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In the rancid, distorted, bigoted world of Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions, human life begins at conception and ends at America’s southern border.

And I’m not so sure the same can’t be said of the ass clowns we refer to as our Louisiana Congressional delegation.

Another certainty is that Session’s quoting the Bible notwithstanding, neither man can lay legitimate claim to being a Christian. That right was forfeited the instant the decision was made that innocent children, some of them still breast-feeding, should be ripped from their mother’s arms and warehoused in an empty Walmart store in Brownsville, Texas.

Acquaintances have ridiculed me for previous comparisons of idiot Trump to Hitler. Those comparisons were never more valid than now. When is the last time you saw an American president:

  • Rip more than 1300 children from their families for no greater offense than seeking asylum?
  • Incorrectly cite a Bible verse as justification for doing so?
  • Express the desire to emulate China’s President Xi in becoming President for life?
  • Have his lackeys follow the example of North Korea’s Kim Jong-un’s lackeys by sitting at attention when Dear Leader speaks? (and before you try to tell me he was “just kidding,” save your breath. He wasn’t. He was dead serious.)
  • Call the media “America’s greatest enemy”? (Okay, that may not be Hitler, per se, but it’s pretty darn close to another mad man named Nixon.)

And while we’re on the subject, I wonder if anyone has bothered to check to see if these might be private prisons contracting to hold these kids—for a nice profit, of course.

Oh, and don’t even bother to invoke the names of Obama or Clinton. Obama had his flaws as any human does, but he never once pulled the stunts and uttered the nonsense Trump has and while he had some less than stellar appointments to his cabinet, not one of them was named Scott Pruitt or Mick Mulvaney or Ben Carson or Betsy Devos or Wilbur Ross (Ross is the Commerce Secretary who was head of the Bank of Cyprus, an acknowledged vehicle for massive Russian money laundering. No Russian collusion? You can do your own Google search). And Clinton is not, was not, and will never be President so don’t even try to bring her into the mix.

In other words, let’s keep the conversation about a man who:

  • Repeatedly declared bankruptcy but always came back—with other people’s money, much of it from the Deutsche Bank, another bank that plays ball with the Russians who have money to wash;
  • Has a bad habit of not paying his contractors;
  • Ran a bogus real estate college in Florida that bilked students out of millions while failing to deliver on its promises—a college that was under investigation by the Florida attorney general…until Trump made a generous contribution to her election campaign, and then the investigation was conveniently dropped;
  • A man who has no respect for women whatsoever (don’t take Stormy Daniels’ word for it; just listen to the Billy Bush tape);
  • A man who does everything in his power to discredit, insult, and humiliate his justice department, the FBI, the IRS, the media, Congress, and anyone else who dares criticize him;
  • A man who cannot, for the life of him, maintain any consistency in his positions on issues, positions which sometimes change hourly;
  • A man who steadfastly refuses to make public his income taxes (gee, what could he be afraid of?);
  • A man who uses his position to help his family and himself financially (just look at the way in which he gave the Chinese firm ZTE a big break on his tariffs just as his daughter got nine trademark approvals from the Chinese government.)

I could go on, but why bother? If you are a Trump devotee, you’re not going to change your mind if it were proven that he was a serial axe murderer. You would simply regurgitate his and Fox News’ favorite response: fake news.

So, I will just end by saying this: If you are going to run around spewing your mantra of family values—whether as a Republican candidate or as a supporter of said candidate—while looking the other way as children are torn from their families, then you, my friend, are a damned liar and a hypocrite.

That goes for John Neely Kennedy, Bill Cassidy, Garrett Graves, Clay Higgins, Steve Scalise, Mike Johnson, or Ralph Abraham.

You are lying cowards, one and all, if you can advocate family values on one hand and imprisonment of children on the other.

And you’re certainly no Christian.

 

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In 2013, the Louisiana Legislature passed and Gov. Bobby Jindal signed into law House Bill 703 which mandated that any state unclassified (appointive) employee earning $100,000 or more must be a bona-fide resident of the gret stet of Looziana.

The bill, which would become Act 264 of 2013 and which now goes by Louisiana Revised Statute 42:31, passed the HOUSE easily enough by a 70-20 margin with 15 members ducking out on the vote.

