Report from Louisiana: Inner City Blues

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – There has been a bit of a buzz in my neck of the woods this week about a “scorching” letter written by an Alabama tourist to Mayor Cantrell of New Orleans. This visitor took issue with the homelessness, blight, and open drug use in the city and implored the mayor to “be a leader” and clean up her city.

I can’t speak about NOLA, but I can’t argue with what this guy probably saw because I see the same thing here in Shreveport, and I suspect this is the case in many cities across the nation. In Shreveport, for example, the homeless population downtown can be seen everywhere; on every bench, in doorways of every abandoned building, and posted up in front of the public library. Some ask for money, most stare sullenly into space and avoid eye contact. It is sad to me, and I know that a wide variety of circumstances have brought them here. Some of this may be of their own doing, but not always.

Does this deter tourists? Probably, some.

More puzzling to me is that I don’t see this everywhere. I don’t travel widely, but I do travel. We recently returned from a trip to the Midwest to visit my husband’s family. As is our custom, we spent a day in Des Moines, exploring the vibrant downtown and then attending an iCubs baseball game. Shreveport doesn’t have minor league baseball, so we grab it when we can.

In Des Moines we did not see blight, homelessness, drug use, abandonment; I’m sure some of that is there, we just didn’t see it downtown. We walked blocks, inside the skywalks and outside on the street. Granted, a lot of the shops in the skywalks that we had seen before are gone. A lot of people are still working from home. But the majority of businesses there are booming and there are people living, working, and playing downtown.

It makes coming home to a dirty, crumbling city somewhat depressing.

I am not sure what the answer is. My husband would say it is the Democrats we seem to put into office. “Look at every city that ever had a Democrat mayor!” he screams. “It goes to hell!”

He’s not wrong.

Except the mayor of Des Moines is a Democrat.

Obviously, the blight and decay of our cities is the result of a combination of factors. For example, Louisiana only has two Fortune 500 companies, the highest of which ranks only 143 (CenturyLink). We are not a business friendly state with a rank of 49 on that list. I love my state for its natural beauty, but we have a lot of problems.

At the very least, we have got to get people back to work across this country. Everywhere we went on our travels we saw help wanted signs and places understaffed. Product shortages are evident. From the lowest to the highest, we have got to get this economy going and these jobs filled. The unemployment subsidies need to stop. ANYone who wants a job should be able to find one right now.

And while the tourist who wrote the letter to Mayor Cantrell will likely find his pleas falling of deaf ears in the mayor’s office, I hope he knows that a lot of other people see and agree with his words. We need to elect leaders who will step up and lead, who will do the right thing and not necessarily the popular thing, and who will get this country back on its feet.

It is overdue.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and at Medium; she is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: On Blogging and new platforms

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

By: Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT — As usual, I am a little late to the party, but in January I decided to start writing on Medium in addition to keeping my own blog, as well as keeping my Monday slot here.

Medium is basically a blogging platform, but it seems to be a decent place to post from time to time because of the built-in audience.  Launched in August 2012 by Evan Williams, one of the co-founders of Twitter, Medium has a pretty solid, worldwide following. You can read three free articles a month before you hit the paywall. It’s not clear how many subscribers have signed up for the $5 monthly subscription fee but estimates range from 200,000 to 400,000. 

I kind of stumbled on Medium this spring when this article by Tomas Pueyo went viral and was showing up all over my social media. I thought the article was really well done and if that was any indicator of what kind of work was on Medium, I wanted to know more. I’ve been reading there ever since, and at some point I subscribed. 

On Medium you can tailor your home screen to the types of articles you want to see by simply following  specific categories. In the beginning I set mine to coronavirus articles, culture, history, humor, environment…that kind of thing. I have tweaked it a bit since then; you can also follow tags.  I like a mix of things to appear on my home screen. There is a category for writing, but I’m getting too many articles about how to write on Medium that are weighing my feed down. I am going to take that one off. I took the coronavirus category off as well; I’m tired of reading about that.

The site hosts professional and amateur writers and so again, pick and choose. Famous names include Susan Orlean (a favorite of mine – I loved The Library Book), Nikki Haley, Senator Marco Rubio, and many others. Authors are paid by internal views and engagement: how long someone spends on your article, claps (which is similar to the “like” button), and shares. A writer on Medium earns zero revenue from readers outside the Medium subscription base; external views do not earn money, but in theory they can lead to more Medium subscribers.  It is all about exposure and building a following. 

I have concerns about spreading myself too thin but I am curious to see if I can spark up a following on Medium which would then develop into a little extra cash in my pocket, which is always a good thing. Now that I am finally retired, I know that I will have more free time for writing, and so for the moment, I think I can handle three blogging platforms. My posts at each will be quite different because the audience for each is different.

To earn money on the platform, you have to sign up for a Strip account; it is very simple and safe. Once a month your earnings are transferred into your account.

So, how much have I earned in my six months there? About enough to buy a hamburger and beer for lunch. Not a lot. You’re probably not going to make enough to quit your day job. But my revenue is growing each month, so at least it’s going in the right direction, and I’m gaining followers. Articles on Medium have “a long tail”; that is, they earn money weeks after they’ve been published because the Medium algorithm filters them back around to land on someone’s homepage depending on their interests. For example, logging on to Medium right now, I have a selection of articles from today on back about four weeks.

