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Archive for the ‘Congress’ Category

Here’s a pretty interesting scenario:

The administration, abetted by a Republican congress:

  • Dismantles consumer protection laws. Done.
  • Repeals environmental protection regulations. Check.
  • Does away with civil service protections. In progress.
  • Guts Medicaid, Medicare, and social security. Working on that.
  • Passes more tax breaks for the wealthy and for corporations. Proposed.
  • Moves low-interest federal student loan programs to private banks that charge higher interest rates to already cash-strapped middle- and low-income students. Proposed.
  • Tightens restrictions on illegal immigration—not for the reasons given, but instead, to ensure maximum occupancy of private prisons that are paid according to the number of beds filled. Ongoing;
  • Continues to offer “thoughts and prayers (TAPs) but does little else in the way of addressing the growing problem of mass shootings in America—because that’s the way the NRA wants it. No problem.
  • Systematically undermines organized labor so that worker protection, benefits, pay, etc. are minimized. Ongoing.
  • Screams “law and order” on the campaign trail but ignores, even attacks, the rule of law when it is to their benefit. Just watch the nightly newscasts.
  • Attacks the news media, the one independent institution capable—or willing—to keep check on political misdeeds and wrongdoing. A given.
  • Spew more patriotic rhetoric in order to gin up the war machine in countries where we have no business so more Americans can die needlessly so that the MILITARY-INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX that outgoing President Eisenhower warned us about in 1961 can continue to prosper and thrive. This tactic has never wavered.
  • Continue the practice of rolling the flag, the Bible, and the false label of patriotism into some sort of one-size-fits-all commodity to be sold to evangelicals like Disney souvenirs or McDonald’s Happy Meal toys. Don’t believe me? Watch the mass hypnosis of a Trump rally; it’s the same misplaced trust in a mortal being as the personification of some sort of divinely-inspired savior that we saw with Jim Jones and David Koresh.
  • Repeals banking regulations in order that the country’s financial institutions will be free to plunge the nation—and perhaps the world itself—into another financial crisis as bad, or worse, than the 2008 collapse (and for the information of some who apparently do not know, Dodd-Frank did not enable the last crisis because Dodd-Frank was not enacted until 2010, two years after the collapse). Passed and signed by Trump.

All these objectives, and more, when carried out, will have the cumulative effect of creating economic chaos which in turn will drive housing prices spiraling downward as the market is glutted by foreclosures as before. Layoffs will follow, resulting in high unemployment and homelessness. Businesses will close, causing more economic uncertainty. With instability in the Mideast will come higher oil prices.

That’s when the vultures will move in, snapping up property at bargain basement prices from desperate owners who will be forced to sell for pennies on the dollar because they have no negotiating leverage.

It’s all part of the Shock Doctrine principle that author Naomi Klein wrote about—and it works.

When the recovery does come, it’ll be too late for most. And these investors, these people who propped up the Republican Party, will be holding all the cards. The already gaping abyss between the haves and have-nots, between the 1 percent and the rest of us, will grow ever wider and those in control now will then be in even more control than before as more and more of the country’s wealth flows upward. Trickle down was—is already—a distant fantasy.

So, just who would be in a position to pull off such an economic coup at the expense of American citizens?

Try the Brothers Koch—Charles and David—and their cabal of fat cats.

You can begin the discussion by asking one simple question: why else would they commit their network of billionaires to spending $400 million in the 2018 midterm election cycle (double what they spent in the 2014 mid-terms and a 60 percent increase over 2016) if they did not stand to gain something from it?

If your answer is that they only want good, clean government, you’re just fooling yourself. No one throws that much money at dirty politicians and expects it to come back crisp and clean.

Americans for Prosperity President Tim Phillips said, “We will be spending more than any midterm in our network history.”

Russian collusion? These guys can play hardball just as well as the Russians can and they do it legally, through their PACs, their foundations, and their personal bankrolling of campaigns.

Facebook account hackings? Try i360, the Koch Industries data analytics company that compiles information on nearly 200 million active voters.

Want to hear how they wrap themselves in the flag? Try some of their front groups: Americans for Prosperity, Libre Initiative, Concerned Veterans for America, Generation Opportunity, and Freedom Partners Action Fund.

