Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Broadband, Internet’ Category

Two months ago, when the Federal Communications Commission allotted $8 million to expand broadband Internet access in rural Louisiana areas, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu was quick to praise, perhaps a bit prematurely, the “investment” while Gov. Bobby Jindal remained uncharacteristically silent.

Despite Landrieu’s laudatory claim that the funds would “upgrade the digital infrastructure in rural communities,” the $8 million represented only 10 percent of an $80 million grant for Louisiana that was rescinded in October of 2011 because of Jindal’s aversion to what then Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater deemed a “top-down, government-heavy approach that would compete with and undermine, rather than partner with the private sector…”

What Rainwater—and through him, his boss, Jindal—did not acknowledge is that the Jindal administration’s obsession with protecting the private sector at the expense of broadband Internet service to customers in the rural areas of the central and northeastern parts of the state was part of the 12-year-old official position staked out by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in August of 2002. http://alecexposed.org/w/images/6/6f/9A15-Municipal_Telecommunications_Private_Industry_Safeguards_Act_Exposed.pdf

Also ignored by the Jindal administration—and ALEC—is that broadband service in the U.S. is woefully inadequate when compared with countries like South Korea, Japan and even Portugal and Italy. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/competition-and-the-internet/

And it’s even worse in the country’s rural areas. http://deltafarmpress.com/blog/broadband-service-rural-areas-promise-still-exceeds-reality

No doubt you’ve seen those cute AT&T commercials featuring the man sitting at a table with children. He asks a question and gets feedback from the kids and the commercial ends with, “It’s not complicated.”

Indeed it is not. In 2008, Jindal’s very first year as governor, he signed SB-807 into law as Act 433 over the objections of the Louisiana Municipal and State Police Jury associations. The bill, the Consumer Choice for Television Act, was authored by then-Sen. Ann Duplessis (D-New Orleans). It passed the Senate by a 34-1 vote with only Dale Erdy (R-Livingston) voting no. Absent and not voting were Sens. Robert Adley (R-Benton), Jody Amedee (R-Gonzales) and Sheri Smith Buffington (R-Keithville).

AT&T, which contributed $10,000 to Jindal’s campaign since 2007, supported the bill. AT&T also contributed $250,000 to the Supriya Jindal Foundation for Louisiana’s Children.

It’s not complicated.

It also passed overwhelmingly in the House by a 94-9 vote. The only members casting no-votes were Reps. James Armes (D-Leesville), Thomas Carmody (R-Shreveport), Greg Cromer (R-Slidell), Jean Doerge (D-Minden), Ricky Hardy (D-Lafayette), Lowell Hazel (R-Pineville), Robert Johnson (D-Marksville), Sam Jones (D-Franklin), and Chris Roy (D-Alexandria). Rep. James Morris (R-Oil City) was absent and did not vote.

The only ALEC member to go against the official doctrine was Carmody. He attended ALEC’s 2010 annual meeting in San Diego at which the organization’s Telecommunications & Information Technology Task Force passed an official resolution in potential opposition to private telephone and cable companies by public bodies such as city councils and parish governments. http://louisianavoice.com/2012/05/09/could-loss-of-that-80-6-million-broadband-internet-federal-grant-last-fall-have-been-deliberately-orchestrated-by-alec/

Other members of the Louisiana Legislature who attended that meeting included Reps. John LaBruzzo (R-Metairie), Robert Johnson (D-Marksville), Tim Burns (R-Mandeville), State Chairman Joe Harrison (R-Gray), Bernard LeBas (D-Ville Platte) and Sen. Yvonne Dorsey (D-Baton Rouge).

Act 433 well may even have been written by AT&T, which is a member of ALEC and a member of ALEC’s Communications and Technology Task Force. AT&T chipped in $50,000 to the ALEC cause in 2010 and was a member of the Louisiana Host Committee for ALEC’s 2012 annual meeting in New Orleans. Jindal was the recipient of ALEC’s Thomas Jefferson Freedom Award at that 2012 meeting. http://www.alec.org/hundreds-of-state-legislators/

It’s not complicated.

And lest one think that Louisiana’s loss of the $80 million broadband grant in 2011 was the exception, consider this:

  • Early this year, the Kansas Legislature undertook Campaign Stop Google Fiber—and any cities that may wish to invest in broadband network technologies. Included in legislation introduced in the legislature were stipulations that except with regard to unserved areas, a municipality may not themselves offer to provide or lease, construct, maintain or operate any facility for the purpose of allowing a private entity to offer, provide, carry or deliver video, telecommunications or broadband service. http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/01/30/1273848/-Kansas-moves-to-Stop-Broadband-Internet-to-residents?detail=email
  • In February of 2011, the Minnesota Cable Communications Association (MCCA) initiated a public battle with National Public Broadband (NPB) by inundating Lake County with a flurry of public records request designed to slow NPB’s efforts to bring broadband Internet to rural areas of Lake County.

While MCCA correctly asserts that Lake County should act transparently, the barrage of requests submitted by the association makes its intent to protect its own financial interests over those of rural residents of the county is quite apparent. Its monopoly is, after all, being threatened and those cable services that are overpriced and which provide as little speed as possible are fighting back.

Certainly it’s only coincidental that AT&T, CenturyLink, Charter Communications, Comcast, Excel Communications, Fair Point Communications, Sprint Nextel, Verizon, and Cox Communications are members of ALEC. All but Excel and Fair Point serve on ALEC’s Communications and Technology Task Force. http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/ALEC_Corporations.

It’s not complicated.

So, given Jindal’s cozy relationship with ALEC and given ALEC’s opposition to public participation in expanding broadband Internet service to rural areas in competition with ALEC members, it’s perfectly understandable why Jindal eschewed that “top-down” management of the $80 million grant.

It’s not complicated.

And it is equally apparent that the monopolistic advantage enjoyed by private sector providers be protected at all cost—even at the cost of creating some 900 miles of cable over 21 rural parishes that would support several Louisiana universities with expanded optical fiber networking capacity.

It’s not complicated.

