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3.3.05

Let local governments clear the air

On the heels of Lafayette’s city-parish council’s desire to ban smoking practically everywhere it can given state law, Shreveport’s city council now is considering the same thing. This is a tough regulatory issue because it puts different groups’ rights in conflict: the right of people to burn and inhale cigarettes in public vs. others whose compromised breathing is exponentially increased in difficulty by smoke and those who perhaps only get irritated by it.

Making the move more interesting, Louisiana’s state law regarding smoking and its exemptions essentially allows any public venue where more than half of its gross revenues come from alcohol and/or are licensed for gambling not to have to create nonsmoking facilities. It also means that hotels cannot have all nonsmoking rooms and tobacconists also are exempt. In any event, even if separate facilities get created, even with technology designed to try to clear air, breathing-compromised individuals still can suffer rapid, debilitating respiratory problems with just a trace of tobacco smoke.

In short, the state does not permit local governments, none of which to date have tried to strengthen local ordinances beyond the state’s version, to force prohibition of smoking in places where traditionally it has been part of the “ambience,” or where a person is likely to reside (hotel room or private residence), or where it is integral to business (tobacconists). It does prohibit smoking in what otherwise are generally defined as “public places.” It also allows owners optionally to go further than state law; it just prohibits local governments from forcing them to do so.

What appears most contentious is both the Lafayette and Shreveport versions want to extend a 25-foot halo of sorts emanating from nonsmoking areas which would make those areas practically nonsmoking. While this may be of great benefit to the breathing-compromised, it also may run afoul of state law.

Naturally, a ban represents an intrusion on those who want to smoke. But at the same time, their desire to smoke represents an intrusion on others with potential immediate and severe negative health effects. This makes government regulation in this area appropriate, since one group’s liberty will face curtailment regardless.

The question then becomes whether the 25-foot halo would violate the law. The answer is, if it does, it shouldn’t. Many times I personally have witnessed smokers congregated right outside the doors of hospitals and clinics through which breathing-compromised individuals pass routinely which would cause them distress on the way for treatment for that very ailment. If the point of the law is to allow these people to lead normal lives (as normal as one can with their conditions) in the conduct of their business as citizens – access to health care, visiting to government offices etc. – then the 25-foot halo should be permitted.

That doesn’t mean it should apply to places like bars, restaurants, casinos, hotel rooms, and tobacconists. Engaging with these is not a necessary part of a person’s life. (In any event, the private sector seems quite capable of producing some restaurants, even a few bars, that voluntarily make themselves smoke free.)

Cities like Lafayette and Shreveport who want to do this should go for it. And if the ordinance gets challeneged and the judiciary does not uphold it, then simple majorities in the Legislature ought to be able to amend the law to allow for the halo. Surely smokers, whose chose to hook themselves to tobacco and can choose to quit at any time, can see how their behavior badly affects some people’s health. Walking over eight yards from a nonsmoking facility in order to light up will be good exercise to build up their damaged respiratory capacity, and, if raining, a nice stroll under and umbrella won’t do them any harm. And if that’s too much trouble, they can always quit smoking.

2.3.05

McCrery vs. the moonbats

You have got to admire, if with loathing, the brazenness of the left’s hypocrisy. In Louisiana’s Fourth Congressional District, Rep. Jim McCrery has been targeted in a smear campaign by an organization called the Campaign for America’s Future which claims that McCrery is beholden to special interests that have him supporting Social Security’s partial privatization (or, as McCrery puts it, “personal accounts,” as what he supports are “government-maintained accounts, not private funds”). Let’s see who this group is, what it stands for, and the big-money special interests behind it.

A look at its “advisors” speaks volumes. This group’s origins came from labor, so it’s no accident that sprinkled in there are union leaders Morton Bahr of the Communication Workers of America, George Becker of the United Steelworkers of America, Moe Biller of the American Postal Workers Union, Thomas Buffenbarger of the Machinists Union,
Bob Chase of the National Education Association, Douglas H. Dority of the United Food and Commercial Workers, Edward Fire of the International Union of Electronic Workers, Gerald W. McEntee of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Dennis Rivera of the Health and Human Service Employees, Cecil Roberts of the United Mine Workers of America, Andrew Stern of the Service Employees International Union, John J. Sweeney of the AFL-CIO, and Stephen P. Yokich of the United Auto Workers (with a couple of AFL-CIO subalterns thrown in as well).

