Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s head cheerleader, the Baton Rouge Business Report, keeps churning out those feel good blurbs about the various surveys that put Louisiana in a good light.

That’s understandable, of course. After all, Business Report Publisher Rolfe McCollister served as Jindal’s campaign treasurer, then as chair of Jindal’s transition team, later as director of Jindal slush fund organization Believe in Louisiana, and finally as treasurer for Jindal’s Stand Up to Washington PAC.

As reward for his loyal services, Jindal appointed McCollister to the LSU Board of Stuporvisors where he promptly proceeded to vote with the remainder of the board in the decision—dictated by Jindal, of course—to fire LSU President John Lombardi, to resist the release of candidates for LSU president—so much for the Fourth Estate standing up for the public’s right to know—and to allow Jindal to give two LSU hospitals to a fellow LSU board member. As an added bonus, Jindal appointed McCollister associate Julio Melara, Business Report President, to the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District (Superdome) Board of Commissioners.

And we won’t even discuss campaign contributions to Jindal from McCollister and Melara.

That should be sufficient assurance of objectivity and even handedness, so why should anyone question all those wonderfully warmed-over success stories about business climates, job growth, economic development, etc.?

So when the Business Report recently ran a story that proclaimed to the world that Thumbstack.com’s third annual Small Business Friendliness Survey ranked Louisiana as fifth in the nation in the all-important overall friendliness with a grade of A+, we were appropriately ecstatic.

But then on June 12, came the report from 24/7 Wall Street that identified the top 10 states in economic growth.

Louisiana was a no-show on that list.

While the U.S. economy grew at a rate of only 1.9 percent, down from the 2013 growth rate of 2.9 percent, the 10 states experienced growth rates of between 3 percent (Nebraska) and 9.7 percent for North Dakota.


Louisiana? Our economy grew by a whopping 1.3 percent, according to the Associated Press, .6 lower than the national rate.

You would never know that to hear our esteemed presidential candi…er, governor, boast about the great strides our state has taken under his mostly absentee leadership.

But leave it to our friend Stephen Sabludowsky, publisher of the blog Bayou Buzz, to call Jindal out on his misrepresentations with his post, “Louisiana GDP facts: ‘Jindal miracle’ or mirage.’”


Sabludowsky noted that Jindal told CNBC’s Jim Cramer (appropriately, a former hedge fund manager) that Louisiana is “doing what Washington, D.C. is not doing.” Jindal said, “Our economy is growing 50 percent faster than the national economy.”

On a roll, he continued: “Louisiana’s state GDP has grown by $36 billion since 2008 and it’s growing at nearly twice the rate of our nation’s GDP.”

Sabludowsky, not impressed, noted that economic numbers released by the federal government did not square up with Jindal’s claim.

“Every chance he gets,” he said, “whether on national TV, while campaigning for President or while sharing broiled chicken with the Chamber of Commerce, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal touts the Louisiana economy—as glowing and out performing almost all competition. Some conservative commentators have described the state’s economic ascendency as the ‘Jindal miracle.’”

Conservative commentators. There is your key. Jindal is very careful to spew his rapid-fire statistics—with little or no basis in reality—in interviews held only in the friendliest of environments where they are accepted at face value and are never challenged. You will never—we repeat, never—see him venture into hostile territory where such claims can be vetted.

Not that anyone in the media would ever challenge him. Where are the old-fashioned, cynical reporters who, like Peter Falk’s character Columbo, always asked one more question, never satisfied with hearing what politicians say but who listen instead to what isn’t said? Where are the journalists who challenge authority—like the late David Halberstam who, as a reporter for the New York Times, called out the American generals for lying when they repeatedly insisted we were winning in Vietnam? His audacity resulted in attempts by the U.S. military to demonize him and to have him thrown out of Vietnam and off his war coverage beat—a distinction he bore with honor.

Sadly, those guys just don’t exist anymore. They are all too busy rewriting press releases and never asking probing questions that might lead to real answers.

What reporters practice today is what Glenn Greenwald, author of No Place to Hide, his book about Edward Snowden, calls “an obvious pretense, a conceit of the profession.”

That’s how Jindal became governor: not one reporter asked the questions that needed to be asked when he ran in 2003 or again in 2007. By 2011, it didn’t matter; he was too firmly entrenched.

And that’s precisely how he plans to get elected President if not in 2016, then in 2020 or 2024.

All he has to do is schmooze a few more news executives.

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1974 Louisiana Constitution-Declaration of Rights

§22. Access to Courts

Section 22. “All courts shall be open, and every person shall have an adequate remedy by due process of law and justice, administered without denial, partiality, or unreasonable delay, for injury to him in his person, property, reputation, or other rights.”

(Special thanks to Tony Guarisco for researching this provision of the State Constitution.)



This is about yet two more examples of how Gov. Bobby Jindal conveniently manages to look the other way instead of being up front when confronted with issues that most might believe could present a conflict of interest

When Jindal signed SB 469 into law on Friday he not only killed the pending lawsuit against 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E) but he also placed in extreme jeopardy the claims by dozens of South Louisiana municipalities and parish governments from the disastrous 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon spill that killed 11 men and discharged 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, spoiling beaches and killing fish and wildlife.

