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Jeff Landry is a man who knows the value of positive public relations.

Negative PR? Not so much.

LouisianaVoice has for months now been attempting to extract some type of information regarding the AG’s progress in investigating that April 2016 RAPE of a 17-year-old female inmate by a convicted rapist—in the Union Parish Jail in Farmerville.

And after months of not-so-artful dodging with the oft-repeated, “This matter in under investigation, therefore I cannot comment on the specifics or answer questions at this time” response of Press Secretary Ruth Wisher, there apparently has been no progress in the investigation.

Recently, though, the AG’s office has altered its method of responding to public records requests—and the method for submitting same.

Once it was sufficient to initiate an official public records request (PRR) to the AG’s Public Information Office with a simple email that began: Pursuant to the Public Records Act of Louisiana (R.S. 44:1 et seq.), I respectfully request the opportunity to review the following document(s):

Now, though, the AG has abruptly switched gears to require that inquiries be routed through a different office—which would seem to make the name of the Public Information Office something of a misnomer.

Previously, following that referencing of the state’s public records act, one would simply list the documents desired (It’s crucial that you request actual documents and not just general information: public agencies as a rule—there are exceptions—won’t respond to general requests). Here is a recent (Dec. 13, 2017) request submitted by LouisianaVoice for which no response has yet been received:

  • Please provide me a current list (and status) of all criminal investigations undertaken by the Louisiana Attorney General’s office since Jeff Landry’s inauguration.
  • Said status should include all dispositions of cases, including convictions and/or dropped charges, where applicable.

But now, Landry’s office appears to be circling the wagons. No more are we to submit request to the Public Information Officer, which makes public information something of an oxymoron. Here is our latest inquiry about the status of the investigation of that rape case which is now entering its 21st month despite the fact that authorities know the following:

  • Where the rapes (she was raped twice) occurred (in the confines of a small cell);
  • When they occurred;
  • The identity of the victim;
  • The identity of the alleged rapist (who was awaiting sentencing for a prior conviction of aggravated rape)

Here is LouisianaVoice’s request:

“Please provide me an update on the current status of the Union Parish jail cell rape case that occurred in April of 2016.

Should you respond with the usual “ongoing investigation” response, then please try to give me some indication as when this unusually lengthy investigation of a relative uncomplicated matter will be completed.”

Here is the AG’s response:

As you have anticipated, Louisiana’s Public Records Act, specifically La. R.S. 44:3(A)(1), exempts records held by the office of the attorney general that pertain to “pending criminal litigation or any criminal litigation which can be reasonably anticipated, until such litigation has been finally adjudicated or otherwise settled. . . .” Therefore, records related to open investigations are not subject to disclosure until the case is finally adjudicated or otherwise settled. 

Additionally, your request does not identify any currently existing record. The creation of periodic “status updates” is not an obligation imposed upon public bodies by Louisiana Public Records Law, La. R.S. 44:1, et seq. Please direct future requests for press releases to our Communications Division at AGLandryNews@ag.louisiana.gov. If you have any further requests to make pursuant to La. R.S. 44:1, et seq., please let me know. 

With Best Regards,

Luke Donovan
Assistant Attorney General

Well, I can certainly understand that records of pending matters are exempted but how long is Landry going to let this languish? The victim has filed suit against the state and Union Parish but that is a civil matter. The rape is a criminal investigation. And while the AG is charged with defending the civil suit, the two are separate matters handled by separate divisions.

And what, exactly, does Donovan mean by “pending criminal litigation”? We have pending civil litigation and we have pending criminal prosecution. Again, they are separate, handled by separate divisions.

But then, Landry is nothing if not a publicity hound. He loves to see his name in print. He just doesn’t have the same enthusiasm for actual work. Take the theft from the DeSOTO PARISH Sheriff’s Office that was turned over first to Landry’s predecessor Buddy Caldwell and then to him to investigate because the victim of that theft was the local district attorney, creating for him a conflict of interests.

Landry never did complete that investigation which pre-dated the Union Parish rape case by two years. It was a federal grand jury that ended up indicting the employee involved.

And finally, there is the ALTON STERLING case which, following the U.S. Justice Department’s punting on the matter, was taken up by Landry last May. Nearly 10 months later, Landry has yet to give any indication as to when he will issue a report on that shooting by Baton Rouge police.

