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Archive for the ‘Transparency’ Category

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 Law Poverty 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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By guest columnist James D. Kirylo

It is said that education is the great equalizer.  Yet, we know when it comes to resources, opportunity, and the quality of a teacher, not all educational experiences are equal.  Then we react with a bevy of voices coming from a variety of corners on how to better equalize the great equalizer.  To be sure, when making sense of gray matter, complexity, and multi-layered challenges inherent in education, the solutions are not easy.

Yet, when it comes to navigating through this entangled web, a leading thread to direct that charge ought to have the name “teacher” at its pinpoint.  There are few absolutes when it comes to education.  And of those few, one is this: There is positive correlation between a high quality teacher and student success.

It is, therefore, logical that if we want to move toward educational transformation, we need to ensure that teacher education is right up there on the priority list.  It is no coincidence that high achieving countries, like Singapore, South Korea, and Finland are quite selective as to who teaches their youth, how they prepare those who are to teach their youth, and how they maintain ongoing development while teaching their youth.

That a common thread in high-achieving countries is an elevated priority on teacher education ought to raise our collective sensibilities, stirring movement toward embracing that model right here in Louisiana.  To that end, the following summarizes what we need to qualitatively do in our backyard if we expect to move toward long-lasting transformative educational change:

  • Entrance requirements and processes into teacher education programs need to be more rigorous and more selective.
  • Those who are accepted into teacher education programs should be provided tuition waivers, grants, and other incentivizing initiatives.
  • Teacher education programs across the state must be creatively innovative, systematic, and unified in which not only content knowledge is emphasized, but also concepts, practices, and theories related to human development, pedagogy, curriculum, and learning are thoroughly explored in light of the diverse country in which we live.
  • Field experiences and rich mentorships are emphasized that works to connect the thoughtful relationship between theory and practice.
  • Upon graduation, teacher candidates leave their programs with great expertise, expectation, and adulation as they move into the teaching profession.
  • Once in the classroom, teachers regularly engage in ongoing and meaningful professional development, with them at the center of facilitating that endeavor.
  • The school curriculum in which teachers teach is wide-ranging, with an inclusive priority on the various arts, physical education, and foreign language.
  • When it comes to curricula, assessment, and evaluation decisions at the school setting, teachers are integral members at the table.
  • At the school setting, a test-centric focus has to be abandoned and replaced with a learning-centric focus that is energizing, inspiring, and imaginative.
  • Students, teachers, and schools are not in competition with one another, but work to cooperate, collaborate, and lift each other up.
  • All schools, regardless of location and economic demographic have equal access to quality resources, material, and high quality teachers.
  • The teaching profession is viewed with great respect, indicative of the competitive salaries, the working conditions in which teachers are placed, and how teachers are professionally viewed, treated, and honored.
  • A top-down hierarchal structure needs to be replaced with a teacher leadership empowerment structure.
  • “Fast-track” teacher training programs, such as TFA and LRCE, are not acceptable routes to teach our youth.
  • The waiving of requirements for those going into administrative type roles are not acceptable routes to work in leadership positions in our schools, systems, and state.
  • Only well-prepared, qualified, and certified teachers from high quality teacher education programs must teach our youth.

While there are certainly some examples of good efforts occurring in teacher education programs in our state, we are not doing nearly enough. Without doubt, if we are to move toward educational transformation in Louisiana, the systematic prioritization of teacher education is a must, the fostering of the professionalization of teaching is vital, and ultimately education must be viewed as an investment in which the entire state can be richly furthered.  Indeed, our international friends have provided us with an outstanding model.

(James D. Kirylo is an education professor, a former state teacher of the year, and his most recent book is titled A Critical Pedagogy of Resistance.  He can be reached at jkirylo@yahoo.com)

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If, as most observers believe, Gov. Bobby Jindal has designs on seeking the Republican presidential nomination for 2016 he first must demonstrate that he is an administrator capable of running his own state and for him to do that, there are several clichés frequently employed by our parents and grandparents that might apply:

Get on the stick, shake a leg, get the lead out, make haste, get it in gear, quit burning daylight, get your act together, s**t or get off the pot…well, you get the idea.

