Saturday, August 7, 2010

Grand Theft NOLA

In 1985, then Governor Edwin Edwards was indicted and tried on federal charges that he was selling hospital certificates of need to his allies in exchange for money. A hung jury led to a new trial in 1986 in which Edwards and four co-defendants were acquitted.

Suffice it to say that if the thought would have even entered Edwin Edwards' mind to do what Bobby Jindal is doing in New Orleans now with the still-to-be-built Teaching Hospital in New Orleans, grand juries would have already been impaneled and Judge Frank Polozola would be clawing his way back to the bench in anticipation of the indictments and trial.

Looting the Healthcare Infrastructure

What is Jindal doing? He's taking more than $1.2 billion in public money and giving it to a private corporation that will be beyond the control or supervision of the Legislature and the public. The first $800 million or so of the funds were either appropriated by the Legislature or awarded to the state by the federal government through FEMA to replace the former Big Charity Hospital in New Orleans that was flooded in the wake of the federal levee collapse after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The remaining $400 million or so will come through financing arranged through LSU which, when we last checked, was the state's land grant university and a public entity.

Killing the state's public hospital system has been a goal of Jindal's since the days when he ran the Department of Health & Hospitals for Governor Mike Foster. He's made considerable progress. Shortly after taking office, he killed plans laid by Governor Kathleen Blanco to build a new state hospital to replace Huey P. Long Medical Center in Pineville.

Last year, Jindal made clear to LSU that if it wanted a replacement hospital for Big Charity in New Orleans, it would have to scuttle Earl K. Long Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge. Governor Blanco had also started a funding process to rebuild this hospital, but Jindal made clear to LSU's Health Care Vice President Fred Cerise that killing EKL was the price the university would pay to get a hospital in New Orleans. So, Cerise struck a deal with Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge to take over the handling of some Medicaid patients and to serve as the home institution for LSU's medical education program in Baton Rouge.

Jindal insisted that the Legislature have no say in the appointments to the New Orleans hospital board, fighting hard in the recent Regular Session Senator Ed Murray's attempt to give the Senate the right to confirm appointments to the governing board.

This past week, Jindal grabbed full control of the project when his majority on the LSU Board of Supervisors overruled LSU System President John Lombardi's choice to chair the governing board and replace her with one of Jindal's biggest contributors, Baton Rouge meat magnate Bobby Yarborough. Jindal had appointed Yarborough to the LSU Board of Supervisors in June, apparently with some role like this already in mind.

Jindal's true intentions became abundantly clear when members of Jindal's staff convened a closed door meeting on Wednesday in New Orleans involving nine of the 11 members of the hospital governing board. Jindal legal counsel Stephen Waguespack described it as a "social meeting" that did not violate the state open meetings law. Waguespack told the Time-Picayune that he was not sure if the open meetings law applies to the new corporation.

Pure and simple, this is a power grab to enable a money grab.

The Jindal MO: Public Dollars to Private Donors

The so-called Ethics Governor™ has a record replete with lavishing public dollars in service of the projects of his biggest contributors. Gary Chouest's project got nearly $30 million. Lev Dawson's sweet potato farm just happens to be next door to a ConAgra plant that Jindal put $30 million of state dollars into. The Shaw Group, which gave the Louisiana Republican Party and the Louisiana Committee for a Republican Majority, a matching set of $50,000 contributions in recent years, got the contract to dredge for Bobby's berms without having to go through a bid process.

Nice rewards that a governor with a compliant Legislature can give. But, as has been clear for quite sometime, Jindal has much higher aspirations than Baton Rouge and to do that, it's going to take a lot more money than he's raised to run for re-election. To do that, he needs another mechanism to draw deeper from the deep pockets of the people who can fund his campaigns.

No, to do that, Jindal needs to do more than a couple of one-off investments in private projects. He needs to create lasting money streams for his supporters — or potential supporters. That business model was perfected under the Bush/Cheney administration. It is crony capitalism.

