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Archive for the ‘Louisiana Purchase’ Category

Over the years, I have taken Troy Hebert to task over his tenure as head of the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC). I even had to give a deposition in a lawsuit filed against Hebert by one of the agents he fired.

But I would be remiss if I did not now point out that we are in complete agreement on at least three issue: the failure of both political parties to represent Americans, lobbyists, and campaign finance.

On August 27, Hebert appeared along with Melissa Flournoy on the Jim Engster Show on Louisiana Public Radio. Both served in the Louisiana Legislature and Engster had them on together to present their viewpoints from the left (Flournoy) and the right (Hebert).

Flournoy correctly pointed out that gubernatorial candidates Eddie Rispone and U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham are placing far too much emphasis on their being in lockstep with Donald Trump, who has proven that anyone can indeed become president—even the mentally deranged.

“I’m a little surprised (they) have embraced the President so much. I’m ready for them to talk about their vision for Louisiana and the kind of leadership they can provide,” she said. “I don’t think liking the President is good enough reason to be governor. I’m ready for the governor’s race to pivot to the real issues in Louisiana—education, health care, infrastructure and making Louisiana better.

“People don’t want to talk about solutions. We stand on different sides of the street and shriek at each other when we really ought to be focusing on solutions where we can work together.”

Hebert, a staunch Trump supporter. As a former legislator and member of the Jindal administration, nailed it when he said, “Neither party is getting done what needs to be done in this country.”

Hebert would seem qualified to speak to that issue, having been a member of each party but who now calls himself a “conservative independent. I served on both (parties) and just couldn’t take either one of them.”

He then fired a broadside at the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI). “As somebody who was in the legislature for 16 years as both a senator and a representative, I think big business owns the legislature and owns many officials.

“The little man is either dead or on life support in the legislature,” he said. “Why don’t you just pull up the campaign finance reports and find out who gives to these candidates.” LABI, he said, is “so blatant that they hinge their support on … a report card they give every year. And you have to score a certain percentage in order to receive funding from LABI when you run for re-election.

“I can’t tell you how many times I approached legislators with a bill I thought was a good idea to help the little guy and they said, “… This is a really good bill but the problem is LABI is against it and if I vote for it, they’re going ding me on their report card and I’m not gonna get money.”

Flournoy agreed, saying that LABI and the Chemical Association control and big corporations “… control and influence every decision made in Louisiana. They’re looking out for their interest and not for the people of Louisiana.”

Hebert, while agreeing with Flournoy, took his argument a step further by attacking the emphasis on money politics and how it even affects the media.

“The media judges a candidate’s ability by how much month they have in the bank. If you look at every report when the news comes on, when they talk about this governor’s race, they don’t talk about their ideas or what their policies are. They talk about how much money they’ve raised.

“When I ran for the U.S. Senate (in 2016), they had a debate put on by LPB (Louisiana Public Broadcasting) and you had to have a million dollars in order to be on the debate stage. So, the media also is responsible and is guilty for bringing money into play.

“The regular working guy who would want to run for office, the media won’t even let them in.”

Turning to the 2020 presidential campaign, Hebert said Joe Biden is probably the only Democrat in a crowded field who could give Trump a decent run but because he’s more moderate. “But watch the Democrats cannibalize Joe Biden. He’s going to be eaten by his own. The people in charge of the Democratic Party will not allow Joe Biden to be the nominee.”

Flournoy, while agreeing that the Democratic Party is moving too far to the left, said she does not believe we have seen the candidate who will end up running against Trump. “There’re going to be some late entries,” she said.

If I were a TV news analyst, I would sum up that appearance by pointing out that Melissa Flournoy and Troy Hebert are in agreement on more issues than those on which they disagree and that the common culprit is the influence of LABI and its big business membership on the Louisiana Legislature to the detriment of the citizens of Louisiana.

But the really unique aspect of Hebert’s diatribe against the influence of big money and big business on politics is that as he spoke, I found myself nodding in full agreement with someone about whom I had written many negative stories.