In the SENATE, however, it was quite another story with the bill squeaking through by a razor-thin 20-17 vote with two senators joining their 15 counterparts in the House in not voting.

The author of HB 703? That would be then-State Rep. John Bel Edwards.

Here are the specific provisions of the ACT:

  • Notwithstanding any other law to the contrary, any person hired or employed in an unclassified position as defined by the State Civil Service Commission, and whose annual salary or rate of compensation is equal to, or exceeds one hundred thousand dollars, shall, within thirty days of being hired or employed at such salary, provide proof to his public employer that he has been issued a Louisiana driver’s license and that all vehicles registered in his name are registered in Louisiana.  This requirement shall be deemed a qualification for the position for which the person was employed or hired, and for the duration of the person’s employment in the event the person’s salary is increased and the requirements of this Section are triggered.
  • All government agencies which hire or employ any person in an unclassified position as defined by the State Civil Service Commission, whose annual salary or rate of compensation is equal to, or exceeds one hundred thousand dollars, shall verify that such person has been issued a Louisiana driver’s license and that all vehicles registered in his name are registered in Louisiana.  The public employer shall verify the employee meets this requirement for the duration of this person’s employment.
  • Any person hired or employed in an unclassified position who does not meet the requirements of this Section, or who no longer meets the requirements of this Section, shall be removed and terminated within thirty days of the public employer learning such person does not meet the requirements of this Section.

Credit for the introduction and subsequent passage of the law has to go to the late C.B. Forgotston who spearheaded a one-man campaign against state government parking garages crammed with vehicles bearing out-of-state license plates.

C.B. took it as a personal affront that Louisiana tax dollars were being used to hire employees from other states who wouldn’t even bother to register their vehicles in Louisiana. His reasoning was the workers were perfectly willing to take money from the state but weren’t willing to pay their fair share of taxes by simply registering their cars here.

One of the biggest offenders, he learned, was the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE).

Of course, not all the out-of-state employees were pulling down a hundred grand a year but there was this one guy that LouisianaVoice had occasion to write about.

His name was David Lefkowith, though his friends just call him Lefty.

When they see him, that is. Trouble is, he is considered a ghost by some of his co-workers who assumed he was long gone from LDOE. That’s because he doesn’t appear at the LDOE offices in the Claiborne Building across from the State Capitol.

You see, Lefty resides in Los Angeles and commutes to Louisiana if and when he has occasion to drop in to pick up an Enterprise rental at Louis Armstrong Airport in New Orleans and visit educational centers in Houma, Natchitoches, Lafayette, and Shreveport—but rarely Baton Rouge.

When LouisianaVoice first had occasion to write about Lefty back in 2012, he was knocking down $145,000 a year as something called the Director of the Office of Portfolio.

Act 264 of 2013 threw a monkey wrench in State Education Superintendent John White’s decision to pay Lefty $145,000 and when LouisianaVoice did a story recently about all the unclassified employees at LDOE pulling down $100,000 or more per year, a couple of LDOE employees expressed curiosity to LouisianaVoice as to why his salary was cut $45,000, to $100,000. LEFKOWITH IS NUMBER 197 on the list provided LouisianaVoice.

Well, truth be told, it was cut $45,000.10 to $99,999.90. That put him at a dime below the $100,000 threshold and allowed him to slither under the door.

That is a little trick White probably learned from Jindal who had a cute habit of issuing contracts of $49,999 in order to avert the requirement for proposals, or bids, for all contracts of $50,000 and above.

Still, commuting back and forth between California and Louisiana on a $100,000 salary doesn’t make much sense. It just doesn’t seem a sound fiscal decision unless LDOE pays for his flights back and forth.

Not so, says White.

I made a public records request for all expense payments made to Lefty and I also sent the following email to White:

From: Tom Aswell
Date: Friday, May 25, 2018 at 10:51 AM
To: John White <John.White@la.gov>
Subject: LEFKOWITH

John, for an employee no one in LDOE seems to remember seeing around the office, you certainly have paid him quite a tidy sum in travel and lodging expenses. I have a couple of questions in that regard:

  • How is he allowed to be a full-time employee of LDOE (at $100K per year) and reside in California?
  • What are his precise duties at LDOE. Please be specific?
  • What are his qualifications that you are apparently unable to find in a Louisiana resident?
  • Did you know him before he was brought into LDOE?
  • Does LDOE withhold state income taxes for Louisiana or California?