Jindal's fight to privatize the state's mental health hospitals, in retrospect, was where he showed his hand for what he has in mind for the New Orleans teaching hospital. He wants to be able to distribute lucrative contracts for management and services in a way that is beyond the reach of the Legislature and beyond the review of the public. Jindal said he vetoed HB 1443 by Rep. John Bel Edwards because the "additional steps" of legislative oversight of the privatization process "would hinder" the state's ability to accomplish his goals, which are to distribute the contracts as he sees fit.

Apply that logic to the teaching hospital in New Orleans and what you come up with is Jindal having (and exercising) the power to award contracts for managing and providing services to the hospital built with public dollars without anyone having any ability to review those contracts. Who would do that? The hand-picked board members from LSU? The other board members that Jindal influences or controls?

Jindal is all about monetizing his in-state political power to fuel his national political ambitions.

He intends to take the new hospital in New Orleans behind a wall of secrecy where he can wheel and deal as he sees fit. It will be interesting to see if this hospital, which was supposed to replace Big Charity, will actually provide care to the uninsured, or if they will be shunted elsewhere.

There can be no ethics if there is no transparency — and Jindal has a long record of resisting any and all attempts to bring transparency to the operation of his office.

The theft here is the taking of a public healthcare asset and turning it over to a private corporation so that it can become a profit center, economic engine and political funding machine. The well-being of the citizens who were dependent on Big Charity is nowhere in the Jindal agenda. Jindal's only interest in healthcare is as a political issue. It was a stepping stone for him early in his career. Until the BP Gulf Gusher it was his feeble last leg of credibility on the national scene. Now, it is a vehicle for political alchemy — turning public health into private political profit.

The scale of this power grab is unmatched by anything seen since the days of Huey Long. Unlike Long, Jindal does not pretend to be the least bit interested in throw even collateral benefits to the public as he diligently works to build his funding base upon the wreckage he is creating of Louisiana's public health infrastructure.

No, this is all about Bobby.

The Press Has Been Bamboozled

The mainstream media in this state is bamboozled. Despite Jindal's fierce (and thus far successful) efforts to preserve a wall of secrecy around his office, he still gets the benefit of the doubt on matters like does the open meetings law apply to the new hospital board.

There can be no ethics if there is no transparency. Jindal will not allow transparency. His claims of ethical conduct rest solely on his claims of ethical conduct.

But there is a strain of deception that is becoming more clear every day and it has emerged from his dealings with the Gulf Gusher. We know that he's lied about the origin of the berm plan. He's lied about the terms of the government permit to dredge for the berms. We also know that he's lied about the impact of the deep water drilling moratorium on the state's economy.

All these fresh lies and the press continues to defer to him. At what point do they allow themselves to engage in critical thinking again and begin to examine Jindal's maneuvers with a critical eye?

Probably not until he's hit the national campaign trail. At which point, the next governor will be left cleaning up his mess. Sounds exactly like the task that President Obama assumed after his predecessor's adventures in crony capitalism nearly wrecked the country.


Gilda said...

More antics from Jingle-Bell Jindal. What a scourge for the people of Louisiana.

K. said...

Boob Bob definitely has the SmartestGuy in the Room Syndrome.

What gets me is how cheaply these guys sell themselves. What did Choest have to kick in for a $30 mil contract? Ten grand or so and a couple of introductions? I'm 55 years old and ought to know that this is naive, but you'd think there would be some sense of shame.

Mike Stagg said...

K, well, Chouest and his family kicked in over $130k to various Louisiana Republican causes in 2007, including Jindal. Most of that money was in the form of a $100,000 check to the Louisiana Committee for a Republican Majority.

Jindal is free with PUBLIC dollars, not his own. So, it's other people's money that he's throwing around so freely.

I'm sure that "shame" is a word with which Mr. Jindal is not familiar.

kid said...

I just seen this on Kos and came here to see the Graphics. If William Jefferson can be busted for this , why can't Gov. Jindal? I know that Louisiana politics is somewhat of a theftocracy but this is just too overt.

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