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Archive for the ‘Corruption’ Category

There is so very much going on at both the state and national level and LouisianaVoice has stumbled upon a thread that connects, however tenuously, the events swirling around Donald Trump and the redacted information coming out of the special prosecutor’s office and the Southern District of New York U.S. Attorney’s office and a couple of familiar state political players—via the NRA.

That’s a helluva salient lede. I was taught by Wiley Hilburn, my Louisiana Tech journalism professor, to write, short, succinct sentences in my opening paragraph. I don’t think a 63-word opening sentence would have cut it in my classes, but it’s the best I could do. And just for lagniappe, throw in a little Russian spy story for added spice.

First, a couple of observations on the local level. To the surprise of a few observers, some interesting wannabes have dropped out of next year’s governor’s race and a couple of others have jumped in.

Businessman Eddie Rispone filed official paperwork back in October and on Thursday, 5th District U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, who on Monday said he was too busy in Congress to run, changed his mine and entered the race, saying, “I intend to win.”

In between, two who certainly had their eyes on the office, Attorney General Jeff Landry and on Sunday, Dec. 2, U.S. Sen. John N. Kennedy, opted out. Landry and Kennedy, both Republicans, have kept up continuous barrages of criticism of Gov. John Bel Edwards and are expected to continue taking shots through their respective press offices that attempt to deflect any of Edwards’s positives and to create, if they have to, negatives. real or imagined.

By “creating,” I mean people like Rep. Cameron Henry of Metairie who refused to go along with the Revenue Estimating Conference recently—apparently as an attempt to thwart the governor’s efforts to raise teachers’ pay. Louisiana’s teachers would do well to remember the actions of Henry and House Speaker Taylor Barras of New Iberia, both of whom seem to exist only to block any legislation proposed by Edwards.

Barras would be wiser to try and resolve the myriad of problems plaguing the sheriff’s office in his home parish than spending time picking fights with the governor. As for Henry, he just seems to be a wet-nosed upstart who needs a nap and a pacifier.

But, unless there’s another Republican, a heavy-hitter who can legitimately go toe-to-toe with Edwards, it appears from right now, 10 months out, the governor will return for another four years in office. He’s proven himself to be a champion of the state’s teachers, he’s favored by the all-powerful (some say all too-powerful) Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association (his brother is sheriff of Tangipahoa Parish), he’s for raising the minimum wage (an entirely sensible thing to do), and his Obamacare expansion, like it or not, has brought a lot of federal money into the state. And he hasn’t raised taxes.

(As a side note, I heard AFL-CIO President Louis Reine on the Jim Engster Show on Thursday and a caller took him to task because of his support for raising the minimum wage above the impossible-to-live-on $7.25 an hour rate, claiming it would hurt business and hurt the very people Reine and the AFL-CIO purport to want to help. That caller obviously does not live on minimum wage, or he would never be so dense as to oppose a decent living wage for working people. Other states have raised the minimum wage and seen no ill-effects on business—or workers. It’s a false argument (dare I say fake news) promoted by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry whose members enjoy $3 billion per year in tax exemptions, credits, and incentives—at the expense of the working people of this state who have to make up the tax shortfall created by those breaks.)

But back to the governor’s race. Who do you know who is still in his 40s , has already served three years as a congressman and eight years as governor (who would love to eclipse Edwin Edwards’s record of four terms), who is so ego-driven that he thought he was presidential timber, and who writes for the Wall Street Journal so as to keep his name before the public?

What might be the odds that Bobby Jindal might somehow think he can fool the people of this state again? Especially with Timmy Teepell telling him how smart and how great he is—all the while raking in consulting fees for himself and his firm, OnMessage?

But wait!

What did I just read about Donald Trump, the NRA and OnMessage? Oh, yes, that story (CLICK HERE) on Daily Kos about how the NRA illegally coordinated $30 million in political spending to benefit Trump in the 2016 election. The NRA, it turns out, was infiltrated by accused Russian spy MARIA BUTINA who was working for powerful Russian banker ALEXANDER TORSHIN. Donald Trump Jr. met with Torshin at a private dinner hosted by the NRA.

And much of that $30 million, it turns out, was RUSSIAN MONEY funneled through the NRA.

