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Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

In the seven-plus years of his administration, Gov. Bobby has pretty much had his way with the legislature in passing his so-called reform programs. The lone exception is his aborted effort to abolish the state income tax a couple of years ago.

Everything else—education reform, state employee retirement reform, privatization of the Office of Risk Management, the Office of Group Benefits, the state’s charity hospital system, rejection of Medicaid expansion, cutting funding for higher education, the sell-off of state property, and of course, all those generous corporate tax exemptions, credits and incentives for—sailed through the legislature, to borrow a phrase from my formative years, like crap through a goose.

Only the courts were able to restore some degree of sanity to the education and retirement changes.

So how has all that change worked out for the state?

Well, according to Marsha Shuler, writing in today’s Baton Rouge Advocate, the OGB reserve fund, which was already largely depleted since the privatization of that agency, has now fallen below that financial advisers believe to be a “safe” level. Those reserve funds, which were more than $500 million before Gov. Bobby’s meddling, are now at a dismal $102.8 million and at a burn rate (paying out more than it’s taking in) of $14.9 million a month (spending $1.14 for every dollar in revenue), the fund is on a trajectory of hitting less than $30 million by June 30. http://theadvocate.com/news/11705445-123/group-benefits-reserves-continue-to

The privatization of the state’s charity hospital system has resulted in a $190 million state liability to Medicaid even after the privatization deal was approved in part by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. http://www.thenewsstar.com/story/news/local/2015/01/11/hospital-decision-good-jindal-less-others/21538739/

The ripple effect of the hospital privatization has also resulted in the decision by Baton Rouge General Mid-City to close its emergency room facilities next month because of operating losses generated by the closure of Earl K. Long Medical Center which served the poor community of Baton Rouge.

But never one to pass up an opportunity to put a positive spin on bad decisions, Gov. Bobby, while taking pot shots at the Obama administration for everything from Obamacare to his Mideast policies to the threat of an imminent Islamic coup in Europe, keeps telling us (on those rare occasions when he is in the state) how wonderful things are and how Louisiana continues to outpace the rest of the nation in economic growth and business climate. http://gov.louisiana.gov/index.cfm?md=newsroom&tmp=detail&articleID=4156

His head cheerleader, Rolfe McCollister is right behind him, lending the influence of his publication, the Baton Rouge Business Report, to augment Gov. Bobby’s rosy proclamations.

http://www.businessreport.com/business/columns/la-makes-biggest-leap-in-forbes-rankings

But one should keep uppermost in mind that McCollister was treasurer of Gov. Bobby’s re-election campaign and as Bobby’s appointee to the LSU Board of Stuporvisors, was instrumental in securing the Pete Maravich Assembly Center for that prayer rally attended by about 3,500 people in the spacious 18,000-seat arena.

But let’s look at the latest survey, one which Gov. Bobby undoubtedly will ignore as he traipses about Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina in search of enough commitments to get him to even register in polls of likely Republican presidential contenders.

24/7 Wall St. is a corporation which runs a financial news and opinion company. The company publishes up to 30 articles per day which are published throughout the world.

Its latest survey, issued today (Feb. 27) puts Louisiana at the very bottom of its list of the Best and Worst States for Business. http://247wallst.com/special-report/2015/02/26/the-best-and-worst-states-for-business/?utm_source=247WallStDailyNewsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_content=FEB272015A&utm_campaign=DailyNewsletter

That’s right, Mississippi no longer owns the anchor spot in 24/7 Wall St.’s multitudinous surveys of things good and bad. This one belongs to Louisiana.

Here’s what the survey says about Louisiana:

  • No state fared worse on 24/7 Wall St.’s business climate Index than Louisiana. The state is not the worst place to run all businesses, however. The manufacturing sector accounted for more than 20% of Louisiana’s economic output in 2013, the fourth highest such contribution in the country. Despite the strong sector, Louisiana generally provides poor conditions for business.
  • Nearly one in five residents lived in poverty in 2013 — nearly the worst rate in the nation — contributing to both the low quality of the labor force as well as a low quality of life in the state. The working-age population was projected to decline by 3.2% from 2010 through 2020, one of the worst declines in the nation. While nearly 30% of Americans had at least a bachelor’s degree as of 2013, only 22.5% of Louisiana adults had at least such a degree, also nearly the lowest rate. Poor education contributed to poor scores in innovation. The state was one of only a handful of states where the average venture capital investment was less than $1 million.

There were several factors that went into the evaluation of the state’s lowly status as a place to do business:

  • The state’s gross domestic product growth of 1.3 percent was 17th lowest in the nation;
  • Average wages and salaries of $44,828 were 23rd lowest;
  • The percentage of adults with bachelor’s degrees was 5th lowest at 22.5 percent;
  • The 395 patents issued to residents were 13th lowest;
  • The negative 3.2 percent projected working-age population growth was 13th lowest.

The survey also noted that Louisiana ranked:

  • 47th in infrastructure;
  • 48th in the quality of life (the lack of adequate health care for many could be a factor in that statistic);
  • 49th in labor and human capital

Mississippi? As far as Louisiana and Gov. Bobby are concerned, that state is up there in the stratosphere at only the 4th worst in the nation.

Rounding out the bottom five were West Virginia (49th), Kentucky (48th), and Alabama (46th).

The five best, in order, were Utah, Massachusetts, Wyoming, South Dakota and Delaware, according to the survey.

