Transparency advocate Gary Ruskin wanted to know how the powerful food and agrochemical industries influence public universities and their research.
His small public interest consumer health watchdog organization, US Right to Know, started investigating the connections between the industries, their allies, and taxpayer-funded universities. Public records are a crucial tool Ruskin uses frequently to uncover the details of the university interactions with agrochemical companies.
“My hunch was that: in the interactions between universities and the agrochemical industry and its front groups, there would be industry secrets and there would be news, and there would be things that consumers and citizens should know. So, I filed the FOIAs, and then more FOIAs, and in the end I was right — more than I could have imagined,” Ruskin told Freedom of the Press Foundation.
His numerous public records requests have produced documents that have exposed relationships between universities and companies like Monsanto, but the agrochemical industry is fighting to keep these ties secret.
These requests include three filed with the University of Florida for communications between university employees and people associated with food pesticide companies. Ruskin received some, but not all, of the documents he asked for, in his requests for communications between the university and companies like Monsanto, so he filed a lawsuit against the University of Florida alleging violation of Florida’s Sunshine Law.
A retired University of Oklahoma professor who serves on the board of directors of an organization with ties to Monsanto, Drew Kershen, has intervened in the lawsuit. He argued in his motion for summary judgment, which was later denied, that the release of the documents requested, which include internal agrochemical industry email discussions, would violate his privacy.
In his response, Ruskin objected to many of Kershen’s questions, which included “describe the type of knowledge the Requested Records were intended to perpetuate, communicate, or formalize” and “Why are you seeking the Requested Documents from the University of Florida?” Ruskin’s attorney says that under Florida law, no one needs a reason to request public documents, and the subjects of the information being requested don’t have to do anything in particular to make the records eligible for disclosure. She thinks it’s unlikely the judge will require him to answer these questions.
Michael Morisy, cofounder of government transparency website Muckrock, which helps automate public records requests, says this line of questioning is deeply concerning when judges take it seriously. “Under most states laws, if it’s open to you it’s open to everyone and it doesn’t matter why the requester wants the documents. Basis for release isn’t what your motivation is for asking for it. It would be very unusual for requesters to be forced to explain why.”
The emails that Ruskin did receive were illuminating. In them, Kershen urges other members of a Yahoo! email list used for internal industry discussion to resist Ruskin’s lawful records requests.
“I urge resisting disclosure as much as possible because USRTK is on a strategy to acquire as may emails as possible,” Kershen wrote in emails to the Yahoo! email group for internal industry discussion that were released through Ruskin’s public records requests. “Of course, USRTK will also be combing those released emails to create a negative narrative about each of us in a vast conspiracy of a secret cabal.”
US Right to Know has investigated Kershen’s organization, Genetic Literacy Project in the past, and published about its financial ties to agricultural engineering companies including Monsanto and Syngenta. (Kershen did not respond to request by Freedom of the Press Foundation for comment.)
This isn’t the first time Ruskin’s public records requests have sparked opposition from the agrochemical industry. Documents produced through his requests formed the basis of a 2015 front page New York Times article that detailed how Monsanto enlisted academics to oppose the labeling of genetically engineered foods. In response, Kevin Folta, a University of Florida professor, sued the New York Times and journalist Eric Lipton for defamation in 2017.
Folta even filed a broad subpoena against Ruskin and two other US Right to Know employees to testify in the lawsuit and produce documents, including their communications with the Times. Ruskin says that the the request was essentially demanding the nonprofit to produce over 100,000 documents for his subpoena alone. Folta finally withdrew the order after Ruskin’s legal representation filed a motion to quash the subpoena.
Records that reveal the details of relationships between government agencies and private entities are a critical use of the federal Freedom of Information Act and state-level public records acts. Yet, as these instances exemplify, private parties are increasingly deploying a diversity of tactics to prevent the disclosure of newsworthy documents about themselves.
Powerful corporations resisting disclosure of public records is not unique to the agrochemical industry or to Florida. Multinational corporation Landis+Gyr sued a public records requester and transparency website MuckRock in 2016 after the City of Seattle released records about the city’s new smart meter power grid. The company obtained a court order for MuckRock to de-publish the documents that was ultimately overturned, and even demanded MuckRock help identify readers who may have seen the documents — a potentially massive privacy violation.
Bus manufacturing company New Flyer sued Metro last May to block the release of the details of its $500 million contract with the agency. When a journalist in Texas requested traffic projections for a toll road project built by a private company, the company sued to block the release.
Facebook has demanded that officials give it at least three days notice before responding to any public records requests involving the company. In some cases, it has even asked to cities to send it a copy of the records request before officials respond. Facebook, as well as other companies including Amazon, have also used code names to shield their identities and hide their interactions with government agencies from the public.
Advance notice of public records requests could allow Facebook to initiate a “reverse FOIA”, in which a company tries to block the release of records about itself by bringing requesters to court. It could also allow companies to determine what stories journalists are pursuing and build a strategy to delay or halt unfavorable coverage.
Gary Ruskin worries that the opposition to his public records requests will deter future journalists or organizations from critically investigating corporate wrongdoing, especially those with less resources.
“If we win the University of Florida FOIA lawsuit, and get newsworthy documents, will any journalists write about them? Will they write, knowing that that even if they write an article that is fair and accurate […], they may get sued for defamation?”
To Ruskin, the agrochemical industry’s resistance to US Right to Know’s investigative work only reaffirms that it has information to hide. He thinks that information about the food that we eat, and the pesticides that we consume, are in the public interest, and he won’t stop fighting to bring corporate influence of scientific institutions to light.
