and call on this matter.

As far-fetched as it seems that a state legislature might appoint pro-Trump electors, it’s important to note that some Republicans are already claiming that the fictional mass fraud in large-scale mail balloting could serve as the justification for doing just this.

As one Trump legal adviser told the Atlantic, they might say: “We don’t think the results of our own state are accurate, so here’s our slate of electors that we think properly reflect the results of our state.”

And so, when Trump casts doubt on the legitimacy of a prolonged count after Election Day — as he did at the debate — he’s opening the possibility of using exactly this justification for precisely this endgame.

As Edward Foley outlined in a prescient 2019 article, if Trump were ahead in the Election Day count, he’d likely put this scheme in motion while claiming “machine politicians in Philadelphia” are trying to steal the election with fabricated mail votes.

Could this work?

Democratic National Convention

To be clear, it shouldn’t.

The Constitution does assign to each state the authority to “appoint” its electors, in a “manner” that the legislature “may direct.”

But in a terrific piece, three legal scholars — Grace Brosofsky, Michael Dorf and Laurence Tribe — explain that precedent shows this means the legislature must “direct” how the state appoints its electors by making laws that create and define the process for doing so.

Virtually all states have made laws that provide for electors to be appointed in accordance with the popular vote outcome in them. (Maine and Nebraska do this by congressional district.) Thus, those scholars argue, legislatures can’t appoint pro-Trump electors without making a new law providing for appointment of electors based on legislators’ own will, not that of the voters.

Such a new law would require the governor’s signature. And in three states where this appears most likely to be tried — Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin — Democratic governors would veto any such effort by GOP-controlled legislatures.

The Supreme Court has upheld the principle that a governor can veto such an effort, those scholars note. In the 1932 case Smiley v. Holm, the court ruled that the Minnesota state legislature could not change election rules unilaterally in the face of such a veto.

This ruling confirmed that for the court, “state legislatures cannot alter” laws governing the selection of electors “except through their ordinary state lawmaking procedures,” which would require a gubernatorial signature and be subject to veto, the scholars argue.

So friendly legislatures can’t do this on Trump’s whim without a new law, no matter how loudly they scream that ongoing counting of mail ballots is fraudulent.

Such a case might again find its way to the Supreme Court. But how would it rule?

The question for Barrett

Democratic senators can press Trump’s nominee on this question — by asking whether she believes Smiley is settled law, and on whether she believes the Constitution does or does not allow state legislatures to appoint electors outside the lawmaking process.

Dorf, a professor at Cornell Law School, told me Barrett would likely evade this question, by merely promising to “respect precedent” while declining comment on a question that might soon be before the court.

Still, this might be worth trying. Given that Trump has explicitly said he expects the court — and Barrett — to help him pull off something like this, we’re in an extraordinary situation. By confirming that Smiley is settled law, Barrett could strongly suggest that such an effort will fail, sparing the country from it.

“She could certainly throw cold water on it,” Dorf told me. “She could make it clear that she’s not likely to be receptive to an argument” that legislators can appoint electors without a new law.

As for other justices — such as John G. Roberts Jr. and Neil M. Gorsuch — they might also look askance at such an effort. In Bush v. Gore, the court described the process for appointing electors as a “legislative” scheme. Dorf says they might see this as invalidating any effort to appoint them outside the lawmaking process.

To be clear, Trump’s disastrous debate performance makes it more likely Biden will win the “blue wall” states by a comfortable enough margin that Trump won’t even try such a scheme.

But Trump also made it clear at the debate that he’s unhinged enough to try anything — and is perfectly happy to rile up millions of supporters behind an effort to overturn a legitimate loss. So if there’s any way to take this off the table now, we should try it.

This Ad Says It All

Executive Producer Ed Dezevallos Shares on Weekly Wilson Podcast

Home podcast office in Texas.

Tonight’s guest on “Weekly Wilson,” Ed Dezevallos, the 75-year-old Executive Producer of “Lone Star Deception” (now streaming on Amazon) was my guest tonight at 7 p.m. CDT.

Ed was an especially great guest, as he could “take the ball and run with it” conversationally, and, therefore, you get to hear less of me and more of him. His accomplishments are many, including a number of real estate developments over his 50-year career. I regret that I didn’t get to hear the rest of Ed’s “bucket list,” but being involved in making a film was one of those “bucket list” wishes and he spent 2 years shepherding the Eric Roberts, Anthony Ray Parker film to the screen. Last week, I interviewed Eric and Eliza Roberts,both of whom played roles in the film.

The other project that Ed has supervised was one designed to help young people learn about a variety of careers. Called www.soyouwanttobe.org, we spoke about this colorful and useful series of videos. I tried to play its upbeat cheery theme song from my laptop—3 times. No dice. (I had warned my guest that, if it were a technical matter, it probably wouldn’t work.)

If you would like to hear an interesting story about becoming the Executive Producer of a film at 75, it is cued up for your entertainment. Check it out.

National Federation of Press Women Conference Winds Down as June Ends

Hotel one block from the Old Capitol in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Attending the National Federation of Press Women conference in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, was an informational experience. We were treated to a keynote address from Peter Kovacs, editor of The Advocate, Baton Rouge’s local newspaper, and a three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist, Walt Handelsman. Also featured as speakers were Jeff Cowart of San Antonio, who talked about Creative Story telling, and Scott Sternberg, an attorney and First Amendment expert who talked about attacks on First Amendment freedoms.

Scott Sternberg readies his presentation about attacks on the First Amendment (freedom of speech).

