Archive for the ‘Congress’ Category

You may have seen one or more of a series of http://www.vote-4-energy.org/ television ads by the American Petroleum Institute (API) that have been running on a more regular basis than lawyer commercials recently.

Intended to give us a warm fuzzy feeling about Big Oil, it’s no coincidence they’re airing in an election year.

The primary trade association of the oil and gas industry, API boasts nearly 400 members. http://www.polluterwatch.com/american-petroleum-institute

Though it spent only about $200,000 on the 2012 election, it literally pours money into other programs—$33 million on lobbying between 2008 and 2012—and was instrumental in funding a $27 million anti-science “scientific” study to refute research linking benzene to cancer.

API was also not above embellishing job creation claims, touting 20,000 new jobs as opposed to the 6,000 estimated by the U.S. State Department and Cornell University.

API also donated money to the National Science Teachers Association for distributing a short film promoting the petroleum industry. http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/American_Petroleum_Institute#Concerns_about_API-funded_research

If there remains any doubt to the underlying intent of the recent glut of ads, a leaked memo written by API CEO Jack Gerard in August 2009 revealed that a number of trade groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, coordinated “Energy Citizens’ rallies in key Congressional districts in an effort to ramp up political opposition to climate and energy legislation.

Directly funded and organized by API and member companies, the “rallies” were coordinated by oil lobbyists and API member Chevron even bused it employees to events.

API also contributed $25,000 to Americans for Prosperity, the Tea Party organization founded and chaired by billionaire oilman David Koch. http://www.opensecrets.org/news/2012/03/energy-industry-trade-groups/

Which brings up Koch Industries, headed by David and brother Charles, both major players in the American political arena.

In just one state for example, Texas, the Kochs are proving our repeated position that money has supplanted the importance of voters in influencing election outcomes by dumping money into the campaigns of 66 candidates—15 for the U.S. House of Representatives, three for the Texas Supreme Court, 31 for the Texas House of Representatives, 16 for the State Senate and one for the State Railroad Commission (the Texas equivalent to the Louisiana Public Service Commission).

Here is a complete state-by-state listing of Koch-supported candidates (Note: only legally-required reported contributions are listed but Koch, in addition to monetary contributions has been known to exert pressure on its employees as to which candidates they should support.

And it’s not as if the Kochs are alone, nor is this an effort to say that only Republicans are beneficiaries of the avalanche of campaign funds that has occurred since the 2010 Citizens United decision by the U.S. Supreme Court opened the spigot of campaign cash.

Politics has become a game played by any billionaire with an agenda—to the overall detriment of the average citizen, whose numbers comprise 99.9 percent of the nation’s population. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/politics/superpac-donors-2016/

So just how much Super PAC money, so-called outside spending (which does not include individual contributions to thousands of candidates in federal, state and local elections), was lavished on behalf of or in opposition to candidates in the 2012 elections?

The 1,310 super PACs raised $828.2 million for the 2012 election cycle, which was just two years after Citizens United, and spent $609.4 million. https://www.opensecrets.org/outsidespending/summ.php?cycle=2012&chrt=V&type=S

This year, in the Presidential, and Congressional elections alone, spending has already surpassed $1.8 billion. Of that amount, more than $248 million has come from PACs. http://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2016/03/daily-chart-1

Before all is said and done, it is expected that more than $5 billion will be spent on the Presidential election. That figure includes money to be spent by candidates, political parties and outside groups (PACs), and includes money spent on presidential primaries—more than double the cost of the 2012 campaign.

All of which raises a moral question: if political donors are so civic-minded (as most insist they are) as opposed to an eagerness to promote a personal agenda (as most will go to great lengths to deny), why don’t they put their money to use for an even greater good?

Has it ever crossed the minds of the Kochs or any of the other members of the mega-rich influence-purchasers what even a small portion of that kind of money would mean to St. Jude or other children’s hospitals?

Have they ever considered underwriting cancer research on such a scale? What about feeding the hungry or even helping restore the country’s crumbling infrastructure? After all, they use the same highways, rely on the same water and sewer services, depend on the same police and fire protection.

So much good could be accomplished with the billions of dollars that are wasted on the campaigns whose promises are as empty and meaningless as the hopes and dreams of the poorest of our poor?

Yes, the Kochs give millions to charities but then spearhead coalitions of businesses and industries that pour hundreds of millions into efforts to pass anti-environmental legislation or they endow chairs at schools like Florida State University on condition that they get the final say in the hiring of faculty members who will teach their political and economic philosophy.


But we as a nation have somehow seen a trend away from using our wealth to accomplish the greater good for all our citizens. Instead, we’re seeing the wealthiest using their monetary buying power to purchase influence so they can accumulate even more wealth.

And we wonder why there is an ever-widening disconnect from the American political process.