Truthout, an online political news organization that is a tad more left-leaning than Faux News (that’s parody, for those of you who don’t recognize it), has compiled a list of 2018 KOCH CANDIDATES to whom they are funneling campaign contributions.

Here are the benefactors of KochPAC’s generosity from Louisiana:

  • S. Rep. Garret Graves of Baton Rouge: $5,500 to Garret Graves for Congress;
  • S. Rep. Mike Johnson of Bossier Parish: $5,000 to Mike Johnson for Louisiana;
  • S. Rep. Steve Scalise of Metairie: $85,000 to his Scalise Leadership Fund; $10,000 to his The Eye of the Tiger Political Action Committee (how’s that for appealing to all those rabid LSU fans?), and another $10,000 to Scalise for Congress ($105,000 total);
  • S. Sen. Bill Cassidy of Baton Rouge: just a measly $1,000 (an insult) to his Continuing America’s Strength and Security (more flag-draping nomenclature) PAC.

But it doesn’t stop with Louisiana. Not by a long shot.

The Kochs also contributed:

  • $10,000 to Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts’ Preserving America’s Traditions (Guess it’s a foregone conclusion that his opponent has no interest in preserving any of the country’s traditions.)
  • $10,000 to Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt’s (get this) Rely on Your Beliefs Fund (now if that doesn’t choke you up, you’re obviously an anarchist);
  • $5,000 to Virginia’s Rep. Dave Brat’s Building and Restoring America Together PAC (oh, puh-leeze!);
  • $10,000 to Texas Rep. Pete (please tell us he’s not related to Jeff) Sessions’s People for Enterprise Trade and Economic Growth (PETE—how clever, but shouldn’t it be PETEG?) PAC;
  • $5,000 for Texas Rep. Will Hurd’s Having Unwavering Resolve and Determination PAC;
  • $5,000 to Texas Rep. Mike Conaway’s Conservative Opportunities for a New America PAC;
  • $10,000 to Pennsylvania Rep. Keith Rothfus’s Relight America PAC;
  • $5,000 to Pennsylvania Rep. Scott Perry’s Patriots for Perry PAC (the obvious implication being that no patriot could possibly be for his opponent);
  • $10,000 to Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Kelly’s Keep America Rolling PAC (Could this be a subliminal reference to the “Let’s roll” words of Todd Beamer who tried unsuccessfully to disarm hijackers on United Flight 93 just before it crashed in the Pennsylvania countryside on 9/11?).

None of this is intended to diminish, ridicule, or scorn the true patriotic love of this country on anyone’s behalf. Patriotism is a wonderful thing as long as it is kept in perspective. But to allow the love of country to blind you to the shortcomings of our so-called leaders who sell patriotism like a carnival barker sells tickets to a lurid peep show is not my definition of the word. It in fact cheapens the definition.

To paraphrase our most recent former governor, at the end of the day, no one—and I do mean NO ONE, without exception—contributes to a political campaign in the amounts doled out by the Kochs and their ilk, without expecting something in return. That something is always personal enrichment.

So, before you base your decision on a candidate based on the half-truths and outright lies of TV political ads, check to see who gets what in the form of CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS.

Make your decision an intelligent one, not one based on looks or sound bites. Like anything else worthwhile, it takes a little work to do it right.

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I’m no economist and I did not stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night, so I make no claims to be gifted in predicting the future. After all, I smugly opined on the day that Donald Trump announced his candidacy for the presidency that he would crash and burn within six weeks. He may yet crash and burn but it’s taken a tad longer.

But it doesn’t take a crystal ball to see a repeat of the 2008 financial collapse and when it happens, don’t forget to thank Louisiana’s two senators and four of our six representatives. I mean, Stevie Wonder can see the idiocy of the actions of Congress in rolling back the reforms put in place by the DODD-FRANK rules following the disastrous Great Recession brought on by the recklessness of the banking industry.

The HOUSE voted 258-159 on Tuesday to allow banks with up to $250 billion in assets (that’s roughly eight times the size of Louisiana’s $30 billion budget and our legislators can’t even get a grasp on that) to avoid supervision from the Fed and STRESS TESTS. Under Dodd-Frank, the tougher rules applied to banks with at least $50 billion in assets.

