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If I were to write non-stop between now and the 2016 presidential election, I could never capture the accuracy or the relevance of Lamar White’s CenLamar post of today.

If you do nothing else during the holiday season, please take the time to read this:

http://cenlamar.com/2014/12/21/barry-and-bobby/

 

One day in early December, I received one of countless telephone calls pertaining to the upcoming Dec. 6 election. Normally, the calls are pre-recorded, or “robocalls” appealing for my vote for this or this candidate or telling me how horrible the opposing candidate would be for Mom, apple pie and America.

This one, however, was a live call from a woman claiming to be calling on behalf of AFA. Never having heard of the organization up to that point, I interrupted her spiel to ask who AFA was.

“American Family Association,” she said and without even pausing to take a breath, she launched into her pitch. “We’re not calling on behalf of any particular candidate,” she assured me. “We just want to remind you to be sure to vote for candidates who represent our Christian heritage and the Christian principles on which America was founded.”

(Well, first of all, America was not founded on Christianity—or by Christians. The Founding Fathers were, for the most part, Deists. Chief among the founders was one Thomas Jefferson, the man who re-wrote the Bible. Jefferson’s Bible omitted all references to miracles by Jesus, the Resurrection and other miracles as well as passages indicating Jesus was divine. Our very own Gov. Bobby Jindal, by the way, was named recipient of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s Thomas Jefferson Freedom Award at ALEC’s national meeting in New Orleans in 2011.)

When I heard that, I simply said, “I’m Jewish.” (Actually, I’m Methodist.)

End of conversation.

Now comes word that AFA is sponsoring Gov. Bobby Jindal’s prayer rally at the Maravich Assembly Center on the LSU campus Jan. 24.

So, what’s the big deal? The Gaithers have held gospel concerts in the same facility (I’ve attended two of them and they were great) and the Pope held a service at the University of New Orleans. Besides, the Prayer Rally will be strictly faith-based and will not be a forum for political discourse—because they say so. http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/2014/12/19/prayer-rally-organizers-distance-event-from-afas-positions/

Yeah, right. With Jindal taking part, the absence of right-wing political rhetoric is about as likely as…well, as likely as a general denial of evolution or climate change at the event. After all, one of his political operatives, Baton Rouge Business Report publisher Rolfe McCollister (former Jindal campaign treasurer and later appointed by Jindal to the LSU Board of Supervisors), smoothed the way for securing the center for the event through…you guessed it, political channels. http://theadvocate.com/features/faith/11119534-123/documents-reveal-behind-the-scenes-details-of

The Southern Poverty Law Center lists AFA as a hate group, just as it does the Westboro Baptist Church, probably because both spew venom instead of the Christian tolerance taught by Christ when it comes to groups that think and act contrary to their rigid set of self-imposed standards of morality, namely gays.

Remember the story from the Bible when the woman was about to be stoned for adultery. Didn’t that quote, “Let he who is without sin among you cast the first stone” (John 8:7) come from the mouth of Jesus?

And then there was: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:40). I can’t help but wonder if the fine Christians from Westboro Baptist Church and AFA have ever read those words or if so, did they gave even a passing thought to their meaning.

And no claim can be made that those quotes were lifted out of context; their meaning could not be plainer.

As might be expected, Jindal critics (and they’re growing in number with each passing day) have leveled criticism of the governor for participating in the event, which skeptics insist will  have political overtones. http://www.bayoubuzz.com/buzz/item/803216-lost-faith-in-lsu-prayer-rally-and-in-bobby-jindal

But the most interesting barrage was leveled by one Taylor Huckaby of Los Angeles, former Deputy Communications Director for the Louisiana Republican Party, a volunteer in Jindal’s election campaign and later, Jindal’s New Media Director.

Huckaby penned the following for LouisianaVoice:

Never have I been more embarrassed to be an alumnus of Louisiana State University. Yesterday, the LSU powers-that-be finally broke their silence on Gov. Bobby Jindal’s ostentatious prayer/politically pandering rally. “Rental of an LSU facility does not imply any endorsement,” wheedled director of media relations Eddie Ballard to the New Orleans Advocate.

I wonder if he said that before, or after he accepted the $18,500 from the American Family Association, agreeing to not only entertain them for a day but also to provide a baldly political platform from which Jindal intends to pander to his ultraconservative electorate.

I wonder if he knew extent to which Jindal-appointee to the LSU Board of Supervisors, Rolfe McCollister, prodded the University to give up the Pete Maravich Assembly Center for such use.