I’m curious if any of you are Medium readers? If not, check the site out and let me know honestly what you think about it. Like I said, you get three free articles per month. 

Report from Louisiana: The Vaccine Lottery

Photo by Emin BAYCAN on Unsplash

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Registration opens today for Louisiana’s “Shot at a Million” lottery campaign. To enter you must be a Louisiana resident and have had at least one Covid vaccine. Prizes include scholarships for those under 18, and cash for everyone else.

The campaign is the latest effort by Governor John Bel Edwards to get Louisiana citizens vaccinated against the Coronavirus.

“We need more people to go sleeves up before we can truly end the pandemic,” Edwards said at the press conference. “’Shot At A Million’ is a reward for those who’ve already gotten vaccinated and a fun nudge for others to get the vaccine sooner rather than later.”

The prizes are funded by federal COVID dollars.

This idea of rewarding people for getting the vaccine isn’t new; for months now states have been offering incentives to get the shot which have included free crawfish, burritos, tequila shots, amusement park tickets, and hot dogs.

The concept of rewarding people for doing “the right thing” trickles on down to the school level; positive behavior incentives in schools come in the form of “bucks” or tickets handed to kids who follow dress code, open doors for others, do their homework, that sort of thing. The theory is that everyone will show good behavior in order to get the incentives and be allowed to use those “bucks” in a school store for chips, candy, or homework passes.

Currently, Louisiana is near the bottom of the vaccinated population list with only 33% of our people having taken the shot. Highest ranked? Vermont, with 64%. So in theory, someone in Louisiana stands a 1 in 1,675,152 “shot” at winning a prize in the Louisiana vaccine lottery.

We will literally gamble on anything in Louisiana.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport, at Medium, and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: Checking in after Laura

By: Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT — Hurricane Laura came and went this past Thursday, leaving behind a wake of destruction throughout Louisiana.

The death count so far is fourteen, at least five of those from carbon monoxide poisoning from generator use. A fourteen year old girl in Leesville, Louisiana was killed when a tree fell on to her family’s home.

Lake Charles looks like a war zone; the pictures coming out of there are devastating. News reports indicate that it will be weeks before power is restored and in some parishes the entire power grid has to be rebuilt from the ground up.

Shreveport is in the far northwest corner of the state and Laura was still a Cat 1 hurricane when she reached us, which is very rare. The last major tropical storm we had through here was Rita in 2005, but it was not still a hurricane when it came through here.

We were without power in my neighborhood four days; in Shreveport we still have 18,000 without power as I write this just in Shreveport. Throughout the state is much more.

One thing I’ve realized is how spoiled and soft I am; my little tiny stint without power in the Louisiana heat and humidity is nothing compared to what other people are going through. If you want to destroy civilization, take away our air conditioning.

Donald Trump visited south Louisiana this weekend to survey damage; FEMA is on the ground and the Cajun Navy has been deployed to help. The resources to help are in place but it doesn’t make the current suffering much better when your home is destroyed and your possessions scattered across four parishes. A blue tarp doesn’t help you much.

That being said, Louisiana is strong and we have done this before. We will work together and rebuild, even stronger, and we will lift each other up and help each other get there.

I’m keeping this short today: I have some little minor problems to attend to today, like reinstalling a network driver on my laptop which has somehow disappeared, and cleaning out my refrigerator and the spoiled food that didn’t make it.

I’m counting my blessings, big time.

Report From Louisiana Extra! Governor’s Election Heats Up with Miraculous Budget Surplus

Editor’s Note (DTG): While going through posts for the writers payday I found this post at the old blog in draft. For some reason it didn’t go up at the old blog, likely do to link issues. After reading it I’ve deemed it good enough to put up and pay for it, so slightly later than expected here via the last big of grief the old GoDaddy hosting site can give us is an election report from Pat Austin originally dated Sept 14th

The Washington Post has designated the Louisiana governor’s race as one of the top five governor’s races to watch in 2019-20.

John Bel Edwards has fairly high approval ratings (mid 50s) and is fairly adept at playing both sides of the line. He signed one of the strictest abortion bills in the country and he oversaw a massive Medicaid expansion. He probably feels fairly safe with the teacher vote because his paltry $1000-a-year raise allows him to say he gave the teachers their first raise in many years.

All in all, I think Edwards feels pretty safe.

His two Republican challengers, Eddie Rispone and Ralph Abraham, are splitting the Republican vote and it’s entirely possible that Edwards can stay comfy in his leather chair without having to worry about a runoff election. Should one of those two Republicans drop out, it might be a different story, but nobody is talking about that.

Adding more fuel to the gubernatorial debate stage will be the fact that now the governor’s office has miraculously discovered a budget surplus:

“Louisiana likely will have a $500 million budget surplus for the most recent fiscal year, significantly more than the $300 million initially thought, Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration said Friday, setting off a new round of debate in the governor’s race over the state’s financial situation.

“Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne told lawmakers in a joint budget hearing that the larger surplus will allow the state to pay for “dramatic needs” in infrastructure, including a $14 billion backlog in road and bridge projects, and the Edwards administration cast the news as proof the state has emerged from years of uncertainty with a stable budget.”

Louis Gurvitch at The Hayride would like to remind everyone of the facts: Here are the plain facts: “Taxes are way up, the state’s oil and gas industry is being destroyed by lawsuits and over-regulation, and Louisiana’s percentage increase in government spending is the highest in the nation! Don’t even bother to ask about the government reforms we were promised…”

Gurvitch speaks the truth. I love Louisiana, but we are not attracting new business with the excessive tax burden we have in this state, and we are indeed over-run by trial lawyers.

The primary is October 12. We will see then if Edwards stands alone or if he will go to a runoff.

Links:
https://beta.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/09/06/top-governors-races/?noredirect=on

https://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/politics/elections/article_284b8438-d4b5-11e9-a813-375cc60d6770.html

Report from Louisiana: Medical Marijuana Eases Blanco’s Last Days

Former Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco died August 18; she had been suffering from ocular melanoma.

Whether or not one agrees with her politics, pretty much everyone will concede that Governor Blanco was a class act. She was always gracious and kind, and her love for the state of Louisiana was never questioned. She caught a lot of heat during Hurricane Katrina, but no one ever questioned her love of the state or the city of New Orleans.

Last week The Advocate reports that toward the last days of her life Governor Blanco turned to medical marijuana for relief from the pain of her advanced disease.

Medical marijuana was made legal in Louisiana in the 1970s but it took until 2019 for all of the loopholes, regulation, and proper framework to be put in place. Now the drug is distributed as an oil by nine pharmacies throughout the state. It is legal in about thirty-three states in the U.S.

In July 2019, Blanco entered hospice care and by August was receiving medical marijuana. The drug was immediately effective on her and relieved her from the blackouts that she had from morphine. Her family insists that the oil returned a valuable quality of life to Blanco’s last days.

From The Advocate:

Blanco-Hartfield [Blanco’s daughter], put half a milliliter of oil under her mother’s tongue. “Within 60 seconds, her whole body relaxed,” Blanco-Hartfield said. “She smiled and a peacefulness came over her. It was amazing.”

The following day, Blanco-Hartfield gave her mother a mixture of two milligrams of crushed methadone that had been dissolved with a peppermint into water and half a milliliter of marijuana oil.

“All she had to do was let it go down her throat,” Blanco-Hartfield said. “By that night, she was smiling, eating, laughing and drinking. She could speak one-word commands. We never imagined we’d see that again. It made all the difference in the world that she no longer had to take the morphine.”

According to the family, Governor Blanco was able to rest comfortable, eat, and participate in important family events in her last days, and they believe that if the drug had been available sooner, Blanco may have even lived longer.

The drug remains very expensive, but if it does in fact provide such relief to terminal and to suffering patients, certainly it should be accessible.

Link to The Advocate story: https://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/politics/article_1a4e44be-cb6a-11e9-8292-fb567939e0f0.html

Report from Louisiana: Medical Marijuana Eases Blanco’s Last Days

Former Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco died August 18; she had been suffering from ocular melanoma.

Whether or not one agrees with her politics, pretty much everyone will concede that Governor Blanco was a class act. She was always gracious and kind, and her love for the state of Louisiana was never questioned. She caught a lot of heat during Hurricane Katrina, but no one ever questioned her love of the state or the city of New Orleans.

Last week The Advocate reports that toward the last days of her life Governor Blanco turned to medical marijuana for relief from the pain of her advanced disease.

Medical marijuana was made legal in Louisiana in the 1970s but it took until 2019 for all of the loopholes, regulation, and proper framework to be put in place. Now the drug is distributed as an oil by nine pharmacies throughout the state. It is legal in about thirty-three states in the U.S.

In July 2019, Blanco entered hospice care and by August was receiving medical marijuana. The drug was immediately effective on her and relieved her from the blackouts that she had from morphine. Her family insists that the oil returned a valuable quality of life to Blanco’s last days.

From The Advocate:

Blanco-Hartfield [Blanco’s daughter], put half a milliliter of oil under her mother’s tongue. “Within 60 seconds, her whole body relaxed,” Blanco-Hartfield said. “She smiled and a peacefulness came over her. It was amazing.”

The following day, Blanco-Hartfield gave her mother a mixture of two milligrams of crushed methadone that had been dissolved with a peppermint into water and half a milliliter of marijuana oil.

“All she had to do was let it go down her throat,” Blanco-Hartfield said. “By that night, she was smiling, eating, laughing and drinking. She could speak one-word commands. We never imagined we’d see that again. It made all the difference in the world that she no longer had to take the morphine.”

According to the family, Governor Blanco was able to rest comfortable, eat, and participate in important family events in her last days, and they believe that if the drug had been available sooner, Blanco may have even lived longer.

The drug remains very expensive, but if it does in fact provide such relief to terminal and to suffering patients, certainly it should be accessible.

Link to The Advocate story: https://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/politics/article_1a4e44be-cb6a-11e9-8292-fb567939e0f0.html