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I was nominated for three Nobel Peace Prizes, different subjects. I told our first lady, ‘Darling, we’re going to have the greatest publicity we’ve ever had tonight. I got nominated for the Nobel (sic) Prize. Do you know what that is, darling? Let’s go home.’ So, I leave for the first time in a long time early. I get home, I turn on the television and they talked about your floods in Iowa. How is Iowa doing? The crops. How is this happening. How are they doing in Florida? Three or four stories, one after another. Where is my Nobel Peace Prize?! They don’t talk about it. I said, ‘You know, darling. This news is a little tough to crack.’”

—Trump, at a campaign rally in Des Moines, Iowa, Oct. 14, 2020. [Yeah, that’s it. Nothing like downplaying the impact of floods to flood victims while whining about your own insignificant problems. Everything’s about you, isn’t it? That should get you votes.]

They said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia. I don’t see any reason why it would be. President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial.”

—Trump, standing beside Putin at Helsinki, Finland, on July 16, 2018, defending Russia against U.S. intelligence briefings that Russians had interfered in the 2016 presidential elections.

It is the most serious mistake of his presidency and must be corrected – immediately.”

—Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Republican and a Trump supporter, in response to Trump’s blanket defense of Putin and Russia, July 2018.

We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy, and we will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security.”

—Then-Director of National Intelligence (before being fired by Trump), in response to Trump’s apologetic defense of Putin and Russia, July 2018. [So, here we are, two years down the road and it’s still going on and now Russia is being joined by China and Iran. Meanwhile, Trump golfs.]

No one’s going to brief anything on Russia to the president. They’re terrified of doing that. I know that from the briefers. Because he’ll explode and the whole thing will get derailed, because he has this weird affinity for (Russian President Vladimir) Putin.

—Former CIA official Marc Polymerepoules.

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“An ‘army’ doesn’t sound like people just there to observe. An ‘army’ sounds like people there to engage in war with the enemy.”

—Sean Morales-Doyle, of the Brennan Center for Justice, on Trump’s call for an “Army” in recruiting poll watchers for the Nov. 3 election.

“The same people who decline to extend the presumption of fairness to members of the commission rightly assert that Amy Coney Barrett will put aside her personal beliefs on the Supreme Court.”

Former Republican Senator John Danforth, a member of the Commission on Presidential Debates, in a Washington Post op-ed.

“Speaking again for myself, had I wanted to help the Biden campaign, the last thing on my mind would have been to restrain the technique President Trump exhibited in the first debate.”

—Danforth.

“The president’s apparent strategy is to challenge the validity of the election should he lose. We saw this strategy initially in his claims that mail-in ballots are the tools for massive election fraud. Now we see it as well in his assertion that the debates have been rigged by the commission to favor former vice president Joe Biden.”

—Danforth, in the same op-ed column.

NOT A TRUMP QUOTE, but it should be (with apologies to Cavin & Hobbes):

“Meeting called to order. Dictator For Life Trump proposes resolution condemning the existence of Reporters.”

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To paraphrase Archie Bunker in the opening theme song to All in the Family:

Mister, we could use a man like Herbert Hoover William Proxmire again.

William Proxmire, for those too young to remember, was a Democratic senator from Wisconsin who first won the seat vacated by the death of demagogue Joe McCarthy in 1957 and who was reelected five times: in 1958, 1964, 1970, 1976 and 1982 by wide margins, including 71 percent of the vote in 1970, 73 percent in 1976 and 65 percent in 1982.

But here’s the real kicker: An early advocate of campaign finance reform, he refused contributions outright and spent less than $200 – of his own money – to cover filing fees and returning unsolicited contributions in each of his final two campaigns. Moreover, during his entire tenure in the Senate – 31 years – he refused to accept reimbursements for travel expenses related to his official duties.

He still holds the U.S. Senate record for consecutive roll call votes cast: 10,252 between April 20, 1966, and Oct. 18, 1988.

But he is best remembered for his dreaded Golden Fleece Award, given monthly between 1975 and 1988 as a means to focus attention on self-serving and wasteful uses of taxpayer dollars. Winners of his awards included the U.S. Department of Defense, the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service.

His very first award was to the National Science Foundation for funding an $84,000 study on why people fall in love. The U.S. Justice Department got one for its study on why prisoners wanted to get out of jail. Another went to the Institute of Mental Health for its study of a Peruvian brothel (researchers said they made repeat trips to the establishment in the interest of accuracy, according to a New York Times story about that award). The Federal Aviation Administration got an award for its study of “the physical measurements of 432 airline stewardesses (now called flight attendants), with special attention given to the “length of the buttocks.”

All this is to say that we could indeed use a man like William Proxmire again.

Especially in Louisiana.