Iowa and New Hampshire ranked 12th and 14th, respectively, which may help explain why Gov. Bobby spends so much time in those places instead of the state that he was elected to govern.

Nah.

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“They’re still negotiating with the terrorists.”

That gem, said in a private email to LouisianaVoice, came from a blogger who is relative new on the scene but who is very perceptive about what the Bobby administration is trying to do to higher education. https://lahigheredconfessions.wordpress.com/2015/02/27/open-letter-to-higher-education-leaders-the-time-for-negotiating-is-over/

A two-page letter today (Feb. 26) from five higher education leaders lobbed fluffy white marshmallows at Gov. Bobby and an anticipated $400 million (or more) cut to the state’s public colleges and universities. Joint Higher Education Letter 2-26-15

The letter was signed by LSU President F. King Alexander, Southern University System President Ronald Mason, Jr., Louisiana Community & Technical College System President Monty Sullivan, University of Louisiana System President Sandra K. Woodley, and Commissioner of Higher Education Joseph Rallo.

Rather than digging their collective heels in and shouting “Enough!” the higher education officials attempted to appeal to Gov. Bobby’s well concealed humanitarian instincts which has about as much chance as the proverbial snowball.

The letter comes about as close as possible to the prediction of one of our readers who said the college presidents in the end would thank Gov. Bobby for not cutting them more.

The letter began, predictably, with the education officials thanking Gov. Bobby “for your support during last year’s legislative session and the creation of the Workforce and Innovation for a Stronger Economy (WISE) Fund,” calling it an “unprecedented statewide collaboration across higher education.”

The pandering continued when the letter practically pleaded with Gov. Bobby to not lose “the momentum that began last year to raise the level of educational attainment in Louisiana.”

Have these educational leaders lost their collective minds? Have they forgotten that this governor’s policies of lavishing tax exemptions and incentives on corporations like Wal-Mart, chicken plucking plants and other corporations that offer little in the way of gainful employment are directly responsible for the fiscal mess we find ourselves in today?

And while Gov. Bobby did eventually support the move, it was the legislature that repealed the Stelly Plan, one of the most progressive tax programs in the history of this state, so we’re not giving lawmakers a pass on this.

“The need for college graduates, particularly in high demand fields such as engineering, computer science, business and industrial trades, is fundamental to meeting workforce goals and ensuring Louisiana graduates are prepared to reap the economic benefits Louisiana has realized,” the shameless communication said.

“Economic benefits Louisiana has realized”? Give us a freaking break! The only economic benefits realized by this state has been realized by Gov. Bobby’s campaign contributors. Why don’t these higher education officials just go on and kiss Gov. Bobby’s ring (yeah, we cleaned that up) and get it over with?

“Commissioner (of Administration) Kristy Nichols has informed us of the impending budget shortfall and the funding impacts on higher education,” the letter continued. “We want to partner with you and our legislative leaders to craft both a short-term approach to address the immediate budget shortfall and offer long-term recommendations that fundamentally change the higher education funding model. In both instances, budget stability is the overarching goal,” it said.

First of all, the use of the word “partner” scares the hell out of us. The last time “partner” was used by this administration, it gave away an entire system of public hospitals that resulted in such an overbearing spillover to Baton Rouge General Mid-City that it is closing its emergency room, thus making it even more difficult for the poor in north Baton Rouge to obtain needed medical care.

“In the long term, higher education is requesting budget stability and increasing state supported investments in higher education,” the letter said.

“The economic stability of Louisiana hinges on our collective ability to find both a short-term solution in the budget for next year and a long-term solution to sustain and increase investments in Louisiana’s higher education system.”

If the economic stability of Louisiana hinges on the ability of this administration, we’re in for a long, hard winter of economic—and intellectual—instability.

In addition to sending the letter to Gov. Bobby, copies also were sent to Gov. Bobby’s various lap dogs in the House and Senate where it will be promptly ignored as legislators turn their attention to getting re-elected while dealing with a $1.6 billion distraction.

To paraphrase H. Ross Perot, “That giant sucking sound you hear is Louisiana college-bound students headed out of state.”

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As our friend and former State Budget Officer Stephen Winham recently said when Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s recently moved Louisiana’s credit outlook from stable to negative, the bond rating agencies are finally waking up to what the rest of us have seen coming for some time now.

Now Moody’s has gone on record as saying what Gov. Bobby refuses to acknowledge: Louisiana’s public universities are not equipped to absorb additional credit stress expected with an anticipated cuts of yet another $300 million.

State Treasurer John Kennedy agrees while Joseph Rallo, barely acclimated to his new office after being chosen last October as the state’s eighth commissioner of higher education, tried to remain optimistic in the face of the latest announcement by Moody’s that the state’s colleges and universities are now in danger of having their credit ratings reduced if the legislature does not finally grow a set and stand up to Gov. Bobby.

“Moody’s is putting us on notice that it will reduce the credit ratings…if the legislature continues to cut higher ed funding,” Kennedy said. “We’ve cut our college campuses by $700 million since 2008. We’ve made deeper cuts than any other state. Enough is enough.”

Rallo told LouisianaVoice that it is not a matter of not having the revenue available to fund higher education, but rather it is an issue of allocation of funding. He said Moody’s is holding off taking the step of actually downgrading high education’s credit rating until June in order to see what the legislature will do to resolve the funding problem.