Filing public records requests makes government activities public — inherently an act of journalism. Attempts by corporations and industries to block the release of public records about themselves are a threat to press freedom, whether they are deployed against newspapers, veteran journalists, or citizens. The public has the right to know what government agencies are doing with their taxpayer dollars, and contractor compliance with laws can only be assured when this information is disclosed.
Black men kill each other at alarming rates all across America every day. Nearly every city’s daily news casts reports, “Today in our city three (or thirty depending on the size of your city) men were shot and killed in three (or thirty) separate shootings. Police have no suspects in any of the cases.” And immediately and innately you know that the people killed were black and the killers were black. This has been going on for the last 30-40 years and no end is in sight. New Orleans has one of the highest murder rates nationally. Why do black men kill each other?
First Let’s Dispel a
First thing you have to know is that 99.999% of black men do
not commit murder ever in their lives.
That is a fact! This is not a
black man issue. There is nothing
genetically or intrinsically wrong with black men. But the fact remains that
daily hundreds of black men across this country are murdered everyday by
another black man. Why does this happen
with this subset?
Common factors to Black
men murdering other black men
The first thing about murder is that people usually kill
people who are similar to them in many ways, particularly race. White men normally murder other white men and
black men normally murder other black men.
In the black community, these killings are normally city events. Rarely do you hear of a drive by in the country. Most of these daily killings occur on the city streets. People kill others who they interact with.
Young men engage in risky and violent behavior. Most of the men dying on our streets are
between the ages of 17-35.
But these are often cited, unsurprising factors. More salient is what goes into the psyche of a guy who can look into the eyes of another man and pull the trigger at close range or jab a knife with the intent to murder another man? What are the other factors that contribute to becoming a murderer? Why do Black men kill each other
The guy who ain’t never scared and always looking to
escalate a situation. Down for whatever. Nothing to live for and anticipating the day
he will either kill or be killed. This
mindset is cultivated in a limited option, few chances, success deprived
life. This guy has had a number of
arguments and fist fights throughout his life.
He hates authority and frequently feels angry or resentful towards
people. He often seeks to overcome a
feeling of powerlessness. This guy is a
walking heap of rage. He is always nothing
but a gun and an argument away from murder.
The Disrespected Man
A man who feels like everybody but him gets respect.
Unemployed or stuck in a low wage hard work job
where his contributions are unrecognized
Lives with his mother and has little control over
his home environment
Has a child but no custody and a bad relationship
with his baby mama
Been profiled and harassed by the police
Observes community members driving nice cars
Rejected for better jobs
Feels unable to change his life status and is
insignificant in the world
Seeks to overcome feelings of impotence
For this guy, respect is everything and options to express
anger or refutation are often limited. He
often seeks to overcome a feeling of impotence. If another who seems unworthy
of disseminating criticism or scorn or generally crosses the line of imagined
respect, then a high level of response will be meted out.
Little life happiness
Thrill seeker often brags and talks about his toughness and ‘hood status.
Wants to make a real name for himself
Will recklessly escalate a situation or
When challenged by a non-believing skeptic, this man often
acts in unnecessarily violent ways in unnecessarily violent situations. Often seeks to overcome a feeling of powerlessness.
Too often black men suffer an inferiority
vilifies and criminalizes black men on a daily basis.
American culture is based upon the notion that
black people and specifically black men are less intelligent, completely
unpredictable, beast like, lazy etc., etc.
Black men internalize this notion and are
conditioned to see little value when they look in the mirror.
Beset by internal angst and torment.
Unresolved pain combined with poverty,
ignorance, oppression, violent police, violent neighborhoods, etc.
symptoms of an inferiority complex include a high sensitivity to criticism, perceiving
others as a threat, jealousy, a lack of dreams.
The daily feeling of isolation, powerlessness and impotence is like being a prisoner of war. One reason black men grab their genitals is to stress their vitality. Men who have been literally stripped of the ability to display their manhood – great jobs, big houses, educational attainment and all the other accoutrements of modern society- are literally killing to express their power in life. Twisted but true.
OCTOBER 2023 AMENDMENTS 3 & 4: SIMPLIFIED
AMENDMENT 3 (FOR)
With HB 47 voters will be asked to decide whether to make increases in how state budget surpluses are spent on pension benefits for retired state employees. Surpluses occur when annual state revenues exceed spending. Of course, this is a desirable situation but not the norm. When it does happen, state law largely governs which worthy causes to spend money on and how much is to be spent. For budget year 2024-2025, City Business reports that the projected surplus by government officials is appx. $143 million
An amendment passed 1988 is current law. It requires that at least 10% of any non-recurring surplus be used to fundof the Louisiana State Employees Retirement System (LASERS) and Teachers Retirement System of Louisiana (TRSL). These payments, however, are scheduled to end in 2029.
2023 AMENDMENTS 3 & 4: SIMPLIFIED
Based on 2022 state actuarial reports, there are over 49,700 LASERS retirees and a whopping 82,600 in TRSL. Louisiana has 4 retirement systems that require funding –
Louisiana School Employees Retirement System (LSERS 13,812)
Louisiana State Police Retirement System (LSPRS 1,355)
Louisiana State Employees Retirement System (LASERS)
Teachers Retirement System of Louisiana (TRSL).
Each is obligated to pay pension benefits to retirees, spouses or beneficiaries. Also 25% of any surplus is carved out for the state’s “rainy day” fund.
The combined unfunded accrued liability for these 4 state retirement systems exceeds $ 17 billion! In simple terms, this is the gap existing between earned retirement benefits and the long-term ability to pay those benefits. The benefits typically include monthly pension checks and sometimes medical benefits to either retirees, their surviving spouses or beneficiaries. The bulk of state employees are unable to amass significant savings for retirement during their careers. So any interruption or reduction of these payments in their golden years could be devastating.