 

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Republican members of the Louisiana Legislature are pretty smug about their ability to block any proposed legislation or budget put forward by Gov. John Bel Edwards.

Witness the antics of Rep. Cameron Henry (R-Metairie) as he danced to puppeteer/House Speaker Taylor Barras (R-New Iberia) in rejecting the findings of the Revenue Estimating Conference, effectively killing any chance Edwards had of implementing badly needed pay raises for Louisiana’s public school teachers.

But do Henry and Barras, members in good standing of the “Caucus of No,” give a damn about teachers or, for that matter, the state as a whole?

You can check that box No.

And the same can be said for Attorney General Jeff Landry, who would far rather take pot shots at the governor than do his job.

The only thing—and I stress the only thing—important to them is winning. Defeating any proposal of the governor in an effort to cast him in a bad light as the 2019 election approaches is considered a victory for them.

It’s a damned shame that grown-ass men put their own interests and the interests of their precious political party (be they Republican or Democrat) over the good of the citizens of this state. They would rather point fingers of blame for failures and grab credit for successes than come together to try and lead this state out of the backwater world of financial, educational, environmental, and cultural existence for which it has become notorious.

Don’t believe me? Take a look at the number of legislative sessions we’ve had over the past three years:

  • 2016: 4 (one was the organization session held ever four years, so realistically, we shouldn’t count that one).
  • 2017: 3—Regular session and two special sessions—just to try and pass a state budget.
  • 2018: 4—Regular session and three special sessions—same problem.

Legislators Robert Johnson (D-Marksville) and Sen. Eric LaFleur (D-Ville Platte) put their fingers on the problem in 2017 when they dubbed the philosophy of putting corporate interests above individual taxpayers as ”OBSTRUCTIONIST POLITICS.”

And therein lies the problem. The big moneyed interests—big oil, big Pharma, banks, payday lending, nursing homes, communications companies, and insurance companies—all working together under the umbrella of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, the Louisiana Chemical Association and the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, pour money into legislators’ campaign funds, forevermore buying the undying loyalty of their lapdogs who, by pushing a red or green button mounted on their desks, control the fate of four million Louisiana citizens.

When it comes to you,  with your $25 donation, having your complaint about high cable TV bills, high drug prices, or unfair lending practices going up against their hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions, legislative parties, meals at Sullivan’s and Ruth’s Chris, and the occasional “companionship” during a deep-sea fishing trip, just who do you think is going to be heard?

Again: don’t believe me? Then attend a legislative committee hearing on a bill in which you have an interest. Sign the card to speak for or against the bill. If your position is contrary to the committee members’ positions that have already been bought and paid for, just watch their eyes glaze over as you testify. Or, they might even get up and leave the committee room to take an “important” phone call or just get a cup of coffee. The point is, they ain’t listening to you.

Having said all that, I now bring to the witness stand the latest findings of 24/7 Wall Street, that private research firm that publishes dozens of lists and ranks each day, from the best wines or automobiles to companies projected to downsize to the most obese state, poorest state, state with the biggest gap in gender pay to today’s published results:

The BEST and WORST RUN STATES in AMERICA.

The survey is based on many metrics, including, but not limited to:

  • The ability to attract new residents (new money and new demand for goods and services);
  • The strength of the job market;
  • Diversity of economy;
  • Per capita GDP;
  • Crime rate

Do you want to even hazard a guess as to where Louisiana ranked?

You got it.

Dead last. 50th. Anchor position.

The top three, in order were Oregon, Utah and Washington.

Utah’s state minimum wage is $7.25 but Washington has the nation’s highest at $11.50 and Oregon is fourth-highest at $10.75

The bottom five, in order, are West Virginia, Mississippi, Alaska, New Mexico, and….

Louisiana

We have the nation’s fifth highest unemployment rate (5.1 percent), the second lowest GDP growth, and the third highest poverty rate (19.7 percent).