By now, most people who have followed the bill authored by Sen. Bret Allain (R-Franklin) but inspired by Sen. Robert Adley (R-Benton) know that big oil poured money and thousands of lobbying man hours into efforts to pass the bill with its accompanying amendment that makes the prohibition against such lawsuits retroactive to ensure that the SLPFA-E effort was thwarted.

Most followers of the legislature and of the lawsuit also know that up to 70 legal scholars, along with Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, strongly advised Jindal to veto the law because of the threat to the pending BP litigation.

Altogether, the 144 current legislators received more than $5 million and Jindal himself received more than $1 million from oil and gas interests. Allain received $30,000 from the oil lobby and Adley an eye-popping $600,000.

So, when BP lobbyists began swarming around the Capitol like blow flies buzzing around a bloated carcass, the assumption was that BP somehow had a stake in the passage of SB 469 and that infamous amendment making the bill retroactive.

John Barry, a former SLFPA-E who was given the Jindal Teague Treatment but who stuck around to pursue the lawsuit, said, “During the last few days of the session, we were very well aware that the BP lobbyists were extraordinarily active. They were all over the place. We all assumed there was definitely something it in for them.”

Something in it for them indeed.

Russel Honore said it another way, observing wryly that the Exxon flag still flies over the State Capitol.

Blogger Lamar White, Jr. observed that former Gov. Edwin Edwards spent eight years in a federal prison for accepting payments from hopeful casino operators for his assistance in obtaining licenses—all after he left office. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was similarly convicted of using his position to steer business to a family-owned company and taking free vacations meals and cell phones from people attempting to score contracts or incentives from the city.

So what is the difference between what they did and the ton of contributions received by Adley and Jindal? To paraphrase my favorite playwright Billy Wayne Shakespeare, a payoff by any other name smells just as rank.

And while big oil money flowed like liquor at the State Capitol (figuratively of course; it’s illegal to make or accept campaign contributions during the legislative session), what many may not know is that Jindal may have had an ulterior motive when he signed the bill into law against sound legal advice not to do so, thus protecting the interests of big oil over the welfare of Louisiana citizens who have seen frightening erosion of the state’s shoreline and freshwater marshes.

The Washington, D.C., law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher is one of the firms that represented BP in negotiating a $4.5 billion settlement that ended criminal charges against the company. Included in that settlement amount was a $1.26 billion criminal fine to be paid over five years.

An associate of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher who has defended clients in government audit cases and in several whistleblower cases is one Nikesh Jindal.

He also is assigned to the division handling the BP case.

Nikesh Jindal is the younger brother of Gov. Piyush, aka Bobby Jindal.

Suddenly, John Barry’s words take on a little more significance: “We all assumed there was definitely something it in for them.”

Something in it for them indeed.

And that’s not the only instance in which Jindal neglected to be completely candid about connections between him and his brother.

In yet another of his increasingly frequent op-ed columns, this one for the Washington Examiner, prolific writer and part time governor Jindal staked out his position of support of for-profit colleges in their battle against the Obama administration.

A 2012 report by the Senate Committee on Health, Labor and Pensions said that between 2008 and 2009, more than a million students attended schools owned by for-profit companies and by 2010, 54 percent of those had left school without a degree or certificate.

The committee also found that associate degree and certificate programs cost an average of four times the cost of degree program at comparable community colleges. Moreover, bachelor’s degree programs at for-profit colleges cost 20 percent more than flagship public universities.

Jindal disputed proposed U.S. Department of Education “gainful employment” rules that would tie federal aid at for-profit and public and private vocational and certificate programs to their success in preparing students for gainful employment.

“The message from this administration couldn’t be clearer,” Jindal wrote in suggesting that the Obama administration policies are tantamount to “redlining educational opportunities” for low-income and minority youths. “If you want to attend an elite professional school you could end up having tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt forgiven by your school and the federal government. But if you’re a struggling African-American single mother relying on a certificate program at a for-profit school or a community college and you like your current education plan—under this administration, you have about as much chance of keeping it as you do your health plan.”

Critics of the for-profit institutions, however, claim that the schools recruit vulnerable students, some of whom do not even possess a high school diploma, charge exorbitant tuition and encourage students to take out huge student loans they will never be able to repay.

Once again, it was what went unsaid that is significant.

Nikesh Jindal, it turns out, has represented the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities (APSCU), in an earlier legal battle with the Obama administration.

Nikesh Jindal “historically has been part of the team representing APSCU in litigation,” said Noah Black, APSCU spokesman, and was listed as one of the attorneys for the association in its successful challenge to a Department of Education rule that colleges must become certified in each state in which they enroll students.

For a man of repeated claims of transparency, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s lack of candor is awfully opaque.

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“Better Living Through Chemistry.”

—Advertising campaign slogan employed by DuPont from 1935 until 1982.

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A 22-year employee of the E.I. DuPont de Nemours (DuPont) plant in Burnside in Ascension Parish has filed a confidential lawsuit in Middle District Federal Court in Baton Rouge that claims the plant has consistently been experiencing toxic gas leaks on almost a daily basis for more than two years without reporting the leaks as required by a 151-year-old federal law.

Jeffrey M. Simoneaux, an Ascension Parish native who served for 14 years as chairman of the plant’s Safety, Health and Environmental Committee, also claims he was harassed, intimidated and denied promotions after he said he complied with DuPont’s own internal procedures for reporting a leak of sulfur trioxide (SO3) gas, a known carcinogen which is regulated under the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) of 1976 and was reprimanded for doing so.

