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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the way he explains it:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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JINDAL PRAYER BREAKFAST(CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE)

You’ve got to hand it to Gov. Bobby Jindal. If he ever knew when to shut up, he’s doing a dandy job of concealing that knowledge.

Team Jindal is an e-mail blast by an outfit calling itself Friends of Bobby Jindal providing those of us lucky enough to be on the mailing list a timely update on the governor’s travels, TV appearances, and op-ed writings. We’re not altogether certain how we managed to get on the mailing list but we’re glad we did.

Before we go any further, let the record show that there is no Google link to any such organization but there is a link at the bottom of the e-mail to this web page: www.bobbyjindal.com. It even has a prominent “Donate” button at the top of the page, just to right of the imposing—and more than a little official-looking—“Bobby Jindal Governor” banner.

As we said in an earlier post, we’re not sure why he needs donations given the fact that he is term limited and cannot run for governor for another five years and he remains an unannounced candidate for the Republican presidential nomination (though few doubt that is his intent).

But we digress.

Whoever sends out these e-mails does a much better job of keeping current than the person responsible for the web page. The e-mails come at least on a weekly basis while the last blog posting on www.bobbyjindal.com was on Aug 22 of this year. Given that, you’re just going to have to take our word for what we are about to quote Jindal on in the latest e-mail release.

Along with stories about Jindal’s most recent appearances on Fox News, there was a story about the governor’s welcoming Education Secretary Arne Duncan to New Orleans, a video of him promoting his upcoming prayer rally at the Pete Maravich Arena on the LSU campus, an announcement of a new plant to be built in Cameron Parish, a release about his executive order to better protect sexual assault victims, his participation in the opening of a new section of the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, and this quote from Jindal calling the CIA Report a partisan attempt to attack the record of President George W. Bush:

  • “It is clear that the Democrats wrote and released this report in an attempt to once again attack President Bush. I remain very proud to have worked for him, and proud that he kept America safe in the aftermath of 9/11. This report is one-sided and partisan. The Left hates the former President, they always have, and now, six years after he left office they are still campaigning against him. The undeniable truth of the matter is this – President Bush kept America safe after 9/11 from terrorists that wanted to kill us. This is simply a fact. President Bush is a good man and I am honored to have served in his Administration.”

Naturally, we were curious as to how the governor of Louisiana, who admittedly was smart enough to be a Rhodes Scholar but who has never served in the military, could be so knowledgeable about the methods employed to extract military intelligence from detainees.

So, fueled by that curiosity and lucky enough to catch Jindal in Baton Rouge between trips to Iowa, New Hampshire and the Fox News studios, we requested—and got—an interview with him. And anyone who knows of his reluctance to grant interviews to local media has to know what a journalistic coup that was.

We wanted to know his position on other controversial issues involving Republican presidents and he graciously agreed. Without bothering to go into lengthy explanations of our questions, we instead will simply list the name of the president (or other individual) and the issue most closely associated with him (in bold), followed by the governor’s take on that topic (in italics).

Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation:

  • “Look, as much as everyone seems to think of Lincoln, he was really overrated as a president. Two things: First, he got us into an ugly war that produced more casualties than any other war in our history, a war that took years for us to recover from. He had Gen. Sherman burn Atlanta to the ground and what did Atlanta ever do to the country besides to give us Tara, Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara? Second, he freed the slaves who already had good homes and were taken care of by their kindly masters. That was just another example of federal overreach. Look, Phil Robertson said it best when he said a year ago, and I’m quoting now: ‘I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person, not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field…. They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word! Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.’ Now that’s Phil Robertson speaking, not Bobby Jindal, and we know how smart Phil is…” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/19/phil-robertson-black-people_n_4473474.html

Theodore Roosevelt and trust busting:            

  • “I just want to say this: Theodore Roosevelt was a RINO—a Republican in Name Only. He was the Democrats’ best friend. Make no mistake, he was a Roosevelt and a cousin to that other Roosevelt. And let me say this: Theodore Roosevelt was the true father of the welfare state. He is personally liable for the ill effects of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. He had the audacity to try and browbeat a great American, J. P. Morgan, and even told Mr. Morgan right there in the Oval Office that any interest of his that had done anything wrong was in danger of being prosecuted. How can capitalism and American Exceptionalism function with that kind of pressure? http://www.ushistory.org/us/43b.asp 
  • And if you thought Roosevelt stopped there, you would be wrong. He had the taste of runaway power that only Washington can administer. He made Washington the nanny state for meat inspections just because a few pounds of bad hamburger meat made it to market. I say if you don’t like tainted meat, don’t eat it. That’s the American way.”

