Democratic Louisiana flag
Volume 1, Number 21
By Democrats For Democrats
June 24, 2010
It's All Good?

That's the familiar refrain among the good ole boys when things are going their way — and even when they're not. In both instances, it's a lie told between friends.

This is very much like the lie being told by opponents of the deep water drilling moratorium. They are ecstatic about Judge Martin Feldman's ruling against the federal government. But, they celebrate knowing full well that the well that the Deepwater Horizon drilled is nowhere near being sealed. And, they also know that similar problems are possible on other deep water sites. And they know that the longer this well continues to gush, the more likely it is that bringing it under control will only get more difficult.

The Times-Picayune had a sobering story last Saturday which pointed out that the well is in very fragile condition. It revealed publicly for the first time that the much ballyhood "Top Kill" effort to cap the well was abandoned because engineers feared producing a blowout in the underground portion of the well and losing what little ability they have to control the gusher.

So, the happy talk about the industry having a handle on deep water drilling is BS. The best minds in the industry have been at work trying to cope with this well — all to no avail. Planning is underway in the event the relief wells don't produce relief.

Professionals in the industry who have been able to look at things through non-rose-colored glasses are concerned. Check out The Oil Drum blog to see what the non-booster crowd is making of this.

BP is barely hanging onto any semblance of control of that well. Politicians dependent on energy companies and the oil field service companies for their contributions are falling all over themselves to cling to the status quo. They say that the 90 million or so gallons of crude oil that have blown into the Gulf over the past two months is no big deal, really. After all, there are trillions of gallons of water in the Gulf.

Ignore those questions about plumes of oil. Or the big methane bubble that's been inadvertently tapped.

Don't worry. Be happy. Drill, Baby, Drill.

It's all good.

Here's the link to the archive page.

Thank you for reading!

Mike Stagg, Editor

Democratic Louisiana

The Best Judge Corporate Dividends Could Buy

Federal District Court Judge Martin Feldman will no doubt be warmly recieved should he decide to attend any of the shareholder meetings of the various entergy related companies in which he owns stock in the coming months.

On Tuesday, Feldman struck down the six-month drilling moratorium on deep water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico that was ordered by the Obama administration in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon blowout turned Gulf Gusher.

The judge owns or has until recently owned stock in two of the companies directly involved in the incident that precipitated the still developing ecological catastrophe and economic disaster — Halliburton and Transocean — as well as companies heavily invested in BP itself. You can see his full financial report here (PDF).

With these holdings, any action depressing energy stocks has a direct impact on the judge's stock portfolio.

It also makes clear why his ruling focused almost exclusively on the potential adverse economic impact of the moratorium while giving short shrift to the safety and environmental concerns that prompted the moratorium.

If the ruling is to be appealed, it would go to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. According to Bloomberg News, that court is one of several in the South that is being plagued by conflicts of interest arising from extensive energy stock holdings by judges who would sit on cases involving environmental or enrgy matters.

Feldman apparently had no compunction over treading so close to the ethical line by handling this case.

No, Feldman's conflicts of interest would only have mattered if he had been appointed by a Democrat and ruled against the interests of Republicans on a matter of importance to them.

Siding with the interests of the energy interests against the intersts of the state? That's what most of our elected officials do for a living.

Bobby Jindal's public life can be seen as a marathon wrestling match between his intellect and his political brain. The intellect is evident by the biology degree from Brown and the year-long stint at Oxford. Yet, when Jindal's political brain gains the upper hand, science gets tossed overboard as it did when the Governor signed legislation that allows the teaching of creationism in Louisiana's public schools.

Most of the time, Jindal is able to put enough distance between his intellect and his political brain to keep the differences, if not muted, then in the background. But the strain of dealing with BP Gulf Gusher and its attendant political opportunities sent Jindal into a full bi-polar eruption on science this week that calls into question the governor's mental stability.

The issues that provoked the eruption were two issues where he has staked a lot of political capital. The first issue is the berm building venture that Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser whipped up and that Jindal then rode back into the national spotlight as the 'can-do' governor. The second is the six-month deep water drilling moratorium that the Obama administration ordered in the wake of the BP Gulf Gusher.

Berms — We Don't Need No Stinkin' Science

The berm venture showed Jindal at his political best. Seeing and opportunity and talking about it until incessantly until the issue either died or he got what he wanted. In this case, he got some of what he wanted when Admiral That Allen recommended that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approve the construction of six berms along the coast in the hope that they might help stop some of the millions of gallons of oil that continue flowing into the Gulf from what was BP's well.

In the weeks leading up to Allen's recommendation, what is most striking about Jindal's effort on the berms is the fact that there is no hint anywhere that he and Nungesser consulted with any scientist about the project. The Governor certainly did not contact any of the scientists at any of the various coastal and estuary research centers at the state's public and private universities. He did use LUMCON as the backdrop for a press briefing but apparently never responded to an offer from the scientists there to serve as information resources to the Governor on any of the state's response efforts to the Gulf Gusher.