DuPont, headquartered in Wilmington, Del., was ranked 72nd on the Fortune 500 in 2013 and reported 2012 profits of nearly $2.8 billion, down more than 19 percent from 2011, according to a report by CNN Money.

Despite profits from its worldwide operations which employ 60,000 people, DuPont has for years avoided paying any federal income taxes.

The company has contributed more than $21,000 to various state politicians since 2003, including $4,500 to Gov. Bobby Jindal. Its plants in Burnside and in St. John the Baptist Parish have been granted more than $21 million in various tax credits and exemptions by the state.

Those included, in order, the project, the year, parish, total investment, tax exemption and number of new jobs created:

  • Plant expansion, 2010, St. John the Baptist, $93 million, $1.4 million five-year tax credit, 11 new jobs;
  • Plant expansion, 2008, St. John the Baptist, $58.8 million, 10-year property tax exemption of $10.9 million, five new jobs;
  • Retrofit project, 2010, Ascension, $72.2 million, five-year property tax credit of $541,000, three new jobs;
  • Miscellaneous capital addition, 2010, St. John the Baptist, $1.3 million, 10-year property tax exemption of $232,000, no new jobs;
  • Plant addition, 2009, St. John the Baptist, $6.7 million, 10-year property tax exemption of $1.2 million, no new jobs;
  • Plant addition, 2009, Ascension, $45 million, 10-year property tax exemption of $6.9 million, no new jobs.

The case has been referred to Federal District Judge Shelly Dick and Magistrate Judge Stephen Riedlinger, according to court documents.

Simoneaux terminated his employment with DuPont on Aug. 13, 2012, he said.

The most recent filing is a Feb. 21, 2014 Response to State of Uncontested Facts submitted by Simoneaux who is represented by Baton Rouge attorneys Jane Barney and J. Arthur Smith, III.

In that filing, Simoneaux claims that DuPont failed to inform the Environmental Protection Agency of the numerous SO3 leaks by the plant despite its proximity and potential threat to an elementary school, Sorrento Primary School, a residential subdivision and the Mississippi River.

He filed his suit under the 151-year-old False Claims Act (FCA), passed by Congress in 1863 because of concerns that suppliers of goods to the Union Army during the Civil War were defrauding the Army.

Under FCA, DuPont should be subjected to mandatory fines of $25,000 per violation per day plus “recovery of three times the amount of damages sustained by the U.S., and an award of attorney’s fees.”

Simoneaux claims that plant manager Tom Miller became irate when Simoneaux attempted to slow the plant production rate so as to reduce the leakage on Feb. 1, 2012. Miller, he said, overrode his decision and said he wished to speak to Simoneaux alone.

Simoneaux said he would prefer to have another operator present during his conversation with Miller, but the plant manager would not allow it.

Miller subsequently berated Simoneaux for sending an email to his supervisor, Elizabeth Cromwell, and directed him “not to send any more written communications about leaks or stack capacity.” Simoneaux said that Miller “clearly advised” him that should he send future emails to Miller about any offsite release, he would “get in trouble.”

He said he advised Miller that the leak was going offsite as they were speaking but that Miller three separate times refused to ride with Simoneaux to the rear of the plant so that Miller could see for himself the gas, visible as a light blue mist, “flowing over the fence line.”

He said he asked Miller where he thought the gas was going and Miller “looked out the door and said, ‘Who is the plant manager, me or you? I’m telling you I don’t see any gas going off the site.’”

Simoneaux said to properly repair the leaks, the plant should be completely shut down so repairs could be made. Instead, temporary stop-gap measures were attempted utilizing a rubber suction hose that deteriorated quickly because of the acid contained in the lines.

On April 11, 2012, Simoneaux again observed a cloud of leaking SO3 and entered the information in a log book, again provoking Miller’s anger. “The plant manager said he did not want someone ‘coming in her to do an environmental audit and coming across this stuff written in this log book, reading it and getting the wrong idea.”

Simoneaux also said that Miller, during an employee meeting, verbally discouraged employees from calling authorities about the gas leak. He also said an investigation was conducted by management and their report “states that there was no on-site impact and no off-site impact, giving a score of zero to both issues” despite the fact that one employee was treated for eye and throat irritation after being exposed to one leak.

A contract worker also was burned when acid dropped onto him from the rubber hose, the petition says.

A Material Safety Data Sheet was submitted as an exhibit by Simoneaux’s attorneys and provides information under both potential acute and chronic health effects of exposure to SO3.

Potential Acute Health Effects:

  • Very hazardous in case of skin contact, eye contact, ingestion or inhalation. Liquid or spray mist may produce tissue damage, particularly on mucous membranes, of eyes, mouth and respiratory tract. Skin contact may produce burns. Inhalation of the spray mist may produce severe irritation of respiratory tract, characterized by coughing, choking or shortness of breath. Severe over-exposure can result in death. Inflammation of the eye(s) is characterized by redness, watering and itching. Skin inflammation is characterized by itching, scaling, reddening, or occasionally, blistering.

