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Conrad Appel must have the attention span of a moth.

Appel is the Republican state senator from Metairie whose political leanings are slightly to the right of Rush Limbaugh and maybe, just maybe, a tad left of Alex Jones. But then, that’s the nature of elected officials who ooze out of David Duke’s stomping grounds (see Steve Scalise).

You may recall that he’s also the one who, back in November 2010, just seven days before Louisiana, Indiana and Oregon adopted the Discovery Education Science Techbook being offered by Discovery Communications, purchased Discovery Communications stock and made a QUICK KILLING.

As Chairman of the Senate Education Committee, he was in a unique position to realize the value of Discovery Communications was primed for a significant increase, so he shelled out between $5,000 and $24,999, according to his financial report filed with the State Ethics Board.

That stock opened at $40.96 per share on Nov. 30, 2010, the day of his purchase and by Jan. 2, 2014, it hit $90.21 per share.

Insider trading? All I know is that on the day of his purchase—again, just seven days before three states announced a major investment in the Discovery Education Science Techbook, more than 7.5 million shares of Discovery Communication stock were traded. The next highest day was Aug. 1, 2011, when 3.1 million shares were traded. Normally, trading volume ran between 1.1 million and 1.9 million shares, according to a monthly review from December 2010 through March 2014. It sure looks like somebody knew something in advance.

So, why am I dredging up this old story again?

Well, Appel has penned a GUEST COLUMN on The Hayride blog in which he admonishes me (and everyone else) that we should, by golly, show a little respect to the creep who presently occupies the Oval Office.

I’m not picking a fight with The Hayride. They have their agenda and I have mine, a right that each of us possesses as free Americans. And while I may disagree with their positions—and most times, I do—I would never deprive them of their right to voice them, just as I’m certain they would do nothing to stifle mine. That’s the way it’s supposed to work in this country.

But for someone like Appel, who attacked a witness in a Trumpian-like profanity-laced tirade during a legislative committee hearing earlier this year, to presume to tell me whom I should respect is beyond the pale and quite frankly, it makes my blood boil just a bit. His utter contempt for that African-American witness, by the way, shone through like a lighthouse beacon on a clear night.

I can respect the office, but why would I respect the man who occupies it seems incapable of respecting anyone or anything, including the very office itself?

Appel calls Trump the “leader of our nation” and “the very symbol of our great Republic.”

Seriously? You’re going to go with that? If he is truly the “symbol” of our country, then we’re in far more trouble than I ever imagined. This is a man who is most accurately described as a pathological liar—on his best day. He lies about the size of his inauguration crowd, about how big his tax cut was (REAL TAX PICTURE: it was pretty big for the wealthy, but nowhere near the biggest tax cut in history, as he boasted), about how North Korea was no longer a nuclear threat, about what a great leader Putin is, about his knowledge of payoff money to a porn star….and on and on ad nauseam. He has single-handedly created an entire new cottage industry: fact checking.

You name it, he’s lied about it.

Sorry, Appel, that doesn’t warrant my respect.

He’s a man who insulted John McCain during the 2016 campaign, saying he only admired those who didn’t get captured. Pretty safe, since there wasn’t much chance of Trump’s being captured, what with all those bone spurs. And even following McCain’s death, this blustering ass couldn’t even bring himself to pay the late senator a modicum of respect.

He’s a man who boasted about assaulting women.

That doesn’t earn my respect. Ever.

He’s a man who mimicked a physically handicapped reporter and who encouraged his adoring, frothing-at-the-mouth followers to physically attack protesters at one of his rallies.

Sorry, Appel, that doesn’t warrant anyone’s respect.

He’s a man who called the press the enemy of the American people.

The only ones to do that previously were people like Hitler, Stalin, Idi Amin, and…well, you get the picture—despots who cemented their hold on power by diminishing the influence of the only independent governmental watchdog: the press.