To his credit, White responded rather promptly, the very next day (a Saturday), in fact:

From: John White <John.White@la.gov>
Sent: Saturday, May 26, 2018 11:02 AM
To: Tom Aswell
Subject: Re: LEFKOWITH

Here is the web site that lists what Dave has developed and leads at the Department: https://www.louisianabelieves.com/courses/all-things-jump-start.

Dave attended Yale University as an undergraduate and Stanford University for business school. He spent more than 30 years as a management consultant across a wide array of industries.  The work outlined above is unique among states and speaks to his capacity to lead the mission with which he has been charged. I was not familiar with him prior to becoming state superintendent.

Dave pays taxes in both states and is reimbursed for work-related travel within the state, as other state staff are. He pays his own commuting costs.

Thanks for the note.

John

As for Lefty’s management consultant duties, one of those was an ill-fated plan, uncovered by reporters Michael Pollock and Chris Davis of the Sarasota (Florida) Herald-Tribune (Davis would move on to become leader of a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative team at the Tampa Bay Times in St. Petersburg).

In 1998, when Jeb Bush was running for governor of Florida, Enron, then a fast-rising Houston energy broker, was in the process of diversifying into the potentially profitable new field of water supply privatization through a subsidiary called Azurix Corp.

Secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) David Struhs, a Bush appointee, was simultaneously promoting two concepts on behalf of Azurix: auctioning off blocks of water to the highest bidders and obtaining underground water and storing it for later withdrawal through a process called aquifer storage and recovery (ASR).

Enron sank $900 million in Azurix, hoping to duplicate the proposed action in two other states, California and Enron’s home state of Texas, as well as in South America. Ultimately, however, Enron lost $500 million when the project failed to materialize, eventually selling what was left of the company in 2001 to American Water Works as a precursor to the eventual collapse of Enron.

Struhs also pushed another project to deregulate energy in Florida and to open the state to competition by allowing companies to build power plants, using existing power lines for the purpose of selling electricity to the highest bidding utility or other customers.

Standing shoulder to shoulder with Struhs was his good friend, David “Lefty” Lefkowith, president of Canyon Group, Inc., of Los Angeles.

Back in 1991, President George H. Bush named 23 industrialists and environmentalists to the President’s Commission on Environmental Quality and named Struhs to run the commission. One of the 23 commission appointees was then-Enron CEO Kenneth Lay.

When Bush lost his re-election bid to Bill Clinton in 1992, Struhs went to work for Lefkowith as vice president of Canyon Group. Lefkowith has represented as many as 60 different electric power companies through his company.

By 1998, Struhs was working for Jeb Bush and Lefkowith was on board with the ill-conceived Florida water privatization project. “I don’t think water is so damn special,” he said at the time. “If you let markets take over, you’d find water was cheaper, there would be more of it, and customers would be better served.” He neglected to explain how water quantity would increase.

Fast forward to 2002 and Struhs and Lefkowith were back at the forefront of market manipulation in Florida at the behest of Jeb Bush, but by now, their dealings were with electric power companies. Struhs was DEP Secretary and Jeb Bush had set up Energy 2020 Commission, a group assembled to study deregulation.

This time when Struhs brought him in as a consultant, Lefkowith was given unlimited access to all the emails of Bush’s Energy 2020 Commission members and staffers even though most of the 2020 commissioners never heard of him, never saw him (sound familiar?) and never knew he access to their correspondence.

On Feb. 4, 2001, Struhs’ deputy chief of staff, Mollie Palmer, ordered a half-dozen top DEP employees to start sending Energy 2020 Commission documents to Lefkowith with emails from Energy 2020 Chairman Walter Revell or from commission executive director Billy Stiles to be “forwarded to Lefty upon receipt.”

After receiving a copy of that memo, Pollock and Davis requested copies of all documents sent to Lefkowith but DEP officials responded that no documents existed. (That sounds much like the responses received by Capitol News Service from the Division of Administration and from the Louisiana governor’s office.)