Potential Chronic Health Effects:

  • Carcinogenic Effects: Classified 1 (proven for human). The substance may be tozic to mucous membranes, skin, eyes. Repeated or prolonged exposure to the substance can produce target organs damage. Repeated or prolonged contact with spray mist may produce chronic eye irritation and severe skin irritation. Repeated or prolonged exposure to spray mist may produce respiratory tract irritation leading to frequent attacks of bronchial infection. Repeated exposure to a highly toxic material may produce general deterioration of health by an accumulation in one or many human organs.

DuPont, as might be expected, denied Simoneaux’s claims but in its response to Simoneaux’s first set of requests for production of documents, standard procedure in any civil litigation under the rules of discovery, the company made several glaring admissions that tend to substantiate Simoneaux’s claims and deposition testimony of several of Simoneaux’s former co-workers at DuPont’s Burnside plant:

  • Asked to produce all TSCA notifications, the company admitted it “has no responsive documents.
  • Asked to produce “every unedited ‘First Report’ pertaining to gas leaks prepared since December of 2011,” DuPont “objects to the term “unedited” as vague (and) calls for speculation and assumes facts not in evidence.”
  • Asked to produce all documents subsequent to Nov. 1, 2011 exchanged with or concerning any governmental agency, or authority, including school, police, fire, any insurance company or environmental authorities or agencies pertaining to an actual or potential gas leak, DuPont indicated it believed there were no such documents.
  • Asked to produce all documents reflecting impacts to employees or others from a gas leak at the Burnside plant, DuPont objected on the grounds that it seeks privileged medical information.
  • Asked to produce all documents reflecting complaints of gas leaks from the Burnside plant since Dec. 1, 2011, DuPont objected, claiming that the word “complaint” was not defined and is vague.
  • Asked to produce documents pertaining to communications from Dec. 2, 2011 to the present involving DuPont personnel regarding whether or not to report a gas leak to governing authorities, the need for a plant shutdown and/or precautions or responsive measures to be taken in light of gas leaks, DuPont cited attorney-client privilege.
  • Asked to produce all emails exchanged between Miller and ‘DuPont corporate’ and/or any of Miller’s DuPont superiors concerning leaks, environmental conditions and/or safety conditions at the Burnside facility from Dec. 1, 2011 to present, DuPont claimed the request was “overly broad, unduly burdensome, and not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.”
  • Asked to produce all documents pertaining to health effects, risks, studies, tests or hazards associated with SO3 and/or SO2 gas, DuPont claimed the request was “overly broad and unduly burdensome.”
  • Asked to produce the log book maintained by operators from Dec. 1, 2011 to present and to produce the “Safety Zone-Burnside Transfer Facility Security Plan” reported prepared by Simoneaux on Mar. 18, 2012, the company claimed the request were “overly broad and unduly burdensome.”
  • Asked to produce all documents provided to or received from OSHA concerning gas leaks and/or employee exposure or potential exposure from Dec. 1, 2011, to present, DuPont said it “has no such documents responsive to this request.”
  • Asked to produce all documents, including emails, concerning the facts set forth in (Simoneaux’s) complaint, DuPont again invoked the “overly broad and unduly burdensome” claim.

Lonnie Blanchard, a contract worker at the DuPont Burnside facility, testified in his deposition that there were up to two dozen SO3 leaks. He described the leaks as “a real problem” and said on several occasions he could see the cloud of gas escaping from the plant from the Sunshine Bridge that connects the east and west banks of Ascension which is split by the Mississippi River.

Another employee, Percy Bell, testified in his deposition that plant management had issued a policy saying employees were prohibited from taking photographs of the mist clouds.

In his deposition, he was asked, “In the last two years, has there ever been a time when you were working (at the plant) and there hasn’t been a leak?”

“No, I haven’t,” he answered.

Simoneaux said DuPont identified gas leaks to which it will respond “only by visible assessment and (it) has no monitors at equipment sites.”

He added that the stop-gap measure used “is appropriate only for temporary use until permanent repairs can be made” because it is not made of material designed for that purpose and is “known to fail without warning.”

Employees and contractors work in proximity to the leaks on a daily basis with no warning given before there is a visible gas leak. Employees, he said, must watch a windsock at the plant in attempts to stay upwind of any gas leaks in efforts to avoid exposure.

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First Gov. Bobby Jindal refused to expand the state’s Medicaid program and then he vetoed a $4 million appropriation aimed at shortening a waiting list for home-based services for the developmentally disabled.

And now there is this:

AIDS patients in Obamacare limbo as insurers reject checks.”

That was the headline on the Reuters story that moved on the Internet at 9:23 a.m. on Saturday. The upshot of the story was that hundreds of HIV/AIDS patients in Louisiana attempting to obtain coverage under the Affordable Care Act are in danger of being rejected by the insurance plan they selected.

Just as significant is the roar of stony silence emanating from the State Capitol’s fourth floor office of Bobby Jindal who, six years ago first swore an oath to uphold the rights of all the citizens of Louisiana—even those several hundred adversely affected by the latest BCBS decision. Some would even speculate that Jindal may have leaned on BCBS, which holds two contracts worth $1.1 billion with the state through the Office of Group Benefits.

Others might even raise the question that if Jindal did influence the decision, did he do so at the behest of the Louisiana Family Forum?

The issue revolves around a dispute over federal subsidies and the interpretation of federal rules about preventing Obamacare fraud

BCBS, the state’s largest carrier, is rejecting checks from a federal program that is specifically designed to assist HIV/AIDS patients in paying for AIDS drugs and for insurance premiums under the Ryan White CARE (Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency) Act.

