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Archive for the ‘House, Senate’ Category

By Dayne Sherman

Special to LouisianaVoice 

Louisiana is Ground Zero for political scandals. From U.S. Rep. Bill Jefferson’s “cold cash” saga to U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy’s unanswered allegations of payroll fraud at LSU, the state knows how to lead the country in at least one statistic: corruption.

One writer devised his own method of ranking states by corruption and guess who was number one?

Here’s a hint: http://fivethirtyeight.com/datalab/ranking-the-states-from-most-to-least-corrupt/

Even our new House Whip, Steve Scalise, who describes himself as “David Duke without the baggage,” has become an international disgrace for speaking to a neo-Nazi group 12 years ago while he was a state representative.

A quote attributed to Pericles 2400 years ago is still true: “Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.” Indeed, these political scandals are at the expense of Louisiana citizens. They matter. We pay the price for wayward politicians and their blinding ambition. This lust for power is equal only to their lust for “other things,” as Sen. David Vitter seems to be chief among sinners.

On Jan. 9, Louisiana House Speaker Chuck Kleckley came out like Clint Eastwood in a western flick, standing up tall to Gov. Bobby Jindal’s latest plan to cut $370 million from Louisiana higher education. He says he won’t back the budget plan. But let’s be clear-minded. Kleckley is Jindal’s paramour. He has done and will continue to do whatever the governor tells him to do or he’ll lose his speakership.

This is all political theater, a cruel PR scheme to help Kleckley win election as State Treasurer. Recall, Louisiana higher education has been cut by over $700 million since Jindal took office, the deepest cuts of any state in the country. Other states are investing in colleges and universities post-recession, and we are not.

Kleckley’s recently found courage when the state faces a $300 million deficit this year and 1.4 billion next fiscal year starting July 1, is a fake news story. Jindal’s conservative principles haven’t worked. On the contrary, they’ve been a disaster aided and abetted by lapdogs in the Legislature. Make no mistake, the greatest hypocrite among them is Kleckley.

The bayou budgetary apocalypse is coming. Get ready.

At the same time, President Obama has announced a truly bold new plan to give all Americans two years of free community college. Clearly, the best news of 2015.

Upon hearing this great news, a number of Louisiana’s college and university “leaders” (They’re paid to be leaders but are mostly sycophants in leisure suits.) began to question the details. Why aren’t they excited? Don’t educators want nothing more than to educate? Don’t they need students? Well, their master Jindal is against everything good—or bad—that Obama wants. The “leaders” answer to Jindal. These rascals served as cheerleaders for Jindal’s foolish WISE Fund, a mere pittance, but they became skeptics over the real deal.

How will we fund a community college education for all Americans? I’d say having ended two wars, one in Iraq and the other in Afghanistan, will do it. We can save trillions by staying out of endless international conflicts. No need to raise taxes. Let’s just stop blowing up other countries and then rebuilding them on the taxpayers’ dime.

I believe nothing could be better for America and the world than investing in Americans. Jindal has shown through $700 million in cuts to Louisiana higher education, and another $370 million before he’s through, that he doesn’t believe investing in our state is good for his long-term political career.

Obama, on the other hand, believes investing in Americans is good for the country. Fortunately, Jindal will never be able to bring to the nation the disasters he’s brought to Louisiana. He’ll never be President.

[Dayne Sherman’s new novel is Zion. Signed first editions available from the author. His political blog is www.TalkAboutTheSouth.com.]

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How much is your retirement worth to you?

These questions are not hypothetical.

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Former Gov. Edwin Edwards said on Tuesday that he intends link his opponent to Gov. Bobby Jindal just as Congressman Bill Cassidy has linked U.S. Sen. Landrieu and President Obama.

“Representative Cassidy has built his entire campaign on running against Obama instead of Mary Landrieu and though I believe in running on issues instead of personal attacks, I will launch my television ads next week by showing that Garret Graves will be nothing more than an extension of the Bobby Jindal administration,” Edwards told LouisianaVoice.