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Business Wire, an online business news publication and part of Warren Buffett’s vast Berkshire Hathaway Company, posted an interesting story on Tuesday (July 12) that, thanks to our friend and sometimes contributing writer Stephen Winham, prompted LouisianaVoice to dive into our ubiquitous resource of public records.

What we found was of considerable interest.

It seems that our former governor was/is not above accepting generous campaign contributions from those doing business with the State of Louisiana.

But we knew that already as evidenced by the scores of stories we’ve posted on this site about his cozy financial relationship with vendors.

But then on Tuesday, Business Wire posted a story from Katy, Texas, announcing that Cotton Holdings, Inc. “is pleased to announce that it has added Bobby Jindal, the 55th Governor of the State of Louisiana, to the Board of Directors.”


Okay, so what’s the big deal? Lots of politicians retire from office only to (a) join some lobbyist firm at an enormous salary, (b) join the public speaking circuit at incredibly high fees, or (c) join some corporate board of directors at an obscenely huge salary.

Former presidents George Bush the Elder and Bill Clinton capitalized in a big way on the speaking tour, pocketing millions of dollars. Former President Gerald Ford accepted high-paying positions on the boards of 20th Century-Fox, Primerica, and American Express. Gen. Douglas MacArthur joined the Rand Corp. board after being fired by President Truman.

Truman, on the other hand, refused to play the game. He consistently rejected offers to make commercial endorsements, to engage in lobbying, or to accept “consulting fees.” Offered a position on a corporate board, he is said to have tersely replied, “You don’t want me. You want the office of the president, and that doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to the American people and it’s not for sale.”

The accuracy of that quote has never been verified, but he did write in his 1960 book, Mr. Citizen: “I turned down all of those offers. I knew that they were not interested in hiring Harry Truman, the person, but what they wanted to hire was the former President of the United States. I could never lend myself to any transaction, however respectable, that would commercialize on the prestige and the dignity of the office of the Presidency.”

Not so, apparently, with “Mr. Ethics,” the man who claims to have given Louisiana the “gold standard” of good government.

Here’s what Pete Bell, founder and CEO of Cotton Holdings, had to say about his firm’s newest director:

“Having known and worked with Bobby (first name basis, wouldn’t you know?) over the past several years, I am very pleased to now have him join the board as we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the company…I am confident that Bobby’s vast expertise and depth of knowledge of government, coupled with his extensive commercial experience (what!!!???), will add tremendous value to the company and, ultimately, our shareholders.”

Jindal’s “extensive commercial experience” consists of approximately 11 months’ employment with McKinsey & Co. It’s the only time he has worked in the private sector in his entire life. Bobby must have crammed a lot of his “extensive commercial experience” into those 11 months.

Cotton Holdings Board Chairman Naveen Bhatia added, “We are excited to expand the board of Cotton with another world-class director with specific domain expertise and who will continue to drive the growth of our various businesses. Whether it is his experience in attracting $60 billion of private capital to Louisiana, including the petrochemical industry which is a growth engine for Cotton, or his operational expertise across our business lines, our board and management are looking forward to having a problem solver (snicker, chortle, guffaw) of Bobby’s caliber joining the team and assisting in our continued goal of maximizing shareholder value.”

Headquartered in Katy, Cotton Holdings is an infrastructure support services firm which provides property restoration and recovery construction, roofing, consulting, temporary workforce staffing and housing and culinary services to public and private entities throughout the U.S. in support of disaster events and complex work environments of the petrochemical and oil and gas industries, the Business Wire news release says.


So, how is it that Cotton founder Pete Bell has “known and worked with Bobby over the past several years”?

That’s what we at LouisianaVoice wanted to know and rule number one is to always follow the money. Rule two: see rule one.

Well, it turns out that Cotton had a couple of pretty nice CONTRACTS with the State of Louisiana. Together, the two contracts totaled more than $2.2 million.

The larger of the two contracts was for $1.965 million but we were unable to check the dates of that expired contract since the state’s Web page for state contracts would not allow access to the details of that contract. The smaller contract, however, for $295,453, did allow access and revealed that the contract was for just 22 days in 2006. It called for mold remediation in a building at Delgado Community College in New Orleans.

In checking campaign finance records, we also find that four Cotton BOARD OFFICERS’ campaign contributions to Jindal’s state political campaigns totaled more than $29,500 between January 2007 and October 2012—after the smaller of the two contracts was awarded, it should be noted. But even though Jindal had no hand in awarding at least one of the contracts, classified employees are prohibited by the State Ethics Commission from accepting the smallest of gifts from vendors, so why should that same rule not apply to elected officials?

Records reveal that Bell contributed $5,000 on Oct. 8, 2009. CFO Bryan Michalsky and COO Randall Thompson gave $5,000 each the following day. Two weeks later Bhatia chipped in $5,000 to go with the $4,000 he gave on Sept. 5, 2007; the $3,000 contributed in cash and an additional $1,594.28 in in-kind contributions (food for a campaign event) on Oct. 25, 2012, and $1,000 on Jan. 31, 2007.

