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Archive for the ‘Transparency’ Category

There is more damage control awaiting the most ethical administration in Louisiana history and just as with the Bruce Greenstein saga, the Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) is front and center.

The Louisiana Board of Ethics last Thursday (Feb. 19) voted to file ethics charges against Galen Schum, DHH Secretary Kathy Kliebert’s brother-in-law, because of his failure to comply with state law requiring him to report income he received from a company under contract to DHH. ETHICS CHARGES

On Nov. 17, 2011, while Schum was serving as Director of Regional Operations for the Office of Behavioral Health (OBH), Magellan Health Services signed a two-year contract with OBH to administer behavioral health managed care services for children and adults.

That contract, approved on Jan. 23, 2012, and which went into effect on Mar. 1, 2012, was originally in the amount of $354 million for two years, but was amended to a three-year contract for $547.78 million and is scheduled to expire on Saturday.

On Feb. 13, 2012, just three weeks after the contract was approved and just over two weeks before it went into effect, Schum submitted a job application to Magellan and was hired on Feb. 27, only two days before the contract took effect.

He resigned from Magellan on Jan. 31, 2014 but during the time he was employed there, he earned more than $146,000 in salary, according to documents obtained by LouisianaVoice.

Kliebert was serving as Deputy Secretary of DHH when the Magellan contract was approved on Nov. 17, 2011, and remained in that capacity until April 1, 2013, when she was elevated to her current position of Secretary.

State law (R.S. 42:1114) provides with respect to the filing of financial disclosure statements, “…that each public servant and each member of his immediate family who derives anything of economic value, directly, through any transaction involving the agency of such public servant or who derives anything of economic value of which he may be reasonably expected to know through a person which (1) is regulated by the agency of such public servant, or (2) has bid on or entered into or is in any way financially interested in any contract, subcontract, or any transaction under the supervision or jurisdiction of the agency of such public servant shall disclose the following:

  • The amount of income or value of any thing of economic value derived;
  • The nature of the business activity;
  • Name and address, and relationship to the public servant, if applicable, and
  • The name and business address of the legal entity, if applicable.

The disclosure statement is required to be filed each year by May 1 and shall include such information for the previous calendar year.

R.S. 42:1102 defines “immediate family” as the children of the public servant, spouses of his children, his siblings and their spouses, his parents, spouse and the spouse’s parents.

“Galen Schum violated …the Code of Governmental Ethics by failing to file a financial disclosure statement on or before May 1, 2013, disclosing income received during 2012 from Magellan Health Services, Inc., and on or before May 1, 2014…at a time when Magellan Health Services, Inc. had a contract with the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals—Office of Behavioral Health and while his sister-in-law, Kathy Kliebert, served as the Deputy Secretary and Secretary of the Department of Health and Hospitals,” the Board of Ethics document says.

The board issued a formal request that the Ethics Adjudicatory Board:

  • Conduct a hearing on the foregoing charges;
  • Determine that Galen Schum has violated (state law) with respect to the foregoing counts, and
  • Assess an appropriate penalty in accordance with the recommendation of the Louisiana Board of Ethics to be submitted at the hearing.

Other documents obtained by LouisianaVoice indicate that Schum, on Jan. 18, 2011, in his capacity as Director of Regional Operations for OBH, presented a report to the Louisiana Commission on Addictive Disorders on the status of OBH’s ongoing privatization efforts—efforts which led directly to the awarding of the Magellan contract.

It was at that same Jan. 18 meeting that Kliebert announced to the commission that she had been selected as the new DHH Deputy Secretary and would be leaving her position at OBH.

Schum also participated in a commission meeting on Oct. 11, 2011, at which time he gave the commission “a brief update on the Louisiana Behavioral Health Partnership,” according to commission minutes of that meeting.

Schum said that the selection of the Statewide Management Organization (SMO) had been completed and that Magellan Health Services “was the vendor selected to be the Louisiana SMO, and that the Office of Behavioral Health was currently involved in the contract negotiation process with Magellan.”

Finally, the minutes of a Magellan Governance Board meeting of June 20, 2012, indicate that Schum was employed as a Reporting Analyst for the company.

