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Archive for March, 2018

In case you’ve ever taken the time to wonder why our legislature has been unable—or unwilling—to effective address the looming fiscal crisis for the state, here’s a quick lesson in civics that may help you understand the real priorities of our elected officials and the forces that motivate them.

Members of Congress are advised to spend four hours per day FUNDRAISING, or on “call time.” That’s time to be spent on the telephone raising campaign contributions—if they want to be re-elected.

They are also told they should spend one to two hours on “constituent visits,” which often translates to meeting with lobbyists and campaign contributors. That leaves two hours for committee meetings and floor attendance, one hour for something called “strategic outreach,” or breakfasts, meet and greets, press interviews (read: Sen. John Kennedy), and one hour “recharge time.”

It doesn’t take a mathematician to see that we’re paying big salaries for these guys to actually work only about two hours per day for only part of the year.

Another way of putting it is we’re paying big bucks for them to spend twice as much time raising campaign contributions as actually doing the work of the people who, in theory at least, elected them.

That’s in theory only, of course. The truth is special interests such as banks, hedge funds, big oil, big pharma, the military-industrial complex, the NRA, and other major corporate interests—especially since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision—turn the gears of democracy while letting the American middle class delude itself into thinking we actually affect the outcome of elections.

Now, take that image and move it down to the state level and you have a microcosm of Congress.

The numbers are smaller, of course, given the smaller House and Senate districts from which candidates run but the model is the same.

And that is precisely the reason nothing gets done in regard to resolving the financial plight of the state.

Corporate tax breaks, tax exemptions, and tax credits have eroded the state budget until the onus now falls on the individual taxpayers while companies like Walmart enjoy Enterprise Zone tax credits for locating stores in upscale communities across the state.

Petro-chemical plans along the Mississippi River and in the southwestern part of the state enjoy millions of dollars in tax breaks for construction projects that produce few, if any, new permanent jobs.

And who is front and center in protecting the interests of these corporations?

That would be the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI), first created with the intent of breaking the stranglehold of organized labor back in the 1970s and now focused on maintaining lucrative tax incentives for its membership.

LABI has four primary political action committees: East PAC, West PAC, North PAC, and South PAC.

LouisianaVoice has pulled the contributions of LABI, its four PACs.

For lagniappe, we’ve also thrown in contributions from pharmaceutical and oil and gas interests. The latter list offers a clear-cut explanation of why efforts to hold oil and gas companies accountable for damage to Louisiana’s coastal marshland have died early deaths.

You will notice in reviewing the reports that LABI, while making individual contributions, pours most of its money into its four PACs, which then make the direct contributions to the candidates.

Enjoy.

LABI CONTRIBUTIONS

EAST PAC CONTRIBUTIONS

WEST PAC CONTRIBUTIONS

NORTH PAC CONTRIBUTIONS

SOUTH PAC CONTRIBUTIONS

PHARMA CONTRIBUTIONS

OIL AND GAS CONTRIBUTIONS

 

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It was Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of War SIMON CAMERON who is credited with having defined an honest politician as one “who, when bought, stays bought.”

And it was Louisiana’s own Sen. JOHN BREAUX who told a reporter in 1981, “My vote can’t be bought, but it can be rented.”

Whether bought or rented, contributions to legislators by nursing home interests appear to have been sound investments when it shelled out a total of $27,250 to six state senators, members all of the Health and Welfare Committee, who obligingly voted down a BILL by fellow Sen. Conrad Appel of Metairie that would have given more home health services to the elderly as an alternative to nursing homes. Make that $35,250 if you count contributions to committee chairman Fred Mills who did not vote on the bill because of a conflict. He owns an interest in a Breaux Bridge nursing home and received $8,000 in contributions from the Louisiana Nursing Home PAC.

But the two members who voted in favor of Appel’s Senate Bill 357, Sens. Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge) and Ed Price (D-Gonzales) apparently didn’t stay bought—or rented—despite their having received $5,500 between them from the Louisiana Nursing Home PAC. They probably won’t be receiving any further contributions from the nursing home interests.

Appel may also be crossed off their list since he sponsored the bill despite having received $3,500 from the same PAC.

Mind you, the contributions looked up hurriedly by LouisianaVoice by no means constitute the total dished out by nursing home interests, particularly individual nursing homes and their operators. The only contributions searched were from the Louisiana Nursing Home PAC and Elton Beebe of Ridgeland, Mississippi, who operates a string of nursing homes in Louisiana.

The committee voted 6-2 to kill the bill despite the support of AARP lobbyist Andrew Muhl who apparently was no match for the Louisiana Nursing Home Association, which represents about 250 nursing homes in Louisiana—or its money.