Top-down management apparently is good only when it originates from the fourth floor of the State Capitol. Just ask any legislator, former state employee, or board or commission member who has dared to contradict him on any issue.

It’s not complicated.

Read Full Post »

Whenever Gov. Bobby Jindal speaks, be it on Fox News, CNN, to fellow Republican governors or at a rare press conference such as the one held on Thursday, his threefold purpose always seems to be to inflate weak ideology, obscure poor reasoning and inhibit clarity.

His less-than-masterful tax plan for the state, which he admitted to reporters is like so many of his ill-conceived programs in that it actually remains a non-plan, might well be entitled “The Dynamics of Irrational and Mythical Imperatives of Tax Reform: A Study in Psychic Trans-Relational Fiscal Recovery Modes” (with apologies to Calvin and Hobbes, our all-time favorite comic strip).

It’s not certain what drives him to wade off into these issues (see: hospital and prison closures, higher education cutbacks, charter schools, online courses and vouchers, state employee retirement “reform,” and privatization of efficiently-operating state agencies like the Office of Group Benefits) but his actions are probably precipitated by deeply ingrained biological, psychological and sociological imperatives that have triggered a reduced functionality in the cerebral cortex (Pickles).

Or it could be some depraved attempt to inflict vengeance on society because his two imaginary childhood friends teased him and wouldn’t let him play with them.

And though he insists he has the job he wants, we can’t help but wonder if he isn’t even now casting a covetous sidelong look at the advantages of plundering (Frazz) in case his presidential aspirations fail to materialize.

The reason for all this speculation is brought on by his admission in that ever-so-brief (less than 12 minutes or six question, whichever came first) press conference Thursday that the administration does not have a proposal as yet to eliminate personal and corporate income taxes despite his well-publicized announcement that he wants to scrap state income taxes for individuals and corporations (especially corporations) in a “revenue neutral” way that would most likely involve increased sales taxes.

But he doesn’t have a proposal yet.

Are you listening, legislators? He doesn’t have a proposal yet. That means the onus is going to be on you and if he doesn’t have his way with you (as he has for the past five years—and you can take that any way you please), he’s going public with the blame game.

If everything goes south, you don’t really think he’s going to take the blame, do you?

He doesn’t have a proposal yet. Now we see where State Superintendent John White gets his prompts on running the Department of Education. White has not submitted a completed plan for any project begun at DOE since he took over; everything—vouchers, charters, course choice—is in a constant state of flux. He announces rules, retracts, readjusts, re-evaluates only to lose a lawsuit over the way his boss proposed to fund state vouchers.

Jindal doesn’t have a proposal—for anything. His retirement “reform” package for state employees was a disaster from the get go. Even before he lost yet another court decision on that issue in January, the matter of whether or not the proposed plan for new hires was an IRS-qualified plan—meaning a plan the IRS would accept in lieu of social security—remained unresolved.

He didn’t have a proposal: let’s just do it and see later if the IRS will accept it. Throw it up against the wall and see if it sticks.

Remember when he vetoed a bill two years ago to renew a five-cent tax on cigarettes because, he said, he was opposed to new taxes (it was a renewal!)? Well, now he’s considering a $1 tax increase on a pack of cigarettes.

“Everything is on the table,” he said. “That’s the way it should be.”

But isn’t he the same governor who closed hospitals and prisons without so much as a heads-up to legislators in the areas affected.

Isn’t he the same governor who rejected a federal grant to make boardband internet available to rural areas of the state but had no alternative plan for broadband?

Isn’t he the same governor who continues to resist ObamaCare at the cost of millions of dollars in Medicaid funding to provide medical care for the state’s poor?

He said he is looking at different ways to protect low- and middle-income citizens.

By increasing the state sales tax by nearly two cents on the dollar? By rejecting another $50 million federal grant for early childhood development? By shuttering battered women’s shelters and attempting to terminate state funding for hospice? By pushing for more and more tax breaks for corporations and wealthy Louisiana citizens? By appointing former legislators to six-figure state jobs for which they’re wholly unqualified while denying raises to the state’s working stiffs? Yeah, that’ll really protect the low income people of the state.

“It’s way too early to make decisions on what’s in and out of the plan,” he said of the soon-to-be proposed (we assume) income tax re-haul.

Well, Governor, it’s your job to make decisions, to come up with a proposal to present to the legislature so House and Senate members may have sufficient time to debate the issues—unlike your sweeping education package of a year ago.

In your response to President Obama’s State of the Union address this week (not your disastrous response in 2009 in which the Republican Party subjected you to national ridicule), you said, “With four more years in office, he (Obama) needs to step up to the plate and do the job he was elected to do.”

That’s right, folks. You can’t make up stuff this good. The response is so easy that it’s embarrassing but here goes:

Pot, meet Kettle.

In retrospect, drawing on comic strip for inspiration when writing about Jindal somehow seems entirely appropriate.

Read Full Post »

State Civil Service employees have gone without a 4 percent merit pay raise for three years now because of budgetary restrictions, brought on in large part by a Piyush Jindal administration that refuses to apply for federal grants for needed projects and by Jindal’s insistence on granting more and more tax breaks to corporate entities who take the money and, in at least one case, cease operations within a year or so.

No one is saying that grant money can be used to fund employee pay raises but when federal funds for broadband internet ($80.6 million), early childhood development ($60 million), and $5 billion a year in tax exemptions are taken out of the budgetary mix, the money must be made up from other sources.

Because of constitutionally mandated spending, there are only two areas where cuts may be made: higher education and health care. And of course, there is always the suspension of pay raises.

Accordingly, Curt Eysink, executive director of the Louisiana Workforce Commission (LWC)–once known by its archaic nom de plume, the Department of Labor–sent an email to all his employees on Sept. 26 which informed them thusly:

Dear Fellow LWC Employees,

As you are aware, the LWC has experienced significant reductions in funding over the last four years as the demand for our services increased. That has put a lot of added pressure on many of you, and you should know that your efforts are greatly appreciated. Unfortunately, the combination of funding reductions and increased services also puts a tremendous strain on our budget, and we continue to struggle to maintain staffing levels in certain areas.

