Welcome to Democratic Louisiana!
First, an apology for the production error that left the images in the two big stories on Sunday not visible to readers. Now that the problem is understood, I hope we can avoid it in the future. Each email will now have a link at the top that will take readers to the online version of that particular edition that can be viewed through your web browser. Thank you for your patience.
In this edition, we look at the underlying message at the heart of attempts in Louisiana to nullify the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (also known as healthcare reform).
The legal strategy at the heart of this effort is one that has been used repeatedly over the past three centuries in defense of the indefensible policies, politics and practices of white supremacists.
After simmering in the background for decades, the election of our nation's first black president has brought about a revival of this discredited theory. It does not reflect well on the proponents nor those who endorse it, or, worse, know its purpose and intent but remain silent.
Oil is still gushing from the floor of the Gulf of Mexico as BP has been unable to stop the flow. It could be weeks or months before it's stopped. It's gotten so bad that the Jindal administration has actually discovered environmentalism.
There's a widget on the Louisianad2d homepage that shows the amount of oil being spilled into the Gulf by the BP Gusher.
If you've missed an earlier edition of Democratic Louisiana, we have an archive page. Here's the link.
Thanks for reading!
Mike Stagg, Editor
Obama nominates Elena Kagan for U.S. Supreme Court
President Barack Obama on Monday nominated U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan to fill an impending vacancy on the United State Supreme Court.
If approved by the Senate, Ms. Kagan would replace Justice John Paul Stevens who has announced his intention to retire from the court at the end of this term.
As Solicitor General, Kagan has served as the country's legal representative in cases before the Supreme Court. As such, there is the likelihood that she would have to recuse herself on some cases before the court which she either argued or helped develop the legal strategy.
Kagan is a native New Yorker and a former dean of the Harvard Law School. She worked in the administration of President Bill Clinton in the office of legal counsel. She clerked for Justice Thurgood Marshall.
A profile in the New York Times includes these paragraphs:
She was the razor-sharp newspaper editor and history major at Princeton who examined American socialism, and the Supreme Court clerk for a legal giant, Thurgood Marshall, who nicknamed her “Shorty.” She was the reformed teenage smoker who confessed to the occasional cigar as she fought Big Tobacco for the Clinton administration, and the literature lover who reread Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” every year.
She was the opera-loving, poker-playing, glass-ceiling-shattering first woman to be dean of Harvard Law School, where she reached out to conservatives (she once held a dinner to honor Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia) and healed bitter rifts on the faculty with gestures as simple as offering professors free lunch, just to get them talking.
• • •
“Elena is open-minded, pragmatic and progressive,” said Walter Dellinger, a former acting solicitor general in the Clinton administration who is close to both Ms. Kagan and the White House.
Nullifcation: Last Refuge of White Supremacists
District 78 Representative Kirk Talbot looks like the mild-mannered junior legislator, but in the wake of passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Talbot has transformed into a champion of the cause of "nullification" in the Legislature a discredited legal theory that states can somehow override federal laws that they disagree with.
While his leadership on this issue has won him admirers on the right, it has also fixed Talbot squarely in a long line of southerners who defended slavery, championed white supremacy and fought long and hard to defeat the Civil Rights Movement half a century ago. In embracing the legal theories first advanced by South Carolinian John C. Calhoun, Kirk Talbot is also embracing the long sordid history of white supremacists in this state that includes the murderous vigilantism of the Ku Klux Klan and the barely more subtle racist politics of Plaquemines Parish boss Leander Perez, Sr.
Talbot's bill and constitutional amendment to nullify healthcare reform have exposed a side of Republican politics that the party has previously tended to try to keep concealed. But, with a Republican governor, the Secretary of Health and Hospitals, Commissioner of Insurance, and the Democratic Attorney General falling all over themselves to support his efforts either directly or through their own channels, the conservative political leadership of the state feels it will pay no price for embracing this tainted legal legacy.
While nullification and the racial domination implicit in it have long simmered below the surface of state politics (at least in politic company), it had not seen the light of day since Perez and State Senator Willie Rainach championed Louisiana resistance to desegregation through the formation of White Citizens Councils and the use of other, less 'respectable' means in the 1950s and early 1960s.