So, Ruth Wisher is stuck with the unenviable task of trying to make her boss look good. It’s not quite as daunting a task as that of Sarah Huckabee Sanders in trying to make a silk purse of the sow’s ear that is Donald Trump, but daunting nevertheless.

The glowing press releases will continue in Landry’s unabashed quest for the governor’s office while the real work of completing the investigation of the rape of a 17-year-old will continue to get short shrift because, realistically speaking, there are no votes to be gained in protecting the rights of a meth addict.

And that, readers, is the very definition of hypocrisy.

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By now, thanks to the Internet and network TV news, virtually everyone in the U.S.—and apparently some foreign countries—knows about the ham-handed manner in which the Vermilion Parish School Board shut down one of its teacher’s comments during a recent board meeting.

The manner in which Kaplan middle school English teacher Deyshia Hargrave’s was cut off from speaking and subsequently manhandled by a city marshal was carried out with all the tact, consideration, delicacy, and diplomacy of Donald Trump discussing immigrants from $*%#hole countries.

And the fact that the school board employed the CITY MARSHAL who was previously accused of using excessive force against a 62-year-old man in poor health to carry out the handcuffing and arrest of Hargrave certainly didn’t help matters in what overnight brought national and international negative attention to Louisiana.

And the announcement by the city prosecutor that Hargrave would not be prosecuted only enhances her chances of reaping a financial settlement subsequent to the lawsuit she is almost certain to file for her rude treatment and public humiliation.

To provide a little background for anyone who may not have heard, Hargrave was at the board meeting to protest a $30,000-per-year proposed salary increase for School Superintendent Jerome Puyal (from $110,190 to $140,188) while teachers, cafeteria workers and, support staff received no salary increases. School Board President Anthony Fontana, an Abbeville attorney who has been on the board about a quarter-of-a-century, promptly gaveled her into silence, proclaiming her comments were not germane to the board’s agenda.

One report had Fontana referring to Hargrave, parish’s 2015-2016 teacher of the year, as “the poor little lady” in an INTERVIEW subsequent to the meeting. That charitable reference is almost certain to absolve him of any culpability in what has become a public relations nightmare sufficiently grievous to attract the attention of the ACLU and teachers’ unions, not to mention network television news.

But that all could have been avoided had Fontana simply consulted in advance with the good folks at Gravity Drainage District 8 of Calcasieu Parish Ward 1. Not those folks know how to shut a dissident up quietly and efficiently.

The secret is to get an attorney who isn’t afraid to threaten the dissident and a judge who can ignore the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and issue an order that the dissident may not make public records requests nor have any contact with any members or employees of the gravity drainage district.

Or, better yet, have a gaggle of judges file suit against a newspaper to prevent it from seeking public records from the court.

Problem solved.

Never mind that the gravity drainage district hired with Billy Broussard to remove debris from drainage canals following Hurricane Rita under a FEMA contract and then instructed Broussard to remove older pre-storm debris and that he would be paid to do so.

But when FEMA said the older debris was not part of the project, the drainage district flat-out refused to pay Broussard about a million dollars that was due him for the work. Moreover, some of that older debris consisted of large cypress logs—still very much useful in construction—which mysteriously disappeared.

So, when Broussard attempted unsuccessfully to get reimbursed for his work, RUSSELL STUTES, Lake Charles attorney for the drainage district, wrote a testy letter to Broussard in which Stutes, elevating himself to judge status, threatened Broussard with jail time “the next time any Calcasieu Parish employee is contacted by you or any of your representatives with respect to the project…”

Stutes even filed a petition for injunctive relief to bar Broussard from contacting members or employees of the drainage district and from seeking public records. Incredibly, 14th Judicial District Judge David Ritchie signed the order for the INJUNCTION that bars Broussard from his constitutionally-guaranteed right to seek answers from a public body. That right is also guaranteed under Louisiana R.S. 42:4.1 et seq.

Likewise, the judges of the 4th JDC up in Monroe filed SUIT against the Ouachita Citizen newspaper in West Monroe in order to stymie the newspaper’s efforts to obtain public records from the court.