Yesterday afternoon, I submitted a request to Civil Service for the Layoff Avoidance Measure of withholding performance adjustment pay increases (or merit increases) for the upcoming year. I sincerely regret that this is necessary for a third year in a row, but I made this request to minimize the impact of budget pressures on our levels of staffing and on the agency.

I appreciate your dedication and patience as we work through these tough financial times. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.

Well, wasn’t that special? Eysink, in an effort to avoid layoffs, was willing to allow his employees to bite the bullet on behalf of the greater good by denying them pay raises, even though he “sincerely” regretted the action.

But wait. While he was sacrificing 4 percent increases for virtually his entire agency, Eysink was apparently attempting a backdoor salary bump of some $20,000 per year (40.8 percent), from $47,570 to $67,000, for a single employee.

Jonie Smith, Emerging Workforce Manager (for programs involving community action agencies, veterans and disabled workers), was approved by the state Civil Service Commission for an increase from $47,570 to $67,000 despite restrictions that would have limited her increase to only $53,000.

This is the same Civil Service Commission that rubber stamped the privatization plan for the Office of Group Benefits that will cause about 120 workers in that agency to lose their jobs. (Is it just us, or does anyone else see the Civil Service Commission as becoming just another Jindal dancing monkey in much the same mode as the Ethics Commission and the Louisiana Legislature?)

Not that one member, at least, didn’t try to discourage the big raise.

Briefly, here’s a recap of what went down:

Smith apparently got a job offer from the private sector and Eysink felt she was just too valuable to lose. Civil Service rules allow a state agency to match a private sector offer and in this particular case a match would have boosted her salary by $5,430, or 11.4 percent—nearly three times the 4 percent merit raise for state employees—if such raises still existed, which, of course, they don’t.

Even at that, agency officials lobbied for $67,000, causing commission member Scott Hughes to balk. Hughes observed that a lot of good employees have already been lost to layoffs. Another 1500 or so are slated to lose their jobs (just in time for Christmas, no less) through massive cutbacks in services by the LSU healthcare system.

“I’m not going to cast a vote to set a precedent for one employee,” he said, adding that other agencies might attempt similar moves. “I believe it’s a barn door we are opening that will not get shut.”

Commission Vice Chairman John McLure pooh-poohed Hughes’s concerns. “Given the current economic situation and the downsizing we have approved, we won’t see much of this,” he said somewhat incredulously.

Apparently, McLure has not been paying close attention to the news lately (see Tim Barfield, whom Jindal appointed Revenue Secretary at twice the salary of his predecessor).

It should also be noted that while Eysink pays the obligatory lip service to his employees by telling them how much he values and appreciates their dedication and patience, at least one staff member is valued and appreciated considerably more than the rest. Either that or he’s simply lying about how much he appreciates his workers in the first place. Of course, lying is certainly not new to this administration.

Remember Jindal’s disingenuous State Employee Appreciation proclamations the past three years? Were they not so cynical and such classic examples of sick humor, they’d almost be laughable. Almost.

Hughes did have one ally in Civil Service assistant director Jean Jones.

While Ashley Gautreaux, LWC human resources director described Smith, who has worked for the agency since December of 2010, a “critical” employee, Jones said based on Civil Service records, Smith barely meets minimum job qualifications for the job she is in.

The commission predictably went along with the $19,430 per year pay raise with Hughes casting the only negative vote.

One LWC employee emailed LouisianaVoice expressing an attitude of being quite “p—sed” at the action.

That’s certainly easy to understand. Jindal has completely ignored this state since his re-election (with the exception of opportunities for camera face time during Hurricane Isaac). He is rarely even in the state anymore even as a dangerous sinkhole has caused evacuations in Assumption Parish. He is nowhere to be found even as the state’s economy is tanking, causing cutbacks in medical care, budget cuts to higher education which in turn precipitated tuition increases for already financially-strapped students—all while he pumps up salaries for his appointees (see Tim Barfield), fires doctors and college presidents and attorneys and continues to campaign for president—a goal, by the way, that he will never reach.

The question then is, with more than three years left for him to turn his nose up at the citizens who elected him, how much more of this boorish behavior is the state citizenry—and the legislature—willing to take off this arrogant Alfred E. Newman lookalike?

Perhaps Hammond attorney C.B. Forgotston said it best when he said it is time for us to move on because Bobby has. “It’s time for us to admit the truth: Bobby Jindal is finished with Louisiana,” he said.

“Bobby’s future is beyond the borders of Louisiana and he shows it every day. It’s time for the legislators to determine what type of state in which they want to live, not what Bobby leaves us.”

Read Full Post »

BATON ROUGE (CNS)—From Shreveport to New Orleans, from Amite to Alexandria, they’re beginning to catch on to the smoke and mirrors act of snake oil salesman Piyush Jindal, masquerading as governor of Louisiana and wannabe shining star—but now a fading star—of the national Republican Party.

And the picture isn’t a pretty one, at least from Piyush’s perspective—if, that is, he is even aware of the growing tide of resentment over his failed programs. Those failures run the gamut: from the $250 million wash-away berms in the Gulf of Mexico to the rejection of more than $800 million in federal grants for broadband internet, early childhood development and a high-speed rail service between Baton Rouge and New Orleans to nightmarish cuts to higher education, state hospitals and Medicaid.

The question of his understanding of the depth and breadth of the problems is a matter of open speculation. One of his handlers recently described Jindal as “delusional.”

Definitions of the term vary somewhat in their wording but all say essentially the same thing:

• “A fixed false belief that is resistant to reason or confrontation with actual fact;”

• “A false personal belief that is not subject to reason or contradictory evidence…”

• “A false belief or opinion;”

• “A false belief strongly held in spite of invalidating evidence…”

If Jindal doesn’t see and appreciate the looming consequences of his programs, i.e. school vouchers, budget cutbacks, privatization, hospital closures, then at least the readers of the Shreveport Times appear to understand and to come to grips with the dilemma of a disconnected governor.