Warren G. Harding and the Teapot Dome scandal:

 Herbert Hoover and the Great Depression:

  • “Two things you have to understand: The Great Depression was unfortunate but those are the breaks. Stuff happens. And those displaced homeowners living in those Hoovervilles? What would you expect the President to do? Give them a handout and make them even more dependent on government? No! You have to make people self-reliant, instill pride in their determination to rise above their circumstances. There were New York stockbrokers to worry about; they’re the ones who make the country go. And while the situation with the Okies was certainly dire, the President must first concern himself with the captains of industry.” https://www.google.com/search?q=hoovervilles&hl=en&biw=1280&bih=607&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=WD-OVNwMw_OgBIfSgvAJ&sqi=2&ved=0CDYQsAQ

Sen. Joe McCarthy:

  • The liberal media killed him. He was a great American who had the commies in the State Department running scared until they framed him with that Edward R. Murrow interview.

Richard Nixon and Watergate:

  • “Two words: national security. Pentagon Papers. Nixon was a patriot. He was a member of the House Un-American Activities Committee and brought down Alger Hiss.”

Republican deregulation agenda:

  • “The Dodd-Frank bill was a disaster. When you tie the hands of Wall Street, you tie the hands of the American economy. What could be more un-patriotic? The financial collapse of 2008 was all Obama’s fault; everyone knew he was running for the Democratic nomination and it caused a panic. Wall Street needs to be encouraged, not hog-tied. Wall Street is a microcosm of American capitalism. Where else can a CEO make $300 million a year and retire with a $200 million cash-out of his stock options and still draw $100 million a year. That’s the American dream.
  • Look, if it’s good for the Koch brothers, it’s got to be good for America. Why do you think they have invested so much of their personal fortunes into getting the right people elected? It’s because deep down, they care. Like former director of the Office of Management and Budget Gary Bass, I look at the current trend toward Republican control of Congress and the move toward deregulation and rollbacks of stifling regulation as the Contract with America on steroids. And that’s a good thing.

 President Obama’s energy policy:

Climate change:

(The last two quotes regarding Obama’s energy policy and climate change are verbatim utterances by Jindal—grammar, syntax and all.)

Thank you for your time, Governor.

“Any time. Well, not anytime…unless you’re Fox News.”

(Disclaimer: Although some quotes in this attempt at satire are accurately attributed, the actual interview never occurred and is not to be taken seriously. Do not read this while operating heavy machinery. May cause nausea, weak knees, enlarged ego, skin rash, or dizziness. Other possible side effects include rickets, diarrhea, constipation, blurred vision, temporary anger, swollen tongue, sudden increase or decrease in a desire for real news or unexpected or unusual stimulation of previously suppressed sense of humor. If you are up laughing more than four hours, consult a doctor. If you believed this was a real interview, see a shrink.)       

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Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden has formally announced his candidacy for lieutenant governor to succeed Jay Darden in next fall’s election. And even though the field for the state’s second highest office is starting to get a little crowded, it’s expected to attract little attention.

That’s because all eyes will be focused on the battle to succeed Bobby Jindal as governor. Already, we have Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, U.S. Sen. David Vitter, and State Sen. John Bel Edwards vying for the state’s top job with more anticipated between now and next year’s qualifying.

Whoever your favorite candidate for governor, you may wish to reconsider wishing the job on him. In sports, there is a saying that no one wants to be the man who follows the legend. Instead, the preference would be to be the man who follows the man who followed the legend.

No one, for example, could ever have stepped in as Bear Bryant’s immediate successor at the University of Alabama and succeeded. That person was former Alabama receiver Ray Perkins who in his four years, won 32 games, lost 15 and tied one. He was followed by Bill Curry who went 26-10 in his three years. Gene Stallings was next and posted a 62-25 record that included a national championship over seven years before he retired.

Then came in rapid succession five coaches over the next nine years who combined to record a composite losing record of 51-55 before Nick Saban came along in 2007 to pull the program from the ashes.