Until Kirk Talbot brought it out of the shadows this year.
The Politics of Fear and Loathing
Talbot's embrace of nullification has tapped into the fear and paranoia experienced by elements of the white community since Barack Obama rose to the Democratic nomination for President and then won the election. Upon his inauguration and his decision to tackle health reform, segments of the white community simply became unhinged. There is, in fact, a name for the phenomena: "Obama Derangement Syndrome."
From "birthers" who question whether the President was born in the United States to those who call him alternately a muslim, a radical christian, a marxist and a nazi, clearly large segments of the white community (particularly Republicans and members of the Tea Party) are having a difficult time coming to terms with the very idea of Barack Obama as President. The phenomena is even disturbing to some on the right.
Healthcare reform sent many of these people even further over the edge. The evidence being that anything negative they heard about the President, they believed. Think about the "death panels" nonsense that raged late last summer.
Nullification is an idea that percolated on the fringes of the right as it became clear that the President and Congressional Democrats were going to succeed in passing healthcare reform.
The alleged trigger for this rabid response to reform is federal mandate that individuals buy health insurance which is included in the new law. Ironically, the idea originated with Republicans when Bill Clinton was trying to get his version of healthcare reform passed in the 1990s.
Now, however, in the hands of this Black Democratic President, this Republican-invented mandate somehow constitutes an existential threat to the Republic that must be quashed. Never mind that the state of Massachusetts actually pioneered this approach under the legislation it passed under the administration of Republican Governor Mitt Romney.
The Ride Aint Free
Nullification carries considerable baggage. It is the legal theory that at least in part the Civil War was fought over. It is the legal theory that was behind efforts in the South to defend slavery, then segregation, and other race-based legal schemes championed by long lines of white supremacists who dominated the region's business and political realms between in the 19th and 20th centuries. That control lasted from end of Reconstruction until the late 1960s when the last vestiges of legal segregation were struck down in the courts and by the Congress.
Click here to read the rest of this story.
Adley Law Clinic Bill Runs Into Oil Slick
Senator Robert Adley's attempt to put student law clinics at Louisiana universities out of business has caught some national attention, but maybe not the kind the lawmaker had hoped.
SB 549 by Adley mostly put the clinics out of the business of practicing law on behalf of neighborhood groups and others. Newsweek points out, however, that the effect would be "to 'kneecap' all university environmental-law clinics in the state, which have led the way in challenging the historically cozy relationship between state politicians and the petrochemical industry."
Adley introduced the bill after the chief lobbyist for the Louisiana Chemical Association decided that the law clinics were fair game since they were costing LCA members money.
An April New York Times article made plain the intention of the LCA and their friend Senator Adley:
“We’re going to tell legislators all over the state, if they want to play hardball by trying to kneecap industry in Baton Rouge,” said the Louisiana Chemical Association president, Dan Borné, “then we should play hardball and kneecap them with their state appropriations.”
Borné's fit and Adley's bill predate the BP Gulf Gusher, but it will be interesting to see how Adley's bill fares in a new political climate in Louisiana that has even members of the Jindal cabinet acting like environmentalists.
Jindal Cabinet Secretaries Question BP's Use of Dispersants
It's not like they're switching parties or anything, but three members of Governor Bobby Jindal's cabinet took the startling action of publicly questioning BP's heavy use of dispersants in their attempts to mitigate the damage being caused by the company's Gulf Gusher.
The Associated Press reported early this week that DHH Secretary Alan Levine, DEQ Secretary Peggy Hatch, and Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Robert Barham co-signed a letter to BP officials declaring their concern for the potential harmful impact of such unprecedented quantities of dispersants in the Gulf.
According to the AP, the secretaries "asked for details on the short-term and possible long-term health risks for people and wildlife and on BP's plans to track the chemical dispersant's effects on people, wildlife and the environment over time."
What's next? Questioning the impact on climate change of such massive amounts volatile organics evaporating into the open air? No word if pigs have been seen flying in the vicinity of lower Plaquemines Parish.