A poll of Times readers this week asked one simple question: “How would you grade Jindal’s performance as governor?”

The term “grade” is significant here when one considers Jindal’s own penchant for “grading” Louisiana’s public schools in an apparent effort to categorize as many as possible as “D” and “F” schools to clear the way for new, mostly for-profit charter and online virtual schools and for his ill-conceived voucher/scholarship program, all of which rip money from local public school districts, leaving them in a deeper fiscal chasm than before.

The results of that poll late Friday afternoon showed, out of 866 votes cast, 593 (68.5 percent gave Jindal an F. Another 138 (15.0 percent) gave him a D. So, 83.5 percent of respondents gave him either a D or and F. Only 70 (8.1 percent) gave him an A while 33 (3.8 percent said he warranted a B and 32 (3.7 percent) gave him a C.

Jindal’s grading method for schools says that any school with a C, D, or F grade is considered failing and eligible for parents to move their kids out to a voucher school. Accordingly, 87.3 of respondents say he simply doesn’t measure up.

(Of course the poll is unscientific, but it certainly is interesting to know that he was re-elected with 66 percent of the vote of 20 percent of voters who went to the polls and now 68.5 percent see him as an utter failure.

Just to make sure there was no stuffing of the ballot box, we attempted to vote twice to see if we could. We could not, so the results, though unscientific, are significant because north Louisiana, along with the Florida parishes, is considered one of the areas of the state where he is strongest.

Taking the results of that poll into account, perhaps we should consider the implementation of a “charter” or “virtual” governor or perhaps vouchers could be issued for Louisiana’s citizens to select another governor if we are unhappy with the one we have.

Of course, like school vouchers, that would not preclude one over the other.

In other words, we would still have Jindal as the public governor, but we also would have a private governor of our choosing who would be accountable to no one.

Wait. We already have that.

The Monroe News-Star also has challenged the governor and his superintendent of education John White on the matter of what is and what is not public record. That publication has filed a lawsuit over records White has claimed are part of the “deliberative process,” a term that never existed before Jindal took office.

Gambit, a New Orleans publication, recently published a column with the headline: “Jindal’s got the job he wants? Prove it, Governor.”

The article asked the not-so-rhetorical question of why, if he truly had the “best job in the world,” would he spend so much time away from Louisiana?

Pointing out as others have recently that there are plenty of problems to occupy Jindal’s attention, Gambit submitted a “Bobby-do” list of tasks for the governor to tackle now that he has been officially eliminated from Mitt Romney’s vice presidential veepstakes:

Keep Southeast Louisiana Hospital (SLH) open. In 2009, Jindal shut down the New Orleans Adolescent Hospital (NOAH), justifying the move by pointing out that its patients could receive the care they needed at SLH in Mandeville. Gambit asked where can those patients turn to now for treatment, Mississippi? With the closure of SLH scheduled for October, an entire region of the state—the most populous region of the state, it might be pointed out—will have no public mental health hospital.

Address the catastrophic cuts to higher education with something more than your rhetorical “do more with less” mantra.

Put real accountability into the public school voucher program. This program, passed by Jindal and now administered by his hand-picked superintendent of education (we’ll get to him presently), is an unmitigated disaster worthy of a Three Stooges or Marx Brothers comedy.

Except that this scenario is not funny.

Which brings us to White and his traveling dog and pony show which has played to less than enthusiastic reviews thus far.

First of all, White should have the good sense not to stroll late into a meeting with a parish school board (already a hostile audience) in open shirt with sleeves rolled up, dressed, in the words of one observer, “like he was attending a corn husking party,” complete with half-unzipped pants.

Is this really the image the leader of the state’s educational system wishes to convey in a public meeting of local elected officials? Apparently so.

Kevin Crovetto, a Ponchatoula High School teacher, got in what was possibly the best zinger of the night when he said if White and his staff were judged by the same standards proposed for teachers, they would be rated “ineffective.”

The Tangipahoa Parish School Board was, predictably, equally unimpressed.

Board member Al Link said that under the new teacher evaluation system, teachers will be held accountable for the academic progress of their students while the responsibilities of the student and parents are not addressed.

The state continues to put mandates on teachers, jumping from one mandate to another, to the point that teachers are finding it impossible to do their jobs, Link said, adding that the state now is saying some teachers are not meeting expectations so now their jobs are being given to persons who are not certified.

White responded by saying that he is “not keen” on certification and that anyone who is a college graduate and who is “proficient” should be allowed to teach.

Yet florists, plumbers and auctioneers are required to be licensed in Louisiana.

And just who is in charge of determining proficiency?

When Crovetto and others questioned White about the new voucher program that allows students who qualify to attend private schools and charter schools—at the expense of public school systems, White, incredibly, responded by indicating he cared little about the financial drain on public schools so long as voucher students get an education.

Let that sink in, folks. The head of Louisiana’s public education system says he is unconcerned about the financial hardships imposed on local school systems so long as voucher students get an education—at places like:

• Delhi Charter where, until public pressure forced a change in policy, a girl even suspected of being pregnant could be forced to submit to a physical by a doctor of the school’s choosing;

• Light City Christian Academy in New Orleans where the founder of the school calls himself “Apostle” and “Prophet;”

• New Living Word School in Ruston, which does not even have books, teachers, or classroom space and where the state recently circumvented the local building inspector to issue a building permit for a construction project to expand the facility (remember Willie Stark in All the King’s Men and the collapse of the school fire escape?);

• Eternity Christian Academy in Westlake that teaches that the Loch Ness Monster is real as a means of supporting the fundamentalist theory that the earth is less than 10,000 years old. It also uses textbooks that teach that American slave owners were benevolent, kind-hearted overlords, that the Ku Klux Klan was a “reform” organization that protected women and children, that the “Trail of Tears” was responsible for the conversion of many American Indians to Christianity;

• BeauVer Christian School in DeRidder that couldn’t grasp the proper spelling of “Scholarship” on its sign advertising free vouchers.

And, let us not forget, Rep. Valarie Hodges (R-Denham Springs), who says she is all about teaching the Christian beliefs of our forefathers in charter schools and vouchers for Christian schools but was opposed to vouchers for an Islamic school in New Orleans.

