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Archive for the ‘Exemptions’ Category

LSP has manufactured its own loophole for denying public records requests.

Col. Mike Edmonson apparently has come to the conclusion if he makes the decision not to formally punish, the public has no right to know why. In other words, if someone is victimized by a member of the department of public safety and Edmonson deems it is not worthy of punishment, the public has no right to review the decision.

On the contrary, it would seem to us that when someone is exonerated, this is all the more reason to produce the information. LSP further claims when those who resign in lieu of the completion of an investigation the investigative report is not subject to release.

We think Edmonson is tired of the public’s learning of far too many instances of misconduct at LSP followed by a mindset of circling the wagons. He has initiated a pattern of issuing no punishment in an apparent effort to hide misconduct. The reason for not administering punishment is in the investigation file. Many of the investigation files from LSP have shown to be seriously biased in favor of some while very severe for others.

Typically, LSP has denied public records requests for investigation files when the department finds no wrongdoing stating. The standard response to requests for the information generally reads: “The investigative report you requested is not subject to release as the individual right to privacy afforded by Article 1 Section 5 of the Louisiana Constitution of 1974 outweighs the public’s right to review.”

We maintain the investigation file is a public document and serves a legitimate public interest.

The reference to Article 1 Section 5 of the LA Constitution is a mirror of the 4th Amendment of the US Constitution to protect citizens from unreasonable search and seizure. The amendment specifically lists, “person, property, communications, houses, papers, and effects.” We have no access to those nor does LSP without a properly issued warrant as the amendment states. If it is illegal for us to access, it is also illegal for LSP to have obtained it.

We have accumulated a growing list of denials based on this fantasyland God-like authority bestowed upon himself by himself (Edmonson).

Captain Chris Guillory

LouisianaVoice has received a response to a complaint filed against Captain Chris Guillory for lying to LSP internal affairs investigators. A citizen said that Guillory refused to accept his complaint against a State Trooper in Troop D. The response to the complaint from LSP states in part, “A determination has been made that Captain Guillory did not make a false statement to IA” with his denial that he refused to accept the complaint. The complainant provided an audio tape directly contradicting two documented statements made by Guillory to LSP internal affairs. You can review it here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zd-JV3rKjko.

LSP will not release the investigation file because Edmonson did not punish his friend Guillory. The public is denied the right to know why Guillory was not found in violation. We have the tape and we have the LSP documentation listing Guillory’s statement two times denying unequivocally he refused to take the complaint.

LSP has found no wrongdoing by Guillory involving the recently terminated Trooper Ronald Picou even though he was responsible for the investigation of the exact same allegations in 2013, the “Brady Day” investigation, or the investigation involving the padding of time sheets by Brady. He has emerged without any formal discipline.

Guillory has since been removed from his command at Troop D. He has been given a larger command in Baton Rouge. Sources have informed us Guillory’s new position is in violation of state police commission rules on residency because he lives in Sulphur but works in Baton Rouge. Sources further report Troopers are authorized three hours one way for travel to Baton Rouge. That means Guillory works two hours out of every eight hour day.

LT Paul Brady

We requested the documentation involving the investigation into “Brady Days,” paid time off for arresting someone for DWI in violation of quota and payroll fraud laws—so named the Troop D supervisor who allowed, indeed, encouraged the practice. Sources indicate Brady days was an unwritten policy at Troop D under some supervisors and this was confirmed by IA investigators. We were informed there was no finding of wrongdoing on Brady’s part. But again, we were denied access to any investigation findings.

Brady was cleared even though he was the supervisor for Trooper Picou who was recently terminated. Picou was proven to be neglectful of duty. Brady was paid to be a supervisor and sources say if he would have simply done his job Picou might still have his.

But again, because there was no disciplinary action taken against Brady, the investigation record remains out of the public’s reach.

A recent complaint has been filed against Troop D personnel alleging a wrongful DWI arrest. Sources say the arresting Trooper was a beneficiary of paid time off for Brady days but was also punished for not accumulating a sufficient number of DWI arrests.

Trooper Jimmy Rogers

Rogers suddenly resigned amid the beginning of the massive investigations at Troop D. We were denied access to his records because LSP did not complete the investigation. This is another method of Edmonson escaping culpability for poor leadership—ask them to resign so no one finds out. Sources report Rogers resigned after it was discovered he was committing payroll fraud on parish-funded overtime details known as Local Agency Compensated Enforcement (LACE). Rogers was reportedly issuing citations on his regular shift but claiming them on different dates in order to accrue overtime.

Accepting excess money for violating state issued permit/bribery

We requested the investigation files involving a Trooper who accepted extra money for moving oversized loads in violation of the state issued permit and possibly bribery. It was discovered after another Trooper refused the extra payment. The response was to make the Trooper give the extra money back. We were notified no complaint was filed so they did not investigate it.