A panel of book authors featured Stanley Nelson, editor of the Concordia (La) Sentinel and author of “Devils Walking: Klan Murders Along the Mississippi in the 1960s,” Rachel Emanuel, author of “A More Noble Cause: A.P. Tureaud and the Struggle for Civil Rights in Louisiana,” and Leo Honeycutt, former television journalist and author of several books including “Edwin Edwards: Governor of Louisiana: An Authorized Biography.”

National Federation of Press Women attendees (approximately 80) in the Old Capitol Senate chamber.

Peter Kovacs, who started off the convention on Thursday, June 27 shared with us that his father, then 25 years old, was in Baton Rouge staying at this very hotel when Huey Long was shot. Why was he there? He was a traveling condom salesman. Kovacs went on from that shared glimpse into Louisiana history to talk about the Pulitzer his paper won for a series on jury law in Louisiana that allowed the accused to be sent to prison even if the jury could not find them guilty. It had to do with a now-outlawed law that allowed juries to find someone guilty with only 9 or 10 of 12 jurors agreeing on the guilt, a hold-over from the Jim Crow years.

Old Capitol. Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

On Friday, the noon luncheon at the Old Senate building one block away yielded many interesting and amusing stories conveyed by Jay Dardenne. The building, itself, is a National Historic Landmark and received an Excellence for Architectural Award. According to Dardenne, the building was more than adequate to serve as the Capitol building but Huey Long wanted the tallest Senate building and decreed that a new Capitol building must be built, which it was. (Huey Long is buried in the front lawn).

Voted 11th best stained glass window in a recent poll.

For those of us who have seen Sean Penn play Huey “Catfish” Long in the movies, we may not have realized that he was a very real threat as a Presidential candidate to FDR in the election of 1936, but was assassinated on September 10, 1942, at age 42 in Baton Rouge before his 8 million followers in many other states could band together to put him in office. In his first year in office, Huey Long

Outside the convention center hotel.

paved 8,000 miles of formerly dirt roads, provided for free text books for all Louisiana students, and had placed 23 members on the family payroll. Each employee was required to contribute 10% of his or her pay check to a fund known as the Deduc fund, which was used to support Huey’s chosen candidates in their races. When told this was not kosher, Huey said, “I’ve made them pay it momentarily.”

Jay Dardenne, Commissioner of Administration for Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards. He oversees the state budget and general government operations and served for 8 years as Louisiana’s Lt. Gov. 4 years as Secretary of State, 15 years as a state senator, and 3 years as a Baton Rouge metro Councilman. (Speaker on 6/28 inside the Old Capitol).

Ultimately, Huey’s domineering very Trump-like ways caused a move to impeach him. The Senators met in the very room where we had lunch, but they had all been placed in office by Huey and, after deliberating for one hour, refused to impeach him (“We will not vote to impeach.”).  They all signed in a circle, so that no one could see who had signed first, forming the famous “Round Robin Signature.” Chief Justice O’Neal of the Louisiana Supreme Court, when asked about the prospect of impeachment for Huey Long, said, “Don’t you think I’d give the thieving son-of-a-bitch a fair trial?”

The 6/28 luncheon was held within the very Senate room where Senators met to vote on whether to impeach then-Governor Huey Long.

When Huey was finally gunned down, he was no longer the Governor, but was serving as Senator. On September 8, 1935, Long was at the State Capitol attempting to oust a long-time opponent, Judge Benjamin Henry Pavy. At 9:20 p.m., just after passage of the bill effectively removing Pavy, Pavy’s son-in-law Carl Weiss, a physician from Baton Rouge, approached Long, and, according to the generally accepted version of events, shot him in the torso with a handgun from four feet (1.2 m) away. Long’s bodyguards responded by firing at Weiss with their own pistols, killing him; an autopsy found that Weiss had been shot more than sixty times by Long’s bodyguards. Long died on September 10 at 4:10 a.m.[109] According to different sources, his last words were either, “I wonder what will happen to my poor university boys,” or “I have so much to do.”

Speaker Dardenne shared details of another Louisiana politician,  Cat Dusett, who spoke Parisian French and did not speak English well. He once declared he would “win by a landscape” and said, “I talk out of my head.” When asked about his policy on juvenile delinquency, he said, “If it’s good for the kids, I’m for it.” Asked about Civil Rights, his response was, “If we owe it, we ought to pay it.”

Incoming President Gwen Larson.

Dardenne moved on to humorous stories of a snake oil remedy called Hadacall. (When asked why it was named Hadacall, the entrepreneur and patent medicine salesman inventor said, “I hadda call it something!”) In addition to advertising that the potion could cure cancer and insomnia, it was eventually marketed as an aphrodisiac and Jerry Lee Lewis even composed a chorus in one song, which went like this:  “It takes a knock-kneed woman and a bow-legged man to do the Hadacall boogie on a sardine can.”

 

 

 

Walt Handelsman, who has won 3 Pulitzer Prizes for his cartooning and his animated drawings, delighted the crowd with a presentation featuring some of his better-known cartoons. Some cartoons we were not allowed to photograph, but this one, featuring Bill Clinton, earned a second laugh when Handelsman told us that the next day he got a phone call from an elderly woman who wanted to know, “Who is Bill talking to? Is it Monica?”

The caption on the cartoon, (for those who cannot enlarge it on their screens)  shows (Bill) Clinton saying, “Well, this is ANOTHER fine mess you’ve gotten us into.”

 

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