All these factors are part and parcel of the administration of a governor who more and more, exhibits signs of a growing disconnect with reality.

Delusional: a false belief based upon a misinterpretation of reality.

Read Full Post »

The clock has run out on Gov. Bobby Jindal and like the Honey Badger, he’s now yesterday’s news insofar as any aspirations either one may have had for bigger and better things.

Realistically, time had run out on Louisiana’s wunderkind some time ago even though like a loyal trooper, he keeps soldiering on—perhaps hoping for a prestigious cabinet position like Secretary of Health and Human Services, something he denies aspiring to.

“I would not consider a cabinet post,” he sniffed like the spoiled little boy that he is after being passed over for the vice presidential nomination by Mitt Romney. “I consider being the governor of Louisiana to be more important and the best job there is.” Well, it is the only job he has for the moment and if he doesn’t challenge Mary Landrieu in 2014, we’re stuck with him through 2015.

Break out the champagne.

We can only surmise that Secretary of Education is out of the question since both Romney and Paul Ryan advocate that department’s abolishment in favor of state and local control (read: vouchers), although Romney has tempered his position somewhat.

But Jindal’s real quandary is not that he was passed over for vice president, but that he needs desperately to advance his career quickly—before all his “reforms” as governor come crashing down around him, doing even more damage to his reputation than that disastrous response to President Obama’s State of the Union Address in 2009.

That image as the crusading reformer who gets things done against all odds is already beginning to wear thin in Louisiana and it’s only a matter of time before the national media begin to take a critical look at his administration. The Washington Post and New York Times already have.

Beginning with his repeal of the Stelly Plan only a few months into his first term—the move is costing the state about $300 million a year while benefiting only couples earning more than $150,000 per year or individuals making $90,000 per year—through this year’s veto of a car rental tax renewal for New Orleans, Jindal his consistently found ways to cut taxes while doling out tax breaks to corporate entities.

In 2011, the legislature could not muster the votes to override a Jindal veto of a cigarette tax renewal and the renewal had to go before voters in the form of a constitutional amendment—which easily passed.

While he defiantly categorizes tax renewals as “new taxes,” to which he is adamantly opposed, he has no compunctions about cutbacks to higher education that force colleges and universities to increase tuition. He considers the tuition hikes as “fees,” not taxes.

While turning up his nose at federal grants for early childhood development ($60 million), broadband internet installation in rural parishes ($80.6 million) and for a high-speed rail system between Baton Rouge and New Orleans ($300 million), Jindal, upon slashing funding for parish libraries throughout the state, apparently saw no inconsistency in suggesting that the libraries apply for federal monies in lieu of state funding.

The grumblings began ever-so-slowly but they have been growing steadily. The legislature, albeit the right-wing Tea Party splinter clique of the Republican Party, finally stood up to Jindal toward the end of this year’s legislative session and refused to give in on the governor’s efforts to use one-time revenue to close a gaping hole in the state budget.

Other developments that did not bode well for the governor include:

• A state budget that lay in shambles, resulting in mid-year budget cuts of $500 million because of reductions in revenue—due largely to the roughly $5 billion per year in corporate tax breaks;

• Unexpected cuts to the state’s Medicaid program by the federal government which cost the state $859 million, including $329 million the first year to hospitals and clinics run by Louisiana State University—about a quarter of the health system’s annual budget. Those cuts will mean the loss of medical benefits for about 300,000 indigent citizens in Louisiana;

• Failed efforts to privatize state prisons, even though he did manage to close two prison facilities and a state hospital without bothering to notify legislators in the areas affected—a huge bone of contention for lawmakers who, besides having their own feathers ruffled, had to try and explain the sudden turn of events to constituents;

• Revelation that he had refused to return some $55,000 in laundered campaign funds from a St. Tammany bank president;

• Failed efforts to revamp the state employee retirement system for civil service employees. State police were exempted—perhaps because they form his security detail. And despite questions about the tax or Social Security implications, Jindal plans to plunge ahead with implementation of the part of the plan that did pass without the benefit of a ruling by the IRS—a ruling that could ultimately come back to bite him;

• A failed effort by the Sabine River Authority to sell water to a corporation headed up by two major Jindal campaign contributors—Donald “Boysie” Bollinger of Lockport and Aubrey Temple of DeRidder;

• A school voucher system that is nothing less than a train wreck, a political nightmare. State Education Superintendent John White, after Jindal rushed the voucher program through the legislature, rushed the vetting process for the awarding of vouchers through the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, abetted by members Penny Dastugue, Jay Guillot and Chas Roemer—quickly turning the entire process into a pathetic farce;

• A school in New Orleans run by a man calling himself an “Apostle,” a school in Ruston with no facilities—classrooms, desks, books or teachers—for the 165 vouchers for which the school was approved, tentative approval of vouchers for a school in DeRidder that could not even spell “scholarship” on its sign and for a school in Westlake that teaches that the “Trail of Tears” led many Native Americans to Christianity, that dragons were real, that dinosaurs and humans co-existed at the beginning of time (6,000 years ago, the approximate age of earth, according to its textbooks), that slave owners in America were kind, benevolent masters who treated slaves well, and that the Ku Klux Klan was a helpful reform-minded organization with malice toward none (Don’t laugh, folks; this is what many of these fundamentalist schools who qualified for vouchers are teaching.);

• Then there’s that charter school in Delhi that held girls to a slightly higher standard than boys. Any girl who became pregnant was expelled and any girl even suspected of being pregnant may be ordered to undergo an examination by a doctor of the school’s choice. The boy who gets her pregnant? Nothing. No punishment, no responsibility. Only after being subjected to public exposure, ridicule and criticism did the school alter its policy;

• A state legislator who said she approved of vouchers for Christian schools but not for an Islamic school in New Orleans because this country was founded on the Christian principles of the founding fathers, neglecting for the moment that the founding fathers were for the most part, Deists;

• And to top it all off, White smiles condescendingly and tells us that the criteria applied for approval of vouchers for these schools is part of the “deliberative process,” a catch-all exemption employed by the administration when it doesn’t wish to provide what are clearly public records—an administration, by the way, that touts its so-called “transparency.” Fortunately for the public, the Monroe News-Star is taking White’s pompous behind to court over that decision. (Confidentially, it is the humble opinion of LouisianaVoice that White never had any criteria and that he is creating policy and criteria on the fly because he simply is in way over his inexperienced, unqualified head as the leader of the agency charged with the education of our children. And that perhaps is the most shameful aspect of the entire voucher system and the single biggest act of betrayal on the part of a governor equally overwhelmed by the responsibilities of public office—especially an absentee governor.)