In a letter from LSP dated April 27, 2016, we were again notified no complaint was filed. All of our other requests resulted in the investigation of the allegations but they skipped this one. The excuse that they do not investigate misconduct until someone files a complaint is silly. A complaint has since been lodged with LSP so maybe they will finally investigate.

We are not done

The failure to release records at the discretion of one man with a proven track record of unethical behavior and poor decision making should not be allowed to stand. The public has a right to know about the circumstances surrounding a resignation in lieu of termination amid an investigation.

They further have a right to know why a public employee was found to have committed no wrongdoing—if for no other reason than to fully clear the employee’s name and his public standing. There is no reason to hide such information unless indeed, there is something to hide.

LouisianaVoice is exploring legal remedies for these denials.

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While Bobby Jindal is touting all the wonderful innovations, budget cuts, employee reductions, etc., that he has initiated in Louisiana, The Center for Public Integrity has a few items he may wish to soft peddle as he goes about trying to convince Iowans that he’s really serious about running for President and not the joke we in Louisiana know him to be.

The center has just released its 2015 integrity grades for each state and it isn’t very pretty for Louisiana.

In fact, the state received a flat-out grade of F and ranked 41st out of the 50 states overall with a composite score of 59 out of a possible 100. Only seven states had lower composite scores—Pennsylvania and Oregon (58), Nevada (57), Delaware and South Dakota (56), and Michigan and Wyoming (51).

Mississippi (61) and Alabama (67), normally found competing for Louisiana on lists of all things bad, were well ahead of Louisiana with rankings of 33rd and 7th, respectively. Alaska had the highest score at 71, good enough for a C. Michigan was the worst with its 51.

Louisiana wasn’t alone in getting a failing grade of course; there were 10 others but in the other states we can only assume the governors are at least attempting to address their problems. Jindal isn’t. He capitulated long ago as he set out on his quest for the brass ring that continues—and will continue—to elude him. Though he has only two months to go in office, he in reality abandoned us three years and 10 months ago—right after he was inaugurated for his second term. Truth be told, he has been at best a distracted administrator (I still can’t bring myself to call him a governor) for his full eight years and at worst, guilty of malfeasance in his dereliction of duty.

Harsh words, to be sure, but then his record screams out his shortcomings (loud enough to be heard in Iowa, one would think) and his lack of a basic understanding of running a lemonade stand, much less a state.

States were graded on 13 criteria by the Center for Public Integrity:

  • Public Access to Information—F
  • Political Financing—D
  • Electoral Oversight—D+
  • Executive Accountability—F
  • Legislative Accountability—F
  • Judicial Accountability—F
  • State Budget Processes—D+
  • State Civil Service Management—F
  • Procurement—D+
  • Internal Auditing—C+
  • Lobbying Disclosure—D
  • Ethics Enforcement Agencies—F
  • State Pension Fund Management—F

http://www.publicintegrity.org/2015/11/09/18407/louisiana-gets-f-grade-2015-state-integrity-investigation?utm_campaign=stateintegrity&utm_source=digest&utm_medium=link&goal=0_ffd1d0160d-08c0be5058-100352837&mc_cid=08c0be5058&mc_eid=c4ee01d834

The scores given each of these, and their national ranking were even more revealing.

Public Access to Information, for example scored a dismal 30, ranking 46th in the country.

In the scoring for Internal Auditing, on the other hand, the state’s numerical score was 79, but was good enough for only a ranking of 32nd.

Likewise, the grading for Procurement (purchase of goods and contracts) had a numeric score of 69, good enough to rank the state 25th. But numeric score of 64 for Lobbying Disclosure while rating only a D, was still good enough to nudge the state into the upper half of the rankings at 24th.

One of the biggest areas of concern would have to be the state’s numeric grade of only 40 for Judicial Accountability, plunging the state to next to last at 49th. (This is an area that has flown under the radar but one the legislature and next governor should address.)

The lowest numeric score was 30 for Public Access to Information, fifth from the bottom at 46th. LouisianaVoice can certainly attest to the difficulty in obtaining public records, having found it necessary to file lawsuit against the state on three occasions in order to obtain what were clearly public records. Even after winning two of the three lawsuits, we still experience intolerable foot-dragging as agencies attempt to stall in the hopes we will give up.

We will not. If anything, the stalling only strengthens our resolve to fight for the public’s right to know.

To compare Louisiana to other states in each of the 13 criteria, go here: http://www.publicintegrity.org/2015/11/09/18822/how-does-your-state-rank-integrity

In the final days of the 2015 legislative session the state Senate approved a bill that removed the exemptions pushed through by Jindal in his first month in office in 2008 which kept most government records from disclosure. State Sen. Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge) was quoted in the report as saying, “It turns out we were boondoggled on that.”

Jindal called his changes his “gold standard,” but the report said it is “riddled with loopholes and cynical interpretations by the governor and other state officials.”

That looked like a promising reversal to the secrecy of the Jindal administration but then the legislature agreed to postpone implementation of the new law that abolished the abused “deliberative process” exception until after Jindal leaves office next January.