Ryan White, a hemophiliac from Kokomo, Indiana, was diagnosed with AIDS at age 13 from a contaminated blood transfusion. He and his mother Jeanne White Ginder fought for his right to attend school. He died in 1990 at age 18, a month before his high school graduation and only months before Congress passed the act that bears his name.

The Ryan White Program is the single largest federal program designed specifically for people with HIV and benefits more than half a million patients each year. It provides care and support services to individuals and families affected by the disease, serving as the “payer of last resort” by filling the gaps for those who have no other source of coverage or who face coverage limits.

But now, inexplicably, BCBS says it will no longer accept third-party payments such as those provided by the Ryan White Program.

“In no event will coverage be provided to any subscribers, as of March 1, 2014, unless the premiums are paid by the subscriber (or a relative) unless otherwise required by law,” said BCBS spokesman John Maginnis (no, not the journalist).

The decision stems from a series of communications from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the lead Obamacare agency. In September, CMS informed insurers that Ryan White funds “may be used to cover the cost of private health insurance premiums, deductibles and co-payments” for Obamacare plans.

But in November, CMS warned care providers and “other commercial entities” that because of the risk of fraud, it had “significant concerns” about their supporting premium payments and assistant Obamacare consumers pay deductibles and other costs.

BCBS seized on that to say it had implemented a policy, “across our individual health insurance market, of not accepting premium payments from any third parties who are not related” to the subscriber, according to Maginnis.

Not so fast, says CMS. “The third-party payer guidance CMS released (in November) does not apply” to the Ryan White programs, it said.

Hundreds of HIV/AIDS patients who are not eligible for Medicaid depend on Ryan White payments for Obamacare. That is because Gov. Bobby Jindal chose not to expand the low-income Medicaid program and Obamacare federal subsidies do not kick in until people are at 100 percent of the federal poverty level.

The only other carrier currently refusing to accept such payments is BCBS of North Dakota, according to a CMS spokesperson but that policy is currently under review.

Jessica Stone, a member of U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu’s staff, in an email to health care advocates, wrote, “BCBS LA told me their decision was not due to the CMS guidance or any confusion (as we thought before) but was in fact due to adverse selection concerns” in an effort by insurers to keep AIDS patients from enrolling in their plans.

Adverse selection refers to the situation where an insurer attracts patients with chronic conditions and expensive care. John Peller, vice president for policy at the AIDS Foundation in Chicago, said the action “sure looks to us like discrimination against sick people.”

BCBS LA denied that. “We welcome all Louisiana residents who chose Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana,” Maginnis said.

One observer said it shouldn’t matter who pays the premiums. “All the insurer should care about is whether the premiums are paid or not. I once loaned money to a friend and had problems getting him to pay me back. His girlfriend finally paid me some of the money. If I had been like BCBS, I would have refused her money, preferring to get it from him—and I would have gotten nothing. This makes no sense whatsoever.”

Perhaps Jindal intends to ignore the 13,400 HIV/AIDS victims served by the program in Louisiana and use the $50.7 million in Ryan White funds the state receives to help plug next year’s all but certain budget deficit.

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For five long years now we have patiently (or impatiently in some cases) awaited the arrival of all that transparency touted by Gov. Bobby Jindal upon his part time occupancy of the governor’s office.

Now it seems that heretofore elusive aspect of the Jindal administration has finally arrived.

No, it wasn’t Superintendent of Education John White telling News Corp. Senior Vice President Peter Gorman (aka “Dude”) that he is White’s “recharger.”

Nor is the LSU Board of Supervisors which has refused to release the names of applicants for LSU president on the grounds that the applications are conveniently (convenient for the board and the administration, that is) submitted to a Dallas consulting firm which, being a private entity, is not subject to the public records law.

It wouldn’t be the Louisiana Office of Economic Development either. LED a couple of years back refused to surrender records to the Legislative Auditor’s office so that the state auditors could perform the function with which they are charged—auditing the state’s books.

And, needless to say, it is not Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, who found a way to punt on our request for assistance in prevailing upon the Department of Education to comply with the Louisiana public records law (the law, the AG’s office informed us, says it can intervene on behalf of the public meetings law but there is no provision for it to assist with public records).

That’s a classic case of legal hair splitting, but hey, the attorney general’s office is the official legal counsel for state agencies (a veritable horde of state-contracted legal counsels notwithstanding), so who are we to argue? We’re just the low-lifes who work, pay taxes and vote in this state. Never mind some 80 or so (we finally quit counting when we reached that number) legal opinions by the AG issued to various state agencies which opine that public records must be surrendered.

But we digress (as we often do).

No, it’s none of those. The shocker here is that the transparency that has suddenly and without warning opened up before our very eyes originates in none other than the governor’s office.

Yep, chalk one up for Bobby, our part time, absentee governor who would rather run for president than run the state.

Don’t believe us? Still harboring some doubts as to the veracity of our claim?
Well, we have the proof.

Jindal is proposing scrapping the state personal and corporate income tax and replacing it with…well, something. He hasn’t the vaguest idea what (he said earlier this month that he’s still working on details of his plan).

In general terms, Jindal is talking about an increase in the state sales tax and a dollar increase in the cigarette tax (remember when he refused to sign the renewal of the 4-cent cigarette tax because, he said, he was opposed to “new” taxes?).