Jindal has had the better part of seven years to turn this state around economically, culturally and educationally or to at least make strides to that end in order to demonstrate his leadership abilities.

To say he has failed would be kind. The truth is, his administration, with only 14 months left, is an abject failure, those glowing surveys about the state’s business climate touted by his head cheerleader and Baton Rouge Business Report publisher Rolfe McCollister, Jr., notwithstanding. (McCollister, Jindal’s former campaign treasurer whom Jindal appointed to the LSU Board of Supervisors, would not appear to be the most objective member of the fourth estate to report on the administration’s accomplishments.)

The current outstanding weeklong analytical series by the Baton Rouge Advocate entitled Giving Away Louisiana, on the other hand, provides ample evidence of massive—and ill-advised—tax breaks given business and industry that have done little to light a fire under the state’s moribund economy.

http://blogs.theadvocate.com/specialreports/2014/11/26/giving-away-louisiana/

Congratulations on superb coverage of such a complex topic by Advocate staffers Jeff Adelson, Rebekah Allen, Mark Ballard, Gordon Russell, Richard Thompson, Edie White, John Ballance, Patrick Dennis, Bill Feig, Walt Handelsman, Jay Martin, Heather McClelland, John McCusker, Paul Sandau, and Travis Spradling.

Two glaring examples of poor fiscal policies cited by the Advocate include:

  • The foolishly generous film and TV tax breaks have succeeded in luring production companies to Louisiana, but at what costs? True, Twelve Years a Slave was a huge success, winning three Oscars and a Golden Globe Award, among others. On the other hand, there is that $200 million bomb Green Lantern. For that cinematic disaster, the state gave away $35 million in subsidies but recovered only $8 million of that amount. The Advocate pointed out that the state poured more money into that forgettable film than it appropriated for the University of New Orleans. How’s that for setting your priorities? And every time a Duck Dynasty episode airs, the state has to pony up about $300,000 in similar taxpayer-financed breaks. http://blogs.theadvocate.com/specialreports/2014/12/02/giving-away-louisiana-film-tax-incentives/
  • And then there is that vaguely-defined policy called Enterprise Zone, a tax incentive program ostensibly created to attract business and industry to depressed areas as a means of spurring employment, stimulating the economy and improving living conditions of low-income residents. The only thing wrong with this $69 million per year boondoggle is that it’s not working. Instead, the Enterprise Zone tax credits are being used to underwrite construction of projects like a couple of Walmart stores in St. Tammany Parish, one of the more affluent areas of the state, and for expensive shops in an upscale Baton Rouge retail complex—even as low-income areas of the state continue to deteriorate. http://blogs.theadvocate.com/specialreports/2014/12/01/giving-away-louisiana-2/

The dismal performance of those two programs are precisely why 24/7 Wall Street, a financial news and opinion company which publishes more than 30 articles per day, released a report on Thursday (Dec. 4) which pegs Louisiana as being the 11th worst-run state in America. http://247wallst.com/special-report/2014/12/03/the-best-and-worst-run-states-in-america-a-survey-of-all-50-3/

“Selecting appropriate criteria to compare the 50 states is difficult,” the story says, “because there is so much variation among the states. Some depend disproportionately on one industry while others’ economies are more balanced.

Some of the best-run states benefit from a wealth of natural resources. North Dakota, Wyoming, Alaska, and Texas, according to the survey, are among the top 10 best-run states, and in all four, the mining industry—which includes fossil fuel extraction—is a major contributor to state GDP, the report says.

“While each state is different, states at both ends of the list share certain characteristics,” the report says. For example, people living in the worst-run states were likely to have lower standards of living. Violent crime rates and the percentage of those living in poverty were typically higher in these states, while the percentage of those with at least a high school diploma was lower than the national rate.

The worst-run states also tended to have weaker fiscal management and poor credit ratings from Moody’s Investors Service and Standard & Poor’s (S&P). Illinois, the worst-run state in America, received lower ratings than any other state from both agencies while most of the 10 best-run states had perfect ratings from both agencies, it said.

Louisiana, in ranking 40th in the nation, managed to fare better than New Jersey, which ranked 43rd, or eighth worst, something Jindal might use against Gov. Christ Christie if it comes down to a race between those two for the GOP nomination.

