Archive for the ‘Economy’ 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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Three book signings have be set for my latest book, Bobby Jindal: His Destiny and Obsession.

Our first book signing will be this Saturday at 2 p.m. at Cavalier House Books in Denham Springs’ Antique Village. It’s the same store where I held my first book signing for my first book, Louisiana Rocks: The True Genesis of Rock & Roll.

Also on hand for this Saturday’s signing will be Del Hahn, author of Smuggler’s End: The Life and Death of Barry Seal. Hahn is the retired FBI agent who successfully pursued Seal. I had a small hand in the book as editor.

Before we go any further, it might be worthwhile to point out that my book about Jindal is not a powderpuff book in the mold of the two books by Jindal which probably resulted in his dislocating his shoulder from repeatedly patting himself on the back.

Please know that this book was undertaken and written in its entirety with zero collaboration or cooperation from anyone in the Jindal camp.

It’s the kind of book that result in my being removed from Jindal’s Christmas card list—had we ever been on that list, which we certainly were not.

This 294-page book is an examination that addresses several issues:

  • How did Jindal become a multi-millionaire after only three years in Congress?
  • Jindal’s claims of a new high standard of ethics are debunked by his own actions as governor.
  • Jindal’s claim of transparency is also belied by his penchant for secrecy.
  • His vindictive nature in firing or demoting anyone and everyone who dared disagree with him.
  • His awarding of prestigious board and commission memberships to big contributors.
  • His sorry record in protecting the state’s environment and the state’s coastline.
  • His mysterious deal to sell state hospitals via a contract containing 50 blank pages.
  • His single-handed destruction of higher education and health care.
  • His near-comical, yet pathetic candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination.

There is much, much more, of course, but you will have to get the book to read it.

Here is the current schedule for upcoming book signings:

  • Cavalier House Books in Denham Springs: Saturday, May 14, at 2 p.m.
  • The Winn Parish Library in Winnfield: Thursday, May 19, at 2 p.m.
  • Barnes and Noble Bookstore in Mandeville, Saturday, June 18, from 2 to 4 p.m.

This schedule will be updated as additional signings are scheduled.

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You just have to love Louisiana politics.

It’s kind of like having someone pee down your back while telling you it’s raining.

Or maybe trying to run a marathon with a rock in your shoe.

And to no one’s real surprise, it doesn’t seem to matter much which political party is in power.

Take Thomas Harris, the newly-appointed Secretary of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), for example.

On Feb. 19, not quite two weeks ago, Secretary Harris testified before the House Appropriations Committee about the agency’s fiscal year 2017 budget. In his testimony, Harris, who spent about a dozen years at the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) before his Jan. 26 appointment by Gov. John Bel Edwards, lamented the fact that his agency was so strapped for funding that up to 66 employees face layoffs come July 1.

While it may difficult for some to feel much compassion for DNR, given the historically cozy relationship between the oil and gas industry and the agency’s top brass. It was DNR and DEQ, after all, which conveniently looked the other way all these years as our coastal marshlands were raped by the industry that curtailed the so-called legacy lawsuits filed against oil companies that neglected to clean up after themselves. http://theadvocate.com/home/9183574-125/house-oks-legacy-lawsuit-legislation


Harris gave his testimony during the afternoon session of the Appropriations Committee that met during the recent special legislative session called to address major budget shortfalls.

To save you some time, open the link HERE and move to the 41-minute mark. That’s where Harris begins his address to committee members, most of whom were talking among themselves (as is the norm) and not really paying attention.

So just why are we making such a big deal of this? It’s no big secret, after all, that budgetary cuts are hitting just about every agency and employees are going to have to be laid off. It’s a fact of life for anyone working for the state these days.

Unless you happen to be named David Boulet or Ashlee McNeely

Harris hired Boulet as Assistant Secretary of DNR, effective March 10 (last Thursday), less than three weeks after his calamitous testimony about projected layoffs.

But get this: Ashlee McNeely, wife of our old friend Chance McNeely (we’ll get to him presently), worked in Bobby Jindal’s office from Feb. 3, 2014, until last Oct. 22 as a legislative analyst at $78,000. On Oct. 23, she was promoted to Director of Legislative Services at the same salary (someone please tell us why Jindal needed a director of legislative services when he had less than three months to go in his term—and with no legislative session on the immediate horizon). Of course, come Jan. 11, the date of John Bel Edwards’ inauguration, she was quietly terminated along with the rest of Jindal’s staff.

But wait. Harris decided he needed a “Confidential Assistant.” And just what is a “confidential assistant,” anyway? Well, we’re told that the term is loosely translated to “legislative liaison.” No matter. Harris did the only logical thing: he brought Ashlee McNeely on board on Feb. 10, just nine days before his cataclysmic budgetary predictions. What’s more, he bumped her salary up by eight thou a year, to $86,000.

But back to our friend Boulet: His salary is a cool $107,600—to fill a position that has been vacant for more than five years. So what was the urgency of filling a long-vacated slot that obviously is little more than window dressing for an agency unable to fill mission-critical classified positions?