And he could start with the Louisiana Public Service Commission.

Every joke needs a setup before the punchline and the setup for the PSC is its administration of something called the Energy Efficiency Program.

The setup goes something like this:

Would you spend say, $10,000 on something to save you money if you knew it would only save you $6,700 over a 10-year period? If you’re confused by math, that would mean you’d actually be losing $3,300 over those 10 years. It’s kind of like spotting someone selling gasoline for $1.50 per gallon but you have a full tank that you paid $1.85 per gallon for, so you drive around until your tank is empty so you can fill up with the cheaper gas, convinced that you’ve saved 35 cents per gallon.

Well, that’s precisely what the PSC has been doing with the money you spend on electricity and gas for the past four years.

And the PSC is doing this, in large part, in partnership with a firm run by a business associate of a member of the PSC, one Eric Skrmetta who, coincidentally, is up for reelection in a couple of weeks.

Between 2017 and 2019 (figures for this year aren’t available), the PSC awarded $17.3 million in customer money (your money, remember?) to an outfit called Brilliant Efficiencies, an energy efficiency company founded by Jason Hewitt in 2013.

Hewitt had no discernable experience in energy efficiency prior to that time but he did have a business relationship with Skrmetta, which is just as valuable in Louisiana.

You see, among Hewitt’s other life skills is his background as a movie producer of sorts and he also has owned Films in Motion since 2005.

And Skrmetta? Besides being an attorney who dabbles in gaming casinos, he also …well, he also writes movie scripts.

And it just happens that Hewitt and Skrmetta are co-executive producers of a proposed animated television series called PINKAPOTAMUS. And Skrmetta has written at least one episode and Hewitt has directed at least one episode.

Besides Pinkapotamus, Hewitt’s company is also producing two other projects for Skrmetta – Devil’s Brigade and Snow Unicorn.

So, it has to make you wonder how Hewitt’s new energy efficiency company managed to swing nine of the first 10 contracts in 2017, the program’s first year, yes?

Those nine contracts were for a total of $5.3 million and called for implementing energy cost savings for entities like the Jefferson Parish Department of Safety, the City of Baker, the City of Zachary, the City of Gonzales, Southern University, the City of Eunice, the Baton Rouge Recreation Dept. (BREC), the Pointe Coupee Parish School Board and the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Dept.

But here’s the punchline, and the joke’s on us, the taxpayers: With the exception of the Pointe Coupee School Board and the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Dept., there were no real energy cost savings. None. Zilch. In fact, for the total expenditure of that $5.3 million, projections call for a total savings of $3.6 million over the first 10 years. That’s a shortfall of some $1.7 million.

And the really big yuk is that there will be no savings for even longer times:

The Jefferson Parish Dept. of Safety will require 28 years just to break even. Others are the City of Baker (18.5 years), Zachary (18.25 years), Gonzales (14 years), Southern University (13.1 years), BREC (10.8 years). A 10-year payback period is the benchmark generally used by the energy efficiency industry to determine whether a project is an effective use of customer money, according to a story published by the ENERGY AND POLICY INSTITUTE.

It gets better.

Brilliant Efficiencies was awarded 50 of the 89 total contracts during the programs first three years (2017-2019) and 27 of those 50 failed to produce any savings in the first 10 years. In fact three of the projects awarded to Hewitt’s company had paybacks of 60 years or longer and one project at Grambling State University that called for nearly half-a-million dollars in lighting and HVAC upgrades was projected to have a payback period of a whopping 114 years, far beyond the life expectancy of the so-called upgrade.

By contrast, another company, M&M Contractors, received six projects, four of which were projected to pay for themselves in fewer than five years.

PSC Commissioner Foster Campbell said that when he began requiring competitive bids on projects in his North Louisiana district, he found that Brilliant Efficiencies bids were, on average, 54 percent higher than bids by other companies and in one case, was 80 percent higher than the low bid. Hewitt’s company got none of the contracts bid on in Campbell’s district, he said.

Sixteen of the 50 contracts awarded to Brilliant Efficiencies totaling $6.1 million were awarded in Skrmetta’s PSC district and would have been approved by him.

The energy efficiency program is paid for from a fee charged customers for “lost revenue” incurred by utility companies from any energy savings realized by the projects but incredibly, industrial customers were allowed to opt out from contributing to any of the costs of the projects. At least 83 of Entergy’s industrial customers did so, leaving residential and small business customers to reimburse the utilities for the value of any saved energy.

The Louisiana PSC in December 2016, ripped 50 percent of the program’s budget intended for residential and small commercial customers and reallocated the money for school districts, local governments and state agencies. The commission’s vote removed administrative oversight by third-party energy efficiency program administrators, giving authority for approval of projects directly to commission members, clearing the way for members like Skrmetta to approve no-bid contracts for business associates like Hewitt.