Following Illinois in 24/7 Wall Street’s list of worst-run state in the U.S. were New Mexico, Mississippi, Rhode Island, Kentucky, Arizona, Georgia, New Jersey, Missouri, Alabama and Louisiana.

In breaking down its statistical information, the survey showed that Louisiana’s $3,333 debt per capita was right at the mid-point at 24th lowest and the unemployment rate was 15th lowest in the nation at 6.2 percent, those favorable factors were offset by the state’s median household income of $44,164, eighth lowest, and a poverty rate of 19.8 percent that was third highest.

Louisiana had “one of the lowest median household incomes in the nation,” at just $44,164, the report said “and 10.7 percent of all households reported an income of less than $10,000, a higher rate than in any state except for Mississippi. Largely due to these low incomes, the poverty rate in Louisiana was nearly 20 percent (19.8 percent) and 17.2 percent of households used food stamps last year, both among the highest rates in the nation. The state’s GDP grew by 1.3 percent last year, less than the U.S. overall. This was largely due to a decline in output from the mining industry, which accounted for 8 percent of Louisiana’s output, versus 2.3 percent across the country. Louisiana’s ranking was bolstered by its high exports, which equaled $13,693 per capita in 2013, the most in the nation. Last year, products made from petroleum and coal accounted for more than 40 percent of the state’s exports.”

And all this time, Jindal has been telling us that Louisiana’s economic growth during his administration has surpassed other southern states and that of the nation as a whole. See this August release by Jindal. Scroll down to the paragraph beginning “Louisiana’s Economic Growth” at this link: http://www.bobbyjindal.com/blog.html/

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He is a prolific texter,” Greenstein replied.

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

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

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

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

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

“I don’t.”

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

“I don’t remember it.”

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

“No.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I didn’t say I will do that.”

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

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

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

“I do not remember that,” Greenstein said.

“How could you not remember that?”

“Because I don’t remember that.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I was told to resign,” he said.

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

“No.”

“They just said, ‘Get out’?”

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

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

“No.”

“You are sure about that?”

“I don’t remember it.”

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

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

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

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

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

“I have no idea,” replied Greenstein.

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

“Probably not.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is he your personal lawyer?” Caldwell asked.

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

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

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

“No,” Greenstein replied.

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

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

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

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

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By James D. Kirylo

Guest Columnist

Governor Jindal recently appeared on Meet the Press. The host Chuck Todd peppered the Governor with a variety of questions, asking why he didn’t expand Medicaid, being that it would be helpful for the 200,000 uninsured people in the state (although the number is likely more toward the 750,000 range).

Todd also reminded the Governor how Louisiana nearly has a billion dollar hole in our budget; how at every midyear review, our deficit has grown; how the big tax cut at the beginning of the governor’s term has not been followed by revenue; and that a majority in Louisiana disapprove of his job as governor.

Governor Jindal predictably deflected much of what Todd said, and stated at the onset that he doesn’t care about the poll numbers and never has. He also proudly mentioned that he’s cut our state budget 26 percent, cut the number of state employees 34 percent, and declared how not spending on Medicaid is another dollar we don’t have to borrow from China, and that we shouldn’t waste those federal tax dollars.

Furthermore, the Governor asserted how we’ve actually improved healthcare access and outcomes here in our state.  Citing an example—how it used to take ten days to get a prescription filled—now one can get it done in ten minutes. Finally, the Governor also touted his so-called school choice program, and concluded that he has balanced the budget every single year without running deficits, and without raising taxes.

As I watched Meet the Press, listening to the least transparent governor in the nation, I was amazed, though not surprised, by what the Governor did not mention, some of which I will, therefore, do here. First, when the Governor says he does not care that the majority of Louisianans disapprove of his job as governor, it obviously means he doesn’t care what I think, what state workers think, and what the hundreds and thousands of us who have been greatly harmed by his policies think. It is obvious there is only one person the Governor cares about.