Jindal also managed to gut the state’s ethics laws early in his first year. Enforcement of ethics violations was removed from the State Ethics Board and transferred to judges selected by a Jindal appointee. That prompted long-time political consultant Elliott Stonecipher of Shreveport to say that while the state’s ethics laws looked good on the surface, there was “no effective enforcement and that breeds more than just a system of corruption, but an acceptance of those practices,” the center’s report said.

The center reported that it is not Louisiana’s ethics laws that produced such a poor grade, but the day-to-day interpretations of the laws by various departmental legal advisors.

Since the center’s first survey of public integrity on a state-by-state basis, no fewer than 12 states have had legislators or cabinet-level officials charged, convicted or resign over ethics-related issues, the report said.

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By MIKE STAGG (Independent filmmaker, citizen activist, political strategist – Special to LouisianaVoice)

For the past seven years, as Louisiana has lurched from one fiscal crisis to another, the State of Louisiana has paid the oil and gas industry $2.4 Billion in severance tax exemptions. Despite that massive transfer of public wealth into private hands, the oil and gas industry used its influence inside the Department of Natural Resources and the Jindal administration, to limit—and for three years shut down—audits that would have revealed whether the industry’s severance taxes and royalty payments to the state were accurate.

These facts have been hiding in plain sight, contained in five performance audits of the Department of Natural Resources and the Louisiana Department of Revenue conducted by the Legislative Auditor since 2010. Two of those audits focused on royalty collections from oil and gas produced on state-owned lands and water bottoms. Another focused on severance tax collections; yet another dealt with mineral leases handled by the State Mineral and Energy board, while the fifth audit examined how the Office of Conservation has handled the orphaned and abandoned well cleanup program.

The cozy relationship between DNR and the oil and gas industry is explicit in the department’s regulation of the industry. That coziness, when extended to state finances, has proven disastrous for the Louisiana treasury and its residents. DNR is responsible for collecting oil and gas royalties, which account for roughly seven percent of state General Fund dollars, or approximately $800 million per year.

For a three-year period, between July 2010 and July 2013, DNR had jurisdiction to determine the accuracy of severance taxes and royalty payments.

And DNR let industry have its way.

Audits on royalty revenue dropped. Audits on severance tax revenue all but stopped, even as the state’s financial condition continued to worsen. In short, when it came to providing rigorous oversight to ensure that the royalty and severance tax payments were accurate, DNR’s Office of Mineral Resources deferred to the oil and gas industry while programs that serve the citizens of Louisiana were cut, primarily in healthcare and higher education, the unprotected portions of the state General Fund.

DNR’s relationship with the oil and gas industry is a blatant example of regulatory capture. Regulatory Capture is a form of political corruption that occurs when an agency, created to act in the public interest, advances instead the special concerns of the industry it is charged to regulate.

Severance taxes are the constitutional expression of our, as Louisiana citizens, shared claim on our state’s vast mineral wealth. Exempting severance taxes negates the public claim on that mineral wealth and undermines our ability to invest in ourselves as a state.

Severance tax exemptions are direct payments from the state to the oil and gas producers after the companies have submitted their exemption certificates. Royalties are the property owners’ share of the proceeds from the sale of oil and gas produced from wells on their land. For purposes of this story, royalties are the state’s share of the revenue from oil and gas produced on state-owned lands and water bottoms after severance taxes have been paid.

Since the mid-1980s, Louisiana Department of Revenue has published an annual report on tax exemptions called “The Tax Exemption Budget.” In that document, the department identifies each tax exemption and quantifies the cost of each exemption to the state.

It makes clear that tax exemptions are in fact a spending of state funds — here’s how the LDR explains it in every report: “Tax exemptions are tax dollars that are not collected and result in a loss of state tax revenues available for appropriation. In this sense, the fiscal effect of tax exemptions is the same as a direct fund expenditure.”

Between 2008 and 2014, according to the Tax Exemption Budget, the State of Louisiana paid oil and gas companies more than $2.4 Billion in severance tax exemptions. Those checks went out at the exact same time that our legislature cut funding for programs like aid to families of children with disabilities, behavioral health programs, home health care, and programs that assisted victims of domestic violence. During that same period, state funding for higher education was also cut by more than $700 million as the tuition and fees paid by those attending technical colleges, community colleges, and state universities were jacked up to cover the difference.

The first performance audit on royalty collections was released in July 2010. Royaltieshttps://app.lla.state.la.us/PublicReports.nsf/B6B5DE331E9D48818625776E005CFDA5/$FILE/00018070.pdf The Legislative Auditor found that DNR’s Office of Mineral Resources took a lackadaisical approach to verifying the accuracy of royalty payments from the 1,888 active mineral leases on state-owned lands and water bottoms.

The Legislative Auditor noted that severance taxes and royalties are connected, that both are dependent on the amount of oil and gas produced, as well as the price of the resource.