Let me pose a question to you Appel (you don’t like it for newscasters to refer to the president as simply “Trump,” so I’ll try it out on you): When, during the entire eight years of the Obama administration, did you show Obama one scintilla of respect? He was a president who, like every president, had his failures but who, in eight years, did not have a single member of his administration indicted. He inherited yet another expensive, unwinnable war and he assumed office just as the horrible recession of 2008 was kicking in (thanks to an out-of-control banking industry that Trump has again loosed upon us). But when he left office, the stock market, as I recall, was doing pretty well, employment was up—all despite his having to fight a Republican congress every step of the way. Yet, he was pilloried and vilified for no other reason than his skin was darker than yours. There, I said it. Barack Obama is hated by Republicans because he is black. You can deny it all you like, but that won’t change the facts.

So, did you ever once, in all those eight years, say one good thing about Obama? Ever? One time?

Didn’t think so.

So, spare me your holier-than-thou judgmental posturing because you think I’m being nasty by not respecting a spoiled, bigoted bully who you so obviously admire but who, given the chance, would spoon with Putin.

And Appel, you say protesters “think it’s cool” to kneel during the national anthem. But fact is, you just don’t get it. The kneeling was never done to be cool. Only a damned fool would think that. Nor was it done to dishonor the country or the flag. In fact, it has nothing to do with the flag; it has everything to do with growing evidence of a police state where blacks are fair game for bad cops who like to run up the score. Yes, there are many, many good cops. I know that. And there are blacks who disobey the law—just like there are whites who disobey the law. But sometime, when you can come down out of your ivory tower, senator, run the numbers on the blacks who are shot by cops as opposed to the number of whites committing similar offenses but who somehow don’t get shot.

If Trump is really so offended at players kneeling for the anthem, instead of calling for their firing, why doesn’t he call upon the patriotism of the TV networks that broadcast the games? Sure, it’ll hurt them financially, because there’s big bucks in NFL broadcasts, but Trump should suggest that as a show of patriotism, the networks who carry the games will simply cease doing so the moment a player kneels. Just don’t show the games. That’ll get the attention of players, owners, and fans alike and would go a long way in making Trump’s case for….

Oh, wait. Sorry, I forgot. Fox is one of the networks carrying the games.

Never mind.

I guess that idea is worth about the same as a degree from Trump University.

I don’t suppose you have any of that stock…

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Conrad Appel has a short memory.

Appel, the Republican state senator from Metairie, is the same one who made a killing investing in the stock of Discovery Education just before the Senate Education Committee which he chaired at the time adopted the company’s Science TECHBOOK as a digital core instructional resource for elementary and middle school science instruction.

The states of Indiana and Oregon also adopted the program about the same time and the company’s stock went from $40.96 a share at the time of his purchase on Nov. 30, 2010, to $90.21 a share on Jan. 2, 2014, a period of just over three years. More than 7.5 million shares of Discovery Communications stock were traded on the day of Appel’s purchase. The next highest volume was 3.1 million shares on Aug. 1, 2011. Daily trading volume generally ran between 1.1 million and 1.9 million shares in the three-plus-year-period from December 2010 to March 2014.

Okay, that’s old news that LouisianaVoice has reported before, so what’s the big deal?

Nothing much, except that now Appel, apparently in attempt to emulate Bobby Jindal, is penning op-ed columns for The Hayride, a conservative blog. This not a criticism of The Hayride. They believe in what they write just as I believe in what I post, which certainly is a right I would never deny them. And LouisianaVoice also has guest columnists, so, understand that this not a slam on The Hayride.

But in his COLUMN, Appel opens by saying he has been engaged in the past week in “rather heated debate” over undocumented immigration. Funny, we thought he was trying to find a solution to Louisiana’s budgetary problems.

Nevertheless, Appel goes on to say that Louisiana’s weak economy is incapable of absorbing an influx of undocumented immigrants. He does give a nod to the indisputable fact that without that influx of Hispanic workers following Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans would never have recovered in the time it did.

He notes that the workers “flocked in” to form the labor force that rebuilt the region because, he says, jobs were plentiful. But here is a curious cop-out by Appel in his column: “A side question is why the natives didn’t return to assume those jobs but that is a subject for someone else.”

No, Senator, it certainly is NOT a question for “someone else.” As an elected state senator, it is precisely your duty to address that issue head-on, not weasel out of it with some half-baked excuse.

