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Archive for the ‘Ethics’ Category

It may not be as furtive as Sen. Neil Riser’s 2014 amendment to sneak a hefty retirement raise for State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson through the legislature, but something doesn’t seem quite right about a request for proposals (RFP) due to be issued by the Division of Administration by the end of the month (Thursday).

And this time the legislature has nothing to do with it; curiously, the project was initiated by Bobby Jindal and continues to be pushed by John Bel Edwards despite two separate studies that have said it is a bad deal for the state.

A request for information (RFI) for a “public-private partnership related to the State of Louisiana’s Central Chilled Water Facilities” was issued by the Division of Administration on March 17, 2015. The Jindal administration as part of its privatization push, was exploring the feasibility of entering into an agreement whereby a private entity would take over operation of the facilities which provide chilled water to air-condition state buildings in the Capitol Complex and elsewhere.

The state currently operates two such facilities, one in South Baton Rouge and the other in North Baton Rouge.

Only two companies, Bostonia Group of Boston and Bernhard Energy of Baton Rouge, submitted proposals in May 2015 but on June 23, 2015, Glenn Frazier, director of the Office of State Buildings, issued a letter which said in part, “After thorough review of the two proposals by an evaluation committee, Bostonia Group’s proposal was rejected and Bernhard Energy was asked to present an oral presentation. After hearing Bernhard Energy’s oral presentation and reviewing there (sic) subsequent follow up information, the committee has determined that due to the exceptionally high cost, it is clearly not in the state’s best interest to enter into a public-private partnership with Bernhard for the proposed services.” OSB Review Team Report

Apparently not satisfied with that recommendation, the Jindal administration then entered into a $25,000 contract with Assaf, Simoneaux, Tauzin & Associates (AST) Engineering Consultants of Baton Rouge on October 20, 2015, for the “Evaluation and Feasibility Study” of Bernhard’s proposal.

The state currently owns all the equipment and piping for both plants. Bernhard proposed extending the piping to other non-state entities and to market the chilled water with 38 percent of the sales being credited to the state.

AST, in a June 29, 2016, letter to Bill Wilson of the Office of State Buildings (OSB), said the proposed 38 percent credit to the state “appears to be low given the fact that the state currently owns all the equipment and is producing and distributing the chilled water.”

Despite acknowledging that Bernhard had “tweaked” its initial offer to come up with a more attractive proposal, AST said the “adoption of this agreement would not be advantageous for the State of Louisiana in its current form.”

AST called the revised formula submitted by Bernhard “cumbersome,” adding that “Based on our assessment and analysis, we recommend the current response to the RFI not be accepted by the State of Louisiana as a final proposal/contract.” AST Review Team Report

Bernhard submitted four options: one calling for a 20-year contract, two for 30-year durations and the fourth for 99 years. Under terms of its proposal, Bernhard would pay the state cash up front, depending upon which option was agreed upon. Under Option One, the state would receive $9.1 million for the 20-year agreement. The state would receive $12 million under Option Two and $12 million under Option Three, each for a 30-year contract. For the 99-year agreement, the state would receive $14.5 million up front.

Bernhard would invest some $13 million in expanding the piping system in order to serve private entities in downtown Baton Rouge. The state, in turn, would purchase its chilled water from Bernhard Energy. Additionally, the state would continue to own all piping and equipment but would “retain the obligation to operate, maintain, repair, renew, and replace the Central Chilled Water Facilities (CCWF) including any improvements or new equipment installed by Bernhard.”

