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Archive for September, 2011

First of all, an explanation is in order for our lack of diligence over the past two months.

We have been under contract to edit a lengthy book manuscript for a publishing company. By lengthy, we mean 250,000 words that had to be boiled down to 130,000 while leaving the story intact. To give some perspective to word count, the 130,000 would translate to about 350 pages of book text.

Now to the issue at hand.

Gov. Bobby Jindal seems to be a virtual lock for re-election. (Still, the Boston Red Sox went into September with a nine-game lead for the wild card spot in the playoffs and promptly went 7-20 and lost the wild card to Tampa on the final day of the season, so in the words of the old Fats Waller song, One Never Know, Do One?)

A similar scenario is not likely in the October 22 election for several reasons. First, and let’s go ahead and get this out of the way: Jindal is smart, as in politically savvy. Never forget that. He’s also brilliant at remembering numbers and statistics and can recite them with little prompting. That also makes him intelligent. No argument there.

Second, he has a commanding advantage in campaign funds—something like $9 million to about $5,000 for Haynesville schoolteacher Tara Hollis, his nearest competitor.

But intelligence, political smarts and money do not a good governor make.

His biggest asset appears to be the manner in which he twists and distorts numbers and cons Protestant church members in north Louisiana when he sets down in his helicopter on Sunday mornings to dispense federal stimulus checks that he was against before he was apparently for them.

And don’t overlook that clever ploy he pulled off awhile back when he duped the legislature into approving the awarding of special pins to Louisiana military veterans. Legislators thought they were going to get in on the act of handing out the medals in their districts but it wasn’t to be. Jindal very politely hijacked that idea, pre-empted the lawmakers and went around the state handing them out to grateful veterans himself.

As if that weren’t enough, now he is exploiting that seemingly magnanimous gesture by incorporating it into his campaign ads. That’s a new low in campaign tactics, if you ask us. If you’re going to recognize our military veterans, governor, then it should be done in a more dignified manner and certainly should not be used for political gain. But then Jindal has shown he is not above any action so long as it reaps political benefits.

He even has one ad that shamelessly sucks up to the NRA, the robust outdoorsman that he is. But we won’t wade off into those murky waters.

Our personal favorite among his TV campaign ads (we can only surmise he has to spend some of that campaign money for appearance sake) is the one in which he touts all the job gains for the state under his administration. Where he plucked his numbers from is literally beyond the scope of our admittedly limited imagination.

In rapid-fire order, the ad flashes names of companies and the number of jobs “created” by his administration. To get all the numbers, one must constantly stop and restart the Youtube video. So we did. In all, the ad names 17 companies across the state, giving the impression that each one is a new company to Louisiana when in fact many are simply companies already domiciled in the state which announced expansions that they quite likely already had on the planning board. Nothing the governor did had any bearing on those expansions. Not that Jindal had any compunction about claiming full credit, mind you.

But it’s the numbers flashed on the screen that bear closer scrutiny. To verify Jindal’s numbers, we simply went online to the companies’ own web pages, the Louisiana Department of Economic Development web page, or online news accounts.

Let’s start with the chicken plant in Farmerville, way up in Union Parish. Farmerville is only a few miles from the Arkansas border as the pullet flies. Jindal’s ad says the $50 million plant (run by one of his campaign contributors, by the way) is responsible for 3,970 jobs. Does Farmerville even have 3,970 people? Probably more but it’s unlikely they all pluck chickens. In fact, Foster Farms’ own web page puts the employment number at only 1,060. That’s about 2,910 short of Jindal’s inflated number. But perhaps he is counting the owners of the broiler houses where the chickens are raised to maturity. Maybe he’s even including the truck drivers who take the birds to the plucking plant. Of course, there’s the U-Fill-Um convenience store where the truckers purchase their diesel fuel. There must be at least three or four employees in that store. And those truck drivers have to eat on the road sometimes, so add the burger flippers at the hamburger joints to the number. Or would that be the servers at the local Foster Farms Crispy Fried Chicken Shack, Used Lumber Emporium, House of Prayer and Snake Farm?

But here’s the real kicker about that chicken plant: no matter what the actual number is, we’re told on pretty good authority that about 60 percent of the plant’s employees reside in Arkansas and drive in the 10 or 15 miles each day.

