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Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

A question for Public Service Commissioner Mike Francis:

How much is enough?

And that’s not a rhetorical question. We really want to know what your limits are.

According to Francis, a wealthy man in his own right, he should be entitled to a free lunch.

Literally.

You see, the political campaigns of Public Service Commission (PSC) members, the Louisiana Insurance Commissioner and judges at every level are financed in large part by the very ones they regulate or do business with on a daily basis.

But apparently that association is not cozy enough for Francis, who wants to remove all restrictions on accepting free meals from representatives of utilities, motor carriers, and others regulated by the PSC.

Granted, the PSC purports to hold itself to a higher standard than actual ethics rules allow. Legally, elected officials are allowed to accept up to $60 per day in food and beverage under the guise of “business” lunches or dinners. But, as Baton Rouge Advocate columnist and resident curmudgeon JAMES GILL writes, the PSC, at the urging of members Foster Campbell and Lambert Boissiere, rammed through a rule barring all freeloading.

That didn’t sit well with Francis, who is financially solvent enough to daily feed the entire commission out of his petty cash account.

Saying he wanted the commission to be run like a business, he sniffed that a working lunch is “pretty standard procedure in the real work world.”

Our question to Francis then is this: since when is government run like a business? Businesses are run to make a profit; government is run to provide services for its citizens. The two concepts are like the rails on a railroad track: they never cross though they often do appear to converge.

And then there is our follow up question to Mr. Francis: isn’t it enough that you manage to extract huge sums of money from the industries you regulate in the form of campaign contributions? Why would you need a free lunch on top of that?

After all, your campaign finance reports indicate you received $5,000 from AT&T, $5,000 from ENPAC (Entergy’s political action committee), $5,000 from Atmos Energy Corp. PAC, $2,500 from the Louisiana Rural Electric Cooperative, $2,500 from Dynamic Environmental Services, $2,500 from ADR Electric, $2,500 from carbon producing company Rain CII, $2,500 from Davis Oil principal William Mills, III, $2,500 each from Jones Walker and the Long law firms, each of whom represents oil and energy interests. There are plenty others but those are the primary purchasers of the Francis Free Lunch.

LouisianaVoice would like to offer a substitute motion to the Francis Free Lunch proposal. It will never be approved, but here goes:

Let’s enact a law, strictly enforced, that will prohibit campaign contributions from any entity that is governed, regulated, or otherwise overseen by those elected to the Public Service Commission, the Louisiana Insurance Commission, judgeships at all levels, Attorney General, and Agriculture Commissioner.

  • No electric or gas companies, oil and gas transmission companies, or trucking and bus companies or rail companies could give a dime to Public Service Commission candidates.
  • Lawyers would be prohibited from contributing to candidates for judge or Attorney General.
  • Insurance companies would not be allowed to make contributions to candidates for Insurance Commissioner.
  • Likewise, companies like Monsanto, DuPont, Dow, Syngenta, Bayer and BASF, who control 75% of the world pesticides market, and Factory farms like Tyson and Cargill, which account for 72 percent of poultry production, 43 percent of egg production, and 55 percent of pork production worldwide, could no longer attempt to influence legislation through contributions to candidates for Agriculture Commissioner.
  • Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) could no longer accept contributions from individuals or companies affiliated in any way, shape or form with education.

While we’re at it, the Lieutenant Governor’s office oversees tourism in the state. In fact, that’s about all that office does. So why should we allow candidates for Lieutenant Governor to accept campaign contributions from hotels, convention centers, and the like?

This concept could be taken even further to bar contributions from special interests to legislators who sit on committee that consider bills that affect those interests. Education Committee members, like BESE members, could not accept funds from Bill Gates or from any charter, voucher or online school operators, for example.

Like we said, it’ll never happen. That would be meaningful campaign reform. This is Louisiana. And never the twain shall meet. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) would see to that.

But wouldn’t it be fun to watch candidates scramble for campaign funds if such restrictions were to be implemented?

We might even see a return of the campaign sound trucks of the Earl Long era rolling up and down the main streets of our cities and towns after all the TV advertising money dries up.

Ah, nostalgia.

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In the nearly six-year history of LouisianaVoice, I have written more than 1,600 posts averaging about 1,500 words each (about two million words total).

This will likely be the shortest post ever.

U.S. Sens. John Kennedy and Bill Cassidy VOTED in favor of confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, a post for which she is totally and completely unqualified. This is the woman who favors guns in schools to protect against grizzly bears.