In an email exchange with the state, Bernhard was told, “The concept of having a State entity, i.e., Office of State Buildings contract with Bernhard Energy and then have the state pay for the services back to Bernhard Energy does not appear to be logical from the State’s perspective. This would additionally place a state entity (Office of State Buildings) serving both a private contractor at the same time as providing services to its State tenants. Doing so could would likely result in not providing the expected service levels to the agencies we serve and it (could) direct (sic) conflict with achieving the agency mission.” StateofLACCWF.BernhardResponses.12.19.15[1852].docx.0001

Bernhard’s response was immediate and significant in that the wording of the company’s response hinted that the entire RFP process may have been rigged to benefit Bernhard:

“Bernhard is confused by the response of the State on this item. During a meeting with Bernhard representatives on September 29, 2015, the State indicated that it could operate the facilities cheaper than Bernhard. To decrease the rates under the Thermal Services Agreement, Bernhard agreed to offer a proposal whereby it subcontracted the operation and maintenance of the facilities back to the State. If the State does not wish to have the operation and maintenance of the facilities subcontracted back to it, Bernhard can retain the operation and maintenance and the costs associated with the operation and maintenance of the facilities would be recovered through the rate structure previously proposed.

“In contrast, if the State does not wish to have Bernhard operate and maintain the facilities, which was, in large part the basis of the RFP, and it is unknown why the State would have issued the RFP, and allowed Bernhard and other respondents to expend substantial sums in pursuit of this project if the State had no intention of having a third party operate and maintain the facilities.”

But if you thought the project was dead, think again.

LouisianaVoice has obtained an email from Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne dated April 19 of this year in which it was made evident that the governor’s office wants the public-private partnership to become reality.

Here is that email:

I have assured the Gov that we will have the RFP on the street no later than May 31. My understanding, which I communicated to him, is that we anticipate that the statewide proposal (including Capitol Park and the DOA controlled properties across the state) will probably be the first one out of the chute based on the delays created by defects in the Southern proposal which has been sent back to the school. I want to make sure that we meet or beat the May 31 deadline. I know that everyone’s focus has been on the SFO (solicitation for offers) for the PM (prescription marijuana) (properly so) but this now needs to be a top priority. Please make sure your folks understand. Thanks. Jay (emphasis ours).

Just in case you don’t believe us: DARDENNE MEMO

Jim Bernhard, who heads up Bernhard Energy, previously served as Chairman of the State Democratic Party and was mentioned as a possible candidate for governor in 2007. He built and headed the Shaw Group before it was sold to Chicago Brick & Iron (CB&I) a few years ago for $3 billion.

He and his assortment of companies have been major players in the state’s political field, contributing more than $85,000 to Gov. John Bel Edwards in 2015 and 2016 and $56,000 to former Gov. Kathleen Blanco in 2003. By contrast, campaign finance records show that he and his companies gave only $3,000 to Jindal in 2003 ($1,000) and 2007 ($2,000).

But his generosity to Blanco apparently paid huge dividends in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

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

Thus, the Shaw Group realized a net profit of $100 a square, A-1 made $45 dollars per square, and Westcon netted $28 dollars a square – all without ever placing the first sheet of tarpaulin. The real irony in the entire scenario was that the first three contractors – Shaw, A-1, and Westcon – didn’t even own the equipment necessary to perform tarping or debris hauling. By the time public outrage, spurred by media revelations of the fiasco, forced public bidding on tarping, forcing tarping prices down from the $3,000-plus range to $1,000, Shaw and friends had already pocketed some $300 million dollars.

Any odds on who gets the contract for the water chiller?

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It’s been nearly a year since we’ve written anything about the Louisiana State Board of Dentistry and while there appears to be little going on with the board, there is quite a bit of activity going on beneath that veneer of tranquility, including, apparently, an ongoing FBI audit of the board.

Despite the efforts of State Sen. Daniel Martiny (R-Metairie) who, in 2014 passed legislation to move the board’s headquarters from New Orleans to Baton Rouge, the board has continued to resist the move from its posh high-rent offices on Canal Street.

Our last story about the LSBD was last July. https://louisianavoice.com/2016/07/18/case-of-slidell-dentist-illustrates-unbridled-power-of-dentistry-board-to-destroy-careers-for-sake-of-money/

Apparently the FBI has taken an interest in the LSBD.