So, you see, Mr. Fontana, it really wasn’t necessary to shoot yourself in the foot by having the city marshal strongarm Ms. Hargrave, your defense that he was authorized to do so notwithstanding. That just brought unwanted attention to a board what was already contentious in its membership makeup—some of that disharmony stemming from the performance of the very superintendent to whom you trying to give an extra $30,000 per year.

All you had to do was have the board attorney (and you are an attorney yourself) to find a judge who would sign an order for injunctive relief which, while questionable in its legality, would nevertheless have shut Ms. Hargrave up.

For a minute, anyway, to borrow a phrase from Ron “Tater Salad” White, one of my favorite stand-up comics, which he tags at the end of this joke but which is deleted from this VIDEO.

 

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So, now Sen. John Kennedy is officially opposed to strengthening firearms BACKGROUND CHECKS.

His newest proclamation (which really isn’t new at all) raises the obvious question of whether there is any level to which he will not stoop to kiss the ring of Donald Trump and the rest of the NRA-purchased Republicans who insist that it is never the time to discuss ways to curb the number of MASS SHOOTINGS that have plagued this country for the past 35 years.

Apparently, it wasn’t enough for Sen. John Kennedy to join fellow Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy in voting for the so-called tax “reform” bill that is so heavily weighted in favor of the very rich but now he has underscored that Gawd-awful CAMPAIGN AD in which he said, “…love is the answer but you oughta own a hand gun, just in case.”

He even repeated the phrase during a Senate committee hearing, saying it was an old saying from back in Louisiana though, to be honest, I don’t ever recall anyone but Kennedy uttering such an inane statement.

So, obviously, while it is never the time to discuss a solution, it’s always the time to ensure that the mentally ill will have unfettered access to weapons.

Kennedy clashed with Bobby Jindal—and later with Gov. John Bel Edwards—over the budget, repeating his mantra: “We don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem.” That, it turns out, was the most intelligent thing he had to say as State Treasurer. But the fact of the matter was—and is—that it was a combination of the two.

The problem is in the giveaways, as in tax credits, tax exemptions, tax incentives, and all the other breaks given away to industry that promised big jobs in exchange for keeping off the tax rolls but who failed to deliver. That spending problem created a critical revenue problem that was only partially alleviated by a 43 percent increase in college tuition.

Kennedy also proposed an across-the-board cut in state contracts. That was far too simplistic. A better solution would have been—and remains—to take a long, hard look at the multitude of contracts awarded by the sate to determine if they are really necessary.

Just as one example, the various studies of restoration of Louisiana’s coastline, like the bevy of studies awarded by the City of Baton Rouge to study traffic congestion, have brought the state no closer to resolving the problem than before tens of millions of dollars were spent on those studies.

But I digress. Kennedy, in constant search of a TV camera and microphone, has now gone beyond absurdity in opposing more stringent background checks. Does he not remember:

  • Sandy Hook?
  • Columbine?
  • Aurora?
  • Orlando?
  • Las Vegas?
  • San Bernardino?
  • Chattanooga?
  • Charleston?
  • Oakland?
  • Tucson?
  • Blacksburg?

I could go on, but what’s the point? People like Kennedy are imprisoned by their own closed minds and political calculations about how to best play to the emotions of the gun enthusiasts and to how best to go about assuring the continued flow of NRA campaign contributions. The KILLING FIELDS of America are without comparison anywhere else in the civilized world, according to statistics published by the NEW YORK TIMES.

Oops, I forgot. That should be the failing New York Times, according to Donald Trump, on whose coattails Kennedy so shamelessly ran in his senatorial campaign. So, it must be fake news, right?

Well, those figures quoted by the failing New York Times were provided by the FBI, which keeps meticulous records on such things.

Oh, I forgot again. The FBI is no longer credible, according to Grump, who arbitrarily decides who is and who is not trustworthy and who sets such a shining example for the likes of Kennedy, Bill Cassidy and the other Repugnacans in Congress who apparently are unable to make as simple a decision as when to go to the bathroom without a directive from Thumper.

Yes, I know the NRA gun-totin’ flag-waving zealots are going to have me pilloried by sundown but I can live with that and I have this to say to them:

I would rather stand for what is right for all the victims who were so needlessly slaughtered by obviously mentally disturbed people who should never have had access to weapons than to have all the campaign money the NRA dumps into the campaigns of the likes of John Kennedy.

Those are my principles, Mr. Kennedy, what, pray tell, are yours?