We expected no less of Cassidy after his fawning all over her during the confirmation hearings. I mean, the man embarrassed himself with his unbridled admiration of incompetence.

With Kennedy, we held onto the slim chance that he would show a spark of independence and/or intelligence (though in his TV ads during the campaign, he professed to having backed Donald Trump “from the beginning”).

But in the end, it appears that he’d “rather drink weed killer” than show that he had a spine or a shred of integrity. (On the other hand, in another of his tasteless ads he did say, “You oughta have a gun,” so maybe it was the grizzly bear comment that compelled him to vote in favor of confirmation.)

Whatever.

Just remember that one vote if you don’t remember anything else about John Kennedy.

 

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All those rabid LSU fans who find themselves in the unusual position of backing a team virtually buried in the 19th position among AP’s football elite can take heart; at least the Tigers aren’t 44th.

And those equally insane ‘Bama fans looking to secure another crystal football for their school’s trophy case can be glad the Tide isn’t ranked 46th.

As both teams head into their respective post-season games, 24/7 Wall St., a research firm that publishes some 30 ARTICLES per day on economy, finances, and government, has come out with its rankings of the best- and worst-run states in the country.

And it ain’t pretty.

Alabama is no. 46 out of 50 states but that’s okay. Never mind that it is one of the poorest states in the nation with 18.5 (5th highest) of its citizens living in poverty). The Tide is in the playoffs for the national championship.

Don’t worry about the state’s unemployment rate of 6.1 percent, which is tied for 8th highest in the country. Alabama, which proclaims itself to be the Heart of Dixie, pays the coaches of its two major college football teams, ‘Bama and Auburn, combined SALARIES of $11.67 million—$4.73 for Auburn’s Gus Malzahn and $6.94 million for ol’ Nicky Boy.

(Les Miles, before being unceremoniously cut loose by LSU’s Athletic Director Joe Alleva, himself the possessor of somewhat dubious talent, was pulling down a cool $4.3 million per annum. But all of these salaries pale in comparison to Jim Harbaugh’s $9.004 million salary at Michigan.)

LSU, meanwhile, is headed to this Friday’s Citrus Bowl in Orlando to take on the juggernaut Cardinals of Louisville—without the services of Leonard Fournette who has played his last game for the Tigers. (On that note, now that Fournette has declared himself draft eligible, retained an agent and opted not to participate in Friday’s game, has he, or any other player deciding to go pro, also opted out of attending classes for the remainder of the semester as well? If not, are any of them continuing to reside in free housing, enjoying free meals or using school training equipment for workouts? Just a thought.)

Meanwhile, back home, Louisiana ranks as the 44th best-run (or the seventh worst-run) state, just two notches ahead of Alabama. The two are sandwiched around Kentucky in the rankings while the state geographically wedged between them, Mississippi, is ranked 47th best, or fourth-worst with the fifth-highest unemployment rate at 6.5 percent and the highest poverty rate at 22.0 percent.

Louisiana’s unemployment rate of 6.3 percent (sixth-highest, right behind Mississippi) and its third-highest poverty rate of 19.6 percent (New Mexico’s 20.4 percent is second-highest) are nothing to brag about. Nor is its $4,067 debt per capital (16th highest).

The question, at least in Louisiana’s case, is: Why?

  • Louisiana has some of the highest crude oil and natural gas reserves in the nations;
  • Louisiana is one of the top crude oil producers in the country;
  • More crude oil is shipped to the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP) than to any other U.S. port;
  • Louisiana has several of the nation’s largest ports with exports totaling $10,530 per capita in 2015, second highest of all states, behind only Washington;

So with this abundance of natural resources, why is it that Louisiana continues to struggle with high poverty, low educational attainment and high violent crime.

Well, for starters, you can tie the first two of those to the third: high poverty and low education rates equal high crime. Every time.

All that notwithstanding, however, the overriding question is how can a state with such an abundance of the world’s most valuable commodity fail to profit?

Market news has been replete with stories lately about how the poor oil companies are taking hits with some reporting net profits down by as much as 37 percent. Still, even with lower earnings, some, like SHELL, reported net profits of a paltry $2.24 billion for the second quarter of 2016. That’s three months’ profits, folk. Three months.

Yet, Louisiana continues to give away the store to big oil through more than generous tax breaks while allowing them to walk away from the ravages they have inflicted on our coastal marshes.

With so much revenue derived by the oil and chemical industries through these tax breaks, there is no reason why this state’s citizenry continues to wallow in the depths of financial despair and desperation.