The NRA used an apparent shell firm called Starboard Strategic, Inc. to produce ads for Senate candidates who employed a Republican consulting firm called OnMessage. Starboard Strategic and OnMessage both share the same Alexandria, Virginia, address as National Media, which had staff members working for Trump. By law, Trump campaign staffers and National Media staffers were required to be completely and totally separate. Otherwise, the limits on campaign contributions would’ve been $5,000, not $30 million.

Guess who is a partner in the OnMessage firm? None other than Baton Rouge’s very own Timmy Teepell, the political guru to whom Bobby Jindal turns for those sweet nothings whispered in his ear—for a very bigly fee, of course.

But back to MARIA BUTINA: She’s in jail as I write this, pondering a plea bargain with federal prosecutors. But who was she photographed with at an NRA event? None other than Bobby Jindal, who I’m sure was clueless (as he is about most things) as to her real motives as a Russian agent.

JINDAL AND THE RUSSIAN SPY

But then, not all Republican operatives may have been completely ignorant of her intent. She had a boyfriend. His name is Paul Erickson. He’s a Republican operative and you can read about him HERE and HERE.

To paraphrase our late friend C.B. Forgotston, not even Alex Jones (https://www.infowars.com/) can make this stuff up.

 

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A state district court last week knocked down action taken by the Vermilion Parish School Board for violations of the state’s Open Meetings Law. In what must surely be a first, I find myself in agreement with Attorney General Jeff Landry on the whole affair.

Suffice it to say, however, that Landry waited until there was a judicial ruling to take his courageous stand, a ruling 10 months in the making, while LouisianaVoice took a similar position on the removal of a teacher from a board meeting immediately.

For that matter, why the hell did it take 15th Judicial District Court Judge David Smith 10 months to issue a ruling on a matter that is supposed to be fast-tracked: the issue of public meetings of governmental bodies? To take 10 months to decide what was obviously a violation of state law is somewhat ludicrous.

Be that as it may, Smith not only ruled the school board violated the Open Meetings Law by having a teacher, Deyshia Hargrave, a Kaplan middle school English teacher, arrested and removed from the meeting because she questioned the board action of awarding Superintendent Jerome Puyau a $30,000 raise, from $110,190 to $140,188, while teachers have gone years without a pay increase.

Puyau, in an interview with a Lafayette television station, said, “By the time the teacher stood up in the audience to the time she was at the door, it was 53 seconds. During that 53 seconds, she was asked to sit multiple times, the gavel struck multiple times.”

Yes, she was asked to sit and yes, the gavel was struck multiple times in a desperate effort to keep Hargrave from further publicly embarrassing the board and Puyau. When the raise for Puyau came up on the agenda, Hargrave, the parish’s 2015-16 Teacher of the Year, attempted to ask how the board could award Puyau a raise “when you’re basically taking from the teachers.”

Board President ANTHONY HARGRAVE, an Abbeville attorney who should have known better, rapped his gavel while informing Hargrave she was not on the agenda and the item being discussed was the superintendent’s contract.

Hargrave was quick to point out that she was addressing the very issue the board was considering, his gavel-rapping notwithstanding. “This directly speaks to what you’re voting on,” Hargrave said as a city marshal moved in to slap handcuffs on her and lead her from the meeting.

To view the complete video, click HERE.

The video prompted a flood of outrage from throughout the country. News organizations, from the Charlotte Observer, to The Washington Post, to The New York Times, to US News & World Report, to NPR, to NBC, to the La Crosse (Wisc.) Tribune, and even the Baton Rouge Tiger Droppings picked up on the school board’s action.

Meanwhile, Fontana, referring to Hargrave as “the poor little lady,” said, “If a teacher has the authority to send a student, who is acting up and she can’t control, out of the classroom to the principal’s office, under our policy we have the same rules.” Apparently, Fontana believed he could treat teachers as children and that getting arrested is the equivalent to being sent to the principal’s office.

And perhaps Fontana, after 25 years on the board, should have retired before deciding he was the final authority on open meetings and freedom of speech First Amendment rights.

And while Judge Smith took his time in issuing his ruling, he did take it to its ultimate conclusion in negating the school board’s approval of Puyau’s contract and his $30,000 raise—because the action was taken in what Smith said was a meeting held in violation of the Open Meetings Law.