Louisiana House members who voted in favor were Garrett Graves, Mike Johnson, Ralph Abraham, and Steve Scalise. Only Rep. Cedric Richmond voted against the measure while Paramilitary Macho-Man, the Cajun John Wayne, Clay Higgins took a powder and did not vote.

The measure, S-2155, had eased through the SENATE by a 67-31 vote back on March 14 and both Louisiana Sens. Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy voted in favor. Kennedy, who loves to preach about revenue and spending, should know better: he was Louisiana State Treasurer for eight years, from 2000 to 2008. You’d think he might have learned something during that time. Guess not. But what could you expect from someone who thought he had “reduced paperwork for small businesses by 150 percent” during his tenure as Secretary of Revenue?

You can be sure that the banking industry lobbied Congress hard for this. Their lobbyists may well have outnumbered—and outspent—the NRA and perhaps even big oil and big pharma in its efforts to show members the right thing for baseball, apple pie and the American Way. Here is a blurb from the Arkansas Banking Association to its members on Monday, the day before the House vote, for example:

ABA (the American Banking Association) is asking all bankers to make a final grassroots push by calling their representatives and urging them to vote “yes” on S. 2155. ABA and all 52 state bankers’ associations sent letters to the House on Friday urging passage of S. 2155. Take action now.

Here is a copy of the ABA LETTER to House Speaker Paul Ryan and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and the letter sent by the state ASSOCIATIONS, including the Louisiana Bankers’ Association.

It’s almost as if the bankers, their lobbyists and their pawns in Congress have had their collective memories erased.

Remember “TOO-BIG-TO-FAIL” or costs of somewhere in the neighborhood of $14 TRILLION (with a “T”) to the U.S. economy the last time banks got a little carried away with their subprime mortgages and insane investments of OPM (other people’s money)? Remember how the runaway train wreck of 2008 darned-near destroyed the economy not just of this country, but the entire GLOBAL ECONOMY?

Remember how Congress had to bail out the incredibly reckless banks and how not a single person ever did jail time for the manner in which greed and more greed took over for sound fiscal judgment?

Remember the run-up to the 2008 collapse? Deregulation? Warren Buffet’s referring to derivatives as “financial weapons of mass destruction” (was anyone listening)? Enron? Worldcom? Countrywide? Merrill Lynch? Wells Fargo’s manipulation of customers’ accounts? Lincoln Savings & Loan? Pacific Gas and Electric? Arthur Anderson? Lehman Brothers? Bear Stearns? AIG? Washington Mutual?

Did anyone learn a damned thing? Judging from the rollback of Dodd-Frank, the answer to that critical question must be a resounding “NO.”

And lest you feel a pang of sympathy for those poor, over-regulated banks, consider this: PROFITS for AMERICAN BANKS during the first quarter of 2018 increased by 28 percent, shattering the prior record set just three quarters earlier.

The “blockbuster earnings report” was attributed to tax cuts implemented by the Trump administration, which should give you a pretty good idea about just who the tax bill was designed to help in the first place.

And here’s something that will give you a warm fuzzy: American banks are sitting on almost $2 trillion of capital that will help them survive the next recession—whether you get through the next downturn or not. That theory that excess capital would be plowed back into the economy just didn’t seem to pan out. Wall Street is counting on the Dodd-Frank deregulation allowing banks to return as much of that surplus cash as $53 billion back to SHAREHOLDERS.

Reinvestment? More jobs? Stimulating the economy? Fuggedaboutit.

It’s all about the shareholders.

Always has been, always will be.

And you can bet the shareholders won’t fuggedaboutit when it comes to chipping into the campaign coffers of those members of Congress who had the good sense to vote to lift the unreasonable burden of overregulation off the poor, struggling banking industry.

But what the hell? I’m not an economist. I’m just one of those purveyors of all that fake news.

 

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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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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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Louisiana residents victimized by floods and hurricanes don’t need a reminder of the frustrating-ineptness of the Feeble Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) or of the soul-crushing corruption of the Department of Housing and Urban Discrimination (HUD).