I wonder if he realizes that while technically correct and certainly legal, in practice people all over the country will now associate LSU with happily playing host to an organization that blames the Holocaust and the existence of the Nazi Party on gay people.  Yes, you read that correctly. From AFA spokesman Bryan Fischer in a web post from 2010 (and this is indeed a representative sample, so don’t you worry):

“Homosexuality gave us Adolph Hitler, and homosexuals in the military gave us the Brown Shirts, the Nazi war machine and six million dead Jews.”

Yes, this is the very same guy around whom Bobby Jindal has voluntarily decided to drape his arms around come January 24th.

Also appearing in the New Orleans Advocate story was a certain Clay Tufts, the current LSU student body president, who claims the AFA is “not reflective on the university in any way or its students.” Then, immediately after staking that claim, he goes on to explain how no action can possibly be taken on the issue via student government because, well, too many LSU students agree with the AFA’s positions.

“I’m sure a large group of students will go to the event.” Tufts said, “Student government itself won’t be going either way on anything.” 

Apparently condemning an organization that blames the Holocaust on gay people is a bridge too far. Such controversy!

Is this really the best LSU can do? Accept the AFA’s blood money and turn a blind eye? Proclaim that the university community supports its LGBT students while also simultaneously admitting helplessness in the face of so many anti-LGBT sentiments on campus? It seems to me that LSU’s “commitment” to LGBT people is less representative of a fighting tiger and more akin to the paper variety.

How incredibly embarrassing it is that LSU allows itself to be such a willing pawn in this political game, and how incredibly sad it is that the Louisiana LGBT community has to again endure false and patently ridiculous accusations of Nazism, child recruitment, equivocations to bestiality, and perversion. Why would anyone want to send their son or daughter to a university that so blithely resigns itself to such bigotry? I certainly wouldn’t.

 

A report by the Pew Research Center earlier this week indicated the wealth gap between middle- and upper-income households in America continues to widen to record levels. http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-pew-wealth-gap-20141217-story.html

Congress has just acted to ensure that that record gap between rich and poor continues to grow https://www.ifebp.org/blog/Lists/Posts/Post.aspx?ID=72

And if you think we down here in Louisiana are insulated and unaffected, think again.

The Pew report, drawing on the latest data from the Federal Reserve, says the median wealth for high-income families was $639,400 last year—up 7 percent from three years earlier on an inflation-adjusted basis—while the median income for Louisiana households was reported at $39,622. The figure for Louisiana represented a drop of 19.7 percent from the state’s 1999 peak year of median earnings of about $48,400. http://www.advisorperspectives.com/dshort/updates/Household-Incomes-by-State.php

In 1983, the CEO-to-worker pay ratio was a shade less than 50:1. Today that difference stands at 331:1 and the CEO-to-minimum-wage-worker pay ratio is even more obscene at 774:1. http://www.aflcio.org/Corporate-Watch/Paywatch-2014

There also is this: http://www.investopedia.com/financial-edge/0711/5-outrageous-ceo-spending-abuses-and-perks.aspx

And yet, even as corporate CEO pay and perks continue to reach stratospheric figures that the average employee can only imagine, Congress took a step last week that could actually lead to a major financial hit for retirees.

If that mammoth spending bill passed by Congress on Dec. 11 escaped your scrutiny, perhaps you should have been paying closer attention. Included in that bill was an obscure amendment which will permit benefit cuts for retirees in one type of pension plan—multi-employer plans jointly run by unions and employers.

By definition, that would mean members of unions who work for several companies. That could conceivably include Teamsters, building trades, longshoremen and any other workers whose unions have working agreements with multiple companies. http://www.wsj.com/articles/pension-change-seen-as-setting-a-precedent-1418586647

Louis Reine, President of the Louisiana AFL-CIO, acknowledged the amendment was inserted as a means of keeping some pension plans that are on shaky footing afloat. At the same time, however, he warned that the move was a “slippery slope” and should be approved “with all due caution and deliberation.”

That’s because now that management has a foot in the heretofore impenetrable door protecting workers’ pensions, the table has been set for even more far-reaching legislation to strip away benefits in other areas, including the public sector.