Passing Amendment 3 allocates a minimum 25% of surplus money to fund the 4 major state retirement systems. This significantly reduces the unfunded liability gap of each system. Louisiana has 147,400 state retirees. Many spent 30 years of their lives serving the state. A yes vote means they become more financially secure in retirement. Even then, legislators would still be able to haggle over how to spend up to 50% of any annual surplus. If the measure fails, legislators retain heavy discretion and authority over approximately 65% of surplus funds. They can direct this money to other projects that could be beneficial but only to their local constituencies.
HB 47, introduced by Representative Richard Nelson, passed unanimously in the House and passed 37-2 in the Senate.
AMENDMENT 4 (FOR)
With HB 46 voters will decide whether owners of exempt residential property determined to have “repeated public health or safety violations” should have their exempt status revoked, placing those properties on the taxable property roll. A 2023 report by the Orleans Parish Assessors Office tallies 11,227 exempt real estate properties. That is 6.8% of the total 164,524 real estate properties .
Current state law allows real property owners to submit applications to their parish assessor to have their properties exempt from taxation. A typical application for exemption requires responding to a myriad of questions. In New Orleans, exempt property counts are prominently displayed and easily identifiable. But the volume of statewide exempt real estate properties is not easily measurable.
Bad landlords are common in Louisiana and the United States. The overwhelming majority of landlords’ properties are not exempt from paying property taxes. However, a particularly negligent landlord who owns several exempt properties has become the impetus to force change. Tenants of The Willows Apartments, a development with 260 exempt units located at 7001 Lawrence Road in New Orleans and owned by Global Ministries Foundation (GMF) of Tennessee, have filed suit over deplorable living conditions that allegedly have existed for long periods
Similar substandard conditions have been reported at two other GMF owned properties, Parc Fontaine Apartments in Algiers and The Bellemont Apartments in Metairie (Jefferson parish). Common tenant complaints include but are not limited to unrepaired leaks that foster mold, termite infestation, and lack of adequate security on premises. In 2019 a 3 year old child died in a Bellemont apartment determined to have no working smoke alarms.
Proponents are counting on passage of this amendment to give landlords of exempt properties another strong incentive, besides code enforcement fines already levied, to repair and maintain their leased properties. The aggregate assessors’ appraised value of just these 3 GMF owned developments is over $ 48 million, which would yield over $ 688, 000 in property taxes annually if exempt status is revoked for non-compliance.
Some argue that revocation of exempt status does not ensure that landlords will remedy defects and conditions. HB 46, introduced by Representative Jason Hughes, passed with the required 2/3 vote in the House and unanimously in the Senate.
Do Amendments Turn You On? Maybe if you learned more about them they might. Understanding amendments 1 & 2
Have you ever been excited about amendments on election ballots? No? Me either. They’re just not sexy. And they’re written in the most horribly obtuse language. But they’re essential, so we’re forced to deal with them.
On October 14th, 4 of them are on your ballot. Let’s take a look at the first 2. In honor of the direction this state will most likely go in after the governor’s race, we’ll start backwards. Amendment 2 is up first. Oh, and for future references,
🙋🏾♂️ = ?
🤷🏾♂️ = beats the sh#t out of me
Understanding Amendments 1 & 2
Do you support an amendment to provide that the freedom of worship in a church or other place of worship is a fundamental right that is worthy of the highest order of protection?
What on earth does the “highest order of protection” mean?
Doesn’t Freedom of Religion already have the highest order of protection by virtue of it being a right?
What “highest order” will be appealed to here? The Lord? Jesus? A cosmic court? A tribunal of angels?
“Other place of worship”? Like what, the river? Wait, is this all about Lauren Daigle and that religious revival on the river she just happened to stumble upon by Jackson Square while we all were supposed to be social distancing during COVID? (Jesus, Nungesser, get over it.)
Why is “church” given distinction over other places of worship?
Would Freud call that a slip?
Is it an involuntary admission that this amendment is meant to pander to the conservative, right-wing Christians?
This amendment was born out of COVID when pastor Tony Spell of the Life Tabernacle Church and other COVID deniers made a big stink out of being told they had to stay away from their churches to help stop the spread of COVID. Spell decided he’d rather not and continued having services until he was arrested. A court eventually cleared him on appeal after he argued that Jesus is just as essential as milk. His logic was that if people were allowed to assemble at the grocery store, then they should be allowed to assemble at church too.
Understanding Amendments 1 & 2
Freedom of Religion, like the Right to Bear Arms, is already held in high regard by a judicial standard called strict scrutiny. This means the state has to jump through all kinds of special hoops to infringe upon these rights.
Maybe this highest order lingo is being inserted to ensure that there’s one more extra hoop to jump through. 🤷🏾♂️ It’s up to you and your ballot to decide if it’s needed or not.
Do you support an amendment to prohibit the use of funds, goods, or services from a foreign government or a nongovernmental source to conduct elections and election functions and duties unless the use is authorized by the Secretary of State through policies established in accordance with law?
So is China somehow interested in funding our local parish races? What about Russia, Iran, North Korea, The People’s Republic of The Congo?
Does a no mean that one day our elections could be sponsored, as in a heading on the ballot that says this election is being brought to you by Dr. Pepper? Or is this more about Dr. Zuckerberg or Dr. Soros?
Is this amendment an admission that human beings are completely corruptible when it comes to money and that any attempt to deny or resist this will result in the end of democracy as we know it?
In one breath, the amendment bans the funds outright. In another, it says the Secretary of State could accept them “in accordance with law.” Does this “accordance with law” mean future legislative sessions will be fought over which partisan exception is allowed?
