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 23 Here's a story in the Picayune about some statistics that must come as a blow to folks who believe that any private school can do a better job of educating kids than any public school: Danielle Dreilinger reports that only 30 percent of the voucher kids are passing. That's less than half of the state wide average, she says. It's an interesting statistic because most of the schools (if not all) taking voucher kids have never had their students' standardized test scores released to the public before.
MAY 23 Stephen Sabludowsky blogs on Bayou Buzz about auditor requests here. Recently the state GOP started crowing about a request from the Legislative Auditor, claiming they were being targeted because of their anti-tax stance. (Uh, your what?) Denial and hyperbole aside, the state Democratic party blew holes in that theory with an email announcing they'd received the same request, Sabludowsky writes here.
MAY 23 Jim Brown blogs about the senate race in this post. He says that, given Bobby Jindal's "lack of traction" on the national stage, it might make more sense for the governor to consider running against Mary Landrieu for the senate seat. Since Tim Teeple left the Cassidy team, it makes sense he might land on a Jindal for Senate team, Brown opines.
MAY 23 In this Louisiana Voice post, blogger Tom Aswell writes of rumors that his nemesis, state Superintendent of Education John White, may be soon departing Louisiana for a federal post. It's hard to believe, given his performance, Aswell says, but stranger things have happened. An anti-White BESE member says that, if true, White is quitting before he can be fired.
MAY 23 In this post on American Zombie, blogger Jason Berry writes about the Mother's Day shooting. Mayor Landrieu said that "this is not who we are," but the fact is, this is New Orleans, Berry writes. The violence infused in the city is the result of a culture created by "sins of omission or sins of commission," Berry writes. It's not a problem that can be solved by legislating, policing, praying or publicizing, he says: Someone's got to understand what's happening first.
MAY 23 This post in the Westside Journal tells us what Port Allen Mayor Deedy has been up to lately: vetoing ordinances, apparently. This story is most interesting, however, when it delves into a petition that has been circulating around the city lately. It accuses the former mayor of a lot of nasty things; the former mayor says it is full of lies and "broken syntax" which may be a larger offense in his eyes.
MAY 23 This editorial posted in The Advocate is a bit confusing. The writing is poor - definitely not up to the usual editorial writing standard there - and the point is hard to grasp. Apparently, the writer is saying that privatization of state efforts is OK, as long as there is oversight and transparency, but Jindal's not good at that, and the legislature shouldn't over-react. Okey Dokey. Can't they get one of them Pulitzer-winning people to write an editorial?
MAY 23 This post on The Lens gives you links to a new Google Earth tool that allows you to see any spot on earth transform over the past 30 years. Bob Marshall, who covers the coast for the paper, says that in the case of Louisiana's coastline, it's possibly something you don't want to see, because it's not a pretty picture. There are several clips here, showing critical areas erode away. For Marshall, it was vindication for all those times he was met with eye-rolling when he talked about erosion.
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.