Because we are unable to access the larger contract to determine the beginning and end dates, it is impossible to determine whether that contract or the campaign contributions came first.

The campaign contributions aside, has Jindal hung a “For Sale” sign on the governor’s office as he did several state agencies during his tenure? Apparently so.

Unlike Truman, he has shown no reluctance in capitalizing on and profiting from his eight disastrous years as governor. Even as the bankrupt state struggles to overcome his wholesale carnage and to provide needed services to its citizens, this self-anointed paragon of virtue finds ways to reap financial rewards for himself. We submitted a request to Cotton for his salary as the company’s newest board member but to no one’s surprise, there was no response. Funny how eager Cotton was to get the announcement out on Bobby’s appointment but is suddenly silent on his compensation package.

How many other board positions has Jindal accepted since leaving office? How many others will he accept in the future? Who knows? We’ve already seen that he is a shameless opportunist. Cotton may well be not the only corporate entity eager to bring Jindal on board to prostitute the office of governor; it may just be the only one to make a public announcement.

We will probably never see another congressman like former Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn, who holds the record for the longest tenure as House Speaker (17 years), started out in the Texas Legislature. He was a member of the Steger, Thurmond and Rayburn Law Firm at the time and while serving, he refused to accept fees from clients with interests before the legislature because he said was a servant of the people of Fannin County. Later, as a member of Congress, a wealthy oil man delivered an expensive horse to Rayburn’s farm in Bonham, Texas. Though only the two men and a Rayburn staff member knew about it, Rayburn promptly returned the horse. He always paid his own travel expenses—even on a trip to the Panama Canal when his committee was considering legislation concerning the canal.

When he died in 1961, his entire estate was valued at just under $300,000, most of which was land he owned. The amount of cash that he had in various checking accounts was just over $26,000. Compare that to Jindal, who became a multi-millionaire during his brief, three-year stint in Congress and who owns home in a gated Baton Rouge community valued at almost a million dollars.

All of which should make each of us sit back and wonder whatever became of the idealistic, patriotic concept of public service? Why do our elected officials—Billy Tauzin, Bennett Johnston, Bob Livingston, Richard Baker, John Breaux (to name only former Louisiana politicians)—use their positions of public trust as a springboard to greater wealth and power as professional lobbyists whose duty it seems to be to work for the enrichment of their corporate clients as opposed to the benefit of their former constituents?

Worse yet, why do we as the taxpaying citizens allow it? Why is it there has been no groundswell of public sentiment for strict, binding laws prohibiting the seamless transition from congressman to paid corporate whore?

We didn’t create the monster but we certainly allowed our representatives to worship at the altar of greed and influence and to grow into the destructive agents they have become.

And now you can add your knight in tarnished armor, Piyush Jindal, to that ever-growing list of non-official hogs at the public trough.

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For the embodiment of what has happened to the newspaper industry and to erstwhile good, hard-hitting investigative reporting, one need look no further than the Alexandria Town Talk.

It’s not that The Town Talk, one of five Gannett-owned newspapers in Louisiana and one of 123 Gannett publications in the U.S., Guam, and the United Kingdom, is necessarily the poster child for the fast-food media genre. But when a newspaper ignores a major news story all but gift-wrapped and dropped in its lap, it unavoidably becomes a microcosm for all that’s ailing the once robust medium.

So, what’s this big story that The Town Talk and other area media were repeatedly called about but chose not to pursue?

That would be the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Alexandria.

It’s not that the problems of veterans obtaining medical treatment from the VA has been hiding under a rock. It’s a national disgrace and it’s well documented that while the rest of the country is politely offering an empty, robotic “Thank you for your service” to our military, it begins to take on a hollow ring as our nation’s leaders continue to send our young men and women into harm’s way only to discard them when they return with missing limbs, closed head injuries, psychological disorders and PTSD. They’re quietly shunted aside and forgotten. The Pentagon, it seems, has little use for damaged merchandise—unless it’s a billion-dollar aircraft that won’t fly built by a defense contractor (read: campaign contributor) favored by some powerful member of Congress.

When a friend, a career soldier, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer a few years ago, he was promptly discharged before he could qualify for his pension. Thank you for your service.

The horror stories of long waits for treatment and refusals of benefits and medication are by now well-known and it is no different at the Alexandria VA Medical Center.

But it is at that medical center that the stories become almost macabre in nature. And they all seem to revolve around a single doctor, Dr. Shivani Negi.