Here are some others:

• Nucor Steel in St. James Parish—Jindal’s TV ad says 6,050 jobs. The Nucor website says 650. Whoa. A spread of 5,400 is pretty big, even in gut bucket politics;

• Blade Dynamics in New Orleans—Jindal claims 1,570 jobs. Blade Dynamics says 600 on its website;

• Globalstar moving to Covington—Jindal’s ad says 1,300 jobs. Globalstar says the number is closer to 500;

• LaShip in Terrebonne Parish—Jindal says there will be 2,282 new jobs but news accounts put the number at only 1,000. Moreover, LaShip is owned by the Chouest family and the company was the direct beneficiary of Jindal’s $10 million investment of state funds for the Port of Terrebonne in 2008. Jindal received 18 campaign contributions totaling $85,000 from Chouest family members and Chouest businesses;

• DG Foods in Bastrop—was supposed to produce 1,253 jobs instead of 317 actually realized;

• National Electric Warranty—298 jobs touted were unverified;

• CenturyLink—Monroe company simply expanded, producing 1,150 new jobs, not the 1,970 claimed;

• ConAgra—Sweet potato processing plant in Delhi created 500 jobs which was not nearly as sweet as the 1,920 claimed by Jindal;

• Schlumberger—Shreveport oilfield equipment company expanded operations, which only “secured” 120 existing jobs, far short of the 650 new jobs claimed;

• Ronpak—Shreveport fast food packaging company produced 175 jobs, 500 short of Jindal’s boast of 675;

• Northwest Pipe—446 new jobs claimed by Jindal far exceeded 120 actually realized;

• ADA-ES—Red River Parish activated carbon processing facility announcement made no mention of Jindal’s claim of 280 new jobs;

• Zagis USA—Jefferson Davis Parish cotton yarn company claims it will have one of the lowest production costs (read salaries) in America and its 161 jobs is far short of the 805 claimed by Jindal;

• Aeroframe—Expansion of this Chennault Airport facility in Lake Charles will add 300 new jobs, not the 880 hyped in the TV spot;

• Cheniere Energy—Sabine Pass terminal in Cameron Parish produced 148 new jobs and retained 77 as opposed to new 737 jobs claimed by Jindal.

• Northrop Grumman—This donor to Jindal’s wife’s foundation was supposed to produce 339 new jobs with its Lake Charles expansion but in fact created only 80 while retaining the existing 217 positions. Moreover, those numbers were offset with the June announcement that the company had to refund $35 million in economic incentive money to the state when it failed to meet minimum employment totals at its Avondale facility near New Orleans. Somehow, that little factoid didn’t make it into the TV ad.

Bottom line: the ad claims the Jindal administration created 25,425 new jobs through his Department of Economic Development when in fact only 6,729 new jobs were actually created by the 17 new or expanding industries. That number is a whopping 18,696 shortfall from the number claimed in Jindal’s ad–delivered in typical staccato fashion–and only 26.5 percent of the total claimed.

A quarterback who completes only 26.5 percent of his passes quickly finds himself on the bench.

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“The Louisiana Way Forward means that during these tough economic times, we’re pursuing reforms and efficiencies that make govenment do more with less.”

Gov.Bobby Jindal, in a May 23, 2010 speech to the Louisiana Gas and Oil Association annual meeting in Lake Charles.

“We don’t need whining, we don’t need complaining. We need leaders to provide vision.”

Gov. Bobby Jindal on Oct. 22, 2010, as he cut $35 million from the higher education, $21 million from health cae, and $12 million from social services budgets.

“My number one job is creating jobs. That’s why we’re forcing government to do more with less.”

Gov. Bobby Jindal, in his first re-election ad, in March of this year.

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BATON ROUGE (CNS)—If you believe you’ve done a good job at work and would like a nice bonus, you might get in touch with Gov. Bobby Jindal or Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater.

Never mind that times are tough, that unemployment is up, or that state classified personnel have not received a merit increase going on three years now.

Heck, even if you think you deserve a bonus just for showing up at work, you might place a quick call to Baton Rouge.

For that matter, if you’re taking college courses or taking on additional duties at work, you may already be a winner.

While the Jindal administration has been trying to cut the number of employees on the state payroll and continues to put the squeeze on employees by denying pay increases, several employees received around $250,000 in bonuses in the past year, according to records provided by the Louisiana Office of Civil Service.