The problem at this point is twofold: Gov. Bobby refuses to take steps to increase revenue and legislators lack sufficient backbone to face Bobby down for fear of losing precious projects in their districts by veto. The legislature always blinks first.

Therefore, if Bobby won’t take steps to increase funding (he’s a party to that no-tax pledge the tea partiers forced down the throats of legislators and congressmen who had no taste for facing up to real problems and finding real solutions when self-serving rhetoric and pandering could get them re-elected), then the only alternative is to cut and cut again and then cut some more.

What these tea partiers and their ilk, including Gov. Bobby, refuse to admit in their manic pursuit of free market economics, is that corporate welfare (read lucrative tax breaks) costs this country many times what individual welfare costs and corporate fraud costs the nation billions upon billions more than the roughly 1 percent in documented welfare fraud (see details of the 2008 Wall Street bailout for verification). Corporations and corporate executives pay far fewer taxes, percentage-wise, than do middle- and low-income taxpayers in this country. Those are the cold, indisputable hard facts. To claim otherwise is to throw up that same tired old argument that the middle- and low-income are a drag on the nation’s economy while the super-rich produce wealth and jobs, thank you very much.

But Gov. Bobby would much rather continue doling out tax breaks that cost the state billions of dollars with little or no return than to take the necessary steps to pull the state out of the financial quagmire in which it currently finds itself and thus allow college to be affordable to the middle class and for the working poor of this state to have access to health care.

And legislators are a party to the scheme and must share the blame. Let’s consider some projects in the districts of four key legislators from the 2014 legislative session:

  • Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. Jim Fannin: $13 million in projects, including the Jackson Parish Riding Arena and Livestock Pavilion ($195,000 last year, $1.4 million in Priority 2 and $1.6 million in Priority 5 funding;
  • Senate President John Alario: $121 million in projects for Jefferson Parish;
  • House Speaker Chuck Kleckley: $107 million in projects in Calcasieu Parish;
  • Senate Finance Committee Chairman Jack Donahue: $60 million in projects in St. Tammany Parish.

And then there are these little projects we found in last year’s capital outlay bill:

  • City Parish Golf Complex improvements (Orleans)—$9.1 million;
  • Junior Golf Training Facilities (Caddo)—$445,000;
  • Golf Course Development (Calcasieu)—$1.6 million;
  • Zephyrs Baseball facilities repair (Jefferson)—$1.5 million;
  • Professional Sports facilities improvements (Jefferson, Orleans)—$18.4 million;
  • New Orleans Sports Arena improvements (Orleans)—$41.5 million;
  • Bayou Segnette Recreation Complex (Jefferson)—$5.5 million;
  • Improvements to New Orleans Superdome—$6 million;
  • Recreational complex (Iberia)—$100,000;
  • Baseball stadium improvements (East Baton Rouge)—$1.4 million (Baton Rouge has no baseball team);
  • Improvements to amusement area, tennis center improvements (Orleans)—$1.2 million;
  • Repairs to Strand Theatre (Caddo)—$950,000;
  • Various community centers (statewide)—$11 million;
  • Various hall of fame projects (statewide)—$15 million.

One can just follow the money to see why legislators become shrinking violets when Gov. Bobby is holding that veto pen. Sure, there will be all manner of posturing, bluster and harangue but in the end, they always end up going along with whatever the governor wants.

And the governor wants what the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) wants and ALEC wants to take the state out of state universities.

And Louisiana isn’t alone.

If you don’t believe that, just take a look at what is going on in Wisconsin, Illinois, Arizona and Kansas. http://neatoday.org/2015/02/19/cuts-to-higher-education-taking-public-public-universities/

  • Louisiana: Tuition costs have increased 90 percent since Gov. Bobby took office;
  • Arizona: Tuition has more than tripled while state funding has decreased by $3,500 per student;
  • Wisconsin: Like Louisiana, $2 billion tax cuts have resulted in $300 million in cuts to higher education that could eliminate the schools of nursing, law, business, pharmacy and veterinary medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison even as Gov. Scott Walker lobbies for $220 million in public donations to the Milwaukee Bucks to build a new team arena;
  • Illinois is losing $2.1 billion in tax revenues because of lawmakers’ refusal to extend taxes that are expiring even as colleges are facing a $400 million cut;
  • Kansas is projecting a loss of $5 billion in revenues because of reckless tax cuts and higher education, not surprisingly, is on the chopping block.

It’s not a coincidence, it’s a pattern. And what would one suppose these five states have in common besides this disturbing trend in higher education funding?

Republican governors who feel they owe their allegiance not to the voters of their states, oddly enough, but to ALEC and the Koch brothers who insist on defunding state colleges and universities in the hopes they will be forced to become private universities.

That, of course, will drive tuition up even further, necessitating much larger student loans and greater profits to lending institutions and Wall Street. It also will make a college education assessable only to the wealthy while relegating the rest of society to low paying jobs in the service sector in the absence of manufacturing jobs that have all been moved offshore.

Louisiana, says Moody’s latest assessment, has had the steepest declines in state funding in the nation from 2009 through 2014.

“As the state tries to close its widening budget gap, Louisiana public universities will face additional reductions in state appropriations,” the assessment said. “After five years of the deepest cuts to public higher education in the nation and significant expense reductions, these universities are ill-equipped to face additional credit stress.”

Moody’s said the timing and magnitude of budget cuts, the ability of universities to quickly align expenses with revenue, and the degree of financial cushion to absorb operating volatility “will factor into our assessment of ratings and outlooks for individual universities.