Here’s what we know about Dr. Negi:

  • The families of several patients have signed affidavits attesting to her callous treatment of patients and her insistence that family members allow patients to die without attempts at resuscitation;
  • Those same grief-laden affidavits describe in detail how abusive and non-communicative Dr. Negi becomes when families refused to sign “Do Not Resuscitate” (DNR) forms;
  • Some family members said in their affidavits that they believed Dr. Negi allowed their loved ones to die deliberately and that she purposely removed them from the intensive care unit (ICU) to a remote room on another floor without benefit of one-on-one care normally given critical patients;
  • Other doctors and nurses have provided written statements or testified in depositions as to her inappropriate remarks in the presence of family members and patients;
  • The same doctors and nurses describe her violent temper and her threats to “kick butts” of subordinates;

The Commonwealth of Virginia granted her license to practice medicine after she testified she had never been refused a license elsewhere and that she had withdrawn her application in Florida. The only problem was Florida had actually refused her application a full two months prior to Virginia’s awarding her a license. Her Florida application, however, was not withdrawn until 2006.

The minutes of the Florida Board of Medicine’s Credential Committee of Sept. 13, 2003, provide little insight as to the reasons for the  denial of her license application but do hint at some problem in Dr. Negi’s professional past.

“The applicant (Negi) was present and sworn in by the court reporters,” the minutes begin. “The applicant gave a brief history of events. The Committee discussed in length the seriousness of the issue. Dr. Tucker made a motion to deny the (application). The motion was seconded by Dr. Avila. The motion failed with Dr. Miguel, Dr. Davies and Mr. Dyches opposing. Dr. Davies made a new motion to deny the application…and allow 14 days to withdraw. The motion was seconded by Dr. Miguel. The motion passed unanimously.” REFUSED HER APPLICATION

The Florida statutes on which the application rejection was based were identical in both motions with only the provision to allow 14 days for Dr. Negi to withdraw added to the second motion.

There was no explanation of the “history of events” given by Negi, nor the circumstances of those “events.” Nor was there any explanation of the “issue” described deemed by the committee to be a serious sticking point in the consideration of her application.

The problem, however, could have been with the medical school she attended, Ross University School of Medicine (RUSM) in the Caribbean island nation of Dominica which was not accredited by the Association of American Medical Colleges, the body that approves medical programs in the U.S. as of September 2013, according to a story by Bloomberg Markets. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2013-09-10/devry-lures-medical-school-rejects-as-taxpayers-fund-debt

RUSM has since been taken over by Illinois-based DeVry University which Bloomberg says accepts students rejected by U.S. medical colleges. And even though it is a for-profit school, U.S. taxpayers pick up the tab for about 34 to 48 percent of students who default on their student loans which average about $250,000 compared to $170,000 for graduates of U.S. medical schools.

On her Florida application, a copy of which was obtained by LouisianaVoice, there were a series of questions and blocks to check for the appropriate “yes” or “no” answers.

For the question “Have you ever been dropped, suspended, placed on probation, expelled or requested to resign from any school, college or university,” she first checked “Yes” but scratched that answer out and checked “No.”

On another page further into her Florida application, she also checked “No” to the question: “Have you had any application for professional license or any application to practice medicine denied by any state board or other governmental agency of any state, territory, or country?”

Virginia apparently asks a similar question on its application forms because Dr. Negi submitted an “Addendum to questions 14 and 15” which said, “I had applied for a Florida license but changed my mind and did withdraw my application.” APPLIED FOR A FLORIDA LICENSE

There is a problem with the timeline on that answer, however. LouisianaVoice has copies of a document from Florida Regulatory Specialist Cherise Davis which indicates Dr. Negi did not withdraw her application until June 8, 2006, nearly three years after her license was issued by Virginia.

In the case of Floyd Hamilton, Jr., a Bronze Star recipient who died in 2009, there are many questions but few answers.

Hamilton, 85 died at the hospital in 2009, nearly three years after Dr. Negi removed him from ICU to a room on another floor and far from the nurses’ station and without the ventilator support necessary, in the view of one physician who was involved in a verbal exchange with Dr. Negi when he attempted to treat Hamilton. Hamilton’s son claims his father suffered irreparable brain damage from the removal of the ventilator.

At least two other doctors at the VA hospital, as well as other staff members, have taken issue with both Dr. Negi’s medical decisions and her attitude toward patients and co-workers.

Dr. John Sams said he responded to a code for another patient on July 19, 2011, and found him “minimally breathing.” He initiated treatment and the patient’s pulse became stronger and he began to stabilize. SIGNED REPORT

“More than five minutes after I arrived, Dr. Negi made her appearance,” he wrote in his signed report. “With no assessment of the situation, she immediately ordered me to return to the (Express Treatment Unit) and rudely told me I was not to leave the ETU for CLC (Community Living Center, or VA nursing homes) codes. She was temporary Chief of Medicine at the time, my boss,” he wrote.

“I returned to ETU…and upon entering found that the patient was being rolled into a bay. He was unaccompanied by Dr. Negi, who was soon pounding on the ETU door for admission. He (Hamilton) had lost his pulse. Chest compressions were begun.