But in case you need a reminder, here’s a major reason, and you can file this away for future use:

The largely African-American male population that fled New Orleans in the wake of Katrina did not return to claim those jobs because they were unqualified to do the work. The Hispanics who “flocked in” were, in fact, skilled laborers, trained in carpentry, roofing, bricklaying, and concrete finishing. They were already trained in contrast to New Orleans blacks who historically have been written off by the power structure—white and black power structure, it should be noted—that considered them of no value other than on election day.

Of course, Appel represents lily-white Metairie in Jefferson Parish, so he would find it difficult to emphasize with the plight of people of color. But here’s an example that stands out as symbolic of the way in which the power structure I alluded to earlier games the system to its own advantage and to the disadvantage of what it considers the bottom feeders.

Following Katrina, FEMA issued 81,241 blue roof tarps (10-feet-by-10-feet). An Austin, Texas, contractor said he charged $300 to cover a 2000-square-foot roof. That equates to 20 tarps, or a buck-fifty per tarp.

FEMA contracted with the Shaw Group of Baton Rouge to place the tarps for $175 per 10-by-10 tarp, or $3500 for that same 2,000-square-foot house–more than 11 times what the Austin contractor charged.

But it gets better. Shaw apparently had no employees qualified to place the tarps, so it subcontracted with a company called A-1 Construction at a cost of $75 per tarp. That’s a profit of $100 per tarp for Shaw, whose employees never touched a tarp.

But wait. A-1 subbed its work out to Westcon Construction at $30 a square (tarp) for a profit of $45 per square—again, without ever touching a tarp.

Westcon then hired the actual workers who placed the tarps at a cost of $2 a square, or a profit of $28 per tarp for Westcon.

If Shaw had contracted to place all 81,000 tarps, the company would have pocketed more than $8.1 million without ever lifting a finger. A-1 cashed in for more than $3.6 million and never broke a sweat while Westcon made a more modest $2.27 million after paying its workers. Of course, those figures don’t take into consideration taxes and insurance paid by the companies. But still….combined profits of nearly $14 million?

By contrast the workers who actually placed the tarps received $162,000 to be divided between however many workers were hired to do the work.

Can you say profiteering?

Anyone care to bet against the chances that those workers who actually placed the tarps were Hispanic? After all, 45 percent of the recovery workforce was comprised of Latinos, about half of whom were undocumented. Of that 45 percent, 43 percent were from Mexico, 32 percent from Honduras, 9 percent from Nicaragua, and 8 percent from El Salvador.

And here’s the real kicker, just in case Appel ever cares to do a little research on the subject. Many of those ended up as victims of WAGE THEFT at the hands of unscrupulous contractors who vanished without paying the workers.

So, yes, Sen. Appel, there is a problem but to say the economy of this state can’t afford an influx of undocumented immigrants is just a tad hypocritical, given the fact that the Legislature that was so complicit in abetting Bobby Jindal as he tanked the state’s treasury couldn’t seem to get its act together until it had carried the state to the very edge of the metaphorical fiscal cliff. Until you as a body can act responsibly in addressing our teetering state economy, you shouldn’t cast stones—in anyone’s direction.

Especially when many of the undocumented workers who did “flock in” were never paid for the work they did in restoring New Orleans.

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In the 2013-2014 school year, Louisiana ranked 34th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia with average teacher earnings of $49,067 per year.

Since then, Louisiana is the only state in either the top 10 or bottom 10 to experience a wage decrease. As a result, the state has tumbled 10 places to 44th (that’s 8th WORST) for teacher salaries.

But since 2013, you’ll be happy to know that 20 unclassified employees in the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE), including the husband of a state senator and State Democratic Chair, who were already making in excess of $100,000 received raises averaging 27.2 percent, according to figures obtained by LouisianaVoice from the Louisiana Office of Civil Service.

Altogether, the 20 unclassified (that’s political appointees, for those who might not know) employees combined for raises totaling $534,600, an average increase of $26,730 each from 2013 to 2018.

Three others who were not employed in 2013 were on the payroll in 2015 had combined pay increases of $49,500, or 18.3 percent.

In all, the 23 individuals had their pay increased from a low of 10 percent for Manager Lisa French and Assistant Superintendent Kunjan Narechania to 61.5 percent for Liaison Officer Dana Talley and a staggering 85.7 percent for Director Shan Davis.