The State Department of Children and Family Services paid several classified employees $132,184 in rewards and recognition bonuses. Many of those received multiple bonuses for taking on emergency preparedness duties.

Regional administrator Catherine Michiels received more than $11,000 in five separate payments over and above her $90,000 salary for agreeing to be a lead area manager on emergency preparedness, according to a spokesman for the agency.

The Division of Administration (DOA) paid out nearly $90,000 in payments to employees on top of their regular salaries to help upgrade the state’s computer systems.

But wait. Wasn’t it just a short while ago that Jindal admonished state employees and state agencies quit whining and to “do more with less” just before he left on yet another of his frequent out-of-state fund raisers?

In a departure from what has become a familiar routine at DOA, division spokesman Michael DiReso said the administration decided to pay employees extra to take on the project in favor of hiring outside help. The Jindal administration has demonstrated a propensity to hiring contract workers but decided against that in Rainwater’s agency.

Ray Stockstill, an unclassified employee, received $9,000 over three pay periods in December of 2010. Rainwater said he made the decision to pay Stockstill in addition to his $180,000 salary because Stockstill was needed during the recent fiscal crisis and difficult budget process.

“The reality is Ray is 67 years old,” Rainwater said. “There was a possibility of him considering retirement.”

At 180 grand per? That’s only $20,000 less than we paid President Bill Clinton to walk around with a little black briefcase with which he could launch a nuclear war.

At any given time in state government, there are hundreds of employees who are “considering retirement,” but because Stockstill works for Rainwater, he apparently warranted special consideration over others “considering retirement.”

Rainwater said Stockstill was instrumental in helping win passage of a state operating budget that spared health care and education from drastic cuts. “Ray’s a very strong leader,” Rainwater said. “He’s a good negotiator.”

But wasn’t that his job? What’s wrong with tossing a good ol’ “attaboy” his way, something that other rank and file civil service employees find missing from the governor’s repertoire these days?

He said he offered Stockstill the lump-sum payment as an incentive to persuade him to remain with the administration for another year. He now plans to retire in November—unless, of course, another surplus is in the offing.

Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola Warden Burl Cain received $14,872 and Dixon Correctional Institute Warden Steve Rader received more than $11,000 for “regional warden duties.”

Department of Corrections Pam Laborde said the wardens did not receive lump sum bonuses but that they were added to their pay every two weeks.

Well, that certainly softens the blow to employees who have gone without raises while the costs of fuel, food, utilities, college tuition and other commodities have continued to rise.

Laborde said the regional warden concept dates back four years. Cain and Rader help oversee other parts of the prison system, she said.

Again, we refer you to Jindal’s “DMWL” (Do More with Less) obsession as the phrase applies to rank and file workers.

State Rep. Jim Fannin (D-Jonesboro), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said he would not have made the payments while at the same time talking about budget cuts. “I certainly would have handled it a different way,” he said.

That seems logical but what is logical does not policy make with this administration. Jindal preaches that because of budgetary constraints, all must share the pain but in the final analysis, pain-sharing appears to be doled out on a somewhat selective basis. Ask the bonus recipients sometime if they adequately shared the pain.

The administration finally got around to making it official. State agencies were specifically prohibited last year from granting merit raises to the great unwashed, as the administration seems to think of them. We prefer to call them what they are: state classified employees.

Before that, it was strictly by subterfuge—smoke and mirrors, if you will.

It was during the tenure of former Commissioner of Administration Angéle Davis that word came down to agencies under the DOA umbrella that the method of grading employees’ performance on annual professional performance ratings (PPRs) was to be altered.

Oh, the change was subtle, to be sure, but it was change nonetheless and its effects were immediate. The word came directly from DOA. Supervisors and managers were told privately—conveniently, nothing was put in writing—that they were strongly encouraged not to give ratings of 4.0-4.5 (the highest rating, for “outstanding”) or even 3.5-4.9 (exceeds expectations). A rating of, 2.5-3.49 simply means an employee “achieves expectations,” but supervisory personnel were verbally discouraged from awarding anything higher than a 2.0, which would automatically make the employee ineligible for a merit increase.

There will be official denials from the administration, of course, but too many supervisors—all independent of one another—have shared this information with LouisianaVoice for there not to be more than a grain of truth to the story.

After all, they had nothing to gain from revealing this unwritten policy. All they gained was the ability to look their employees in the eye and themselves in the mirror.

But certainly no bonus.

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