Why is big labor so bitterly opposed to reform that would put more power in the hands of individuals? Precisely; with an inflexible, government controlled pension insurance system that Social Security is, it makes the pension systems of unions seem downright attractive. Giving individuals more control over their coerced payments into Social Security creates the unsavory idea that individuals, not fatcats like labor unions, should control their own financial futures, and may lead to a withdrawal of private funds out of union pension funds. McEntee’s has more interest than others; as the leading union trying to organize public sector employees, a Social Security system that empowers people rather than government will make some government bureaucrats less powerful if not outright redundant.

Also telling are the number of radical writers, analysts, and academics (some being both) on the list. Just to point out a few: economic know-nothings Mitchell Cohen (Dissent co-editor), Barbara Ehrenreich (author of the simplistic propaganda Nickled and Dimed), Robert Kuttner (The American Prospect editor), Frank Riessman (founding editor of Social Policy), and Michael Walzer (Dissent co-editor). Walzer joins more than a dozen radical academics on the roster, but he is probably best known along with Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward, who co-write a college textbook on American government which casts aspersions on its democratic nature and argue that wealthy interests control America. Todd Gitlin deserves special mention here not only for his academic position but also as an anti-American student leader of the 1960s (although he has softened his foreign affairs leftism since) as president of the Students for Democratic Society and joined by one of its founders and still a California state Sen. Tom Hayden.

All of these individuals, in terms of economic policy, advocate the familiar leftist mantra of denying individuals control over their own lives, giving that power to institutions like government that are allied with or controlled by them, so that they may increase their own power and privilege at the expense of the common person. Obviously, a Social Security regime that empowers the individual will not be to their liking.

With this cast of characters, and other lesser-known ones like them, already the credibility of the organization must be questioned. This credibility becomes further strained when understanding the issue preferences of the group as reflected in statements by its leaders and flacks. For the past several years the group has held the appropriately-misnamed “Take Back America” conference and rolled out a special edition of it during the Democratic National Convention last year. The wackos who speak at these and what they say are illustrative.

They include:

  • Jeff Faux of the leftist Economic Policy Institute saying that callers to conservative talk radio are “drunks”
  • National Organization for Women’s President (and Shreveport-area native) Kim Gandy’s diatribe that millions of people think Fox News Channel’s Bill O’Reilly “is actually telling them the truth about what is going on in the world.” Gandy, in a display of wit and maturity, called the MSNBC program “Scarborough Country” “Stupid –borough Country.”
  • Ralph Neas, president of the People for the American Way, said, “"We are going to block any right wing (judicial) nominee in the mold of (Supreme Court Justice Antonin) Scalia and (Justice Clarence) Thomas." Neas also said that the president is responsible for “one of the greatest constitutional threats to our constitutional scheme of government since the Founding Fathers.”
  • Deb Callahan, president of the League of Conservation Voters, inveighed "This is undeniably the worst administration that we have seen in the history of this nation on [environmental] issues."
  • Wade Henderson, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, after all this invective and vitriol about conservatives and Republicans, claimed that "ideological extremism on the right" was making bipartisanship "impossible."
  • Former Green Party California Senate candidate Medea Benjamin, who has publicly praised Cuba’s system of government, said that George W. Bush is “marinated in oil.”
  • Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, recent Democrat presidential candidate, advanced the idea of a Constitutional amendment barring anyone from operating an electric power system for profit.
    This isn’t even including the granddaddy of the nutjobs, Michael Moore, who graced the group with an appearance during its special session.

    Of course, we can count on the leaders of the group to show how delusional they are about reality in America. Co-Director Robert Borosage during the 2001 event accused President Bush of being a latter-day William McKinley and attempting to create an alliance of the robber barons against the people with his policy of “tax cuts for the wealthy,” “arsenic in the water,” and “salmonella in the food.” And here’s his wisdom on the 2004 election:

    In the most negative and dishonest campaign by an incumbent president in memory, President Bush wrapped himself in the flag, stroked the fears and passions of the evangelical right, and divided the country with gay baiting. His lies about Kerry’s positions, distortions of his record and libels of his character were shameless but brutally effective. Bush succeeded in raising sufficient doubts about Kerry to distract voters from the incumbent’s failures in office.

    Never mind that this is at total odds with reality. Borosage’s background also sheds light on the typically elitist, moneyed origins of such groups which they claim are the interests backing Social Security reformers like McCrery. He’s the group’s founder but previously was a director of the radical Institute for Policy Studies. The IPS is the beneficiary of funding by the heirs to the Faberge cosmetics fortune. One of the heirs, Cora Weiss, consorted with the North Vietnamese and assisted their admission to the UN.