With a more reasonable tax structure in which big oil, big chemical plants, and their related industries (ports, trucking, and rail) could be asked to bear more responsibility for wrecking our coastline, polluting our air and water, and tearing up our highways, Louisiana could forge ahead of most of those states ranked ahead of them.

Yet we continue to place the greatest burden on the backs of those who can least afford it: the middle and low income groups through the most inequitable form of taxes. Louisiana has the third-highest average (9.01 percent) in state and local SALES TAXES in the nation.

Ever wonder why that is? For starters, the average taxpayer doesn’t have the time or resources or a PAC to generate organized opposition to this rigged tax structure or to purchase legislators’ votes. Big oil, Big Pharma, and Big Banks do.

Do you think it was sheer coincidence that former State Sen. Robert Adley was appointed by Gov. John Bel Edwards as Executive Director, Louisiana Offshore Terminal Authority? http://gov.louisiana.gov/news/governorelect-edwards-announces-cabinet-executive-staff-bese-board-appointments

Think again. Here is LouisianaVoice’s overview on why Big Oil has the influence it exercises in this state: https://louisianavoice.com/2016/08/28/ag-jeff-landry-joins-jindal-legislators-in-protecting-big-oil-from-cleanup-responsibility-follow-the-money-for-motives/

(Be sure to click on Copy of Campaign Contributions)

But at least the NCAA playoffs and the Citrus Bowl—and national signing day—will keep the natives content for a while longer.

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No sooner had The Donald pulled off the biggest political upset since dewey-defeats-trumanthan the speculation on who would hold which cabinet position had begun. And it got downright scary.

There was former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani being touted as Attorney General.

Yep. That’s all we need: A doddering old has-been who has all he can handle to remember his own name standing in as the premier legal authority in the land. He’s probably the only one who could make John Mitchell look good.

And Newt-for-God’s-sake-Gingrich as Secretary of State?

And the Republicans thought Hillary was bad in that role?

Next thing you know, Trump will be tossing out Charles Koch’s name as Secretary of the Interior.

And how about Chris Christie as Secretary of Defense?

Or Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback as Secretary of the Treasury? I mean, look what he’s done for that state’s finances.

But according to The Wall Street Journal, in a story quickly picked up by state media, a familiar name (to Louisianans, that is) is being pitched as a potential choice for Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Bobby Jindal.

Are you kidding me?

Apparently not. http://www.wdsu.com/article/report-former-gov-bobby-jindal-being-considered-for-cabinet-role-in-trump-administration/8263712

For some reason the locals believe that because he worked for former Gov. Mike Foster as Secretary of Health and Hospitals and for former President George W. Bush as a special adviser to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, he somehow has a shot at a similar role in the Trump administration.

I would refer those reporters to chapters 30 through 37 of my book Bobby Jindal: His Destiny and Obsession. Those chapters include the sordid details of how Jindal single-handedly dismantled the state’s model public teaching hospital system to benefit a few greedy political hangers-on—even to the point of signing off on a contract containing 50 blank pages. A rhetorical question: would anyone reading this ever sign his or her name to any document containing even one blank page?

As an added bonus, I would refer you to Chapter 17 of the book which details how Jindal’s Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols landed a cushy lobbying position with Ochsner Health System after helping negotiate a deal whereby Ochsner would partner with Terrebonne General Medical Center to take over operation of the state’s Leonard Chabert Medical Center in Houma.

At least the WSJ thought to mention failed GOP presidential hopeful Dr. Ben Carson as also being under consideration for the Health and Human Services post.

That would, after all, make a little more sense. After all, Carson did pipe up from time to time on behalf of Trump’s candidacy. We heard nary a peep from the Louisiana wannabe wunderkind Piyush Jindal after he removed himself from the Republican presidential sweepstakes last November…and no one noticed (of course they didn’t notice while he was running, either). All he did was join the board of some Texas corporation and quickly fade from memory—helping the Republican Party but crushing my book sales in the process.

Hey, Donald, here’s a heads-up. After Tuesday’s race for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by David Vitter, there are two former U.S. Representatives who ran unsuccessfully for the upper chamber who are now unemployed.

And they both just happen to be doctors.

But how can you trump (pun intended) a Rhodes Scholar?

If James Comey wasn’t doing such a splendid job, you might even consider Louisiana State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson to head up the FBI. Think how regal he’d look sitting behind old J. Edgar’s desk.