The AGENDA for a special March 10 meeting (a Friday, no less) of the board caught the eye of one of our regular readers, a dentist who was put through the board’s mill and ground into so much fodder a few years ago.

Buried on page three of the agenda, under the heading “New Business and any other business which may properly come before the board,” was item IX which said, “Discussion of FBI audit results (p. 50).”

We had no prior knowledge of any FBI audit, although we have been aware that the board’s former attorney is awaiting a disciplinary hearing before the Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board. https://louisianavoice.com/2015/11/16/dentistry-board-facing-difficult-future-because-of-policies-contracts-with-attorney-private-investigator-are-cancelled/

At the very bottom of page 3 was a call for an executive session “for the purpose of discussing investigations, adjudications, litigation and professional competency of individuals and staff; because discussion of these topics would have a detrimental effect on the bargaining and litigation position of the Louisiana State of Dentistry.”

It was unclear if the proposed closed-door session was related to the FBI audit or not.

LouisianaVoice will be making a public records request for that FBI audit report and we will publish our findings.

Meanwhile in his farewell address in the winter 2014 LSBD BULLETIN, outgoing President Dr. Wilton Guillory said, “Legislation was recently passed to move the Board’s domicile to Baton Rouge. If that legislation is not changed in the upcoming legislature as I hope, then the Board, who self generates its funds, will have to raise the license fees to fund the move. We have been able to prevent this in years past but will have no choice. We are working with the LDA (Louisiana Dentists Association) and legislators to try to prevent this unnecessary move.”

That self-generation of funds has been a bone of contention between the board and the dentists its disciplines. Because the board sets itself up as accuser, prosecutor and judge, dentists who appear on the board’s radar have little chance of prevailing in disputes.

That is, if they choose to dispute the board—and that’s a big “if” that carries high risks, as in high dollar risks. Often a token fine, if disputed, quickly becomes a five- or even a six-figure fine and more than one dentist has been run out of business by the sheer cost of defending himself from the board’s kangaroo court.

That’s why Martiny, when his own dentist fell into disfavor for a minor offense, took it upon himself to rein in the board by moving it from its Taj Mahal to more modest headquarters in Baton Rouge.

Thanks to State Reps. Robert Johnson (D-Marksville) and Frank Hoffman (R-West Monroe), Martiny’s efforts may be overturned before the move can even be implemented.

House Bill 521 by Johnson and Hoffman has been reported out of committee and is scheduled to be taken up for debate before the full House tomorrow (Wednesday, May 17). Simply put, the bill would amend Act 866 by Martiny, effectively negating that action, and allow the board to remain in either New Orleans or Jefferson Parish.

Hoffman has received $3000 from the Louisiana Dental Political Action Committee since 2011, $500 from Appel Dental, LLC in 2007, and an additional $500 from two individual dentists in 2007 and 2011.

Johnson, meanwhile, has received $6,250 from the Louisiana Dental PAC since 2011, and $500 from the Kid’s Dental Zone of Alexandria, LLC in 2015. He also received $500 each from the same two individual dentists as Hoffman.

We have documented several cases of the board’s heavy-handedness in dealing with dentists, its unscrupulous investigative methods, its dictatorial dealings with dentists and its exorbitant system of fines imposed in order to pay the rent on its office space and to pay its contract private investigator and attorney. We have also written about the legal troubles of that investigator.

Perhaps legislators might like to refresh their memories about the board before they vote on Wednesday. Here are links to just a few of our stories:

https://louisianavoice.com/2016/03/18/like-dental-board-louisiana-board-of-medical-examiners-survives-on-fines-and-incentive-to-punish/

https://louisianavoice.com/2015/04/16/13976/

https://louisianavoice.com/2016/07/07/dentistry-board-member-was-witness-in-earlier-case-now-he-also-decides-insurance-claims-benefits-paid-to-other-dentists/

https://louisianavoice.com/2015/04/15/remarks-by-former-head-of-state-dentistry-board-on-suit-dismissal-reopens-louisianavoice-investigation-of-tactics/

https://louisianavoice.com/2014/03/23/appeal-court-slams-lsdb-tactics-in-reversing-kangaroo-court-license-revocation-board-attorney-rules-on-his-own-objection/

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At the risk of an onset of “Troopergate Fatigue,” details keep emerging involving expensive TRIPS to conferences by members of former State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson’s inner circle on the taxpayers’ dime.