So as the Jindal Express rumbles down the track like a bad motorcycle going 90 miles per hour down a dead-end street (with apologies to Hank Snow) and things begin to unravel on the home front, just where is this absentee governor?

Well, it seems that rather than remain in the state and address the problems that are piling up and growing more complex with each passing day, he seems to prefer to spend his time stumping for Romney—or auditioning for a cabinet position he says he won’t accept—after seeing his chances for the vice presidency fall by the wayside.

A mature governor, a caring governor, a capable governor—one who is truly concerned about the welfare of his state—would defer from flitting all over the country spouting rhetoric on behalf of his presidential candidate in favor of remaining at home and addressing problems that are very real and very important to the people who elected him. Romney, after all, never once voted for Jindal.

There could be only one motive for turning his back on nearly 600,000 voters who first elected him in 2007 and the 673,000 who re-elected him last fall: he doesn’t really care about Louisiana and its people; he cares only about Bobby Jindal and those who can help him in the advancement of his political career.

If Gov. Jindal was truly concerned about the welfare of Louisiana, he certainly would have provided us with an encore of his hurricane and BP spill disaster performances: he would have headed straight to Assumption Parish to grab some TV face time at the Bayou Corne sinkhole and then flown away in a helicopter even as a ghost writer busied himself penning a book sequel: Failed Leadership and Fiscal Crisis: the Crash Landing.

That’s the very least he could do.

Read Full Post »

Remember last year’s incredible fiasco precipitated by Gov. Piyush Jindal when he spurned that $80.6 million Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) grant to provide high speed broadband internet to rural areas of Louisiana?

Well, it’s back—perhaps to bite him in the gluteus maximus.

State Superintendent of Education John White has released a report that shows Louisiana public school students and teachers are lacking the technology to enter the digital age.

The Louisiana Technology Footprint report discusses technology guidelines that provide a snapshot of the current state of digital readiness of school districts and campuses in the state.

Louisiana Believes, the highly-touted plan by the department includes, among other goals, one for all schools to be digital-ready by 2014-2015.

The report provides districts with an initial footprint picture of network, bandwidth and device requirements need to fully implement online assessments by the 2014-2015 school year and full digital readiness thereafter.

“Data and technology specifications…indicate school campuses in Louisiana have 197,898 devices available for online testing but only 67,038 (33.9 percent) met new device standards,” the report says.

Only five districts—Ascension, City of Bogalusa, Red River, St. James and FirstLine Schools of New Orleans—meet the minimum device readiness requirements and only two—Ascension and St. James—meet both device and network readiness guidelines for online testing, it said.

It was last Oct. 26 that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Division (NOAA) issued its final termination letter for the grant after repeated efforts to get the state to comply with its request for additional information.

The project, which LouisianaVoice learned was opposed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), would have created 900 miles of cable over 21 rural parishes in Louisiana and would have supported several Louisiana universities with expanded optical fiber networking capacity.

That could have complimented the Board of Regents’ $20 million Louisiana Optical Network Initiative (LONI) project, designed to extend high-speed networking capabilities in the state.

But Jindal, whose wife’s charitable foundation received considerable funding from AT&T, apparently preferred that the project be carried out by private companies—such as…oh, say AT&T, for example.

The governor refused to re-apply for the grant because what he termed a “heavy-handed approach from the federal government that would have undermined and taken over private business.”

U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu call Jindal’s stated reason “hogwash.” She said the grant would not have interfered with private enterprise and in fact, would have granted money for private companies to lay the cable. “We weren’t trying to create a government broadband system,” she said.

Almost a year before the final rejection of the grant, ALEC, at its annual meeting in San Diego in August of 2010, passed a resolution opposing initiatives targeted at providing universally accessible broadband service because of “the unnecessary, burdensome and economically harmful regulation of broadband internet service companies, including the providers of the infrastructure that supports and enables internet services…”

Looks like someone forgot to tell White about Jindal’s opposition to expanded availability to that evil internet.

In fact, White, in his report, encourages school districts to join a statewide consortium that will aid in consolidated purchasing and contracts as well as providing technology services and support.

Wonder who’ll get the contract to form that consortium?

Read Full Post »

“WHEREAS, ALEC believes that innovation, private investment, and market competitition, not additional regulations, should drive the continued deployment and adoption of broadband information services, and

WHEREAS, the FCC has moved forward with a plan that would impose its authority on the internet and regulate the provision of broadband information services, and

THEREFORE, be it resolved that ALEC voices its support of lawmakers and regulators avoiding the unnecessary, burdensome and economically harmful regulation of broadband internet service companies, including the providers of the infrastructure that supports and enables internet services…”

–Part of the resolution passed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) at its 2010 national conference in San Diego, the resolution which may have persuaded Gov. Piyush Jindal’s administration to deliberately fumble away an $80.6 million federal grant to make broadband internet service available to 21 rural Louisiana parishes.

Read Full Post »

That $80.6 million Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) grant to provide high speed broadband internet to rural areas of Louisiana keeps rearing its ugly head.

That’s the grant—the second grant—that Gov. Bobby Jindal eschewed and eventually lost when the U.S. Department of Commerce issued a three-page letter of revocation last October. Jindal had earlier declined to apply for a $60 million grant for early childhood education.

LouisianaVoice has obtained information that indicates the forfeiting of the broadband grant now appears to have been the brainchild of none other than the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which last August bestowed its highest honor, the Thomas Jefferson Freedom Award, on Jindal at ALEC’s national conference in New Orleans.