“Currently, Louisiana public university credit quality is lower than the median A1 nationally, reflecting historically weak state funding, anemic operating performance and limited liquidity,” the report said.

So while legislators wring their hands and gnash their teeth over the hard decisions they’re going to have to make this year, just remember no one held a gun to their heads and made them drop those golf courses and baseball parks into the Capital Outlay bill last year. And the year before that. And the year before that.

And remember that Gov. Bobby and ALEC do not (boldface that: Do Not) have the survival of our universities as public institutions as a priority item. If they are ultimately forced to become private colleges, that will be perfectly fine with them.

With all due respect to Dr. Rallo, we shouldn’t expect too much from this governor in the way of meaningful solutions to a problem that has persisted since he became governor more than seven years ago—long before the latest decline in oil prices which he conveniently uses as a scapegoat for Louisiana’s fiscal ills.

The late Wiley Hilburn, who headed up the journalism program at Louisiana Tech University, once told us that Bobby visited the Ruston campus when he was Commissioner of Higher Education under former Gov. Mike Foster, ostensibly to get an overview of university operations. Instead he spent his entire visit in Hilburn’s office playing computer games.

Perhaps that’s what Louisiana’s public colleges and universities are to Gov. Bobby—a game with students serving only as action figures for his personal enjoyment.

It certainly appears that that’s all this state is to him.

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To call Gov. Bobby Jindal disingenuous would be to belabor the obvious. The evidence is there in plain view for everyone to see: his painfully patronizing platitudes, designed to appeal to his ever-shrinking core base, induce involuntary winces of embarrassment not only from his critics, of which there are many, but from objective observers as well.

But now it turns out that Jindal is trying his best to out-imitate Attorney General Buddy Caldwell as he heads into his final year as governor.

Caldwell, as some still may not know, was probably best known for his Elvis impersonation before being elected as the state’s highest legal counsel.

Jindal, not to be outdone, has set about impersonating everyone in sight, beginning on that fateful night in 2009 with his pitiful attempt at a Reagan-esque response to President Obama’s State of the Union address. Woefully inept as a polished speaker, that performance was universally panned and his status as a rising star in the Republican Party appeared to have been prematurely snuffed out.

But Jindal is nothing if not resilient. Seemingly oblivious to critics, he has spent the ensuing six years doggedly trying to re-claim his status among the Michelle Malkins and Rush Limbaughs as the nation’s savior.

To do that required his forcing the media to give him ink in the daily newspapers and face time before the unblinking eye of network cameras. The BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill did just that and he took full advantage. He grabbed every opportunity to express his concern on the nightly news. Of course, when the national media ignored that growing sinkhole that threatened only a few homes in Assumption Parish, so did Jindal. The fact that local media gave the hole that was swallowing entire trees ample coverage was insignificant since that could not enhance his national image, so one quick trip long after the sinkhole first developed had to suffice for someone so bent on burnishing his presidential image. In a way, it was reflective of the way George W. Bush had to be goaded into doing a flyover of the carnage inflicted by Hurricane Katrina and to rush through the photo opt with “heckuva job, Brownie.”

And then there was Jindal near the end of his first term and already running for re-election as he traversed the state handing out those cherished veterans’ pins in appreciation of those who had served the country in the armed forces.

A great gesture, right? Also reminiscent of President George Bush the First in his 1990 run-up to his 1992 re-election campaign when he was handing out those “Thousand Points of Light” awards to such people as Sam Walton and about 5,000 others.

But the most blatantly transparent rip-off of another’s idea by this governor, who can never be accused of originality, came with his Jan. 24 Prayerpalooza at the Maravich Assembly Center on the LSU campus.

That event, which crammed all of 3,000 attendees into the 18,000-seat P-Mac, was a direct clone of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s event, The Response, held four years ago in Houston’s Reliant Stadium. Perry, you may recall, announced his candidacy for the GOP nomination only days after that rally.

Jindal might be wise not to base his decision to seek the nomination on his rally, which drew only about 10 percent of the 30,000 who attended the Houston rally despite (or perhaps because of) the participation of Cindy Jacobs.

Understandably, Jindal and his supporters have played down her part in this year’s event, even going so far as to take down the video that featured her endorsement of the Baton Rouge rally while all the other promotional videos were retained.

Jacobs apparently is a bit much even for Jindal. All she has ever done is suggest that her child’s stomach ache once prevented the assassination of President Reagan; that she could foresee terrorist attacks and prevent coups; that birds died and fell from the sky because of the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and that she had the power to raise the dead.

Undaunted, his weekly Team Jindal email blast described Jindal as “speaking to a crowd of thousands” at the prayer fest. While we do concede that the 3,000 in attendance did, in fact, constitute “thousands,” by purposely failing to mention the actual head count, Team Jindal was implying that the crowd numbered in the tens of thousands. Laughable as that may be, it is nevertheless a disturbing trait of this administration to parse words so as to convey the message that all is well in the land of Jindal.

And then there is the subtle, under-the-radar form of imitation that may have escaped observers’ attention: Jindal’s channeling of the later Gov. Earl K. Long.

Earl, many will recall, once said, “Someday the people of Louisiana are gonna get good government and they ain’t gonna like it.”

Prophetic words from a man who also once said, when asked by a legislator whether ideals had any role in politics, “Hell yes, I think you should use ideals or any other g—d— thing you can get your hands on.”