Remember, it was on Jan. 25, 2012, just three years ago, that Gov. Bobby Jindal, in a speech to the Baton Rotary Club, outlined his plans to “reform the state pension system to keep the state’s promise to workers, protect critical services and save taxpayer dollars.” http://gov.louisiana.gov/index.cfm?md=newsroom&tmp=detail&articleID=3220

Among those plans to “protect the state’s promise to workers” was a revamp of the state pension system that would have gutted benefits for state employees. We have often cited here the example of the worker who, if she never received another pay raise, would be eligible to retire after 30 years with a retirement of $39,000 per year. But under Jindal’s plan to “protect” her, that $39,000 would be reduced to $6,000 per year—a $33,000 per year hit—and the employee was not eligible for Social Security or Medicare.

The courts, fortunately for state employees, declared the state’s pension plan a contract which could not be arbitrarily broken by the state, though the state was left free to offer new hires a defined contribution retirement plan as opposed to the defined benefit to which the employee we cited was entitled.

The Wall Street Journal called the amendment to the federal spending bill as a “model for further cuts,” and therein lies the real threat to workers and retirees alike.

Karen Friedman, Executive Vice President of the Pension Rights Center, said the measure would “set a terrible precedent” in that it could encourage similar cutbacks in troubled state and local pension plans and maybe even Social Security and Medicare.

That is a chilling prediction and in all probability, deadly accurate.

The thumbprints of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) are all over the amendment and the Koch brothers-run organization isn’t about to stop with gutting the pensions of a few union retirees.

And before anyone tries to claim that business and industry does not have an organized union to represent their interests, we have three words for you: U.S. Chamber of Commerce. And the U.S. Chamber is not only a member of ALEC, but is a major operative within ALEC. http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/U.S._Chamber_of_Commerce

In 1971, an obscure corporate attorney named Lewis Powell authored what has come to be known as the Powell Manifesto. In it, he laid out a blueprint for a corporate legislative agenda to his friend Eugene Sydnor, Director of the U.S. Chamber. That memorandum by Powell, written only two months before President Nixon nominated him to the U.S. Supreme Court, inspired the creation of the Heritage Foundation, the Manhattan Institute, the Cato Institute and Citizens for a Sound Economy, among others.

Powell’s memo has also served ALEC’s legislative agenda which includes, among other things, the privatization of Social Security and Medicare. http://reclaimdemocracy.org/powell_memo_lewis/

Is it merely a coincidence that Louisiana’s Right to Work law, supported by ALEC and the U.S. Chamber, was passed only five years after Powell’s memorandum and four years after the founding of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI)?

So now, ALEC, the U.S. Chamber, and Republican leaders alike already have Social Security and Medicare in their crosshairs: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/04/republican-social-security-cuts so can other private pension plans be far behind? Will the individual states like Louisiana renew efforts to slash retirement benefits for state employees?

As Louis Reine said, it is indeed a slippery slope and once the momentum moves in that direction, it will be virtually impossible to reverse.

And it’s important to remember that while public employees’ retirement benefits are at risk, the opening salvo has been aimed at private pension benefits. If they can pull that off, the rest will simply be low-hanging fruit.

Are you willing to take to the streets to defend what is rightfully yours?

How much is your retirement worth to you?

These questions are not hypothetical.

If ever there was an appropriate analogy to the old expression rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s methods of dealing with successive years of budgetary shortfalls (read: deficits) would have to be it.

The Louisiana Public Service Commission (PSC) now has openly defied him (each member, even down to former Jindal cabinet appointee Scott Angelle) on his order for the commission to render unto Caesar Jindal 13 PSC vehicles to be included with about 700 other vehicles to be auctioned early next year in an effort to raise some $1.4 million ($2,000 per vehicle).

That is significant because unless we missed something somewhere along the way, that is the very first time any state agency, the legislature included, has stood up to this little bantam rooster. Tommy Teague did and was fired but the agency he headed, the Office of Group Benefits, went quietly to the slaughter like so many sheep.

Legislators, fearing capital outlay cuts in their districts or demotion from plum committee assignments, have likewise been strangely quiet as a group with only the occasional individual protests.

That move of selling off vehicles is more like the analogy of robbing your kid’s piggy bank to meet the mortgage payment than any real solution to a much larger problem and raises the logical question: what will the administration do next to scrape together a few dollars?

And the news only gets worse for Jindal’s fading presidential aspirations (hopes that themselves are a joke because something that doesn’t exist already can’t very well fade.