Desk audits compared the volume of oil and gas sold to the volume of oil and gas produced, which ensures that royalty payments are properly calculated. These audits also help ensure that production wells on state lands are submitting properly calculated royalty payments.

The Legislative Auditor found that the Office of Mineral Resources (OMR) had not conducted a single such audit in a decade. Despite the Auditor’s recommendation that it resume these audits, OMR waited another three years before getting around to doing so.

The Legislative Auditor also found that OMR did not compare royalty reports against severance tax reports filed with the state Department of Revenue, nor did it compare royalty reports to production reports submitted elsewhere in DNR.

In its response to the Legislative Auditor’s Royalty performance audit findings, on June 24, 2010, DNR announced that “As part of the Streamlining Commission’s recommendations, OMR will take over LDRs severance tax field audit program and the two audits will be integrated beginning July 1, 2010.”

In September of 2013, the Legislative Auditor released a follow-up performance audit on royalty collections. https://app.lla.state.la.us/PublicReports.nsf/DB918AD8E33411F286257B490074B82A/$FILE/00031C97.pdf

The auditors were dismayed to find that the revenue produced by OMR’s audits had fallen below the levels reported in 2010.

The Auditor also found that that the State Mineral and Energy Board had waived 45% of the $12.8 million in penalties that were assessed against companies by OMR for late payment of royalties.

Neither the Office of Mineral Resources nor the State Mineral and Energy Board seemed at all concerned about the fiscal impact their indifference to generating revenue had on the programs that Louisiana residents depend on. Their primary concern was with not inconveniencing their friends in the oil and gas industry.

The Legislative Auditor conducted an audit on severance tax collection procedures in the

Louisiana Department of Revenue in 2013 but, because severance tax audit functions had been transferred to the DNR in 2010, auditors had to return to the Office of Mineral Resources close on the heels of the second royalty collections audit. https://app.lla.state.la.us/PublicReports.nsf/AC044A6D3709B90C86257BE30065348B/$FILE/000351F7.pdf

In this audit, the Legislative Auditor found that oil and gas industry complaints about the LDR’s use of GenTax software (which identified possible nonpayers of severance taxes) led first, to LDR shutting off the software, and second, audit power being transferred to DNR.

The scale of the oil and gas production not audited as a result of that shift was staggering. DNR’s field audits ignored oil and gas production on private lands — which comprises 98.1% of all oil and gas leases in Louisiana — for a three-year period.

Revenue from severance tax audits fell 99.8% from the levels produced by the Department of Revenue once responsibility was transferred to the Office of Mineral Resources. The actual dollar amount fell from $26 Million in 2010 to $40,729 in Fiscal Year 2012.

For the three-year period that DNR’s Office of Mineral Resources had responsibility for severance tax audits, the industry essentially operated under an honor system.

Prior history shows why this was a problem. In the late 1990s, the Mike Foster administration filed lawsuits against more than 20 oil and gas companies claiming they had shortchanged the state by as much as $100 million on severance tax payments. Now, for three years as recurring revenue shortfalls continued, the Office of Mineral Resources ignored that history.

During this time, the Haynesville Trend emerged as the most productive shale gas field in the country.

Even though the severance tax exemption on horizontal drilling meant that the state was denied severance tax revenue for much of that play, companies still managed to game the exemption system at taxpayer expense.

Under the rules for severance tax exemptions, the state pays back the taxes already paid once it receives the exemption certificate from the company — plus “Judicial Interest” which in the period covered by the audit averaged about 4.5%.

That is, the state had to dip into non-exempt severance tax payments in order to cover the interest costs on those certificates that the companies chose to sit on for several months.

The Audit found that over the course of four fiscal years running from 2009 through 2012, the Department of Revenue issued 13,818 severance tax refund checks totaling $360,190,583. An extra $23,859,012 in interest was tacked on to that. https://app.lla.state.la.us/PublicReports.nsf/CF6244B77E3A958686257C30005E80B1/$FILE/000368DA.pdf

In addition, the Auditor found that the Department of Revenue overpaid severance tax exemption refunds by $12.9 million between July 2010 and May 2012.

The decline in audit revenue, the interest paid to companies on the gaming of the severance tax exemption process, the overpayment of severance tax exemption refunds, the decision by the State Mineral and Energy Board to waive 45% of fines for late payment of royalties combined to benefit the industry at taxpayer expense to the tune of $68 million.

These gifts to the oil and gas industry were made at a time when the industry was already receiving $2.4 Billion in tax exemptions and at a time when every dollar the state did not collect translated into a cut to programs that Louisiana residents depended on.

The Auditor also pointed out that hiring additional auditors within DNR and LDR would produce a great return on the state’s investment. Each auditor costs a department between $50,000 and $60,000 per year, but they bring in an average of $1.3 million per year. LDR said it had requested additional auditors in its budgets but they were never approved by the Jindal administration.