Of course, he didn’t mention that when he talks about how he has sliced and diced the state budget, it has resulted in the near decimation of higher education. Indeed, universities have been cut 80% in the last several years, tuition has exponentially risen, and the LA Grad Act is simply a devious scheme that fosters a system that unduly taxes students in order to fund higher education. In a poor state like ours, this is simply a formula that further widens the opportunity gap, and further widens the gap between the proverbial “haves” and “have-nots.”

He also didn’t mention that numerous underpaid university people have endured near poverty wages, have endured furloughs, have had no cost of living allowances now inching toward the ten year mark, that numerous individuals can’t afford health care, that top flight faculty have left the state, that public school teachers have been blamed for everything that ails our state, that Louisiana has the nation’s fourth highest high school dropout rate, that our high school graduation rate ranks 45th in the nation, that we have one of the highest childhood poverty rates in the country, and that we have the highest incarceration rate in the country, if not the world.

Of course, he didn’t mention that Louisiana ranks 50th among the states in overall health, and that we lead the nation in the highest infant mortality rate, the highest diabetes-related death rate, and the highest rate of death from breast cancer, and third-highest rate of cancer deaths overall.

And of course, he wouldn’t mention that according to a Washington Post report a short while back, the state of Louisiana is expecting a $1.2 billion budget shortfall next year, which has now risen to 1.4 billion. And this is despite the Jindal administration hiring a New York-based consulting firm for $7.3 million to find ways to generate and save revenue. Finally, he didn’t mention what can be characterized as the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) scandal, where many are asking about the half of the $500 million dollars that was in the OGB reserve fund, but is now gone.

It should be no surprise critics are calling Jindal’s handling of the budget his blind-spot. But that is not his only blind spot. The other one is that he is blind to the fact that he has hurt the lives of so many hard-working Louisianans.  And the irony of ironies when the Governor concluded his visit with Meet the Press, he stated that the American Dream was in jeopardy and that should he run for president, he would focus on restoring that dream.

It was then I turned off my television set, had to shake my head, and grabbed my dictionary to double-check the definition of delusional.

James D. Kirylo is an education professor, a former state teacher of the year, and his most recent book is titled A Critical Pedagogy of Resistance.  He can be reached at jkirylo@yahoo.com

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What will Gov. Bobby Jindal say when he appears on Meet the Press Sunday?

Of course we know he will attack President Obama and the Affordable Care Act, aka ObamaCare while ignoring the fact that his decision not to expand Medicaid may end up costing the state hundreds of millions of dollars. That’s a given.

At the same time he is criticizing Obama for not being more proactive on the Ebola crisis, he will fail to mention his rejection of the Medicaid expansion has been at the expense of health coverage for a couple hundred thousand low-income Louisianans.

He will condemn the president for his lax immigration policy while turning a blind eye to the indisputable fact that Latin Americans who do enter this country generally take low-paying jobs no one else wants. He won’t mention companies like IBM, Dell, ACS, and Pfizer, to name but a few, that have taken advantage of an obscure work visa (the H-1B program) to lay off more than 250,000 Americans from high-tech IT jobs. These companies lay Americans off in favor of importing hundreds of thousands of Indians who work for far less, thus saving these companies billions of dollars.

He will no doubt boast of his accomplishments as governor—claims that simply will not stand up under close examination—apparently pulled off by remote control. This is especially the case during his second term when his title would more accurately be governor in absentia. He has spent an inordinate amount of time traveling outside the state in an attempt to build support for a anemic campaign for the GOP presidential nomination that, despite his near-desperate efforts, is gaining no traction.

He could lambast the Common Core curriculum, once again ignoring that fact that he was in favor of Common Core before he was against it.

There are so many other things he could discuss but probably won’t.

He won’t mention, for instance, his abysmal record in the state’s courtrooms. One of these was his miserably failed effort to jerk retirement benefits from under the feet of active state employees, some of whom would have seen their retirement income plummet to as little as $6,000 a year—with no social security—had he been successful.

He will attempt once again to convince the nation—those of us in Louisiana know better, of course—that he has balanced the state budget while cutting taxes and reducing the number of state employees.

Yes, he has reduced the number of state employees, but at what cost? The Office of Group Benefits (OGB) is a shell of the once smooth-running state office that handled the medical claims of some 230,000 state employees, retirees and dependents. Not that that matters to Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols who, we are told, is a member of the LSU health plan and thus unaffected by the changes.