Does a no mean that one day a church could sponsor an election? (Pay attention Tony Spell.)
This is another COVID baby. During the COVID elections a Mark Zuckerberg (the Facebook dude) backed group went around giving grants to help provide hand sanitizer, masks, and other supplies for election workers. The thought was that this would help the elections run smoother and get more people out to vote. Of course, Republicans don’t like it when more people get out to vote because they usually don’t vote for them. So hence the amendment. If passed, Louisiana would join 20 or more other states that have passed some sort of ban on private funds.
There’s a dollar, and there’s a string. In politics, it has been repeatedly shown that you can’t have one without the other. It’s up to you and your ballot to decide if we’ve evolved or if masks and hand sanitizer today would lead to corruption tomorrow 🤷🏾♂️.
Understanding Amendments 1 & 2
Have fun on October 14th, election day. It just might be exciting.
Stigmas of Therapy in the Black Community
In the vibrant tapestry of African American culture, there exists a mosaic of stigmas and misconceptions that can obscure the path to mental health support. Let’s take a journey through these challenges, which include the fear of airing family secrets, a reliance on spiritual guidance, the perception of therapy as weakness, the notion that therapy is only for “others,” and doubts about its efficacy. We’ll explore these hurdles with the hope of revealing the colorful world of possibilities that come with embracing mental health care.
Unearthing Hidden Strengths
In African American families, secrets can be as closely guarded as treasure chests. The fear of exposing family skeletons can deter individuals from seeking therapy, as they worry that discussing familial issues with an outsider might unleash a Pandora’s box of gossip. But what if we reframed this as an opportunity to unearth hidden strengths and resilience within families, rather than an exposure of weaknesses?
The Power of Faith and Community
The African American community has long found solace and strength in faith, often turning to clergy and congregations for guidance. While spirituality is a profound source of support, it doesn’t have to be a contradiction to clinical therapy. Instead of viewing therapy as a challenge to faith, it can be seen as a complementary resource for individuals navigating the complexities of life.
Rewriting the Definition of Strength
Within the African American community, there’s an image of strength that can sometimes act as a double-edged sword. The notion that seeking therapy is a sign of weakness has lingered for too long. What if we redefined strength to include the courage to confront our emotional challenges and seek help when needed? Strength, after all, can take many forms.
Stigmas of Therapy in the Black Community
A Tapestry of Healing
Is therapy a “white people” thing? Not at all! Mental health knows no boundaries of color or culture. Instead, think of therapy as a unique thread in the rich tapestry of healing. It can be woven to reflect the diverse experiences and needs of African Americans, addressing the specific challenges they face while celebrating their cultural identity.
In the African American community, shattering these stigmas surrounding therapy is like adding vivid colors to a masterpiece. By encouraging open dialogues, spreading awareness of therapy’s benefits, and offering culturally competent care, we can break down the barriers that hold people back from seeking help. In doing so, we unveil the true beauty of mental health, fostering happier, healthier lives within our vibrant and resilient community.
Five principles on consistency and sustainable progress, all backed by research and practice.
If you go for broke you often end up broken. If you swing for home runs you often end up striking out. But if you just put the ball in play—over and over again—good things tend to happen.
When it comes to health, well-being, and peak performance, quick fixes and heroic efforts are the common theme. They are exciting, enticing, and a whole lot easier to sell than slow and steady approaches to improvement, which can sound (and genuinely be) a bit boring. But here’s the thing: slow and steady is what actually works.
According to 2017 data collected by the University of Scranton, only 9 percent of people stick to their resolutions for a full year. Most experience a stark decline: 27 percent of people fail their resolution after one week, 32 percent after two weeks, 42 percent after one month, 55 percent after six months, and then eventually all but 9 percent of people peter out by the end of the year. I suspect a big reason for this is that people overestimate what they can do in a day but underestimate what they can do in a year. Perhaps you are experiencing this right now with some of the changes you set out to make for 2022.
What follows are five principles on consistency and sustainable progress, all backed by research and practice.
Heroic efforts tend not to end well—resist their allure.
Pulling all-nighters, working out until you vomit, going on extreme diets, and so on may be fun to talk about, and they may even feel good for a bit, but these things usually end in illness, injury, or burnout. Ignore people’s social media posts on this stuff. These efforts are largely dumb (at best) and harmful (at worst). Yes, it is okay to go to the well every once in a while, but these exceptions prove the rule. Even most hard efforts should be repeatable. There is a big difference between comfortable (sustainable), comfortably uncomfortable (mostly sustainable), uncomfortably uncomfortable (can be sustainable in the right dose), and downright uncomfortable (very hard to sustain).
For example, research shows that injury and illness tend to occur when volume and intensity of work suddenly goes up by a significant amount over the one-month trailing average. Though these sorts of empirical studies have largely been performed in sport, I suspect the same theme is true off the playing field, too.
If you are addicted to visible progress you will not last long in whatever it is that you do.
Many people burnout not only after a hard defeat but also after a big success or a meteoric rise. The reason being that the high does not last forever. The popular notion of just get one percent every day is well-intentioned; it basically says don’t worry about crushing it all the time, simply aim for small marginal gains that add up over time. This is all well and good—and true. The trap, however, occurs when it becomes really hard to get one percent better every day, which happens fairly quickly in most pursuits. At this point, the goal has got to shift from visible progress to sustained and wise effort. This requires:
Framing the work as an ongoing practice
Measuring and judging the overall process, not every single result.
Allowing progress to be a byproduct of your commitment to and presence in the process.
Progress is non-linear.