“No attempt at intubation was allowed by Dr. Negi. Finally, I reordered and received a laryngoscope tube and easily intubated the patient. During the mayhem by Dr. Negi, she verbally terrorized the ETU. While I was doing the chest compressions, Dr. Negi vulgarly stated to me, ‘Sams, you’re doing them too slow. Do them like a young married man—hard, deep and fast.’”

Dr. Sams wrote that Hamilton did not respond to resuscitative efforts and Dr. Negi “asked if anyone had any suggestions prior to ending the code.” Sams said he said he would like to obtain an arterial blood gas (ABG)—a procedure to determine how well the lungs are moving oxygen into the bloodstream. “She left the code to sit down, mocking the suggestion with a derogatory comment. She continued to shower us with her inappropriate comments until the ABG returned. The date was (sic) not helpful and resuscitative efforts were stopped. At that time, I informed Dr. Negi that never in the future would I tolerate her unacceptable behavior.”

Dr. Sams said he reported the incident in writing to his director supervisor who, instead of taking action against Dr. Negi, reprimanded Sams for responding to the CLC code.

Dr. Mark St. Cyr, an emergency room contract physician, testified in a deposition that he had a conflict with Dr. Negi from the first moment they met. He said Dr. Negi threatened to “kick my butt” after he sought permission to admit an ER patient into the hospital. His deposition was given in a lawsuit by Floyd Hamilton, III, the deceased patient’s son.

He said the younger Hamilton gave specific instructions that he wanted his father kept in ICU and that the family “wanted everything possible done” to keep his father alive—and that he did not wish to sign a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order.

Attorney Robert Evans, III, indicated in the deposition of Dr. St. Cyr that he had been in communication with the families of several patients of Dr. Negi “who believe that their family members have died from her treatment.” COMMUNICATION WITH FAMILIES

Floyd Hamilton, III, as did family members of other patients, said Dr. Negi became incensed and abusive when her requests for DNR orders were not signed by family members. Hamilton said she even stopped communicating with him and would not return his calls.

Documents showed that Dr. Negi even sent a $50 money order to one woman in Leesville so that she could travel to Alexandria to sign a DNR order.

Dr. St. Cyr said Dr. Negi’s decision to remove a tube protecting his airway was not consistent with the family’s wishes. Asked in his deposition of removing the tube was not consistent with the family’s request to do everything possible, Dr. St. Cyr responded, “That’s a fair statement.” THAT'S A FAIR STATEMENT

St. Cyr described Dr. Negi as “aggressive” in terms of “getting patients in and getting them out” of the hospital. “(If) she doesn’t feel like something is worth it, she may not be quite as aggressive medically in terms of performing certain actions,” he said.

When asked by attorney Evans if “she might put him somewhere and take out the tube to expedite his demise,” Dr. St. Cyr again replied, “It’s a fair statement.” EXPEDITE HIS DEMISE

That line of questioning developed over St. Cyr’s description of how Dr. Negi removed the elder Hamilton from ICU to another floor at the end of a hall furthest from the nurses’ station. “Why would he (Hamilton) go to the floor, the last room at the end of the hallway (when he) can’t press a button, can’t call a nurse, or anything, and he’s not even responsive?” he asked. “You’re literally putting the person out there to die.”

Asked if any other hospital personnel were involved in the removal of the intubation of Hamilton, Dr. St. Cyr said, “No, sir. That’s solely Dr. Negi. When a person’s in the intensive care unit, Dr. Negi was in charge and you don’t go against Dr. Negi.”

Two nurses also filed written reports of the confrontation involving Dr. Negi and Dr. Sams, both claiming that Dr. Negi was yelling, belligerent, unprofessional, and throwing her gloves. “…She stated, ‘You never stop CPR,’” one of the nurses quoted her as saying. “CPR was never stopped on the vet other than when Dr. Negi was doing CPR.” The same nurse said Dr. Negi “continued to berate Dr. Sams” because Dr. Sams wanted a blood gas. Dr. Negi made the comment to respiratory, ‘Well I guess you will get to practice your collection of blood gases.’”

The Calcasieu Parish District Attorney, in a letter to his counterpart in Rapides, intimated that had the events involving Hamilton occurred in Calcasieu, “I would certainly immediately provoke an investigation by law enforcement, or possibly a grand jury, to investigate allegations against this doctor.”

D.A. John Derosier, in his Dec. 23, 2014, letter to Rapides D.A. Phillip Terrell, Jr., wrote, “Please have someone…determine whether or not there is sufficient basis to move forward with a formal investigation.”




Terrell, claiming his office was not equipped for such an extensive investigation, asked for assistant from then-Attorney General Buddy Caldwell’s office and Assistant Attorney General Arthur Ogea of Lake Charles was given the assignment.

