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No Cloning Around
Even though it's always illuminating to hear rural lawmakers debate medical science, there doesn't seem to be a push this year in the state Legislature to ban human cloning. Rep. Gary Beard, the Baton Rouge Republican who usually leads Louisiana's version of the Luddite movement, tells reporters he's backing off from his perennial crusade. Instead, he'll go through the back door by filing a bill to create tax credits for private ventures that do not use human embryos. Beard is also said to be considering a race for lieutenant governor, and it's quite possible his demurral on the cloning issue this year is an attempt to position himself as more moderate in anticipation of a statewide campaign. Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., a bipartisan effort has been launched to reintroduce the Human Cloning Prohibition Act. Sen. Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican running for president, is teaming up with Sen. Mary Landrieu, Louisiana's Democrat who faces re-election next year. Landrieu's tone and message are stern and could signal an effort to tilt slightly toward the Right -- and thereby give her some headway among Christian conservatives. "We need only to turn on the evening news to see that human cloning is a very real and present concern," she says. "Human cloning is like an unmarked and unchecked interstate highway, with researchers racing as fast as they can with few restrictions." -- Alford

 

Kennedy Stumping Already
State Treasurer John Kennedy is stumping for federal legislation that would ease "pension offset" restrictions on government retirees and thus give them better retirement benefits. It's the kind of issue a U.S. Senate candidate might bear hug, or the sort of wonkish idea that naturally appeals to a guy like Kennedy, a Democrat for now (he has been courted heavily by the GOP for more than a year). So what's motivating Kennedy to promote federal legislation? At this time, he clearly is not running for governor, but he may well have his eyes on the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Democrat who is squarely in the GOP crosshairs. Landrieu comes up for re-election next year, and Kennedy hasn't been sheepish about the possibility of his candidacy. Taking a loud stance on the proposed change to the Social Security law allows him to reach out to a Democratic base that could easily be transferred if election conditions were right. "Federal Social Security law is unfair to teachers, police officers, firefighters and other public employees, and it needs to be changed," Kennedy says. The Social Security Fairness Act of 2007 would eliminate two existing laws that Kennedy says use "outdated and confusing formulas" to calculate benefits when an employee's spouse dies or when a public employee has made Social Security payments in the private sector. If nothing else, it's good practice for Kennedy. The issues will be hot and heavy in 2008. -- Alford

Attorney: 'Expand Federal Police Powers Now'
Louisiana lawyer C.B. Forgotston says Congress may be able to help relieve the city's crime crisis with the stroke of a pen. With murders up and the New Orleans Police Department down 400 cops since Hurricane Katrina, Forgotston says Louisiana's congressional delegation should promote legislation to give local federal law enforcement agents emergency powers to make arrests for state crimes, such as burglary and armed robbery. "Give the feds concurrent jurisdiction," Forgotston says. "If Congress can authorize more and more crimes as federal offenses (such as bank robbery, carjackings and kidnappings), it seems like legislation could be passed to give any federal law enforcement agent in New Orleans the right to enforce any state crime or municipal ordinance. The city's in a crisis." Anticipating detractors, Forgotston adds: "Show me where it says in the Constitution why we can't do it? The law turns ketchup into mayonnaise every day." Despite help from 30 National Guard troops and 60 State Police and -- since January -- a small contingent of agents from the FBI, DEA and ATF, the NOPD has been overwhelmed by a soaring murder rate. -- Johnson