Magellan had come under sharp criticism from the Legislative Auditor’s office in August of 2013 in a report that said the administration’s privatization of mental health and addictive disorder treatment programs had created confusion and added costs for local human services district that provide the care. http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2013/08/audit_shows_privatization_of_m.html

That audit report, which examined privatization results at human services districts in Baton Rouge, Houma, New Orleans and Amite, said privatization had caused problems with claims payments which increased costs for the districts and made it more difficult for the districts to receive reimbursement for services. The report also said the districts lost money under a requirement that they use Magellan’s electronic health records system.

The Capital Area Human Services District in Baton Rouge, for example, told auditors that its administrative costs for billing claims had increased $270,000 a year since the privatization took effect. That cost was attributed to problems with claims reconciliation and collection, the audit said.

Meanwhile, the report said, DHH failed to ensure that Magellan processed claims in a timely manner, often taking weeks or months to process claims. The report also said DHH failed to penalize the company when it did not meet planning and technical benchmarks. “No sanctions have been imposed on Magellan for not meeting all required contract provisions,” it said.

Just another Jindaled state agency headed for yet another privatized train wreck.

But don’t say we never warned you.

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By Robert Burns

Special to LouisianaVoice

As many Louisiana Voice readers are aware, I am a former auctioneer and was appointed by Gov. Jindal to the Louisiana Auctioneer Licensing Board (LALB) during the early months of his first term. What I encountered was corruption both on the board itself and among auctioneers in the industry. I sent regular emails to the head of boards and commissions routinely expressing my shock and dismay. In less than two years, Jindal terminated my services, providing no other explanation other than, “things just aren’t working out.”

The next meeting after my termination, I began videotaping auctioneer meetings and have continued to do so to this day. I also have made occasional public records requests to view auctioneer files. My purpose in reviewing those files is that often times consumer complaints are filed and LALB attorney Anna Dow works with the complainant and the auctioneer to work the complaint out.  These solutions, however, are never even referenced to the board itself and even board members themselves are in the dark as to their existence.  Basically, Dow keeps the board members on a “needs to know basis,” and it was my experience as a board member that she deemed me to “need to know” very little. Hence, the only way anyone (board member or member of the public) can know of these complaints and other auctioneer issues is to examine the auctioneers’ files.

Louisiana Association of Professional Auctioneer (LAPA)’s founder and President, Rev. Freddie Lee Phillips, and I have been concerned about the sheer number of such complaints and some troubling details of these “workouts.”  Examples include:  One auctioneer, William Jones,  deceiving the LALB for eight years about his state of residency; National Auctioneer Association (NAA) Hall-of-Famer Keith Babb threatening a complainant against pursuing a complaint against him, and complainant Robert Kite alleging collusion and shill bidding entailing NAA Hall-of-Famer Marvin Henderson and NAA Past-President Joe Wilson. None of this type of information is available anywhere but in auctioneer files. Accordingly, we decided the best thing for us to do is conduct an audit of all auctioneer files. Because the LALB is a one-person office (with the individual almost never actually working in the office but rather working from home), we knew this should be a project extended out over a 2-3 year timeframe so as not to impose too great of a burden on the office.  Accordingly, I made this simple public records request of 12/4/14 for the first 10 files. Material gleaned from the files is incorporated into this indexed webpage of auctioneers having issues with the LALB.

The one-person executive director of the LALB, Sandy Edmonds, balked at the public records requests associated with the project.  Edmonds is the same one who has been cited by the Inspector General’s Office for payroll fraud and lying about it to investigators. Specifically, she reported both to the LALB and the Interior Design Board that she was “on the clock” even though she actually was on vacation. They subpoenaed her cell phone records, after which she refused to answer any more of their questions.

Edmonds is paid $32.67/hour, or $25, 480 for the LALB and $25/hour, or $32,500 for the Interior Design Board ($57,980 total). She received numerous pay raises which Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera characterized as illegal.

In a meeting on January 3, 2013, Inspector General Lead Investigator Tom Boulton said, “There is no such thing as a performance-based employee.  It’s illegal.” Both he and Inspector General Investigator Rob Chadwick said that they found it inconceivable that the office for both boards (it’s a shared office) is almost never occupied, and both men wanted to know how much rent was being paid for an essentially-unoccupied building.