Jeff Landry, upon taking office as Caldwell’s successor, however, fired Ogea and seized all his records on the Hamilton case. Contacted by LouisianaVoice, Ogea agreed to talk in more detail about his thoughts in the coming days but did say he felt there was sufficient evidence for a grand jury investigation and possible charges of negligent homicide against Negi.

It will be interesting to see how Louisiana’s new attorney general proceeds with this investigation.

Floyd Hamilton, III, meanwhile, kept applying pressure by picketing the hospital and by notifying members of Louisiana’s congressional delegation and VA officials.

Because he took photographs of his father that showed the stark contrast between the elder Hamilton’s condition before and after being removed from ICU, there is now a sign posted at the VA Hospital in Alexandria proclaiming an absurd—and unenforceable—rule that photographs are no longer allowed at the facility.

The Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Inspector General, conducted an investigation of “suspicious deaths” at the Alexandria VA hospital. In its executive summary dated Feb. 14, 2008, the OIG repeatedly—and predictably—said that investigators “did not substantiate” any of the allegations involving Hamilton or any of several other patients who died while in the care of Dr. Negi.

Five days later, Christina Lavine, director of the VA’s Hotline Division, wrote Hamilton’s son, Floyd Hamilton, III to say that the VA OIG had closed his father’s case. “As we advised you when we opened this case, our decision to close a Hotline case is final, and there are no appeal rights,” she wrote.

Instead of definitive, meaningful action, all we’re received so far are insincere apologies and empty promises that conditions will improve. But they never do.

A congressional subcommittee held hearings on the Alexandria VA Hospital only last week. Even though subcommittee members were well aware of irregularities pointed out by Floyd Hamilton, III, and even though he was in attendance at the hearing, he was never allowed to testify. Perhaps, to borrow a phrase from Al Gore, Hamilton’s claims constituted “an inconvenient truth” to officials who should be infuriated at the manner in which our veterans are treated upon their return from duty.



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Though it is probably far too late, Louis Ackal would be wise to take the advice of an adage steeped in indisputable wisdom of the ages.

The sheriff of Iberia Parish, however, apparently has never heard the expression attributed to a host of well-known politicians, amateur philosophers and gifted writers: “Never argue with someone who buys ink by the barrel.”

We’ll get to Ackal momentarily, but first a little background on that famous quote.

Mark Twain didn’t say it, though he is often cited as the one who coined the phrase. Neither was the quote original with publicist William Greener, Jr., as quoted in the September 28, 1978, Wall Street Journal.

The phrase of uncertain origin has also been attributed to the late Louisiana Congressman F. Edward Hebert, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1941 to 1977. A former newspaper reporter and editor for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Hebert, who died in 1979, covered the Louisiana Hayride scandals of 1939 that led to the convictions of Gov. Richard Leche and LSU President James Monroe Smith. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Felix_Edward_H%C3%A9bert

Hebert, according to legend, added to the phrase when he said, “I never argue with someone who buys ink by the barrel and paper by the trainload.” (Emphasis added.)

The quote was intended to illustrate just how futile it is to pick a fight with a crusading newspaper. Some clarification is needed here for our younger readers: the term crusading newspaper is passé, long gone from the vernacular used to describe the style of journalism depicted in the classic movies The Front Page (the 1931 original starring Pat O’Brien and Mae Clark or the 1974 remake starring Walter Matthau, Jack Lemmon, Susan Sarandon, Charles Durning, and Carol Burnett); 1940’s His Girl Friday, starring Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell and Ralph Bellamy; or of course, All the President’s Men, the 1976 movie about Watergate and the fall of Richard Nixon, starring Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman, Jason Robards, Jack Warden, Hal Holbrook, Martin Balsam, Ned Beatty and Jane Alexander.

No, sadly, those days are long gone. Newspapers have felt the impact of the perfect storm of shrinking ad revenue and declining circulation along with waning influence as reflected in inverse proportion to the explosion of the Internet and the fourth estate. Once the epitome of independence, newspapers now find themselves subjected more to corporate pressure than to any need to inform its readership. The same gots for television news, of course, only if anything, to an even greater degree.

That famous and once chillingly accurate phrase could now be replaced by any one of several similar but equally relevant versions currently floating around out there in cyberspace:

  • Never pick a fight with someone who buys their bandwidth by the gigabyte.
  • Never pick a fight with someone who has a camera and a Twitter following.
  • Never pick a fight with someone who knows how to use the Internet better than you.
  • Never pick a fight with someone who has access to Google to prove you wrong immediately.
  • Never pick a fight with someone when your own video cameras or those of witnesses may contradict you.

To those might be added another pearl of wisdom: Never underestimate the intelligence of your constituency (the emergence of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz notwithstanding).

Ackal previously served as a Louisiana State Trooper where he served for awhile as a captain and Commander of Troop I. He retired abruptly in 1984 after being placed in charge of the narcotics squad of Region II which covered all of Southwest Louisiana.