Louisiana history buffs (and those of us old enough to remember the events vividly) are aware that ol’ Earl’s train left the tracks during 1959, his final year in office. He was in and out of mental institutions and had an affair with stripper Blaze Starr that grabbed national headlines. He even cut a deal with former Gov. James A. Noe of Monroe to have Noe run for governor and Earl for lieutenant governor on Noe’s ticket. (Yes, candidates ran on tickets, from governor all the way down to comptroller of voting machines, back then.) The deal was for Noe to get elected, take office, and resign, allowing Earl to become governor. Up until the first term of former Gov. John McKeithen, a Louisiana governor could not serve consecutive terms, thus necessitating the flim-flammery. Noe and Long even had LSU All-American Billy Cannon campaigning with them under the banner of “The Noe Team is the Go Team.” The problem with that slogan, which no one apparently caught, was that Cannon, played under the system of former head coach Paul Dietzel in which LSU actually had three separate teams—the Go Team (which played offense only), the Chinese Bandits (exclusively defense) and the White Team (both offense and defense). Cannon played on the White Team.

That was the same election in which arch segregationist Willie Rainach, a state representative from Homer in Claiborne Parish, ran third behind New Orleans Mayor deLesseps  “Chep” Morrison and former Gov. Jimmie Davis. The Noe-Long team finished out of the money with Noe failing even to carry his own precinct in Monroe and Davis went on to defeat Morrison in the runoff election.

So now, we have the gubernatorial train barreling headlong toward a similar mental derailment. Jindal, caught up in the throes of delusions of grandeur (some would say delusions of mediocrity) that leave him convinced he is presidential timber, apparently feels his repeated budget fiascos are of little consequence. He has abandoned any vestiges of leadership except where it might appeal to his support base, which probably explains his actions with Common Core.

For it before he was against it (another imitation: remember John Kerry’s position switch on the Iraq war), Jindal issued an executive order declaring that parents should be able to opt their children out of taking the Common Core standardized tests this year.

Besides putting Jindal at odds with the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, the order calls into question the status of a couple of state contracts with a testing firm totaling $117 million.

Data Recognition Corp. (DRC) has contracts of $68.8 million and $48.2 million, both of which expire on June 30 of this year, that call for DRC to develop test forms, printing and distributing and collecting materials, scoring and reporting test results. It is unclear how much, if any of those contracts, are for Common Core testing, but if that is included in the contracts and the executive order is implemented, litigation is almost certain to follow. (And we know how well Jindal, represented by attorney Jimmy Faircloth, has fared in courtroom appearances.)

A pattern of irrational behavior on Jindal’s part is beginning to emerge as he flails away at attempts to grab onto some issue which will resonate with voters—even at the cost of abandoning the post to which he was elected by the people of Louisiana.

And we don’t even have to elaborate on his silly gesture of producing his birth certificate during the hoopla over President Obama’s citizenship. It was not only silly, it was pitifully superficial and sophomoric considering no one had even questioned his birthplace.

Jindal received the Thomas Jefferson Freedom Award from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) at its 2011 national convention in New Orleans. But as he systematically tears down the programs designed to help the less fortunate among us, he ignores the philosophy of the man for whom that award was named. It was Jefferson who said, “The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only object of good government.” That sentiment was echoed more than a century later by President Harry Truman: “The whole purpose of government is to see that the little fellow who has no special interest gets a fair deal.”

There is no question that Jindal is an intelligent man. But intelligence alone cannot overcome the avalanche of problems besetting our state and that appears to be the one lesson which has thus far escaped him.

Perhaps A.E. Wiggin, the character from the novel Ender’s Game, said it best: “Intelligence appears to be the thing that enables a man to get along without education. Education appears to be the thing that enables a man to get along without the use of his intelligence.”

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           As 2014 winds down, we decided that everyone else does a year-end wrap-up of the year’s significant events, so why not us?

            Accordingly, here is our review of the first six months of LouisianaVoice installments. The last six months will appear on Wednesday (Dec. 31).

JANUARY

IT Contractor linked to Obamacare, other problems:

A company holding two contracts with the State of Louisiana worth $32.8 million was the lead IT contractor of the ill-fated Affordable Health Care enrollment web page rolled out late last year.

CGI Technologies and Solutions, headquartered in Quebec, has experienced problems with other contracts in Canada and the U.S. even before the Obamacare debacle.

CGI Technologies and Solutions was awarded a $32.5 million contract with the Office of Community Development’s (OCD) Disaster Recovery Unit (DRU) on March 2, 2012 to provide computer software hosting, support and training for OCD’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP), small rental programs.

That contract is scheduled to run out on March 1, 2015.

CGI executives have been involved with at least 20 other troubled government IT projects, including one contract to automate retirements for millions of federal employees that went $60 million over budget and despite $2.3 billion in contracts with two dozen federal agencies, the company was rejected by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) because of “performance issues” in carrying out an earlier contract.

HGI ties to Jindal, Christie:

MSNBC and the Wall Street Journal have begun focusing attention on a Louisiana firm with more than $200 million in contracts with both the Chris Christie and Jindal administrations for federally-funded relief to hurricane victims.

Hammerman & Gainer, Inc., or HGI, of Lutcher, was awarded a $68 million contract in May of 2013 to oversee two programs distributing $780 million in federal money to Sandy victims. That contract was cancelled only six months later, on Dec. 6, 2013, because of mounting complaints about delays in processing claims.