    His present employer also benefits from special-interest funding. Their criticism of McCrey was that he received roughly $200,000 in campaign donations from financial institutions which they say (erroneously, given the small rates of return they will be allowed by the government to have) will profit enormously from Social Security reform. But what about the fact that the group received $300,000 alone from George Soros? It’s hypocritical to say McCrery is being influenced while they get even more money from somebody with a well-known, fundamentally-flawed, political agenda. And this group has boasted it was going to spend $75 million to influence the political process in the last election cycle (McCrery only got a little over $1 million).

    Liberals like the Campaign for America’s Future know very well the problems with Social Security and the validity of the Bush Administration’s response to them. If we understand their basic ideology, that the common person is unable to run his own affairs without their “enlightened” assistance (for which, of course, they extract a price of increased power over and privilege compared to the people), we can understand why they are so opposed to progressive thinkers like McCrery on this issue. (And they also don’t seem to be too smart politically – this ad campaign is not going to do anything to endanger McCrery’s reelection chances given his popularity in the district in the hopes of making him change his mind.)

    Consider first principles regarding today's ideologies: conservativism wishes to empower people, liberalism wishes to enslave them. Social Security is a huge issue to the left because it would transfer so much power from government, which they believe should take people’s resources and run their lives, to the people. That’s why they have attacked McCrery so desperately, and have shown again why the American people continue at the ballot box to reject their agenda.
  • 1.3.05

    Lights! Camera! Corporate welfare for the film industry!

    I was waiting on this one, and Johnny Rombach’s Legislative Fiscal Office delivered: the great hyped film tax incentive program isn’t all what it’s cracked up to be. In tangible terms, it’s costing the state money.

    This only makes sense when one considers the state is willing to kick back 15 percent of costs when the tax rates for the additional production brought into the state all are lower. Income taxes from jobs created – 2, 4 or 6 percent. Sales taxes – depends where you are, but the state only gets around 4 percent. Even the gasoline tax, which in relative terms obviously fluctuates with price, is under the 15 percent level when a gallon gas costs more than $1.34.

    So it’s no accident that for $350 million in production costs for 2004 only about $25 million in additional taxes was generated, an effective rate of a little over 7 percent. (Actually, the reported credits paid out in 2004 were $83 million, from which the 30 percent estimate of return on the foregone dollar produces the $25 million. But 15 percent of $350 million is $52.5 million. Where did the extra $30.5 million come from? My guess is this figure also includes the sales and use tax exclusion and the employment tax credit which could go into the 20 percent range – the 15 percent figure reported is from the investor tax credit only. If somebody from the LFO knows, drop us a comment.)

    Now there are intangible benefits, too. "We also have to be careful that our calculations include the exposure to the state," said Sen. Lydia Jackson. All right, but that works both ways, in that the exposure to the state might not be all that great, or even positive. I mean, we all know New Orleans is supposed to have great food and music; do we need “Ray” or “The Dukes of Hazzard” (not even originally set in Louisiana in the television series) to emphasize what everybody already thinks about the state and its people? And what about the biggest effort to date, the remake of “All the King’s Men?” It’s about a corrupt southern governor. Do we really need another reminder sent to the rest of the world about our colorful political history?

    (Helpfully, the Governor’s Office of Film and Television Development gives a list of films supposedly being produced in the state. Let’s see, “Elvis” – more music; “Lady Luck (Just My Luck)” – click on this and you tell me how it’ll show off the state in a serious way; “Faith of My Fathers” – no production information yet, but looks like it’s about seagoing ships; “Retirement” – grumpy old men go from Florida to Las Vegas so it won’t show too much of the state; “Failure to Launch” – hasn’t started shooting yet, but see “Lady Luck” comment above; and “Locusts” – no information about this one, period, but the title alone tells us the intangible benefits will be something on the order of “Hey, look at those locusts chew up the 200-year-old French Quarter. Golly, we need to visit there before it’s too late!”)

    We have to recognize this program for what it is – just another of the many that waves all sorts of incentives in front of business but which never are cost effective. The only incentives that ever will create more benefits than costs are better education through more efficient use of resources and higher expectations, reduced corruption, and lower taxes. I see good progress with the first, slight success with the second, but, if anything, backsliding on the third. Having a bunch of movie stars around may be flashy, but it’s exactly a preference for that which continues to keep this state behind.

