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In case any of you have attempted to contact LouisianaVoice by email at louisianavoice@cox.net, you may have learned that your emails are no longer getting through.

That’s because after battling continuing price increases from my cable provider (I won’t mention the name, but it’s initials are C.O.X.), I finally decided to cut the cable.

As of a little more than three months ago, I dumped my landline telephone, my cable television and my internet, opting instead for a local antenna (who can watch 250 TV channels, after all?). C.O.X. was generous in giving me a 90-day free ride on internet (so they could continue their campaign to get me to change my mind, which they did—and I didn’t).

When I discovered a couple of Saturdays ago that I no longer had emails through them, I decided to go in search of another Outlook email provider because, even though I also have Yahoo email accounts, I like the Outlook format.

Consequently, our new email address is louisianavoice@outlook.com should you desire to send me a news lead or to simply ask a question.

Of course my frustration isn’t restricted to cable. There’s also (pick a name) cell phone service provider.

In my case, I dropped the provider whose initials are A.T.T. some time back and went with one whose name I also won’t mention, but which begins with a V.

Not that I got any financial relief; they’re all either way too expensive or way too inadequate in signal reliability.

But how about this one: earlier this week, I decided to get a newer phone for my wife. I selected a phone that cost $150. The sales rep told me it would be about $7.50 per month.

I said no, I would pay the full amount up front.

He said no, I can’t do that.

I can pay the first $7.50 and then come in and pay the balance the second month. Crazy, huh? It gets better.

After he sold me the case and the protective shield (absolute necessities for any discerning call phone owner, I was told), my tab for what started out as a single monthly payment of $7.50 was $161, including a $50 setup charge, that initial payment of $7.50 and tax.

So, I whipped out the old check book and starting writing.

Can’t take a check because they can’t accept payment of sales tax by check, says he.

Wait. What?

That’s correct. V can’t accept payment of sales taxes by check, though all other fees could be paid in that manner.

Never in my 75 years on this planet have I ever heard of a business being unable to accept payment of sales taxes by check. Oh, there has been the occasional merchant who didn’t take checks at all, others who don’t accept credit cards (and state agencies don’t accept cash as payment for documents) but never one who excluded only sales taxes.

What’s particularly puzzling about this policy is that I’ve had V as cell phone provider for a couple of years now and I pay my monthly bill—which includes sales tax—by check.

Go figure.

If it ain’t cable, it’s your cellular phone provider. Just another way for them to mess with us.

And I won’t even get into trying to interpret a hospital bill, insurance policies, warranties on anything from cars to appliances.

And does anyone know what terms they’re agreeing to when they click on “I Accept” when downloading a computer program? I mean, who reads those things anyway?

If it ain’t cable or your cellular phone provider, it’s something else like the rapid-fire disclaimer at the end of an auto commercial that no one on earth can comprehend or the long list of downright frightening side effects at the end of the commercial for some new wonder drug.

Just another way for them to mess with us.

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Remember THIS STORY as Bobby Jindal moved into the governor’s office in 2008?

That was in 2008. Fast forward to May 16, 2019 and we have a thoroughly-researched and informative story by Baton Rouge Advocate reporter ANDREA GALLO in partnership with ProPublica, a leading investigative journalism website that details just how impotent, inept, and dysfunctional the Louisiana State Board of Ethics has become, thanks to Jindal’s “Gold Standard of Ethics,” passed in 2009, immediately after he assumed the office of governor.

In the 10 years since Jindal literally gutted the State Ethics Board of any enforcement powers, the board has become the antithesis of bodies like the State Board of Dentistry and the State Board of Medical Examiners which have the unbridled power to impose draconian penalties against dentists and doctors in order to support their exorbitant budgets.

Both extremes are classic examples of how political considerations trump due process and fairness in state government.

One bankrupts professionals who must accept coercion and extortion or face financial ruin while the other currently has more than $1 million in uncollected campaign violation fines dating back to (ahem) 2008, the year Jindal was elected.

Campaign finance report enforcement is all but non-existent, if the Louisiana Ethics Administration’s list of delinquent fines is any indication.