And of course Jindal, through his smoke and mirrors game of premium reductions, has managed to siphon off more than half of OGB’s $500 million reserve fund. He also recently attempted to slash benefits and pile unaffordable co-pay and deductible increases onto the backs of state employees and retirees. In short, his grand scheme to privatize OGB has proven nothing less than an unmitigated disaster of politically humiliating (to him) proportions. His firing of respected CEO Tommy Teague and the mess that has ensued stand as a monument to unparalleled mismanagement and political meddling.

And his budget balancing has produced unprecedented cuts to higher education. Colleges and universities in Louisiana have seen their appropriations gouged by nearly 70 percent during Jindal’s almost seven sorry years in office. God help us if he should somehow be placed in the position of inflicting such carnage on the nation as he has on Louisiana.

And what of that claim of balancing the budget, anyway?

Let’s review.

We will take figures provided to us by State Treasurer John Kennedy that reflect the general fund balances as of Oct. 31. And while we are quick to acknowledge the fact that the numbers will certainly improve next spring when revenues start picking up from state income tax and corporate tax collections, a comparison of the last five Octobers is both startling and sobering.

As of Oct. 31 of this year, the general fund balance reflected a deficit of $924.6 million. That’s just $75.4 million shy of $1 billion—and OGB alone is losing $16 million each month.

And yes, the numbers will improve next spring but let’s look back just one year. As of Oct. 31, 2013, the balance reflected a deficit of $656.7 million. That’s nearly $268 million less in negative spending than for this year.

Still not convinced? Well, for Oct. 31, 2012, the deficit was $476.6 million, about $448 million less than for the same month in 2014.

And while it was slightly higher at $565.2 million on Oct. 31, 2011, the number for 2010 was only $181.5 million—almost three-quarters of a billion dollars billion better than this year.

In five short years, the October deficit for the state general fund balance has increased fivefold.

The historically high negative balance, which arrives just a few months into each new fiscal year (which begins on July 1), “is forcing fund borrowing to sustain cash flow,” Kennedy says. “It darkly foreshadows the challenge ahead for lawmakers and the governor in the 2015 regular session. A budget shortfall of at least $1.2 billion is expected, but it’s clearly a figure that could move. It also increases the likelihood of midyear budget cuts in the minds of some.” (The administration finally admitted this even as this post was being written on Friday. Spending for the next seven months will have to be slashed by at least $171 million because of lower than anticipated revenues.) http://theadvocate.com/news/10833948-123/state-needs-mid-year-budget-correction

And here is the rub that has Kennedy and Nichols crossing swords: Kennedy says to some lawmakers, “the negative balance is at a critical high because the state started the fiscal year with a deficit cash balance of $141 million and because expenses actually are greater than revenues,” Kennedy said.

Nichols, however, vehemently disagrees, claiming instead that the administration stumbled upon some $320 million in extra cash from prior years lying around in agencies scattered across the state which she claims gives the state an actual surplus of nearly $179 million.

The problem she has, however, is that no one believes her—including two former commissioners of administration interviewed by LouisianaVoice, both of whom say it’s just not feasible that that much money could have been just lying around all these years without anyone’s knowing of its existence.

Nichols, of course, has to maintain a brave face in order that her boss can save face.

You see, as Bob Mann points out in his latest posting on his blog Something Like the Truth, Jindal “must never have raised a tax” and “must never have presided over an unbalanced state budget” if he wishes to cling to any fading hopes of the GOP presidential nomination.

“All your advantages—your personality, your policy credentials, the importance of your state in Electoral College politics—won’t help you much if you don’t meet these basic qualifications,” Mann said. http://bobmannblog.com/

“Jindal knows Republican audiences in Iowa and elsewhere will pay him little mind if they learn about his fiscal recklessness,” he said. “So, he and Nichols tried to cover their tracks, including dishonestly blaming their budget deficit on state Treasurer John Kennedy.”

