Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Taxes’ Category

Pulitzer Prize winning author Hedrick Smith’s best-selling book Who Stole the American Dream? is a real eye-opener for anyone who still believes our elected officials in Washington are the watchdogs of democracy and are ever-vigilant in protecting the interests of their constituents (that would be you and me).

Smith is not the only one who has tried to warn us of the unholy alliance between Wall Street, large corporations, lobbyists and members of Congress. Charles Derber’s Corporation Nation, says one critic, “is the single best explanation of how big corporations have usurped the power of ordinary citizens…”

David Cay Johnston, another Pulitzer winner, has three books (Free Lunch, Perfectly Legal and The Fine Print) that illustrate how complicated tax laws and federal regulations favor the very rich by transferring the tax burden and other costs to the fast disappearing middle class.

For our purposes here, however, we shall limit the discussion to Smith and his book by highlighting some of the book’s timeline:

  • 1950—Top CEO salary in America: GM chairman Charlie Wilson is paid $663,000, roughly  $5  million  in  today’s  dollars,  and  about  40  times the annual wage of his average assembly line worker. Corporate ethic frowned on CEOs taking stock grants as unfair “competitive avarice.” Economists call this period “The Great Compression because the income gap between the rich and the middle class is at its narrowest in the twentieth century.
  • November 1967—Pat  O’Neill, at nineteen, starts a thirty-five-year career with United Airlines  as  a  jet  airline  mechanic,  working  the  overnight  “graveyard  shift”  at Chicago’s   O’Hare  field. He works his way up to chief mechanic, making $60,000 a year, leading a crew that does repairs and safety checks so that planes are ready to be airborne by dawn.
  • August 1971—Corporate attorney Lewis Powell sparks a political rebellion with his call to arms for Corporate America. Circulated by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Powell’s   memo warns that anti-business attitudes and government regulation are threatening to “fatally weaken or destroy” the American free enterprise system. Powell declares that business must arm itself politically, battle organized labor and consumer activists, and mount a long-term campaign to change the balance of power and policy trends in Washington. Later that same year, President Nixon appointed Powell to the U.S. Supreme Court.
  • 1971–1972—The CEOs  of  America’s  biggest  corporations, responding to Powell’s  memo, organize the Business Roundtable, which becomes the most potent political lobbying arm of Corporate America. The National Association of Manufacturers moves its headquarters to Washington. In one decade the U.S. Chamber of Commerce doubles its membership and the National Federation of Independent Businesses (small business) grows from 300 to 600,000 members.
  • 1973—The productivity of U.S. workers rises 96 percent since 1945, and average hourly compensation rises in tandem—94 percent from 1945 to 1973. Average Americans share in the nation’s prosperity.  In the next three decades, from 1973 to 2011, worker productivity rises another 80 percent but hourly compensation rises only 10 percent. Ordinary Americans are cut out of their share of the nation’s economic gains.
  • October 1976—Inspired by their mentor, free market economist Milton Friedman, business school professors Michael Jensen and William Meckling propose in an academic study that CEOs be given stock options to align their interests with those of stockholders. Corporate boards, seeing an advantage because options are not charged as a company expense, adopt this “pay for performance” idea, and by 1980, 30 percent of CEOs are receiving stock option grants.
  • Late 1970s—Business mobilizes politically. The number of companies with Washington lobbying offices grows from 175 in 1971 to 2,445 a decade later. Along with 2,000 different trade associations, businesses have a combined Washington staff of 50,000, plus 9,000 lobbyists and 8,000 public relations specialists. Business lobbyists and advocates now outnumber members of Congress by 130 to 1.
  • 1980—Congress passes a deregulatory bill that overrules state usury laws and effectively abolishes limits on interest rates for first mortgages, paving the way for the future subprime mortgage boom.
  • 1994—The CEO stock option boom takes off. 70 percent of CEOs now receive stock option grants and by 2000, grants of millions of stock options become the norm, hugely increasing CEO pay. Corporate executives overtake the inherited rich as the biggest portion of the nation’s richest 1 percent.
  • 2001–2003—The Federal Reserve, led by Chairman Alan Greenspan, cuts interest rates 11 times from 6.5 percent to 1 percent, providing cheap money to fuel a housing boom and revive the U.S. economy. Home prices rise so fast that Americans borrow $700 billion a year from their home equity. Despite warnings about the dangers of rising personal  debt,  Greenspan  hails  home  owners’  “equity  extraction”  as  the  engine  for consumer demand and economic growth.
  • 2003—Airline  mechanic  Pat  O’Neill  retires from United Airlines after 35 years on the job, but when United Airlines declares bankruptcy, his lifetime pension is drastically cut, and his employee stock option plan collapses. His 401(k) suffers from a sharp stock market decline and he is forced to take another job. To rebuild financially, O’Neill is still working today, and he expects never to retire.
  • 2005–2006—More than half of the people to whom banks sell subprime mortgage loans, at high interest rates with heavy fees, are actually solid mainstream middle-class borrowers who qualified for—and should have been sold—prime loans.
  • 2006—Oracle CEO Larry Ellision, with $706.1 million in pay and stock in 2001, tops a Wall Street Journal compilation of the biggest CEO pay packages from 1995 to 2005. Close behind are Michael Eisner of Disney, with payouts of $575.6 million in 1999 and $203 million in 1993; and Sandy Weill of Citigroup, with pay of $621.8 million in three big years between 1997 and 2000.
  • July 4, 2007—Hundreds  of  workers  at  Sunbeam Razor’s  profitable plant in McMinnville, Tennessee, are laid off and ordered to train their replacements in a factory in Mexico, in a firing ordered by Sunbeam CEO Al Dunlap. Dunlap has makes a personal fortune as a serial downsizer of businesses. Jack Wahl, owner of Sunbeam competitor Wahl Clipper Corporation, criticizes the Sunbeam layoffs as shortsighted and “extremely wasteful,” and says his company runs profitably with U.S. workers.
  • 2007—The richest 1 percent take a near-record 23 percent of the personal incomes paid to all Americans, earning a combined $1.35 trillion a year, which is more than the entire economies of Canada, Italy, or France.
  • 2007—Among economic sectors, corporate profits see their share of national income rise during the Bush years to the highest level since 1943, while the share of national income going to employee salaries and wages sinks to its lowest level since 1929.
  • 2008—In a Cornell University survey, 57 percent of people say they have never benefited from any government program or policy. But questioned in more detail, it turns out that 94 percent have actually benefited from at least one program. The average person has used four government programs.
  • 2009—After a taxpayer bailout, big Wall Street banks rebuff President Obama’s appeal to “hire American.” They continue offshore hiring and domestic layoffs. In the 2000s, the Hackett Group reports, 3.9 million jobs in finance, IT, human resources, and back-office functions have been lost in North America and Europe. In 2011, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Citigroup sign new contracts to offshore $5 billion worth of ITJ and back-office work to Indian firms.
  • 2010—Wall Street financial firms hire 1,447 former government officials as lobbyists to fight new banking regulation legislation, attempting to eliminate or water down provisions for strict regulations. After the bill passes, Wall Street bankers and lobbyists continue the battle to delay or weaken new regulations.
  • 2010—In the Congressional elections of 2010, business interests outspend labor $1.3 billion to $79 million, a 16-to-1 advantage for business. In soft-money contributions to political parties, rather than donations made directly to candidates through political action committees, the business advantage is 97-to-1 ($972 million for business to $10 million for labor).
  • 2010—Thirty-three of 60 new Tea Party members elected to the House are millionaires. Tea Party members have an average net worth of $1.8 million. Overall, 261 of the 535 senators and House representatives are millionaires—49 percent compared to 1 percent among the public at large. http://hedricksmith.com/timeline-who-stole-the-american-dream/