New Jersey homeowners say they have been unable to get answers, paperwork has been misplaced and HGI employees, most of whom are temporary employees, could not be reached by phone and that the company’s recovery centers change rules midstream and that no reconstruction program grants to thousands of applicants already approved have yet been awarded.

HGI also just happens to hold a $60 million contract with the Louisiana Office of Community Development’s Disaster Recovery Unit to administer the state’s Road Home Program. That contract began on March 20, 2012, and ends on March 19, 2015. Prior to that contract, HGI had a similar contract for $83.3 million which ran from March 20, 2009 to March 19, 2012. The $83.3 million contract replaced a $912 million contract with ICF Emergency Management Services of Baton Rouge.

In New Jersey, HGI hired Glenn Paulsen, former chief of the Burlington County Republicans, as its legal counsel when it submitted its bid to run the two Sandy relief programs. Paulsen’s law firm Capehart Scatchard, made a $25,000 contribution to the Republican Governors Association which Christie now heads.

HGI contributed $15,000 to Jindal in three equal contributions in 2007, 2008 and 2009. The company also gave $7,500 to Robert Wooley ($2,500 in 2003 and $5,000 in 2002), $5,000 to the Republican Party of Louisiana, $5,000 in 2011, to New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin in March of 2006, only months after Hurricane Katrina, and $7,500 to his successor Mitch Landrieu in equal contributions of $2,500 in 2010, 2011 and 2012. In addition, HGI President Larry Oney gave $5,000 to Jindal’s campaign in 2008.

Alvarez & Marsal gets fat at state trough:

Jindal also awarded a four-month contract to Alvarez & Marsal for a tad more than $5 million that called for the firm to deliver $500 million in savings to the state.

A & M’s cozy if disastrous relationship with state government goes back further than Jindal. In December of 2005, the Orleans Parish School Board adopted Resolution 59-05 on the advice of the consulting firm.

The resolution, passed in the aftermath of disastrous Hurricane Katrina was specifically cited in the ruling earlier this week by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal that upheld a lower court decision the school board was wrong to fire 7,500 teachers, effective Jan. 31, 2006.

Then-State Superintendent of Education Cecil Picard chose Alvarez & Marsal to prevail upon the school board to replace acting parish Superintendent Ora Watson with an Alvarez & Marsal consultant.

So, Watson was replaced, 7,500 teachers were fired, the teachers sued and won, leaving the Orleans School Board and the state liable for a billion-five and the firm that started it all is hired by Jindal to find a $500,000 savings.

Alvarez & Marsal is specifically cited—by name—no fewer than six times in the first 51 pages of a 2009 report calling for the privatizing the state’s charity hospital system. Alvarez & Marsal performed that bit of work under a $1.7 million contract that ran for nine months in 2009, from Jan. 5 to Sept. 30.

The firm also received a $250,000, contract of a much shorter duration (10 days) from Jindal on April 9, 2013, to develop Jindal’s proposal to eliminate the state income taxes in favor of other tax increases. That plan was dead on arrival during the legislative session and Jindal quickly punted before a single legislative vote could be taken.

The obvious next step for Jindal was to

Problems continue at OGB:

Charles Calvi and Patrick Powers are out at the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) and Susan West, late of the Office of Risk Management has been named Interim CEO—the fourth person to head OGB in less than three years.

Meanwhile, that $540 million reserve fund balance OGB had on hand to pay benefits at the time of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s infamous raping of the agency now sit at $240 million and is dwindling at a rate of $20 million per month, no doubt the result of Jindal’s 7 percent premium reduction six months before the January 2013 takeover of OGB by Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) of Louisiana.

FEBRUARY

Adley’s not-so-hidden agenda:

State Sen. Robert Adley (R-Benton) filed Senate Bill 79 which was designed to give Jindal even more power by giving him greater freedom in appointing members of a levee board, specifically the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authorities of both the east and west banks.

The bill was a counteroffensive to attempts by the east bank authority to push for a historic lawsuit that would hold oil and gas companies responsible for damages to coastal wetlands.

The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority East (SLFPAE) was attempting to force the oil and gas companies to pay for the state’s coastal restoration efforts.

The lawsuit claimed that the companies destroyed the state’s coastal wetlands by dredging canals that contributed to erosion. The marshes had served as a natural buffer that mitigated storm surge. The suit, if successful, could cost the companies billions of dollars.

Adley’s bill should come as no surprise, given his opposition to the lawsuit but some might question why Adley would oppose the legal action against the companies in the first place.

One consideration could be that he has owned pelican Gas Management Co. since 1993, was president of ABCO Petroleum from 1972 to 1993, is affiliated with the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, and has been the recipient of more than $150,000 in campaign contributions over the years from companies, political action committees, and individuals affiliated with or controlled by oil and gas interests.

Adley’s bill was assigned to the Senate Transportation, Highways & Public Works Committee. The chairman of Transportation, Highways & Public Works?

Robert Adley.

Jindal tantrum goes national:

Jindal’s outburst upon exiting a meeting between the nation’s governors and President Barack Obama Monday was a petulant display of immaturity that only served to underscore his disgraceful scorn for Louisiana’s working poor in favor of pandering to the mega-rich Koch brothers in the apparent hope that some of their Americans for Prosperity (AFP) money might find its way into his campaign coffers.