Jindal, of course, won’t address any of these issues. But were he of a mind to do so, he could even discuss on his Meet the Press appearance how he tried to frame Murphy Painter, former director of the Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control after Painter refused to knuckle under to demands that he look the other way on behalf of New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson over Budweiser’s application for an alcohol permit at Champion’s Square. He could tell how that effort backfired and the state was forced to pay Painter’s legal bills of some $300,000. But he probably won’t

He could discuss how he attempted unsuccessfully to circumvent state law and obtain a hefty $55,000 per year increase in pension benefits for his state police commander. But most likely, he won’t.

And he could disclose how much it has cost Louisiana taxpayers in terms of payroll, meals and lodging for state police security as he jets around the country in pursuit of his presidential aspirations. But don’t expect him to.

Yes, Jindal could discuss these and other matters during Sunday’s program, but he won’t.

The simple fact is, by virtue of his bottom-feeding position as the anchor in the GOP nominee sweepstakes, he just can’t afford to.

And saddest of all, no one on the program’s panel is likely to inquire about these issues.

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By Guest Columnist Robert Burns

Tom recently posted that Louisiana Sen. Rick Gallot may have used his influence to expedite and circumvent safety standards for a private school.  Another Louisiana Senator, Francis Thompson (D-Delhi) may have well had his son, Brant, utilize his dad’s status to obtain fair and equitable treatment from the Louisiana Auctioneer Licensing Board (LALB).  He was fully entitled to such fair and equitable treatment, but it begs the question as to why other Louisiana citizens, especially elderly widow auction victims, are given the shaft.

In early 2012, Brant Thompson allegedly consigned merchandise to auctioneer Bruce Miller.  I use the word “allegedly” because, at a May 6, 2014 hearing, LALB investigator Jim Steele, as evidenced by this 4-second video clip, said, “There’s no indication that Mr. Thompson was a consignor at this auction whatsoever.”  Nobody knows what may have happened to Mr. Thompson’s items, and auctioneer Bruce Miller died of a massive heart attack two days after his last auction.  Mr. Thompson never received a dime for his items, nor did he ever even see his merchandise again.  Understandably, Mr. Thompson got upset and justifiably filed a complaint with the LALB.  Like so many other complainants, Mr. Thompson was frustrated when he received this brief letter from LALB attorney Anna Dow dated 1/16/14 indicating that, because the LALB could not ascertain if a violation had occurred, it was “closing the investigation……No further action will be taken.”

Thompson, like many other aggrieved complainants, wasn’t happy, so he drafted this terse two-page response dated 2/3/14.  He indicated that he “takes exception” to the finding and states that “The system designed to protect me failed.”  He emphasized that he was aware auctioneers carry a bond, and he relayed that he expected that bond to cover his alleged losses.  Mr. Thompson is correct in his assessment that the LALB failed him, but it has done the same for a litany of other complainants.  Mr. Thompson, however, was shrewd enough to copy Ms. Holly Robinson, Gov. Jindal’s then-Heard of Boards and Commissions.  Obviously, Ms. Robinson would be very familiar with the fact Brant is Francis’ son.  What transpired upon Robinson’s receipt of the letter?  Who knows, but we do know this:  in lightening-fast speed, the LALB, in an unprecedented move, not only “reopened” a closed investigation, but it actually conducted a full-blown hearing (on a deceased auctioneer) on 5/6/14.  Remember Mr. Thompson’s goal of collecting on Miller’s bond.  Now, watch this brief one-minute video clip excerpt from the hearing.  Notice how Mr. Thompson is gently guided regarding the bond’s parameters (that it’s for $10,000 and has a 3-year filing period in which the LALB can file for him).  Mr. Thompson, who speaks in a smooth and cavalier manner, is spoken to in turn by LALB members and its attorney in an almost reverent-like manner.  The LALB not only filed the bond for Mr. Thompson, but in breakneck speed, he received a $3,500 check from the bonding company in early October of 2014 even though the company said the itemized list it was provided depicted ordinary household items that were “virtually worthless.”