FEMA trailers, more appropriately designed as egg incubators than dwellings for human beings, stand as mute testimony to mismanagement on a grand scale. At a COST of $150,000 to $170,000 per trailer, including purchase and set-up following the 2016 flood, only to SELL the units for as little as $5,000 each a year later, it’s difficult to imagine even the Pentagon being able to match FEMA in a waste-for-waste competition.

With 144,000 trailers PLACED following hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav, and Ike, and another 4,500 (upgrades vastly superior to the earlier models but still little better than a tent) following the 2016 floods, one can readily see how FEMA now claims to be broke.

Another reason? Try this: Following Hurricane Katrina, The Shaw Group was contracted to place tarpaulins over damaged roofs at a rate of $175 per square (one hundred square feet per square) after Katrina. That’s $175 for draping a ten-foot-by-ten-foot square blue tarpaulin over a damaged roof. Shaw in turn sub-contracted the work to a company called A-1 Construction at a cost of $75 a square. A-1 in turn subbed the work to Westcon Construction at $30 a square. Westcon eventually lined up the actual workers who placed the tarps at a cost of $2 a square.

In normal circumstances, MIKE LOWERY, an estimator for an Austin, Texas, company, said, his company would charge $300 to tarp a 2000-square-foot roof in Austin. For that same size job, the government is paying $2,980 to $3,500, or about 10 times as much, plus additional administrative fees that couldn’t be readily calculated.

FEMA ISSUED 81,241 blue roof tarps across Louisiana after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, said spokesman Aaron Walker ($14.2 million total cost: $8.1 million for Shaw as opposed to $162,000 for those who did the actual work).

But if you think that’s bad, consider this: “Overall, Restore Louisiana (the program set up to assist flood victims) has awarded $207 million of the $1.3 billion allotment from the federal government to homeowners,” according to a story in the Baton Rouge ADVOCATE. Of that amount, only $60.5 million has actually been paid to those driven out of their homes by the floods. The remaining $147 million is being paid in increments to contractors as work progresses.

At the same time, however, the state has shelled out $75 million to IEM, the contracted administrator for environmental reviews and program management. That means administrative costs are 23.4 percent higher than the amount actually spent helping flood victims. Said another way, the amount spent on actual work is only 80 percent of administrative costs so far.

IEM’s total contract to administer the $1.3 billion Restore Louisiana program is for an eye-popping $308 million. That computes to administrative costs that are 19.25 percent of the total contract but which appear to be running closer to 26.6 percent at the present time.

Contrast that, if you will, with contracts the Ruston firm of Hunt, Guillot has received to date to administer Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds for the recovery of hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav, and Ike and to administer CDBG funds for the Restore Louisiana program set up immediately following the 2016 floods.

Hunt, Guillot received a contract for $18.2 million to administer the disbursement of $7.5 billion in grant funds for LOUISIANA. That contract ran from Oct. 31, 2007, to Oct. 30, 2010. The firm was given an additional contract of $3 million for the period of Feb. 1, 2011, through June 3, 2011 for Katrina and Rita recovery grant funds. IEM’s $308 million contract is 14.5 times the size of Hunt, Guillot’s $21.2 million in contracts even though Hunt, Guillot oversaw the disbursement of nearly six times the amount in federal grants that IEM is responsible for.

IEM’s contract was not without CONTROVERSY, but it probably didn’t hurt that IEM and the company’s CEO, Madhu Beriwal, combined to contribute $15,000 to the campaign of Gov. John Bel Edwards.

But even putting aside all the outrageous administrative costs that are eating up dollars intended to help flood victims, here is the one overriding factor that leads writers like Naomi Klein (The Shock Doctrine) and others to write INVESTIGATIVE REPORTS about the incestuous relationship between natural disasters and corruption?

Could it be that 19 months after thousands of Louisiana residents were forced out of their homes in South Louisiana, only $207 million of a total allocation of $1.3 billion for reconstruction has been approved and checks written for only $60 million even as administrative costs mount?

Could it be that a visit to observe activities at Restore Louisiana headquarters reminds visitors of the organizational skills of a sack of rats in a burning meth lab?