Crime Hearing Witnesses
With the exception of Dillard University President Dr. Marvalene Hughes, most of the witnesses scheduled to testify this week before a congressional hearing on crime are familiar faces in local criminal justice circles. Hughes will host the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security this Tuesday (April 10) at 10 a.m. in Dillard University's Lawless Memorial Chapel. The subcommittee will conduct a forum on Hurricane Katrina's impact on crime and criminal justice. Comprised of nine Democrats, six Republicans (and one vacant seat), the subcommittee's jurisdiction includes the federal criminal code, drug enforcement, federal sentencing, parole and pardons, federal prisons and criminal law enforcement. The panel will hear initially from Mayor Ray Nagin, Hughes and U.S. Rep. William Jefferson. The second round of witnesses include Orleans Parish DA Eddie Jordan Jr. , Criminal Sheriff Marlin Gusman, and U.S. Attorney Jim Letten. Rounding out the schedule of witnesses are psychiatrist Howard Osofksy, chair of the LSU Health Sciences Center; Judge Ernestine Gray, chief judge of Orleans Parish Juvenile Court; and UNO criminologist Peter Scharf. -- Johnson

Tracking Post-K Suicides
Orleans Parish Coroner's psychiatrist Dr. Jeffery Rouse this week is scheduled to deliver his research on post-Katrina suicides to the 40th annual meeting of the American Association of Suicidologists (AAS) in New Orleans. Rouse, who counseled first-responders during the desperate days following Hurricane Katrina, will address some 600 suicide prevention experts on Thursday (April 12). "It is our hope that the information he shares will allow AAS and its members to help with supporting the long-term mental health needs of the Gulf region," AAS spokesperson Karen M. Marshall says. The conference runs Wednesday through Saturday, but some delegates will arrive early to help the recovery by building houses for the New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity. Responding to a local resident's complaint that New Orleans needs mental health experts for counseling -- not working on houses -- Marshall replied: "It's not practical or advisable for mental health practitioners to arrive in town, counsel a person and then leave. What we are doing, however, is bringing the latest in research and expertise to New Orleans and offering people in the Gulf region the opportunity to network and establish new contacts who will be available long after the conference ends." Delegates also will attend two blood drives. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK. -- Johnson

The Plot Thickens
There's been quite a bit of hype in recent years about all the loot Hollywood is pumping into the Bayou State. Lawmakers passed an aggressive tax incentive plan several years ago, and it ushered in the new industry. A number of big-budget films have been made in Louisiana since, some of which (including Oscar-nominated Ray) were very well received. Rep. Steve Scalise, a Jefferson Parish Republican, wants the state to renew the investor tax credit for another two years during the legislative session that convenes April 30. Aimed specifically at infrastructure projects, the Motion Picture Incentives Act is set to expire Jan. 1, 2008. "We need to build more studios and post-production facilities if we are going to maintain our growing dominance in this industry," he says. While the issue certainly has its romantic side, some have complained that the state Film Office and Division of Administration are dragging their feet on approving credits. Scalise's bill will allow the state to revisit the entire issue again, but it will also bring a great deal of scrutiny down on the benefits of the effort. Stay tuned. -- Alford

Two Stars for Algiers
Actors Halle Berry and Billy Bob Thornton, who steamed up movie screens in Monster's Ball, are expected to reunite soon -- at the historic Algiers Courthouse, (225 Morgan St.) The stars are in final talks for a race drama, based on Nate Blakesee's bestseller Tulia: Race, Cocaine & Corruption in a Small Texas Town, according to Ms. Berry's Web site. The story is based on a real-life lawyer, who tried to expose corrupt and racially motivated drug convictions in Tulia, Texas, in the late 1990s. The elegant, but storm-battered courthouse on the West Bank has already been selected as a shooting location, court officials say. "(Filmmakers) want to use all of downstairs for a weekend as police department offices," says Bri Anne Ruiz, chief deputy clerk of Second City Court. Shooting is scheduled to begin at the end of April. Court employees say they hope it doesn't rain on the stars. Built in 1896, the courthouse sustained both roof and structural damage during Hurricane Katrina. The building still retains its blue tarp more than 19 months after the storm. Court officials say they are waiting on FEMA to fund the repairs. -- Johnson