Even Dana Peterson, a Recovery School District (RSD) Administrator and the husband of State Democratic Party Chairperson Sen. Karen Carter Peterson of New Orleans, is along for the ride, having seen his salary increased from $125,000 per year in 2013 to $148,500 in 2018, a bump of 18.8 percent.

The RSD is scheduled to revert back to the control of the Orleans Parish School Board by July but LDOE still lists 94 UNCLASSIFIED EMPLOYEES unclassified employees assigned to various positions with the RSD.

There were seven employees (Davis, Jules Burk, Tiffany Delcour, Jessica Baghian, Bridget Devlin, Rebecca Kockler, and Dana Talley) who received increases of 36.6 percent or more from 2013 to 2018 while three more received raises of 29.4 percent (Laura Hawkins), 29.5 percent (Jan Sibley), and 29.8 percent (Jennifer Conway).

Two employees, Director Jill Slack and Executive Counsel Joan Hunt, might be somewhat offended at all that money flying around since they received raises of only 2 percent and 3.8 percent during that same five-year period. Their raises, however, were more in line with what state employees receive in the way of pay raises—when they get them. Raises for state classified (civil service) employees have been static for nearly a decade now.

For a look at the spreadsheet for LDOE unclassified employees’ pay raises, go HERE. (The salaries for 2013 and 2015 are given as bi-weekly salaries. To get the annual pay, multiply those numbers by 26 (the number of times state employees are paid each year).

 

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In case you’ve ever taken the time to wonder why our legislature has been unable—or unwilling—to effective address the looming fiscal crisis for the state, here’s a quick lesson in civics that may help you understand the real priorities of our elected officials and the forces that motivate them.

Members of Congress are advised to spend four hours per day FUNDRAISING, or on “call time.” That’s time to be spent on the telephone raising campaign contributions—if they want to be re-elected.

They are also told they should spend one to two hours on “constituent visits,” which often translates to meeting with lobbyists and campaign contributors. That leaves two hours for committee meetings and floor attendance, one hour for something called “strategic outreach,” or breakfasts, meet and greets, press interviews (read: Sen. John Kennedy), and one hour “recharge time.”

It doesn’t take a mathematician to see that we’re paying big salaries for these guys to actually work only about two hours per day for only part of the year.

Another way of putting it is we’re paying big bucks for them to spend twice as much time raising campaign contributions as actually doing the work of the people who, in theory at least, elected them.

That’s in theory only, of course. The truth is special interests such as banks, hedge funds, big oil, big pharma, the military-industrial complex, the NRA, and other major corporate interests—especially since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision—turn the gears of democracy while letting the American middle class delude itself into thinking we actually affect the outcome of elections.

Now, take that image and move it down to the state level and you have a microcosm of Congress.

The numbers are smaller, of course, given the smaller House and Senate districts from which candidates run but the model is the same.

And that is precisely the reason nothing gets done in regard to resolving the financial plight of the state.

Corporate tax breaks, tax exemptions, and tax credits have eroded the state budget until the onus now falls on the individual taxpayers while companies like Walmart enjoy Enterprise Zone tax credits for locating stores in upscale communities across the state.

Petro-chemical plans along the Mississippi River and in the southwestern part of the state enjoy millions of dollars in tax breaks for construction projects that produce few, if any, new permanent jobs.

And who is front and center in protecting the interests of these corporations?

That would be the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI), first created with the intent of breaking the stranglehold of organized labor back in the 1970s and now focused on maintaining lucrative tax incentives for its membership.

LABI has four primary political action committees: East PAC, West PAC, North PAC, and South PAC.

LouisianaVoice has pulled the contributions of LABI, its four PACs.

For lagniappe, we’ve also thrown in contributions from pharmaceutical and oil and gas interests. The latter list offers a clear-cut explanation of why efforts to hold oil and gas companies accountable for damage to Louisiana’s coastal marshland have died early deaths.

You will notice in reviewing the reports that LABI, while making individual contributions, pours most of its money into its four PACs, which then make the direct contributions to the candidates.

Enjoy.