The administration’s WEBSITE lists 62 pages totaling about 700 uncollected fines dating back 11 years and totaling nearly $1.1 million, a testament to inefficiency and waste.

Moreover, the dental and medical boards, as well as other regulatory boards, have broad power to initiate their own investigations, something the ethics commission lacks. It can only investigate alleged ethics violations if it receives an official complaint.

But wait. Only elected or appointed officials may file a complaint; your average Louisiana citizen “has no standing” to file a complaint.

In other words, those not subject to an ethics complaint unless said complaint is made by a state or local official include:

  • A legislator who contracts with the state for hurricane debris removal (a real, not hypothetical case) is not subject to an ethics complaint unless said complaint is made by a state or local official.
  • A legislator uses campaign funds to pay his federal income taxes (again, an actual case), there is no ethics violation without an official complaint.
  • Another legislator using campaign funds to lease luxury vehicles for himself and members of his family and to purchase season tickets to Saints, Pelicans and LSU games.
  • Or a former governor publishing a book and then using funds from his tax-exempt foundation to purchase thousands of copies of the book at a nice profit to himself.

Convenient, no?

Jindal’s good-government charade began as soon as he took office and as a result, ethics board members resigned en masse in protest.

But could Jindal have harbored ulterior motives in pushing for his “reforms”?

On January 25, 2008, right after he took office, he was hit with his own $2,500 FINE for failure to timely disclose more than $100,000 spent on his behalf by the state Republican Party. A month later, he opened his first SPECIAL SESSION of the legislature dedicated solely to ethics reform.

At the same time, the Jindal reform package, when passed, allowed pending ethics fines against political allies, including then-state representative but current Grambling State University President RICK GALLOT, disappear.

The same couldn’t be said for two CALCASIEU PARISH PUBLIC SCHOOL TEACHERS who led unsuccessful recall efforts against Jindal and then-House Speaker Chuck Kleckley. The teachers found themselves facing fines of $1,000 each for failing to file timely campaign finance reports. You can bet that little transgression wasn’t overlooked by Jindal and his “Gold Standard” of ethics.

But it’s impossible to place all the blame on Jindal.

In July 2007, more than a year before Jindal’s election, the ethics board allowed its chief administrator, Gray Sexton, resign and then rehired him in a different capacity—all to AVOID A REQUIREMENT under a new ethics law that he disclose clients in his private law practice, a move that on its face, might appear unethical to many.

But it didn’t end there. Sexton has since retired but now represents defendants before his former employer. Among his clients::

  • Lafayette developer Greg Gachassin;
  • Tammany Assistant District Attorney Harry Pastuszek, Jr.;
  • John the Baptist Parish Engineer C.J. Savoie and his company, C. J. Savoie Engineers;
  • Lafourche Parish President Charlotte Randolph;
  • State Rep. Nancy Landry;
  • John the Baptist Parish President William Hubbard;
  • Former state senate candidate Shawn Barney;
  • Shreveport businessman Bobby Jelks;

And as far back as 1986, a full 17 years before Jindal’s first campaign for governor, it was common for the ethics board to be used selectively to punish politicians or public servants who had fallen from favor.

That was the year that former LSU athletic director Bob Brodhead and Baton Rouge Advocate publisher Doug Manship were FOUND GUILTY by the ethics board in connection with a flight by Brodhead and his wife to Manship’s private club in LaPaz, Mexico, on Manship’s private plane.

Then-LSU President James Wharton used the ethics charges as leverage to oust Brodhead even though Wharton was aware of the trip and even encouraged the Brodheads to take the trip, according to Brodhead’s account in his book Sacked!

Strangely enough, no ethics violations investigations were ever initiated against Wharton and LSU Alumni Association President Charlie Roberts for accepting dove hunting trips from LSU Board of Supervisors member Sam Friedman, nor were ethics violation charges ever pursued against Friedman who owned a Holiday Inn hotel outside Gainesville, Florida, the hotel at which the LSU football team was quartered when it played in Gainesville.

Nor did the ethics board pursue charges against legislators who routinely accepted dove-hunting trips from lobbyists, choosing instead to “take no action.” In fact, a story in The Advocate said, “The Board’s staff attorney refused to say who the lawmakers were, when or why they took the trip.”