His shameless promotion of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline project coupled with his criticism of Obama’s push for a minimum wage increase comes on the heels of word that Jindal is literally stealing from the blind in drawing down more than half of a trust fund established to assist blind vendors in state buildings to purchase equipment, to pay for repairs and to pay medical bills.

That trust fund shrank from $1.6 million to about $700,000, apparently because of yet another lawsuit the administration found itself embroiled in over the delivery of food services at Fort Polk in Leesville that sucked up $365,000 just for the state’s 21 percent share of attorney fees.

Jindal said of Obama’s push for an increase in the minimum wage that the president “seems to be waving the white flag of surrender” and that Obama’s economy “is now the minimum wage economy.”

CIA kidnap accomplice locates in Bossier City

A photo in the Shreveport Times shows a grinning Gov. Bobby Jindal shaking hands with David Zolet, executive vice president and general manager of the North American Sector of Computer Sciences Corp. (CSC) as the two jointly announced that the company plans to open a technology center at CSC’s national Cyber Research Park in Bossier City.

CSC will be the anchor tenant of the research park and will partner with Louisiana Tech University to account for 1,600 new jobs over the next four years, thanks in part to $14 million in state funding over the next decade to expand higher education programs to increase the number of computer science graduates per year.

CSC customers, meanwhile, were being urged to boycott the company over allegations that it took part in illegal CIA rendition flights in the U.S. “war on terror.”

Court documents have linked CSC to the rendition of German citizen Khaled El-Masri who was abducted on Dec. 31, 2003, after being mistaken for a known terrorist by the CIA.

El-Masri was blindfolded, beaten, imprisoned for 23 days, stripped, sodomized, chained, drugged, flown to Afghanistan where he was again beaten and imprisoned for another four months, interrogated, threatened, denied legal representation, force fed and finally flown in a CSC-chartered plane to Albania, where he was left on a remote road in the middle of the night some 1500 kilometers from his home.

CSC was contracted for the flight as well as for other illegal CIA renditions, according to human rights charity Reprieve. CSC has so far refused a request by Reprieve to sign a pledge of “zero tolerance to torture,” and has also declined to respond to questions from Computer Weekly about the allegations.

Germany has paid the company some $405 million since 1990 and over the past five years, the country has awarded more than 100 contracts to CSC and its subsidiaries.

The story said it is “no coincidence” that the company’s various German offices are often located near U.S. military bases.

Barksdale AFB, home of the U.S. Air Force’s 2nd Bomb Wing and Global Strike Command, and Cyber Research Park are nearly adjacent in their proximity to each other, with the proposed CSC facility and Barksdale separated only by I-20.

MARCH

Jindal contributor benefits from state road work

The controversy over that 55,000 hunting lodge that straddles three central Louisiana parishes has taken a new and curious twist as the result of a $1.7 million highway resurfacing project that conveniently runs right past the entrance to the lodge that is owned by a major contributor to Gov. Bobby Jindal and to unsuccessful congressional candidate State Sen. Neil Riser.

The overlay of LA. 127, also known locally as the Olla-Sikes Highway, started on Feb. 20 at the Caldwell Parish line and run 5.5 miles east in Winn Parish to LA. 1238, according to an announcement by the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD).

The LA. 127 project ends at the camp entrance and at the property of TV reality show Swamp People star Troy “Choot ‘em” Landry, whose campsite is located within the hunting camp.

A search of political campaign contributions show that camp owner Bill Busbice and his wife, Beth each contributed the maximum allowable $2,600 ($5,200 total) to State Sen. Neil Riser’s campaign for the 5th Congressional District seat won by Vance McAllister.

Jindal also picked up $20,000 from Busbice and Alfred Lippman of Morgan City, the registered agent for Olla Productions, LLC., one of Busbice’s may business entities.

Busbice contributed $5,000 to Jindal in April of 2009 and Beth Busbice gave another $5,000 in December of that same year, while Lippman contributed $5,000 in October of 2003, $3,500 in April of 2009 and his firm, Lippman, Malfouz, Tranchina & Thorguson of Morgan City gave another $1,500 in September of 2010.

Additionally, one of Lippman’s law partners, David Thorguson and his wife contributed $1,300 to Jindal, Jindal campaign records show.

Appel’s shrewd investments:

State Sen. Conrad Appel (R-Metairie) purchased Discovery Communications stock in 2010 a week before a major announcement of a partnership between Discovery Education and the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, Capitol News Service has learned.

On Dec. 7, 2010, Discovery Education, a division of Discovery Communications, announced that Louisiana and Indiana had joined Oregon in adopting the Discovery Education Science Techbook as a digital core instructional resource for elementary and middle school science instruction.

Appel is Chairman of the Senate Education Committee and was in a unique position to know not only of the pending deal between Discovery Education and the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) but also of the company’s recent agreement with Indiana and Oregon, as well as Texas and Florida.

Appel’s financial disclosure form obtained from the State Board of Ethics indicates his Discovery Communications stock purchase was for “between $5,000 and $24,999.”

Discovery Communications is traded on NASDAQ and on the date of Appel’s purchase, the company’s shares opened at $40.96 and closed at $40.78.

And while there was no significant movement in the stock’s prices on the date of and on the day’s following Discovery’s announcement of the agreement with BESE, the stock hit a high of $90.21 per share on Jan. 2 of this year, meaning Appel’s on-paper profit after a little more than three years was in excess of 100 percent. The stock closed on March 27 at $75.72, still an 85 percent gain for Appel.