Mills, while not voting, did not let his nursing home ownership deter him from speaking against Appel’s bill, calling managed care “too risky.”

Senators voting against the bill and their contributions from nursing home interests included:

  • Yvonne Dorsey Colomb (D-Baton Rouge): $6,000;
  • Norbert “Norby” Chabert (R-Houma): $6,250;
  • Regina Barrow (D-Baton Rouge): $5,000;
  • Gerald Boudreaux (D-Lafayette): $5,000;
  • Dale Erdy (R-Livingston): $4,000;
  • Jay Luneau (D-Alexandria): $1,000.

Voting no and their contributions:

  • Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge): $4,000;
  • Ed Price (D-Gonzales): $1,500.

Perhaps we misunderstood John Kennedy’s intent when he said, “Louisiana doesn’t have a revenue problem, it has a spending problem.”

Click on the link to see a partial list of NURSING HOME CONTRIBUTIONS to Louisiana’s elected officials since Jan. 1, 2011. Remember, this is just a partial list.

 

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If there was any lingering doubt as to the political stroke of the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association, one need only watch House Bill 218 do its imitation of Sherman’s March to the Sea.

The bill, authored by State. Rep. Katrina Jackson (D-Monroe) and which gives Louisiana’s sheriffs a 7 percent pay raise, has already sailed through the House with a convincing VOTE of 79-9 with the remaining 16 managing to skip out on the vote.

It now moves on to the Senate Judiciary B Committee where it will be rubber stamped before going to the Senate floor where it is virtually assured of a similarly overwhelming majority approval as it enjoyed in the House.

In the interest of full disclosure, it should be pointed out that neither the sheriffs’ current salaries nor the proposed increase will come from state funds. All sheriffs’ salaries come from their individual budgets but any raises must be approved by the legislature.

But that doesn’t change the fact that sheriffs are among the highest paid public officials in the state. There is not a single sheriff among the 64 parishes who does not make significantly more than the governor of the gret stet of Looziana.

LouisianaVoice painstakingly perused the latest audit reports for every sheriff in the state and found some interesting numbers that might make even the most ardent law and order advocate blanch a little.

Base salaries for sheriffs range from $105,279 for Assumption Parish Sheriff Leland Falcon to $179,227 for East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Sid Gautreaux but benefits can—and do—kick the bottom line up significantly.

Several small rural parishes are especially generous to their sheriffs when it comes to chipping in extras.

Take John Ballance of Bienville Parish, for example. Ballance, by the way, is a retired State Trooper drawing a pretty hefty pension from the state. His base salary is $144,904 but he gets an additional $82,607 in benefits that bump his overall pay to $227,511. Among his perks are a $14,504 expense allowance, $10,957 in insurance premiums, $41,207 in retirement contributions and—get this: $13,295 in membership dues for the sheriffs’ association. He has the third highest total in benefits in the state. Bonnie and Clyde, who met their demise in Bienville Parish back in 1934, should have made out so well.

Dusty Gates, the sheriff of Union Parish, pulls down $144,938 in base pay but gets an additional $83,652 in benefits (highest in the state), including $13,766 in sheriffs’ association membership dues (it ain’t cheap being a member of the most powerful lobbyist organization in the state).

Gerald Turlich of Plaquemines Parish comes in second in benefits with $83,530 tacked onto his $159,540 base pay—and he doesn’t even get any membership dues. His perks include $36,825 in insurance and $41,038 in retirement.

Nineteen individual sheriffs currently make $225,000 per year or more after benefits are included—and that’s before the proposed increase.

The top ten overall compensation packages, in order, are:

  • Turlich (Plaquemines): $243,070;
  • Tony Mancuso (Calcasieu): $237,080;
  • Ron Johnson (Cameron): $233,556;
  • Mike Stone (Lincoln); $232,785;
  • Craig Webre (Lafourche): $231,413;
  • Julian Whittington (Bossier): $231,100;
  • Andrew Brown (Jackson): $230,739;
  • Rodney Arbuckle (DeSoto): $230,566 (Arbuckle resigned on March 16);
  • Willy Martin (St. James): $229,951;
  • Ricky Moses (Beauregard): $229,098.

Conversely, only seven sheriffs earned less than $190,000 per year after benefits were included. They included:

  • Falcon (Assumption): $153,637;
  • Sam Craft (Vernon): $171,615;
  • Randy Smith (St. Tammany): $177,367;
  • Eddie Soileau (Evangeline): $180,766;
  • James Pohlmann (St. Bernard): $184,057;
  • Ronald Theriot (St. Martin): $188,003;
  • Toney Edwards (Catahoula): $188,751.