Let’s contrast Mr. Thompson’s revered status as a Louisiana senator’s son with the tone and attitude taken with complainant Judy Fasola.  In late 2012, Ms. Fasola contracted with notoriously-problematic auctioneer Ken Buhler for the disposition of her terminally-ill, 93-year-old mother’s estate.  Ms. Fasola asserted at her hearing, which was in March of 2013, that Mr. Buhler adamantly refused to place reserves on her marque items and instead, over time, just kept defiantly selling them at pennies on the dollar (Fasola relayed she later learned Buhler sold many marque items to his own mother, mother-in-law, and other Buhler relatives) against her express desire and instructions.  When she threatened an LALB complaint, he finally returned what few items he hadn’t sold in defiance of her instructions, and Fasola relayed he did so in a fit of anger, slamming her items on her floor and breaking most items in the process.  Fasola filed an LALB complaint, and the LALB fined his father, Mac, who is not an auctioneer but was deemed the responsible party for Ken’s company, Estate Auction Services, $500 for “sloppy recordkeeping.”  Due to Ken’s license being revoked from 2005-2010 (due to massive consignor losses), the LALB insisted that Mac oversee all negotiations and communication with customers.  Ken had defied that restriction in negotiating with Ms. Fasola, but she was unaware of the LALB restrictions on Ken’s license.  Ms. Fasola, like Brant, repeatedly asked the LALB to file a bond claim for her, but the LALB has steadfastly refused to do so.  When Ms. Fasola learned of Mr. Thompson’s ease of obtaining a bond payment, she was understandably upset and requested to be heard on the matter at the 11/5/14 meeting to air her frustrations.  Let’s examine, mainly through video excerpts of the meeting, just how she got treated.

Fasola began by giving an introductory statement relaying how she, like Brant, felt the system had failed her, and she asked if she may have been treated more fairly “if I were the daughter of a Louisiana State Senator?”  LALB Vice Chairman James Sims tersely denied any knowledge that Brant was the son of a Louisiana senator until “seven days after the hearing.”  There simply is no way to adequately place in words the hostility shown toward Ms. Fasola (and me, for that matter) at the meeting, so I ask readers’ indulgence in watching a 9-minute video clip of the highlights of Ms. Fasola’s presentation, along with captions wherein Ms. Fasola catches board members, attorneys, and the executive director in one contradiction and falsehood after another (proven by video clips merged into this 9-minute video clip which I strongly encourage readers to watch).  In watching the video, it becomes apparent why I videotape these meetings because these board members flat-out misrepresent what they’ve said and done in prior meetings.

Now, in the above 9-minute video clip, considerable focus was placed on the above-mentioned restrictions on Ken Buhler’s license.  When Estate Auction Services (Mac Buhler) was fined $500 and found guilty in March of 2013, the bonding company immediately canceled its bond.  As mentioned above, Ken, pursuant to the restrictions on his license, was totally dependent upon his dad to remain in business; however, his dad could no longer operate due to lack of a bond.  How did the LALB solve Ken’s problem in that regard?  They simply convened another “hearing” on May 20, 2013 for the sole purpose of removing all restrictions on Ken’s license.  Nevertheless, as evidenced by the video clip, LALB Vice Chairman James Sims kept insisting (incorrectly, on no less that three occasions) that the restrictions were lifted prior to Fasola’s auction.  In reality, the restrictions were lifted after and as a result of Fasola’s auction.  Hence, as Fasola pointed out, Buhler was actually rewarded for his victimizing of her!  Also, although LALB Chairman Tessa Steinkamp literally blew a gasket at the 6:27 mark of the video when Fasola referenced concerns for her personal safety when dealing with Ken Buhler, Ms. Fasola had genuine reason for concern.  Even as she was dealing with him, he was arrested and criminally charged for domestic abuse against his wife (the latest court date is Monday, 11/10/14).  Additionally, Mr. Buhler was also found to have civil liability for the fraudulent use of interstate commerce instrumentalities in Federal Court in mid-2011.  The LALB was notified of that fact, but they were completely indifferent to the fact it transpired, notwithstanding the fact that his liability entailed securities fraud directly related to his auction business.

