“Your betters have endured me say my mind, and if you cannot, best you stop your ears. My tongue will tell the anger of my heart, or else my heart concealing it will break.” — Katherina, Act 4, Scene 3, Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew

Dear Readers and Friends,

Many thanks to all of you for your compassion following the passing of my spouse. I deeply appreciate your kindnesses through this difficult time.

To my publisher and dear friend Lamar White, you have my profound gratitude for your patience with my grieving process, and your confidence that I would ultimately find my way back from this dark journey. The hours you’ve spent on the phone with me, reminding me of “life out there,” are invaluable.

Here’s where I also give a special shoutout to Bayou Brief’s Chairman, Cayman Clevenger, who insisted Lamar drag me out to a simple, small BBQ early on in my period of mourning. It was a crucial reminder that my “primary caregiver” duties were done, so I could leave the house.

Y’all may have noticed I haven’t been writing. Check that. I haven’t been publishing what I write. I would research and then start to compose an article, get several paragraphs into it, and then find I was overwhelmed with the futility of it all.

Here was the argument from inside my head: “I’ve covered these topics, these issues, over and over again. I’ve made logical, reasoned arguments. I’ve made them funny, and I’ve painted verbal caricatures of the people involved. Yet here we are, arguing the same issue again, choosing the same ineffective response, getting nowhere. Why bother? No matter how many times or how many ways I say it, nothing changes. Nobody is paying attention.”

That internal dialogue had been ending in my closing or deleting the document. “What’s the point?” I’d ask myself and Lamar.

More than simple writer’s block, my crisis of confidence in myself (and how all of y’all respond) has been tangled up with the past years of intensive caregiving and the present grieving over the loss of my husband.

The theme that links the two? All that energy expended, yet the end result is still negative.

I’m now engaged in counseling, as I sort through accumulated “stuff” and prepare to move to a smaller home. And I’m still figuring out “what I want to be when I grow up.”

My adult children started asking me variations of that question within days of their father’s death. Each expressed willingness for me to join their respective households, but I could see the fear in their eyes when they asked about the possibility.

“Too soon to decide,” I said. “It’s kind of you to offer, but I think that’s one of those ‘only if there’s no other option’ options.”

“Remember, Mom, you’re not responsible for dad or us anymore – only for yourself. You don’t have to compromise on everything – or anything,” my oldest daughter said. “Where do you want to live? What do you want to do?”

“First, I want to get rid of all this stuff that has attached itself to our lives. It feels like I’m tied to the stuff, and it’s weighing me down and holding me back – like an anchor.” I said. “And then I want to get an old-school canned ham travel trailer, move into it, and head out on the road.”

And while that was the extreme version of possible futures, I have been working lightening the load of stuff that has accumulated around me. Plus, Don and I had planned on doing some traveling once he had gotten his LVAD (artificial heart pump). In fact, the intention had been this would be my final year covering Louisiana legislative sessions, and that next spring, we’d be ready to roam.

I’d spoken of this intention with several people prior to Don’s final hospitalization and death. When I returned to the state Capitol in the last couple of days of this most recent session, a conversation with one particular lawmaker prompted more pondering of that plan.

Throughout this term, I’ve been respectfully critical of the partisan policies expressed and enacted by House Appropriations Chairman Cameron Henry. Yet while I differ with the politician, I respect and rather like the person. So when we saw each other in the hall the last day of this past session, there were hugs, and he expressed sympathy for my loss. I told him – truly – that I would miss him, too, as he is term-limited out this year.

Louisiana state Rep. Cameron Henry. Photo credit: Sue Lincoln

“Don’t worry,” he said, “I’m running for state Senate. So we’ll still be able to cross verbal swords next year.”

“That’s great, except I’d planned that this was my last session,” I explained.

“Don’t do that!” he said, grabbing my shoulders and looking directly into my eyes.

“We need you. I’m serious,” he told me. “You have deep institutional knowledge, and term limits mean next year there will be a lot of lawmakers who don’t know what they are doing. We need you to tell us – to tell the public – when we are doing it wrong, as well as when we do it right. And I personally want your professional opinion on what we do.

“Plus,” he added, “there are fewer and fewer news outlets and reporters covering all this. And it’s vitally important for the public to have voices like yours telling them what we do here, on their behalf. So please, give us one more year, at least.”

I promised him I’d consider it, and I am… still.

Meanwhile, there are a few things that absolutely exasperate me, and – as Cameron so graciously reminded me – you are all entitled to my opinion.