He later resurfaced as a private investigator before running for High Sheriff of Iberia Parish in 2007. Now, not even four months from winning re-election sheriff, he seems not to have absorbed an iota of any of that advice about picking quarrels with those possessing generous supplies of ink and paper—and online access.

Even before he beat challenger Roberta Boudreaux last November in a runoff election, Ackal was already fighting a public relations disaster that culminated in his choosing to pick a fight with the Acadiana Advocate, sister publication of the Baton Rouge Advocate.

In March of 2014, a 22-year-old black man, Victor White, III, died after being shot while handcuffed in a sheriff’s department patrol car. Deputies said he pulled the gun and fired one round, striking himself in the back. The Iberia Parish coroner, however, ruled he was shot in the chest, immediately raising the question of how he could shoot himself in the chest with his hands handcuffed behind his back. The Iberia Parish district attorney, following a State Police report that the wound was self-inflicted, has declined to pursue criminal charges against deputies. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/da-charges-handcuffed-man-police-car-shooting_us_56b8f75de4b08069c7a8548b

The U.S. Attorney’s office likewise concluded an investigation of more than a year with the announcement that it would not pursue charges against the sheriff’s office. http://www.iberianet.com/news/feds-no-charges/article_087eda70-9e8f-11e5-a1e6-03aa54a2fd19.html

None of those findings, however, kept the Advocate group from publishing a May 6, 2015, story revealing that eight prisoners had died in Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office custody over a 10-year period. http://theadvocate.com/news/neworleans/neworleansnews/12248374-123/8-die-in-custody-of

The family of one of the victims, Robert Sonnier, settled its resulting lawsuit with the sheriff for $450,900 and the family of Michael Jones was awarded $61,000 in his wrongful death. There were other incidents, all of which prompted U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond’s May 19, 2015 LETTER TO ATTORNEY GENERAL LORETTA LYNCH requesting an investigation “into alleged civil rights violations of members of the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office.”

Moreover, incriminating video of beatings of and dog attacks on prisoners were reported on by the Acadiana Advocate https://photographyisnotacrime.com/2015/05/04/disturbing-video-surfaces-highlighting-pattern-of-abuse-and-death-in-louisiana-jail/

Easy to see why Ackal may not be too enamored with the Acadiana Advocate, but to declare the paper and its reporters as “persona non grata” is foolish at best. http://theadvocate.com/news/acadiana/13886833-37/iberia-sheriff-mum-on-salary

It’s a war he can’t possibly win. As much adverse publicity as LouisianaVoice has given to the Louisiana State Police administration, Superintendent Mike Edmonson has never gone that far.

But, as those cheesy late-night TV commercials say: wait, there’s more.

First, there was his re-election campaign last fall.

He nearly won in the first primary, pulling in 47 percent of the vote. Parish Jail Warden Roberta Boudreaux got 25 percent and Spike Boudoin received 18 percent. Joe LeBlanc and Bobby Jackson won 7 and 3 percent, respectively.

That was on Oct. 24. On Oct 30, just six days later, Ackal hired Boudoin as something called director of community relations at a salary of $50,658 a year. http://theadvocate.com/news/14013818-123/iberia-sheriff-to-pay-defeated

Coincidentally, Boudoin announced at the same time his endorsement of Ackal in the runoff against Boudreaux. But other than the distribution of a news release announcing Boudoin’s hiring, Ackal said he would not entertain questions about the newly-created position.

Ackal won the runoff election on Nov. 21, receiving 56 percent of the vote against Boudreaux’s 44 percent.

To Jackson, it was déjà vu all over again. In 2007, he finished third with 11 percent of the vote behind Ackal and David Landry, both of whom got 42 percent. LeBlanc, who also ran in 2007, got the remaining 5 percent. After that primary, Jackson endorsed Ackal and was rewarded with a job as intelligence analyst, a role he had held in the U.S. Army. The difference with the sheriff’s department was he was denied working space, equipment and any direction as to his duties, all while being paid. He quit in disgust after little more than two months walking around “with my thumb in my rear,” he said, adding that he now sees “history repeating itself.”

Public servants are prohibited from using their positions to “compel or coerce any person or other public servant to engage in political activity,” according to the Louisiana Code of Governmental Ethics. Political activity is defined, in part, as “an effort to support or oppose the election of a candidate for political office in an election.”

It is also illegal for anyone to give money or anything of value “to any person who has withdrawn or who was eliminated prior or subsequent to the primary election as a candidate for public office, for the purpose of securing or giving his political support to any remaining candidate or candidates for public office in the primary or general election.” (Emphasis added.)

Robert Travis Scott, president of the Public Affairs Research Council, told the Acadiana Advocate that Ackal’s simultaneous hiring and endorsement raises questions of whether taxpayer money, i.e. Boudoin’s salary, was used to secure an endorsement.