Abrupt agenda changes with little or no advance notice further roiled the picture as the program swung into high gear in May 2017. Two filings that month gave scant time for energy efficiency contractors to put proposals together in order to apply for the lucrative grants. Published on May 15 of that year, the guidelines simultaneously established a deadline for applications as…May 15, 2017.

The PSC claimed on May 24 that it had erred in setting the deadline as the same date as the guidelines publication and reset the deadline for applications as June 15, barely three weeks for bids to be submitted. A company owned by say, a business partner of a commission member, might conceivably have a leg up on the competition in such a scenario, especially given the fact that commission members were given wide latitude in determining who got the grants.

When PSC staff recommended in November 2019 that the program be discontinued, it was Skrmetta who made the motion to continue the program. Commissioner Lambert Boissiere, III protested that he had just received details of Skrmetta’s motion the day of the vote, saying that the PSC once had “a courtesy where the documents like this would be circulated several days in advance.” Campbell likewise said he didn’t like the appearance of Skrmetta’s move. Theirs were the only dissenting votes.

And just to take the entire matter from questionable to outright absurd, consider this:

Skrmetta’s executive assistant Adrie de Waal was assigned by him to conduct inspections of some of the projects in his district despite her having zero background in energy auditing and despite the failure of her name to come up in a search of professional engineers licensed to do business in Louisiana.

One of those inspections was of a 250-ton cooling tower for the Pontchartrain Center that cost Louisiana Entergy customers more than $300,000 with an estimated payback in savings of 24 years.

Yep, Louisiana could use someone like William Proxmire. But we do have John Kennedy and Clay Higgins.

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“An ‘army’ doesn’t sound like people just there to observe. An ‘army’ sounds like people there to engage in war with the enemy.” —Sean Morales-Doyle, of the Brennan Center for Justice, on Trump’s call for an “Army” in recruiting poll watchers for the Nov. 3 election.

“The Donald Trump approach to law is all legal levers would be fair game in pressuring or punishing a bank.” —Former Treasury official Scott Carnell, on Trump’s willingness to prod the Justice Department to investigate perceived enemies, including banks he owes money to and which are subject to federal regulation.

“The damage Trump will be leaving to Joe Biden is incalculable. The death toll caused by his mismanagement of the COVID crisis and the numbers of infections increase by the thousands seemingly every day. The only good thing about a hollowed-out federal government will be the thousands of appointments Biden will be able to make upon taking office, and the dozens of executive orders he’ll be able to sign reversing Trump’s giveaways to polluters, drug companies and corrupt corporations.” —Lucian K. Truscott, IV, writing in Salon.com.

“They’re getting tired of the pandemic — aren’t they? You turn on CNN. That’s all they cover. Covid, covid, pandemic. Covid, covid, covid. . . . They’re trying to talk people out of voting. People aren’t buying it, CNN, you dumb bastards.” —Trump, at a rally in Arizona. [Remember Vietnam? It was a pretty hot topic for the media 50 years ago. We lost 58,000 American lives there –over a 10-year period. Covid has killed 220,000 this year alone. You expected the media to ignore that? Seriously?]

“We don’t get a retirement account. We don’t give two hoots about what Wall Street is doing. We are not investing in that. We are trying to pay our rent, pay for food.” —Wisconsin early childhood educator, who makes about $10 an hour and receives no benefits, explaining why Donald Trump’s boasts about the economy fail to resonate with her and her family.

“Nationally and in Wisconsin people look at the stock market and the jobs figures and think that’s the economy. But often their personal experiences are not reflected in those macro figures. The big challenge when talking about the economy is that people don’t look beyond these big, macro numbers. The pandemic has crystalized the idea that there is one economy for the rich and another for working folk.” —Wisconsin activist Dana Bye, on the failure of Trump economic policies to help Wisconsin, where wages, when adjusted for inflation, have risen only 73 cents per hour in 40 years.

NOT A TRUMP QUOTE, but it should be (with apologies to Cavin & Hobbes):

“Since September it’s just gotten colder and colder. There’s less daylight now, I’ve noticed too. This can only mean one thing – the sun is going out. In a few more months the Earth will be a dark and lifeless ball of ice. Scientists say the sun isn’t going out. They say its colder because the earth’s orbit is taking us farther from the sun. They say winter will be here soon. Isn’t it sad how some people’s grip on their lives is so precarious that they’ll embrace any preposterous delusion rather than face an occasional bleak truth?”

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In case you think Cathy Derbonne was going to go quietly into the night after a state district judge dismissed her wrongful firing lawsuit, then you don’t know Cathy Derbonne.

