Louisiana farmers settle suit on genetically modified rice

This article was published in The Times-Picayune on July 10, 2011.

After years of court battles, Louisiana rice farmers will finally recoup some of their losses stemming from one of the largest genetically modified seed contaminations ever.



Bayer CropScience, the German biotech conglomerate, agreed last week to pay $750 million in damages to 11,000 rice farmers in Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Texas and Missouri.

The settlement aims to compensate for Bayer’s 2006 accidental leak of a genetically engineered strain of rice into the U.S. rice supply, which rendered billions of dollars’ worth of the crop unfit for export to most countries.

“We lost a lot of money,” said John Owen, a rice farmer in Rayville, who, along with 450 other Louisiana farmers, is seeking damages for the losses his farm suffered, which he values at 15 percent of his annual net revenues. “I think the settlement will be welcomed. I don’t know that it’ll make everyone completely whole, but it’s a step in the right direction. Some farms had to go out of business.”

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UNO Charter Network making moves to get every education major into classrooms

Published on April 1, 2011 at The Lens.

All education majors at the University of New Orleans would take on teaching roles in the four Capital One-UNO charter schools, under a new plan presented to the charters’ governing board.

The New Beginnings School Foundation oversees 1,640 students in four schools: P.A. Capdau Elementary, Gentilly Terrace Elementary, Medard Nelson Elementary, and Thurgood Marshall Early College High School.

As part of their restructuring toward a ‘professional development school’ model, the board members also voted unanimously on Saturday to transfer financial decision-making authority away from UNO to themselves. UNO will be solely responsible for the educational programs in the schools.

The hope is that this shift will improve school accountability and educational programs, said Vera Triplett, chief operating officer of the UNO Charter Network, a department within UNO’s College of Education.

“It got to be a bit convoluted figuring out who was accountable for what,” said Triplett. “UNO is a state entity, so…it got be a bureaucracy that K-12 systems are not used to dealing with. This decision is to take the focus off UNO to be able to deal with the educational side so they aren’t spending too much time on the operations.” Read more of this post

Louisiana students protest budget cuts

Jindal says the state is not getting its money’s worth in education

This was the lead story published in The Hullabaloo on November 30, 2010.

A crowd of approximately 500 students from at least eight different universities gathered Nov. 10 on the state Capitol steps in Baton Rouge, La. to protest imminent massive cuts to public higher education.

Joining in chants such as “Where’s Bobby Jindal?” and “Stand Up,” the students rallied to voice their outrage with the legislators responsible for slashing university budgets by 35 percent to make up for the state’s projected $2.42 billion budget shortfall over the next three years.

“Collectively, we are stronger than the legislature,” LSU student Ariel Gratch said. Gratch addressed the crowd of students from various public universities in Louisiana.

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Republicans make gains in Congress

This article was published in The Hullabaloo on November 5, 2010.


Reflecting the sweeping national Republican victories in Tuesday’s midterm elections, Louisiana residents elected Republicans in three of four major races.

As forecast by political scientists and pundits alike, Republicans David Vitter, Jeff Landry and Jay Dardenne were each elected to the U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives and Louisiana Lieutenant Governor position, respectively, while Democrat Cedric Richmond won the House race in New Orleans’ typically liberal 2nd District.

American political science professor Brian Brox said though the state’s political landscape remains largely unchanged following the elections, the Republican Party’s newly acquired majority in the House of Representatives could negatively impact Louisiana.

“Spending on infrastructure, public works projects and earmarks is going to be tight,” Brox said. “Federal assistance to small businesses, job creation — all this stuff is going to be much harder to come by… It looks like a comprehensive energy bill is going to be off the table for the next few years.”

Sophomore Sinnott Martin, meanwhile, said he was pleased with the new Republican House majority and optimistic for future Republican leadership.

“The Republicans are going to have to take a more hands-on approach to the healthcare bill — not just look to repeal it,” Martin said. “There’s going to have to be compromise to get rid of useless spending in the bill and still help more people [with healthcare coverage]. The big thing is we have to cut spending.”

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Kathy Zeitoun leads panel discussion on prison abuse

This article was published in The Hullabaloo on October 29, 2010.

Four women who were either prison abuse victims or human rights activists led a panel discussion entitled “Human Rights of the Incarcerated” Tuesday night.

The Newcomb College Institute and Newcomb-Tulane College co-sponsored the event.

Kathy Zeitoun, the event’s keynote speaker, knows the atrocities committed within the New Orleans prison system all too well. As told in Dave Eggers’ book “Zeitoun,” Kathy’s Syrian husband Abdulrahman Zeitoun, wrongfully accused of terrorism charges and denied due process, spent five months in Louisiana jails following Hurricane Katrina.

“It was hard for him to be called Taliban, al-Qaeda,” Zeitoun said, recounting his treatment by prison guards, some of whom had just returned from serving in Iraq. “We worked so hard to build our reputations in this city, being Muslim… and after the storm we helped rebuild.”

Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the world, with one of every 55 residents behind bars, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

The ACLU of Louisiana receives approximatelty 80 complaints of prison abuses each month, mostly concerning “beatings from guards, inadequate medical care, squalid living conditions and being denied access to a lawyer,” according to their website. In New Orleans, city officials are currently looking to almost double prison capacities despite a budget crisis that is forcing public universities to severely cut programs.

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New Orleans public housing decentralized

This article, published in The Hullabaloo on October 22, 2010, spurred me to pursue further research in my graduate-level Economics of Regulation class.

David Gilmore, chief of the Housing Authority of New Orleans, gave final approval Tuesday for the city to apply for a $65-million federal grant that would fund the redevelopment of Iberville, the last major public housing complex left in New Orleans.

The highly competitive Choice Neighborhood grant, funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, aims to transform areas of concentrated poverty into “viable and sustainable mixed-income neighborhoods by linking housing improvements with appropriate services, schools, public assets, transportation and access to jobs,” according to its website.

City officials say the Iberville housing development’s proximity to the French Quarter, St. Charles streetcar line, and planned LSUbiomedical campus and teaching hospitals make it ideal for redevelopment.

“You tie it all together and you will have one of the greatest neighborhoods in the city,” Mayor Mitch Landrieu said at an affordable-housing conference Sept. 23, reported The Lens.

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Louisiana cuts education funding

This story was published in The Hullabaloo on October 8, 2010.

Because of a unique mix of post-Katrina events, existing fiscal policy and political will, Louisiana may have to slash up to 73.5 percent of its portion of the budget allocated for healthcare and higher education spending between now and July 2011 to make up for expected losses.

As federal stimulus funding is set to run out in July 2011, many states are facing massive budget cuts across the board. At Louisiana State University, cuts of this magnitude translate into losses of $62 million for fiscal year 2011 – 2012, which could result in roughly 700 layoffs, the closure of seven of its 14 schools and the elimination of one-third of its degree programs.

“We do not know what lies ahead or what we will be asked to do next,” LSU Chancellor Michael Martin said, according to his website, LSUBudget Impact. “But we will continue to make the case to all constituents as forcibly as possible that these cuts would be destructive to the state’s flagship institution, catastrophic to the local economy and disastrous for the future education of the children of Louisiana.”

In a conference call with college journalists on Monday, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said that while he understood the severity of the Louisiana budget cuts, there is not much the federal government can do.

“I don’t know how much we could intervene with the state legislature,” Duncan said. “Many of these issues at the local level we can’t control at the federal level. But I will look at legal remedies.”

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Louisiana’s new Medicaid waiver to finance free health clinics

This article was published in The Hullabaloo on September 24, 2010.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services approved a Medicaid waiver to the state of Louisiana Wednesday that will free up funds typically allocated only to hospitals to help fund New Orleans’ 87 community health clinics.

The typically-free clinics, which were established after Hurricane Katrina, have been funded primarily by rebuilding grants, including a substantial amount from Qatar and a $100-million federal Primary Care and Access Stabilization Grant that is set to expire Thursday.

The newly approved Medicaid waiver will provide $97.5 million to fund the primary-care clinics during the next three years, though the clinics will still have to raise funds independently as well.

“These Community Health Clinics are neighborhood anchors that support one in five residents of the Greater New Orleans area and provide valuable health services to a large proportion of working families and the uninsured,” Senator Mary Landrieu said in a press release Wednesday. “These clinics represent an innovative approach and a new model for health care delivery.”
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Mayor Landrieu, university presidents sign agreement on health, education with Honduran president

This article was published in The Hullabaloo on September 17, 2010.

Honduran President Porifirio Lobo Sosa visited New Orleans last week to seek help with his efforts to reform Honduran public education and public health.

President Sosa joined Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Tulane President Scott Cowen and representatives from University of New Orleans, Loyola University, Dillard University, Xavier University, Southern University of New Orleans and Louisiana State University in signing a memorandum of understanding. The memorandum formalizes their commitment to move forward by working together in three key areas: healthcare, public education and student exchange.


“We have a lot of experience in rebuilding public school systems here in New Orleans,” said Cowen, who founded the Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives shortly after Hurricane Katrina. “We’ll figure out what will work for them in terms of building their public education system… and serve as advisers for them.”

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UNO students protest budget cuts: UNO police chief hospitalized after scuffle

This article was published in The Hullabaloo on September 3, 2010.

Two University of New Orleans students were arrested and the UNO chief of police was sent to the hospital Wednesday after a morning of student protests ended in a scuffle.

Charges against the two detained students include resisting arrest and assault and battery of a police officer. UNO Police Chief Tom Harrington said the students punched him as he tried to prevent them from storming the university chancellor’s office on the second floor of the administration building.

“The situation was becoming unsafe and disruptive, and so [Harrington] told them they had to turn around and leave,” UNO Public Relations Director Adam Norris said. He also said the chief had “sustained some injuries to his knee and ankle, but… no bones were broken.”

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