In fact, the only public record of Jindal and Nungesser ever having heard from scientists on the berm plan was at the June 1 meeting to discuss the matter in New Orleans, where scientists attended (at Allen's request, apparently). The fact that anyone would question their brainchild so infuriated Nungesser that he left the meeting and attacked the scientists during an encounter with reporters who met him outside the meeting room. Jindal at least stayed in the meeting but the scientists and their concerns left him unfazed.

There are no verifiable reports that our Governor sat through the meeting with his hands over his ears. There was, though, no indication that anything the Governor heard in the meeting made any impression on him, either. Jindal went into the meeting committed to dredging for berms, regardless of the facts. He maintains that position today.

That is apparently why the dredging has now been shut down. The Department of the Interior ordered it shut down after several days of trying to get the state-hired contractor to carryout the work in the manner defined in the permit and in a way that does not endanger the barrier islands the berms are intended to bolster.

According to the Times-Picayune account of the shutdown:

The state's contractors were told by the Army Corps of Engineers to shut down dredging operations Tuesday evening, after the Interior Department in Washington expressed concerns that if the state continued to dredge in the current location it could pose long-term risks for the current barrier island system. Federal officials said they had already given the state more than a week to get sand from a more distant borrow site, but that contractors have continued to ask for more time.

Predictably, Jindal erupted, railing against bureaucracy — and ignoring the science. "Get out of the way; move this bureaucracy out of the way," Jindal was quoted by the Times-Picayune as saying.

Earth to Jindal: It's the science, stupid!

The Times-Picayune explains:

Tom Strickland, assistant Interior Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said that if the department had allowed the state to continue digging where it was digging, officials feared it would approach a "tipping point" with an "impact on that island chain that may never be restored."

The concern with the current borrow site is that sand circulating in the island system could become trapped in the borrow pit, thus accelerating land loss throughout the Chandeleur chain. According to the federal government, a site a mile farther offshore poses less of a risk.

"We're acting in good faith. We have a good working relationship with the state on so many elements of this," Strickland said. "We are going to continue to work with the state."

The problem is that the bureaucrats that Jindal and his pal Nungesser are attacking have based their decision on the hydrology of the barrier island ecosystem. What separates the people at the Department of the Interior from Jindal and Nungesser is an appreciation that the dredging has, all along, carried with it the real possibility of doing more harm to the already ravaged coast than good.

Click here to read the rest of "Say Anything"

Vitter's Female Troubles Erupt in Wake of Furer Furor

Is David Vitter running a senate office or a work release program for sexual offenders?

Harsh? Not really considering the news this week regarding the record of the man Vitter put in charge of women's issues, Brent Furer.

Furer resigned this week after ABC News reported on his criminal history dating back to the 1990s. That record includes a 2003 arrest for DUI in Louisiana after his car was spotted weaving. The officer who stopped the car said Furer and his woman passenger appeared to be fighting in the car as it proceded down the road. Furer was found to have a blood alcohol level of .132 and was described as being verbally abusive of the officers who arrested him. He pled guilty to DWI and was ordered to do community service. His community service was monitored by one of Senator Vitter's regional field directors, according to ABC News.

All of this pales in comparison to a 2008 incident involving Furer and his ex-girl friend. The complaint against Furer accused him of "holding his ex-girlfriend against her will for 90 minutes, threatening to kill her, placing his hand over her mouth, and cutting her in the hand and neck."

Amazingly, Furer was allowed to remain on Vitter's staff with these charges pending against him until this blew up in the mainstream media this week. Shockingly, he was some how put in charge of women's issues on Vitter's staff, according to Washington Monthly.

This goes beyond mere political tone-deafness, considering Vitter's long record of dealings with women.

There was the documented relationship with the working girls of the late DC Madam. There were allegations (which Vitter denied) that he was a recognized customer of the Canal Street Brothel in New Orleans. Then there was Wendy Cortez. I'm not sure where she worked, but she claimed to have had a paid sexual relationship with Vitter.

Then there is Vitter's voting record on issues affecting women ranging from equal pay to providing legal remedies for being raped on the job. He has consistently opposed standing up for the rights of women, always finding some excuse to rank the interests of corporations higher than the rights of women.

For a candidate trying to put his well-publicized troubled past behind him, the eruption of this Furer furor comes at an inopportune time. It comes almost exactly three years after the DC Madam revelations that catapulted Vitter into the national spotlight while knocking his Louisiana Committee for a Republican Majority off its fund-raising stride. He took calls from the DC Madam while on the floor of the House for roll call votes on at least two occasions.

What kind of office does Vitter run that someone like Furer would not only find a home but last so long despite a long and sordid legal history?

