Welcome to Democratic Louisiana!
Has BP started capturing some of the oil that has been gushing from the floor of the Gulf of Mexico? Reports this afternoon say they have.
While doing research for the Oil Patch Socialism article, I stumble upon a blog by an attorney who suggests that it is not in BP's interest to find out how much oil has been blown into the Gulf since late April. The reason is tied to the level of fines BP could receive for violations of the Clean Water Act.
President Obama says the era of a cozy relationship between the industry and the Department of the Interior is over. That's great! But, it remains to be seen if this disaster and its impact will change the nature of the relationship between Louisiana's political leadership and the energy industry.
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
Senate Votes to Limit Debit Card Transaction Fees
Senate Democrats delivered a major victory for small businesses and consumers on Thursday when they voted to reduce the cost of using debit cards.
The U.S. Senate voted 64-33 on Thursday to approve an amendment to the financial services reform legislation package that will impose lower transaction fees on retailers who accept debit card payments.
The fight over the amendment by Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois will be to keep the language in the final legislation which must still pass the Senate and then be reconciled with the House version of the reform, which did not include the debit card fee reduction in its final form.
According to the Associated Press the amendment would be a win for retailers and for consumers.
The measure from Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., would force credit card companies to charge businesses less for debit card transactions than for credit card payments.
Under current practice, a business that accepts major credit cards signs agreements with the card companies to pay a percentage of each transaction, usually about 2 percent to 3 percent. But credit card charges cost more to process than swipes with a debit card.
The amendment won the support of 46 Democrats (including Senator Mary Landrieu), 10 Republicans, and one Independent.
BP Gulf Gusher: The End of Oil Patch Socialism?
It's been a grand old time in recent months to hear people who call themselves conservatives rail against the advancing "socialism" they see taking over the United States. Healthcare reform was the trip wire, but, really, any excuse would have done after Barack Obama got elected president.
But, there is a more virulent form of socialism loose in America, in fact right here in Louisiana. It is the socialism that shifts the costs of the destruction of our environment, our economy, and our way of life onto taxpayers and working families, while the profits from the exercise generating the harm are privatized and hauled off into the corporate coffers of companies like BP, Shell, Exxon, and Chevron.
As the surge from every tropical storm or hurricane traveling westward across the Gulf of Mexico demonstrates, Louisiana stands defenseless against storm surge these days. Our coastal marshes are disappearing at an astonishing clip that accelerates with the passage of each storm.
The oil and gas industry bears significant but not sole responsibility for this situation. Still, their drilling activities and their pipelines, combined with the cut off of fresh water flows from the Mississippi, have decimated our wetlands.
Yet, we continue to subsidize the very activities that undermine our future. We pay to raise roads that industry activities caused to sink so that companies can pursue oil and gas in ways that further threaten to ruin our marshlands and fisheries. We give massive tax breaks to the industry to build new plants to that will pollute our air and water and stand idly by as they try to smack down anyone who tries to stand up for the health and well-being of the general public.
In Louisiana, energy is still king. The job of the rest of us is defined as being to shut up, suck it up, and clean it up.
This is oil patch socialism. It is a hybrid of the worst of capitalism and socialism. Under this system, profits are the sole domain of the energy companies while the environmental, ecological and economic downsides of their activities are the sole responsibility of the general population.
Louisiana Has Been Expendable
Louisiana has always had a love/hate relationship with the oil and gas industry.
We loved the jobs and the tax revenue. Working in the oil patch was hard but you did not need much of an education to make pretty good money out there.
The energy companies hated us. They hated our land, our marshes and our people or, at least, that's what one could conclude judging by the way they've treated us. If something broke, they dumped it off of the rig site. Oilfield waste? If they were merely borderline irresponsible, they left the wastes in man-made pits around the drilling sites. If they had less of a conscience, they dumped the stuff into ditches, bayous and streams.
The energy companies have been the anti-stewards in Louisiana. Taken as a whole, they acted as if no one would use the land or water they needed to pursue their work. It was damned near a self-fulfilling prophesy.
Click here to read the rest of "Oil Patch Socialism"
Republican senator would prefer to keep cut impacts a secret
The state is facing huge budget shortfalls over the next two years and, as has long been the case, the only places not constitutionally protected from cuts are higher education and healthcare.
While the poor and those on Medicaid are woefully under-represented in the lobbying class, higher education has backers in high places. Not the Governor's Mansion or the Fourth Floor of the Capital, but high places other than those locations.
After suffering through a third of a billion dollars in cuts during the past 17 months of the reign of Jindal, the prospects of absorbing more deep cuts is both real and too disturbing to ignore.
Commissioner of Higher Education Sally Clausen had the temerity to outline the possible impact of another round of cuts that could result from another round of steep cuts in state funding. Among the possibilities, closing eight of the state's 14 public universities.
According to The Advocate, Clausen's statement was more than Republican Senator Blade Morrish could handle.
“Instead of working with us they threatened the students and citizens of this state,” Morrish said. He chastized Clausen and others for "setting us up to fail."
Let's get this straight: The Legislature is cutting higher education education funding like it's an invasive weed while demanding higher performance standards before they will allow the universities to raise tuitions. And the universities are setting up the Legislature for failure?
This blade cannot possibly be the sharpest knife in Senate quiver, can it?
Jindal Ethics Reforms:
All spin, no torque
The lone substantive accomplishment of two-plus years of Bobby Jindal's tenure as governor is a sham, according to the former vice chairman of the Louisiana Board of Ethics.
In a letter published on Wednesday in The Advocate, Scott Frazier said that the plan drawn up by Jindal and enacted by the Legislature in a special session shortly after his inauguration in 2008 is fatally flawed:
[U]nder the new enforcement structure for Louisiana’s ethics laws, the DAL [Division of Administrative Law] director can potentially change long-standing policy and precedent by changing the Ethics Board’s interpretation of the law. Moreover, by limiting confidentiality protections for whistleblowers and by imposing burdensome evidentiary requirements and legal presumptions not appropriate to an administrative proceeding, she can indirectly affect the results in contested cases. In addition, the “reform” legislation denies any appeal right to the Board of Ethics, so a legal error committed by the DAL tribunal in favor of the accused public official cannot be corrected by a court.
Frazier added that under the Jindal ethics regime (formerly known as 'The Gold Standard'), the ethics hen house has been put under control of the fox class it was supposedly designed to police.
Under the “reformed” ethics enforcement structure, the political class (the governor, through his politically appointed DAL director, together with the legislative leadership and the courthouse circle) is enabled to shield itself from independent ethics oversight by effectively controlling enforcement of the ethics laws.
While the Ethics Board retains, on paper, the power to bring charges against a public official or employee, its willingness to do so, particularly against a powerful political figure, will be dictated by the potential for success under the rules established by the politically controlled DAL.
In short, the political class now holds the real power over the enforcement of Louisiana’s ethics laws, and this is the cruel irony of Louisiana’s so-called “ethics reform.”
Jindal appointed Frazier to the Board of Ethics in August 2008 as part of a seven-member class named to replace members of the previous board who staged a mass resignation over the the transfer of authority from the board to the administrative law judges the same issue Frazier addressed in his letter.
Mary Evelyn Parker was right! "All that glitters is not gold." Not even, apparently, the Gold Standard.