Puyau, obviously feeling he had been grievously wronged by the ruling (never mind the manner in which the board treated Hargrave—one of its teachers, no less), told Lafayette TV station KATC reporter Chris Wetly that he would appeal the decision.

“It has ruined myself and my family,” he sniffed. “It has broken me personally. It has changed me as a person…to understand that politics is ugly and they (whoever “they” is) will do anything they can to get rid of me as Superintendent.”

Hey, Puyau, trying getting arrested, being handcuffed, and led out a public meeting—for simply exercising your First Amendment right of free speech. Then you can talk about your life being “ruined” and your life “changed.”

And of course, there is Landry, always ready and willing to pick the low-hanging fruit. Here’s the headline from his news release on Monday:

Vermilion Ruling A Victory for Teachers, Public Declares Jeff Landry
AG Landry Pledges Continued Enforcement of Open Meetings Law 

“I applaud Judge Smith for remedying this injustice,” Landry said of the ruling, adding that Hargrave and her fellow teachers, “who have not received a pay increase in many years despite growing class sizes, should have absolutely been heard.”

Of course, that was an easy call to make for Landry, ever the politician on the prowl for votes wherever and whenever he can find them. “And I pledge to continue diligent enforcement of our Open Meetings Law,” he said.

That’s a curious “pledge” for him to make. The Louisiana Constitution prohibits his intervention in parish affairs unless specifically requested to do so by the local district attorney. And as attorney general, he represents state boards, commissions, and agencies, meaning he is mandated to protect their interest, not ours. That means that in litigation over open meetings or public records, rather than enforcing the law, he defends state boards, commissions and agencies.

As ample illustration of that important distinction, observant readers will note that while LouisianaVoice WEIGHED IN on the controversy immediately, Landry, once a ruling had been made, had an opportunity to characteristically grab the spotlight with his news release. Prior to Judge Smith’s ruling, however, he had absolutely zero to say about the matter.

Nothing.

Nil.

Zilch.

So much for “diligent enforcement.”

 

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H24/7 WALL STREET, that independent service that publishes a multitude of surveys each day, has published a list of 38 metropolitan areas in the U.S. which have the highest poverty rates.

Four Louisiana metro areas made the list, ranging from 10th to 37th poorest.

New Orleans was not on the list, most likely because the affluent parishes of Jefferson and St. Tammany are included in the greater metropolitan area of the Crescent City.

The rankings are based on latest data released in September by the U.S. Census Bureau, the 24/7 Wall Street survey noted. And while poverty is on a general decline in the U.S. with 13.4 percent of Americans living below the poverty line, all four of the Louisiana metropolitan areas included in the list had poverty rates that exceeded 20 percent, as did 38 of the 382 metro areas reviewed in the U.S.

Seventeen of those 38 areas were in Texas and Georgia (5 metro areas each), Louisiana (4) and West Virginia (3). Texas had three cities ranked as the worst areas with McAllen, Texas ranked worst in the nation with a poverty rate of 30 percent, an unemployment rate in the highest 10 percent at 7.4 percent and a median household income of $37,106, also among the worst 10 percent.

All four Louisiana metropolitan areas—Monroe, Shreveport-Bossier, Hammond, and Alexandria—had unemployment rates that ranked among the highest 25 percent and three—Monroe, Shreveport-Bossier, and Alexandria—had median household incomes ranked among the worst 10 percent.

Monroe was the 10th poorest metro area in the nation, followed by Shreveport-Bossier (11th), Hammond (30th), and Alexandria (37th).

While the national unemployment rate was 4.4 percent in 2017, Monroe had a jobless rate of 5.3 percent, followed by Shreveport-Bossier (5.5 percent) and Alexandria and Hammond (5.7 percent).

To review the complete list, go HERE.

Louisiana followed the trend of having a high poverty rate that coincides with low educational attainment and a large share of available jobs in low-paying sectors.

It’s a familiar story for the state that seems to have become locked into an unbreakable pattern of low positives and high negatives. Elected officials, meanwhile, continue to ignore the factors that keep its citizens among the lowest paid, unhealthiest, and worst educated in the nation.