Had Harris chosen instead to allocate the combined $193,000 the two are getting, he could have hired four classified employees at $46,750 each. Not the greatest salary, but certainly not bad if you’re out of work and trying to feed a family. And still higher than the state’s family median income

So, what, exactly are the qualifications of Boulet? Well, for openers, he’s the son-in-law of former Gov. Kathleen Blanco and that’s of no small consequence. In fact, that was probably enough.

In fact, it’s not the first time he has landed a cushy position that took on the appearances of having all the right connections. We take you back to 2001, when Blanco was Lieutenant Governor and Boulet was hired as the $120,000-a-year Director of Oil & Gas Cluster Development for the Louisiana Office of Economic Development, a move that did not sit well with the scribes at the Thibodaux Comet: http://www.dailycomet.com/article/20011108/NEWS/111080313?tc=ar

And then there’s our old friend Chance McNeely, another holdover from the Jindal disaster. McNeely, all of 27, has seen his star rise in meteoric fashion after obtaining a degree in agricultural business and working four years as a legislative assistant for the U.S House of Representatives. From there, he found his way into Jindal’s inner circle as an analyst at $68,000. He remained there less than a year (March 6, 2014, to Jan. 12, 2015) before moving over to DEQ where the special position of Assistant Secretary, Office of Environmental Compliance (in circumvention of Jindal’s hiring freeze in place at the time and despite having no qualifications for the position)—complete with a $37,000 raise to $102,000. https://louisianavoice.com/2015/01/13/if-you-think-chance-mcneelys-appointment-to-head-deq-compliance-was-an-insult-just-get-a-handle-on-his-salary/

He held onto that job recisely a year, exiting the same day as his wife got her pink slip, on Jan. 11 of this year. Unlike Ashlee, who remained unemployed for just over three months, Chance was out of work for exactly eight days before being named Assistant to the Secretary at the Department of Transportation and Development, albeit at a slight drop in salary, to $99,000.

But by combining his and his wife’s salaries, the $177,000 isn’t too shabby for a state with a median income of $42,406 per household, according to 2014 data. And how many 27-year-olds do you know who pull down $99,000 per year? http://www.advisorperspectives.com/dshort/updates/Household-Incomes-by-State.php

So, Secretary Harris, as you struggle with balancing the high pay of your political appointees with cutbacks of the ones who do the real work, please know that we understand fully that we live in Louisiana where, no matter the rhetoric, things never change.

You will head an agency that will protect big oil from those of us with ruined pastureland and briny water. DNR will continue to shield big oil from those who would do whatever necessary to preserve our wetlands. And as those oil companies continue to fight back with whatever legal chicanery they can craft—including the buying of legislators.

And the merry-go-round of appointments to those with the right political connections will continue unabated—no matter what self-righteous rhetoric of freedom and justice for all is spewed by the pompous ass clowns we continue to elect.

Now ask me how I really feel.


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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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As it turns out, that quote was attributed to Einstein in error but the fact that he never said it doesn’t alter the accuracy of the definition.

And for at least three decades, Louisiana along with the rest of the South, has insisted on following the same outdated industrial inducement policies first warned about in a 1986 report by MDC, Inc. (Manpower Development Corp.) of Durham, N.C.

One of the members of the MDC Panel on Rural Economic Development which produced the 16-page report Shadows in the Sunbelt was Dr. Norman Francis, then President of Xavier University and Chairman of Liberty Bank in New Orleans. https://gri.unc.edu/files/2011/10/Shadows-in-the-Sunbelt-86.pdf

That 1986 report was followed up in 2002 when MDC published a 44-page report entitled The State of the South. http://mdcinc.org/sites/default/files/resources/MDC_StateOfTheSouth_2014.pdf

Both reports said much the same thing: that the market had dried up. There were, the reports said, 15,000 industrial inducement committees in the South chasing 1500 industries—and if they relocated at all, it would be whether inducements in the form of tax incentives were offered or not. “At best, the states have assisted businesses in doing what they wanted to do anyway,” the ’86 report said.

“The factors which once made the rural South attractive (to industry) are now losing relevance,” it said. That’s because the South, which once boasted an abundance of low-cost labor, can no longer complete in the global market. Where American apparel workers would earn $6.52 an hour (remember, this was in 1986, but the numbers are still comparable), their counterparts in Korea and Taiwan earned $1 and $1.43, respectively, and Chinese workers made about 26 cents per hour.

Shadows in the Sunbelt called southern states’ tax incentives to lure business and industry a “buffalo hunt,” an analogy to the great buffalo hunts of the 19th century which nearly wiped out the North American bison population. “Yet the hunters (states) continue in their pursuit, hoping to bag one of the remaining hides,” the report said.

The stampede actually started in Mississippi 80 years ago through a program called “Balance Agriculture with Industry” whereby the state used municipal bonds to finance construction of new plants. That practice evolved into tax breaks offered to prospective industries as states began forfeiting property tax revenues to lure new jobs.

Today, Louisiana gives up about $3 billion each year in tax breaks and credits doled out in various programs, all of which are designed ostensibly to attract industry and raise the standard of living through more and better jobs but which in reality, do little of either.