The CEOs of the top corporations in the U.S. made, on average, 331 times the wages of the average rank-and-file U.S. worker in 2013, compared to that 4:1 ratio reported in 1950. The CEO-to-minimum-wage-worker pay ratio was 774:1. http://www.aflcio.org/Corporate-Watch/Paywatch-2014

Between 1978 and 2013, CEO compensation increased 937 percent.

The pay increase of non-supervisory workers during this same time period? 10.2 percent.  http://www.epi.org/publication/ceo-pay-continues-to-rise/

The breaks enjoyed by super rich at the expense of Joe the Plumber are such that even Warren Buffett, Chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway and one of the richest men in America, publicly acknowledged the disparity. Noting that his 2010 tax rate was lower than that paid by 20 of his employees.

“While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks,” he said. “My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress. It’s time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice.”

So, what has all this to do with the price of eggs?

Plenty.

The House this week defeated by a vote of 168-243 House Resolution 5 which would have barred tax deductions for executive pay packages in excess of $1 million unless the company raised worker pay by a percentage tied to its productivity.

We suppose the executives of Wal-Mart need all the help they can get. WAL-MART TAX BREAKS

So how did the Louisiana delegation vote?

Democratic Rep. Cedric Richmond (2nd District) was the only one of the six to vote in favor of the interests of workers over those of in the executive offices.

Voting “no” on the measure were newly elected Reps. Garrett Graves (6th District) and Ralph Abraham (5th District), as well as Steve Scalise (1st District), Charles Boustany (3rd District) and John Fleming (4th District).