But while The Baton Rouge Advocate’s Jim Mustian was busy documenting yet another of those trips, this one to Orlando back in 2014, LouisianaVoice has learned that members of the Louisiana State Police Commission (LSPC) now recognize that they were apparently asleep at the wheel when they approved the creation of a Chief Accounting Officer (CAO) position last August at the behest of Edmonson.

Of course it didn’t hurt that Edmonson, described by virtually anyone who knows him as a slick snake oil salesman, was able to schmooze the somnolent commission into approving his request.

But the thing that is really tragic about the whole affair is that it led directly to the forced resignation of LSPC Executive Director Cathy Derbonne when she pointed out irregularities in the procedures employed to elevate Maj. Jason Starnes into the position.

Once she was onto the scam, she simply had to go.

Events were set in motion when Edmonson, getting the cart ahead of the proverbial horse, listed Starnes as “undersecretary” on the State Police Web page. Derbonne pointed out to the Edmonson that the designation of undersecretary was incorrect because Starnes did not occupy the position. In fact, the designation of undersecretary was not Edmonson’s to convey; that responsibility belongs exclusively to the governor.

Edmonson conceded that her assertion was correct but said that he had given Starnes “oversight” over the Office of Finance and that he “has assumed those duties in his current position.” From that moment on, Derbonne’s fate was sealed.

“What I’d like to do in this position is create an unclassified position just like we have with all the lieutenant colonels. We still hold and maintain a classified position of Major so that, if I brought (in) a lieutenant colonel and said, ‘We’re making a change,’ they can go back to that classified position.”

In his August appearance before the board to pitch the new position, Edmonson explained that he was asking to “create this temporary assignment. I am not increasing my T.O. (Table of Organization, i.e. actual permanent positions) I am not creating any additional funding issues…He’ll do that position within that rank. My desire is to create…a CAO because of how much work we do within our office.”

Edmonson then offered to address any questions commission members had. One of those, from Jared Caruso-Riecke, was about any additions funding necessary for the position. Edmonson assured Riecke there would be “no new funds. It was not my intention to even ask for that,” he said.

This is where things got dicey.

Commission member Eulis Simien seconded the motion for approval of the position “with the understanding that we are accepting the motion to create a position not relative to any particular person. Whatever appointment would be based on being after the position is created.”

Yet, only moments before, Edmonson had specifically committed the position to Starnes in a statement that apparently every single member of the commission managed to miss. Asked by Riecke about the duties of the position and whether they were “created somewhat by the board that you have now, Edmonson responded, “Correct. Jason Starnes will come in this position and assume the duties and oversight.”

To hear that commitment, go HERE and scroll to the 2:27 mark in his testimony.

Then, no sooner had Starnes been officially named to the new position than he was rewarded with a $25,000 increase that prompted former member Lloyd Grafton (he ultimately resigned from the commission after questioning its overall integrity) to challenge the pay increase because of the promise by Edmonson that no additional funds would be incurred—another tidbit missed by everyone but Grafton.

When a formal complaint was lodged over the transfer of a classified member of the State Police Service being transferred to an unclassified position outside the State Police Service (as with the Starnes assignment), a violation of Rule 14.3g, contract attorney Taylor Townsend (initially hired to investigate campaign contributions by members of the Louisiana State Troopers Association but whose duties were apparently expanded to that of general counsel) said that Starnes was not officially appointed to the undersecretary position. Townsend confirmed that only the governor, and not Edmonson, had the authority to fill the position of deputy superintendent.