And whenever efforts are exerted toward reversing the trend, there are always certain self-serving or bought-and-paid-for legislators standing by to block those efforts and lobbyists with different agendas who will wine and dine the lawmakers.

Even more disheartening, we continue to re-elect them.

Whoever said we get the government we deserve…..nailed it.

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LouisianaVoice has expressed concerns about the industrial tax incentives, aka giveaway programs, for years. It has been our contention that while welfare cheats are an easy target for criticism, the money lost to fraudulent welfare and Medicaid recipients is eclipsed by the billions of dollars stolen from taxpayers in the form of industrial tax exemptions, incentives, and credits.

Of course, the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry would never concede that fact. Instead, they use the stage magician’s tactic of misdirection by claiming runaway lawsuits, organized labor, higher wages (they are especially terrified of an increase in the $7.25 minimum wage) and poor public education performance are to blame for Louisiana’s economic and social ills.

Never (not once) will one hear LABI point to poverty as a cause of the state’s low ranking in everything good and high ranking in everything bad. Never (not once) will one hear LABI, the local chambers of commerce, or the Louisiana Office of Economic Development call attention to the billions of dollars in relief given businesses and industry—from Wal Mart to Exxon—in the form of corporate welfare—leaving it to working Louisianans to pick up the check.

And all you have to do to understand how this has occurred is to follow the money in the form of campaign contributions to legislators and governors and visit the State Capitol during a legislative session and try—just try—to count the lobbyists. Better yet, you may do better by counting lobbyists and legislators following adjournment each night as they gather for steaks, lobster and adult beverages at Sullivan’s or Ruth’s Chris—compliments of lobbyists’ expense accounts.

And while LouisianaVoice has attempted to call attention to this piracy, an outfit called Together Louisiana has put together a 15-minute video presentation that brings the picture into sharp, stark focus. The contrast between two separate economies living side by side is stunning.

Stephen Winham, retired director of Louisiana’s Executive Budget Office called the video “a super good presentation of facts our decision-makers choose to ignore as they have for many, many decades.”

Winham went a step further in saying, “Our leaders seem to think we are all too dumb to understand this—and that’s a positive assessment. A more jaundiced view would be that they don’t want us to understand it.

“All we can do is keep on keeping on with our individual attempts to communicate this and let our elected officials know that we do understand and that we hold them responsible and accountable. Unfortunately, when I attempt to talk about this with individuals and groups, their eyes glaze over within minutes. I’m not going to stop trying, though, and neither should anybody else.

“I am happy to have this information in such a tight presentation,” Winham said.

So, with that, here is that video:

 

And if that’s not enough to convince you, THIS STORY was posted late Friday.

 

 

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On Monday (Nov. 13), Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell issued a glowing PRESS RELEASE in which he announced what he described as a project to provide high-speed internet service to more than 54,000 homes and businesses in the 24-parish PSC District 5.

Yet, only two months earlier, Campbell had appeared before the Claiborne Parish Police Jury to publicly trash a proposal by Claiborne Electric Cooperative to provide even faster and more comprehensive internet service to an estimated 65,000 homes and businesses in its five-parish service area—at a comparable customer cost.

Campbell, an Elm Grove populist Democrat who lost to John Kennedy in the 2016 U.S. Senate race, who lost to Bobby Jindal in the 2007 governor’s election and who three times ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. House from Louisiana’s 4th congressional district, seems to be running for something again but there don’t seem to be any other offices for him to seek.

In September, he presented his timeline of events concerning the approval process for Claiborne’s proposed high-speed broad internet service. One cooperative member who was present for that performance described Campbell’s remarks as “hyperbole,” adding that many of Foster’s claims “were outright wrong.”

“Then when he had his say, for which he caught a lot of flak from citizens in attendance, he promptly left as (Claiborne CEO) Mark Brown was given the opportunity to present his side of the situation,” the member said, pointing out that he is neither an employee nor a board member of Claiborne Electric. He asked that his name not be used.

“There was a marked difference in the points of view with Mr. Brown’s position being a lot more straightforward and fact-based,” he said. “That Campbell made his accusations and factually incorrect statements and then left without hearing Mr. Brown’s EXPLANATION was one of the rudest displays I’ve seen in a public forum.”