Even more ominous than ripping vehicles from state agencies, is the looming certainty of more mid-year cuts and employee layoffs in the wake of growing budgetary ills. Those fortunate enough to avert the layoffs will see no merit increases for FY-16 and contract reductions are expected to continue—except for certain favored contractors favored by our transparent governor. No agency head in his right mind would cut funds for a contractor with a close Jindal connections (read: campaign contributions).

In the meantime, we will also be curious to see if any of those six-figure Jindal appointees are among those being laid off. You can most likely check that box “No.”

Jindal, of course (along with most legislators) has been blaming the state’s worsening fiscal condition on the precipitous drop in crude oil prices.

Not so, says long-time state government observer and chief curmudgeon and former legislative assistant C.B. Forgotston.

Here’s the way he explains it:

            If one merely looks the “spot” prices regularly reported in the media it seems like much bigger issue. It’s nothing like the “oil bust” of the 1980s. At that time a majority of the state revenues were from oil severance taxes. That is no longer the case.

            Additionally, the state’s severance tax revenues are based on the contract price, not the “spot” price that is regularly reported in the media. For example, some of the companies currently drilling in the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale have pre-sold their potential finds at $96 per barrel. That is the price on which the taxes will be paid. The consensus in the oil industry is the current downturn in oil prices is temporary. It may last 6 months or it may last a year; it is not a forever thing.

            Also reducing the impact on state revenues, as pointed out by Legislative Fiscal Office economist Greg Albrecht, low oil prices means savings for consumers. Their spending shifts to other items on which sales taxes are collected. For businesses, especially small businesses, it means more profit which means higher income taxes.

The major problem in the current budget and creating the $1.4B shortfall projected for next year’s budget is not a reduction in revenues, but overspending. Overall revenues have grown every year that Jindal has been governor. However, he and the legislators have consistently spent not only one-time revenues on recurring expenses, but imagined revenues under the guise of “efficiencies” which cannot be measured.

            Blaming oil prices is merely a scapegoat for passing fiscally-irresponsible budgets for the last 7 years.  Don’t let those responsible avoid the blame. It’s time to hold Jindal and the legislators’ feet to the fire by telling them to set better priorities based on real, as opposed to imagined, revenues and amorphous efficiencies.

They’ve got one more time to get it right in the 2015 Regular Session. If they don’t the first order of business for the new governor and new legislators in early 2016 will be to hold a special session to raise taxes and reduce services to balance the final Jindal budget.

And lest anyone might be foolish enough to write Forgotston off because he retired and no longer involved in day to day state matters, that would be a serious mistake. But even discounting Forgotston, we have Greg Albrecht, chief economist for the Legislative Fiscal Office, weighing in on the subject. And he is very much involved in the day to day operations of the state.

Albrecht takes a different tact in explaining how we got where we are. http://theadvocate.com/news/11102302-123/economist-greg-albrecht-louisiana-tax

Albrecht says that priorities for spending state revenue on such pesky items as education, infrastructure and social services are set only after we first dole out billions of dollars in tax credits, rebates and exemptions that place a terrific drain on state financial resources.

Here’s one that he didn’t mention but which we feel is worth pointing out: if the NFL awards a Super Bowl to New Orleans, Saints owner Tom Benson gets a cool million dollars from the state. That has already happened once since that condition was included in a generous incentive package negotiated to keep the Saints in New Orleans.

Another practice that has since terminated but which cost the state millions: when a visiting NFL team such as Atlanta, Tampa Bay, etc., played in New Orleans, every traveling member of that team—players, coaches, support personnel, etc.—was required to pay state income tax on 1/16th of his income. That individual, after all, received 1/16th of his salary in Louisiana. As soon as the Louisiana Department of Revenue received a check for those taxes, the state cut a check for an identical amount to Benson.

Albrecht said many of the tax breaks are “open-ended spending” and unappropriated. “It’s on autopilot” and the spending “is the priority” of state government because all other spending is secondary.

He said attempts to curtail the programs have run into resistance in the form of screams of protest from business interests who would be impacted. They consistently deflect talk of costs to the state by parroting the old line about the economic benefits of the programs designed to attract certain businesses or to assist certain segments of the citizenry.

But when Enterprise Zone exemptions are used to build Wal-Mart stores in affluent communities like St. Tammany Parish (where two have been built using the program), one must wonder at the benefits derived from a program designed to uplift pockets of high unemployment.