    28.2.05

    Through the looking glass, and how Keith lives there

    In the world according to Shreveport Mayor Keith Hightower, those who oppose his plans that ill-serve the public, specifically the building of a hotel that likely will end up costing the city more than the benefits it produces (as the only feasibility study concerning it, from Louisiana Tech’s College of Administration and Business Economic Research Division, concludes) do so because they’re mad or miserable: “One's mad because he's unemployed. Three are mad because they're a different political persuasion than I. There are others who are apparently miserable people.”

    OK, I’ll play; I’m against not only the building of the hotel, but of the convention center (even if I’m not a city resident). So what am I? My guess is he’s saying the “unemployed” is Lou Burnett, former official in the administration of previous mayor Bo Williams, defeated by Hightower, whose invaluable Fax-Net Update has chronicled in stunning detail misstep after misstep by Hightower on this and other issues. The three of a “different political persuasion” must be Shreveport City Councilmen Thomas Carmody, Mike Gibson, and Jeff Hogan, Republicans all who have cited cogent reasons not to handle this issue the way the Democrat Hightower has.

    So I guess I must be a miserable person – and so must be radio talk show host Moon Griffon, Republican state Sen. Max Malone, Republican state Rep. Mike Powell, maybe even Democrat state Sen. Lydia Jackson, all of whom have taken positions in various venues to try to derail Hightower’s boondoggle. I guess there’s something in our misery-loving company that just compels us to oppose irrationally Hightower on this, so he implies.

    Well, any reader of this blog, or of Fax-Net Update, or of Shreveport Times editorials, or who listens to Griffon knows that opposition to the hotel as Hightower has played the issue often is anything but irrational. In fact, given all of this, if there’s any irrationality, it’s in Hightower’s insistence that the hotel and convention center together constitute a great economic development boon that cannot be missed unless there’s something mentally wrong with you. (The only thing that seems to explain his dogmatic approach to this issue is these projects allow him to build a monument to himself, positions him for a run at future higher office, and presents preferment opportunities for his political allies to line their pockets – note missing from the equation here is the good of Shreveport.)

    But one of the curious things that a visitor down the rabbit hole to Keith’s world discovers is that Hightower avoids debating the merits of issues. So, in trying to build his case, it’s not worth addressing that the Louisiana Tech study shows the unprofitability of the hotel (underscored recently when Caddo Parish Tax Assessor Charlie Hennigton declared that the property may well not be exempt from $1.4 million in annual property taxes, meaning the deficit to the city could be as much as $1 million a year), it’s that the opponents are “mad.”

    Or, he tries to substitute one issue for the other, asserting false linkages. An example here is in the claim that having a public vote would entail building a hotel with public approval for general obligation bonds that would reduce the city's borrowing capacity to $60 million, causing the need to raise taxes.

    But there’s nothing that requires that this type of bonds, which ties into a jurisdiction’s overall taxing ability, to be used instead of revenue bonds, which tie directly into the revenue-raising capacity of the project, to be a necessary consequence of a public vote. In short, revenue bonds can be used with or without a public vote. But Hightower misled the press twice, when he casually inferred that a vote required use of GO’s and that taxes would have to be raised to pay off those GO’s (there’s no relationship between the two).

    I’m surprised that Hightower is not a literature rather than business administration graduate, given his practice of doublethink and his existence in Wonderland. Yet perhaps an allusion to film best sums up his style of governance; given his penchant from trying to deflect people from the real issues and to create straw man arguments, it’s a wonder his nickname in school wasn’t “Roger” and that he did not excel in dodgeball.

    27.2.05

    Queen Bee Needs to Discipline a Drone

    Look up audacity in the dictionary, and there would be a picture of Agriculture Commissioner Bob Odom.

    Treasurer John Kennedy wants to do something very sensible – pull the $12 million a year that the Odom-controlled Louisiana Agricultural Financial Authority (LAFA) receives from the Legislature for … for what? It’s an unrestricted check because its original purpose, boll weevil eradication, has been accomplished, and the law establishing it did not designate any other purpose for the money, derived from a tax on racetrack slot machines revenues. Kennedy very rightly argues that the money could be used elsewhere. It could generate $36 million more for health care spending, or $108 million more in federal highway funds – a year.

    (Or maybe some of it ought to be saved in case the problem comes back – those pesky boll weevils have been in this country since 1892 and I have a feeling they may come back around these parts. More interestingly, the federal government has an eradication program that pays for 70 percent of costs – why did Louisiana never take advantage of this, instead of going it alone?)