Alaska’s minimum wage is $9.84 per hour and in New Mexico and West Virginia it is $8.25. In Mississippi and Louisiana, however, the minimum wage is still $7.25 even though the LIVING WAGE CALCULATOR says the living wage for a single adult in Louisiana ranges from a low of $9.46 per hour in Avoyelles Parish to $11.40 for several parishes in the New Orleans area. Here is the living hourly wage for a single adult in the following Louisiana parishes:

  • ACADIA: $9.62
  • ALLEN: $10.20
  • ASCENSION: $10.89
  • ASSUMPTION: $10.13
  • AVOYELLES: $9.46
  • BEAUREGARD: $10.20
  • BIENVILLE: $10.20
  • BOSSIER: $10.98
  • CADDO: $10.98
  • CALCASIEU: $10.20
  • CALDWELL: $10.20
  • CAMERON: $10.20
  • CATAHOULA: $10.20
  • CLAIBORNE: $9.88
  • CONCORDIA: $9.88
  • DESOTO: $10.98
  • EAST BATON ROUGE: $10.89
  • EAST CARROLL: $9.96
  • EAST FELICIANA: $10.89
  • EVANGELINE: $9.88
  • FRANKLIN: $9.88
  • GRANT: $10.83
  • IBERIA: $10.31
  • IBERVILLE: $10.02
  • JACKSON: $9.88
  • JEFFERSON DAVIS: $10.20
  • JEFFERSON: $11.40
  • LAFAYETTE: $10.79
  • LAFOURCHE: $11.27
  • LASALLE: $9.92
  • LINCOLN: $10.69
  • LIVINGSTON: $10.89
  • MADISON: $9.88
  • MOREHOUSE: $10.20
  • NATCHITOCHES: $10.25
  • ORLEANS: $11.40
  • OUACHITA: $11.01
  • PLAQUEMINES: $11.40
  • POINTE COUPEE: $10.89
  • RAPIDES: $10.83
  • RED RIVER: $10.34
  • RICHLAND: $9.88
  • SABINE: $10.14
  • BERNARD: $11.40
  • CHARLES: $11.40
  • HELENA: $10.89
  • JAMES: $9.73
  • JOHN THE BAPTIST: $11.40
  • LANDRY: $9.54
  • MARTIN: $10.79
  • MARY: $10.32
  • TAMMANY: $11.40
  • TANGIPAHOA: $10.90
  • TENSAS: $9.88
  • TERREBONNE: $11.27
  • UNION: $11.01
  • VERMILION: $9.79
  • VERNON: $10.77
  • WASHINGTON: $9.90
  • WEBSTER: $9.78
  • WEST BATON ROUGE: $10.89
  • WEST CARROLL: $9.88
  • WEST FELICIANA: $10.89
  • WINN: $10.20

No living wage for a single adult in any of the 64 parishes was given at $7.25, so how the hell do our LABI-bought, packaged, and owned legislators think a single mom and two or three kids can subsist on $7.25 an hour?

We have the nation’s fifth highest unemployment rate (5.1 percent), the second lowest GDP growth, and the third highest poverty rate (19.7 percent).

Ah, but the 2019 regular session convenes at noon on April 8. The booze will flow again, sumptuous food will abound in Baton Rouge’s finest restaurants and deals can be made.

Of course, campaign contributions may not be made during the session, but not to worry; all that will be taken care well in advance of the fall of the gavel to open the session.

It’s Louisiana and we’re number by-gawd 50 and we worked hard to get there.

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LouisianaVoice has expressed concerns about the industrial tax incentives, aka giveaway programs, for years. It has been our contention that while welfare cheats are an easy target for criticism, the money lost to fraudulent welfare and Medicaid recipients is eclipsed by the billions of dollars stolen from taxpayers in the form of industrial tax exemptions, incentives, and credits.

Of course, the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry would never concede that fact. Instead, they use the stage magician’s tactic of misdirection by claiming runaway lawsuits, organized labor, higher wages (they are especially terrified of an increase in the $7.25 minimum wage) and poor public education performance are to blame for Louisiana’s economic and social ills.

Never (not once) will one hear LABI point to poverty as a cause of the state’s low ranking in everything good and high ranking in everything bad. Never (not once) will one hear LABI, the local chambers of commerce, or the Louisiana Office of Economic Development call attention to the billions of dollars in relief given businesses and industry—from Wal Mart to Exxon—in the form of corporate welfare—leaving it to working Louisianans to pick up the check.