Never mind that a sales tax would hit the low- and middle-income taxpayers the very hardest http://louisianavoice.com/2013/01/16/par-lsu-economist-richardson-cast-doubts-on-%CF%80-yush-plan-to-replace-louisiana-income-tax-with-state-sales-tax-increase/, abolishment of state income taxes has become the mantra of Republican governors nationwide because it would represent the ultimate tax break (read: political reward) for corporate campaign donors.

But rather than rely on the lack of merits in a weak proposal, Jindal has enlisted his minions to launch a letter-writing campaign in support of his as yet incomplete tax plan.

That’s correct: the plan isn’t even completed, much less polished and officially presented to the legislature and the public, but the letter-writing campaign has already started. Never mind that the plan has as yet progressed no further than a two-page outline pretentiously entitled “A Framework for Comprehensive Tax Reform.” It apparently suffices for the purposes of initiating a well-orchestrated PR campaign from the governor’s office or perhaps from Timmy Teepell’s OnMessage (Oops, we forgot; they are one and the same).

It officially began on Feb. 20 with the publication in newspapers statewide of a letter by LED Secretary and presumed future LSU President/Chancellor/High Potentate Stephen Moret.

Boiled down to its essentials, Moret’s 12-paragraph letter claims that Jindal’s undefined, unreleased, still-in-the-works, everything-still-on-the-table plan would somehow magically bump Louisiana from No. 32 to No. 4 in something called the State Business Tax Climate.

Fine for business climate, yes, but Moret conveniently neglects how that plan, still being formulated somewhere out there in the fog-enshrouded concepts of the policy wonks, would affect the working stiffs. An addition 2 or 3 percent on the sales tax for the purchase of say, a package of toilet paper won’t be such a burden. But tack that same 2 or 3 percent onto the cost of a new refrigerator, central air and heating unit or a new automobile and suddenly, in the words of the late Illinois Sen. Everett Dirksen, you’re talking about real money.

But no matter; Moret obviously had his marching orders: write a glowing letter about how the Jindal Plan (not to be confused with the Stelly Plan that he repealed, at a cost to the state of about $300 million a year) would be great for business—and everyone knows, as President Calvin Coolidge said way back in 1925, “The chief business of the American people is business.” (The stock market crash, of course, was only four years away when he said that, which subsequently put a lot of American people out of business.)

Exactly a week after Moret’s letter, on Feb. 27, the Baton Rouge Advocate (and probably a few other papers across the state) published a second letter endorsing the still mythical tax plan. This one was written by someone named Matthew Glans, who identifies himself as senior policy analyst for The Heartland Institute in Chicago (described by The Economist last May as “The world’s most prominent think tank promoting skepticism about man-made climate change,” according to the institute’s own web page) and which also describes itself as an advocate of free market policies.

Probably its greatest claim to fame, however, came in the 1990s, when it worked with Philip Morris in attempts to debunk the science linking secondhand smoke to health issues and to lobby against government public-health reforms.

(The Heartland Institute bears an eerie resemblance to the fictional “myFACTS” currently being lampooned by Garry Trudeau in the comic strip Doonesbury.)

Glans calls Jindal’s plan “a strong step towards improving the state’s economic competitiveness and returning tax dollars to Louisiana citizens and businesses.”

At the same time he cautions against a system “that allows the government to choose winners and losers.”

“A tax system filled with tax increases on targeted items such as tobacco or subsidies for certain businesses (read: tobacco, in states like North Carolina), however, is not sound policy,” he says, adding, “A system that lowers rates across the board, like much of Jindal’s proposal, would spur economic growth.”

Strange how Glans, sitting in Chicago, could know so much about the part time, absentee governor’s tax plan when Jindal himself confesses that his “plan” is still evolving and stranger still that he would single out tobacco (and tobacco subsidies) as a potential victim of increased sales taxes.

Curious, too, that he is so knowledgeable when legislators remain in the dark.

But, hey, we wanted transparency from our governor.

And this “independent” letter-writing campaign is about as transparent as it gets.

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It’s interesting to note that the very existence of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which writes “model legislation” for lawmakers to introduce back in their respective state capitals rests on one ginormous paradox.

For example, consider this mission statement from ALEC’s 4th edition of its state economic competitiveness index entitled Rich States, Poor Stateshttp://www.alec.org/docs/RSPS_4th_Edition.pdf: “ALEC’s mission is to discuss, develop and disseminate public policies which expand free markets, promote economic growth, limit the size of government (emphasis ours), and preserve individual liberty within its nine task forces.”

Yet, for all its breast beating about making government smaller and more accountable, it’s curious and somewhat contrary to that theme that of the top 100 companies in the Fortune 500, fully one-half are—or were—corporate members of ALEC http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/fortune500/2012/full_list/.

In fact, 31 of the 50 largest corporations in America helped pay the bills to wine and dine state legislators at seminars, conferences, planning sessions and annual meetings of ALEC delegates, including the 2011 annual meeting held in New Orleans at which Gov. Bobby Jindal was the keynote speaker.

Fallout over the shooting of teenager Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, last February coupled with ALEC’s endorsement of the controversial “Stand Your Ground” law in that state which was linked to his shooting has resulted in the decision by some two dozen corporations to drop their ALEC memberships.