Appel’s 2012 financial report reveals that he also purchased between $5,000 and $24,999 of Microsoft stock on June 4, 2012, the same date that the Louisiana Legislature adjourned its 85-day session.

Ten days earlier, on May 25, the Louisiana Legislature approved the implementation of Common Core in Louisiana after a major push by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which poured more than $200 million to develop, review, evaluate, promote and implement Common Core.

APRIL

Deputy Sheriff dabbles in private background checks:

A former DeSoto Parish sheriff’s deputy may have violated state law by using his office to run background checks for a company in which he owned a major interest, according to a report by the Legislative Auditor’s office in Baton Rouge.

Lagniappe and Castillo Research and Investigations ran 41,574 background checks through the sheriff’s office during an 11-month period between April 1, 2012, and February 28, 2013, the report says. Robert Davidson, retired chief investigator for the DeSoto Parish Sheriff’s Office, is 50 percent owner of Lagniappe and Castillo. He was employed by DPSO from 1980 until his retirement in May of 2013.

The report, released on Monday, also noted that three DeSoto Parish Sheriff’s Office (DPSO) employees were paid nearly $2,000 by Lagniappe and Castillo Research and Investigations for running the background checks between January 2011 and May 2013, duties they would normally perform as part of their jobs with the sheriff’s office.

The company charged its customers $12 for each background report and paid the sheriff’s office $3 for each report. That represents an income of more than $374,000 and a profit of more than $372,000 for owners Robert Davidson and Allan Neal Castillo.

Extortion claimed on state highway project:

A six and one-half-year-old lawsuit took a dramatic turn following a Mangham contractor’s claim that the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) denied payments for work performed by his company because he resisted shake-down efforts by a DOTD inspector.

Jeff Mercer owner of the now-defunct construction company that bears his name, worked as a subcontractor to several prime contractors on six different projects for which he has not been paid. He first filed his lawsuit against DOTD on Sept. 7, 2007, in state district court in Monroe, claiming that the state owes him nearly $9 million for actual work done for which he was never paid, plus interest and delay costs which bring the total to more than $11.6 million.

The $500 million savings report by Alvarez & Marsal (A&M) was finally released on Monday only minutes before adjournment of the 2014 legislative session.

The 425-page report, produced under a $5 million contract, while projecting a savings of $2.7 billion over five years (an average of $540 million a year).

Most of the projected cost savings were based on assumptions for which A&M offered little or no supporting data other than arbitrary estimates and suppositions that could have been produced at a fraction of the report’s $11,760 per-page cost.

MAY

It pays to play I:

If there are any lingering doubts that politicians are beholden to the special interest who bankroll their campaigns, consider the money that has been spread among our state lawmakers—just from the oil and gas interests:

  • The 144 incumbent legislators have received more than $5.8 million in campaign contributions by a single special interest group—oil and gas. That comes to an average of $40,357 per legislator.
  • For the 39 current members of the Louisiana Senate, the aggregate is a little north of $2.8 million, or $51,100 each.
  • A total of $2.99 million was distributed among the 105 House members—an average of $40350 each, the figures show.

So, by obtaining a dismissal of litigation that could conceivably cost oil companies several hundred million dollars—before it ever goes to trial or even to the discovery stage—by spreading $5.8 million around represents a nice return on investment.

And make no mistake about it: campaign contributions are just that—investments.

It pays to play II:

The Senate Finance Committee on Sunday (Sen. Dan Claitor discarded their oaths of office—their sworn duty to protect the interests of the people of Louisiana—in favor of political expedience of the very lowest sort by ripping $4.5 million from the budget for Louisiana’s developmentally disabled and allocating the money for a Verizon IndyCar Series race at the NOLA Motorsports Park in Jefferson Parish.

LouisianaVoice conducted a search of the Secretary of State’s web page to learn the identities of the NOLA Motor Club corporate officers and whose name should pop up as one of the principals? Laney Chouest, that’s who.

So, who is Laney Chouest, you ask?

Well, he also showed up as an officer in a few other corporations run by the politically active Chouest family of Galliano. Their main business is in shipbuilding and Laney Chouest was listed as an officer in Edison Chouest Offshore, Inc., Alpha Marine Service Holdings, LLC. and Beta Marine Services, LLC., to name only three.

So, armed with that information we did a campaign contribution search of only the last name of Chouest and we hit the mother lode.

Between 2007 and 2010, members of the Chouest family and their various businesses contributed $106,500 to Jindal.

JUNE

Legislator’s firm cited for environmental infractions:

A citation and a cease order issued to Dual Trucking Co. by the Montana Department of Environmental Equality for dumping oilfield radioactive waste from the nearby Bakken Oilfield, it turns out, is not the only problem State Rep. Gordon Dove (R-Houma) has experienced with environmental authorities, Capitol News Service has learned.

Vacco Marine, Inc., a company owned by Dove, who chairs the House Committee on Natural Resources and Environment, has been the subject of several investigations, negative reports, citations, and compliance orders by and from the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) over a period of several years, records show.

Last week, while presiding over a meeting of the Natural Resources Committee, he joined 12 other members in passing an amendment to SB 469 that made the prohibition against suing oil companies for damages to the state’s wetlands and marshes retroactive.

Dove also serves as a member of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

Lobbyists swarm to protect BP:

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 it 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 so many blow flies 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.

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 in going against sound legal advice to sign the bill into law, 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.

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 it 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 so many blow flies 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.

 

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