Oil and gas companies control all of the information used in the severance tax and royalty payment process. The industry has used this power to its advantage and to the state’s detriment.

Vigilant auditing can close that information gap.

The Office of Mineral Resources has shown little interest in that kind of work. DNR’s abdication of its oversight role on royalty revenue has had an outsized impact on Louisiana because of the role that revenue plays in state finances. When added to the three-year period when DNR failed to perform severance tax audits, the agency has likely cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars over the past seven years.

That is corruption.

Not all of this went unnoticed. In the 2014 legislative session, Sen. Rick Gallot (D-Ruston) and Rep. Joe Harrison (R-Gray) introduced concurrent resolutions to order LDR, DNR and the Legislative Auditor to agree upon a means to conduct a thorough audit of oil and gas production, severance taxes and royalty payments. Gallot’s resolution passed the Senate by a vote of 35-0. https://app.lla.state.la.us/PublicReports.nsf/D6A0EBE279B83B9F86257CE700506EAD/$FILE/000010BC.pdf

But by the time the resolution reached the House floor in early June, the oil and gas industry and the Jindal administration recognized the threat the audit posed, so they joined forces to kill it. SCR 142

The resolution had to be killed to keep the secret.

In the midst of a prolonged and deepening fiscal crisis, the Jindal administration and the industry did not want legislators and the public to question whether the severance taxes and royalties paid to the state were accurately calculated.

The Department of Natural Resources betrayed the trust of the people of this state. It failed its fiduciary responsibility twice; first, as collector of royalty payments, and again during the time it served as chief auditor of severance tax collections. It has repeatedly put the needs of the industry above the needs of the people of this state.

For the oil and gas industry, $2.4 Billion in severance tax exemption payments were not enough. Its greed is so great that, in a time of fiscal constraints on state government, it went out of its way to cheat the state out of still more money. It used its power and influence in the Department of Natural Resources and its ties to the Jindal administration to do so.

By these acts, the oil and gas industry has shown itself to be unworthy of the trust we have placed in it.

For Looting Louisiana in our time of fiscal need, the oil and gas industry must be stripped of its severance tax exemptions. Under the Louisiana Constitution, we are entitled to the full benefits of this state’s mineral wealth.

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JINDAL STATE OF THE STATE ADDRESS(FROM OUR ANONYMOUS CARTOONIST: CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE)

If there was any lingering doubt that Bobby Jindal has been committing payroll fraud, that doubt was erased in last Monday’s State of the State address to legislators at the opening of the 2015 legislative which, thankfully, will be his last such address.

Fraud is defined as:

  • The wrongful or criminal deception intended to result in financial or personal gain;
  • Deceit, trickery, or breach of confidence perpetrated for profit or to gain some unfair or dishonest advantage;
  • A person or thing intended to deceive others, typically by unjustifiably claiming or being credited with accomplishments or qualities.

Payroll fraud is further defined as the unauthorized altering of payroll or benefits systems in order for an employee to gain funds which are not due. The person making financial gain could be the employee or could be an associate who is using the employee to commit the fraud while taking the funds for himself.

There are generally three types of payroll fraud but for our purposes we are interested in only one:

  • Ghost employees—A person, fictional or real, who is being paid for work he does not perform. In order for the fraud to work the ghost employee must be added to the payroll register. If the individual is paid a monthly salary this is easier for the fraudster, as once this has been set up there is little or no paperwork required. In order for the fraud to work, the ghost employee must be added elected to the payroll register. Once this has been set up, there is little or no paperwork required.

Under that definition, Jindal could certainly be considered a ghost employee. One person even suggested that it was not really Jindal speaking to legislators, that Jindal was actually in Iowa and they were being addressed by a hologram.

We maintain that Jindal is committing payroll fraud by vacating the state so often and leaving the details of running the state to appointed subordinates as inexperienced and naïve as he. The point here is this: No one on his staff was elected; he was. And he has not been at the helm of the ship of state and by absenting himself so frequently and so consistently as he gins up his presidential candidacy, he is committing payroll fraud, theft, and malfeasance. Others, like former Desoto Parish School Superintendent and Board of Elementary and Secondary Education member Walter Lee have been indicted and been prosecuted for payroll fraud.

Before we really get into his speech to legislators, JINDAL ADDRESS TO LEGISLATURE we simply must call attention to the feeble effort at humor he (or someone) injected into the third line of his speech:

“Well, here we are…at the moment that some of you have been waiting for a long time—my last state of the state speech.”

After an apparently appropriate pause, he continued: “No, that was not supposed to be an applause line…and I do appreciate your restraint.”

Seriously? You actually wrote that line in your speech? If you have to write that in, if you are incapable of ad-libbing that simple line, then we now understand that idiotic response to President Obama’s State of the Union Address in 2009.

