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Archive for the ‘Economy’ Category

Conrad Appel has a short memory.

Appel, the Republican state senator from Metairie, is the same one who made a killing investing in the stock of Discovery Education just before the Senate Education Committee which he chaired at the time adopted the company’s Science TECHBOOK as a digital core instructional resource for elementary and middle school science instruction.

The states of Indiana and Oregon also adopted the program about the same time and the company’s stock went from $40.96 a share at the time of his purchase on Nov. 30, 2010, to $90.21 a share on Jan. 2, 2014, a period of just over three years. More than 7.5 million shares of Discovery Communications stock were traded on the day of Appel’s purchase. The next highest volume was 3.1 million shares on Aug. 1, 2011. Daily trading volume generally ran between 1.1 million and 1.9 million shares in the three-plus-year-period from December 2010 to March 2014.

Okay, that’s old news that LouisianaVoice has reported before, so what’s the big deal?

Nothing much, except that now Appel, apparently in attempt to emulate Bobby Jindal, is penning op-ed columns for The Hayride, a conservative blog. This not a criticism of The Hayride. They believe in what they write just as I believe in what I post, which certainly is a right I would never deny them. And LouisianaVoice also has guest columnists, so, understand that this not a slam on The Hayride.

But in his COLUMN, Appel opens by saying he has been engaged in the past week in “rather heated debate” over undocumented immigration. Funny, we thought he was trying to find a solution to Louisiana’s budgetary problems.

Nevertheless, Appel goes on to say that Louisiana’s weak economy is incapable of absorbing an influx of undocumented immigrants. He does give a nod to the indisputable fact that without that influx of Hispanic workers following Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans would never have recovered in the time it did.

He notes that the workers “flocked in” to form the labor force that rebuilt the region because, he says, jobs were plentiful. But here is a curious cop-out by Appel in his column: “A side question is why the natives didn’t return to assume those jobs but that is a subject for someone else.”

No, Senator, it certainly is NOT a question for “someone else.” As an elected state senator, it is precisely your duty to address that issue head-on, not weasel out of it with some half-baked excuse.

But in case you need a reminder, here’s a major reason, and you can file this away for future use:

The largely African-American male population that fled New Orleans in the wake of Katrina did not return to claim those jobs because they were unqualified to do the work. The Hispanics who “flocked in” were, in fact, skilled laborers, trained in carpentry, roofing, bricklaying, and concrete finishing. They were already trained in contrast to New Orleans blacks who historically have been written off by the power structure—white and black power structure, it should be noted—that considered them of no value other than on election day.

Of course, Appel represents lily-white Metairie in Jefferson Parish, so he would find it difficult to emphasize with the plight of people of color. But here’s an example that stands out as symbolic of the way in which the power structure I alluded to earlier games the system to its own advantage and to the disadvantage of what it considers the bottom feeders.

Following Katrina, FEMA issued 81,241 blue roof tarps (10-feet-by-10-feet). An Austin, Texas, contractor said he charged $300 to cover a 2000-square-foot roof. That equates to 20 tarps, or a buck-fifty per tarp.

FEMA contracted with the Shaw Group of Baton Rouge to place the tarps for $175 per 10-by-10 tarp, or $3500 for that same 2,000-square-foot house–more than 11 times what the Austin contractor charged.

But it gets better. Shaw apparently had no employees qualified to place the tarps, so it subcontracted with a company called A-1 Construction at a cost of $75 per tarp. That’s a profit of $100 per tarp for Shaw, whose employees never touched a tarp.

But wait. A-1 subbed its work out to Westcon Construction at $30 a square (tarp) for a profit of $45 per square—again, without ever touching a tarp.

Westcon then hired the actual workers who placed the tarps at a cost of $2 a square, or a profit of $28 per tarp for Westcon.

If Shaw had contracted to place all 81,000 tarps, the company would have pocketed more than $8.1 million without ever lifting a finger. A-1 cashed in for more than $3.6 million and never broke a sweat while Westcon made a more modest $2.27 million after paying its workers. Of course, those figures don’t take into consideration taxes and insurance paid by the companies. But still….combined profits of nearly $14 million?

By contrast the workers who actually placed the tarps received $162,000 to be divided between however many workers were hired to do the work.

Can you say profiteering?

Anyone care to bet against the chances that those workers who actually placed the tarps were Hispanic? After all, 45 percent of the recovery workforce was comprised of Latinos, about half of whom were undocumented. Of that 45 percent, 43 percent were from Mexico, 32 percent from Honduras, 9 percent from Nicaragua, and 8 percent from El Salvador.