No one in his right mind should wish to follow Jindal. It is not because of Jindal’s success as governor; just the opposite. When he walks out of the Governor’s Mansion for the final time, Jindal will leave this state in such a financial and functional mess that no one can succeed in righting the ship in a single term—and that may be all the patience Louisiana’s citizens will have for the new governor. Bottom line, voters are weary of seven years of budget cuts and depleted services. Ask anyone waiting and DMV to renew their driver’s license.

The electorate, at least those who pay attention to what’s going on, are bone tired of a governor who is never in the state but instead is flitting all over the country trying to pad his curriculum vitae for a run at the Republican nomination for president.

They are jaded at the hypocrisy of a first-term Gov. Jindal who kept popping up in Protestant churches (he’s Catholic) to pander the Baptists, Methodists and Pentecostals when he was facing re-election compared to a second-term and term-limited Gov. Jindal who has not shown his face in a single Protestant church anywhere in the state.

Some, though admittedly not all, are unhappy with the manner in which he has consistently rejected federal Medicaid expansion and $80 million in federal grants for broadband internet and $300 million for a high-speed rail line between Baton Rouge and New Orleans—money state taxpayers have already paid into the system and now have to chance to recoup that money. (It’s sort of like refusing your federal tax refund because you feel it’s not free money. Well, no, it’s not free money but it is money you’ve already paid it in and now you have a chance to get some of it back.)

And there are those who are not at all pleased with the salaries paid Jindal appointees (not to mention raises they’ve received while rank and file employees have gone five years without raises). The administration has been free and loose with salaries paid top unclassified employees in every state agency, from Division of Administration on down. Those salaries are a huge drain on the state retirement systems. That’s one of the reasons there was so much controversy over Jindal’s attempted backdoor amendment to an obscure Senate bill that would have given State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson an annual retirement increase of $55,000—more than many full time state employees make.

With that in mind, we have what we feel would be a meaningful proposal for some enterprising gubernatorial candidate. It’s an idea that we feel has considerable merit and one we feel would resonate with voters.

With the state facing a billion-dollar shortfall for next year, the suggestion is more symbolic that a real fix, but what if a candidate would pledge publicly that he would draw on the pool of retired educators and executives for his cabinet? And what if he purposely avoid appointing anyone with political ambitions such as Angelle, who went from Secretary of Natural Resources to Public Service Commission and who is now an announced candidate for governor?

If a candidate said he could immediately save the state in excess of $2 million a year by hiring retired executives to head state agencies at salaries of $1 per year each, that would strike a chord with every registered voter in the state—or it should.

If a candidate would say, “I will not appoint any member of my cabinet who is dependent upon the position for his living, nor will I appoint any member who has aspirations of public office for himself,” what a refreshing breath of air that would be, vastly different from the standard hot air rhetoric of the typical political campaign.

Where would he find these types of people willing to give of their time? That would be for the candidate himself to recruit but James Bernhard would be a good start. Bernhard certainly has the experience, having founded and built up the Shaw Group to the point that he was able to sell the company for $3 billion while selling off some of his personal company stock for another $45 million.

That spells success by every definition of the word. And Bernhard certainly would have no need for a salary. He would be a logical choice for Commissioner of Administration.

And then there is his father-in-law, retired Louisiana Tech University President Dan Reneau. What better choice could a governor have for Commissioner of Higher Education?

There are scores of others, from retired doctors and hospital administrators, to retired military personnel like Gen. Russel Honoré to head up the Department of Veterans Affairs to retired federal and state law enforcement personnel to retired scientists and educators, and the list goes on and on.

This would by no means be a guaranteed ticket to success for Jindal’s successor; there is just too much mess he will be leaving behind.

But it would be a huge psychological advantage for anyone wishing to take on that unenviable job of being the one to follow Jindal.

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If you think Gov. Bobby Jindal has bankrupted this state with his squirrely economic policies, you need to read this.

If you are the least bit concerned about his decimation of higher education, you need to read this.

If his repetitive patchwork budgets and annual budget cuts alarm you, you need to read this.

If it bothers you that he has given away state hospitals, raided the reserves of the health plan for public employees and attempted to slash state employees’ retirement benefits while secretly having legislation introduced to augment the retirement of the state police commander by some $55,000 a year, you definitely need to read this.