That shouldn’t be too difficult to do, given that Garret’s former assistant and more recently his successor has publicly endorsed Garret in his campaign against Edwards to succeed Cassidy as Louisiana’s 6th District congressional representative.

Jerome “Z” Zeringue, who once served as Garret’s assistant and then was named to succeed him as Gov. Jindal’s coastal advisor, has endorsed his old boss in the Dec. 6 runoff against Edwards.

That action brought instant criticism from another former coastal advisor to the governor. Len Bahr, Ph.D., wrote on his internet blog:

“As a former holder of Graves’ and now Zeringue’s position in the governor’s office, I’m offended that neither of these gentlemen is concerned that the person who oversees state coastal policy should be involved in a highly partisan political struggle. I realize that the law that restricts state civil servants from political activities does not apply to unclassified positions but the basis for the law is obvious, going back to the days of Huey Long when state employees were pressured to support specific elected officials. http://lacoastpost.com/blog/?p=47063

Bahr’s indignation notwithstanding, Edwards already had a pretty good arsenal to unload on his opponent.

He previewed one of his upcoming TV advertisements for LouisianaVoice. As expected, he zeroed in on the $130 million in contracts that Graves’ father’s company received from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during the younger Graves’ tenure as president of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) and director of the Governor’s Office of Coastal Activities.

Edwards, at a Monday appearance before the Baton Rouge Press Club, also noted that the Graves’ father also subcontracted $66 million of that $130 million to some 18 other companies who have since contributed $250,000 to Graves’ campaign and $360,000 to Jindal.

Those points were brought by another candidate in the first primary, State Sen. Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge) but Edwards added a new twist during the press club appearance when he revealed that Graves’ brother-in-law stood to gain financially from a deal involving CPRA.

He said the Water Campus office complex and research center under construction in Baton Rouge, will house the agency Graves once headed. The leasing agent for office space in the facility, Edwards said, is Randy White, Graves’ brother-in-law. “They’re going to lease one million square feet of office space at probably $25 to $50 per square foot,” he said. “At a commission of 2 or 3 percent, that’s a $1 million a year.”

The former governor also expressed his disappointment at Graves’ tactic of sending out letters leading up to the Nov. 4 first primary in which he hinted that Republican candidate Paul Dietzel, III was gay. “He (Graves) repeated over and over that Dietzel had never married, lives with his grandmother, and had performed work on behalf of gay organizations,” Edwards said. “There is no place in today’s society for that type of attack.”

Edwards said the motive for Graves’ attack was obvious. “Up to the time those letters went out, he and Dietzel were neck and neck for the second spot in the runoff against me. It was the act of a desperate man and a man who was hand-picked by our governor to continue the policies put in place by Jindal.

“Jindal’s approval rating is every bit as deplorable as Obama’s,” Edwards said. “And a vote for Graves is a vote to continue down the same road that Jindal has taken the state during his administration. Personally, I don’t think this state can afford a continuation of those policies.”

Bahr, his blog, included a link to Louisiana Civil Service rules on public employees’ participation in political campaign and though the rules are different for classified and unclassified employees like Zeringue, Bahr said he nonetheless felt it wrong for Zeringue to interject himself into partisan politics. http://www.civilservice.louisiana.gov/files/general_circulars/2011/gc2011-020.pdf

One of Bahr’s readers added this comment to his blog:

“A key part of Graves’ legacy is the degrading of CPRA’s standing as a supposedly objective body. Pushing them to pass a resolution opposing the SE La Flood Protection Authority lawsuit was a key step. Using the meeting for theatrics attacking the feds every month was another. CPRA has continued on this path in his absence by passing a resolution opposing the EPA’s proposed “Waters of the U.S.” designation, with no real discussion of the actual rule/regulation. In the bubble that Louisiana inhabits, no one is supposed to see this for what it is. That bubble will be popped when the state sees how national support for restoration has been eroded.”