And here’s the real kicker, just in case Appel ever cares to do a little research on the subject. Many of those ended up as victims of WAGE THEFT at the hands of unscrupulous contractors who vanished without paying the workers.

So, yes, Sen. Appel, there is a problem but to say the economy of this state can’t afford an influx of undocumented immigrants is just a tad hypocritical, given the fact that the Legislature that was so complicit in abetting Bobby Jindal as he tanked the state’s treasury couldn’t seem to get its act together until it had carried the state to the very edge of the metaphorical fiscal cliff. Until you as a body can act responsibly in addressing our teetering state economy, you shouldn’t cast stones—in anyone’s direction.

Especially when many of the undocumented workers who did “flock in” were never paid for the work they did in restoring New Orleans.

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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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Taking their cue from Alabama Sheriff TODD ENTREKIN, several members of Louisiana’s House of Representatives have co-sponsored a bill that would cut food expenditures for prisoners and college and university students while increasing the percentage of prisoner work-release pay that the state receives in an effort to boost revenue as the state rushes headlong toward the June 30 fiscal cliff.

HB-4118, co-authored by a dozen Republican legislators who received the highest ratings from the conservative Americans for Prosperity (AFP), would slash funding for inmate meals three days per week in an effort to help make up budgetary shortfalls.

The bill has been endorsed by AFP, the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI), the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, and Attorney General Jeff Landry as an effective cost-saving measure that would, at the same time, continue to allow generous tax breaks for business and industry to remain untouched. Also remaining intact would be tax incentives for movie and television production in the state.

In Alabama, existing legislation allows sheriffs to collect a salary supplement as a percentage of savings achieved.

Entrekin, Sheriff of Etowah County in Alabama, recently came under heavy criticism when it was learned that he cut back on his jail’s food budget by eliminating meat for prisoners for all but a couple of days per month but then used the money saved to purchase a beach house for $740,000. HB 4118, while similar to the Alabama law, would have built-in safeguards against any surplus being diverted for personal use.

“Sheriff Entrekin, who runs only a single county jail in Alabama, was able to save approximately $250,000 per year for three years. Granted, he abused the intent of the law by using his surplus funds for personal gain,” said State Reps. Cameron Henry (R-Metairie) and Lance Harris (R-Alexandria) in a joint statement announcing their introduction of the bill. “If surplus funds are properly allocated back to the state instead of to individuals as was the case in Alabama, that misuse of funds can be avoided. With 50,000 prison inmates and more than 200,000 college students in Louisiana, imagine how much we would be able to save by employing the same paradigm.”

HB 4118 would cut servings of meat, milk and juice by three days a week for 50 weeks per year—Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays for state-run prisons and all colleges and universities and Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays for parish jails and privately-run prisons. State appropriations for those institutions would be cut accordingly.

“We wouldn’t want to make such cuts for prisons on Sundays or during the weeks of Thanksgiving or Christmas because that would just not be the Christian thing to do,” the statement by Henry and Harris said. “Colleges and universities are out during those weeks anyway, so they would not be affected during those times.”

They said the potential savings to the state, calculated at a minimum of $3 per meal at which meat, milk and juice are eliminated, would be an estimated $22.5 million per year at prisons and $75 million at institutions of higher learning, or a total of $97.5 million per year.

Public schools would be exempted from the more restrictive diets for now, they said.

Operators of prisons and jails typically receive about 60 percent of the earnings of each prisoner who participates in a work-release program. That amount would be increased to 75 percent if HB 4118 becomes law. Additionally, a processing fee of one dollar would be added to the sale of each soft drink and snack to the prices presently charged by prison commissaries, according to provisions of the bill. Currently, prisoners are charged $3 for soft drinks and $5 for snacks.

“These people are in jail for committing crimes,” the two lawmakers’ joint statement said. “They get free housing, food, clothing and they’re learning a trade. There really isn’t any need for them to earn money on top of those benefits.

“This bill will allow the state to protect the valuable incentives for businesses and industry which provide jobs for Louisiana’s honest, hard-working citizens,” they said. “The bill protects the same jobs that will be available to the college students when they graduate. We’re asking students to sacrifice a little now for greater rewards in the future.”

Though the bill’s language doesn’t specifically say so, the same cuts could also be applied at hospitals now operated as part of the public-private partnerships implemented by the Jindal administration, which would produce additional savings although no estimates were provided for the medical facilities.

If approved, the new law would go into effect one year from today.

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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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A handful of distinguished retired journalists (and me) meets once a month at a Baton Rouge Piccadilly Cafeteria (I told you we were retired) to solve the ills of the state, nation, and the world. Occasionally, we even delve into local Baton Rouge politics.