If you believe he should have stayed at home to tend to the state’s business instead of gallivanting off to Iowa and New Hampshire in pursuit of a Republican presidential nomination, then by all means, you should read this.

In short, if you believe he has been a major disappointment in administering the affairs of a single state—Louisiana—you need to examine his grandiose plans for America, his plans to do to the nation what he has done to our state. You owe that much to yourselves and your children.

You see, an outfit called Friends of Bobby Jindal has a web blog of its own which, of course, is certainly their right. But curiously, in addition to touting the latest pronouncements, op-ed pieces written by Jindal and his appearances on Fox News, the page has a “DONATE” button that allows supporters to contribute to Jindal’s political campaign.

Jindal Weekly Update

But wait. What’s he running for? He is term-limited and cannot run for re-election as governor next year and he has steadfastly refused to divulge whether or he plans to run for President (though there are few who doubt it; his family members were discussing openly during his first inauguration in 2008).

We don’t know how we got on the mailing list, but we’re certainly glad we did. Otherwise, how else could we keep up with the activities of a man on the run like Bobby Jindal?

On the latest mail-out, a “quick recap of the news about the governor’s week,” we have stories about:

  • The First Lady’s travels to Eunice to promote the Supriya Jindal Foundation;
  • Gov. Jindal’s announcement of the expansion of Oxlean Manufacturing in Livingston Parish;
  • Louisiana’s joining other states in suing President Obama over his immigration order;
  • An op-ed piece by (yawn) Jindal criticizing Obama and calling for a repeal of Obamacare;
  • Jindal’s appearance on (yawn again) Fox News where he criticized Obama for trying to redefine the American Dream;
  • Another op-ed criticizing Obama for the president’s apparent failure to believe in American exceptionalism;
  • Jindal’s speech at a foreign policy form in Washington, D.C. in which he called for increased military spending.

It was that last one (actually first on the Friends web blog because we listed them in reverse order) that caught our attention. http://freebeacon.com/national-security/2016-gop-hopefuls-call-for-boost-in-defense-spending/

Our first reaction was: What the hell is he thinking, commenting on foreign policy and military spending when he can’t even balance the budget of a single state? But then we remembered it was Jindal and typically, he panders to the fringe element that adheres to the concept that we are the world’s policeman and that we must impose our will on others despite their resentment of our failure to respect their traditions and cultures. And we’re not just talking about Islam here. Remember Vietnam? For that matter, go back and familiarize yourself with how we took land north of the Rio Grande from Mexico. And to the American Indians (Native Americans, we one insists on political correctness), we are the original illegal immigrants.

Okay, we got off-track and started talking about his American exceptionalism op-ed and while the two issues are interlinked, let’s get back to his advocacy of increased military spending.

First and foremost, it is important to know that America already spends more on defense than the rest of the world combined. President George W. Bush’s defense spending, for example, eclipsed that of the Cold War.

Historian Paul Kennedy, in his book The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, noted that powerful nations have an unsettling habit throughout history of becoming the leading economic and leading military power and then “overreaching with their military ambitions while their economies sputter past their prime.”

Kennedy said that even as the economic strengths are on the decline, growing foreign challenges force greater and greater military expenditures at the sacrifice of productive investment which he said leads to the “downward spiral of slower growth, heavier taxes, deepening domestic splits over spending priorities and a weakening capacity to bear the burdens of defense.”

He said the U.S. currently runs the risk of “imperial overstretch where our global interests and obligations are larger than our ability to defend them all simultaneously.

Kennedy wrote that back in 1987 but during her run for the Democratic nomination in 2008, Hillary Clinton, like her or not, said if $1 trillion spent in Iraq had been applied instead to domestic programs, it would:

  • Provide healthcare for all 47 million uninsured Americans;
  • Provide quality pre-kindergarten for every American child;
  • Solve the housing crisis once and for all;
  • Make college affordable for every American student, and
  • Provide tax relief to tens of millions of middle-class families.

A classic example of our failure to heed the warning of President Dwight Eisenhower when he warned of the importance of resisting the influence of the “military-industrial complex” is the tar baby this country is stuck to in the Mideast.