Among those who have bailed out are Wal-Mart, General Motors, General Electric, Bank of America, Entergy, PepsiCo, Walgreen, Dow Chemical, Marathon Petroleum, Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola.

Some of those retaining their memberships, however, include Hunt-Guillot of Ruston, ExxonMobil (the largest corporation in the U.S.), Chevron, AT&T, Verizon, UnitedHealth Group, Archer Daniels Midland, Wells Fargo, Pfizer, Boeing, Microsoft, and FedEx.

ALEC’s “small is better” philosophy for government takes a sharp 180 when its corporate membership is placed under the microscope. While 50 of the 100 largest members of the Fortune 500 are ALEC members, that number drops precipitously in the ensuing blocks of 100.

For example, of the corporations ranked in size from 101 to 200, only 29 are ALEC members and for 201 to 300, the number is 17. For 301 to 400, the membership is 13 and for the final group, 401-500, you will find only seven who are ALEC members.

So while the lobbying group maintains that small is better, it appears that it goes after the larger corporate sponsors first and is increasingly disdainful of the smaller companies.

The 116 Fortune 500 companies who are members of ALEC combined for $4.5 trillion in revenues in 2011 and altogether realized net profits of $484.2 billion. Remember, that does not include the other 384 Fortune 500 companies—just the 116 ALEC members.

Just for the record, here are 50 ALEC members from the Fortune 100 with 2011 rankings, revenue and profits in parentheses http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/fortune500/2012/full_list/:

• ExxonMobil—(1; $452.9 billion; $41.1 billion);

• Wal-Mart—(2; $446.9 billion; $15.7 billion—terminated membership);

• Chevron—(3; $245.6 billion; $26.9 billion);

• ConocoPhillips—(4; $237.3 billion; $12.4 billion);

• GM—(5; $150.3 billion; $9.2 billion—terminated membership);

• GE—(6; $147.6 billion; $14.2 billion—terminated membership);

• Ford—(9; $136.3 billion; $20.2 billion);

• AT&T—(11; $126.7 billion; $3.9 billion);

• Bank of America—(13; $115.1 billion; $1.4 billion);

• Verizon—(15; $110.9 billion; $2.4 billion);

• CVS—(18; $107.8 billion; $3.5 billion—terminated membership);

• IBM—(19; $106.9 billion; $15.9 billion);

• UnitedHealth Group—(22; (101.9 billion; $5.1 billion);

• Wells Fargo—(26; $87.6 billion; $15.9 billion—terminated membership);

• Procter & Gamble—(27; $82.6 billion; $11.8 billion—terminated membership);

• Archer Daniels Midland—(28; $80.7 billion; $2 billion);

• Marathon Petroleum—(31; $73.6 billion; $2.4 billion);

• Walgreen—(32; $72.2 billion; $2.7 billion—terminated membership);

• Medco Health Solutions—(36; $70.1 billion; $17.8 billion—terminated membership);

• Microsoft—(37; $69.9 billion; $23.2 billion);

• Boeing—(39); $68.7 billion; $4 billion);

• Pfizer—(40; $67.9 billion; $10 billion);

• PepsiCo—(41; $66.5 billion; $6.4 billion—terminated membership);

• Johnson & Johnson—(42; $65 billion; $9.7 billion—terminated membership);

• State Farm Insurance—(43; $64.3 billion; $845 million);

• Dell—(44; $62.1 billion; $3.5 billion—terminated membership);

• WellPoint—(45; $60.7 billion; $2.6 billion);

• Caterpillar—(46; $60.1 billion; $4.9 billion);

• Dow Chemical—(47; $60 billion; $2.7 billion);

• Comcast—(49; $55.8 billion; $4.2 billion);

• Kraft Foods—(50; $54.4 billion; $3.5 billion—terminated membership);

• Intel—(51; $54 billion; $12.9 billion);

• UPS—(52; $53.1 billion; $3.8 billion);

• Best Buy—(53; $50.3 billion; $1.3 billion—terminated membership);

• Prudential—(55; $49 billion; $3.7 billion;

• Amazon.com—(56; $48.1 billion; $631 million—terminated membership);

• Merck—(57; $48 billion; $6.3 billion—terminated membership);

• Coca-Cola—(59; $46.5 billion; $8.6 billion—terminated membership);

• Express Scripts Holding—(60; $46.1 billion; $8.6 billion);

• FedEx—(70; $39.3 billion; $1.5 billion);

• DuPont—(72; $38.7 billion; $3.5 billion—terminated membership);

• Honeywell International—(77; $37.1 billion; $2.1 billion);

• Humana—(79; $36.8 billion; $1.4 billion);

• Liberty Mutual Insurance Group—(84; $34.7 billion; $365 million);

• Sprint Nextel—(90; $33.7 billion; –$2.9 billion);

• News Corp.—(91; $33.4 billion; $2.7 billion);

• American Express—(95; $32.3 billion; $4.9 billion);

• John Deere—(97; $32 billion; $2.8 billion—terminated membership);

• Philip Morris—(99; $31.1 billion; $8.6 billion);

• Nationwide Insurance—(100; $30.7 billion; -$793 million).

Of course, ALEC also pushes its agenda of lower taxes very strongly (who do you think helped write Gov. Jindal’s proposal to eliminate the state individual and corporate income taxes in favor of increase sales taxes? Surely, one would not believe he came up with that all by himself).