One of those, Ed Pratt, with whom I had the pleasure of working at the old Baton Rouge State-Times back in the ‘70s, is an occasional attendant but because he is still gainfully employed (unlike the rest of the over-the-hill-gang), he doesn’t join us each month.

But several months ago, at a lunch he did show up. The subject that day was the future of the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS) and the legislature’s failure to adequately address the looming fiscal cliff that will see about a billion dollars fall off the books with the expiration of a temporary sales tax.

On March 9, Pratt, who still does a regular op-ed column for the Baton Rouge Advocate, WROTE a piece that accurately illustrated the direct connection between the continued funding of TOPS and the return on investment of apartment developers and restaurant owners, investments that exist in the immediate orbit of the state’s institutions of higher learning.

And while Pratt’s analysis singled out the spurt in apartment, condo, and restaurant development, primarily in the immediate proximity of LSU, other colleges and universities have also witnessed similar private investment, particularly in student housing.

Those investments could be in peril if the legislature continues to shirk its responsibility in setting the state on firm fiscal footing.

Take my alma mater, Louisiana Tech, for example, and Grambling State University, just five miles from Tech. There has been an explosion of housing construction around those two campuses. And because Tech has embarked on an ambitious program of student recruitment to bump its enrollment to something like 20,000 or so over the next few years, construction workers have been particularly busy in Ruston. (The enrollment at Tech when I was there was something like 4,000. But they had rotary dial pay phones, Cokes in 61/2-ounce glass bottles, manual typewriters, carbon paper, and 8 p.m. weeknight curfews for female students back then, too.)

But the way they’ve gone about with their student housing construction at Tech is quite creative and is being emulated by every other campus in the state, according to Ruston political consultant Dr. Gary Stokley, a retired Tech professor.

The Tech Alumni Foundation approaches alumni and other supporters with an “investment opportunity” that, as long as TOPS is maintained, is virtually risk-free. (And no, it’s not a Ponzi or pyramid scheme.)

Tech, despite having torn down some of its dormitories, is growing and with an increase in enrollment, students need housing. And, of course, students would prefer a home environment with private baths and kitchens as opposed to dormitories with a community bath and no kitchen.

By working with the school’s foundation, which actually negotiates the construction contracts, investors enjoy a generous tax write-off, plus they will own a percentage of the apartments or condos. The school takes care of filling the housing units and collecting the rent and is also responsible for the maintenance of the buildings. The dollars generated by student rent pays off the debt. The advantage to the school is that it is relieved of the burden of having to go through the State Bond Commission to obtain funding for the construction. The alumnus or supporter who ponies up the money does nothing but sit back and reap the rewards of his investment.

If you have the funds to sink into the project, it’s a win-win proposition.

“Tech is one of the first schools to come up with this method of financing construction of student housing,” said Stokley. “Other schools have since replicated that method.

“Tech and Grambling have a tremendous impact on the economy of Ruston and Lincoln Parish as do others schools on their communities,” he said.

“A four-year student at Tech has an economic value of a million dollars on Ruston,” he said, “so the retention of students is critical. If TOPS craters, enrollment will drop and these apartments will sit empty.

“It’s a domino effect. If TOPS is cut or eliminated, it affects not only students’ families, but the ripple effect impacts colleges and the community as well.” Stokley said it was not unrealistic to envision some universities actually shutting down or converting from public to private schools with even higher tuitions—which could further reduce enrollment.

There are already all those extra fees that students voted to impose on themselves—before tuition began rising so sharply seven or eight years ago. “At Tech, we have the $62 million Davison Center that students voted to pay a portion of by assessing themselves fees totaling $8 million,” Stokley said. “That’s an added fee tacked onto already rising tuition. If TOPS is cut, that’s money that will have to be made up by students’ parents or by students taking out student loans. If that happens, the money for private apartments and condos just won’t be in the budget.”

Combined with the threat to TOPS, banks are lobbying Congress to cap the amounts of government student loans which could place additional financial hardships on students.

With federal student loans, the interest rate is fixed and often lower than private loans which can have variable interest rates of more than 18 percent. Plus, with federal loans, students are not required to begin repayment until they graduate, leave school or change their enrollment status to less than half time. Private loans require payments while still enrolled.

For other advantages of federal over private loans, click HERE.

If you are a parent with a kid enrolled in a Louisiana public university who is on TOPS, you may wish to turn your attention from March Madness long enough to give your House and Senate members a call to suggest that they take time away from campaign fund raising long enough to do the job they were elected to do.

Better yet, here are the links to the HOUSE and SENATE. Scroll down and click on the name of your members to get their email addresses to contact them that way.

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