We don’t feel that extending even more generous tax breaks for corporate executives to the detriment of those on whose backs they made their fortunes was in the best interest of Louisiana citizens who elected them to be their voices in Washington.

Read Full Post »

By Robert Burns

(Special to LouisianaVoice)

In the 10 years immediately prior to my December 31, 2012 retirement, I held a real estate brokerage license in Louisiana primarily because the only thing I auctioned in my auction career was real estate.  During that time, I took numerous real estate courses and one thing that was repeatedly emphasized regarding property taxes in Louisiana was that “Orleans Parish is a whole different animal.”

LouisianaVoice readers may recall that, prior to Hurricane Katrina, Orleans Parish was unique in that it had seven assessors, each overseeing a different taxing district in New Orleans.  Orleans Parish already receives its taxes one year in advance while all other parishes collect at the end of the year.  In other words, Orleans Parish is already living on borrowed time.  Many changes were advocated after Katrina, and one proposal was the consolidation of those tax assessors into one.  It required an amendment to Louisiana’s Constitution, which overwhelmingly passed on a statewide vote in November of 2006.

LouisianaVoice has learned that considerable frustration and consternation has ensued among many Orleans Parish taxpayers since Orleans Parish Assessor Erroll Williams became the first parish-wide solo assessor in Orleans Parish and was sworn into office in January of 2011.  Before addressing these taxpayer frustrations, however, a brief primer is necessary regarding property tax appeals in Orleans Parish.

Let’s begin with the hypothetical taxpayer who receives notice in the mail from Williams’ office that his property value has been reassessed to a value significantly higher than the taxpayer believes can be justified.  First, those reassessments in other parishes in Louisiana occur only every four (4) years as per Louisiana’s Constitution (the next year for reassessment is 2016); however, LouisianaVoice has learned that a significant number of taxpayers in Orleans Parish are receiving reassessments throughout the four-year timeframe.

One taxing official spoke with LouisianaVoice and relayed that Assessor Williams justifies the practice of annual reassessments by virtue of the fact Louisiana’s Constitution states such assessments shall take place “at least” every four years.  Some irate Orleans Parish taxpayers, however, have suggested that Assessor Williams is engaging in a practice called “sale chasing,” in which his office learns of a property that sells on a given street, and then he begins reassessments of other properties in the same vicinity immediately.

Taxpayers have the right to file an appeal of assessments. To use a judiciary analogy, let’s consider Assessor Williams the judge who rendered his ruling. Unhappy with the ruling, the litigant appeals. In the case of a legal case, it would be the appeals court who would hear the appeal. For an Orleans Parish property tax appeal, it is the New Orleans Board of Review that hears the appeal. Who is the New Orleans Board of Review? It’s the New Orleans City Council (NOCC). So, in the legal analogy, the NOCC is the appeals court.

This is where things become interesting. The NOCC is literally flooded with appeals of property tax notices every year; furthermore, the NOCC lacks the technical expertise to ascertain whether the taxpayer or Assessor Williams is correct in the asserted value. Accordingly, for years, the NOCC has contracted out with a firm named Hammerman and Gainer (HGI) to ascertain a valuation and see if an agreement can be reached between the taxpayer and Williams.  LouisianaVoice noted that, after obtaining sizable contracts post-Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy (likely due to political connections and contributions to the campaigns of Gov. Jindal and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christy), the New Jersey Sandy contract was cancelled six (6) months later due to substandard performance. http://louisianavoice.com/2014/12/31/louisianavoice-2014-year-in-review-part-dieu-it-just-gets-weirder-and-weirder-as-we-barrel-with-abandon-into-2015/

HGI subcontracts with licensed real estate appraisers to ascertain a valuation for the appellant. By subcontracting its work and not doing its own appraisals, HGI is adding a layer of cost to the process. Once HGI obtains a valuation from the appraiser, a mini-appeal hearing of sorts transpires with Williams, the taxpayer and HGI. It is unclear how many cases are resolved at this level, but what is known is that a substantial volume of cases winds up in the hands of the NOCC (serving as the first appeals court in our legal analogy) to resolve.

At an NOCC hearing, spreadsheets are distributed among council members, and they literally make an up-or-down vote on literally hundreds of these tax appeals after any individual recommendations are discussed regarding whether to go with HGI’s appraiser estimate or Williams’ valuation. LouisianaVoice has learned that, historically, the NOCC typically has sided with the HGI valuation from the appraiser rather than Williams’ valuation.