(If you don’t like what I’m about to say, blame Cameron Henry ;-). If you do like it, donate to the Bayou Brief.)

Rant the first: About that oil spill…

Sheen on Gulf of Mexico waters from Taylor Energy MC20 site. Photo courtesy: healthygulf.org

A 147-page National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) technical report on the former Taylor Energy MC20 oil well site was released Monday, saying the crude oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico far exceeds the amounts and sources the company claims.

For those unaware, this is an oil spill that started in 2004 when Hurricane Ivan toppled Taylor Energy’s Saratoga platform in the northern Gulf of Mexico, and nearly fifteen years later, it continues to send a sheen of crude to the surface today.

Taylor Energy publicly claims they’re releasing only about a drop per minute (or approximately three gallons per day) and that it’s coming from the mud that covers the well site, 443 feet below the water surface.

The NOAA study says there are definitely four – and potentially five – distinct plume sites around the former wellhead location. Combined, they are releasing over 34,000 cubic feet of methane gas and an average of 46 barrels (more than 1900 gallons) of oil every single day.

The New York Times headlined its June 25 article about the NOAA report this way: “New Estimate for an Oil Leak: A Thousand Times Worse Than Rig Owner Says.”

Taylor Energy, which in 2008 sold all its oil and gas assets (except this MC20 site) to Samsung, was founded in 1979 by Patrick F. Taylor.

If that name seems familiar, that’s the same Patrick F. Taylor credited as being “the godfather of TOPS,” which is an acronym for the “Taylor Opportunity Program for Students.”

The statewide taxpayer-funded college scholarship program is based on the program he began in 1988, originally for students in New Orleans.

Patrick Taylor passed away in 2004, a month and a half after Hurricane Ivan initiated this spill. He left everything to his wife Phyllis, making her, at one point, the “richest woman in Louisiana.” Today, that title belongs to Gayle Benson, the widow of New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson, who is worth an estimated $2.8 billion.

Phyllis Miller Taylor of Abbeville, Louisiana, though, still sits atop a $1.6 billion fortune, approximately $400 million more than she inherited fifteen years ago. She also remains Chairman and President of the Patrick F. Taylor Foundation, which, according to the most recently available reports, claims approximately $38 million in assets, primarily in corporate stocks and real estate, and qualifies to distribute between $6 million to $8 million a year in educational grants.

However, the Patrick F. Taylor Foundation is not TOPS.

It is a 501(c)(3) family foundation; it has no employees; its only donor is Phyllis Taylor (according to the most recent reporting), and those donations (she contributed $6 million in 2016, for example) are tax-deductible.

Phyllis Taylor. Photo credit: Sue Lincoln.

All of this is important, because in recent years, whenever there’s a move toward making TOPS a more needs-based scholarship program, extreme deference is given to Phyllis Taylor’s opinion on the subject, consistently determined to keep it available to the wealthy and poor alike. Notably, Taylor doesn’t actually contribute an endowment toward the state TOPS program. She donates to her own family foundation, and presumably, deducts those contributions from a percentage of the taxes she would otherwise owe the state and federal government.

TOPS was a brilliant and important idea, and despite its name, it has always been entirely funded by we the people.

With all that in mind, let us return and consider the latest information about the spill. The Hill, in its June 24 story about the NOAA findings, reported this response from the well’s ownership: “The Government released this report to the media but did not share it with Taylor Energy. In addition to this one instance, the Government has refused to share with Taylor Energy any verifiable scientific information or data despite the company’s multiple requests.”

Boo-hooing because the big, bad federal government didn’t share its results with Taylor Energy first? Then trying to imply the government scientists’ data is unreliable after nearly 15 years of your failure to halt the leak?

Really.

Louisiana and its officials should be demanding, immediately, Phyllis Taylor voluntarily use her vast financial resources to put a stop to the oil and gas that’s been spilling from the Taylor MC 20 site for the past fifteen years.

The NOAA report outlines what appears to be troubling evidence of corporate negligence, and Taylor Energy’s response does little to inspire confidence.

Neither the Louisiana Board of Regents nor the Louisiana Legislature should give any credence to her opinion on how TOPS should be administered.

And considering Tulane University’s ranking among the top ten for law students specializing in environmental law, it seems the height of hypocrisy that Tulane has Phyllis Taylor serving on its Board of Supervisors.

It should not be, as Ouiser Boudreaux says in Steel Magnolias, “The only reason people are nice to me is because I have more money than God.”

Sue the Shrew has many more opinions to share, on topics that range from public health record-keeping to how NOT to run a political campaign, so watch for those upcoming rants.