So while Edwards has been relatively quiet up to this point (as opposed to the incessant barrage of attack ads from both Landrieu and Cassidy), that will change beginning next Tuesday—just in time for his only scheduled head-to-head debate with Graves in Denham Springs that same day.

If he is successful in linking Graves to his former boss, Jindal’s low poll numbers coupled with the animosity Jindal has single-handedly created between himself and teachers, state employees and higher education officials during almost seven years as governor, it could spell trouble for Graves. And Edwards, the sly old warrior that he is, might yet have a trick or two up his sleeve.

To paraphrase actress Bette Davis in the movie All About Eve, Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

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If anything at all can be taken from the 100-plus pages of grand jury testimony of Bruce Greenstein, it’s that Greenstein’s memory lapses and his reluctance to adequately answer repeated questions about his role in the awarding of a major contract to his former bosses taxed the patience of members of the grand jury who were forced to listen to his verbal sparring with prosecutors for hours on end.

But in the end, there was no smoking gun, although Greenstein, former Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) Secretary, on several occasions during his testimony said an agency-wide memorandum cautioning DHH employees to avoid contact with bidders on the $189 million contract during the selection process did not apply to him.

Though grand jury testimony is normally secret, several perjury counts returned against Greenstein in the nine-count indictment were based on his grand jury testimony so it would be subject to discovery in order for Greenstein to prepare his legal defense and therefore would be public.

Greenstein also admitted he initiated what has come to be known as “Addendum No. 2,” which was crucial in allowing his former employer, CNSI, to qualify to submit proposals for the contract, which it ultimately won in mid-2011. The contract was cancelled in March of 2013 when it became known than the FBI had been investigating the contract since January of that year.

During his testimony, it was revealed that Greenstein had maintained constant contact with a friend at CNSI, Vice President of Government Affairs Creighton Carroll and that the frequency of those contacts increased dramatically during Greenstein’s interviewing for the Louisiana job and during the formulation of Addendum No. 2.

In the first five months of 2010, for example, there eight total contacts consisting of texts and phone calls between the two men. In June of, however, just before he began the interview process for the DHH position, there were 75 contacts. From July through January, there were 864 contacts, including 227 in January of 2011 alone, when “the whole Addendum 2 stuff was going down,” according to Assistant Attorney General Butch Wilson. “Before you take office,” Wilson said, “we have not even a dozen contacts with Mr. Carroll. And after you take office, we have a total…of 2,882 communications. How do you explain that?”

“He is a prolific texter,” Greenstein replied.

Further into the questioning, Wilson was still trying to reconcile Greenstein’s testimony before the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee in which he claimed he had no contact with CNSI officials during the bidding process and the facts to the contrary as revealed by the thousands of text messages and telephone calls between Greenstein and CNSI.

“…Four months after a very important conversation with your friend and former employer, Mr. (CNSI co-founder and President Adnan) Ahmed, and you tell Sen. (Karen Carter) Peterson (D-New Orleans) there were no vendor conversations regarding the RFP (request for proposals) after it was released,” Wilson said. “And you admitted a minute ago that that conversation with Mr. Ahmed definitely involved the RFP. So that was not an accurate statement, was it?”

“I did not make it at the time thinking it was an inaccurate statement,” Greenstein said.

Greenstein’s memory appeared to grow progressively worse as the questions became more pointed.

“Do you recall a meeting with DHH officials and DOA (Division of Administration) people, specifically (then-Commissioner of Administration) Paul Rainwater and (DHH Assistant Secretary) J.T. Lane…where you had a meeting regarding the emails that had been found? Do you remember that meeting?”

“I don’t.”

“You don’t remember that meeting with Mr. Lane and Mr. Rainwater and several other people in between your testimonies before the Senate?”

“I don’t remember it.”

“Do you recall being explicitly asked by folks at the meeting from both DHH and DOA, ‘Is this all there is?”

“No.”

“I’m going to ask you again,” said Wilson. “Are you sure?”