Derbonne was the executive director of the State Police Commission who was forced into resigning her position during a January 12, 2017, meeting of the commission. During a recess of that meeting, commission Chairman Thomas Doss and other members repeatedly pressured her by telling her they had the votes to fire her.

Believing she had engaged in activities protected under law, she nevertheless resigned in lieu of being fired.

She filed suit under R.S 23:967, better known as the Louisiana Whistleblower Statute on Jan. 9, 2018, and on Aug. 14, 2019, Judge William Morvant of the 19th District Court granted the state’s exception of no cause of action, dismissing Derbonne’s lawsuit, with prejudice and assessing all costs to her.

But on Oct. 14 (last Wednesday) a three-judge panel of the Louisiana’s First Circuit Court of Appeal unanimously reversed Morvant and remanded the case to state district court for trial. Court costs of $1,779 were assessed to the State Police Commission.

While Cathy Derbonne has not yet won her case, she will at least have her day in court and the State Police Commission is going to have to show that it was justified in pressuring her to quit. The alternative will be for the commission to do a little sputtering and posturing and breast-beating before it eventually – and quietly – settles with Derbonne before trial. The last thing the State Police Commission wants, after all, is for its tactics in this ugly matter to go public.

So, what was it that she did to incur the wrath of commission members?

To be as succinct as possible, she did her job.

And what was it the commission did that was so terrible?

Well, the commission is the equivalent to the State Civil Service Commission – except that it acts only on matters concerning State Troopers and as such, was little more than an extension of the Louisiana State Troopers’ Association.

If you remember, all this was occurring during the turbulent administration of former State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson and the commission at that time was to Edmonson what William Barr is to Donald Trump – the ultimate sycophant, willing and eager to carry out his every wish.

Edmonson resigned under pressure in March 2017 but more than a year earlier, in December 2015, Derbonne was informed that active classified members of the Louisiana State Police (LSP), through the Louisiana State Troopers Association (LSTA), were making political contributions and engaging in political activities contrary to the Louisiana State Constitution.

“Derbonne began an investigation of the prohibited activities of current, active and classified members of the State Police Service and brought the matters to the attention of the Commission,” her petition said. “Derbonne alleged that on January 13, 2016, Franklin Kyle III, Chairman of the Commission, sent an email to Derbonne advising that she was not to take any steps regarding the LSTA’ s political activities and, further, stating that the commission had no jurisdiction over the LSTA, only its classified employees/members. The next day, Derbonne was advised that the executive director of the LSTA had been making political contributions in his name, but that he was reimbursed by the LSTA from dues collected from its members.”

Derbonne further alleged that she subsequently reported the prohibited activities to multiple entities outside of the commission. On March 7, 2016, Derbonne reported the improper illegal activities to the Louisiana Board of Ethics. On March 16, 2016, she forwarded a written report of her findings to Gov. John Bel Edwards and his counsel. She met with the governor’ s counsel on March 28, 2016, and was advised that the commission members who had committed the prohibited activities, as well as Chairman Kyle, would be given the opportunity to resign.

Subsequent to those developments, commission members Kyle, Freddie Pitcher and William Goldring resigned.

She claims in her lawsuit that State Trooper Thomas Doss, at the LSTA convention in Lafayette on June 24, 2016, said that Derbonne had caused the resignations of the three commission members and that she was not following commission rules and policy, that she had retained outside legal counsel without authorization and that she “had lost her mind.” She says she was later advised that Doss had been “monitoring and observing” her daily routine.

Doss was elected as the State Police representative on the commission on July 14 and quickly was elected chairman by the other commission members. Less than a month later, on Aug.11, the commission attempted to reduce Derbonne’s pay. During the same time period, she says Edmonson and “at least four of his top deputies” received “unlawful and unauthorized pay increases.”

On Dec. 8, she alleges commission members requested that Derbonne create a position of deputy director in case her husband became ill or she “got in a car wreck on her way” to a commission meeting, a suggestion she says she perceived as a threat.

A month later, on Jan. 7, 2017, she says she received an anonymous letter advising her that Doss was leading an attempt to have her removed as executive director “at the behest of (LSP) upper command.”

Despite the claims contained in her petition, Judge Morvant on Aug. 14, 2019, ruled that Derbonne’s petition, as well as all supplemental, amending and restated claims “are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE at plaintiff’s cost.”

But the First Circuit’s three-judge panel wasn’t buying it:

“We render judgment finding that Cathy Derbonne’s petition states both a cause of action and a right of action,” the First Circuit ruling said. “This matter is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. Costs in the amount of $1,779 are assessed to …the State Police Commission.”

That would be you, the taxpayer, but it seems state officials aren’t concerned with such matters when they’re busy covering their collective backsides.

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