Ike warned the country during his farewell address of Jan. 17, 1961, when he said, “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.”

http://coursesa.matrix.msu.edu/~hst306/documents/indust.html

Back during the elder Bush’s administration, it was the defense of Kuwait against Saddam Hussein and Iraq—way back in 1991. That’s a quarter-century ago. Later, with Bush II, it was Saddam Hussein and WMD that have yet to be found. No sooner did W announce “Mission accomplished,” than we found ourselves in a conflict that, believe it or not, has now lasted longer than the Vietnam War—with no end in sight. That war has expanded into Afghanistan and now Iran with an invisible enemy called the Islamic State (IS) whom we cannot find, let alone fight.

And how much have those skirmishes cost this country? Click on this link to find out.

http://costsofwar.org/article/economic-cost-summary

That $4.4 trillion includes not only the immediate $1.7 trillion cost of America’s Mideast policy, but the interest on loans to finance the war, the cost of support bases elsewhere in the world, homeland security, nation building (building infrastructure on the war-torn countries while neglecting our own infrastructure), retirement, disability and medical benefits for war veterans, etc., costs our grandchildren will be paying off after we are long gone.

And just how do we pay for these wars in Vietnam, Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan? World War II was financed by raising taxes or selling war bonds. Not so these modern wars, beginning with Lyndon Johnson and Vietnam; they’re financed almost entirely by borrowing which has raised the U.S. budget deficit (something of which Jindal should have a working knowledge), increased the national debt. The interest alone on Pentagon spending from 2001 through 2013 is approximately $316 billion.

To put expenditures in better perspective, consider that American taxpayers are paying:

  • $312,500 every hour for military action against ISIS (total thus far almost $1.4 billion);
  • $10.17 million per hour for the cost of the war in Afghanistan (nearly $800 million to date);
  • $365,000 per hour for the cost of the war in Iraq ($818 billion so far);
  • $10.54 million per hour for the total cost of wars since 2001 ($1.6 trillion);
  • $58 million per hour for the Department of Defense ($602.7 billion budget);
  • $861,000 per hour for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter ($9 billion);
  • $2.12 million per hour for our nuclear weapon arsenal ($22 billion);
  • $37,000 each hour for Tomahawk Cruise Missiles ($385 million);
  • $1.33 million every hour for foreign military assistance ($13.8 billion to date);
  • $8.43 million per hour for Homeland Security ($804.5 billion since 9/11);

By comparison, here are some hourly expenditures by U.S. taxpayers for other services in 2014 (with the year-to-date expenditures in parenthesis):

  • $7.81 million for education ($81.14 billion, and don’t forget, Rick Perry wanted to abolish the Dept. of Education);
  • $3.04 million on the environment ($31.6 billion–ditto Perry on the EPA);
  • $2.71 million on foreign aid ($28.2 billion);
  • $4.9 million on housing assistance ($50.8 billion);
  • $36.91 million for Medicaid and CHIP ($383.6 billion);
  • $13.3 million for nutrition assistance ($138.1 billion).

https://www.nationalpriorities.org/cost-of/

And Gov. Jindal would have the U.S. commit even more money to the Pentagon, according to a grizzled old reporter a whole year out of college (University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill).

Daniel Wiser, writing for something called the Washington Free Beacon (a sister publication to the Hooterville World Guardian of the TV series Green Acres, no doubt), placed Jindal squarely in the same camp as gunslingers John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a couple of veteran Senate saber rattlers.

Wiser said that Jindal released a paper in October calling for allocating 4 percent of the nation’s GDP to defense spending.

Jindal said the U.S. is “in the process of hollowing out our military,” the article said. Jindal added that “The best way for America to lead… is for America to rebuild our tools of hard power.”

It would be bad enough if an otherwise comparatively level-headed candidate like Rick Perry or Rand Paul (everything, after all, is relative) were elected, but if Jindal had a prayer of becoming president, this would be some horrifyingly scary stuff.

The good news is we don’t have to worry about that. Perry or Paul, on the other hand…

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The Congressional elections are finally over and political junkies will have to wait several more months before the 2015 gubernatorial campaigns kick into high gear. With four candidates already announced and millions of out-of-state dollars looming to stoke the flames, there are sure to be plenty of fireworks to grate on our collective psyches by the time a successor to Gov. Bobby Jindal is chosen.

But for those who can’t wait that long, New Orleans author Steven Wells Hicks may have the appetizer as a prelude to the entrée of hard-nosed, in the gutter, take no prisoners Louisiana politics to which we have become accustomed.