Once the decision is made, the NOCC is responsible for notifying both Assessor Williams and the taxpayer of its decision. The taxpayer is notified by certified mail, and NOCC has historically notified Williams via email (which Williams admits) with the entirety of its decisions from the meeting.

What is critical, however, is the timing of notification: By Louisiana Statute, both Williams and the taxpayer have 10 days from receiving notice to appeal the NOCC decision to the Louisiana Tax Commission (LTC) who, to carry our legal analogy a step further, serves as the Louisiana Supreme Court in that their decision typically constitutes the end of the matter.  However, if a taxpayer is still dissatisfied with the LTC’s decision, he can seek judicial review in a Louisiana District Court and simultaneously file a second lawsuit with the taxes being paid under protest.

Sources tell LouisianaVoice that, while taxpayers have been obtaining their certified mailings in a timely fashion, Williams’ notifications have consistently been delayed (one individual has stated the delays have been at Williams’ urging) until after the taxpayers’ 10-day appeal window has closed. Remember, the NOCC has historically tended to favor HGI’s (i.e. the appraiser’s number) which has been in the taxpayer’s favor and not Williams’ favor.  So, the taxpayer gets a warm and fuzzy feeling that everything is over and he can move on with his life because the 10-day window (from when he received notice) has passed.

Well, not exactly.

Sources tell LouisianaVoice that the fact that Williams’ notice has historically been delayed until after the taxpayer appeal period has lapsed has provided him with a “double-secret appeal” window, and he has exercised his appeal rights to the LTC.  The following table derived from stats provided by the LTC would seem to bear this out.

Property Tax Year LTC Appeals Filed by Orleans Parish Taxpayers LTC Appeals Filed by Assessor Williams Total LTC Appeals Filed for Orleans Parish Percentage of Appeals Filed by Assessor Williams
          2012    515    509    1,024   49.71%
          2013    175    421       596   70.64%

 

Now the taxpayer is notified of a third hearing (including the mini-hearing with HGI). This hearing is in Baton Rouge before the LTC.  Worse yet, the taxpayer who thought everything was okay suddenly finds that he is literally among hundreds of other taxpayers, all of whom have traveled to Baton Rouge to have their cases argued before members of the LTC which faces a crowded docket, thanks to Williams’ appealing so many Orleans Parish taxpayer assessments.

Worse yet, Williams reportedly sends no representative to the LTC hearing to defend his office’s valuation, nor is any evidence put on to support his valuation, the same tactic he uses in cases heard at the NOCC appeal hearings as well. Using the legal case analogy, this would be akin to an attorney filing an appeal with the Louisiana Supreme Court and then declining to attend the court’s hearing to argue his points.

Accordingly, the LTC has little choice but to rule in favor of the taxpayer and that concludes the matter. The result is significant time, energy, and financial resources shelled out by the taxpayer all to wind up where he was before Williams began this whole process, which some have characterized as a blatant abuse of power on Williams’ part.

Nevertheless, a certain number of taxpayers either just give up or accept Williams’ assessment (and that may well be exactly what he’s banking on with the theory that some money gained is better than none).  Obviously, to the extent some taxpayers opt not to appeal to the LTC, the result is in fact increased revenues for the City of New Orleans.

As a result, some New Orleans power brokers reportedly are demanding that notifications be sent by the NOCC simultaneously to taxpayers and to Williams (thus eliminating Williams’ double-secret appeal window). A NOCC high-level staffer confided that he is now “personally hand delivering” the spreadsheet nearly immediately after the NOCC approves the valuations.

Nevertheless, like many public officials who don’t like an infringement upon their fiefdoms delay notifying Williams (again, said to be at Williams’ urging). Williams sought an opinion from Attorney General Buddy Caldwell’s office regarding when the NOCC is required to send notifications. Assistant Attorney General Emalie Boyce released this Louisiana AG’s Opinion on the matter on November 24, 2014, which said that notification must transpire contemporaneously or “within the same period of time.” Thus, Williams’ tactic has effectively been eliminated.  Further, by the wording of the opinion, it appears that Williams blames the NOCC for the delay in notification to him and also criticized the NOCC for merely sending email notice rather than certified mail notice (the AG opinion states certified mail is required).  Interestingly enough, when we spoke with the NOCC staffer, he had no idea Williams had even requested the opinion, much less that one had been released by the AG’s Office.

Orleans Parish property tax appeals by Williams for 2014 are down substantially (dropping from 421 in 2013 to only 33 in 2014). LouisianaVoice delved extensively into the reason for the decline by making inquiries of numerous sources providing us with information for this article. Those sources, including the NOCC staffer, relayed that the huge decline is attributable to one at-large councilman who, sensing an opportunity to shore up New Orleans’ finances, acquiesced to Williams’ valuations for 2014 rather than the HGI, appraiser-backed valuations. Thus, Williams has essentially been left with nothing to appeal (at least for 2014) given that his valuations, in an about-face by the NOCC for 2014 vs. prior years, have largely been upheld by the NOCC.

