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Before getting to my subject—the final day of our fall fundraiser—I would like to put this disclaimer out there:

I’ve been told by one of my readers that an ad for Public Service Commission candidate Dr. Craig Green keeps popping up on my LouisianaVoice page each time he opens it, leading the perception that I might be endorsing his candidacy.

First of all, I know nothing of Dr. Green. Second, I don’t endorse candidates. And third, as I have said on previous occasions, I do not accept any advertising other than that to Cavalier House Books, a local book store in Denham Springs—and that only because the proprietor, John Cavalier, was kind enough to construct the LouisianaVoice web page to get this blog started. I do not charge him for the ad.

The way I’m told it works is this: When you, the reader, go to web pages on your computer, the web browser somehow retains that information as the type information that you are interested in. So, when you open subsequent pages, i.e. LouisianaVoice, ads containing information similar to the previous search you did may pop up on your computer screen. I don’t know how accurate that information is because when I opened my LouisianaVoice page to write this, pop-up ads touting some financial investment service appeared. I certainly haven’t searched any investment bank pages because I have nothing to invest, but anyway, there’s your explanation: LouisianaVoice is not endorsing any candidate for any office. Period.

Enough about that and enough (finally) about LouisianaVoice‘s fall fundraiser.

Today is the final day for me go come hat in hand, asking for alms. But the fact is, it takes more and more financial resources to keep this going.

What started as investigative reporting only on state government in Baton Rouge has expanded statewide into all branches of government—state, parish, and municipal. That puts considerable strain on the ol’ pocketbook with the purchase of gasoline, public documents and filing and defending court actions when some aggrieved agency or bureaucrat wants to push back.

So, please, on our last day of the fall fundraiser (You can contribute any time; this is just our official fundraising effort), do what you can to support us. Large or small, all contributions matter and are deeply appreciated. Just click on the yellow “DONATE” button to the upper right of this post and contribute by credit card to our Pay Pal account. You don’t have to be a member of Pay Pal to do it. If, as in the case of one would-be contributor, the “DONATE” button doesn’t work for you, or if you prefer to send a check, the address is:

LouisianaVoice

P.O. Box 922

Denham Springs, LA. 70727

And a most sincere thank you for your support, both financial and moral!

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I’m not going to write a long justification for my semi-annual spiel. Just know that stories like the one beneath this solicitation are what I do here at LouisianaVoice.

It’s not always easy. It takes hours of cultivating sources, verifying what they tell me or digging for public records that substantiate what I write.

I only do this once a year because afterward, I always need a shower. It makes me feel slimy, but it’s necessary.

I rely on your generous contributions to keep doing what I do. You’ve heard and read all the reasons, so there’s no need to reiterate, be repetitive, redundant, repeat myself or say the same thing over and over.

Please click on the yellow “DONATE” button to the lower right of this groveling post and contribute what you can by credit card or send a check through the snail mail to:

LouisianaVoice

P.O. Box 922

Denham Springs, LA. 70727

All this unpleasantness will be over Friday—at least until next April, so please help.

Thanks to all of you for reading LouisianaVoice and for supporting my efforts.

Tom Aswell, publisher

Do State Fire Marshal Butch Browning and his top deputies, including Chief Deputy Brant Thompson and others, prevail upon French Quarter hotel management to comp them and their entourage rooms when they frequent New Orleans’ night life—as often as “several times a year?”

Browning and Thompson, through a State Fire Marshal spokesperson, say no.

But three independent sources say otherwise and moreover, there are times the free hotel rooms aren’t restricted to the French Quarter. Sometimes, they are in such places as New Orleans suburb Metairie in Jefferson Parish.

And the free rooms often have little or nothing to do with official state business—like, for example, free rooms for the softball recruiters of one deputy fire marshal’s daughter and softball tournament promoters, at the deputy fire marshal’s request.

Employees of two French Quarter hotels have come forward to say that Browning, Thompson, and others come to New Orleans during Mardi Gras “and several other times” each year and their rooms are comped at either of two separate hotels that LouisianaVoice was able to identify through sources who work at the two facilities.

LouisianaVoice is not identifying either the employees or the hotels that employ them because they fear for their jobs but both say it is common practice for the hotels to provide free rooms to fire marshal employees, “their wives and/or their girlfriends.”

Louisiana State Ethics RULES have specific guidelines, rigidly enforced against rank and file civil servants but rarely, if ever, against elected or appointed personnel, which prohibit the acceptance of anything of value as a gift. Some examples, taken verbatim from Ethics Commission rules, of prohibitions:

  • No PUBLIC SERVANT shall receive any thing of economic value, other than the compensation and benefits to which he is entitled from his governmental employer, for the performance of the duties and responsibilities of his office or position.
  • No PUBLIC EMPLOYEE shall solicit or accept, directly or indirectly, anything of economic value as a gift or gratuity from any person who conducts operations or activities which are regulated by the public employee’s agency.
  • No PUBLIC EMPLOYEE shall solicit or accept, directly or indirectly, anything of economic value as a gift or gratuity from a person who has substantial economic interests which may be substantially affected by the performance or nonperformance of the public employee’s official job duty(ies).
  • No PUBLIC SERVANT or OTHER PERSON shall give, pay, loan, transfer, or deliver or offer to give, pay, loan, transfer, or deliver, directly or indirectly, to any public servant or other person anything of economic value which such public servant or other person would be prohibited from receiving by any provision of the Ethics Code.
  • Persons who give prohibited gifts to public servants violate §1117 of the Code and are subject to the enforcement proceedings and penalties for their violation.