Could it be the frustration encountered by State Rep. Rogers Pope who, first told he qualified for an SBA loan of $250,000 (even though he never applied) but later told it was actually for a lesser amount, responded that he was not interested in a loan of any description but that $50,000 was nevertheless deposited in his bank account by the SBA—and when he insisted again that he did not want the money, was charged $384 in interest for the week that it was in his bank account? (for those of you who may be wondering, that computes to an annual interest rate of 40 percent.) And get this: Pope is a member of the Restore Louisiana Task Force and even he can’t deal with the feds.

Could it be that an applicant who applied for assistance was told that because he had obtained an SBA loan of $124,000, he was ineligible for a grant? The person in question here was yours truly and I was told that the loan was considered a benefit. I’m a 74-year-old retiree on a fixed income, with a brand-new $124,000 mortgage and I’m supposed to consider that a benefit?

What’s more, I’m told, even if I had been offered the loan, and turned it down, I’d still be ineligible because it was offered. (I think that’s what’s called a Catch-22.) And just to add insult to injury, I was told (after at least four separate on-site inspections by FEMA, Restore Louisiana, and Shelter at Home) I was only allowed $60,000 for reconstruction (someone needs to tell my contractor who charged what I considered to be a reasonable fee of $90,000 to make my home livable again—the remainder went to replace furniture and appliances).

I was told at the time of receiving the news of my ineligibility that I could, of course, appeal. “But the appeal won’t do any good,” the nice man said, “because we’re only going by the rules established by FEMA and HUD guidelines.” (A Catch-22 variable.)

It’s the kind of FUBAR guvmint that can send you to a padded room where you’re allowed only crayons as a means of communication.

And if you think I’m angry, consider the frustration level of Stephen Winham of St. Francisville.

Winham, often a LouisianaVoice guest columnist, for 12 years was the state’s budget director, serving under three governors, so he, of all people, should be accustomed to navigating the confusing waters of state bureaucracy. He was, nevertheless, finally moved to send the following email to an official of Restore Louisiana:

I have NEVER seen as poorly run a program as Restore Louisiana and I have seen some poorly run programs in my 21 years of state budget analysis.  If the contractor for whom you work represents the benefits of privatizing public services we are in deep manure, particularly since our worst governor ever, Bobby Jindal, moved us to new heights in that direction.

I have talked on the phone and communicated with your company many times.  I did not initially apply because I knew I was not eligible.  I allowed one of your employees to talk me into applying anyhow, so I did – I assume this was done to get the numbers up.  In subsequent steps, it was confirmed I was never eligible and should never have bent to the pressure put on me to apply.  In other words, I was officially ruled ineligible months ago.

This correspondence and any phone conversations I might have with you would be a waste of my time – your company is apparently going to get its money no matter what so I have no interest in saving you money.  Your company has spent $75 million on itself so far and only disbursed $60 million to the people who really need it – the homeowners.  Do you not see a problem with that?

Although I am not eligible, I have a sister-in-law who is.  My wife and I have tried to help her work through the many meaningless steps necessary to get her Restore Louisiana grant and she has not gotten a dime yet.  My wife has hauled her down to Celtic Studios more than once.  She has had visits from what I assume are project managers/coordinators many times.  She has completed the necessary paperwork at every step.  She has been advised of the amount of her “award” (her part of the $207 million in reported awards, $147 million of which apparently remain undisbursed), but has gotten ZERO.  The people who live across the street from my East Baton Rouge property just started LAST WEEK on work to restore their home pursuant to their Restore Louisiana “award”

I think your company is taking the public for a ride – oh, I know, this is federal money – I am doing my federal taxes today – I guess that never was my money to begin with, or something.  These things should be block granted.  If the eligible recipients take their grants down to a convenient casino and blow it rather than fixing their homes, that’s their problem and it is also better than creating what to me is essentially a pyramid of contractors and sub-contractors each getting their golden crumbs as the grants trickle down to the people who should be getting the money.

Sorry for taking this out on you and you probably haven’t even read this far, but on the off chance you have, LEAVE ME ALONE and devote your attention to eligible recipients many of whom have been waiting over a year and a half for relief.

Your federal—and state—guvmint hard at work for you, Mr. and Mrs. Taxpayer. The best we can hope for is that we never need the their “help” in the future.

(Editor’s note: for the record, a class-action lawsuit is being considered because of the discriminatory policies of HUD and FEMA. More details on that as they are forthcoming.)

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