Before getting to the real meat of his legislative agenda for this year (if you can call it that), he touched ever-so-lightly on a few other points he generously referred to as his administration’s accomplishments. Our responses to each point are drawn directly from statistics provided by 24/7 Wall Street, a service that provides a steady stream of statistical data on business and government:

  • “We cleaned up our ethics laws so that now what you know is more important than who you know.” (A quick look at the appointment of Troy Hebert as director of the Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control after the baseless firing of Murphy Painter could quickly debunk that bogus claim. So could several appointments to the LSU Board of Supervisors and the equally egregious firing of key personnel like Tommy Teague who did their jobs well but made the fatal mistake of crossing Mr. Egomaniac.)
  • “We reformed our education system…” (Louisiana is the fifth-worst educated state and we are the third-worst state for children who struggle to read);
  • “We reformed our health care system…” (Really? Is that why the privatization of our state hospitals remain in turmoil? That same reform ultimately forced the closure of Baton Rouge General Mid-City’s emergency room because of the overload brought on by the closure of Earl K. Long Hospital? Can we thank your “reform” for the fact that Louisiana still has the nation’s third-lowest life expectancy rate or that we enjoy the nation’s third-most unhealthy rating, that we are fifth-highest in cardiovascular deaths or that we have the highest obesity rate in the nation?);
  • “…Our economy is booming.” (Seriously? Louisiana is rated as the worst state for business in the U.S.; we rank sixth-highest among states where the middle class is dying; we remain the eighth-poorest state in the nation with a poverty rate that is third-highest, and we’re saddled with the fourth-worst income disparity in the nation and we’re rated the 10th-worst state in which to be unemployed.);
  • “We have balanced our budget every year…and have received eight credit upgrades.” (This one of those claims so preposterous one doesn’t know how to respond, but we’ll give it our best. Jindal has repeatedly patched budget holes by skimming funds from other agencies, like more than $400 million from the Office of Group Benefits reserve fund, from the sale of the tobacco settlement, from ripping funds for the developmentally disadvantaged (to fund a race track tied a political donor—what was that line again about “what you know, not who you know”?), by cutting health care and higher education, by selling state property, and now he’s trying to cover the current $1.6 billion budget hole by selling the State Lottery. As for those credit upgrades, we can only point to the February action by Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s bond rating agencies to move the state’s credit outlook from stable to negative—and to threaten the more severe action of a downgrade.);
  • “The end result is a stronger, more prosperous Louisiana for our children. I measure Louisiana’s prosperity not by the prosperity of our government, but by the prosperity of our people.” (So, why are the fifth-most dangerous state in the nation? The 10th-most miserable state? Why do we have the eighth-worst quality of life? And the 11th-worst run state in the nation? And why have you never once addressed in your seven-plus years in office our ranking as the number-one state in the nation for gun violence or our ranking as first in the world for our prison incarceration rate?)
  • “We don’t live by Washington’s rules of kicking our debts down the road.” (For the love of God…);
  • “We have laid out a budget proposal that seeks to protect higher education, health care and other important government functions.” (And that’s why higher education and health care have been cut each of your years in office and why more cuts are anticipated that could conceivably shut down some of our universities. You really call cuts of up to 80 percent “protecting” higher education?);
  • “We have a system of corporate welfare in this state.” (Wow. After more than seven years of giving away the store to the tune of billions of dollars in corporate tax breaks, you finally come the realization that perhaps your generosity to the Wal-Marts, chicken processing plants and movie production companies may have been a bit much—that those policies may have actually hurt the state? What brought about this sudden epiphany? Bob Mann, in his Something Like the Truth blog, was all over that when he called attention to Jindal’s latest comment in the face of his claim a couple of years ago that we were “crushing businesses” with oppressive taxes. We’ll let him take this one.) http://bobmannblog.com/2015/04/17/bobby-jindal-is-now-against-corporate-welfare/
  • “We have identified over $500 million of corporate welfare spending that we think should be cut…” (Why the hell did it take you seven years?)

After all was said and done, after his hit-and-run sideswipes at all his purported “accomplishments,” Jindal devoted the bulk of his address to only two issues: Common Core and religious liberty. Of the latter issue, he said, “I absolutely intend to fight for passage of this legislation.”

Jindal was referring to Bossier City Republican State Rep. Mike Johnson’s HB 707 which would waste an enormous amount of time and energy—time that could be better spent on far more pressing matters, like a $1.6 billion deficit—on preventing the state from taking “any adverse action” against a person or business on the basis of a “moral conviction about marriage.”

Despite claims by Jindal and Johnson to the contrary, the bill is nothing more than a clone of the Indiana law that constitutes a not-so-subtle attack on gays or anyone else with whom any businessman deems a threat to his or her definition of marriage.

So, after eight addresses to the legislature, Jindal has yet to address any of the issues like inadequate health care, violence, poverty, pay disparity or equal pay for women, increasing the minimum wage, poor business climate (his rosy claims notwithstanding), our highway system (we didn’t mention that, but we are the seventh-worst state in which to drive, with the 15th-highest auto fatality rate), or our having the highest incarceration rate in the world.