Hotels fall under the regulatory umbrella of the State Fire Marshal’s Office by virtue of their having to undergo fire safety and fire code inspections by the office. Free rooms given the fire marshal and his deputies could conceivably be interpreted as some sort of quid pro quo whereby deputy fire marshals might be inclined to look the other way when encountering fire code violations.

quid pro quo

kwid ˌprō ˈkwō/

noun

  • a favor or advantage granted or expected in return for something.
  • something given or received for something else; a deal arranging a quid pro quo.

One hotel employee said he was not personally aware of any such arrangement but added that would be out of his area of work at the hotel. “I wouldn’t know about that,” he said. In addition to the claims of comped rooms for Browning and his deputies, a hotel bartender in the French Quarter has also come forward to claim that he witnessed two fire marshal supervisors drinking alcoholic beverages while on call during the recent Hurricane Nate response. Fire Marshal personnel are paid while on call.

“(Fire Marshal Captain Bobby) Pellegrin and (Senior Deputy Fire Marshal Trevor) Santos have also used their fire marshal status to coerce hotel owners into free hotel stays in the French Quarter and Metairie,” one source said, adding, “Pellegrin used connections to strongarm hotel owners to give him free rooms for his daughter’s softball recruiters and promoters.”

A hotel employee at a second French Quarter hotel said he had worked at the hotel for “a number of years,” and fire marshal personnel have stayed there “many times.” He said it generally is Lt. Santos, who works in New Orleans, who books the rooms and that he always said at the time of booking the reservations that it was “important” that the rooms be “taken care of.”

Asked if wives and girlfriends also stay at the hotel free of charge, the employee said, “Oh, yes. Wives, girlfriends and other female guests.”

He said former Superintendent of State Police Mike Edmonson and some of his top aides were also the frequent recipients of comped rooms at the hotel.

LouisianaVoice emailed Santos, Pellegrin, Thompson and Browning to give them an opportunity to address the claims and while receipts were received from all but Browning that indicated that that had opened the email, none of the four responded.

The only response was through a spokesperson who issued a blanket denial. While pointing out that fire marshal personnel do patrol the French Quarter during Mardi Gras, she did not say why they were armed, since deputy fire marshals are not police officers and have no duties other than fire prevention and the investigation of fires. “That’s another issue,” she said.

While the representative stated emphatically that the complimentary rooms “did not happen,” she gave nothing to substantiate the denial other than to say, “People can say anything but that doesn’t mean it’s true.”

Exactly.

LouisianaVoice is now officially in the final days of the final week of its fall fundraiser and your support is still needed.

LouisianaVoice recently successfully defended a lawsuit but it cost money to defend. It’s fairly certain that others are going to try and silence me as I uncover more and more wrongdoing at all levels of government. That’s the risk one runs when shining a light on those who prefer the darkness.

But LouisianaVoice will not be silenced.

LouisianaVoice is not a major publication with a covey of corporate lawyers to represent it in efforts to obtain records or to provide a legal defense when some public official decides to retaliate.

You will find precisely one LouisianaVoice-sanctioned advertisement on this page. It’s for Cavalier House Books of Denham Springs. The owner built this web page for me and refused payment. I insisted that he place a free ad on our page. Any other ads that pop up on your screen when you log onto LouisianaVoice appear against my wishes and are certainly of no financial benefit to me or LouisianaVoice.

My objective when I started this service was to bring you, along with the occasional feature, investigative stories that other media are ignoring for reasons of their own. I never expected readers to agree with everything I post. That’s why there is a comment section: for you to voice your opinions on any of the topics I cover.

Whether you agree with me or not, I refuse to censor comments on LouisianaVoice because censorship is the one thing we all should fear most. It’s the first step toward dictatorship. The only time I will block a comment is if it contains objectionable language or racial slurs. I will not tolerate gutter rhetoric or attacks on one’s gender, ethnicity, or religious beliefs. Everything else is fair game. I encourage free discourse.

With that noble principle made abundantly clear, LouisianaVoice still needs your financial support. There are only three more days of this blubbering panhandling, so please click on the yellow “DONATE” button to the right side of this post and give what you can by credit card or send a check for more than you can afford to:

LouisianaVoice

P.O. Box 922

Denham Springs, LA. 70726

(Unlike the average televangelist, I will not purchase a Rolls-Royce, an airplane, or a vacation home in the mountains. Nor will I go shopping for a diamond pinkie ring or a Rolex watch. I’m strictly jeans, T-shirts, and pickup trucks, though I do own an old Bulova Accutron.)