Base salaries are determined by the legislature, according to St. Landry Parish Sheriff Bobby Guidroz.

Twenty-four sheriffs have base salaries of $159,540. A 7 percent increase will add $11,167, boosting their base pay to $170,707 before the addition of benefits

Gautreaux’s East Baton Rouge Parish base pay of $179,277 will jump by $12,549, giving him a new base pay of $191826.

Here is a list of all the SHERIFFS’ SALARIES, including base pay and total compensation.

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That’s right folks.

Almost two years after being asked to investigate the rape of a 17-year-old girl in the Union Parish jail by a man already convicted of aggravated rape and awaiting sentencing, Attorney General Jeff Landry’s office finally took its case before a Union Parish grand jury.

And guess what?

The grand jury, after reviewing all the evidence provided by Landry’s office, declined to indict Demarcus Shavez Peyton of Homer.

Te refresh you memory, Peyton was awaiting sentencing after being convicted of aggravated rape in a separate case in nearby Claiborne Parish. He was allowed to leave his jail cell and to enter the cell of the 17-year-old, who was being detained after being picked up on meth charges. Peyton was said to have raped the girl not once, but twice

Because the Union Parish Detention Center is run by a commission comprised of the sheriff, the district attorney and several area mayors, the district attorney, rightly claiming a conflict of interest, asked Landry to investigate the matter.

So Landry’s office was handed an investigation of:

  • A rape that occurred at a time, date and location known to investigators;
  • Allegedly committed by a person known to investigators;
  • Committed against a victim also known to investigators.

Yet, the attorney general somehow was unable to build a case against Peyton despite the presence of a witness who said he also was allowed into the victim’s cell with the intent of sexually assaulting her but departed without doing so.

I guess we’ll have to wait and see how the civil suit filed by the victim plays out. While criminal convictions call for proof of guilt beyond reasonable doubt, a civil suit need only show a preponderance of the evidence. An illustration of that is the exoneration of O.J. Simpson on the criminal charges of murdering his wife and Ron Goldman but Goldman’s parents then sued Simpson in civil court and won.

Meanwhile, several questions immediately come to mind regarding the AG’s investigation and the presentation of evidence to the grand jury:

  • Was a rape kit was used by investigators?
  • Was the rape victim interviewed?
  • Was the witness interviewed? Apparently he was, since he admitted that he initially intended to participate.
  • Were DNA samples collected?

We probably will never know the answers to these questions because contrary to Landry’s penchant for issuing glowing press releases to trumpet his wonderful work on behalf of law and order and the American way, his press office was strangely mute on this matter. No press releases this time, thank you very much.

Oh, there was one email response to the Farmerville newspaper editor’s inquiry from Landry’s press secretary that said, “…at a hearing on March 15, members of a grand jury in the 3rd Judicial District were given an opportunity to review all the evidence we had in this matter. After our presentation, the grand jury determined that no formal charges should be filed. While we must respect the grand jury’s decision, it is important to note that our office stands ready to act should new credible evidence arise.”

Well, that’s certainly reassuring.

No effort was made to so inform LouisianaVoice  which, for 18 months, has dogged Landry’s office for updates on the investigation. We were always told that the investigation was ongoing and that no details could be released.

Of course, when details could be released, the attorney general’s office was strangely quiet. But then, we never really expected Landry to go out of his way to keep us in the loop.

But now that the investigation is over and the matter is closed, there’s no reason for Landry’s office to continue to withhold details of his office’s investigation. Accordingly, LouisianaVoice will be making an official public records request for the AG’s file on the investigation.

And now we can turn our attention to another “ongoing investigation” by Landry’s office—one that a lot of people in Baton Rouge will be watching and one which has a much higher profile.

More than 10 months ago Landry’s office was asked to investigate the shooting of a Baton Rouge black man, Alton Sterling, by Baton Rouge police. Landry appears to be dragging his heels on that probe as well and there is growing pressure from the black community to announce his findings. Their voices are considerably louder than that of a young girl raped in a lonely north Louisiana jail cell.

If that Union Parish “investigation” is any indication….

 

 

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As I listen all the gun rights advocates voicing support of the sacred Second Amendment, I find myself wondering how we have reached a point where their noise is allowed to drown out the pleas for common sense gun laws, i.e. bans on assault weapons, bump stocks, thorough background checks, etc.

The NRA, with its lobbying prowess and its purchase of members of Congress, has taken over the debate and its sycophants are lined up to chant a-la the Stepford Wives the gospel of the rights of the gun owners, supposedly represented by sportsmen who go out in search of big game in order to put meat on the family table.