When you are brand new to an activity, even if you aim to only get one percent better each day, you might actually get one-hundred percent better every day. As your skill level increases, the gains will become more incremental—ten percent, five percent, one percent, half a percent, a quarter of a percent, and so on. That’s okay. This phenomena is why it is so important to be patient and to enjoy what you do. As the philosopher and master of human potential George Leonard once said, “You’ve got to get comfortable on the plateau.”
What people think versus how progress actually unfolds over time:
There is no such thing as an overnight breakthrough.
A recent study published in the journal Nature found that while most people have a “hot streak” in their career, “a specific period during which an individual’s performance is substantially better than his or her typical performance,” the timing is somewhat unpredictable. “The hot streak emerges randomly within an individual’s sequence of works, is temporally localized, and is not associated with any detectable change in productivity,” the researchers write. But one thing just about every hot streak has in common? They all rest on a foundation of prior work, during which observable improvement was much less substantial. What seems like a breakthrough is rarely that. Think about pounding a stone 30 times and having it crack on the 31st. Though it may appear otherwise, it didn’t take just one pound for the stone to crack.
Show Restraint, Even When You Feel Good.
Sustainable progress, in just about every and any endeavor, requires stopping one rep short, at least on most days. This is what allows you to come back and pick up in a rhythm the next day. It can be hard to stop short for folks who are accustomed to giving things their absolute all. The trick is realizing that there is a difference between giving something your absolute all in any given day versus giving something your absolute all over an extended period of time. The former is precisely what can get in the way of the latter.
I use TikTok to showcase my artistry as a magician, and I like the lighthearted and entertainment aspects of the application. Through TikTok, I’ve established connections with fellow magicians, affording me the opportunity to absorb fresh ideas and engage in meaningful exchanges.
Another friend of mine chronicles their travels through video logs, capturing journeys across the country. There are also local amateur restaurant reviewers which have led me to some of the tastiest culinary establishments in New Orleans.
Why then is Congress trying to ban the app? Two-thirds of state legislatures, including Louisiana’s, have already taken some steps to do this on college campuses and through state-sponsored networks.
Dear Congress: Save TikTok
The power of TikTok’s genuine, real-life imagery and voices extends well beyond the confines of a printed newspaper column or a TV commentary. The legacy of the late New Orleans comedian Boogie B and his TikTok theme “New Orleans Hood History” remains vivid to illustrate this point: Where would we be without these entries on TikTok to know more about the many facets of New Orleans and Louisiana?
The TikTok approach is simple yet effective, a complimentary means to promoting a new hobby or entrepreneurship with an incredible audience to see a person’s brand.
As an American, I can acknowledge concerns about the platform which Congress and the President are raising: TikTok is mostly used by people on their phones and so the fact that it comes out of China gives concern to many about how this global competitor accesses our content, privacy, and safety. These concerns should be addressed through comprehensive and responsible regulation rather than outright banning an app used by 150 million Americans, and which has grown increasingly important to young African Americans as a safe, alternative media source.
Dear Congress: Save TikTok
Besides, national elections are around the corner. Why silence a platform used by young voters, like me, who interact with others to discuss issues and candidates? It seems anti-democratic at a time when we need to promote engagement in the future direction of our country.
In today’s rapidly evolving digital landscape, platforms like TikTok have emerged as dynamic spaces that encourage creativity, connectivity, information and economic growth.
TikTok has redefined the way we express ourselves. With its short-form video format, it encourages users to condense their ideas, stories, and talents into engaging and captivating content. Unlike facebook, it bans political ads, but even so-called influencers can share their ideas safely, without the shaming that often occurs on other apps like the former Twitter.
TikTok serves as a launchpad and its global user base is diverse, transcending borders and promoting meaningful connections.
I have contacted policymakers like our Congressmen Troy Carter, Steve Scalise and Garret Graves and encouraged them to nurture the positive aspects of TikTok. Their staff responses have been encouraging and indicate that TikTok is working to be protective of Americans online. I encourage these leaders to help Congress address legitimate TikTok concerns through balanced and thoughtful measures.
You read Think504.com. So, you are highly intelligent, uber informed and just an all-around great citizen. Not only do you know we are in the middle of an election, but you have a god idea about who you are voting for in the governor’s race. But do you know about the 4 constitutional amendments? Are you aware of the 2 city charter change amendments and a city tax renewal? Early voting starts this Saturday. We want to give you the info about all of this. We will be on WBOK to discuss theses in detail. But today you get to see the ballot language and a short description of what they are about.
CA No. 1 (ACT 200, 2023 – HB 311) – Prohibits the use of private funds in the administration of elections. (Select 1)
Do you support an amendment to prohibit the use of funds, goods, or services from a foreign government or a nongovernmental source to conduct elections and election functions and duties unless the use is authorized by the secretary of state through policies established in accordance with law? (Adds Article XI, Section 6)
CA No. 2 (ACT 30, 2023 – SB 63) – Provides that the freedom of worship is a fundamental right worthy of the highest protection. (Select 1)
Do you support an amendment to provide that the freedom of worship in a church or other place of worship is a fundamental right that is worthy of the highest order of protection? (Adds Const. Article XII, Section 17)
CA No. 3 (ACT 107, 2023 – HB 47) – Dedicates certain payments to be applied to the state retirement system unfunded accrued liability. (Select 1)
Do you support an amendment to require that a minimum of twenty-five percent of any money designated as nonrecurring state revenue be applied toward the balance of the unfunded accrued liability of the state retirement systems? (Amends Article VII, Section 10(D)(2)(b)(ii) and (iii))
CA No. 4 (ACT 48, 2023 – HB 46) – Restricts ad valorem tax exemptions for certain nonprofit organizations. (Select 1)
Do you support an amendment to deny a property tax exemption to a nonprofit corporation or association that owns residential property in such a state of disrepair that it endangers public health or safety? (Amends Article VII, Section 21(B))
City Law Changes
PW HRC Amendment Prop. No. 1 of 2 – Art. VI, Sec. 6-102 & 6-104 – CC (Select 1)
Shall Article VI, Sections 6-102 and 6-104 of the Home Rule Charter of the City of New Orleans be amended to move up the deadline by which the City Planning Commission must submit a capital program to the Mayor; and by which the operating budget, the proposed revenue and operating budget ordinances, the capital program as prepared by the City Planning Commission, the Mayor’s capital budget message, and the proposed capital budget ordinance must be submitted to the Council by thirty days so that the Council may have additional time to conduct public hearings and to receive input on budget matters, as provided in Ordinance No. 29370 M.C.S.?