Purpera, whose office also investigated the work setup, issued this damning report, and referred the whole matter to East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore for possible prosecution of Edmonds for payroll fraud. When Vice Chairman James Sims asked what the LALB should do about the Legislative Auditor report, Board Attorney Anna Dow relayed “nothing,” and Edmonds added, “Welcome to politics,” and indicated that Jindal himself said they were not to worry about it and that the board “cannot” recover funds which Edmonds had been overpaid. Board Chairman Tessa Steinkamp said, “We have to follow the Governor.”

Why re-hash old news?  Well, at the LALB meeting of Tuesday, January 15, 2015, Board Attorney (and convicted felon) Larry S. Bankston asked the Board to deny future requests from me and to seek “legal instruction from the court.” Notice how vague he is about the timeframe of the project (i.e. he neglects to inform the board that this is a 2-3 year project.

The board did not respond to Bankston’s request for it to resist my public records requests, but in light of Edmonds’ past employment reports issued by the Inspector General’s Office and the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s Office, we feel the public has a right to full disclosure about auctioneer problems, and clearly this is a legal requirement Edmunds has no intention of meeting.  She has even insisted that public records requests be subcontracted out to the Attorney General’s Office, which charges $50 per hour for that service.

Just another episode of typical Louisiana political chicanery.

 

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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.

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

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

JANUARY

IT Contractor linked to Obamacare, other problems:

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

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

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

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

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

HGI ties to Jindal, Christie:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alvarez & Marsal gets fat at state trough:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The obvious next step for Jindal was to

Problems continue at OGB:

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

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

FEBRUARY

Adley’s not-so-hidden agenda:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robert Adley.

Jindal tantrum goes national:

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

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

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

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

CIA kidnap accomplice locates in Bossier City

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MARCH

Jindal contributor benefits from state road work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Appel’s shrewd investments:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

APRIL

Deputy Sheriff dabbles in private background checks:

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

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

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

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

Extortion claimed on state highway project:

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

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

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

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

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

MAY

It pays to play I:

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

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

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

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

It pays to play II:

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

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

So, who is Laney Chouest, you ask?

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

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

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

JUNE

Legislator’s firm cited for environmental infractions:

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

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

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

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

Lobbyists swarm to protect BP:

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

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

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

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

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

Something in it for them indeed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something in it for them indeed.

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

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

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

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

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

Something in it for them indeed.

 

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One day in early December, I received one of countless telephone calls pertaining to the upcoming Dec. 6 election. Normally, the calls are pre-recorded, or “robocalls” appealing for my vote for this or this candidate or telling me how horrible the opposing candidate would be for Mom, apple pie and America.

This one, however, was a live call from a woman claiming to be calling on behalf of AFA. Never having heard of the organization up to that point, I interrupted her spiel to ask who AFA was.

“American Family Association,” she said and without even pausing to take a breath, she launched into her pitch. “We’re not calling on behalf of any particular candidate,” she assured me. “We just want to remind you to be sure to vote for candidates who represent our Christian heritage and the Christian principles on which America was founded.”

(Well, first of all, America was not founded on Christianity—or by Christians. The Founding Fathers were, for the most part, Deists. Chief among the founders was one Thomas Jefferson, the man who re-wrote the Bible. Jefferson’s Bible omitted all references to miracles by Jesus, the Resurrection and other miracles as well as passages indicating Jesus was divine. Our very own Gov. Bobby Jindal, by the way, was named recipient of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s Thomas Jefferson Freedom Award at ALEC’s national meeting in New Orleans in 2011.)

When I heard that, I simply said, “I’m Jewish.” (Actually, I’m Methodist.)

End of conversation.

Now comes word that AFA is sponsoring Gov. Bobby Jindal’s prayer rally at the Maravich Assembly Center on the LSU campus Jan. 24.