The project would have created 900 miles of cable over 21 rural parishes in Louisiana and would have supported several Louisiana universities with expanded optical fiber networking capacity that could have complimented the Board of Regents’ $20 million Louisiana Optical Network Initiative (LONI) project, designed to extend high-speed networking capabilities in the state.

But Jindal, whose wife’s charitable foundation received funding from AT&T, preferred that the project be carried out by private companies—such as AT&T. He refused to re-apply for the grant because of what he called a “heavy-handed approach from the federal government that would have undermined and taken over private business.”

U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu called Jindal’s reasoning “hogwash.” She said the grant would not have interfered with private enterprise and in fact, just the opposite was true. “We weren’t trying to create a government broadband system; it’s granting money for private companies to lay the cable,” she said.

Even more ominous, that revocation letter from Arlene Simpson Porter, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Division (NOAA), informed the Jindal administration, “Consideration of this adverse action may be used in future funding decisions for your organization.”

That could mean that Jindal’s decision could be used against the state in any future grant applications.

The problems started March 17, 2011, when BTOP staff informed the Board of Regents that the project was nine months behind schedule. A formal response was requested by May 13, 2011, but on May 17, there still was no formal response and a corrective action plan (CAP) letter was sent to the Board of Regents.

That was followed on May 26 by a conference call between BTOP staff, the Board of Regents and the Division of Administration (DOA) to discuss the CAP response. On June 14, the Board of Regents and DOA issued a response letter in which it was noted that the DOA Office of Information Technology (OIT) would provide project oversight to ensure that implementation of the BTOP grant would not be in direct competition with private providers.

The state was notified on July 6 that it was even further behind on the project and additional problems were encountered on July 12. On July 27, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) requested that NOAA suspend Louisiana’s U.S. Treasury Automated System Application for Payment (ASAP) account pending corrective actions, including delivery of project benefits and compliance with award terms and conditions.

The Board of Regents on Aug. 8 provided BTOP staff with a chart outlining the planning process and goals. A month later, the Regents proposed an alternative design that included a new plan, new project schedule with new structure and milestones and a survey of service providers that would provide unspecified indefeasible right of use (IRU). An IRU is a contractual agreement between operators of communications systems, including fiber optics.

The Regents’ proposal was rejected by NOAA, which on Sept. 20 issued a 30-day notice of termination of award. That was followed by Simpson-Porter’s Oct. 26 termination letter.

Could the loss of the grant have been orchestrated by ALEC? Could the administration have deliberately stalled until the grant was pulled in order to comply with ALEC’s national agenda?

Perhaps we will never know the answer to that, but consider this:

As far back as August of 2010, at ALEC’s annual meeting in San Diego, its Telecommunications & Information Technology Task Force passed the following resolution:

Whereas, it is the mission of the American Legislative Exchange Council to advance the Jeffersonian principles of the free markets, limited government, federalism and individual liberty, and

Whereas, broadband information services sector is critical to growing the nation’s economy, enhancing quality of life through new and innovative applications, and enabling greater job creation, and

Whereas, the rise of private investment in broadband technologies has dramatically transformed the way consumers work, live, learn, and conduct their daily lives, and

Whereas, ALEC believes that innovation, private investment, and market competition, not additional regulations, should drive the continued deployment and adoption of broadband information services, and

Whereas, the FCC has moved forward with a plan that would impose its authority on the internet and regulate the provision of broadband information services, and

Therefore, be it resolved that ALEC voices its support of lawmakers and regulators avoiding the unnecessary, burdensome and economically harmful regulation of broadband internet service companies, including the providers of the infrastructure that supports and enables internet services, and further

Be it resolved that ALEC urges that the FCC, Congress, and state regulatory and legislative bodies refocus their efforts on specific and limited initiatives targeted at ensuring that broadband service is made universally available and affordable to consumers, rejecting overly prescriptive regulation that would harm innovation, investment, and job growth, and further

Be it resolved that ALEC’s opposition to the sweeping redefinition of broadband services be communicated to all ALEC members, and further

Be it resolved that ALEC shall convey its support to the members of the United States Congress and Executive Branch.

The resolution was offered by Intuit, Inc., following a presentation by Eagle Communications on “concerns over federal grants being used to fund businesses to compete head-to-head with broadband service providers in areas that are already being served.” Intuit was one of the corporate members that recently pulled out from ALEC after the controversy over Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, a law strongly supported by ALEC, and the subsequent shooting death of a black youth by a neighborhood watch volunteer.

AT&T and Cox Communications, both major investors in cable TV and internet services, are also members of ALEC. AT&T even serves on ALEC’s corporate board.

Louisiana legislators attending that San Diego conference – at state expense – included:

• Former Rep. John LaBruzzo (R-Metairie);

• Rep. Robert Johnson (D-Marksville);

• Rep. Thomas Carmody (R-Shreveport);

• Rep. Tim Burns (R-Mandeville);

• Rep. Joe Harrison (R-Gray);

• Rep. Bernard LeBas (D-Ville Platte);

• Sen. Yvonne Dorsey (D-Baton Rouge).

Read Full Post »

U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu says Gov. Jindal “fumbled” on two grants that cost the state $140 million but in fairness to Jindal, he now has a chance to dwarf those losses by blowing an additional $390 million in FEMA money to mitigate damage caused by two major hurricanes in 2005.

The word out of Baton Rouge this week is that the state will receive an additional $389.6 million from FEMA for flood prevention of homes, levees and public buildings.

But don’t hold your breath.

The state has received $1.4 billion in hazard mitigation money already after FEMA assessed damages from hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

The state might yet receive the money, however, despite the loss of two earlier federal grants of $60 million and $80 million. That’s because this money was secured through the efforts of the state’s congressional delegation and was not hampered by the Jindal administration.

The additional hazard mitigation money can be used by property owners to elevate or retrofit homes with additions such as hurricane-proof windows and storm shutters and local governments may use the money to repair levees, improve drainage and strengthen school buildings and other public facilities.