Now, while conducting research for this article, LouisianaVoice was informed by an individual with extensive knowledge of the process that it would be “quite revealing” to seek the legal expenses of the Orleans Parish Assessor and to view copies of litigation initiated against that office over the last several years. Accordingly, we made public records requests of Williams’ office for those records, only to have him attempt to “educate” us on Public Records Laws in that, Louisiana Statutory rate of $0.25 per page notwithstanding, Williams relayed that “our rate is $1 per page.” Again, without citing a Louisiana Statute, we were informed that we’d be responsible for paying all personnel costs for redacting out “attorney-client privileged information” (including the bizarre inclusion of material stated to be in the lawsuits themselves, which are already public record for the world to see!).

We decided that, since Williams is so willing to educate us on Louisiana’s Public Records laws, we’d offer him an opportunity to educate us on a few other matters, such as whether his office attends appeals hearings and, if so, whether his office puts on any evidence in support of his office’s valuations at those hearings. Williams, apparently miffed at our line of questioning, fired off this letter dated January 5, 2015 which said our inquiries were not public records requests (we never asserted that they were but merely relayed in writing that he could feel free to further educate us) but rather “interrogatories,” to which “no answer will be forthcoming to your interrogatories.”

It appears as Jindal’s term nears its end, so too may have the HGI contract to handle Orleans Parish property tax appeals.  Our contact at NOCC said HGI’s status for 2015 is “unclear.”  When we added we’d sent public records request to their New Orleans post office box, he said, “I think you’ll find they’ve quit manning that P. O. Box.”  Another source, when told of our public records request of HGI said, “It’s probably better I not say anything.”

Read Full Post »

Attorneys for the E.I Du Pont have filed a motion in limine which seeks to block plaintiffs in the pending litigation against the Ascension Parish plant from citing reports of prior leaks and regulatory proceedings against DuPont “not related to the gas leaks” at the Burnside facility.

DuPont’s motion is particularly timely in that it was filed only four days after the deaths of four DuPont workers following a toxic gas release at a Du Pont plant in La Porte, Texas.

Limine (lim-in-nay) is Latin for “threshold,” and is a motion made at the outset of a trial that requests that the presiding judge rule that certain evidence may not be introduced in trial.

A 22-year employee of DuPont’s Burnside plant filed a confidential lawsuit in the Middle District Federal Court in Baton Rouge two years ago which became known only last March that claims the plant has consistently been experiencing toxic gas leaks on almost a daily basis for more than two years without reporting the leaks to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as required by the Toxic Substances and Control Act (TSCA) of 1976. http://louisianavoice.com/2014/03/31/whistleblower-claims-duponts-burnside-plant-has-been-leaking-carcinogenic-sulfer-trioxide-more-than-two-years/

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

The case, should it go to trial, would be heard by Federal District Judge Shelly Dick and Magistrate Judge Stephen Riedlinger.

Simoneaux, who filed his suit under the 151-year-old False Claims Act (FCA), has listed as trial exhibits documents pertaining to leaks and releases at other DuPont plants, some of which have resulted in settlements with the government. He also has listed documents as yet to be obtained from various EPA offices through Freedom of Information Act requests that seek information about enforcement actions against DuPont.

“Because the exhibits regarding other leaks and enforcement actions do not relate to the leaks at the Burnside facility, (Simoneaux), his counsel and witnesses should be prohibited from mentioning, in any manner in the presence of the jury, such leaks, releases or regulatory proceedings,” said DuPont attorneys Monique Weiner and Lori Waters of the New Orleans firm of Kuchler, Polk, Schell, Weiner & Richeson in their memorandum that accompanied the actual motion.

“Evidence of leaks at other DuPont facilities and/or regulatory action against DuPont arising from situations not involving the gas leaks at the Burnside facility is irrelevant to the issues for determination by the jury in this case,” the motion says.

“DuPont will object to the introduction of such exhibits at trial as they are sought to be used or introduced,” it says. “But in advance of trial, DuPont seeks an order that counsel and the witnesses may not refer to these matters in questioning, testimony, during opening statement or in closing argument.”

The motion cited United States v. Beechum, a 1978 case which the defense attorneys say “requires a showing that the prior acts sought to be introduced are ‘relevant to an issue other than the defendant’s character. At the heart of this relevance inquiry is a question of similarity: ‘The relevance…must be determined with respect to the particular issue…”

The motion said that even if the court determines there is relevance, “the evidence would be confusing, prejudicial and a waste of time.”