LABI CONTRIBUTIONS

EAST PAC CONTRIBUTIONS

WEST PAC CONTRIBUTIONS

NORTH PAC CONTRIBUTIONS

SOUTH PAC CONTRIBUTIONS

PHARMA CONTRIBUTIONS

OIL AND GAS CONTRIBUTIONS

 

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A lawsuit making its way through U.S. District Court in Lafayette alleges that a female employee, Jordan Carter, was dismissed from her job at Swiftships, LLC in Morgan City because she was pregnant and management did not want to grant her maternity leave.

The lawsuit, which also says Carter was promoted prior to her pregnancy but never received a promised increase in pay that was supposed to go along with the promotion, carries far more significance that your normal discrimination lawsuit, however.

Between fiscal year 2007 through 2016, Swiftships held seven federal CONTRACTS totaling $386 million. Those included $103.4 million in contracts with the U.S. NAVY for non-nuclear ship repair. The duration of those contracts ran from Sept. 22, 2014, through March 20, 2018.

Carter was employed by Swiftships for nearly 21 months, from April 22, 2013, to Jan. 9, 2015.

Prior to her termination, she was demoted. She said her supervisor told her she was demoted because of her pregnancy.

One witness told Smith that she was aware of two other pregnant women who were terminated by Swiftships prior to giving birth.

Federal contracting regulations strictly prohibit employee discrimination in any form.

  • Last April 24, Swiftships was awarded a $27.4 million modification to a previously-awarded contract “for the accomplishment of continuous lifecycle support for the Iraqi Navy.” The shipbuilding firm is providing TECHNICAL EXPERTISE in preventative and planned maintenance, repairs and platform overhaul support services for Iraqi patrol boats, offshore vessels, and defender boats. Work under the contract, which was scheduled for completion this month, was performed on Umm Qasr Naval Base, Iraq.
  • In October 2015, the U.S. Navy EXTENDED Swiftship’s contract to operate and upgrade a repair facility for Iraqi patrol boats built in Morgan City. The one-year extension was worth almost $11 million for Swiftships.
  • Swiftships has delivered almost 300 vessels through Foreign Military Sales, (FMS) the preferred method for selling defense systems abroad.

Under FMS, the Department of Defense procures defense articles and services for the foreign customer using the same acquisition process used to procure for its own military needs.

Recent policy changes in the U.S. Government’s Federal Acquisition Regulations have opened the door to foreign governments, allowing them to participate in FMS procurement negotiations. In general, the government-to-government purchase agreements tend to ensure standardization with U.S. forces; provide contract administrative services that may not be available through the private sector; and help lower unit costs by consolidating purchases for FMS customers with those of DoD. DCS allows the foreign customer more direct involvement during the contract negotiation phase; may allow firm-fixed pricing and may be better suited to fulfilling non-standard requirements.

The President designates countries and international organizations eligible to participate in the FMS program. The Department of State makes recommendations and approves individual programs on a case-by-case basis. Currently, around 160 countries are eligible to participate in FMS.

The Carter lawsuit is not the first litigation in which Swiftships was named as a defendant.

  • In 2015, Swiftships found LIABLE for $2.1 million in unpaid fees owed to MTU America, plus more than $400,000 in legal fees.
  • Last month, Swiftships, with annual revenues of $50 million, was found liable for $689,000 plus legal interest and legal fees for BREACH OF CONTRACT.
  • In June 2015,Valerie Landreneau, a female employee of Swiftships’ Morgan City facilities, filed suit in state district court against Swiftships after claiming that a former co-worker attacked her after learning about her SEXUAL HARASSMENT complaints against him.

If Carter or Landreneau should prevail in either or both of their harassment lawsuits, an adverse decision could result in the cancellation of hundreds of millions of federal contracts currently held by Swiftships.

Carter is represented by attorney J. Arthur Smith of Baton Rouge who has also claimed (though not in the lawsuit itself) that he has been informed that Swiftships “raids employees’ 401K accounts in order to remain afloat (no pun intended) but has failed to repay the money. Smith says a witness has informed him that Swiftships employees have had their 401K funds “borrowed” and used “to run the company,” and that “many of the employees did not get their money reimbursed as promised.”

Federal law also prohibits companies from raiding employee retirement and/or insurance funds.

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