Nonprofit ProPublica teamed up with The Washington Post to release a scathing report Wednesday on coastal communities that took part in extreme post oil spill price gouging and local governments that were less than prudent when spending BP money — and it sure didn’t sit well with some blogs that have since responded.
The article, posted online at The Washington Post’s website, begins with the headline “‘Spillionaires’ are the new rich after BP oil spill payouts,” and largely focuses on St. Bernard Parish administrators and how they handled the cleanup contracts and money flow following the spill:
Documents show that companies with ties to parish insiders got lucrative contracts and then charged BP for every possible expense. The prime cleanup company submitted bills with little or no documentation. A subcontractor billed BP $15,400 per month to rent a generator that usually cost $1,500 a month. Another company charged BP more than a $1 million a month for land it had been renting for less than $1,700 a month. Assignments for individual fishermen also fell under the control of political leaders.
In some ways, parish residents seemed to view the disaster and BP’s culpability as an opportunity to recover from earlier blows. St. Bernard bore the brunt of Hurricane Katrina, which flooded almost every home in August 2005. Population dropped almost in half, from about 67,000 in 2000 to 36,000 in 2010, largely because people didn’t go back after Katrina and the hurricanes that followed. Before the spill, the parish slashed its budget by 11 percent, cutting garbage collection, the fire department and mosquito control. There was just no money.
The spill changed that. Fishermen were paid to lay out protective booms to try to corral the oil. Contractors were hired to manage the cleanup and provide security. Claims money began flowing to people who said their lives had been upended by the crisis.
By Wednesday night, Kevin Allman, managing editor of New Orleans’ Gambit newspaper, had responded to the ProPublica investigative report with his own headline posted on Gambit’s website: “Who needs Rush Limbaugh when you’ve got ProPublica?”
Allman countered that in all the months ProPublica reporters may have spent in South Louisiana digging for corruption documents, they perhaps failed to interview the thousands of residents who truly have suffered from the spill, those “whose claims haven’t been processed and are now bankrupt-aires and broke-aires.”
Victimizing BP and making Gulf Coast residents the antagonists of the saga could understandably incite feelings of outrage among Louisianans, but lest we forget we’ve heard of those poor New Orleans waiters and waitresses cashing in on upwards of $10,000 from BP during a time when the Crescent City experienced record tourism numbers. (One New Orleans waiter I know received two $5,000 BP checks following the spill; he works at a chain restaurant that doesn’t even use Louisiana seafood.)
But Allman also points out that ProPublica, a nonprofit journalism organization, has itself been at the center of controversy regarding compensation:
If we’re going to talk ridiculous compensation, we can go back to 2009, when the journalism world was buzzing about the top salaries at the nonprofit ProPublica, where the top editor made $570K a year and senior reporters were pulling down more than $200K in salary and compensation. Their prerogative, of course, but I’d wager that’s a bit more than the average fisherman or boat owner in Plaquemines has ever pulled down — before or after the oil disaster.
I wonder if Barker’s reporting took her to Grand Isle to see the For Sale signs on every other house, or if she talked to any of the Raceland “spillionaires” Alex Woodward met last weekend, ailing “spillionaires” who can’t work or get medical treatment despite some pretty scary chemical exposure symptoms. Would you call them “spillionaires” to their faces?
MAY 24 Blogger Robert Mann posts this entry about the Baton Rouge Chamber's recent report on Louisiana's higher education system. It's critical to economic development, and yet our system is facing a "funding crisis" with no way to resolve it, the report says. The Chamber says control of tuition and fees must be returned to the higher ed governing boards.
MAY 24 Here's a NBC33 story about Tyrann Mathieu. He has signed with the Arizona Cardinals, inking a $3 million, four-year deal. He gets a signing bonus of $265K, but gets another, larger bonus if he doesn't get cut from the team for doing drugs. The deal reportedly includes mandatory tests and meetings for the player.
MAY 24 Jarvis DeBerry posts here about the redonkulus rhetoric that would have us believe NOLA is a safe city with a murder problem. Maybe the city's crime stats don't compare with its murder stats because you can't manipulate a murder, he says: a dead body's a dead body. It just doesn't make sense, he says, and his readers agree: a poll asks if they believe the city is safe, and more than 90 percent say no.
MAY 24 Jindal administration officials announced Thursday that the privatization of public health care is going to cost a lot more than they budgeted for, the Advocate reports here. "I'm so surprised," said no one. Anywhere. The cost they're projecting now is more than $1 billion - a lot more than the $626 million budgeted for it. And, it's more than it cost the state to operate those hospitals. So why are we doing this again?
MAY 24 Blogger CB Forgotston ridicules the recent PR campaign by the state GOP in the wake of a legislative auditor's request to both major parties. The GOP (apparently unaware that the Dems got the same request) started yammering about being targeted because it had "killed" a tax increase. CB finds that laughable, but it's also pretty funny that the GOP was comparing this episode to the IRS scandal (Because the President has so much to do with our state auditor. Right?).
MAY 24 Politico details some recent fund-raising efforts by Sen. David Vitter, which have raised the question of his future political plans. This time, it is a $5,000 per head "bayou weekend" that includes "Cajun cooking" and an all-caps "alligator hunt," the story reports. Funds raised go to a super PAC that can spend money to support Vitter in federal or state races, the story points out.
MAY 24 The pink building on Royal in the quarter was sold at a sheriff's sale Thursday, this Picayune story reports. An injunction that would have halted the sale wasn't enforced because the family failed to post a $150,000 bond, the story reports. So the owner of the mortgages on the building bought it, for nearly $7 million. Now the feuding family will have to negotiate with that company to get a lease on the building that has housed their business for close to 60 years.
MAY 23 This post in Louisiana Voice tells us about a bill by a Winnsboro lege that would require all public high school students to take at least one Course Choice online class in order to graduate. (What?) Blogger Tom Aswell says it's a monument to "waste and corruption," especially in light of the problems he's exposed with the program in recent weeks. Idaho had a similar program, but voters removed it by a 2-1 margin, Aswell says.
There will soon be a whole lot of shakin’ going on at Benny’s Sportshack Supplement Depot, a new concept by Opelousas native Benny Nele. Located at 2002 Johnston St., the supplement shop, smoothie bar and café, featuring hot off the press paninis and wraps, plans to open in late May.
Philip deMahy Sr., a once respected New Iberia ad exec, was sentenced May 2 to spend the next two years (he faced up to 100 years) in a state penitentiary after state and federal investigators found dozens of images depicting children engaged in lewd sexual acts on his personal computer.