“Who is this guy to get this information?” asked Florida Democratic Party Chairman Bob Poe. “From the tone and tenor of these emails and communications, he is directing energy policy (for the state). What authority does he have to do that? And for what purpose?”

Democratic State Sen. Kip Campbell of Tarmarac was even less forgiving of the practice. “Suppose I was sending letters to Struhs, like ‘here is my thought process on what we are going to do legislatively.’ And Lefkowith knows this ahead of time. Lefkowith might be working for Calpine and all those other companies and selling that knowledge for profit. I’d be willing to wager he probably was.”

Lefkowith also attended strategy sessions with Gov. Jeb Bush to discuss findings of the Energy 2020 Commission.

In addition, he lobbied Florida utility representatives in private meetings on the issue of building power plants in order to broker power sales.

He would later use the information he had obtained as confidant to Struhs and Jeb Bush to wrangle a consulting job with the Florida PSC.

So, yes, Lefkowith has worked with a lot of different entities but appears to have trouble remaining at one job for very long.

Now about White’s claim that Lefty pays his own commuting costs.

A check of his travel, lodging and meal expense reports provided by LDOE pursuant to our public records request turned up a couple of interesting tidbits, not the least of which was that the records appear to be incomplete with Lefkowith claiming many days of travel in Enterprise vehicles but hotel expense records that can only be described as spotty and sporadic with a lot of gaps. Accommodations for days at a stretch are unaccounted for.

From 2013 through current available 2018 dates, travel records show that LDOE has shelled out more than $21,880 for auto rentals, meals, lodging, and airplane flights to Austin, Texas, Cincinnati, and New Jersey.

On one occasion, on September 3, 2013, he drove an Enterprise rental vehicle 833 miles from New Orleans to Houma and Shreveport and back and even though he was in a rental, he charged LDOE for 99 miles at 51 cents per mile, collecting $50.49 in mileage. (Note: at the time, state regulations allowed employees to be reimbursed for a maximum of 99 miles traveled in personal vehicles as a means to encourage them to drive state vehicles. Regulations do not permit mileage payments while driving rentals.)

In July 2017 Lefkowith rented an Enterprise vehicle for 21 days, paid for by LDOE, and drove the car, a Chrysler Pacifica, from his Los Angeles home to New Orleans, a distance of 1,169 miles on your dime—$609.94 in dimes, to be precise.

So much for White’s claim that Lefkowith pays his own commuting expenses.

For that matter, the idea of paying his own commuting expenses on a $100,000 (oops, sorry. $99,999.90) per year salary just doesn’t make sense.

It’s enough to make one wonder just how many expense reports requested by LouisianaVoice were not forthcoming.

Surely any omissions were simply oversights.

 

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Here’s a pretty interesting scenario:

The administration, abetted by a Republican congress:

  • Dismantles consumer protection laws. Done.
  • Repeals environmental protection regulations. Check.
  • Does away with civil service protections. In progress.
  • Guts Medicaid, Medicare, and social security. Working on that.
  • Passes more tax breaks for the wealthy and for corporations. Proposed.
  • Moves low-interest federal student loan programs to private banks that charge higher interest rates to already cash-strapped middle- and low-income students. Proposed.
  • Tightens restrictions on illegal immigration—not for the reasons given, but instead, to ensure maximum occupancy of private prisons that are paid according to the number of beds filled. Ongoing;
  • Continues to offer “thoughts and prayers (TAPs) but does little else in the way of addressing the growing problem of mass shootings in America—because that’s the way the NRA wants it. No problem.
  • Systematically undermines organized labor so that worker protection, benefits, pay, etc. are minimized. Ongoing.
  • Screams “law and order” on the campaign trail but ignores, even attacks, the rule of law when it is to their benefit. Just watch the nightly newscasts.
  • Attacks the news media, the one independent institution capable—or willing—to keep check on political misdeeds and wrongdoing. A given.
  • Spew more patriotic rhetoric in order to gin up the war machine in countries where we have no business so more Americans can die needlessly so that the MILITARY-INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX that outgoing President Eisenhower warned us about in 1961 can continue to prosper and thrive. This tactic has never wavered.
  • Continue the practice of rolling the flag, the Bible, and the false label of patriotism into some sort of one-size-fits-all commodity to be sold to evangelicals like Disney souvenirs or McDonald’s Happy Meal toys. Don’t believe me? Watch the mass hypnosis of a Trump rally; it’s the same misplaced trust in a mortal being as the personification of some sort of divinely-inspired savior that we saw with Jim Jones and David Koresh.
  • Repeals banking regulations in order that the country’s financial institutions will be free to plunge the nation—and perhaps the world itself—into another financial crisis as bad, or worse, than the 2008 collapse (and for the information of some who apparently do not know, Dodd-Frank did not enable the last crisis because Dodd-Frank was not enacted until 2010, two years after the collapse). Passed and signed by Trump.

All these objectives, and more, when carried out, will have the cumulative effect of creating economic chaos which in turn will drive housing prices spiraling downward as the market is glutted by foreclosures as before. Layoffs will follow, resulting in high unemployment and homelessness. Businesses will close, causing more economic uncertainty. With instability in the Mideast will come higher oil prices.

That’s when the vultures will move in, snapping up property at bargain basement prices from desperate owners who will be forced to sell for pennies on the dollar because they have no negotiating leverage.

It’s all part of the Shock Doctrine principle that author Naomi Klein wrote about—and it works.

When the recovery does come, it’ll be too late for most. And these investors, these people who propped up the Republican Party, will be holding all the cards. The already gaping abyss between the haves and have-nots, between the 1 percent and the rest of us, will grow ever wider and those in control now will then be in even more control than before as more and more of the country’s wealth flows upward. Trickle down was—is already—a distant fantasy.

So, just who would be in a position to pull off such an economic coup at the expense of American citizens?

Try the Brothers Koch—Charles and David—and their cabal of fat cats.

You can begin the discussion by asking one simple question: why else would they commit their network of billionaires to spending $400 million in the 2018 midterm election cycle (double what they spent in the 2014 mid-terms and a 60 percent increase over 2016) if they did not stand to gain something from it?

If your answer is that they only want good, clean government, you’re just fooling yourself. No one throws that much money at dirty politicians and expects it to come back crisp and clean.

Americans for Prosperity President Tim Phillips said, “We will be spending more than any midterm in our network history.”

Russian collusion? These guys can play hardball just as well as the Russians can and they do it legally, through their PACs, their foundations, and their personal bankrolling of campaigns.

Facebook account hackings? Try i360, the Koch Industries data analytics company that compiles information on nearly 200 million active voters.

Want to hear how they wrap themselves in the flag? Try some of their front groups: Americans for Prosperity, Libre Initiative, Concerned Veterans for America, Generation Opportunity, and Freedom Partners Action Fund.

Truthout, an online political news organization that is a tad more left-leaning than Faux News (that’s parody, for those of you who don’t recognize it), has compiled a list of 2018 KOCH CANDIDATES to whom they are funneling campaign contributions.

Here are the benefactors of KochPAC’s generosity from Louisiana:

  • S. Rep. Garret Graves of Baton Rouge: $5,500 to Garret Graves for Congress;
  • S. Rep. Mike Johnson of Bossier Parish: $5,000 to Mike Johnson for Louisiana;
  • S. Rep. Steve Scalise of Metairie: $85,000 to his Scalise Leadership Fund; $10,000 to his The Eye of the Tiger Political Action Committee (how’s that for appealing to all those rabid LSU fans?), and another $10,000 to Scalise for Congress ($105,000 total);
  • S. Sen. Bill Cassidy of Baton Rouge: just a measly $1,000 (an insult) to his Continuing America’s Strength and Security (more flag-draping nomenclature) PAC.

But it doesn’t stop with Louisiana. Not by a long shot.

The Kochs also contributed:

  • $10,000 to Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts’ Preserving America’s Traditions (Guess it’s a foregone conclusion that his opponent has no interest in preserving any of the country’s traditions.)
  • $10,000 to Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt’s (get this) Rely on Your Beliefs Fund (now if that doesn’t choke you up, you’re obviously an anarchist);
  • $5,000 to Virginia’s Rep. Dave Brat’s Building and Restoring America Together PAC (oh, puh-leeze!);
  • $10,000 to Texas Rep. Pete (please tell us he’s not related to Jeff) Sessions’s People for Enterprise Trade and Economic Growth (PETE—how clever, but shouldn’t it be PETEG?) PAC;
  • $5,000 for Texas Rep. Will Hurd’s Having Unwavering Resolve and Determination PAC;
  • $5,000 to Texas Rep. Mike Conaway’s Conservative Opportunities for a New America PAC;
  • $10,000 to Pennsylvania Rep. Keith Rothfus’s Relight America PAC;
  • $5,000 to Pennsylvania Rep. Scott Perry’s Patriots for Perry PAC (the obvious implication being that no patriot could possibly be for his opponent);
  • $10,000 to Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Kelly’s Keep America Rolling PAC (Could this be a subliminal reference to the “Let’s roll” words of Todd Beamer who tried unsuccessfully to disarm hijackers on United Flight 93 just before it crashed in the Pennsylvania countryside on 9/11?).

None of this is intended to diminish, ridicule, or scorn the true patriotic love of this country on anyone’s behalf. Patriotism is a wonderful thing as long as it is kept in perspective. But to allow the love of country to blind you to the shortcomings of our so-called leaders who sell patriotism like a carnival barker sells tickets to a lurid peep show is not my definition of the word. It in fact cheapens the definition.

To paraphrase our most recent former governor, at the end of the day, no one—and I do mean NO ONE, without exception—contributes to a political campaign in the amounts doled out by the Kochs and their ilk, without expecting something in return. That something is always personal enrichment.

So, before you base your decision on a candidate based on the half-truths and outright lies of TV political ads, check to see who gets what in the form of CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS.

Make your decision an intelligent one, not one based on looks or sound bites. Like anything else worthwhile, it takes a little work to do it right.

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I’m no economist and I did not stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night, so I make no claims to be gifted in predicting the future. After all, I smugly opined on the day that Donald Trump announced his candidacy for the presidency that he would crash and burn within six weeks. He may yet crash and burn but it’s taken a tad longer.

But it doesn’t take a crystal ball to see a repeat of the 2008 financial collapse and when it happens, don’t forget to thank Louisiana’s two senators and four of our six representatives. I mean, Stevie Wonder can see the idiocy of the actions of Congress in rolling back the reforms put in place by the DODD-FRANK rules following the disastrous Great Recession brought on by the recklessness of the banking industry.

The HOUSE voted 258-159 on Tuesday to allow banks with up to $250 billion in assets (that’s roughly eight times the size of Louisiana’s $30 billion budget and our legislators can’t even get a grasp on that) to avoid supervision from the Fed and STRESS TESTS. Under Dodd-Frank, the tougher rules applied to banks with at least $50 billion in assets.

Louisiana House members who voted in favor were Garrett Graves, Mike Johnson, Ralph Abraham, and Steve Scalise. Only Rep. Cedric Richmond voted against the measure while Paramilitary Macho-Man, the Cajun John Wayne, Clay Higgins took a powder and did not vote.

The measure, S-2155, had eased through the SENATE by a 67-31 vote back on March 14 and both Louisiana Sens. Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy voted in favor. Kennedy, who loves to preach about revenue and spending, should know better: he was Louisiana State Treasurer for eight years, from 2000 to 2008. You’d think he might have learned something during that time. Guess not. But what could you expect from someone who thought he had “reduced paperwork for small businesses by 150 percent” during his tenure as Secretary of Revenue?

You can be sure that the banking industry lobbied Congress hard for this. Their lobbyists may well have outnumbered—and outspent—the NRA and perhaps even big oil and big pharma in its efforts to show members the right thing for baseball, apple pie and the American Way. Here is a blurb from the Arkansas Banking Association to its members on Monday, the day before the House vote, for example:

ABA (the American Banking Association) is asking all bankers to make a final grassroots push by calling their representatives and urging them to vote “yes” on S. 2155. ABA and all 52 state bankers’ associations sent letters to the House on Friday urging passage of S. 2155. Take action now.

Here is a copy of the ABA LETTER to House Speaker Paul Ryan and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and the letter sent by the state ASSOCIATIONS, including the Louisiana Bankers’ Association.

It’s almost as if the bankers, their lobbyists and their pawns in Congress have had their collective memories erased.

Remember “TOO-BIG-TO-FAIL” or costs of somewhere in the neighborhood of $14 TRILLION (with a “T”) to the U.S. economy the last time banks got a little carried away with their subprime mortgages and insane investments of OPM (other people’s money)? Remember how the runaway train wreck of 2008 darned-near destroyed the economy not just of this country, but the entire GLOBAL ECONOMY?

Remember how Congress had to bail out the incredibly reckless banks and how not a single person ever did jail time for the manner in which greed and more greed took over for sound fiscal judgment?

Remember the run-up to the 2008 collapse? Deregulation? Warren Buffet’s referring to derivatives as “financial weapons of mass destruction” (was anyone listening)? Enron? Worldcom? Countrywide? Merrill Lynch? Wells Fargo’s manipulation of customers’ accounts? Lincoln Savings & Loan? Pacific Gas and Electric? Arthur Anderson? Lehman Brothers? Bear Stearns? AIG? Washington Mutual?

Did anyone learn a damned thing? Judging from the rollback of Dodd-Frank, the answer to that critical question must be a resounding “NO.”

And lest you feel a pang of sympathy for those poor, over-regulated banks, consider this: PROFITS for AMERICAN BANKS during the first quarter of 2018 increased by 28 percent, shattering the prior record set just three quarters earlier.

The “blockbuster earnings report” was attributed to tax cuts implemented by the Trump administration, which should give you a pretty good idea about just who the tax bill was designed to help in the first place.

And here’s something that will give you a warm fuzzy: American banks are sitting on almost $2 trillion of capital that will help them survive the next recession—whether you get through the next downturn or not. That theory that excess capital would be plowed back into the economy just didn’t seem to pan out. Wall Street is counting on the Dodd-Frank deregulation allowing banks to return as much of that surplus cash as $53 billion back to SHAREHOLDERS.

Reinvestment? More jobs? Stimulating the economy? Fuggedaboutit.

It’s all about the shareholders.

Always has been, always will be.

And you can bet the shareholders won’t fuggedaboutit when it comes to chipping into the campaign coffers of those members of Congress who had the good sense to vote to lift the unreasonable burden of overregulation off the poor, struggling banking industry.

But what the hell? I’m not an economist. I’m just one of those purveyors of all that fake news.

 

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I want to share something with you.

I have leveled criticism at Louisiana’s legislators and at both the former and current governor. Much, if not all that criticism I believed to be legitimate and well-earned. I was unmercifully hard on Bobby Jindal for the simple reason that not only did I believe him to be inept, but heartless as well when it came to consideration of the needs of the sick and elderly, of students and teachers, of minorities and the poor. In the end, I’m convinced I was not hard enough on him.

But today, I read two documents that have prompted me to take a little different approach, especially as it regards one certain legislator, a man I have never met, a man with whom I have never spoken but a man, nevertheless, who gives me hope, after today’s readings, that there may yet be those who have some sense of priority and compassion.

The man is State Sen. J.P. MORRELL and I fervently hope that my praise isn’t misguided or ill-conceived. Sometimes we are too eager to find a hero or at least someone to look up to. I hope this isn’t one of those times.

First, some background.

Earlier on Sunday, I came across a heart-rending online story of the struggles of an Oregon woman who, already waging a heroic fight against cancer, had the added burden, along with her husband, of having to battle the bureaucratic idiocy of the nation’s largest medical insurer, UnitedHealthcare.

The story was infuriating. Here, on one hand, was a woman, a mother of a four-year-old daughter, being told that only a liver transplant could save her life. On the other hand, there were the brain-dead bean-counters at UnitedHealthcare, all the way up to the company’s CEO, denying her one chance at life.

Morrell, it turns out, read the same story and also saw it on CNN. But instead of recapping, here’s what Morrell wrote, courtesy of Kreweoftruth, a New Orleans Internet blog:

This morning, Mother’s Day, I watched, then read, the heart wrenching tale of Erika Zak on CNN.

Erika is a 38-year-old mother and wife, who defeated stage 4 metastatic colon cancer but is dying.  Her liver, damaged by microwave ablation surgery, is failing and she is dying. So, she began the second fight of her life… with her insurance company.