The time has long since past when the legislature reinstated the enforcement powers of the ethics board.

The alternative would be to admit the futility of any pretense at enforcement, or even the existence of, governmental ethics and simply shut down the agency as excess baggage.

We would probably never notice the difference.

 

As Vice President Pence QUIETLY CATNAPPED through the State of the Union Address on Feb. 5, Donald Trump declared, “We will never be a socialist country.”

Fast forward to May 13 (that’s the day before yesterday and barely three months after that SOTU declaration.

Trump ramps up his trade war with China, imposing new tariffs on Chinese imports that he claims will bring money into the U.S. treasury when, in fact, the proposed tariffs only mean that U.S. consumers will be paying more for goods from China.

You see, that’s the way tariffs work. It’s the buyer (American citizens) who will be paying the tariffs, not China. Trump doesn’t seem to be able to grasp that.

China retaliated by announced its own new tariffs on $60 billion in U.S. goods, including $19.6 billion in agricultural exports to China in 2017, more than 14 percent of total U.S. agricultural exports.

No problem, Trump says. He’ll just push through a new RELIEF PACKAGE for farmers to the tune of about $15 billion.

That’s in addition to the $12 billion in farm aid Trump provided last year following China’s retaliatory tariffs.

And speaking of China, China was America’s biggest creditor for 2017, holding some $1.15 TRILLION in U.S, debt, down slightly from $1.3 TRILLION in 2013.

So, the U.S. will now borrow even more money from China to pay our own soybean farmers not to sell soybeans to China? Is that about it?

But wait! Let’s go back to that SOTU declaration. Wouldn’t ensuring farmers won’t go under in the wake of failure of capitalism (brought on, of course, by Trump’s trade war) be pretty much the very definition of socialism?

Of course, Republicans have repudiated socialism by voting repeatedly over the past two decades to increase their salaries while voting against raising the minimum wage 14 times. (In the interest of accuracy, it should be noted that congressional pay raises are automatic unless members vote specifically to refuse increases—not that they’re prone to do that with any regularity.)

Senate Republicans have already expressed their trepidation over the tariffs and the trade war but if they had the courage of their convictions, all they need do is pass a bill to halt Trump’s petulant trade war. And with the Democrats who would join them in a bipartisan effort, they’d certainly have enough votes to override a veto.

But they don’t and they won’t.

Where, for example is Lindsey Graham, the Republican senator from South Carolina? According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, long-time ally of the Republican Party, South Carolina will be the THIRD-HARDEST HIT state by the trade war with nearly 600,000 jobs and $30 billion in goods tied directly to trade.

Yet Graham is strangely silent on all matters related to the tariffs but has advised Trump staffers to ignore Senate Intelligence Committee subpoenas.

And then there’s Louisiana, the fifth most adversely-impacted state, with 16.5 percent of its exports headed for China.

So, where are John Kennedy and Bill Cassidy? For that matter, where are Reps. Steve Scalise, Clay “The Cajun Mouth” Higgins, Mike Johnson, Garret Graves and (especially) gubernatorial candidate Ralph Abraham, who just happens to represent the very part of Louisiana hardest-hit by agricultural export tariffs?

Speaking of Abraham, Lamar White, publisher of BAYOU BRIEF, had a revealing story last week about how farmer-doctor-congressman Abraham and his family have raked in $2.6 million in government farm subsidies from 1995 to 2017. Farmer-doctor-Congressman Abraham personally received $68,000, and the Ralph and Diane Farm Partnership (that’s farmer-doctor-congressman Ralph Abraham and his wife) received an additional $514,000. His son-in-law, Dustin Morris, raked in a little more than $975,000 while his wife Ashley Abraham Morris, farmer-doctor-congressman Abraham’s daughter, pulled in an additional $592,000 over the same period.

And oh, farmer-doctor-congressman Abraham also just happens to be a member of the House Agriculture Committee.