PW HRC Amendment Prop. No. 2 of 2 – Art. IV, Sec. 4-702 & 4-801 – CC (Select 1)
Shall the Home Rule Charter of the City of New Orleans be amended to establish the Department of Code Enforcement to inspect substandard property and authorize demolition or remediation of property hazardous to the public health, safety, and welfare, and to enforce laws and regulations for maintaining streets, vacant lots, and other places free from weeds, trash, and deleterious matter, thereby reassigning such functions from the Departments of Safety and Permits and Sanitation to the Department of Code Enforcement, as provided in Ordinance No. 29371 M.C.S.?
Shall the Orleans Parish School Board (the “School Board”) renew the levy and collection of a tax of four and ninety-seven hundredths (4.97) mills on the dollar of the assessed valuation of property within the City of New Orleans assessed for City Taxation, (an estimated $20,450,000 reasonably expected at this time to be collected from the levy of the tax for an entire year), for a period of twenty (20) years, beginning in 2025, for the purpose of preservation, improvement and capital repairs of all existing public school facilities, to be levied and collected in the same manner as is set forth in Article VIII, Section 13(C)(Second) of the Louisiana Constitution of 1974?
We will have a deeper dive over the next couple of weeks and give more details and a look at how you vote might impact the city and state.
If you get out of jail in New Orleans and you don’t have a place to go what do you do?
There’s an organization that stands in the gap called The First 72+. Rev. Tyrone Smith along with his brother and four other formerly incarcerated men founded the First72+. Usually, when folks get out of prison the first 72 hours are critical. You’re either looking for a job, public assistance or a place to stay. While enrolled into The First 72+ all those resources and more are provided. The formerly incarcerated get a new start.
On Sept. 18, 2023, The First 72+ held their grand opening to the new facility – a 3,200-square-foot transitional housing with a total of 8 beds. In addition to the current resources provided, residents can take part in culinary courses and technological literacy programs which will be located on site.
Formerly Incarcerated Get a New Start
“If this place wasn’t in existence, I think the crime rate would be even higher. The first 3 days you come out of prison it can either make or break you. The first day you don’t want to go back, nobody wants to go back to prison. So, you come out looking for a job and can’t find one and the second day you do it again and you’re sleeping under the bridge and maybe even the shelter. So, you were better off in jail then you are out being free.
After three days, you can’t get no work or no help, you’re going back to the familiar because you know how to sell drugs. You know how to rob and steal because that’s what majority of us went to jail for. This is the place where we talk them off the ledge. We tell them to give themselves a chance, it’s going to be alright”
Reverend Tyrone Smith
The First 72+ has been able to help more than 2000 people on their journey home from incarceration. “So many guys’ lives are changed. Hundreds and hundreds of men get out and never went back,” said Rev. Smith. You see, Rev. Smith himself is formerly incarcerated. He served 9 years total in jail. But he’s been off drugs for almost 35 years. He stated that he “was a career criminal.” Released in 1994, he has never been in any type of trouble since.
Formerly Incarcerated Get a New Start
This new building makes the group stronger and more effective. For years they operated from a much smaller and older building. Since Louisiana remains the mass incarceration capital of the world, Louisiana has the most formerly incarcerated people in the world. And with a smaller jail and shorter sentences for non-violent offenses, the city needs this facility. A properly staffed and fully functional reentry facility makes us all safer.
Governor John Bel Edwards tried. Mayor LaToya Cantrell tried. But in the year of 2023 in the month of September, neither could stop the citizens of New Orleans from buying water.
We had just gone through the same thing with toilet paper. So, one would’ve thought that after the great toilet paper pandemic of 2021 people would have understood the relationship between hoarding and shortages. But that would’ve required people to overcome an essential part of human nature, the inability to think rationally in stressful situations.
“Child, lemme tell you,” Auntie Beverly called and said, “there ain’t a bottle of water left in the Sam’s on the Westbank.” That same day photos of water stacked in closets started appearing on Instagram reels and TikTok feeds. At Canseco’s on Fillmore and Elysian Fields, a lady stood in line with 20 gallons of water in her basket, more than she probably drinks in a year.
Mayor Cantrell declared a state of emergency. Governor Edwards vowed to issue a federal emergency request. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers talked of dumping 36 million gallons of fresh water into the Mississippi River.
The 2023 Water Pandemic
Salt was the problem. Yes, salt. Salt and summer. Call it the summer of salt.
The summer of salt happened around the time the planet had started feeling a certain type of way about us. It probably had been feeling a certain type of way about us for a while. Apparently stuffing the planet with more and more people, and scorching the atmosphere didn’t go over well. Finally, the planet expressed its revulsion in heat. Stifling, humid, swampy heat. And no rain.