Instead, the thrust of his address is aimed at Common Core—he called it federal control even though Common Core was devised by the nation’s governors and not the federal government—and something called the “Marriage and Conscience Act.”

And he expects those two issues, along with something he calls “American Exceptionalism,” to thrust him into the White House as leader of the free world.

And, of course, attacking national Democrats like Obama and just today, Hillary Clinton, on her claim of having immigrant grandparents. Jindal, of course, wants exclusive rights to that claim and says so with his oft-repeated platitude: My parents came to this country over 40 years ago with nothing but the belief that America is the land of freedom and opportunity. They were right. The sad truth is that the Left no longer believes in American Exceptionalism.”

Well, to tell the truth, if Bobby Jindal is the example—the standard-bearer, if you will—for what is considered “American Exceptionalism,” then frankly, we don’t believe in it either.

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Before going any further, let’s establish a few facts:

I am straight, white, happily-married (for 46-plus years) male, a recovering Republican (40 years was more than long enough), in fairly good health. And while far from wealthy, my home is paid for and we live in reasonable comfort. My children are successful professionals and my grandchildren do well in school.

I am not a malcontent who bemoans every misfortune that comes my way. Linda Ronstadt’s Poor, Poor Pitiful Me is simply not my theme song.

Nor am I one of those oblivious optimists unable—or unwilling—to see or acknowledge the injustices meted out on those less fortunate. I will not allow myself to become blind to the suffering and hardships of others. Just as I do not want others judging me, I am likewise acutely aware that it is not for me to judge others.

I cannot, in good conscience, turn my back on someone because of gender, sexual orientation, economic status, or skin color. To do so would go against everything that the smartest man I ever knew taught me: my grandfather who had only a sixth-grade education but was smarter than any Ph.D. I ever met.

That is why my blood boils when I see those in positions of power deny the creature comforts to the less fortunate, or judge the lifestyles of those who do not think and act the way they do, or reject equal gender pay, or deny adequate medical care for the indigent or to even refuse to raise the minimum wage of the struggling working poor.

Bobby Jindal insists that those coming to live in this country should subscribe to his idea of “American Exceptionalism.”

But for someone who preaches freedom of choice, doesn’t such a requirement necessarily restrict that same freedom?

He even manages somehow to link his opposition to Common Core to the teaching of American Exceptionalism in our schools even though the Common Core curriculum is limited to English and math, not history. http://www.foxnews.com/transcript/2015/03/19/bobby-jindal-responds-to-criticism-from-muslim-activists/

But Bobby, you need to answer this question: where is your ideal of American Exceptionalism when you deny health care to 250,000 Louisianans or when your lap dogs in the Legislature vote to block an increase in the minimum wage so the single mom having to work two jobs can make a decent salary?

HB 645 VOTE

Talk is cheap and you, Bobby, are even cheaper. You’ve been bought and packaged by the Koch brothers, Grover Norquist and their ilk. And you know what, Bobby? When they’re through with you, they’ll toss you away like a disposable diaper, which somehow is a uniquely appropriate metaphor.

And lest anyone think that I am singling out Bobby Jindal for verbal abuse, let me assure you there is plenty blame to go around, beginning in Indiana and moving on to Arkansas, Florida, North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and to every coward who brandishes a Bible and wraps himself in the American flag in the name or religious freedom.

These are the people who, secure in their own insulated cocoons, insist that others less fortunate should be happy to live on minimum wage, go without health insurance, receive sub-par educations from deteriorating public schools while their own kids go to charter schools and all the while, expect the working poor and middle class to bear the burden of higher tax rates, thanks to generous exemptions and incentives written for—and by—the wealthiest of the wealthy, the membership of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

Indiana unbelievably, has passed a law removing the protection from discrimination by private entities against gay and lesbian citizens of that state—and Arkansas followed in short order.

Are you kidding me? Indiana and Arkansas seriously want to deny basic human rights and protection under the law for people simply because they are gay or lesbian? What’s next, burning witches at the stake?

The act does not restore religious freedom; we already have that. Instead, it rejects other basic freedoms for a class of people. That is discrimination by anyone’s definition.

Indiana Republican Gov. Mike Pence is trying to say the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) was not intended to enable discrimination, but try telling that to the owners of Memories Pizza in Walkerton. http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2015/04/01/3641622/indiana-pizza-discrimination/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=tptop3

Crystal O’Connor, one of the owners of Memories Pizza, in defending the decision to refuse to provide pizzas for same-sex couples’ weddings, sniffed, “We are a Christian establishment.”

Oh, really? Well then, Ms. O’Conner, here are a few Bible verses for you to chew on:

  • Matthew 7:1-3: “Judge not that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you.”
  • Matthew 25:40: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
  • John 8:7: “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to cast a stone at her.”
  • John 13:34-35: “As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples.”