Does Vitter not do background checks? Vitter must have had some knowledge of Furer's problems because of the role one of his campaign coordinators played in supervising Furer's community service penalty. How could he keep this guy on his staff?

Women make up 51.5% of the state's population. Vitter seems to have gone out of his way during his five and one-half years in the Senate to insult them.

This episode involving Furer is relevant because of the earlier incidents and because of Vitter's pitiful record on women's issues. There is also his hypocrisy — remember the great family man in his 2004 campaign for the Senate?

Is no one in the Louisiana Republicans offended by this conduct? Does no one in that party have the conviction to try to force Vitter out of the race or find someone to run against him in the party primary this fall? Their silence in the face of Vitter's moral turpitude is both deafening and defining.

When Governor Bobby Jindal swooped into Baton Rouge last Friday to back the Senate version of the state's two budgets (the current fiscal year and the upcoming fiscal year), House Speaker Jim Tucker bemoaned the fact that the Governor had backed two budgets that did not reflect the values of fiscal conservatives.

It's a view Tucker has repeated on a number of occasions since the session ended. It was a frustrating end to the session for Tucker, who spent most of his time frustrating friends and foes alike. The trouble started with his ham-handed handling of the election of Joel Robideaux of Lafayette to the position of Speaker Pro Tempe. Tucker dished out some tough love to people who he said had broken commitments made to him on the vote. A tinge of bitterness stayed in the air for the rest of the session.

But, fate stepped in during April when Governor Bobby Jindal decided to relocated to Plaquemines Parish to lead the state's response to the BP Gulf Gusher. That cat being away gave Tucker room to play and, man, did he have a run.

Tucker took control of the budget process. He doggedly pursued the long-cherished dream of Louisiana conservatives of closing large swaths if not all of the LSU Hospital system (formerly the Charity Hospital System. He chased his plan to consolidate all of the higher education boards in the state only to find that his handling of the Robideaux election and aftermath would deny him success on this score.

He was steadfast in his position on how the state could borrow from and repay money from the so-called Rainy Day Fund. He refused to recognize the final estimate of the state's economists on the size of the hole in the current year budget, thereby setting the stage for a climactic showdown with the Senate and his nemesis Senate President Joel Chaisson II.

All the while, Tucker and his favorite Democratic Representative Jim Fannin went to the four-corners offense on the budget, holding onto to it as long as they possibly could. When the House approved HB-1 with just two weeks left in the session, the bill reflected Tucker's vision of the future of state government.

It pretty much scared the hell out of everyone in the Senate and anyone with a conscience. At a time when the state is giving more than $7 billion in tax breaks to businesses and the well-heeled, Tucker's budget would have shut down four or more LSU Hospitals, forced the closure of several state college campuses, and made yet another round of deep cuts in Medicaid. Total state layoffs including the hospital closings, the campus closings and the other reductions in state payrolls could have reached 10,000. That number does not even address the loss in healthcare jobs in the private sector resulting from the Medicaid cuts.

At a time when Jindal and his allies were running around the state and in federal courtrooms predicting economic Armageddon over the temporary loss of about 3,000 to 5,000 deep water drilling and support jobs, hurling that number of state workers out of their jobs at the same time created something of an appearance issue that even the Governor could not ignore.

Tucker was unfazed. Maybe he knew the drilling job numbers were a sham or maybe he just does not care about the impact of massive job losses on the state economy; either way, Tucker pushed on.

Then Jindal flew in and took away all of Tucker's fun. The Speaker ended up voting against the budget, as did group of other House members. In the end, Tucker found out that Speakers only have power so long as the Governor lets them have it, or if the Governor is preoccupied with other matters.

It is testimony to just how draconian Tucker's budget was that eliminating 3,000 state jobs, cutting $25 million from Medicaid reimbursements, $25 million in cuts for higher education, and guts funding for the arts was considered something of a victory.

Whatever relief might exist could well be short-lived if state revenues continue their downward trend, wrecking the assumptions on which the budget was built. But, if needed, those cuts will be made by the Jindal administration.

On the Sunday, the second-to-last day of the session, Tucker got some help cushioning the blow of his Wiley Coyote-like defeat on the budget. He won legislative approval to have the swank apartment in the Pentagon Barracks that had previously been the realm of the Lieutenant Governor designated as the quarters of the Speaker of the House.

That apartment had been extensively remodeled by Mitch Landrieu when he was Lieutenant Governor. Landrieu spent about $1 million in taxpayer money on the renovation and that drew howls from fiscal conservatives.

So, to the Speaker go those spoils. For Tucker, now a man with a considerable list of foes in the Capitol and the House, the challenge will be to keep that job title that brings the perk heading into the final year of his term.

The perk is his — if he can remain Speaker.

Here's a link to the stand-alone version of this story.

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