Most of that money is expected to be used in the parishes of Cameron, St. Bernard and Orleans, areas especially hard-hit by Katrina and Rita in 2005.

“As we did after Hurricane Gustav and Hurricane Ike, we are sending these dollars directly to parishes because local leaders know how to best protect our communities from future losses in the event of another natural disaster,” Jindal said.

That would represent something of a departure for the Jindal administration which has thus far fought, at least publicly, to resist federal funding but has never shied away from taking credit when he passes out checks during Sunday morning visits to north Louisiana protestant churches.

Jindal no doubt hopes the $390 million bonus will help him save face after his rumblin’, bumblin’, stumblin’ performances with two other grants.

The first, $60 million in early childhood education funding was lost when the administration simply decided not to apply for the money.

The second was an $80 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce to fund a project to install 900 miles of cable to bring broadband internet connection to 21 rural parishes.

The $60 million grant would have been the third round of Race to the Top dollars and was to have been used to improve the quality of early learning and closing the achievement gap for children with high needs resulting largely from poverty.

Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater called U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu’s criticism of Jindal “disappointing.” Rainwater once worked with Landrieu but now is the mouthpiece of the administration. He said the state punted on the $60 million because the state studied the grant and decided that it would not have expanded early childhood education but rather would have targeted programs the state has already been addressing. He neglected to say what those programs were.

Rainwater also said the money would have had strings attached that would have meant more federal control over the education system.

The state, of course, is far above that. No control over local school systems by the state with this administration. Just pull funding from the public school systems and divert it into charter schools. No control there. All the local systems have to do to compensate for the lost funds is layoff teachers. What control?

Landrieu disagreed. “All the federal government is doing is offering them money with virtually no strings attached except for basic accountability,” she said.

The truth probably lies somewhere in between the two positions, but so what? If you borrow money from the bank, there are usually strings attached, such as for what purpose the money will be used and how it will be repaid. That’s life.

Basic accountability is something the state has found lacking in some areas, most notably with payment for the $239 million Jindal sand berms built at the governor’s insistence as an effort to stem the flow of oil from the April 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon explosion and subsequent blowout. That failed effort was monumental in scope. Not only did the berms wash away but so too did the heavy dredging equipment brought in to construct the berms—all swallowed up in the Gulf waters.

That was bad enough but then along came the Legislative Auditor’s office that issued a report earlier this month that the state overpaid Shaw Environmental and Infrastructure, Inc. by nearly $495,000 to build the oh-so-temporary and oh-so-useless berms.

It’s not the first time Shaw’s name has surfaced in questionable costs.

Immediately after Katrina devastated New Orleans, Shaw was awarded a no-bid contract to cover storm-damaged roofs across New Orleans with those familiar blue tarps. Each tarp covered 100 square feet, meaning the average home would require 15 tarps to fully protect its roof. There were literally tens of thousands of those homes in and around New Orleans.

Shaw’s contract called for it to receive $175 per square (one tarp, or 100 square feet). That did not include the cost of the tarps because they were provided by FEMA. The $175 was just for labor. (That, by the way, comes to about $2,600 per house—not much below what it would cost to simply re-roof the home.)

Shaw promptly hired a subcontractor to install the tarps at $75 per square. That meant Shaw would net $100 per square for doing absolutely nothing. Multiply that by 15 per house ($1,500 net per house) times the thousands of houses getting the tarps and well, you get the picture.

The subcontractor then found his own subcontractor and paid him $35 per square, leaving the first subcontractor with a neat profit of $40 per square, or roughly $600 per house for doing zilch.

The second subcontractor then found laborers who actually installed the tarps—at $2 per square. Is this what they meant by trickle-down economics?

But back to the grants.

When the Public Service Commission demanded answers it got the typical bureaucratic shuffle from Rainwater and Board of Regents President Jim Purcell.

The blame, they said, lay alternatively with the legislature which took too long to approve spending, a contractor whom they said was late with his work (the contractor denies that) and the Obama administration, which Rainwater said “wants to run the car companies, the banks, our entire health care system, and now they want to take over the broadband business.

“We won’t stand for that in Louisiana,” he sniffed.

That little bit of defiance resurrected echoes of Leander Perez in his efforts to defy the federal government’s insistence on school desegregation more than a half-century ago. At the time, Gov. Earl K. Long reminded Perez in not-so-gentle terms of the realities of the day when he bellowed to the arch-segregationist, “What you gonna do now, Leander? The feds have the A-bomb!”

Probably Jindal’s frittering away the $80 million has more to do with campaign contributors than any philosophical differences over federal influence.

The broadband project would have connected to the Louisiana Optical Network Initiative (LONI), a 1,600-mile fiber-optic network that connects Louisiana and Mississippi research universities to National LambdaRail and Internet2, which would connect 100,00 households, 15,000 businesses and 150 schools, libraries and hospitals.

A Jindal campaign contributor whom the governor appointed to the Board of Regents, Ed Antie of Carencro, was forced to resign earlier this year amid revelations during Senate confirmation hearings that he had a $531,000 contract with the Regents through one of his companies to provide fiber-optic cables to LONI, which is overseen by the Regents.

“Straight baloney,” said Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell of Rainwater’s contention that the broadband internet project would result in unfair competition with private providers.

“We’ve been begging the private providers to build broadband infrastructure in the rural areas of the Delta and they won’t do it,” Campbell said. “I don’t give a damn if the companies object. If they won’t do it on their own, then does that mean we should just sacrifice these poor parishes’ and people’s chance to be connected?”

Campbell said he wants the state’s major telecoms, Rainwater and Purcell to attend the next PSC meeting. “I want to know the providers who objected,” he said.

At one point in the hearings, Campbell, whose position is not appointive but elective, found it necessary to remind Rainwater, “I don’t work for you.”

That must have come as quite a shock to both Jindal and Rainwater who, without Timmy Teepell to hold their hand, were probably unable to locate a copy of the State Constitution that would verify Campbell’s unexpected revelation.

Read Full Post »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,210 other followers