The Mississippi River, the Nile of New Orleans, saw its water flow drop from 300,000 cubic square feet per second to 140,000 because the heat inspired drought. That’s more than half. As a result, a massive salt wedge began back flowing up the river from the Gulf of Mexico.
Lower coastal areas were put on a water advisory. Like don’t drink the water because there’s too much salt in it now, for some people. Word was that by late in the month of 10, the wedge would reach Orleans and other highly populated parishes. Then in those parishes it’d be the same scenario, for some people.
The S&WB issued an advisory. State Health Advisor Joe Kanter released a statement saying there’s no reason to panic. Underwater levees were even erected to stunt the wedge’s flow. And once the soon-to-be federal emergency request was declared there’d be acesss to federal aid in the form of more water. Still panic ensued.
Word was that in some parts of town people had proceeded to buy up all the Fiji water. When the Fiji is gone from the shelves it’s a sure sign that we have reached a Code Red level event. The Fiji was gone. Yet, the wedge was still a month away.
The 2023 Water Pandemic
“What you think they gon do with all that water in the meantime,” somebody asked.
“I don’t know,” somebody else replied, “store it next to all their unused toilet paper?”
People acted like they weren’t living in America. America is a very wasteful and industrial society. Don’t we all know that? At any given time, there are warehouses full of unused goods. Think of any type of grocery. Think of water. What’s seen on the shelves doesn’t always represent the available stock. So typically, there’s no reason to hoard. That was a hard concept to swallow in stressful times.
In those days, the wedge was always with us. There on the news, creeping its way up the river, a floating wedge of doom. It wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for your father to call. “I bought 3 cases today,” he’d say. “You know the stuff coming out of your faucet and dispenser is still good,” you’d reply.
Ultimately, the wedge demanded more rationality than we could muster. We succumbed as we always did. I too if I’m being honest. My cousin came over. “What y’all got to drink,” he said. “Anything you want,” I said, “anything except for bottled water.”
Constructing your dream life is a journey filled with excitement, challenges, and uncertainties. Along this path, maintaining confidence can be a crucial factor in your success. Confidence isn’t just about self-assurance; it’s about believing in yourself, your goals, and your ability to overcome obstacles. Let’s explore how to remain confident as you work towards creating the life you’ve always envisioned.
Clarify Your Vision
The first step in building your dream life is to have a clear and compelling vision. This vision should encompass your long-term goals, values, and what truly matters to you. When you have a crystal-clear understanding of what you want, it becomes easier to stay confident in your pursuits. Take time to reflect on your aspirations, create vision boards, and set specific, achievable goals.
Self-awareness is the foundation of self-confidence. Understanding your strengths, weaknesses, and values allows you to make informed decisions and take calculated risks. Regularly assess your progress and adjust your plans as needed. This adaptability and self-reflection will reinforce your belief in your ability to navigate challenges.
Cultivate a Growth Mindset
A growth mindset is the belief that you can develop your abilities through dedication and hard work. Embrace challenges as opportunities to learn and grow, rather than as setbacks. By adopting this mindset, you’ll maintain confidence even when facing obstacles, knowing that setbacks are a natural part of the journey towards success.
Surround Yourself with Positivity
Your environment plays a significant role in shaping your confidence. Surround yourself with supportive, positive individuals who encourage your dreams and provide constructive feedback. Limit exposure to negativity, whether it’s toxic relationships or self-doubt. Seek out mentors and role models who can inspire and guide you.
Confidence often comes from acting. Procrastination and overthinking can erode your belief in your abilities. Break your goals into smaller, manageable steps and take consistent action toward them. Each small accomplishment will boost your self-esteem and reinforce your confidence.
Embrace Failure as a Learning Opportunity
Failure is not the opposite of confidence; it’s a steppingstone to success. When you encounter setbacks, view them as valuable lessons. Analyze what went wrong, adjust your approach, and try again with newfound wisdom. Remember that even the most successful individuals faced failure before achieving their dreams.
Self-compassion involves treating yourself with the same kindness and understanding that you would offer to a friend. Be gentle with yourself on this journey. Recognize that perfection is not the goal, and setbacks do not define your worth. By practicing self-compassion, you’ll maintain a healthier self-image and, consequently, greater confidence.
Celebrate Your Achievements
Acknowledge your successes, no matter how small they may seem. Celebrate your milestones and achievements to reinforce your belief in your abilities. These celebrations serve as reminders of your progress and can keep your confidence levels high.
Stay Persistent and Resilient
Building your dream life is not always a linear path. You will encounter setbacks, rejections, and moments of doubt. However, the key to maintaining confidence is persistence and resilience. Keep pushing forward, adapt to changes, and stay committed to your vision.
Always remember, remaining confident while constructing your dream life is an ongoing process that requires self-awareness, positivity, and a growth mindset. By clarifying your vision, surrounding yourself with supportive influences, and embracing failure as a learning opportunity, you can build and maintain the confidence needed to turn your dreams into reality. Remember that confidence is not a static trait but a dynamic quality that grows stronger with each step you take towards your ideal life.
In the vibrant and culturally diverse city of New Orleans, a pressing issue is affecting many residents. But the African American community is especially impacted. Adverse Childhood Experiences(ACEs) have become a focal point in the city’s pursuit of a healthier and more resilient future.
Adverse Childhood Experiences(ACEs) encompass a range of traumatic events or circumstances that occur during an individual’s formative years, typically before the age of 18. These experiences disrupt a child’s sense of safety, stability, and overall well-being. The ACEs concept gained prominence through the groundbreaking ACEs Study. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Kaiser Permanente conducted the research in the late 1990s. They identified ten common ACE factors that can profoundly affect a person’s life throughout adulthood.