Here’s a RUNDOWN of members of congress who received at least $100,000 in farm subsidies:

Senate or House Agriculture Committee members:

  • Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa: $322,000;
  • Republican Rep. Vicky Hartzier of Missouri: $972,000;
  • Republican Rep. Doug LaMalfa of California: $1.8 million (33 percent of $5.3 million paid to family);
  • Republican Rep. Frank Lucas of Ohio: $105,000;

Non-committee members:

  • Republican former Rep. Stephen Fincher of Tennessee: $3.7 million;
  • Republican Rep. Deb Fischer of Nebraska: $381,000
  • Republican Rep. Sam Graves of Missouri: $143,000;
  • Republican Rep. Devin Nunes of California (one of Trump’s most vocal cheerleaders): $244,000 (25 percent of Sunset View Farms which received $748,000);
  • Republican former Rep. Marlin Stutzman of Indiana: $220,000;
  • Democrat Sen. Jon Tester of Montana: $330,000;
  • Democrat former Rep. Gwen Graham of Florida: $238,000;
  • Republican Mac Thornberry of Texas: $160,000;

With 11 of 13—counting Abraham—being Republican, perhaps the Grand Old Party isn’t as militantly anti-socialist as it purports to be—unless, of course, it can blame socialism for programs to aid the poor. That’s a different matter altogether.

Southern University has been hit with more than $14,000 in fines and fees as a result of an illegal executive session of the university’s system-wide grievance committee on March 18 involving four professors who were appealing the decision by Southern Executive Vice President/Vice Chancellor James Ammons to either fired, demote or reduce the pay of the four.

Nineteenth Judicial District Court Judge Richard “Chip” Moore awarded $5,000 to the four professors and to yours truly. In addition, he ordered Southern to pay $8,400 in attorney fees to Baton Rouge attorney J. Arthur Smith, III, and to pay $638 in court costs.

RULING ON SOUTHERN CLOSED MEETING

At the same time he ruled that any and all actions by the committee affecting the four professors from March 18 through the date of the ruling (May 13) were null and void, “said evidence being the unlawful fruit collected by the committee in contravention of the Open Meeting Law…”

The decision followed the May 6 trial in which the four professors—Elaine Lawnau, Christy Moland, Terrilynn Gillis and Marilyn Seibert—and Aswell said they were forced to exit an illegally-held closed-door meeting of the grievance committee on March 18.

In his ruling, Judge Moore said that prior to the committee’s convening in the committee room on the Southern campus, committee chairperson Marla Dickerson “met privately with all committee members to discuss whether the hearing should be open or closed to the public. Dickerson testified that the committee members unanimously and clandestinely agreed that the hearing be closed to the public (emphasis mine).

“Thereafter, Dickerson and the other committee members assembled in a boardroom and called the hearing to order with all plaintiffs being present. Dickerson then asked plaintiffs whether they desired the hearing be open or closed, and all plaintiffs moved that it be open to the public. Dickerson then posed the same question to Southern University, which advised through its counsel (Winston Decuir, Jr.) that the hearing be closed. Dickerson then authoritatively ordered the committee hearing be closed to the public, said action being taken without prior motion or vote from any committee member while the committee was in open session.”

The state’s open meeting law specifically says that (a) all votes to enter into executive session must be by a two-third majority vote and that the vote must be taken in open session and recorded in the minutes of the meeting, and (b) employee(s) filing the grievance or appeal have the final say as to whether the meeting is to be conducted in open or closed session.

The committee failed to meet either criteria.

Decuir, who appeared smug and self-assured at the outset of the trial, argued that because Southern’s handbook gives the committee the final say on executive sessions, the university was not required to comply with state law when in reality, the reverse order is true: state law trumps the school’s handbook, not the other way around.

But that did not stop Decuir from arguing that the committee “had no legal responsibility to comply with laws relative to public hearings,” Judge Moore noted.

Moreover, apparently disregarding the First Amendment, Decuir challenged my right to be a plaintiff in the matter, arguing that I had no standing even though I was there to cover the proceedings for LouisianaVoice. Under cross examination, he even asked me—as if the question had any relevance whatsoever—if I had ever covered a meeting at Southern before. Again, Mr. Decuir—I direct you to the First Amendment.