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One of the most frustrating jobs in state government has to be that of the Legislative Auditor.

The office is charged with the responsibility of ensuring that audits and sworn financial statements of all public entities are carried out in a timely—and legally-prescribed—manner and that the books of those entities are in order.

Yet, whenever discrepancies are found and reported, little comes of the auditors’ reports. Oh, in cases where the findings are significant, such as the recent audit of the management of former Louisiana State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson, a report will make a big splash in the media.

But then, it quickly becomes old news and is forgotten. All too often, in the end, nothing is done to actually rein in those who might be guilty of lax fiscal responsibility over their organization or worse—possible malfeasance.

Seldom is there any follow-up on the part of those who have the authority to make changes. An office or agency head continues to lead the organization with little or no disciplinary action handed down from above, be it from a department head, cabinet member, or, in some cases, the governor himself.

In short, there is little real accountability in state government. A critical audit, conducted at no small expense, points out shortcomings, a management letter is generated promising reforms, and life—and abuses of the public trust—go on unabated.

As Exhibit A, we have the Auditor’s NON-COMPLIANCE LIST, a dishonor roll that dates back as far as 2004 and which contains well over 100 agencies, offices, organizations and individuals who have failed to comply with state statutes.

The list is liberally peppered with justices of the peace, community development districts, constables, social organizations, and even municipalities, sheriffs’ offices, and clerks of court—all reflecting the widespread disregard for fiscal responsibility or, to be charitable, just plain ignorance of the law.

Any organization that has any financial relationship with the state or a parish must, depending on the size of the organization’s budget, provide a review/attestation of its financial condition, a sworn financial statement, or a full-blown audit on a yearly basis.

From Acadia to Winn, virtually every parish has at least one organization on the non-compliance list. Here are a few examples:

  • The Beauregard Parish Hospital Service District No. 1, Merryville—five times between the years 2004 and 2009: failure to produce an audit;
  • The Ward 7 Caddo Parish Constable—seven years between 2009 and 2016: no sworn financial statements;
  • The Resource Center in Caddo—10 straight years, from 2008 to 2017: no financial statements;
  • Louisiana Auto Insurance Plan, East Baton Rouge Parish—10 straight years, from 2007 to 2016: no audit;
  • Ville Platte City Marshal, Evangeline Parish—six consecutive years, from 2012 to 2017: no sworn financial statement;
  • St. Landry Parish Constable, District 8—nine years between 2005 and 2016: no sworn financial statement.

State Auditor Daryl Purpera, contacted by LouisianaVoice, acknowledged the frustration of constantly having to chase down the various offices. “It keeps us pretty busy and it costs the state money to track this in terms of both money and man-hours.”

He said state law says when any organization found to be in non-compliance for three consecutive years, that is considered malfeasance. “That law is on the books,” he said.

STATE REP. NEIL ABRAMSON

A few years back, State Rep. Neil Abramson (D-New Orleans) attempted to push through a bill in the legislature which would required any non-governmental organization (NGO) or public body to be on the Legislative Auditor’s approved list (not on the non-compliance list) in order to be eligible to receive any state funding or to conduct business with the state.

Abramson’s bill failed.

Now, who would have ever thought that?

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By Morgan Statt, Guest Columnist

It’s 2005, and the National All Schedules Prescription Reporting Act (HR 1132) is on President George W. Bush’s desk ready to sign. With one fell swoop he signs the bill into law, and it grants all states $100 million in funding to aid prescription drug monitoring services. Shortly after, former Louisiana representative Billy Tauzin abandons his post in the House of Representatives and accepts a job as President and CEO of PhRMA, a major lobbying group for pharmaceutical companies. Instead of celebrating the bill being signed into law, Tauzin finds a way to dismantle the allocation of funding.

Now, let’s bring it back to present day. Today, there is an almost daily snippet of news on America’s opioid epidemic, one that has ravaged nearly every area of the country. In 2016, more than 63,600 opioid overdose deaths were reported, the highest number ever, and new reports show that the crisis is lowering the average American life expectancy.

What’s being done to combat the crisis that either directly or indirectly affects millions of Americans?

For one, states are strengthening their prescription monitoring programs, the very thing Rep. Tauzin dismantled funding for in 2005. Although these programs have been in place for a number of years, only a limited number of providers have taken advantage of their ability to detect and deter abuse. Additionally, cities and states across the country have filed lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies for their role in the crisis.