A seven-member team of investigators from the Chemical Safety Board, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and the Chemical Safety Board have already begun looking into the La Porte deaths of the four men, including two brothers. Among the first discoveries:

  • The men had been trapped for an hour by the poisonous methyl isocyanate for an hour before anyone at the plant called 911 at 4:13 a.m.;
  • It is unclear if the workers killed had any advance knowledge or warning of the degree of toxicity inside the unit;
  • Methyl isocyanate (MIC) is the same chemical that escaped a Bhopal, India, plant in 1984, killing more than 2,200 people;
  • Workers lacked quick access to breathing equipment that would have given them a chance at survival;
  • No DuPont official contacted a special emergency industrial response network called the Channel Industries Mutual Aide (CIMA), a nonprofit set up to deal with just such disasters;
  • It took 12 hours before DuPont confirm the four deaths;
  • DuPont never disclosed the size of its toxic inventory in reports filed annually with the La Porte emergency management officials;
  • Volunteer firefighters from nearby Deer Park who responded to the company’s 911 call were forced to rely on word-of-mouth to confirm quantities of the chemical leaked from the plant.

One other fact that could be crucial to Simoneaux’s case should Judge Dick deny the motion in limine and allow testimony about safety concerns at other plants:

The unit where the La Porte workers died had been shut down for five days before the Nov. 15 accident and workers had for months reported persistent maintenance problems, including inadequate ventilation in the unit.

Around 3:15 a.m., Gilbert Tisnado, 48, called his wife on his cell phone to tell her something had gone wrong in the unit. When he learned that his younger brother, Robert, 39, was among four men trapped in the unit, he grabbed an “escape pack” and entered the unit. Both brothers were among the four who subsequently died.

Firefighters found three bodies but only two tanks and masks inside the plant. Each was equipped with only five minutes of air—time for an emergency escape but not for a rescue mission.

Though the 911 call from DuPont was made at 4:13 a.m., more than two hours went by before “fenceline” air monitoring was conducted to learn if hazardous levels of chemicals had escaped the plant, leaving the community dependent upon DuPont to know if it was safe to go outside.

It also was unknown if DuPont even had any comprehensive toxics fenceline monitoring, said Adrian Shelley, director of the Air Alliance Houston advocacy group.

The refining industry, especially, has balked at calls for continuous fenceline monitoring, which provides streams of data about what gases are leaving a plant but can cost tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, Shelley said. A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rule that would require such systems at refineries is under review. Even if adopted, it wouldn’t apply to the DuPont plant because it doesn’t refine fossil fuels.

Simoneaux filed his lawsuit more than two years ago, on April 16, 2012, but because it was filed under seal, meaning it was not released to the media, its existence, along with DuPont’s October 2013 answers to discovery, has only recently been made public.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Full Post »

The movies Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Terminator, Jurassic park 4, Ender’s Game, and G.I. Joe: Retaliation were all shot in New Orleans. More specifically, they are all filmed in the Big Easy Studios in New Orleans. http://www.bigeasystudiosneworleans.com/aboutus.php

Geostorm, starring Gerard Butler as a satellite designer who goes into space to thwart climate-controlling satellites from creating catastrophic storms, just started shooting in the Big Easy Studios which are housed, appropriately enough, in the Michoud Assembly Center which once built the space shuttle’s external tanks before the shuttle project was scrapped by NASA.

All of which begs two single overriding questions: did Big Easy Studios receive favorable treatment in landing the lease of the 1.8 million-square-foot facility and were other Louisiana-based studios afforded the same opportunity to compete for a similar deal with NASA?

Taking the questions in reverse order, we will probably never know what chances, if any, other studios had to vie for the space but at least one competitor said there was no open competition for the facility.

The answer to the first is shrouded in secrecy as lease terms, including rental and payments, as well as the very signatures of Big Easy principals signing the lease were redacted throughout the 28-page lease document. We suppose lease payments may be some kind of protected state secret which fall under the heading of national security.

IMAG0384

(CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE)

Still, with conspiracy theorists out there who continue to insist the 1969 moon landing was staged, one would think NASA would be a little skittish about leasing out its facilities for movie making.

But there are more serious issues involving NASA’s decision to lease the gigantic facility to a movie production company. For openers, NASA’s rules say that any deal with an outside entity must serve the agency’s mission. NASA’s response was that anything that brings the federal government revenue serves NASA’s mission. Taking that logic to its extreme, it would seem safe to say a meth lab or house of ill repute could conceivably qualify under that definition.