Judge Moore, who first was required to rule that Southern was a public body in order for the trial on the merits to proceed, noted that the recommendation to be made by the committee to Southern’s president/chancellor “was far too important to be made in a dark room, where no one other than committee members knew what facts and evidence it had considered…”

He said Dickerson’s own testimony “clearly established that prohibitory law was contravened when Dickerson improperly ordered the hearing go into executive session, closing the meeting to plaintiffs and the public.”

Moore also noted, “Generally, a party seeking the issuance of a preliminary injunction must show that he will suffer irreparable injury, loss, or damage if the injunction does not issue and must show entitlement to the relief sought. However, a showing of irreparable injury is not necessary when the act sought to be enjoined is unlawful, or a deprivation of a constitutional right is involved.”

LABI loses!

It was a headline I never thought I’d get to write as long as we had legislators like Rep. Cameron Henry (R-Metairie) and House Speaker Taylor Barras (R-New Iberia) carrying the water for the business lobby.

And cheered on by the Baton Rouge Business Report.

And let’s not overlook Sen. BODIE WHITE (R-Central), who withdrew his bill, SB 214, which would have seized control from local communities over burgeoning industrial tax exemptions which have gutted local governments’ desperately needed revenue for schools, law enforcement, and roads and bridges.

He withdrew his bill after it became evident that he didn’t have the needed votes to run roughshod over local government.

As did Rep. Rick Edmonds (R-Baton Rouge) with his HCR 3, which would have done essentially the same thing as SB 214, that is to override Gov. John Bel Edwards’s executive order giving local government more control over the granting of industrial tax exemptions, particularly those exemptions that don’t really result in any new jobs.

What is particularly ironic about this whole thing is the Republican Party purports to be the party that wants government out of our lives, i.e. more say-so about local affairs by the locals.

Except, that is, when those local desires impede business and industry’s desires to pile up more and more tax exemptions, placing the burden of picking up the tab for police and fire protection, road and bridge construction and repair, education, and a multitude of other responsibilities on the already overburdened working stiffs.

One need only examine the campaign contributions of LABI’s four (count ‘em) political action committees to understand the stroke the organization has enjoyed in the legislature.

The same can be said of contributions by the oil and gas industry, nursing homes, banks, payday loan companies, cable TV, health care providers, pharmaceutical companies, private prisons, and insurance companies, most of whom are also members of LABI.

Compare those campaign corporations to those of your average, non-fat-cat individuals to see who has the most stroke in the halls of the Louisiana State Capitol. Take a look around the rotunda and in both chambers to see who the lobbyists represent. See anyone who represents your interests? Didn’t think so.

And, of course, let’s not overlook the abetting of Business Report.

Just yesterday (May 9), for example, the publication chronicled in a headline that Louisiana’s corporate income tax ranks 27th in nation.”

Oh, my. That high? That’s terrible! Something has to be done about that! The sky’s falling!

But wait. What Business Report conveniently overlooked was that conversely, if we have the highest corporate tax, then with only 50 states, that would necessarily mean we also have the 23rd lowest corporate income tax rate.

The headline was reminiscent of the joke about the Russian news agency TASS, back in the old days of the Soviet Union, ran a headline about a two-way automobile race: “Russian car finishes second, American car next to last.”

Of course, you can’t blame Business Report. After all, it was only transcribing as news the Tax Foundation’s PR that lamented in its own press release that “State Corporate Income Taxes Increase Tax Burden on Corporate Profits.”

On the one hand, the Tax Foundation said that yes, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (that would be Trump’s and the Republican Congress’s tax reform that enriched everyone’s lives so much) reduced the federal corporate income tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent but alas, “most states also tax corporate income.”

Well, here’s a news flash for you: the federal tax reform did precious little to actually help the middle class while cutting federal income tax by 14 percent and furthermore, most states also tax individual income.

The Tax Foundation also had a by-state ranking which appears to place Louisiana with the 44th BEST (6th WORST) OVERALL BUSINESS CLIMATE. It also shows that Louisiana has the worst sales tax rate, which means that the working poor pay the highest proportionate taxes on goods and services.

And of course, we have the second-best unemployment insurance tax rate, according to the Tax Foundation. That would the unemployed in this state are getting the shaft, thanks to the untiring lobbying efforts of LABI.

It’s probably no coincidence that LABI and lobby sound so similar.