In his press release, Campbell said the “Connect America” program of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) “is helping fiber, wireless and satellite internet providers meet the need for broadband service in unserved or underserved areas of North Louisiana.”

He said that FCC records indicate that 54,580 homes and businesses in his PSC district are eligible for high-speed internet service funded by Connect America.

That represents just a fraction of almost a million people—325,000 households—in the 24 parishes.

What Campbell describes as “high speed” internet is a download speed of 10 megabytes per second and an upload speed of one megabyte per second at an estimated cost of $60 per month per customer.

Claiborne’s proposal calls for the same $60 monthly rate for 50 megabytes to one gigabyte of service for 10,000 more customers in the five-parishes of Bienville, Claiborne, Lincoln, Union and Webster than for Campbell’s entire 24 parish district.

Campbell claims that if the Claiborne project fails, customers would be on the hook for the costs, ignoring the fact that the proposal calls for a construction phase-in that would allow the project to be scrapped if it did not meet projections.

“Foster Campbell ignores the fact the 69 co-ops around the country have already done projects like that proposed by Claiborne and none of those have failed,” the Homer member said. “He also ignores that about 75 other co-ops around the country are in the process of starting fiber optic systems.”

(CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE)

Foster’s behavior is a strange reversal of traditional Democratic support for electric cooperatives begun under the administration of Franklin Roosevelt and championed by such notables as Lyndon Johnson. In fact, Foster’s rhetoric is reminiscent of Bobby Jindal’s REJECTION of that $80 million Commerce Department grant to install high-speed broadband internet for Louisiana’s rural parishes back in 2011.

In that case, Jindal was in lockstep with the AMERICAN LEGISLATIVE EXCHANGE COUNCIL (ALEC) which in 2010 had staked out its opposition to federal encroachment onto the turf of private business despite the fact that private business had been painfully slow in responding to the needs of rural America dating back to the early days of electric power and telephone service.

And therefore, since AT&T was a member of ALEC and since AT&T was opposed to the grant, therefore, so was Jindal. In Jindal’s case, AT&T had also made a six-figure contribution to his wife’s charitable foundation, giving Jindal another reason to take up the ALEC banner.

AT&T, in fact, even took the City of Lafayette to court to fight the city’s efforts to construct its own fiber optic high speed broadband internet system. It was a costly fight for both sides but Lafayette eventually emerged victorious despite AT&T’s best efforts.

Foster Campbell, in his press release noted that AT&T would be responsible for $17.2 million, or 79 percent of the FCC-funded broadband expansion into PSC District 5 while CenturyLink of Monroe would have responsibility for $3.9 million (18 percent) of the cost and satellite provider ViaSat would spend $1.5 million (3 percent).

So, why is Campbell now sounding so downright Jindalesque in his opposition to Claiborne Electric?

For that answer, one would have to take the advice FBI agent Mark Felt, aka Deep Throat, gave to reporter Bob Woodward during the Washington Post’s investigation of Nixon and Watergate:

Follow the money.

  • CenturyLink made two $1,000 contributions to Campbell’s various state campaign fund in 2011 and 2012, according to Louisiana Ethics Commission records.
  • Glen F. Post, III, of Farmerville in Union Parish, is President of CenturyLink. He personally contributed $11,500 to Campbell between 2003 and 2014.
  • Stacy Goff is Executive Vice-President of CenturyLink. He chipped in another $500 for Campbell in 2005.
  • AT&T gave $10,000 to Campbell in campaign contributions between 2003 and 2010.
  • William G. “Bud” Courson and James W. Nickel of Baton Rouge are registered lobbyists for AT&T. Their firm, Courson Nickel, LLC of Baton Rouge, contributed $2,000 to Campbell from 2002 to 2014.

CENTURYTEL

COURSON NICKEL

Post contributed another $3,000 to Campbell’s unsuccessful Senate campaign in 2016 and Nickel and Courson also contributed $500 and $1,000, respectively, to that campaign, federal campaign finance records show.

Altogether, Foster Campbell had at least 30,500 reasons to oppose Claiborne Electric’s proposal to provide high speed broadband internet service to its members.

Because he indisputably had skin in the game, he should have recused himself from the discussion in order to avoid any conflict of interests.

Therein lies the problem of regulators accepting contributions from those they regulate.

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