Seriously, thank you all for your support.

Tom Aswell, publisher

 

When I was a student at Louisiana Tech, I worked part time as a disc jockey at KRUS radio station in Ruston. Occasionally, I would have a “Golden Oldies Show,” during which I played only old rock & roll records.

I saw a story in the Washington Post recently that conjured up memories of old news stories and at the same time made me wonder if the Republicans in Congress were paying attention all those years.

The story, headlined, “GOP abandons any pretense of fiscal responsibility,” noted that the Republican Party has essentially abandoned its platform of fiscal restraint, “pivoting sharply in a way that could add trillions of dollars in federal debt over the next decade.”

https://politicalwire.com/2017/10/07/gop-abandons-pretense-fiscal-responsibility/

So, doing the minimum research, it was almost too easy to find stories that reveal that the tax cuts proposed by Trump would further widen the gap between wealthy and low-income Americans. http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/42177-trump-s-proposed-tax-cuts-would-further-widen-the-gap-between-rich-and-poor

The Trump-led (and that’s a very loose term) Republican tax reform would cut taxes for the very rich and place the burden on the rest of us.

In 1970, the bottom 50 percent of U.S. wage earners averaged $16,000 a year in today’s dollars. In 2014, that figure had skyrocketed to $16,200.

The top 1 percent, meanwhile, saw their average income increase from an average of $400,000 a year to $1.3 million during the same time period, hardly enough to keep the lawn watered in the Hamptons.

Some might dismiss these sources as typical liberal media, but the conservative U.S. News & World Report seems to agree with their assessments.

More than two years ago, on May 20, 2015, the magazine ran a story headed simply as THE PARTY of RED INK.

That story did cite the $1.2 billion budget deficit that Democratic Gov. Martin O’Mally left for his Republican successor, but for the rest of its story, USN&WR hammered one Republican state governor after another. Those included our own wunderkind Bobby Jindal (a $1.6 billon deficit), Chris Christie (a staggering $7.35 billion structural budget deficit), Scott Walker of Wisconsin ($2.2 billion deficit), and Sam Brownback of Kansas ($1 billion shortfall).

Their collective answer to these budgetary nightmares? Cut taxes.

But along with tax cuts go cuts to services.

Back when I was a student at Tech—and given, that’s been a long time; Terry Bradshaw was emerging as a top draft pick back then—my tuition was $99. Today, my grandson, a computer engineering student at Tech, is forking over $9,000 per quarter to stay enrolled.

In Louisiana, cuts to higher education, public education, referral services to the mentally ill, services to children with disabilities, foster child services, and other cuts have had devastating results. Yet, the Republicans go merrily along with their vision of fiscal reform.

Jindal’s obsession with tax cutting, service cutting, and privatization was such a dismal failure that Newsweek on June 1, 3015, published a story headlined HOW BOBBY JINDAL BROKE the LOUISIANA ECONOMY.

But a March 26, 2015, story was even more revealing. That story, admittedly by a partisan Democrat writer, nevertheless cited a report by an outfit called WalletHub, a commercial personal financial web site that rated all 50 states on their dependence on federal dollars to prop up their respective economies.

The REPORT basically said that red states, America’s stalwarts of fiscal responsibility, suck more money out of the federal treasury than any others and that some of the poorest states, of which Louisiana is certainly one, depend on federal funding for 30 to 42 percent of their total revenue.

Louisiana depends on federal dollars for 42.2 percent of its budget That just happens to be the highest percentage in the nation. Mississippi is right behind, drawing 42.1 percent of its budget from the feds, according to a report released in May of this year. http://www.governing.com/topics/finance/gov-state-budgets-federal-funding-2015-2018-trump.html

Yet, who screams the loudest to get the federal government out of our lives? Well, that would be the Republicans, who control both Louisiana and Mississippi.

And yet, there they go again, to paraphrase Mr. Reagan. The Republicans in Congress are pushing that same agenda of tax cuts for the rich, cuts to services, increased military spending, heavier tax burdens on the middle class, and economic stagnation for what now, something like the 35th straight year?

And yes, I am keenly aware that some of those years included the administrations of Clinton and Obama and that some of those years Democrats controlled Congress. But that only goes to prove my oft-repeated point that there is little difference in the two parties when Wall Street, big oil, big Pharma, the NRA, and defense contractors exert such a heavy influence on the national agenda.

But with the Republicans, it’s not so much a political philosophy as it is an obsession, a mindset.

They adhere to the Laffer Curve at all costs. That’s the theory advanced by one Arthur Laffer, who says that tax cuts pay for themselves by stimulating economic growth.

Anyone seen any economic growth around these parts in the last couple of decades or so? Anyone? Bueller? Anyone?

The Laffer Curve might be appropriately named were it not such a cruel joke.