And all you have to do to understand how this has occurred is to follow the money in the form of campaign contributions to legislators and governors and visit the State Capitol during a legislative session and try—just try—to count the lobbyists. Better yet, you may do better by counting lobbyists and legislators following adjournment each night as they gather for steaks, lobster and adult beverages at Sullivan’s or Ruth’s Chris—compliments of lobbyists’ expense accounts.

And while LouisianaVoice has attempted to call attention to this piracy, an outfit called Together Louisiana has put together a 15-minute video presentation that brings the picture into sharp, stark focus. The contrast between two separate economies living side by side is stunning.

Stephen Winham, retired director of Louisiana’s Executive Budget Office called the video “a super good presentation of facts our decision-makers choose to ignore as they have for many, many decades.”

Winham went a step further in saying, “Our leaders seem to think we are all too dumb to understand this—and that’s a positive assessment. A more jaundiced view would be that they don’t want us to understand it.

“All we can do is keep on keeping on with our individual attempts to communicate this and let our elected officials know that we do understand and that we hold them responsible and accountable. Unfortunately, when I attempt to talk about this with individuals and groups, their eyes glaze over within minutes. I’m not going to stop trying, though, and neither should anybody else.

“I am happy to have this information in such a tight presentation,” Winham said.

So, with that, here is that video:

 

And if that’s not enough to convince you, THIS STORY was posted late Friday.

 

 

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Something happening here,

What it is ain’t exactly clear

 

The 1967 Buffalo Springfield Vietnam War protest song, For What It’s Worth could be applicable to just about any scenario in Louisiana politics but probably never more so than with HOUSE BILL 727 by State Rep. Major Thibaut (D-New Roads).

Thibaut, posing as a Democrat but appearing to be anything but, apparently wants to repeal the FIRST AMENDMENT which guarantees American citizens the right of peaceful assembly.

HB 727, which has 50 additional co-authors in the House and 14 in the Senate, would amend an existing statute in accordance with the dictates of the AMERICAN LEGISLATIVE EXCHANGE COUNCIL (ALEC), which long ago wormed its way into the Republican mindset as a means of advancing its agenda.

That agenda, of course, works hand-in-hand with that of corporate America—big oil, big banks, big pharma, charter schools, and private prisons, among others—to the overall detriment of those who ultimately foot the bill—the working stiffs of middle America who continue to convince themselves that their interests are compatible.

The bottom line is this: if the corporate giants are shelling out millions upon millions of dollars to lobby lawmakers and to finance their campaigns, you can bet they’re in bed together. And when they whisper sweet nothings in each other’s ear, they ain’t discussing how to make your life easier.

And that’s HB 727 and ALEC are all about. While the seemingly innocuous bill appears only to lay out penalties for trespassing onto “critical infrastructure,” and to include “pipelines” or “any site where the construction or improvement of any facility or structure…is occurring” to the definition of critical infrastructure, the wording of the bill includes subtle landmines designed to discourage otherwise legal protests.

For instance, while criminal trespass and criminal damage has long been considered a violation of the law, the bill adds this provision:

“Any person who commits the crime of criminal damage to a critical infrastructure wherein it is foreseeable that human life will be threatened or operations of a critical infrastructure will be disrupted as a result of such conduct shall be imprisoned at hard labor for not less than six years nor more than 20 years, fined not more than $25,000, or both.”

There’s a man with a gun over there

Telling me I got to beware

The key phrase here is “wherein it is foreseeable…”

This is a pretty subjective call on someone’s part. Just who decides what is “foreseeable”?

And then there is the conspiracy clause that’s added to the bill.

HB 727, which passed the HOUSE by an overwhelming 97-3 vote with five members absent, provides if “two or more” person conspire to violate the statute, each “shall be imprisoned with or without hard labor for not more than five years, fined not more than $10,000, or both.”