Tomorrow: ethics complaint, sexual harassment lawsuit and guilty pleas over beatings and dog attacks are beginning to clutter embattled Louis Ackal’s desk.

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Thursday (Feb. 25) was an unusually big day in politics, even by Louisiana standards.

The big news in Baton Rouge on Thursday was House passage of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ one-cent sales tax (minus the assessment on manufacturing) but the action was quickly overshadowed by a credit rating downgrade by Moody’s. http://theadvocate.com/news/14993547-79/moodys-downgrades-louisianas-credit-rating

The state also received a “negative outlook” from Moody’s, meaning the state could be downgraded again.

Coupled with the sales passage, which must now go to the Senate for a vote, was additional cuts of $100 million in state spending and the taking of $128 million from the rainy day fund. With the $60 million already cut by the Edwards administration, Thursday’s action will make up about $700 million of the $900 million needed by the end of the current fiscal year on June 30.

The downgrade was the first for the state since Hurricane Katrina and the lower rating means when borrowing money, the state will have to pay higher interest rates.

And just to add a touch of spice to an already politically volatile state, Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell announced on the Jim Engster Show on Thursday that he will be a candidate for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. David Vitter. http://www.jimengster.com/

Campbell, an outspoken PSC member and a former state senator, is the second Democrat to enter the already crowded field of senatorial hopefuls. So far, U.S. Reps. Charles Boustany, Jr. of the state’s 3rd Congressional District and John Fleming of the 4th District, State Treasurer John Kennedy and U.S. Air Force veteran Rob Maness, all Republicans, a second Democrat, New Orleans attorney Caroline Fayard, and, of course, the former director of Louisiana Alcohol and Tobacco Control, the inimitable Troy Hebert, an Independent.

A debate between all the candidates could be reminiscent of the early debates between the 17 original candidates for the Republican president nomination—but without the charm, sparkle and depth of Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, a lot less fun.

Maness was an unsuccessful candidate for the U.S. Senate seat won by Bill Cassidy in 2014 and Fayard was defeated in a special election for lieutenant governor in 2010 by Jay Dardenne.

Campbell, something of a throwback to the populist candidates of another era, is outspoken on issues, particularly with utility companies and the oil and gas industry, and while in the State Senate, he crossed party lines to lend strong support to then-Gov. Dave Treen’s proposed Coastal Wetlands Environmental Levy (CWEL), a $450 million tax on petroleum and natural gas. Campbell today says had CWEL passed, the state would not be in the financial bind in which it now finds itself. But strong opposition by LABI and the oil and gas lobby defeated the proposal.

In a related but relative minor matter, LouisianaVoice received one of those “independent political polls” that was so obviously commissioned by Rep. Fleming that it may as well have been conducted by the good congressman himself.

The questions were prefaced by glowing stories of Fleming’s humble background and how he pulled himself by the bootstraps to not only become a doctor but to establish “numerous businesses,” one of which just happened to be a payday loan company that preys on low-income citizens, hooking them for exorbitant interest rates.

At the same time, the pollster, a woman, set up other questions about the other candidates with disparaging background stories on Boustany, Fayard and Kennedy (Maness was omitted, possibly in deference to his military service) that stopped just short of labeling them as subversives. Also omitted from the verbal flogging was Campbell, obviously only because he was not a declared candidate at the time Fleming wrote the questions for the poll.

Louisiana’s credit rating was not changed by Fitch and Standard & Poor’s, the other two major financial rating agencies.

But Moody’s move, dropping the state from Aa2 to Aa3 leaves Louisiana with better credit ratings than just two other states, New Jersey and Illinois. The downgrade will be applied to the state’s general obligation bonds and gas and fuel tax bonds. That means in turn that when the state issues bonds to finance construction projects such as roads and public buildings, it will have to pay higher interest rates on the borrowed money.

The move came as a surprise as most observers, including Kennedy, though Moody’s would wait until the Legislature completed the current special session, which is scheduled to end March 9.

Kennedy used the downgrade to take shots at both Bobby Jindal and Gov. Edwards. “You can’t spend more taxpayer money than you take in for seven years in a row and not expect a downgrade to your credit rating,” Kennedy said. “You also can’t make public statements about suspending TOPS, ending LSU football, closing Nicholls State University and closing five prisons without scaring the daylights out of the credit rating agencies that grade our debt and the institutional investors that buy our debt. What we tell our children is true: Acts have consequences.” http://theadvocate.com/news/14993547-79/moodys-downgrades-louisianas-credit-rating#comments

Edwards, meanwhile, blamed the downgrade on the seven years of patchwork budgeting by the Jindal administration, calling it “a disappointing development, particularly since we believed that Moody’s would wait until the conclusion of the special session to make any decision on our rating. Unfortunately, the downgrade confirms what we’ve been saying about the structural imbalance of our budget. The overuse and abuses of one-time money and fund sweeps by the Jindal Administration were a major factor in this decision.”

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