NASA rules also dictate that any lease agreement must recover the full cost of the rented space and must not create unfair competition with the private sector by undercutting its lease terms. Yet, competing studios maintain that first, they were not given the opportunity to compete for the lease and the lease arrangements with Big Easy Studios and second, that they pay higher rent per square foot than Big Easy Studios.

So just how did Big Easy gain such an advantage, if indeed it did?

To answer that, we must take a look at the two principals of Big Easy Studios.

Herbert W. Gains, an independent filmmaker, was in New Orleans in 2010 to film Green Lantern, much of which was shot at the Lakefront Airport.

At the same time, The Lathan Co. of Mobile, Alabama, was under contract to perform major repairs and restoration work to the airport which had been heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina. http://www.lathancompany.com/portfolio/lakefront.html

Lathan Co. President Jerry Lathan, a member of the Alabama Republican Party’s State Executive Committee who had worked in the presidential campaigns for Bob Dole and both Presidents Bush as well as other local, state and national Republican candidates, also had contracts for restoration of a number of other structures, including four others in New Orleans and one at East Louisiana Hospital in Jackson.

http://www.lathancompany.com/projects.html

Lathan, who reportedly likes to boast of his political contacts, would probably have had connections at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, through which he could have assisted Gains in acquiring access to NASA.

http://algop.org/jerry-lathan/

Big Easy Studios was incorporated on Nov. 9, 2011, with Gains and Lathan as the only officers, and the lease with NASA was signed by an unidentified officer of the new company (remember, that name was redacted) 16 days later, on Nov. 22, 2011. An amendment to the contract was signed less than three months later, on Feb. 14, 2012, by Robin Henderson of the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center but again, the names and signature of the Big Easy officer were again redacted.

IMAG0386

(CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE)

Stephen Moret, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Economic Development (LED), said his office had “many conversations” with NASA about the need to offer more competitive lease rates at Michoud to better position the facility to attract “advanced manufacturing projects.”

The director of operations for one competing studio told the Baton Rouge Business Report in 2012 that he had heard from producers that Big Easy received lease rates more favorable than his studio. “The taxpayers didn’t fund Michoud to make movies,” he said. “The lease with Big Easy Studios was a done deal before we even knew the facility was available.”

http://businessreport.com/article/20120917/BUSINESSREPORT0112/120919831/

While, studios located in Louisiana once received 40 percent infrastructure tax credits—discontinued in 2009—the movies filmed in those studios still receive movie production tax credits and the system quickly led to widespread abuses that prompted the conviction and a 70-month prison sentence for for Martin Walker of Baton Rouge for his activity involving the buying and selling of Louisiana motion picture investor tax credits. He also was ordered to pay more than $1.8 million in restitution to 24 victims of his fraud.

In 2009, revisions to state incentives guaranteed a tax credit of 30 percent of expenditures provided a production spends more than $300,000 in Louisiana. Major productions like Twilight: Breaking Dawn can receive state tax credits of $10 million to $30 million.

Because most productions don’t owe any taxes in Louisiana, there is no need to claim the credits but they can transfer those credits to the state and the state will cut the companies a check for 85 percent of the face value of the credits. Thus, if a production company earns $1 million in Louisiana tax credits, those credits can be transferred back to the state and the state will issue the company a check for $850,000.

Another option, a variation of which landed Walker in hot water, allows production companies to sell their credits to individuals or corporations who do owe taxes in the state at a discount. Should an individual or corporation owe the state $1 million, for example, and a production company holds a $1 million tax credit, the production company may sell its tax credit to a speculator for say, $500,000 and that person in turns sells the credit for $750,000 to the individual or corporation owing the $1 million in taxes who then receives a $1 million tax credit—and each party profits $250,000.

That means when production companies sell their credits to the private sector, state taxpayers end up subsidizing tax breaks for high income individuals and corporations.

In Walker’s case, though, he sold bogus tax credits with a face value of more than $3.8 million to 24 investors for $2.5 million.

Louisiana Inspector General Stephen Street said of the Walker matter, “This sort of blatant fraud undermines the entire tax credit program and cannot be tolerated. We will continue working with the FBI and United States Attorney to make sure that those who engage in this sort of corruption face criminal consequences.”

Former State Film Commissioner Mark Smith described the movie industry in Louisiana as “smoke and mirrors.” He said in Los Angeles and New York, “I can see the headquarters and see who the real players are. In places like Louisiana, who can see it?”

Read Full Post »

Peter Schroeder, a writer for The Hill, has drunk the Kool-Aid.

The Hill is a subsidiary of News Communications, Inc. that covers the U.S. Congress with an emphasis on business, lobbying and political campaigns and is one of the first web pages accessed each day by those wishing to stay abreast of events in the nation’s capital.