But while you’re at it, you may be needing a new Secretary of Immigration and Border Protection. We understand David Duke just pulled an astonishing 3 percent of the vote in that same U.S. Senate race and may be looking for something to do. And we already know the rapport he has with minorities. Why, he’d fit right in.

And while you’re at it, you may be on the lookout for someone to replace Jeh Johnson as Secretary of Homeland Security.

There’s this fellow who previously did such a stellar job running the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control—into the ground. Troy Hebert did even worse than Duke, racking up a whopping .5 percent of the vote in the 24-person Senate race. That’s one-half of one damn percentage point. Imagine what he could do for Homeland Security.

He may even still have his badge from his ATC days.

Yep, Donald, if you’re looking for washed up political has-beens to lead your administration—and it appears that you are—we have a boatload of ‘em down here in Louisiana.

Take your pick.

Please.

(Apologies to Henny Youngman.)

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Contests for the U.S. House and Senate are going virtually unnoticed as the nation becomes more and more transfixed, shocked—and disgusted—at each new charge of sexual abuse and deleted emails that arises in a sordid presidential race no one dared imagine could ever happen in this country.

Also generally overlooked are scores of local elections scattered across Louisiana’s landscape.

One of those is the race for Mayor-President of East Baton Rouge Parish.

Incumbent Mayor-President and erstwhile candidate for Lieutenant Governor Kip Holden is term-limited and has now set his sights on the 2nd Congressional seat now held by U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond.

Predictably, the job has attracted quite a few applicants—12 to be precise. One of those is Republican State Sen. Bodi White of Central, coincidentally, the largest fundraiser to date.

With just over three weeks to go before the Nov. 8 election, White has begun his TV ad blitz. And like candidates before him (including Holden in his initial run) has included a campaign promise to “improve public education” by “building more schools.”

White knows full well there is no way he can make good on such a preposterous promise because the mayor-president has absolutely zero to do with education. That’s the responsibility of the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board into whose operations the mayor and parish council have no input.

He knows that but to voters who do not know, it sounds wonderful, like a promise from on high. And that’s the sad part; voters are generally uneducated on the issues and their decisions are often based on cockamamie sound bytes like the one currently being aired by White. He could just as easily say he’s going to build a wall along our southern border and make Mexico pay for it. There are, I’m certain, voters who would buy into that just as quickly.

But there’s more to white than blustering campaign rhetoric.

In 2008, he introduced a bill in the Legislature to create the Central Recreation and Park District and take Central out of BREC (BREC is an acronym for Baton Rouge Recreation—we don’t get it, either).

On May 6, 2008, he revealed his ownership interest in a tract of land BREC wanted for a park. Then on May 14, 2008, White and BREC director Bill Palmer announced a “compromise” under which White would withdraw this legislation to take Central out of BREC.

That “compromise” consisted of a resolution for BREC to purchase some of White’s business partner’s land and develop the adjacent land for the company by whom White was employed.

Not too shabby a deal if you can swing it and apparently his position as a state representative gave him just the political stroke to pull it off. No abuse of his office there.

In addition, BREC agreed to pay Parcel 52, LLC, $130,000 to help build a 750-foot-long road with curbs and sidewalks to the BREC site. The road goes through the center of the eight-acre commercial property owned by Parcel 52, LLC, and adds significant value to the commercial property, which could be developed for 10-20 commercial sites or offices. http://www.tigerdroppings.com/rant/politics/bodi-white-proof-that-louisiana-has-low-standards-brec-bribed-him/28772800/

Parcel 52, LLC was registered with the Secretary of State. The partners in the company were Brandon and E. Gordon Rogillio, Jr.  and Rep. Mack (Bodi) White. White, who later relinquished his interest in the property, is a realtor who works for Brandon Rogillio. http://centralcitynews.us/?p=3373

Gordon Rogillio later explained that White invested nothing in the property and received nothing in the transaction. http://centralcitynews.us/?p=3427

White’s boss prospered nicely, however, and therein lies the possible quid pro quo.

A timeline provided by a local newspaper, the Central City News, published by former State Rep. Woody Jenkins, further revealed details of the entire transaction: http://centralcitynews.us/?p=3373

In a throwback to the days of raging newspaper wars (days we sorely miss, by the way), a rival publication, Central Speaks, attempted to exonerate White from any wrongdoing in the BREC flap. http://www.centralspeaks.com/old/rep-bodi-white-brec-sports-park-just-the-facts/

Just another day in good old-fashioned Louisiana politics.

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