When Townsend further explained that the commission’s August approval of the CAO position had rendered the investigation of the complaint moot, Riecke moved to go into executive session.

LouisianaVoice protested that an executive session on that matter was illegal because it was not to discuss pending litigation or an employee’s character but Townsend said the closed door session was to discuss personnel matters.

Louisiana’s Open Meetings Law (R.S. 42:16-17) provides that a public body may go into executive session if two-thirds of the members present vote to go into executive session. In executive session, public officials may only discuss a) the character, professional competence or physical or mental health of a person (unless the person is being considered for an appointment), b) strategy or negotiations regarding collective bargaining or future or current litigation, c) security personnel, plans or devices, d) investigative proceedings regarding alleged misconduct or e) an extraordinary emergency.

Because the discussion was not about the character, professional competence or physical or mental health of Starnes, nor was it about hiring him specifically, but instead was about whether or not the creation of the position itself was legal, LouisianaVoice maintained at the time and continues to hold that the executive session was illegal, Townsend’s professional legal opinion notwithstanding.

Predictably, upon emerging from the 25-minute closed-door confab, Riecke made the motion that no further action be taken on the investigation of the complaint.

Townsend, of course, the same attorney who recommended no action be taken on the LSTA campaign contributions matter. He also never submitted any report to the commission to support his recommendation.

Finally reacting to the constant prodding of retired State Trooper Leon “Bucky” Millet of Lake Arthur, the commission last Thursday decided to request that all of Townsend’s papers generated by his “investigation” be forwarded to the commission since his contract stipulates that all his findings would become the property of the commission.

But that was not the only voice of concern emerging from Thursday’s otherwise tranquil meeting.

It now seems that Simien is also now concerned over Edmonson’s apparent misleading statements to the commission last August regarding the Starnes appointment. Go HERE and scroll to the 2:07 mark to hear his comments.

All this because Derbonne had the temerity to do her job land point out to Edmonson that he had incorrectly and improperly designated Starnes as a lieutenant colonel on the State Police Web page.

We can somewhat understand why, given the political nature of LSP and the players involved, why Derbonne became the sacrificial lamb. She was the easiest to set up, the most vulnerable, and best of all, expendable, both in terms of the ease of getting rid of her and replacing her.

What we fail to understand is why two members of the commission then, with their own money, retained the services of a private investigator to follow her. This was apparently done, LouisianaVoice has learned, in an effort to determine who within LSP might be leaking information to her.

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To get past those cute but misleading TV ads, and arrive at a better understanding of just how the insurance industry really works, you need to understand first, that insurance companies are in the business to make money for their stockholders.

That’s it. There is no second. The policyholder is never taken into consideration when there is a claim. The mindset for the insurance company, no matter what name or logo is on its letterhead, is driven by one overriding question: How can we get out of this obligation with the least cost to shareholders?

It matters not one whit whether it is life, property & casualty, auto, or health insurance. The company’s very purpose for existing is not to see that policyholders are made whole but how the payout on claims may be minimized so as to inflict the least monetary damage to the company’s bottom line.

Do you think that life insurance claim that was slow paying off was simply to investigate whether or not the beneficiary had a part in the insured’s death? While that may be a part of it, particularly in cases of suspicious circumstances (such as falling off a cliff during a hike in Bryce Canyon), there may well be other factors involved, such as delaying payment as long as possible in order to accrue as much return on the investment of premiums as possible.

You didn’t really think the companies just leave that money lying around waiting for the insured to die, did you? No, it’s invested heavily in all sorts of things in order to earn money for the company.  https://www.paxforpeace.nl/stay-informed/news/insurers-invest-nearly-7-billion-in-controversial-arms-trade

And it’s your money they do it with.