But Sunday’s story by Schroeder has to leave readers in Louisiana scratching their heads and wondering about his credentials or his sanity—or both.

His story, The New and Improved Jindal, touts the prospects of Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-Iowa, R-New Hampshire, R-Anywhere but Louisiana) as a legitimate challenger for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. http://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/219759-the-new-and-improved-bobby-jindal

Perhaps unwittingly, however, the headline to his story may have provided an insight to what’s in store for the Boy Blunder.

By invoking the term “new and improved,” we immediately are left with the idea that he is being packaged and sold like so much washing powder or toothpaste—or perhaps more appropriately, toilet paper.

To bolster his evaluation of Jindal as a real comer, Schroeder relied on people like Tony Perkins, founder of the Louisiana Family Forum, former legislator, failed U.S. Senate candidate and president of the Family Research Council and Jindal’s former chief of staff, current political adviser Timmy Teepell and Baton Rouge political pollster Bernie Pinsonat.

The fact that Jindal and Perkins are in lock step on family values issues does not exactly make Perkins an impartial observer and Teepell certainly has much to gain if he and his consulting company, OnMessage, can ride Jindal’s coattails into the White House (or as Sarah Palin would say, 1400 Pennsylvania Avenue).

Schroeder also hangs his analysis on a single speech by Jindal last week when he cracked a couple of jokes that actually got chuckles from his conservative audience at the Values Voters Summit in Washington. “Jindal showed a dynamic style as he paced across the state,” he wrote.

What!!? Really? You’re staking your writing career on that thin bit of evidence?

Well, not exactly. There is this from Teepell:

“Most people’s impression of his speaking skills go back to his State of the Union response (of 2009), which was just a terrible speech.

“You’re having to do it (speaking) all the time, and on a number of different issues every single day, and so he just gets better and better.”

So, there you have it. By Teepell’s own admission, Jindal is making these speeches “every single day,” which leaves damned little time for him to devote his attention to the mundane duties of governor—a job to which he was re-elected by 67 percent of 20 percent of the state’s voters, a veritable mandate.

If he’s such a rising star, perhaps Schroeder can explain to us how Jindal managed to finish behind “nobody” in a recent straw poll. Maybe he can tell us why he remains a bottom feeder in the polls, along with Palin who can’t seem to get the address of the White House right.

Jindal’s supporters argue that his low numbers can be attributed to the fact that voters in the heartland don’t know him, not because they don’t like him.

News flash: we know him in Louisiana and his numbers have never been lower here and it’s precisely because we do know him.

Louisiana pollster Bernie Pinsonat said Jindal simply needs an issue that will give him national exposure.

We have several such issues:

  • He was for Common Core before he decided it would be politically expedient to oppose it.
  • He regularly hopped all over north Louisiana handing out stimulus money at Protestant churches and “awarding” military veterans’ pins during his first term but has not visited a single church of any stripe nor has he delivered any military pins since his re-election where only 20 percent of registered voters even bothered to vote.
  • He has bankrupted the state with tax giveaways to corporations while attempting to rip state employees’ pensions from them with a patently unconstitutional legislative bill.
  • He is now attempting to do the same thing with state worker health benefits while at the same time depleting the fund balance of the Office of Group Benefits.
  • He has handed out hundreds of millions of dollars in questionable state contracts to consultants and favored firms.
  • His hand-picked Secretary of Health and Hospitals has been indicted on nine counts of perjury in connection with one of those contracts.
  • He has given away the state hospital system to private entities though the move has yet to be approved by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).
  • He has repeatedly cut the budgets of higher education in Louisiana.
  • He has consistently promoted school vouchers and charter schools at the expense of low-income students who are left in the underfunded public schools.
  • He attempted to give the State Police Superintendent a $55,000 a year retirement raise while ignoring rank and file state police and state employees.
  • He has broken his promise not to use one-time money for recurring expenses—not once, but six times.
  • He has enveloped the governor’s office in secrecy.
  • He has cloaked himself in a mantle of self-righteousness that is betrayed by his callous lack of concern for the people of Louisiana.

“People are going to have plenty of time to get a better impression of Gov. Jindal,” Teepell said. “That (2009) speech won’t be the only thing they remember about him.”

The business of remaking or re-packaging of the new and improved Jindal reminds of the wisdom of Mark Twain who said, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”

As far as we’re concerned, Jindal is going to have plenty to try to remember in his quest for the brass ring that is the GOP nomination.

Or, as we prefer to think, if you’re genuine—if you’re the real deal—there’s really no need for a makeover.

And if ever a person needed a makeover, it’s Jindal.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,799 other followers

%d bloggers like this: