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Okay, class, listen up. Today’s lesson is about a place called the Mount Weather Emergency Operations Center—so called because it originally was constructed as a weather station..

For the sake of simplicity (and because I’m too lazy to write it out every time) we will hereafter refer to it as M-WEOC.

If you are of my generation and you read the book or saw the 1964 movie Fail Safe, featuring Henry Fonda, Larry Hagman, Walter Matthau and Dom Deluise, among others, it  was called Mount Thunder, but the reference was obvious.

M-WEOC is a civilian command facility located in Virginia and is a major relocation site (read: a place to run and hide) for high-level (not you and me, noooo) civilian and military officials in the event of a national disaster so there may be a continuity of government. (Some—any—continuity of government would be pretty nice right now.)

The underground component—the bunker—contains 600,000 square feet. Following the 9-11 attacks, most of the congressional leadership (read: cowards) was evacuated to Mount Weather by helicopter. Being elected Speaker of the House does carry certain privileges.

The National Gallery of Art from 1979 to 1981 developed a plan to transport valuable paintings in its collection to Mount Weather via helicopter. (Are you kidding me?). While I approve of the arts, there are a lot of things I would be trying to save before some painting of a limp pocket watch or a Campbell soup can or something painted by a guy with only one ear. Apparently those high-level civilian and military functionaries plan to sell the artworks when they emerge from the underground bunker at M-WEOC—if there’s anyone left to sell them to.

Would you like to hear who else is included among the A-list to be evacuated to M-WEOC?

FEMA. That’s right, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the same people who brought you those splendid recovery efforts for Katrina and more recently the devastating floods of Southeast Louisiana.

M-WEOC, it seems serves as FEMA’s center of operations.

If an enemy ever attacked this country, FEMA, with its unprecedented record of ineptitude, might be spared just so it could finish off what the bombing missed. Given its performance record, that scenario may be closer to the truth than we would like to believe.

A friend and regular reader of LouisianaVoice observed somewhat caustically, “If we have a nuclear attack or other disaster that takes most of the rest of us out. High-ranking FEMA officials will be among those saved. What a waste.”

The Baton Rouge Advocate’s REBEKAH ALLEN wrote on Tuesday (Dec. 12): “For the amount of money FEMA is spending on temporary mobile homes for flood victims, the federal agency could buy displaced residents modest houses in some parts of Baton Rouge.”

The basis on which she wrote that was a document provided to U.S. Rep. Garrett Graves which revealed that FEMA’s typical cost for the purchase, transport and installation of each FEMA trailer placed on the property of a flood victim is a cool $129,200.

If the “manufactured housing unit” (a FEMA euphemism for trailer but hey, a rose by any other name…) is placed in an existing commercial mobile home or travel trailer park, the cost of leasing the site pad increases the tab to $149,000 and if placed in FEMA designated group sites, then the price jumps to $170,000.

That’s for a living space of a whopping 980 square feet. My 2,300-square-foot home cost me less than $129 thou.

(And John Kennedy thinks the state has a spending problem.)

“You’re saying, ‘We may be slow, but at least we’re more expensive,’” Graves said.

Here’s the breakdown, according to Allen:

  • Cost of FEMA trailer: $62,500;
  • Installation: $23,000;
  • Maintenance: $15,400
  • Transportation: $5,000
  • FEMA’s administrative overhead cost: $23,000.

Tito Hernandez, FEMA’s federal coordinating officer (how’s that for a snappy title?), had a well-reasoned, logical explanation.

Of course he did.

The FEMA trailers meet strict safety standards set by the federal government.

Well, Tito, every doublewide mobile home sold on every commercial lot in America meets “strict safety standards” set by the federal government. “The FEMA unit is strong, it’s a higher quality, it’s more solid than many being sold commercially,” he said.

Sure they are, Tito. And we still remember those pieces of crap foisted off onto those wretched Katrina victims. Weren’t we also told then what a great deal those were?

Borrowing the mantra of former Wisconsin Democratic Sen. William Proxmire, Graves calls the money spent on the trailers the “fleecing of America, example no. 10,000.”

That same friend/reader that I alluded to earlier experienced his own FEMA nightmare when his 33-year-old rental trailer flooded in Central:

“We had little choice but to get a new one at 100 percent our expense or walk away from the property entirely. Why didn’t we have flood insurance you might well ask?  Even if we had, we would have gotten nothing because a 33-year-old trailer has no value. We replaced this old trailer with a brand-new, but smaller one (1,000 sf living area) – ordered it a week after the flood and it still is not ready for occupancy since we still don’t have it plumbed so there is no water.

“Everything about this has been a nightmare from permitting through trying to get people over there to do site prep, electrical, etc.  We are very lucky to have finally convinced the City of Central to give us a “temp to perm” electrical connection so the air conditioning could be installed last Thursday. I could go on and on and on, but to get to the cost:

“I had a slab poured, lot work done, including demolition of the old trailer, paid extra to have the new trailer elevated to 2 feet above the basic flood elevation, paid and engineer to do two flood elevation certificates during the permitting, have done extra work on the trailer, including adding two porches at a cost of $7,000 and doing other extras like fence repairs, putting in blinds, buying new hardware for the washer/dryer, etc. I project with all this, my total cost will be about $62,000.

“This whole FEMA thing is utterly and completely stupid. With all the extras I did that FEMA isn’t even doing, it cost me less than half what they paid for doing a piss-poor job of installing some trailers. And what are they going to do with them when they get them back in 18 months? FEMA is another of the many fine reasons people have absolutely no faith their government can do anything right. Everybody would have been a lot better off if FEMA had simply given them $129,000 and, based on the total costs, it would have probably cost taxpayers less and would certainly have been less hassle for everybody. Don’t you think somebody could rent a pretty nice place for $7,166.67 per month for the 18 months they are allegedly loaning people the ridiculous trailers for? I am disgusted and angry about this whole thing. I don’t know what the answer is at FEMA, but some ass-chewing and firing might help.”

But not to worry. When the next national disaster hits, our critical congressmen, generals and FEMA will be safely ensconced in that underground bunker at M-WEOC (with sufficient food and drink) while the rest of us kick into survival mode.

We can only hope FEMA has a better contingency plan for that disaster than it does for hurricanes and floods.

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How much does a legislator cost in Louisiana?

Certainly, that’s a loaded question, an ambush question, if you will.

Some go pretty cheap. Others not so much.

For the record, State Rep. Terry Brown (I-Colfax) says he is not for sale.

Brown, testifying before the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee last Wednesday in favor of House Bill 11, did what few legislators will ever do: he related payoff overtures he said were made by representatives of the target of the bill, Clean Harbors and its efforts to burn some two million pounds of explosives from Camp Minden in Webster Parish.

A massive explosion occurred at Camp Minden in October 2012, creating a mushroom cloud that loomed 7,000 feet over the town. That led to decision to burn 15 million pounds of explosives on open “burn trays” at the site.

That decision set off a firestorm of protests that involved citizens and officials from Baton Rouge to Washington and the plan was eventually scrapped in favor of moving the burn to the Clean Harbors location in Grant Parish where (surprise) the plan was met with an equally hostile reception.

Clean Harbors, Inc. was founded in Brockton, Massachusetts, in 1980 and has expanded to 400 locations, including more than 50 hazardous waste management facilities, in North America. Revenues for the company in 2016 totaled $3.28 billion, according to the Clean Harbors Web site. http://ir.cleanharbors.com/phoenix.zhtml?c=96527&p=irol-news&nyo=0

Clean Harbors in February withdrew its permit request to quadruple the amount it can burn at its facility located about five miles northwest of Colfax, although the company continued its open burning of explosives at the site. http://www.thetowntalk.com/story/news/local/2016/02/19/hb-11-next-battleground-colfax-open-burning/80565032/

HB 11, by Reps. Brown and Gene Reynolds (D-Minden), would prohibit open burning statewide as a method of disposal of explosive materials, such as those burned at Clean Harbors’ Colfax facility.

“…I was asked as a state representative by a person representing Clean Harbors, ‘What would it take for me to pull this bill?’” Brown testified. “They (Clean Harbors) started out by saying they would pay for our sewer system in South Grant Parish, that they would give my schools playground equipment, my Little League ball teams uniforms—and they would make me a part of it.

“Ladies and gentlemen of this panel, I am not for sale,” Brown said.

Here is the link to his testimony: http://house.louisiana.gov/H_Video/VideoArchivePlayer.aspx?v=house/2016/apr/0427_16_NR

It was a long committee meeting, lasting just more than five hours. To get to Brown’s testimony, move the cursor below the video to 3:04:30.

The bill barely made it through the committee by a 9-8 vote and will be debated on the House floor on Wednesday.

Representatives voting against the bill in its amended form were Committee Chairman Stuart Bishop (R-Lafayette), James Armes (D-Leesville), Jean-Paul Coussan (R-Lafayette), Phillip DeVillier (R-Eunice), John Guinn (R-Jennings), Christopher Leopold (R-Belle Chasse), Jack McFarland (R-Jonesboro), and Blake Miquez (R-Erath).

Amendments to the bill http://www.legis.la.gov/legis/ViewDocument.aspx?d=998279 included a self-defeating provision allowing the Secretary of the Department of Natural Resources to authorize open burning of munitions or waste explosives by the military or by state police and one that would make the effective date of the bill January 1, 2018, which would allow continued burning for an additional 18 months.

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Twenty-four hours of reflection and some well-chosen observations from retired State Budget Director Stephen Winham have us now considering the possibility that the letter from those 11 Republican Louisiana House members seeking advice on the controversial SAVE bill may not have been so much a capitulation to Grover Norquist as it was a set up that left Bobby Jindal looking like the fool he is on the eve of his formal entry into the GOP presidential sweepstakes.

And that classic no-response response by Norquist only adds to the speculation that the whole thing was a devilishly clever trap designed to ensnare Jindal in his own web of deceit and rigid demagoguery.

If that indeed was the purpose of the letter, we at LouisianaVoice have more than a little egg on our faces and an apology to the 11 legislators on our lips because, quite frankly (and there is no spin we can put on this) we were taken in as were most of us who read the letter for the first time.

Unlike traditional media, we do not bury our “clarifications” in some obscure part of our publication with a two- or three-sentence acknowledgement of the error; we put it out there for all to see.

We’re still not certain that the letter was written with the intent of putting Jindal in a box from which there was no graceful exit as opposed to the first blush appearance of pathetic groveling, but it’s sure beginning to look that way. And if that is what it was, we can only add, Touché.

The only thing that gives us pause is the fact that four members of the Ways and Means Committee who signed the letter—Cameron Henry of Metairie, Kirk Talbot of River Ridge, Joe Harrison of Gray, and John Schroder of Covington—also signed Norquist’s “no tax” pledge.

Moreover, five of the 11 (Brett Geymann of Lake Charles, Harrison, Henry, Schroder and Talbot are either current or former members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the national non-profit organization funded by some of America’s largest corporations, including Wal-Mart, major oil, pharmaceutical, and insurance companies and Koch Industries.

But perhaps the biggest indication that the letter was an elaborate ruse, and one we did not initially consider, is simply this: Why would the committee release the letter—and Norquist’s response—to the media unless it was just that: a scheme to back Jindal into a corner? It would be too convenient to say the letter was simply leaked; it’s more likely now, considering the meek response by Norquist, that it was spoon-fed to the media with the express purpose of embarrassing Jindal.

“I have read and re-read the letter,” said Winham in an email to LouisianaVoice, “and I still see it as a direct hit on Norquist and Jindal and that it serves as an official record of opposition  to SAVE and to Grover Norquist and to Bobby Jindal.

“I also agree that, in addition to its (SAVE’s) utter stupidity, it would establish a horrible precedent that (says) pure gimmicks suffice to do anything with taxes,” he said. “I am not anti-tax and (I) believe anybody ought to have sense enough to know which services we need and that they have to be paid for. I am not for using totally idiotic loopholes as a means to pass taxes and then pretend you didn’t.”

Winham said that had he been a legislator, “I would have signed that sucker” with the view of telling Grover where he could stick it and with the admonition to “leave us alone.”

Winham is not alone in concocting his theory, not by a long shot. Sharing his views were superb Baton Rouge Advocate political columnist Stephanie Grace who has recently been taking Jindal to task on his budget proposals and his silly presidential run.

In her Tuesday column, she said the letter makes a lot of sense on a number of levels—mostly because it puts the ball squarely in Norquist’s and Jindal’s corner.

http://theadvocate.com/columnists/12585102-123/stephanie-grace-saving-save-a#comments

Another is a blogger known only as Skydancer. In her most recent post, she pours the metaphorical gasoline on the fire that is quickly bringing to a boil the hot water that Jindal finds himself in only days before his (yawn) announcement that he is a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination.

Skydancer notes that Rep. Joel Robideaux (R-Lafayette), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said in the letter that the bill, if enacted, “would successfully and irreparably establish the precedent that future legislatures and governors can raise taxes on a nearly unlimited basis and then claim revenue neutrality solely based on the creation of a purely fictional, procedural phantom paper tax credit.” http://skydancingblog.com/2015/06/08/monday-reads-take-our-governor-please/

But the most important endorsement of Winham’s theory comes from none other than Norquist himself. The leader of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), Norquist initiated the infamous “no tax” pledge that a couple of dozen Louisiana lawmakers signed off on, including those four Ways and Means Committee members.

So, what was the response to the letter by Norquist? He punted. “ATR is agnostic as to whether a credit or deduction is good policy. We merely call balls and strikes regarding whether a change in tax law results in a net tax increase,” he wrote back. “ATR does not support or oppose the SAVE Act. While the SAVE Act does include a credit that can be used to offset other tax increases, there are other ways to achieve revenue neutrality, such as by repealing the corporate franchise tax and/or cutting the state income tax. If you don’t like the SAVE Act, why not find other offsetting tax cuts that are more to your liking?” he added.

Obviously, that response is significant.

First, it gives the Ways and Means Committee all the ammunition it needs to kill the SAVE bill and for the Legislature to move forward in the final week of the 2015 session in passing a budget that will almost certainly be vetoed by Jindal.

Second, it sets up a confrontation that could result in just the third override of a governor’s veto in Louisiana history.

That will look great on Jindal’s resumé when he makes his official announcement in New Orleans on June 24.

 

[TA1]

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“I am writing as Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, along with several of my fellow House Members, to personally ask for your timely assistance in a very important matter.

“…It is our profound hope that you will be able to take a few minutes from your busy schedule to review this matter and contact us at your earliest possible convenience. The taxpayers of Louisiana anxiously await your timely reply.”

The first and last paragraphs of one of the most pathetic letters ever from 11 Republican members of the House Ways and Means Committee seeking, of all things, guidance from Grover Norquist on Louisiana legislative matters.

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C.B. Forgotston calls it “the lowest of a lot of low points” in Louisiana legislative history.

He says legislators have “already abdicated their constitutional responsibility to Bobby Jindal,” and now they are pleading with a non-resident of Louisiana “for help doing their jobs.”

Sadly, we agree.

In the waning days of the 2015 legislative session 11 Republican members of the Louisiana House are groveling to Grover.

Eleven state representatives who made all kinds of promises when they ran for office, chief among the promises they most likely made was one in which they swore their independence and ability to represent you, their constituents, and to not be beholden to the special interests.

But now the Elastic Eleven, as we shall call them from this point forward, have revealed their collective feet of clay as the legislative session winds to a close by begging Sir Grover, the sole possessor of that is wise, to please, sir, won’t you reconsider your “no tax” pledge so that we won’t incur the wrath of Grovernor Jindal?

The 11 spineless legislators, all members of the House Ways and Means Committee, otherwise known as Norquist’s House “No-way and by No Means Committee,” following the lead of Committee Chairman Joel Robideaux of Lafayette, have each signed off on a letter to Grover Norquist dated today (Monday, June 8) but apparently written and faxed Sunday night whining that Jindal “intends to veto the 2015-16 Louisiana State Budget and/or revenue measures if the legislature doesn’t approve Senate Bill 284 (SB284),” otherwise known as the Student Assessment for Valuable Education, or SAVE credit program.

The SAVE bill is an illusion from the get-go, creating money out of thin air, apparently from bit coins, as Stephen Winham has already explained in LouisianaVoice.  The bill would establish a new higher education tax credit to cover a nonexistent student fee, which makes no sense whatever. It would save families and students zilch on their college bills while creating the illusion of a tax break worth of David Copperfield. Which, according to the gospel of Grover, would allow Jindal to claim in his equally illusionist—and delusional—quest for the Republic president nomination that the credit would “offset” other tax increases being proposed.

https://louisianavoice.com/2015/06/05/save-guest-columnist-wonders-if-grover-norquist-holding-compromising-videos-of-louisiana-legislators-bobby-jindal/

“We are told that SB284 would allow him to remain in compliance with ATR’s (Norquist’s personal organization Americans for Tax Reform) ‘no tax pledge.’ However, we do not have any direct confirmation from your organization that this is actually the case.”

Wait. What?

No direct confirmation from Norquist’s organization? Do these so-called leaders need permission or confirmation from Norquist before they can go form an opinion? Good God, what have we become in this state that our legislators have to go kiss the ring of some guy in Washington, D.C. before they can make a decision? Are we living in a bad version of The Godfather where Don Vito Corleone must be consulted on every move that is made?

Here’s a news flash, folks: Grover Norquist is not a resident of Louisiana, he does not pay taxes in Louisiana and, most of all, he does not vote in Louisiana. So why do you give a rat’s behind what he thinks?

“We are deeply concerned about the clear and present danger posed by this bill,” their letter said. “As conservative Republican legislators, we firmly believe SB 284 is the biggest threat to fiscal responsibility our state has ever faced.”

So, what, exactly is the problem? If it’s a bad bill, kill it in committee. Problem solved.

But they can’t do that. They’re so upset by all of this and so intimidated by Norquist that a tear probably ran down each member’s leg as they signed the letter.

“Mr. Norquist, we are proud to have enacted numerous genuine tax cuts in our time here, primarily to attract business and grow our economy,” the letter continues. “Over the last 5 years, these reductions have save Louisiana taxpayers over $2.1 billion. Over the past 7 years, the duration of Governor Jindal’s term, the reductions have topped $2.7 billion.”

My God in heaven. How pathetic is that?

And just how well have those tax cuts, by their own admission granted “primarily to attract business,” worked out for Louisiana? Well, according to various surveys we have:

  • The highest poverty rate in the nation;
  • The third highest income disparity between its richest and poorest citizens;
  • The second highest disparity of income between men and women (yet the legislature continues to defeat bills to close that gap);
  • The sixth worst ranking in terms of employee economic mobility (opportunity for advancement);
  • The fifth lowest percentage of adults with bachelor’s degrees;
  • The fourth worst infrastructure in the U.S.
  • The 23rd lowest average salary and the seventy-lowest median household income;
  • The 17th lowest domestic product growth;
  • The nation’s second highest cancer mortality rate;

Couple that with our ranking as third from the bottom in quality of life, ninth worst state in which to be unemployed and dead last in business climate, and the picture just isn’t very encouraging.

And it seems the Elastic Eleven, while boasting of that $2.7 billion in tax cuts, mostly to corporations and certainly not the middle class or lower income segments of the population, have conveniently overlooked the current $1.6 billion budget hole those cuts have dug the state into.

“It is our profound hope that you will be able to take a few minutes from your busy schedule to review this matter and contact us at your earliest possible convenience,” the letter concludes. “The taxpayers of Louisiana anxiously await your timely reply.”

What?!!! Busy schedule? Review this matter? Your earliest convenience? The taxpayers?

To paraphrase former New Orleans Saints Coach Jim Mora: “The TAXPAYERS? The TAXPAYERS? Don’t talk to me about the taxpayers!” You no longer speak for the taxpayers. You are crouched in your collective fear of a lame duck governor and a non-resident who apparently is calling all the shots.

Are you truly concerned about the taxpayers? Well, surely there are a goodly number of Louisiana taxpayers in your respective districts who have very strong feelings, one way or another, about taxes.

So why do you feel the need to get the opinion of an absentee governor who long ago quit caring about this state or some yahoo in Washington before you are brave enough to venture off to the restroom to make tee-tee or butt pudding?

Do us all a favor. Grow a set. Right or wrong, be your own person. That’s what you were elected to do.

Those members besides Robideaux who signed this humiliating letter were Brett Geymann of Lake Charles, Lance Harris of Alexandria, Joe Harrison of Gray, Cameron Henry of Metairie, Eddie Lambert of Gonzales, Nancy Landry of Lafayette, Jay Morris of Monroe, Jim Morris of Oil City, John Schroder of Covington and Kirk Talbot of River Ridge.

Perhaps C.B. said it best: “I am calling on all of the legislators who signed onto this letter to resign immediately. You are an embarrassment to our state.”

To that we would add: if they won’t resign then perhaps the voters in their respective districts can help them with that difficult decision in October.

Oh, one more thing. Whoever is in charge of the legislative web pages should do a little updating. Of the 11 who signed the letter, only Robideaux and Lambert are listed on the web page as members of the Ways and Means Committee which must mean the web page is hopelessly out of date for anyone who wanted to do a little research.

Or was web maintenance among Jindal’s budget cuts?

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