Did you ever wonder why your auto insurance company would suggest a particular body shop for repairs to your car after an accident? Why not the body shop of the dealer from whom the car was purchased? It could be—and often is—because the recommended body shop uses what is called “after-market” parts for repairs. That means the parts are generally inferior to those of the dealership’s original parts and can diminish the resale value of your vehicle. Did you ever notice that after repairs at some of those shops, the quarter panel replacement no longer fits flush with the original undamaged part of your car? Or you have air leaks (or worse, water leaks) around the replacement door that weren’t there before? That would be the likely result of after-market parts. http://www.repairerdrivennews.com/2015/02/12/anderson-cooper-360-piece-attacks-insurers-for-steering-parts-video/

You’re not happy, but your insurance company is ecstatic. https://louisianavoice.com/2014/05/08/insurers-auto-repair-tactics-only-part-of-problem-jindal-old-firm-mckinsey-co-coached-katrina-on-claims-delays-denials/

And who hasn’t experienced battles with health insurance companies that refused to cover a certain type of treatment because it’s considered “experimental.” Now, because of changes in the Office of Group Benefits instituted by the Jindal administration, state retirees who move out of state may find themselves no longer covered because their physicians are “out of network,” meaning they are non-participants in OGB’s coverage plan. Sorry, we don’t have any doctors in Arkansas or Mississippi who are part of the plan. https://louisianavoice.com/2014/08/25/louisianavoice-learns-of-jindal-plan-to-force-state-retirees-out-of-ogb-by-raising-members-premiums-cutting-benefits/

But by far, the most subtle method of claim manipulation is in the property & casualty field, namely your homeowners and flood insurance programs.

As we wrote in April, insurers will prepare repair estimates at two costs, depending on whether the damage to a home was caused by wind or flood. Repair estimates generally run much less on wind damage claims than for floods—even though the same material is used on each claim.

That is because the companies themselves are on the hook for any wind damage while flood damage, if covered at all, is the responsibility of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), claims for which are paid by the federal government, i.e. taxpayers.

But that’s not to say Allstate is averse to handling flood claims. Quite the contrary. Allstate, in fact, has had an arrangement with NFIP under which NFIP Allstate is paid for handling flood claims.

Accordingly, if Allstate found itself on the hook for wind damages, it would use a lower formula for paying claimants but if it determined the damages were caused by flooding, a second, more expensive separate formula would be employed.

In one example we found, damage was determined to be from wind and Allstate paid 83 cents per square foot for removal and replacement of drywall (sheetrock). In another claim from the same storm and in the same part of the state, it was determined to be flood damage and that same dry wall removal and replacement—paid for by American taxpayers—was $1.53 per square foot, a difference of 70 cents per square foot. Painting that drywall cost Allstate 35 cents per square foot for the wind-damage claim but cost NFIP (taxpayers) 58 cents per square foot for the flood damage claim.

That was not an anomaly. In comparing two 2011 claims from Tropical Storm Lee in southwest Louisiana, LouisianaVoice found that damage to one home was determined to be from wind. The cost of removing and replacing drywall (sheetrock) was estimated at $1.75 per square foot and painting of the drywall was estimated at 55 cents per square foot. That, of course was the cost to the insurance company, in this case, Colonial.

A second claim only a few miles away, also the result of Lee, was also for a home covered by Colonial. In this case, the damaged was determined to be the result of flooding, so the claim now belonged to NFIP. The estimate to remove and repair drywall for this home was $2.47 per square foot and the cost of painting that same drywall was estimated at 87 cents per square foot.

Assuming an area of 1000 square feet, you’re looking at a cost differential of $720 for removal and replacement of the drywall and a difference of $320 for painting, or an overall cost increase of $1,040 for repairs to a flood-damaged home compared to the wind-damaged structure.

By the time, other costs are factored in—costs for such things as replacing and painting molding, baseboards, doors and door frames, replacing electrical outlets and door hardware, removing and replacing windows and window trim, painting window frames, replacement of carpeting and/or wood flooring, the difference between a wind and a flood claim can be enormous.

And that doesn’t even include one other factor that goes into all estimates—overhead and profit (O&P) for the contractor. There has to be a profit for the contractor. That’s understandable; no one would expect him to repair your house for nothing.