So, what’s the big deal? The Gaithers have held gospel concerts in the same facility (I’ve attended two of them and they were great) and the Pope held a service at the University of New Orleans. Besides, the Prayer Rally will be strictly faith-based and will not be a forum for political discourse—because they say so. http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/2014/12/19/prayer-rally-organizers-distance-event-from-afas-positions/

Yeah, right. With Jindal taking part, the absence of right-wing political rhetoric is about as likely as…well, as likely as a general denial of evolution or climate change at the event. After all, one of his political operatives, Baton Rouge Business Report publisher Rolfe McCollister (former Jindal campaign treasurer and later appointed by Jindal to the LSU Board of Supervisors), smoothed the way for securing the center for the event through…you guessed it, political channels. http://theadvocate.com/features/faith/11119534-123/documents-reveal-behind-the-scenes-details-of

The Southern Poverty Law Center lists AFA as a hate group, just as it does the Westboro Baptist Church, probably because both spew venom instead of the Christian tolerance taught by Christ when it comes to groups that think and act contrary to their rigid set of self-imposed standards of morality, namely gays.

Remember the story from the Bible when the woman was about to be stoned for adultery. Didn’t that quote, “Let he who is without sin among you cast the first stone” (John 8:7) come from the mouth of Jesus?

And then there was: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:40). I can’t help but wonder if the fine Christians from Westboro Baptist Church and AFA have ever read those words or if so, did they gave even a passing thought to their meaning.

And no claim can be made that those quotes were lifted out of context; their meaning could not be plainer.

As might be expected, Jindal critics (and they’re growing in number with each passing day) have leveled criticism of the governor for participating in the event, which skeptics insist will  have political overtones. http://www.bayoubuzz.com/buzz/item/803216-lost-faith-in-lsu-prayer-rally-and-in-bobby-jindal

But the most interesting barrage was leveled by one Taylor Huckaby of Los Angeles, former Deputy Communications Director for the Louisiana Republican Party, a volunteer in Jindal’s election campaign and later, Jindal’s New Media Director.

Huckaby penned the following for LouisianaVoice:

Never have I been more embarrassed to be an alumnus of Louisiana State University. Yesterday, the LSU powers-that-be finally broke their silence on Gov. Bobby Jindal’s ostentatious prayer/politically pandering rally. “Rental of an LSU facility does not imply any endorsement,” wheedled director of media relations Eddie Ballard to the New Orleans Advocate.

I wonder if he said that before, or after he accepted the $18,500 from the American Family Association, agreeing to not only entertain them for a day but also to provide a baldly political platform from which Jindal intends to pander to his ultraconservative electorate.

I wonder if he knew extent to which Jindal-appointee to the LSU Board of Supervisors, Rolfe McCollister, prodded the University to give up the Pete Maravich Assembly Center for such use.

I wonder if he realizes that while technically correct and certainly legal, in practice people all over the country will now associate LSU with happily playing host to an organization that blames the Holocaust and the existence of the Nazi Party on gay people.  Yes, you read that correctly. From AFA spokesman Bryan Fischer in a web post from 2010 (and this is indeed a representative sample, so don’t you worry):

“Homosexuality gave us Adolph Hitler, and homosexuals in the military gave us the Brown Shirts, the Nazi war machine and six million dead Jews.”

Yes, this is the very same guy around whom Bobby Jindal has voluntarily decided to drape his arms around come January 24th.

Also appearing in the New Orleans Advocate story was a certain Clay Tufts, the current LSU student body president, who claims the AFA is “not reflective on the university in any way or its students.” Then, immediately after staking that claim, he goes on to explain how no action can possibly be taken on the issue via student government because, well, too many LSU students agree with the AFA’s positions.

“I’m sure a large group of students will go to the event.” Tufts said, “Student government itself won’t be going either way on anything.” 

Apparently condemning an organization that blames the Holocaust on gay people is a bridge too far. Such controversy!

Is this really the best LSU can do? Accept the AFA’s blood money and turn a blind eye? Proclaim that the university community supports its LGBT students while also simultaneously admitting helplessness in the face of so many anti-LGBT sentiments on campus? It seems to me that LSU’s “commitment” to LGBT people is less representative of a fighting tiger and more akin to the paper variety.

How incredibly embarrassing it is that LSU allows itself to be such a willing pawn in this political game, and how incredibly sad it is that the Louisiana LGBT community has to again endure false and patently ridiculous accusations of Nazism, child recruitment, equivocations to bestiality, and perversion. Why would anyone want to send their son or daughter to a university that so blithely resigns itself to such bigotry? I certainly wouldn’t.

 

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