Companies pay about $500 million to local governments in property taxes on inventory that is considered property and the state simply reimburses those companies dollar for dollar. “We’re on the hook for whatever the local assessor puts down,” Albrecht said. http://www.thenewsstar.com/story/news/local/louisiana/2014/12/15/state-gives-away-billion-tax-breaks/20460681/

He said legislators have asked that he examine the various tax breaks for possible cutbacks and while Rep. Joel Robideaux (R-Lafayette), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee which deals with taxes, feels legislation will be filed to alter some of the tax credits, he is realistic in the knowledge that any attempt to amend or eliminate the breaks could be vetoed by this corporate welfare-happy governor.

“The veto pen will determine what passes or not,” Robideaux said. “The question is, ‘Can we craft legislation that will avoid the veto pen?’”

Earlier this year, Sen. Jack Donahue (R-Mandeville) managed to get overwhelming passage of a bill that called for more oversight of the tax break programs by the state’s income-forecasting panel.

But Jindal, who never met a tax break he didn’t like, promptly vetoed the bill, saying it could effectively force a tax increase on businesses by limiting spending for the incentive programs.

You gotta give Jindal credit for creativity, though. Only he could twist the definition of removal of a tax break for business into a tax increase even while ignoring the fact that removal of those tax breaks could—and would—mean long-term relief for Louisiana citizens who are the ones shouldering the load. And for him to willingly ignore that fact borders on malfeasance.

A confrontation reminiscent of the one nearly 50 years ago between the managing editor (yours truly) and the family news editor at the Ruston Daily Leader has arisen between Gov. Bobby Jindal and the Louisiana Public Service Commission (PSC) and if the late Wiley Hilburn were alive today, he might well find the latest one just as amusing.

Hilburn was on hand when I needed a camera to cover a breaking news story. The only problem was, the news camera was broken and the only one available was a cheap one Publisher Tom Kelly had purchased for use by family news editor Virginia Kavanaugh for her section. “Give me your camera,” I said as I hung up the telephone and stood from my chair across from her. “I have to get a picture of a wreck on I-20.”

“No,” said Mrs. Kavanaugh. “You can’t have it. It’s for my use.”

In complete exasperation and more than a little frustrated at this unexpected lesson in humility, I looked over at Hilburn who had just walked in with a news release from Louisiana Tech University. The look I got in return told me I was on my own. “But I’m the managing editor!” I finally blurted. It was the only thing that came to mind in response to her unexpected insubordination. As I write this, I swear I can still hear Hilburn laughing at the absurdity of the scene that unfolded before his eyes. He would repeat that story for my benefit for years to come, laughing just as hard as he did that morning at the very audacity of my naïve belief that in some parallel universe, my managing editor badge trumped her title as family news editor.

And I never got that camera.

Now the PSC has ripped a page from Mrs. Kavanaugh’s playbook and it’s just as funny.

Jindal, in a desperate attempt to scrape together a few pennies to cover what at last estimate was a deficit of about $141 million, is conducting a fire sale of what state assets still remain after he disposed of state buildings and parking garages in years past to patch similar budget holes.

The administration wants to sell some 700 state vehicles, including 13 assigned to the PSC but commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday (Dec. 17) to direct the PSC staff not to relinquish the vehicles because, the commission lacks funds with which to rent cars and to sell them would hinder its work.

Jindal planned to confiscate the vehicles to be sold with the others early next year in yet another cost-cutting move. The administration says the PSC vehicles aren’t used enough to justify their upkeep.

(The same might be said for some of the governor’s highly-paid appointees. And let’s not even discuss the cost of overtime, lodging, travel and meals for state police security details that accompany the governor on all of those trips to Iowa, New Hampshire and Washington.)

It should be noted that the $141 million shortfall was before the latest plunge in oil prices which Jindal conveniently blames for the fiscal mess in which the state finds itself—again. Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera is scheduled to give a presentation tomorrow (Thursday, Dec. 18) to the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget and early indications are the governor’s office and Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols aren’t going to be very happy.

The $1.4 million anticipated from the sale of the vehicles represents a shade less than 1 percent of the $141 million deficit (which may be even more after the legislative auditor’s report) and is only a tiny fraction of the $25 billion state budget.

“Of the 13 state vehicles at the Public Service Commission, 11 of them are driven less than 15,000 miles a year,” said Jan Cassidy, Assistant Commissioner of Administration for Procurement. “The cost of maintaining underutilized vehicles is greater than the cost of reimbursing employees for travel when it’s necessary,” she said.