This table illustrates the problems many children endure in New Orleans
The experience of physical harm or injury inflicted by a caregiver or trusted adult can leave lasting physical and emotional scars.
Verbal aggression, humiliation, or emotional neglect can negatively impact a child’s mental health and self-esteem.
Inappropriate sexual contact or exposure during childhood can lead to long-lasting trauma and psychological distress.
Living in an environment marked by domestic violence, substance abuse, mental illness, or incarceration can create an unstable and unsafe upbringing.
Lack of basic necessities, such as food, shelter, and emotional support, can hinder a child’s healthy development.
Parental Separation or Divorce
The breakdown of a family unit can result in emotional distress and a sense of abandonment.
Exposure to a caregiver’s substance abuse can lead to neglect, trauma, and a higher likelihood of substance use issues later in life.
Growing up with a caregiver who struggles with mental health issues can create an unstable home environment and increase the risk of mental health challenges for the child.
A parent’s imprisonment can disrupt family dynamics, leading to a range of negative consequences for the child.
Witnessing or experiencing violence in the neighborhood or community can contribute to feelings of fear and insecurity.
In New Orleans, a historical legacy of racial discrimination, economic disparities, and systemic inequalities contributes to the higher likelihood of African American children experiencing ACEs. Poverty rates in the Black community are disproportionately high. Poverty increases the risk of neglect, household dysfunction, and exposure to community violence. Additionally, limited access to quality healthcare and education exacerbates the impact of ACEs on children’s long-term outcomes.
Building Resilience for African Americans
ACEs are not mere childhood memories. They hold lasting implications for health, leading to an increased probability of disease, disability, and adverse life outcomes. Stress induced by ACEs can alter a child’s brain and body. This elevates the risk of illnesses and making life more challenging. These effects accumulate over time, with each additional ACE compounding the potential for harm.
The effects of ACEs extend beyond individual well-being; they have significant societal health, economic, and well-being costs. Many experts consider ACEs a public health crisis due to their pervasive influence. Marginalized communities often bear a disproportionate burden of ACEs, intertwined with issues like community violence, racism, incarceration, and discrimination.
ACEs disrupt the body’s equilibrium, causing toxic stress that can harm the immune system, emotional regulation, concentration, learning, and anxiety management. The cumulative effects of ACEs can manifest in various psychological and medical problems. The effects include chronic depression, anxiety and chronic health issues.
The ACE survey – comprised of 10 questions – quantifies an individual’s exposure to ACEs during childhood. Each “yes” response to a question contributes to an individual’s ACE score, which ranges from 0 to 10. A higher score indicates a greater likelihood of experiencing negative outcomes later in life. For instance, a score of 4 or more doubles an adult’s risk of developing heart disease or cancer. A score of 5 or more increases the chance of alcoholism by eightfold. And a
score of 6 or more amplifies the risk of further negative outcomes.
The ACE Survey
Please answer the following questions by indicating if they happened during your childhood (up to age 18). For each “yes” response, add one point to your ACE score.
Did a parent or other adult in the household often swear at you, insult you, or humiliate you or act in a way that made you afraid you would be physically hurt?
Did a parent or other adult in the household often push, grab, slap, or throw something at you?Or any adult ever hit you so hard that you had marks or were injured?
Did an adult or person at least five years older than you ever touch or fondle you or have you touch their body in a sexual way or attempt to have intercourse with you?
Did you often feel that no one in your family loved you or thought you were important or special, or your family didn’t look out for each other, feel close to each other, or support each other?
Did you often feel that you didn’t have enough to eat, had to wear dirty clothes, and had no one to protect you, or your parents were too drunk or high to take care of you or take you to the doctor if you needed it?
Were your parents ever separated or divorced?
Was your mother or stepmother often pushed, grabbed, slapped, or had something thrown at her? Or was she kicked, bitten, hit with a fist, or hit with something hard, or ever repeatedly hit over at least a few minutes? or threatened with a gun or knife?
Did you live with anyone who was a problem drinker or alcoholic, or who used street drugs?
Was a household member depressed or mentally ill or did a household member attempt suicide?
Did a household member go to prison?
Building Resilience for African Americans
While ACEs can have a profound impact on a person’s life, it’s essential to recognize that resilience is a powerful force that can counteract the negative effects of adversity. Resilience is the ability to bounce back from difficult experiences, adapt to challenges, and grow stronger in the face of adversity. In the context of ACEs, resilience can play a pivotal role in mitigating their long-term consequences.
Building resilience involves several key factors:
Strong Support Networks: Having supportive relationships with family, friends, mentors, or community organizations can provide a buffer against the effects of ACEs.
Access to Mental Health Services: Seeking professional help and therapy can aid individuals in processing and coping with traumatic experiences.
Coping Skills: Teaching individuals healthy coping mechanisms, such as mindfulness, problem-solving, and emotional regulation, can enhance their resilience.
Positive Self-Identity: Fostering a sense of self-worth and self-efficacy can help individuals develop a more positive outlook on life.
Education and Employment Opportunities: Access to quality education and employment opportunities can empower individuals to overcome adversity and improve their socio-economic status.
Resilience is the key
Understanding the concept of ACEs and their impact is a crucial step toward creating a brighter future for the city. We must acknowledge the challenges and work together to address them. By promoting resilience, New Orleans can build a more resilient and healthier community. A resilient New Orleans celebrates its rich culture and ensures the well-being of all its residents. Most importantly, breaking the cycle of ACEs is not just a goal but a collective commitment. A commitment to nurturing the city’s most precious resource—its children, who, with resilience, can overcome adversity and thrive.