The Indiana law comes with a potential high cost. All four coaches of the Final Four NCAA Basketball Tournament, scheduled to be held in Indianapolis April 4-6, have endorsed the NCAA’s position that discrimination should never be tolerated under any circumstances. Joining them are NASCAR, the Big Ten Conference, the NBA Indiana Pacers, the WNBA Indiana Fever, Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay, UConn Coach Kevin Ollie and USC Athletic Director Pat Haden. http://www.msn.com/en-us/sports/ncaabk/final-four-coaches-release-statement-on-indianas-new-law/ar-AAajTKT?ocid=iehp

You’d think that would be sufficient but even as Arkansas legislators were passing their own version of RFRA, major corporations, including Apple, Angie’s List, Cummins, Inc., Eli Lilly, Salesforce Marketing Cloud, and Arkansas-based Wal-Mart have called on Pence to repeal the Indiana law and for Arkansas Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson to veto the law. Hutchinson first said he intended to sign the bill into law though he has since buckled to pressure to send the bill back to lawmakers for tweaking. http://www.cnn.com/2015/03/31/politics/arkansas-religious-freedom-anti-lgbt-bill/

Even Republicans in Indiana have seen the light and are beginning to backtrack on their support of the law. http://www.thenation.com/blog/203001/even-indiana-republicans-are-telling-mike-pence-his-discrimination-law-wrong#

But even as they do so, lawmakers in North Carolina and Georgia have similar bills under consideration and former Florida governor and potential GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush has expressed his support for the Indiana law. http://www.sfgate.com/nation/article/Jeb-Bush-defends-Indiana-law-as-he-seeks-Bay-Area-6171335.php

All of which begs the question: Have we as a nation gone stark raving mad? What happened to the great melting pot that was once America? This is what Jindal calls American exceptionalism? If so, stop the bus and let me off. I want no part of it.

I have worked with gay people find found them to be exceptionally intelligent and talented at what they do. As a newspaper editor, I once had a lesbian reporter working for me. She never hid her sexual orientation but neither did she flaunt it or let it interfere with her work as a professional reporter and we have remained friends for more than 35 years and continue to communicate by email on occasion. If I were a newspaper editor today, I would not hesitate to hire her. In fact, I would be proud to have her on my team again.

(I would be less than honest if I claimed I always felt this way. The truth is, in high school I joined with others in making life miserable for a gay classmate. He eventually dropped out of school because of our cruelty. I will carry the regret and shame for my act to my grave. That was most definitely not what my grandfather taught me.)

And even as I write this, State Rep. Mike Johnson (R-Bossier City) is considering introducing his own RFRA bill (the “Marriage and Religious Freedom Act”) for consideration during this year’s legislative session. http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2015/04/lgbt_louisiana_religious_freed.html

And then there is that arrogant Republican State Sen. Todd Gardenhire of Tennessee.

After his committee voted to deny 280,000 state residents access to health care by rejecting a plan to expand Medicaid, a-la Jindal, a play by the way that would have cost the state nothing, Gardenhire, who works as a wealth manager for Morgan Stanley, was confronted by an advocate for expansion.

Asked by one supporter of the expansion, Damien Crisp, if he would be willing to give up his own state-subsidized health insurance, Gardenhire responded by calling Crisp an “a**hole.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/04/01/todd-gardenhire_n_6986582.html

I believe it was President Truman who suggested if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. Gardenhire obviously can’t take a little heat, especially after being caught lying when he earlier denied he received state-sponsored coverage.

The bottom line is this, just in case Jindal, Hutchinson, Pence, Bush, Gardenhire and Family Forum’s Gene Mills may have forgotten: Gays, lesbians, Mexicans, blacks, women, and the poor (along with others I may have missed) all belong to a group known collectively as human beings and as such, they have feelings, emotions, needs, families, dignity and rights.

They are American citizens and for anyone to try through legislation to deprive them of their rights and their dignity is nothing short of evil and even criminal—especially when it’s done so that some corporate CEO can get a bigger bonus and a better golden parachute that allows him to retire with a monthly pension many times more than the annual salaries of his employees.

If the Koch brothers, and their fellow CEOs from the corporate membership of ALEC would throw their combined talents and the money they spend on lobbying and dark money they funnel to super PACs behind a concerted effort to lift up those less fortunate, what a remarkable difference—for the betterment of all mankind—they could make.

As an alternative to pouring ever larger sums of cash into the lobbyist money pit that is K Street and into the pockets of self-serving, sanctimonious, out-of-touch politicians, work instead to bring jobs from overseas back into this country and make America the proud nation it once was, a title you long ago forfeited to influence and avarice.

The last time I went to church (which was last Sunday), I believe the lesson was that Christ was humble and that he aided the sick and afflicted. Perhaps if those among us with the resources and a true desire to help make this a better world would, instead of plotting how to gain even more wealth at the expense of the poor and the middle class, reach out to the weak and downtrodden, the experience might become a self-fulfilling prophecy of peace, hope and understanding.

Then and only then can we talk of exceptionalism.

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