Sitting with my wife and kids, enjoying breakfast today on Mother’s Day, this story deeply affected me. To be powerless in the face of callous CEOs making decisions regarding whether you live or die, it’s terrifying. 

Inevitably, I saw the obvious parallels between her plight and tens of thousands of Louisianans at the mercy of the Louisiana State Legislature and our budget crisis. As we contemplate passing ‘fake’ budgets as part of a ‘process’, we are playing games and, consequently, playing with people’s lives.

A $650+ million shortfall is less than two months away. As we squabble, 35,000+ nursing home recipients are being told that they are about to be evicted. With no clear and reasonable revenue agreement in place, we alternate between closing hospitals with medical schools, burdening families with crippling college debt, or cutting services to the Department of Children and Family Services.

As the Chairman of the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee, my role is to try to shepherd revenue raising measures through this process to avert this disaster. It’s an awesome, and terrifying, responsibility that weighs on me every single day.

Some of the issues being debated this session are tremendously important, such as criminal justice reform or public safety. Other bills are innocuous and warrant little to no debate, like renaming highways or changing the membership of security districts. However, there are some bills that are neither important nor insignificant.

House Bill 553, regarding the renewal of the Harrah’s gaming license is one such bill. The amount of time, energy and effort that has been expended by the proponents and opponents of this bill is staggering. The Senate has been barraged by the effort of over a dozen registered lobbyists each one of whom is trying to explain why this bill is a ‘good deal’ for the City of New Orleans and State of Louisiana. On the other hand, the opposition has its own horde of unregistered lobbyists to advocate for competing business interests. Both sides have expended an immense amount of time trying to shape opinions, news and narratives to get their own way.  

As someone inside this chaotic budget crisis, this Harrah’s deal is truly unworthy of our attention. Whether you believe the current deal is a good one or whether there is time to negotiate a better one, either position is immaterial.

With the looming crisis facing our state, and our city, the noise surrounding this deal is an unwarranted distraction. I do not want myself or my colleagues to be distracted. The citizens of Louisiana deserve much better than that. And, I’m going to use my position to insist they get it. Consideration of an early renewal of this license right now, is like trying to get a lower lease payment on your car while you home is under foreclosure. We need to get our home in order. 

Negotiations of this kind are about maximizing leverage and should never be negotiated until each party is on equal footing. The State of Louisiana is broke and can’t pay its bills, a circumstance that makes any extra money seem attractive. That’s not a good place to start a negotiation. 

Tomorrow, in Senate Judiciary B Committee, I will cast my vote to defer this bill for this legislative session. A future legislature will have ample time to reconsider this issue when the budget crisis has passed. 

I am putting my position on the record, before committee, because the legislature is trying to adjourn by Friday, May 18th. The purpose of the early adjournment is to spare taxpayers the additional cost of a special session. Bills of this nature, with tremendous forces on both sides vying for supremacy, will destroy a possibility of this happening. 

-JP Morrell

Louisiana State Senator, District 3

Morrell seems to be one responsible legislator, at least in this case, who can cut through the B.S. and get to the core of the issue facing the state.

And he understands and is disgusted by the fact that legislators can spend so much time on issues that do not address the fiscal problems facing the state and its citizens:

  • Issues like Payday loan companies’ attempt to raise interest rates to 167 percent (Morrell was absent for that vote, which passed the Senate by a 20-17 margin but which later failed to make it out of committee on the House side).
  • Issues like allowing anyone—anyone—with a concealed carry permit to enter public schools in Louisiana fully armed.
  • Issues like commending a former state legislator for his support of a ridiculous bill that was struck down by the Supreme Court. Really?
  • Issues like, as Morrell points out, renaming highways or changing memberships of security districts.

And Morrell is not shy in noting that in the furor over the Harrah’s gaming license, the legislature has been overrun by parasites with briefcases, aka lobbyists for both sides. Some of them, he said aren’t even registered lobbyists as required by law. All so Harrah’s can get an early renewal of its license. Early—while the attention to the looming fiscal cliff has been a little late in claiming the serious attention of people like Cameron Henry and Lance Harris and House Speaker Taylor Barras.

A decade of kicking the can down the road and it’s starting to show a few dents.

Morrell, at least, gets it.

One word.

Priorities.

Now, if he could just get the message across to his colleagues…

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