Destiny’s Anvil (Pan American Copyright Conventions, 283 pages) is a rich mix of ambition, corruption, old money, oil and payback that keeps the action moving right through the final page.

The book’s title is drawn from a quote by German writer and statesman Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: “You must either conquer and rule or suffer and lose, be the anvil or the hammer.”

The story revolves around brothers Tucker and Carter Callahan and their boyhood friend Will Guidry, the sitting Louisiana attorney general who has the single-minded obsession of reaching one objective: the office of the governor of Louisiana. Guidry doesn’t let lifelong friendships stand in the way of his stated goal and everyone around him pays a hefty price for his political drive.

Carter is the protagonist through whom the story is told with skill and directness that lays bare the back room machinations of Bayou State politics.

Tucker is a political strategist who gets Will elected first as district attorney of Charbonnaux Parish and later as attorney general. Carter, meanwhile, stays home in New Acadia and takes over the family’s thriving oil exploration business.

And what story about genteel southern living would be complete without the obligatory love triangle? This one manifests itself in the person of Katherine Ormande (Kayo) Laborde who early on was in love with Carter but by the time we meet her, she is married to brother Tuck. But it is her deep-seeded and understandable hatred of Guidry that fuels this story.

All four are reared in Charbonnaux Parish and the political and legal conflicts that arise between Will and the brothers provides a sordid—and believable—backdrop into the free-for-all that has come to symbolize Louisiana politics right down to the inclusion of pigs in TV political ads (The pigs, by the way, will evoke memories among the older set of Earl Long once claiming that opponent Sam Jones fell into a mud puddle occupied by pigs. A passerby observed that one’s character could be judged by the company he keeps. “The pigs got up and left,” was Long’s zinger to the story.)

Hicks confuses the story somewhat by mixing real places like Shreveport and Baton Rouge with fictional localities such as Charbonnaux Parish and New Acadia but if you can get by that small inconsistency (and it’s easy to do), the book is an enjoyable read for those familiar with the uniqueness of Louisiana politics which at times passes for a contact sport which other states seem to be trying to imitate but are unable to quite duplicate.

As the story unfolds, events begin to spin out of control and the twists in the plot will transport the characters to the surprise ending in rapid fire fashion while leaving the reader wanting more.

There is one slight inaccuracy that can be attributed to a simple memory lapse or even a typo and is certainly forgivable.

On page 59, the political kingmakers of Louisiana are discussing the attributes of a candidate to whom they will lend their not insignificant support. Discussing the merits of a fictional senator from Louisiana, he is compared other powerful U.S. senators. “He was indeed a senator’s senator,” said J.X., “and a Southern gentleman to boot. Like John Stennis, Lyndon Johnson, and even our own Earl Long.”

Earl Long was never a U.S. Senator; he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1960 but died 10 days after the election and never took office. Hicks, of course, may have intended his reference to Earl’s brother, Huey Long, who did serve in the U.S. Senate until his assassination in Baton Rouge or more likely to Huey’s son Russell who served 39 years in the Senate. “I don’t know how I managed to make a mistake like that,” Hicks said when contacted about the error. “I certainly knew better.”

But he more than made up for that gaffe with a most profound sentence that should (but sadly, does not) sum up what should be the required mantra of all who hold political office:

“The responsibility for building and maintaining our way of open and honest government belongs in the hands of those who elected our leaders and not the leaders themselves.”

That one sentence speaks volumes about how our political structure should function but sadly, does not and the ethical code to which it should strive.

And it, in and of itself, makes the book well worth the read.

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“Bill Cassidy, Garrett Graves, Bobby Jindal, John Fleming, Mitch McConnell, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Rick Perry want the government out of our lives. So the next time someone is trying to break into your home, or your house is on fire, or you want that pothole on your street fixed, or there is a break in the water or sewer line….call a Republican.”

—Our friend and loyal reader John Sachs of Ruston, commenting on the groundswell of Republican rhetoric to get the government out of the lives of Americans.

“But if they all want government out of our lives so badly, why do they spend so much time, effort and money in desperate attempts to remain in government themselves? And if they succeed in taking government out of our lives, who will protect our borders from the hordes of illegal immigrants they so fear are overrunning our country?”

—Our exasperated response as we near the end of a grueling campaign for the U.S. Senate that has served only to antagonize and repulse the voters of this state. 

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