As evidenced by the preceding video clip, the LALB basically continued to tell Ms. Fasola to “go to hell” regarding its filing her bond claim for her.  Quite a contrast to the reverent tone taken with Brant Thompson, son of State Sen. Francis Thompson, huh?  What’s alarming is the sheer number of elderly victims of auctioneers.  Let me provide the following table of four such instances that readily come to mind:

Auction Victim’s Name Reason for Auction Auctioneer and Appx. Date
Ms. Linda Williams Liquidating 91-year-old mother’s belongings days before her death.  Click here to listen to an impassioned plea by Ms. Williams for the LALB to NOT reinstate Ken Buhler’s license in 2010. Ken Buhler. Months prior to his auction license being revoked in 2005.
Mr. David Swift Liquidating the belongings of his 80-something father soon after his death. Gary & Randy Hayes (business applicants like Mac Buhler), two guys who, to their credit, told the LALB at their 1/14 hearing, “We never should have been granted a license.”   They went on to relay they’d lost over $100,000 of their retirement savings and would NEVER be in the auction business again.
Ms. Judy Fasola Liquidating 93-year-old terminally-ill mother’s belongings months before her imminent death. Ken Buhler. September, 2012.
Ms. Betty Story Liquidating her belongings (and two homes) in order to move into an assisted living facility in Alexandria, LA.  LA Voice readers may recall this 9/27/14 post on what a disaster her auction was.  I’m happy to report that Ms. Story, serving as a pro se litigant (at 84 years old!!), scored a major victory in 36th JDC on 10/29/14 when Judge Martha O’Neal stopped the trial after Ms. Story presented only her second witness, with Judge O’Neal saying, “I’ve heard all I need to hear.”  When auctioneer Schmidt asked if he’d be permitted to put on his defense and call witnesses, O’Neal said, “Yes, but you’re not going to be able to undo the damage you’ve already done on this witness stand in answering my questions,” (Story had him on the witness stand under direct examination).  Click here if you’d like to watch a post-trial interview with Ms. Story.  Her LALB litigation remains ongoing. Marlo Schmidt. November   17, 2012.

 

I recently made a public records request of the LALB seeking all bond claims it has ever filed.  They could produce only two:  Mr. Thompson and Mr. Swift.  It’s interesting to note that these two claims were likely filed (beyond Thompson’s status as a Louisiana Senator’s son) because there would be no auctioneer pushback in either case.  Mr. Miller is dead, so he won’t get upset.  Gary and Randy Hayes, as evidenced by the brief video clip above, readily stated they’ll never be in the auction business again (hence no pushback from them).  In sharp contrast, Ken Buhler and Marlo Schmidt are active auctioneers who would be very upset with LALB members if claims were filed against their bonds!

I’d like to conclude this Louisiana Voice post by expressing gratitude to Tom because I’ve presented the above cases to MSM outlets in Baton Rouge.  While an Advocate reporter has expressed strong interest in publishing LALB elderly victimizations, his editors have said, “It’s a small board and nobody will read the article.”  Further, 13 months ago, Ms. Linda Williams, the first victim listed above, suggested that I contact Chris Nakamoto of Channel 2 here in Baton Rouge.  I still maintain a computer folder of numerous emails back-and-forth between Mr. Nakamoto and myself regarding a television investigative report on elderly abuse by auctioneers.  He did qualify any such potential report, however, with the fact that, like the Advocate reporter, his editors too had to give the “thumbs up.”  All I can tell Louisiana Voice readers is that, days prior to New Year’s Day of 2014, Mr. Nakamoto ceased all communication with me without even so much as a courtesy explanation of why he’d gone from responding to my emails within hours (often minutes) to suddenly no response at all.

In closing, if you or anyone you know is considering hiring an auctioneer, you owe it to yourself to visit Consumer Option # 2 on LAPA’s website, which is an alphabetical index of auctioneer issues since LAPA’s archive began in 2010 and also Consumer Option # 3 on LAPA’s website, which is guidance on conducting auctioneer due diligence.  If it’s not conducted, the results, as illustrated above, can be devastating.

Lastly, anyone knowing of an elderly person (or the caretaker of such an individual) who is considering hiring an auctioneer, please bookmark this post and forward it to them.  Why?  Because auctioneers exist out there who view such elderly prospective clients just like lambs headed for slaughter.

Regrettably, we have a Governor and his LALB appointees who are only too happy to help with hoisting the guillotine.

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