Just what would constitute a “conspiracy” in this case? Well, it could mean the simple discussion of possible trespass. Whatever it is, the word “foreseeable” is thrown into the mix again. So, a protest in the proximity of pipeline construction could conceivably be construed by an ambitious prosecutor as “conspiracy” and any discussion during such a protest could become a conspiracy.

Besides being yet another windfall for the private prisons, this bill is nothing more than a means to discourage protests over pipeline construction through sensitive areas such as the Bayou Bridge Pipeline, a joint venture of Energy Transfer Partners and Phillips 66 (keep those names in mind; they’ll come up again later).

It’s also an obvious effort to placate ALEC and the oil and gas industry that has held this state, its governors and legislators captive for a century. The political leaders of this state, from the governor on down, won’t go to the bathroom without permission from Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, which boasts on its WEB PAGE that it is “Louisiana’s longest-standing trade association” (read: lobbying arm of the petroleum industry).

There’s battle lines being drawn;

Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong

What’s not difficult to believe is the motivation behind nearly half of the bill’s sponsors.

Of the 51 representatives and 14 senators who signed on as co-authors of the bill, 31 (23 representatives and eight senators) combined to rake in $62,500 in contributions from Transfer Partners and Phillips 66 since January 2011.

ENERGY TRANSFER PARTNERS CONTRIBUTIONS

PHILLIPS 66 CONTRIBUTIONS

Phillips also gave $3,500 to Senate President John Alario and Energy Transfer Partners chipped in another $4,000. Additionally, Energy Transfer Partners gave $4,000 to then-Sen. Robert Adley of Bossier Parish who was appointed by Gov. John Bel Edwards as Executive Director of the Louisiana Offshore Terminal Authority, $2,000 to then-Rep. Jim Fannin of Jonesboro who served as Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee at the time.

Energy Transfer Partners also contributed $5,000 to Edwards, who is on record as SUPPORTING the Bayou Bridge project, and Phillips 66 added another $5,500.

Thibaut was not one of those. But he did specialize in accepting campaign contributions from more than 40 political action committees—including several aligned with energy interests. In all, he pulled in $105,000 from PACs since 2008, campaign records show.

Those PACs included such diverse interests as dentists, bankers, payday loan companies, optometrists, insurance, student loans, pharmaceutical companies, sugar, realtors, and nursing homes, to name only a few.

EASTPAC, WESTPAC, NORTHPAC, and SOUTHPAC, four PACs run by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) combined to $13,750 to Thibaut, records show, while the Louisiana Manufacturers PAC gave $11,000.

With that money stacked against them, the Bayou Bridge pipeline opponents are fighting an uphill battle, especially with leaders like Edwards already having publicly endorsed the project.

The end game, of course, is to head off a repeat of STANDING ROCK, the largest Native American protest movement in modern history over the construction of a 1,170-mile Dakota Access pipeline, of which the BAYOU BRIDGE project through the Atchafalaya Basin is a part. Opponents of the 162-mile Bayou Bridge project—from St. James Parish to Calcasieu Parish—say would harm the area’s delicate ecosystem.

Standing Rock was an ugly scene, further illustrative of how this country has time after time ripped land, basic human rights and dignity from the country’s original inhabitants, inhabitants who weren’t even recognized as American citizens until 1924 even though more than 12,000 fought for this country in World War I.

Standing Rock apparently was such a national emergency that St. Charles Parish Sheriff Greg Champagne, at the time President of the National Sheriffs’ Association, found it necessary to visit Standing Rock in 2016 and to write a lengthy self-serving account in the association’s online PRESIDENT’S PODIUM of the carnage he witnessed at the hands of the protestors whom he described in less than glowing terms.

His article prompted a lengthy REBUTTAL by Cherri Foytlin, state Director of BOLD LOUISIANA in Rayne and Monique Verdin, a citizen of the UNITED HOUMA NATION, who also were at Standing Rock. It’s difficult to believe, after reading the two missives, that they were at the same place, witnessing the same events play out.

What a field day for the heat;

A thousand people in the street

Singing songs and carrying signs

Mostly saying, “hooray for our side.”

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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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