The $1.4 million anticipated from the sale of the vehicles would not be net since the state would be required to either pay employees for use of personal vehicles or pay for rental of cars through a contract the state has with Enterprise Car Rentals.

The administration put agencies on notice about the planned sale last week, giving them two weeks to turn over vehicles designated for auction.

“Reducing state expenses requires all state agencies to review their priorities and ensure they are spending taxpayer dollars appropriately,” Cassidy said.

One of those voting to defy the governor was Scott Angelle who once served in Jindal’s cabinet. A dispute between the PSC and the governor’s office has been simmering and the vehicle flap is only the latest issue as things have reached a boiling point.

The PSC has been critical of a recent practice by the administration and the legislature to take over funds paid to the PSC as fees by regulated companies. Members say the action amounts to an unconstitutional tax levy while the governor and legislator argue for the right to use the fees as part of the state budget. That outcome of that argument is now pending in court.

We can only assume that state police vehicles were exempt from the fire sale order. But with this administration, who knows?

Nor was there was any immediate word on whether or not the administration would attempt to seize the PSC vehicles, which would just be another log on that smoldering fire.

But somewhere within the walls of the Governor’s mansion (he’s rarely on the fourth floor of the State Capitol, we’re told), Bobby Jindal must be incredulous as he exclaims perhaps to wife Supriya or, to a curious butler, “But I’m the governor!

By Robert Burns, Guest Columnist

Most of the media headlines entailing Bruce Greenstein, Gov. Jindal’s former head of the Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH), have centered around his recent indictment for alleged false testimony during his confirmation hearing and alleged false statements made to a Louisiana grand jury convened by Attorney General Buddy Caldwell to delve into possible misconduct entailing the awarding of the state Medicaid contract to Client Network Services Incorporated (CNSI).  Less noteworthy in the news media, but a matter in which Louisiana Voice has taken a keen interest, is the civil trial taking place in Judge Tim Kelley’s courtroom entailing CNSI’s claim of wrongful termination of its contract for which it seeks millions of dollars in alleged damages.

During a hearing in early 2014, Judge Kelley repeatedly sought the status of any Federal investigation into alleged wrongdoing regarding the awarding of the contract.  Very reluctantly, David Caldwell, Assistant Attorney General, admitted that the Feds had closed their investigation but emphasized that the State of Louisiana was proceeding forward and emphasized to Judge Kelley that “The AG’s Office has encountered other instances in which the Feds closed an investigation but we continued and ultimately obtained indictments.”

The parties are now in the discovery phases of the civil trial. Attorney Lewis Unglesby, along with Michael McKay and Justin Lemaire, is representing CNSI, and some very intriguing accusations have been bantered about in court hearings. Among those accusations, conveyed at an October 28, 2014, hearing, is that Attorney General Investigator Scott Bailey   met with and potentially improperly coached CNSI whistleblower Steve Smith into changing his testimony, resulting in contradictory depositions.  It was also at that hearing that David Caldwell, in attempting to defend the visits with Smith by his office and relaying to Judge Kelley that “We didn’t do anything wrong,” emphasized, “We’re not trying to rig a civil case.”

Perhaps Caldwell may indeed not be trying to “rig a civil case” and genuinely seeks only to prosecute Greenstein for his alleged perjury; however, based on a hearing in Judge Kelley’s courtroom today (Monday, December 15, 2014), it appears equally apparent that the State of Louisiana is prepared to fight tooth and nail to prevent CNSI’s lawyers from advancing discovery in the civil trial toward the plaintiff attorneys’ goal of a trial sometime in 2015.

To that end, today’s hearing entailed the fact that CNSI’s lawyers have scheduled a deposition of Stephen Russo, legal counsel for the Department of Health and Hospitals for tomorrow (Tuesday, December 16, 2014).  The State’s attorneys, led by Justin O’Brien, sought to block the deposition on multiple fronts including attorney-client privilege.

Throughout Greenstein’s testimony before the grand jury, he repeatedly emphasized that Russo serves as the personal legal attorney for the head of the DHH and thus served as Greenstein’s personal attorney during his tenure as head of the agency.  As such, Unglesby relayed to Judge Kelley that any attorney-client privilege had unequivocally been waived through Greenstein’s grand jury testimony. Unglesby said Greenstein was present in court and would be more than happy to state to the court that he waived any attorney-client privilege. O’Brien also indicated to Judge Kelley that the intended line of questioning by Unglesby was overly broad. Unglesby, however, countered that argument by holding up a small folder and relaying his intent to be laser-focused on the pertinent discussions between Russo and Greenstein during the critical period entailing the awarding of the contract.

On two separate occasions, Unglesby made brief reference to material in Greenstein’s grand jury transcript. O’Brien objected and asked that Judge Kelley order the courtroom cleared since statements were about to be made regarding grand jury testimony. Unglesby countered by relaying that the AG’s Office had, and he emphasized that Caldwell may have “likely acted illegally” in doing so, made the grand jury transcript public. Grand jury secrecy, therefore, was no longer an issue. Judge Kelley concurred and emphasized that he’d even read the grand jury testimony accounts in the newspaper and therefore would not be clearing the courtroom.

At one point, O’Brien wanted to introduce into evidence a document that he said would demonstrate that John McLindon, Greenstein’s attorney, had provided contradictory statements.  Judge Kelley relayed he’d be happy to look at anything as long as opposing counsel had seen it first.  When O’Brien presented a copy to McLindon, he (McLindon) immediately relayed, “That was filed under seal.”   Upon hearing that, Judge Kelley relayed that, if the document was filed under seal, nobody, including him, should be looking at it.

Judge Kelley informed Unglesby that it would not be necessary to have Greenstein waive any attorney-client privilege at the day’s proceeding and ruled that the deposition could proceed as scheduled.  Judge Kelley was very specific in justifying his ruling in relaying that, in the court’s view, attorney-client privilege had certainly been waived, and he further emphasized that the intended scope of the deposition was in conformity with Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure in terms of not being overly broad nor designed to harass the deponent.

O’Brien asked Judge Kelley to stay his order pending a writ being filed with the First Circuit Court of Appeal.  Judge Kelley relayed, “I’m not staying anything.  If you take issue with my ruling, you can file that with the First Circuit, but I want to be understood on this matter.  In the court’s view, this matter is clear.  It’s straightforward.  The court views this matter as being very clear and I want it into the record that’s the court’s view.”  After O’Brien sought for Judge Kelley to reiterate that he felt it was clear (which Judge Kelley did reiterate), he pulled out a pre-drafted order and asked if Judge Kelley would sign it for the Frist Circuit to consider a stay on his ruling.  Judge Kelley relayed that, upon filing, O’Brien could bring the document back up for him to sign (even relaying he could interrupt court if necessary due to the urgency of the matter).

Assuming the First Circuit doesn’t grant a stay, it sure would be interesting to be able to sit in on tomorrow’s deposition.  The one thing that was evident today is that the State’s attorneys clearly fear Unglesby being able to question Russo about that critical timeframe and communications he had with Greenstein entailing the awarding of the contract.  Based on Greenstein’s willingness to show up at today’s hearing and relay that he’d be happy to formally waive any attorney-client privilege, it seems obvious that Greenstein and McLindon feel they will likely reap a spillover benefit from the deposition entailing Greenstein’s criminal defense.

So, even though the big headlines of the CNSI contract awarding and cancellation may entail Greenstein’s indictment, the far more intriguing aspect of that contract appears to be playing out in the CNSI civil trial in Judge Kelley’s courtroom.  Stay tuned folks, Louisiana Voice will keep readers informed as further court hearings transpire.

A state grand jury will reconvene in Arcadia in Bienville Parish on Thursday, Dec. 18, to continue its investigation of charges of molestation and rape brought against the former operator of a home for girls by former residents of the facility who say they the victims of sexual abuse by the minister in the 1970s and 80s, LouisianaVoice has learned.

One victim has already testified before the grand jury recessed for several weeks because a grand jury member underwent knee surgery.

Because grand jury testimony is secret, we normally would not report this type information, but a self-described survivor of the alleged abuse has already gone public with the information on social media.

Word of the grand jury probe comes almost exactly a year after seven former residents of New Bethany Home for Girls arrived in Arcadia from four separate states to file formal charges against Rev. Mack Ford. The 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s office presumably has been investigating those claims since the seven converged on the office of Bienville Parish Sheriff John Ballance a year ago to file their charges.

One source told LouisianaVoice that two witnesses had agreed to testify in exchange for immunity from prosecution. It was not immediately known if the two were former employees of New Bethany or members of Ford’s family.

Because grand jury testimony is secret, we normally would not report this type information, but a self-described survivor of the alleged abuse has already gone public with the information on social media.