It’s no coincidence that Louisiana is pushing to ditch the state income tax at the same time as several other states, including Nebraska, Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas, and North Carolina. Each state has read the ALEC playbook.

“Money is spent more efficiently by the private sector than by governments, so it is reasonable to expect that states with lower overall taxes have better economic environments than states with high taxes and more government spending,” the Rich States, Poor States report says.

Apparently the authors of that statement did not bother to review the histories of the subprime mortgage crisis, junk bonds, Enron, Bernard Madoff, Stanford Financial Group, the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s, collateralized mortgage obligations (CMOs), Tyco, WorldCom, AIG, Lehman Brothers, and the bursting of the dotcom bubble.

Be that as it may, let us go back to ALEC’s mantra of lower taxes and see how that might apply to its corporate membership.

General Electric is the poster child for tax dodges. With $19.6 billion in net profits for the years 2008-2011, GE managed not only to pay no taxes, but got $3.7 billion in tax refunds.

Other ALEC members, their net profits and taxes/refunds for years 2008-2011 include: http://www.ctj.org/pdf/notax2012.pdf

• PG&E—($6 billion; $1 billion refund);

• CenterPoint Energy—($3.1 billion; $347 million refund);

• Duke Energy—($5.5 billion; $216 million refund);

• Con-way—($422 million; $23 million refund);

• Ryder System—($843 million; $46 million refund);

• DuPont—($3 billion; $325 million paid in taxes—10.8 percent, less than one-third the standard 35 percent tax rate);

• Consolidated Edison—($5.9 billion; $74 million refund);

• Verizon—($19.8 billion; $758 million refund);

• Boeing—($14.8 billion; $812 million refund);

• Wells Fargo—($69.2 billion; $2.6 billion paid in taxes—3.8 percent, barely 10 percent of the 35 percent standard rate);

• Honeywell International—($5.2 billion; $102 million—2 percent).

Some of the CEOs for ALEC member corporations received more in compensation in 2010 than their companies paid in taxes. Here are a few with salaries first, followed by taxes paid: http://www.dailyfinance.com/2011/08/31/ceo-pay-vs-corporate-taxes/

• International Paper: $249 million refund; CEO John Faraci received $12.3 million;

• Prudential: $722 million refund; CEO John Strangfeld received $16.2 million;

• Verizon: $705 million refund; CEO Ivan Seidenberg paid $18.1 million;

• Chesapeake Energy: paid no taxes; CEO Aubrey McClendon paid $21 million;

• eBay: $131 million refund; CEO John Donahoe paid $12.4 million;

• Coca-Cola: paid $8 million taxes; CEO John Brock paid $19.1 million;

• Dow Chemical: $576 million refund; CEO Andrew Liveris paid $17.8 million;

• Ford: $69 million refund: CEO Alan Mulally paid $26.5 million.

If you still believe that ALEC favors smaller government over, say, being able to exercise control over government taxation and spending, then consider the General Services Administration’s list of $69 billion in federal contracts held by these ALEC members in fiscal year 2011: https://www.fpds.gov/fpdsng/index.php/reports

• Boeing: $21.6 billion;

• Northrop Grumman: $15 billion;

• Raytheon Co.: $14.8 billion;

• Humana: $3.4 billion;

• General Electric: $2.8 billion;

• Honeywell International: $2.2 billion;

• Dell: $1.4 billion;

• IBM: $1.7 billion;

• FedEx: $1.6 billion;

• Merck: $1.3 billion;

• Shell: $913 million;

• Pfizer: $1.2 billion;

• UPS: $701 million;

• AT&T: $743 million;

It’s easy to preach small government and lower taxes but to achieve this, a lot of ALEC members would stand to lose a chunk of business with Uncle Sam.

And that doesn’t even include state and local contracts like the $18.3 million in state contracts currently held by ALEC member Hunt, Guillot & Associates of Ruston and the $11.4 million state contract awarded to Northrop Grumman.

Smaller, more streamlined and accountable government sound great, most would agree. But the implementation of changes across the board may well affect one’s bottom line and that, as they say, is when the cheese gets binding. It is then that we simply must follow the money.

Charter schools and vouchers, for example, would benefit investors who see a fortune to be made in private education—especially when most of that money would be paid by the state.

The continued growth in the number of private prisons (along with more laws that send more people to prison) would be quite a windfall for those operators who contract with state and local governments to incarcerate lawbreakers.

Elimination of personal and corporate income taxes in favor of sales tax increases would further lighten the financial burden of business and industry—and shift that burden onto the backs of low- and middle-income citizens.

The rejection of a federal grant to build a broadband internet system for rural Louisiana certainly benefitted commercial cable companies like AT&T which contributed $250,000 to the Supriya Jindal Foundation.

Likewise, relaxed environmental regulations endorsed by ALEC certainly aided member Dow Chemical which coincidentally kicked in $100,000 for the Supriya Jindal Foundation. Soon after that donation, proposed fines of subsidiary Union Carbide for allowing the release of a toxic pollutant and failing to notify authorities of the leak were dropped.

Or Marathon Oil, whose $250,000 donation to the foundation may have greased the skids for the awarding of $5.2 million in state funds to a Marathon subsidiary.

Instead of listening to the rhetoric of ALEC’s membership, one would do well to watch how certain specific proposals might affect that membership.

In other words, don’t listen to what they say; watch instead for what they do.

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