All too often, however, the true sentiment is more accurate expressed in more realistic terms:

For a clearer image of this decal, I pulled this from an online website:

When, in the wake of the Parkland shootings that left 17 dead, Donald Trump incredulously said we should “take the guns first, go through due process second,” (something even the most diehard advocate of gun control has never said), his conservative BASE went into a state akin to apoplexy, and rightly so.

Of course, to paraphrase Mark Twain’s comment about New England weather, if you don’t like what comes out of Trump’s mouth, you need only wait a couple of minutes because his position is certain to change. There appears to be no limits to his imbecilic utterances and actions.

Yes, the Second Amendment clearly says, “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

There’s no debate about the wording but there is nothing in that that says we have an unlimited right to any and all types of arms. In fact, when the Second Amendment was adopted, there were no such things as assault weapons, grenades, land mines, tanks, missiles.

But no one—NO ONE—would argue to take away your rifle, your double-barrel shotgun, or your Colt 45 six-shooter. So, let’s clear the air of that silly argument.

But while gun rights advocates hold up the Second Amendment as the holy grail of the Spirit of Freedom and the American Way, there’s another amendment those same people seem to conveniently overlook:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

What we have instead is a growing chorus of “fake news” echoed by the Trump base because, like Trump, their vocabularies are so painfully limited and their intellect, like their dear leader’s, so mired in simple banalities that they can only parrot his talking points—talking points that, it turns out, were field tested by an outfit called CAMBRIDGE ANALYTICA.

How’s that for irony: cries of fake news prompted by a foreign company that coined the phrase?

But never mind all that: the term fake news has been so popularized by Trump that it’s caught on with such LUMINARIES as Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, the Chinese state media, the Russian foreign ministry, Spanish foreign minister Alfonso Dastis, and others of similar stripe.

Now we even have politicians trying to turn the phrase into attempts at CENSORSHIP, a movement every bit as dangerous as any perceived threat to gun ownership.

Had there been censorship;

  • Meat packing plants would still be turning out diseased meat for our ingestion.
  • The Teapot Dome scandal might never have come to light.
  • Sweatshops where children and women slaved away for 14 hours a day might still flourish—in factories with locked doors so workers would be unable escape in case of fire.
  • Worker safety in any form, in fact, might be non-existent.
  • Minimum wage might still be pennies per hour—with no benefits.
  • Automobile safety? Who needs that? Who could even afford an automobile?
  • Without freedom of the press, Tammany Hall and Boss Tweed may never have been reined in.
  • Nixon would’ve gotten away with his crimes.
  • We might still be losing American lives in a place called Vietnam were it not for writers like the late David Halberstam. (In fact, it was the failure of the press to follow up on the lies of the Johnson Administration that allowed the so-called Gulf of Tonkin incident propel us into an unprecedented escalation of that war.)
  • The Pentagon Papers would never have come to light.
  • McClure’s Magazine could never have exposed illegal practices by the railroads or by Standard Oil.
  • Inhumane treatment of the mentally ill would have remained a dark secret.
  • Seymour Hersh might never have revealed illegal CIA spying on Americans—in America because of press freedom.

There are many, many other examples—far too many to list here—that illustrate how a free press has contributed to the well-being of Americans. So, to all you out there who have obediently latched on to the FAKE NEWS term as your rallying cry, you’re in good company. You should be proud of yourselves for being able to think for yourself and for being able to express your individuality in the same way as the rest of the Trumpettes—just like Cambridge Analytica intended.

But it remains a mystery to me how 35 percent of the people in the most advanced nation on the face of the earth can remain so inconsistent in supporting one amendment to the Bill of Rights, a doctrine you have elevated to sacred status, while at the same time belittling another of those same amendments.

You can’t have it both ways. I’ll repeat that: You can’t have it both ways. Either the Bill of Rights is the basis of freedom in this country or it’s not. If you support one, you must support them all. It’s a package deal.

Yet we have ELECTED OFFICIALS taking up the call of fake news any time there’s a news story with which they do not agree or that puts them in a bad light.

We are not perfect in the press, far from it. In fact, I recently misinterpreted the intent of a bill by State Sen. Dan Claitor and pilloried him for it when in fact, I should have been praising him. I thought his bill was a serious attempt at mandating retirement of all elected officials at age 70 when in fact, he was trying to show the hypocrisy of the law requiring that all judges retire at 70.

But despite our occasional shortcomings, FREEDOM OF THE PRESS is every bit as important to the ability of Americans to remain free as the freedom to bear arms. Period.

If you can’t agree with that, you are a hypocrite in every sense of the word.

The worst kind of hypocrite, in fact, because you’re lying to yourself.

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