Although only two of the six former residents who flew in from North Carolina, Nevada, Florida and Texas on Dec. 6, 2013, claimed to been sexually abused while living at the home, the others said they were there to lend moral support to the two, one of whom was said to be terminally ill with an inoperable brain tumor.

Allegations about beatings, handcuffing and other forms of punishment of girls at the home first came to light when the Baton Rouge Advocate began an investigation of the home in 1974. Editors, however, quickly killed the investigation before any stories could be written and the issue lay dormant until the late 1980s when the Louisiana Department of Health and Human Resources began looking into abuse allegations. In 1988, the state raided the unlicensed home located south of Arcadia on LA. 9 and removed 29 girls from the facility.

Simultaneous to that raid, the Bethel Home for Wayward Children in Lucedale, Mississippi, was closed down by officials in that state. Six months after the New Bethany raid, however, it remained open and was not closed down until 1998.

There were claims of girls at New Bethany having to clean toilets with their bare hands, being locked in isolation with only a bucket for a toilet, girls being handcuffed to their beds and being made to stand all day with no restroom breaks, beatings with wooden dowels, PVC pipe, paddles, belts and limbs.

A state game warden, interviewed by the Advocate in 1974, said he would take confiscated deer that had been killed illegally by hunters to the home. “On one occasion,” he said, “Ford asked if he could have my handcuffs.”

The public face of New Bethany, however, was quite different. Girls’ quartets clad in long dresses were frequently paraded before church congregations to sing, figuratively and literally, the praises of New Bethany in efforts to generate “love offerings” from church members.

The claims of physical abuse and rape are not new to the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) Church with which New Bethany and Ford were affiliated.

The First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana, received a great deal of notoriety over the sexual trysts two of its ministers had with female church members over a period of several years. Their misconduct was subsequently repeated at other churches where they ministered.

And when their behavior was revealed, it was the women victims who were required to stand before the congregation and apologize and ask forgiveness for tempting the men, who invariably went unpunished and indeed, continued to receive near idol status from the congregation.

Likewise, group homes where abuse has been documented tend to receive devout support from area churches. Instead of asking those who run the homes to explain their behavior, their accusers are routinely treated as pariahs while the accused are welcomed as heroes at church rallies on their behalf.

Adherents to IFB dogma, for example, discourage intermarriage or even any contact with those of other religious beliefs, distrust government, favor home schooling, and believe that spankings should commence as early as 15 months of age.

Tampa Bay Times reporter Alexandra Zayas last year was allowed to do what the Advocate refused to do. She wrote a lengthy investigative series on claims of physical abuse at several group homes in Florida. http://www.tampabay.com/faccca/

Just as she found in Florida and as had been found earlier in Texas, Louisiana homes are unlicensed and unregulated by the state, thus allowing the operators free rein in the areas of discipline and education—so long as it is done in the name of religion.

The group homes employ the same textbooks that rely heavily on the Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) and BJU (Bob Jones University) Press curricula—the same resources used by many of Louisiana’s voucher and charter schools being approved by the Louisiana Department of Education. The textbooks eschew traditional science and history courses, choosing instead to apply Old Testament interpretations in their teachings.

New Bethany is situated in a secluded spot deep in the piney woods south of Arcadia where the children’s screams could not be heard. Its remote location kept the facility out of the public eye and allowed Ford to give outsiders a look on his own terms—at church services, in a controlled environment, where the neatly scrubbed girls would sing and give emotional testimonials about past drug abuse and promiscuity (many of those “testimonials” contrived by Ford) and how New Bethany had turned their lives around—all orchestrated for the maximum emotional impact so as to extract “love offerings” from those in attendance.

Ford resisted state inspections, claiming that he accepted no state funding and that he was not licensed by the state and was therefore not subject to state regulations under the doctrine of separation of church and state.

On one occasion a state inspector did manage to breach the normally chained front gates of New Bethany but that inspector died suddenly a short time later.

Ford used his death as evidence of God’s intention to protect New Bethany from state regulations, saying that the inspector had been struck down by God and a similar fate would likely await other state inspectors.

Besides the Arcadia home, Ford and his family also ran homes for boys in Longstreet in De Soto Parish and in Walterboro, S.C. One by one, the homes were eventually shut down by authorities, the Arcadia home in 1998 (some reports indicate that New Bethany boarded girls there as recently as 2004), but only after inestimable mental, spiritual and physical damage had been inflicted on hundreds of children, many of them in their early teens.

It was not immediately known how many others of the seven have been called to testify before the grand jury.

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