But like the repairs themselves, the percentage of overhead and profit has a wide variance, depending on whether or not the damage is determined to be from wind or flooding.

LouisianaVoice has obtained three boxes of claims documents that not only reflect damning evidence of NFIP gouging on the costs of specific repairs, but in the allowance for contractor O&P, as well.

Built-in allowances for O&P for wind claims paid by the individual companies range around 20-29 percent. But for flood claims, paid by the American taxpayer through the NFIP, that O&P can range from 48 to 51 percent, according to documents in our possession.

For example, going back to 2005, O&P for one wind-damage claim was estimated at 28 percent for a Mississippi wind claim from 2005’s Hurricane Katrina. But flood damage from the same hurricane resulted in contractor O&P of 51 percent. Both estimates were done by Allstate.

Wind damage from Hurricane Ida in Texas in 2009 resulted in a claim in which contractor O&P was 29 percent, according to Allstate damage estimates. But when damage from that same storm was determined to be from flooding, the contractor O&P shot up quickly, to 49 percent, Allstate documents show.

But Allstate and Colonial were not the only practitioners of such claim manipulation—not by a long shot. Here’s a story about how the game was played in the same manner by STATE FARM.

Project these tactics over a large, densely-populated area like that destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana and the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and at least one estimate of the increased cost from “padding” both specific damages and contractor overhead and profit has taxpayers in the two states being ripped off to the tune of approximately $10 billion.

And while strict insurance fraud laws are on the books that could result in a prison sentence if you so much as included a non-existent flat screen television on your claim, there apparently is no one minding the store to guard against raping the taxpayer-funded NFIP.

And as long as the insurance companies continue to pour money into the campaign coffers of members of Congress, state legislators and regulators, you can be sure there will never be.

Perfect.

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As a recovering Republican, I feel I am in a unique position to suggest that all political party labels be abandoned in favor of candidates representing constituents as opposed to clinging stubbornly to the blind loyalty of some group of adherents referring to themselves as Democrat, Republican or Libertarian.

Civilized countries like Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom have no legal political parties (although the media sometimes mistakenly refer to opposition groups as “parties”). If it’s good enough for them, it should suffice for us.

For once, I’d like to see a politician who is defined not by some label but by his own core beliefs and principles, formed independently and absent the dictates of a so-called “party” which is supported by special interests who dictate the philosophy of its labeled and packaged candidates.

I would much prefer to vote for someone because of he or she actually stands for something rather than putting party loyalty above all else. President Teddy Roosevelt had the political courage to stand up to his own Republican Party and demand corporate health regulations and to fight monopolistic trusts. Somehow, that courage has evaporated in the interest of party unity which, of course, encourages a more reliable flow of campaign contributions from the vested interests.

I don’t say this as a way of placing my intellect above that of my contemporaries (God knows that would be a foolish assumption on my part) but the two major parties in this country—all the way down to our petulant legislature—long ago arrived at loggerheads with each other to the detriment of those who put them in office.

It’s more than a little sickening to watch. Besides, we already have The Jerry Springer Show.

In a recent discussion with an old friend and long-time political observer, he noted that Democrats as a group refuse to accept anything proposed by Republicans and Republicans as a group counter in kind. Can anyone really wonder that Congress has a lower approval rating than porta-potty cleaner-uppers? (Coincidentally, it might be worth mentioning that the longer Congress is in session, the greater the demand for porta-potty cleaner-uppers.)

My friend, who spent his career in state government, confided in me that he promised himself long ago that if he ever became jaded with his job, he would retire. He is now retired.

So, why don’t we just be honest with ourselves and admit that our political system no longer functions as a two-party, give-and-take forum? When you had someone like Sam Rayburn as Speaker of the House, things got done in Congress even though there was Republican opposition. That’s because while there was opposition, the two sides left room for compromise. With Newt Gingrich, we instead got a governmental shutdown. (Rayburn, the longest-serving House speaker in history, by the way, died broke while our own Bobby Jindal, by contrast, became a multi-millionaire during his three years in Congress.)