What we’ve received instead are tax breaks for duck hunters, chicken plucking plants, Wal-Mart stores, fast food franchises and for industries that either (a) get the tax incentives but which soon shut down operations (Nucor Steel, General Motors) or (b) claim the creation of great numbers of new jobs but which actually are far fewer than announced.

In fact, the ’86 report said, a long-term study of job promises in South Carolina revealed that only 52 percent of the jobs promised actually materialized. In Louisiana, when Bobby Jindal ran for re-election in 2011, he claimed in TV ads that the Louisiana Department of Economic Development during his first term handed out incentives that brought 25,425 new jobs to Louisiana. The actual number, however, was only 6,729. That’s only 26.5 percent of the jobs promised. https://louisianavoice.com/2011/09/29/jindal-plays-fast-and-loose-with-jobs-claim-tv-campaign-ad/

The ’86 report said as much. “The costs of inducements offered to attract industry are also heavy—and in some cases counterproductive,” it said. Evidence showed that tax breaks did not significantly affect plant location decisions but states nevertheless open up the state treasury for companies to loot even though the benefits do not offset the costs. “Whatever the effectiveness of industrial recruiting in the past, current trends clearly indicate that its value as a tool for economic development is declining,” it said.

That was 30 years ago and we’re still giving away the store by adhering to a faulty ALEC-backed policy of favoring corporations over citizens.

As an alternative, the report recommended that in lieu of spending millions to attract out-of-state industries, states should implement programs to support local development and to encourage entrepreneurship.

The 2002 report, State of the South, only reiterated the recommendations of the study of 16 years earlier. It also should have sent a clear message to the Louisiana Legislature and to Bobby Jindal six years before he came to power. The latter report’s recommendations included:

  • Refocus state agencies responsible for economic development to pursue a broader, more strategic approach;
  • State governments should not measure success simply by the number of new jobs, but also in terms of higher incomes for people and improved competitiveness of regions within the states;
  • Modernize tax systems so that states have the fiscal capacity to provide excellent educatin, widely accessible job training, necessary infrastructure, and community amenities that enrich the soil for economic development;
  • Tighten performance criteria for industrial incentives—and encourage associations of Southern governors and legislators to reexamine the one-dimensional, incentives-driven recruitment strategy in favor of a comprehensive economic development strategy;
  • Dramatically expand efforts to erase serious deficits along the entire education continuum in the South, and bolster the education, health and well-being of children;
  • Draw on universities and community colleges to act as catalysts for state and regional economic advancement.

The 2002 report said high-poverty, sparsely-populated areas are last to get telecommunications infrastructure. More than 60 percent of the zip codes in the Delta areas of Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana have no broadband internet provider which further widens the competitive gap for these areas. Yet Jindal rejected an $80 million federal grant to install broadband in Louisiana’s rural areas. http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2011/11/80_million_grant_for_rural_bro.html

Because Louisiana, along with the rest of the South, made a commitment to low taxes, low public investment, and low education in return for jobs. That strategy trapped the state in a cycle of low-wage, low-skill industry “begetting more low-wage, low-skill industry,” and thus perpetuating the “Wal-Mart Syndrome.”

Mac Holladay, who served as head of economic development for three Southern states summed up the situation. “If we had put the vast majority of our economic development resources into incubators, small business services, export training, and existing business assistance instead of recruitment and overseas offices, it might have made a big difference.”

Tax abatements and other financial giveaways, the 2002 report said, “inevitably drain resources from schools, community colleges and universities—public investments that are crucial to long-term economic advancement. Incentives provide a better return on investment when they build a community’s infrastructure, provide workers with higher skills and attract jobs that pay markedly more than the prevailing wages.”

Even when Mississippi granted $68 million in incentives for Nissan’s assembly plant in Canton, a small town just north of Jackson, the company’s director of human resources told the Jackson Clarion-Ledger that he could not name any Canton resident likely to be hired for one of the 5,300 jobs starting at $12 per hour. He attributed that to the town’s 27 percent poverty rate, 76 percent of out-of-wedlock births and 44 percent of adults without a high school diploma.

Carley Fiorina, former chief executive for Hewlett-Packard and more recently an unsuccessful candidate for the Republican presidential nomination said, “Keep your incentives and highway interchanges. We will go where the highly skilled people are.”

“Not so long ago,” said the 2002 State of the South report, “the South sought to build its economy by enticing companies from afar to relocate with the bait of cheap land, low taxes, and a surplus of hardworking but undereducated workers. That old recipe no longer works to feed families and sustain communities.

“No comprehensive strategy would be complete without further efforts to bolster public schools,” the report said.

“There must be a recognition that the ultimate challenge lies in the educational and economic advancement of people who have gotten left behind,” it said. “We must get the message out to every household, every poor household, that the only road out of poverty runs by the schoolhouse.

“The line that separates the well-education from the poorly education is the harshest fault line of all.”

Yet, Louisiana’s leaders insist on doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

And we keep electing the same failed policy makers over and over and over…


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