'State of Black America'
Former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial returns to the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., to unveil the National Urban League's annual "State of Black America" report next Tuesday (April 17). This year's report will focus on the black male in America. Last year's report centered on economic gaps between blacks and whites. In an address last month to the National Press Club, Morial addressed homeownership disparities among blacks, whites and Hispanics. Morial, who is president of the national group, said both Republican and Democratic candidates for President in 2008 should be asked where they stand on the Urban League's "bill of rights" for homeowners (www.nul.org). -- Johnson

Oh, Baby!
More than 18 months after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita wreaked havoc in Louisiana, a state Department of Health and Hospitals official says residents can expect to hear those two names for at least another generation. Why? Because more than a few Louisiana mothers have named their newborn baby girls "Katrina," "Rita," "Katrina Stormy" or "some other storm-related name," DHH spokesperson Karen Ma told Gambit Weekly. Exact figures were unavailable on just how many children born in state-run facilities have storm-related names. Ma says the lists she has seen are long. "Over the next several years we will see Katrinas everywhere," she chuckled. -- Johnson

This Week on the Web
New Orleans businessman John Georges, a Republican who has tossed $2 million in personal cash into his gubernatorial bid, has launched a blog and campaign Web site at www.changelouisiana.com. Georges has used the site for other civic purposes in the past, but now it's starting to resemble what it really is -- a digital stump. Everyone's favorite long-shot, Anthony "Tony G" Gentile, an independent from Mandeville, has also redesigned his Web site. He readily admits his head was superimposed on another person's body on the new www.tonygforgov.com, but he says he is working on getting a new picture. Former Sen. John Breaux, the Democrat who may or may not be running for governor, is still taking cyber-lumps almost daily. Parody songs can be downloaded at www.thedeadpelican.com and www.townhallshow.com. Not surprisingly, former Gov. Edwin Edwards (for whom Breaux worked when EWE was a congressman in the 1960s and early 1970s) is the source of one of the tracks. Finally, staffers close to Congressman Bobby Jindal's campaign for governor insist the Republican frontrunner did not create his own MySpace.com page, as reported here last month. "Anyone can do that," says press secretary Melissa Sellers. However, she couldn't deny that he's a 35-year-old male who is straight and was born under the sign of Gemini. -- Alford

In Good Taste
It's been almost two years since New Orleans residents and visitors have been able to belly up to the counter at Camellia Grill and order a chili-cheese omelet and a chocolate freeze. But all that will change soon with the opening of the Riverbend landmark later this month.
Gambit Weekly readers can make sure they are among the first to dine at the reopened Camellia on April 20 and at the same time help local charities. Hicham Khodr, who bought Camellia Grill after Katrina from the family who had operated it for 60 years, has teamed up with Gambit to auction off stools at the counter through eBay, with proceeds benefiting the Foundation for Entertainment Development and Education, the Police and Justice Foundation of New Orleans and other charities.
To make a bid, log on to Gambit's Web site at www.bestofneworleans.com and look for the link to the eBay auction. Bids start at $100, and organizers plan to make three seatings available at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. There are 29 spaces available in each seating. If you want to secure a spot without going through the auction process, you can purchase one for $1,000 by calling Laura Carroll at 483-3111. Those who win spots will also be treated to souvenir gifts from Camellia Grill.
A pre-opening ribbon cutting ceremony will begin at 9 a.m. April 20.
Although the Camellia Grill building was not substantially damaged by Katrina, the restaurant has remained shuttered since the August 2005 storm. Khodr, who says he had been interested in the grill for years before he got the opportunity to buy it, has given the exterior a fresh coat of paint and modernized some equipment inside, but has kept the decor as close as possible to the original. At least 18 of the employees who worked at Camellia before the storm will return to their jobs.
Khodr is among partners who operate Table One and Byblos restaurants, and is a partner with chef Emeril Lagasse at NOLA restaurant in the French Quarter. Khodr says he hopes to expand Camellia Grill to include locations in other cities and states.

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