“I don’t remember having a meeting with Paul Rainwater about these emails.”

At one point during Greenstein’s testimony, it was revealed by Wilson that Greenstein supposedly agreed to a letter of recommendation on behalf of CNSI to his counterpart in Arkansas. He cited a Feb. 5, 2013 email from Carroll to DHH executive counsel Steve Russo which said, “As you know, B.G.—which I believe probably means Bruce Greenstein—has agreed to a letter of recommendation…to the Arkansas Department of Human Services on behalf of the CNSI, which was also trying to get a contract for a (sic) MMIS (Medicaid Management Information Systems) system in Arkansas, correct?”

The letter subsequently went out over Undersecretary Jerry Phillips’ signature, Wilson noted, asking “Whose idea was that?”

“I can’t remember who wanted to sign it,” Greenstein said. “I know that I didn’t want to sign that.”

“Then why does Creighton say, ‘As you know, B.G. has recommended a letter of recommendation’?”

“I probably said that when asked about a recommendation,” Greenstein said.

“Your friend asked you to help his company…get more business and you said, ‘I will do that,’ right?”

“I didn’t say I will do that.”

“Well, if you said yes, why is Jerry Phillips sending out a letter?”

“Well, it’s not Bruce Greenstein on the letter.”

“I’m going to ask you pointblank. True or false: this letter that was rewritten and signed by Jerry Phillips, you directed him to do that?”

“I do not remember that,” Greenstein said.

“How could you not remember that?”

“Because I don’t remember that.”

“That’s hard to believe, Mr. Greenstein,” Wilson said. “I mean, this reference is clearly a discussion that you had with Creighton Carroll regarding this letter that he sends to your department that he, or someone from CNSI, wrote that is then minimally changed and signed by not you, but your under-secretary.

“Jerry Phillips didn’t show you this letter before he sent it out?” Wilson asked.

“I can’t remember seeing…I don’t remember seeing it.”

“It just looks to me like between Creighton’s comment here about ‘B.G. has agreed to a letter of recommendation’—and that was on Feb. 5th and the letter was issued on Feb. 14th, nine days later—this was almost sounds like cold feet. The former letter he sends is for your signature, but in nine days, now it’s got Mr. Phillips’ …signature on it.”

[The Arkansas Department of Human Services, in July of that year, disqualified CNSI from participating in the bidding on its system as a result of the Louisiana investigation and resignation of Greenstein.]

Wilson also questioned the propriety of allowing CNSI to bid on the contract to process Medicaid claims for DHH. Brandishing a letter dated Dec. 7, 2010, from the Charlotte, N.C., law firm McGuire-Woods, he said the firm was representing CNSI in a major financial default case that threatened to bankrupt the company—a full six months before the CNSI contract was signed.

“Were you ever aware of the fact that they were basically in receivership with BOA (Bank of America) at the time they were bidding? Were you ever informed of that? Were you ever told that, as a matter of fact, their line of credit had been restricted by Bank of America to the extend they could not spend money unless they got prior approval from BOA? Did Mr. Carroll and Mr. Ahmed ever tell you about the troubles, the clear financial troubles that the company was having at the time they were trying to get this money from this bid?

“Should that have been disclosed to DHH?” Wilson asked.

“That’s a good question,” replied Greenstein.

Further into Greenstein’s testimony, he was asked if he was told to resign or be fired.

“I was told to resign,” he said.

“Were you specifically told by the administration officials that you had lied to them?”

“No.”

“They just said, ‘Get out’?”

“Actually, it was Paul Rainwater—when he was in the Chief of Staff’s office.

“And did Paul ever say, ‘Bruce, you lied to us’?”

“No.”

“You are sure about that?”

“I don’t remember it.”

“You tried not to tell the Senate that CNSI had won (the contract),” Wilson said. “You didn’t tell the Senate about communications with CNSI regarding Addendum No. 2. You didn’t tell the Senate about hundreds of communications with Carroll. You did not tell DHH and DOA officials about communications with Carroll after they asked you if there was anything else, although you say you don’t recall that meeting.”