And Louisiana is one of them.

In September 2017, the Louisiana Department of Health filed a lawsuit against 16 drug manufacturers, among them OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma, at the 19th Judicial Court in Baton Rouge. The suit claims that the named companies used aggressive marketing tactics and encouraged physicians to prescribe opioids under the guise that they were not addictive.

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry has said that “Louisiana is one of eight states that has more opioid prescriptions than residents.” Despite the fact that Big Pharma played a role in the opioid epidemic, will these lawsuits actually make a difference? Even if there was an astronomical payout, will these lawsuits help to end the crisis and prevent future epidemics?

The short answer is: no.

Big Pharma is like that rich, popular kid in high school we all knew. They used their money and status to manipulate peers and played off students’ desires to be a part of their inner circle.

Similarly, Big Pharma uses status and influence to get what it wants. Its targets for manipulation span multiple areas of the industry, which include the current regulations in place and clinical trials.

Before we can even have a sliver of hope that a hefty payout will change its ways, we have to tackle the pharmaceutical industry’s influence head-on to see any real impact on its actions. We can start by addressing these two areas of influence.

Drug companies have the ability to fund clinical trials.

Imagine you come out of surgery and are placed on a blood thinner to prevent any clotting from happening once you’re off the operating table. You’ve been told of the internal bleeding side effects, but there just so happens to be no known antidote on the market yet to serve as treatment if such complications arise.

This was the case for the anticoagulant Pradaxa. In 2010, the medication was met with FDA approval and put on the market without an antidote. But then severe internal bleeding incidents took place, and over 1,000 people died as a result of being prescribed the medication. Since then, manufacturer Boehringer Ingelheim has had a slew of Pradaxa lawsuits filed against it for its role in patient harm.

I bring up Pradaxa as an example because it points to issues with the clinical trial process that exist today. In a recent study conducted by Johns Hopkins University, clinical trial funding that has been traditionally provided by the National Institute of Health has fallen dramatically over the years. To supplement the lack of funding, pharmaceutical companies sponsor the trials. But, this presents the opportunity for companies with financial interest in the trial outcomes to favor positive results over any negative side effects that could occur.

In the case of Pradaxa, its industry-funded clinical trial RE-LY was met with criticism from drug safety groups for generalizing the medication’s potential population and failing to be carried out as a double-blind study. Skewed trial results led to hasty FDA approval and ultimately the creation of a $650 million settlement fund in 2014 that Boehringer Ingelheim used to settle over 4,000 claims.

Laws & regulations favor Big Pharma.

Despite legislators’ best attempts to protect consumers, certain laws & regulations currently in place often aid pharmaceutical companies’ business ventures, rather than prioritizing patient safety. One such law that has faced criticism in recent years is the 21st Century Cures Act, which loosened regulations on the drug and medical device approval process.

Although put in place to encourage innovation and quicken the ability for life-saving drugs to get to market, critics argue that the real winners of the bill were the drug companies. As part of the “loosening” of regulations, Big Pharma can now get away with using only “data summaries” instead of conducting full clinical trials to get drug approval. They’re also now able to promote off-label uses for their medications, enabling them to expand their markets – and their profits.

Ironically enough, drug companies aggressively promoted the off-label use of opioids and contributed to the rise in addictions across the country. Look no further than Insys Therapeutics’ push for non-cancer patients to take Subsys, a “powerful, fentanyl-based liquid” originally marketed for cancer patients with pain that couldn’t be treated with any other option.

As much as we’d like to pretend that lawsuits against Big Pharma can play a role in solving the opioid crisis, this isn’t the case. Drug companies’ influence stretches far and wide, and it may be time to strip that influence away little by little.

Let’s scrutinize the laws and regulations in place that give Big Pharma the upper hand. Let’s consider alternative funding sources for clinical trials that would allow little room for bias. But most importantly, let’s find a way to ensure that lawmakers, lobbyists, and other government officials are committed to doing what’s best for the American public rather than chasing that dollar sign.

(Morgan Statt is a Health & Safety Investigator for Consumersafety.org, a consumer information organization which strives to provide information about recalls and safety-related news about drugs, medical devices, food, and consumer products.)

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