Elected office is no longer considered a public service; it is instead, an avocation in and of itself, a stepping stone to the next move up. Witness the shameless pursuit of the presidency by Jindal and the equally self-serving ambition of Attorney General Jeff Landry, U.S. Rep. Garrett Graves and U.S. Sen. John Kennedy to oust John Bel Edwards as governor. Accordingly, you will not hear the first utterance by Landry, Graves or Kennedy in support of anything proposed by Edwards.

Likewise, should Donald Trump ever say or propose anything with a scintilla of original thought or meaningful purpose, you will never hear Nancy Pelosi or any other Democrat speak out in support. That just isn’t done any more. There’s no civility in politics, no room for compromise.

Witness the banal, hackneyed behavior of the Louisiana Legislature, particularly over the past 10, 20, 30 years.

Because the state has systematically failed to pay its mandated share into the state retirement system, we’re now saddled with an insurmountable unfunded liability in each of the state retirement systems.

For decades, taxpayers of Livingston, Ascension and East Baton Rouge parishes have been paying a millage to construct the Comite River Diversion Canal project to prevent flooding. The project is no nearer completion today than it was 25 years ago and we have the delays to thank, at least in part, for that horrendous flood of last August. And now guess what? After pissing away the monies that were supposed to have gone to flood control with those millage collections, some legislators, in their collective buffoonery, now want to snatch nearly $200 million from federal monies intended for flood victims to use instead for flood control.

It’s almost like gasoline taxes that were supposed to have gone to repair our roads and bridges and the revenue from gaming that was supposed to fund public education. Of course, as soon as those gaming funds were approved, the legislature jerked an identical amount from other funding, the Support Education in Louisiana First Fund, and the result for public education was another version of the old shell game. Now you see it, not you don’t.

Fast forward to the Jindal years when state employees suddenly found themselves going six years on end without a pay raise. Now those Jindal years have spilled over into the Edwards years and those same legislators are still playing a game called kick the financial can down the road and state employees are still falling further and further behind the inflationary curve. Prices are up, health insurance is up, but salaries remain stagnant—with the exception of State Police (not to be confused with Department of Public Safety officers who undergo the same training but have not enjoyed the 30 percent pay raise received by State Troopers).

And now, House Bill 302 by House majority leader Lance Harris (R-Alexandria) would assess parolees an additional $37 fee per month (from $63 to $100), the money to be used to fund a pay increase for parole officers. As has become almost a ritual, the vote was split along party lines.

It’s really a beautiful thing to watch these guys cherry pick their personal little projects—like Harris’s fee assessment. I’m sure the rest of Louisiana’s civil service employees are applauding his magnanimous gesture toward the beleaguered parole officers.

Not to diminish the seriousness of their plight, but parole officers aren’t the only state civil service employees who are hurting. And Harris is not the only member of the legislature who is completely out of touch with the daily struggles of state employees, many of whom were victims of last year’s floods.

This is serious business and Harris and his colleagues should get together and try to figure out how the state’s fiscal problems can be addressed without the same old tired political rhetoric spouted along party lines. It’s time for compromise and hard decisions and the legislature, as a body, is not showing any inclination of making those hard decisions.

The governor’s plan is not perfect—far from it. But neither is the continued petty bickering of the legislature getting anything done. You’re not being paid to come to Baton Rouge to participate in some kind of elementary school blame game. You were sent here to solve problems and put this state back on sound financial footing.

Instead, you plaster an “R” or a “D” to your respective foreheads and start squawking like a couple of tomcats in a dark alley—even as you hold out your hands for political contributions from the special interests who pay you to just keep squawking like you always have.

A hint: We can see you and we can hear you and you’re not impressing anyone.

Drop the party labels and declare yourselves not as Republican or Democrat but as Louisianans.

Do the right thing. Do your jobs.

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