School Board Term Limits Fail in Senate Committee
The Advocate reports that a House-passed bill to impose term limits on local school board members was defeated by the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee today. The vote was 6-2 to table the bill.
Despite the Jindal administration's effort to impose tougher rules on teachers and to force unfunded mandates on local school boards, Republicans objected to this bill as meddling in local affairs. Go figure.
Closing the LSU Hospitals
Does it make sense?
The real news in Speaker Jim Tucker's appearance on Monday at the Baton Rouge Press Club was not his pronouncements regarding the state employee pension plans.
While those problems are big and real, but Tucker's bit of real news was his attempt to blame President Barack Obama's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act for what Tucker, Governor Jindal, and other conservatives have been salivating over for years their plan to close large chunks (if not all) of the LSU Hospital System. That network of public hospitals is still known in much of the state as 'The Charity System' dating back to the days when it was run by the Department of Health & Hospitals.
To hear Tucker tell it, the death warrant for the LSU Hospitals is the federal cutbacks in funding for care provided to the uninsured, a program called Disproportionate Share.
Those hospitals have provided the bulk of care to the uninsured in the state and taken the lion's share of the DisPro money.
The cut in the budget that the Legislature will probably get around to approving before they leave Baton Rouge next month covers what is at least a $135 million DisPro shortfall.
Tucker says it will only get worse next year and (here he can barely keep a straight face) that will mean having to deal with the LSU Hospitals. Read that: close them.
Tucker's comments are the latest in the Jindal administration's commitment to close as much of the LSU Hospital System that it can, using any excuse it can lay its hands on in order to justify it.
Tucker is correct that the Federal government is reducing DisPro payments and those hundreds of millions of dollars annually have played a big role in keeping the LSU Hospitals open.
But, the notion that the loss of DisPro leads to the death of the LSU Hospitals is true only if your intent is to kill them. The truth is that BILLIONS of new healthcare dollars are going to flow into Louisiana as a result of healthcare reform. It could be as much as $17 billion dollars more each year or hundreds of times more dollars than are being loss to the DisPro change.
About half of that new money will come through expansion of Medicaid eligibility, something Jindal and DHH Secretary Alan Levine have publicly lamented because it will require the state to pick up as much as 10% of the cost of that at some point in the future. Those new Medicaid patients will be many of the patients who now get treated for free (later reimbursed through DisPro). So, rather than a death knell, healthcare reform will actually bring an infusion of new funding to those facilities providing care for the poor who are now uninsured.
Jindal, Tucker, et al, want to close the LSU Hospitals (that is, remove hospital capacity) because of a hole that is a few hundred million dollars at a time when there will be an influx of billions of dollars attached to newly 'covered' patients, most of whom are now cared for at LSU Hospitals. The care for those patients will no longer be uncompensated. They will have the ability to pay, either through Medicaid or through subsidized private insurance coverage.
That means that Jindal, Tucker, et al, want to close the LSU Hospitals because there will be a lot more money in the system.
This is evidence of yet another healthcare decision driven by ideology rather than logic. The decision to close Earl K. Long Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge was one such decision. LSU VP Fred Cerise made that clear in a late March interview with the Times Picayune (full article in archive). In it, Cerise said the Jindal administration made clear that it did not want to build a new LSU Hospital in Baton Rouge and made the deal with Our Lady of the Lake despite the fact that Medicaid expenditures in the Baton Rouge area will be driven higher by the deal.
Driving up the annual costs of the state's largest program at the same time the costs of that program are being cited as the biggest driver of the state's fiscal crisis.
Reducing healthcare capacity at a time when nearly one million patients with health coverage of one form or another will be coming into the system is not a logical decision.
But it is the political decision Jindal, Tucker and other conservatives want to make. They want that skin on the wall that says they crushed that system.
This decision, like the OLOL/EKL deal, will not be without costs. At least two Baton Rouge community hospitals believe they will be inundated with patients who formerly went to EKL. Those patients won't make it to OLOL. Those hospitals won't have the same reimbursement rates as the state will give OLOL.
This is not about sense. It's not about dollars. It's about ideology and claiming credit. The interests of the state and our people? It's not clear that they figure into the equation at all.