At one point in the questioning, this time from Assistant Attorney General David Caldwell, it appeared there would be a link established between the events surrounding the contract and Gov. Bobby Jindal’s office, but the line of questioning ended almost as abruptly as it started.

Referencing the date of Jan. 10, 2011, Caldwell said, “I see some calls from Bruce Greenstein’s work cell back and forth between you and Timmy Teepell. What did Timmy have to do with…was he was with Division of Administration or the governor’s office at that time?”

“At that time I think he was with the Chief of Staff for the governor,” Greenstein said. [Teepell never worked for DOA].

“Do you recall what he was talking to you about?” Caldwell asked.\

“I have no idea,” replied Greenstein.

“Was he talking to you about that amendment [Addendum No. 2] of this particular contract?”

“Probably not.”

“What involvement did Mr. Teepell have in this process? What information did he have about the DHH contracts? Because I think that maybe even Mr. Ahmad said in the paper that he had gone over to the governor’s mansion to talk to him, right? I’m just trying to get a sense as to how much involvement people within the governor’s office might have had.”

Caldwell also singled out a series of communications between Greenstein and Alton Ashy, who was the lobbyist for CNSI. “Was he trying to push this amendment for CNSI, this Addendum No. 2?”

“Yeah, I mean, he should have been… but he had a lot of other business at DHH as well.”

Caldwell later noted that Greenstein at one point had asked DHH Chief of Staff Calder Lynch specific questions about Ashy, saying, “A company I know wants to hire him” and that Lynch had responded, “Not that it’s terribly helpful or relevant, but we can speak offline.” Offline could, for example, mean speaking by phone rather than leaving a paper trail of emails.

“How did you come to get involved with recommending a lobbyist on CNSI’s behalf? I don’t understand how all that went down.”

Caldwell also grilled Greenstein on his intervention on behalf of CNSI when it became apparent that CNSI was unable to make good on its required bond for the contract. “Did you have discussion with (DHH executive Counsel) Steve Russo in which it was discussed whether you could wait until the contract was signed to call for the bond to be posted?”

“I don’t remember a conversation like that.”

Greenstein and Caldwell sparred over the refusal to allow Greenstein to communicate with Russo after the investigation was initiated. “DHH wouldn’t allow me to talk with my own attorney,” Greenstein complained.

“Is he your personal lawyer?” Caldwell asked.

“He represented the secretary in many proceedings…he reiterated many, many times…that he was my attorney and we have attorney-client privilege.”

“Let me explain to you why he doesn’t want to talk to you,” Caldwell said. “There’s all these things in your deposition where you have said that people said something or they didn’t say something—and I will tell you right now, it is directly contradicted by what those people have said. [Caldwell hinted at but never actually said that Russo was—and is—paid by the State of Louisiana and represents DHH but not any DHH personnel once they come under investigation for or charged by the state with wrongdoing].

Later, Caldwell brought up boasts by CNSI officials that they had political influence with Greenstein’s office. “Are you aware that they constantly threw it around that they had influence on the ninth floor and this is how they were going to get the contract?”

“No,” Greenstein replied.

Even though Greenstein maintained that he pushed for Addendum No. 2 as a means of opening up the bidding process to more vendors in the hopes of obtaining the best deal possible for the state, Caldwell noted that when another bidder, ACS, requested an extension of the proposal deadline, “Bruce said no,” according to an internal DHH email.

After the attorneys took their shots, individual members of the grand jury had their turn at asking questions of Greenstein and the mood of the grand jury was best summed up by one member near the close of testimony who said:

“Sir, I just have two questions. How are you being transparent when you can’t recall anything and secondly, when you sit down with your children and you explain your part in Louisiana history, what will you tell them?”

For those with lots of time on your hands, here is a link to the full transcript of the grand jury testimony: http://www.auctioneer-la.org/Bruce_Greenstein_Grand_Jury_Testimony.pdf

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