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14.7.05

Liberalism makes "Super Safe Sundays" unsafe

The second “Super Safe Sunday” upped the ante of the first (which featured a hit-and-run) by, of course, ending in a shootout, and so the Shreveport City Council took decisive action this week – by praying.

Mind you, I see nothing wrong with invoking the Deity, given that I do it on a daily, and more often, basis. But we’re also instructed that He helps those who help themselves, and too many of those with power in Shreveport don’t seem to be keeping up their end of the bargain.

This series of community events, which to date have appealed almost exclusively to blacks, was created with promoting alternatives to violence by staging at the Fairgrounds in and around Independence Stadium featuring music, three-on-three basketball, dunking booths with local radio personalities, karaoke, and adult and child hula hoop contests. With violence infiltrating gatherings for both events that already have taken place, the city has suspended its logistical support for the event, essentially canceling or postponing it.

The Shreveport Times had some thoughtful words on the subject:

But what happened Sunday runs deeper than merely bolstering police numbers or closing off thoroughfares. It's about the warped mind-set that chooses gunfire as a reaction to an insult or offense. It's about zero tolerance from the community for such behavior. It means denouncing violence, not by pastors alone, but by young people in their relationships with each other, even working with authorities to bring suspects to justice.

It's about individual responsibility assisted by a firm but compassionate community that reaches out to young people to provide alternative models for managing anger.

With the last phrase, they’re on to something, but thery don’t try to analyze the logical concatenation from “managing anger.” Why is there anger out there that needs to be managed?

The Times in part hits on it when it mentions “individual responsibility.” The people involved in the activities obviously lack it in terms of their relations to other human beings. Instead, it gets replaced with a sense of entitlement married with a lack of self-restraint, an attitude that they should have things and power to which they otherwise demonstrate they do not deserve. Rather than conforming to norms of behavior that help the entire community and, ultimately, themselves, they violate them to the detriment of the entire community and, ultimately, themselves.

Yet the most interesting, and sensitive, question which no doubt The Times was extremely reluctant to address, was why this pathological attitude is far more prevalent in the black community than others. Unfortunately, the answer is because too many political elites with the wrong philosophy have allowed too many within the black community to think that this counterproductive behavior not only is acceptable, but trés chic.

After all, for decades big government has been telling people it’s all right to be selfish, to blame others for the actions you take in response, and make them give you resources and power. You’re pregnant but you don’t want to be? Don’t worry, the courts say, it’s all right to kill the unborn. You want to get more out things of life than you deserve given your contribution through your labor to society? It’s all right, we’ll tax heaviest the greatest contributors to society and transfer the money to you. And, particularly relevant to the black community, it’s OK to blame for anything that goes wrong in your life some bogeyman like “white America” or anybody who insists on judging people on their merit and behavior rather than on their skin color.

In other words, too many politicians, liberals and mostly Democrats, have been spreading the fictions that people are not wealthy not because they cannot contribute as much to society as do the wealthy, but because they lost “life’s lottery” and thus the wealthy are “robbing” them; that government must redress this balance; that people are free when they can do whatever they want regardlesss of the costs to others or society; that government should promote the efforts of these “disenfranchised” groups (defined as anybody not white, middle class or wealthier, Christian, practicers of heterosexuality, unborn, and especially if female) rather than enforce a standard of noninterference among people and especially in concerning the government relative to the people; and that they (in government) know best the solutions to everybody’s problems.

This pathological thinking regrettably is worst of all among black leaders, who ruthlessly try to stifle dissenting voices in and out of their own communities. Is it any accident that by championing an ideology that glorifies the self and blames others for inadequacies that behavior based upon these tenets of liberalism will erupt within that community? This is the “anger” – inculcated by liberal elites into the black community by saying blacks today are put upon by “the man,” explaining away the community’s retarded economic progress as something caused by others, excusing thuggish behavior (increasingly glorified in film, sound, and print) as some kind of understandable reaction to this “new slavery.” All too many (mostly young and male) in the black community have responded to this rhetoric and the conditions created by implementing the liberal agenda with pathological behaviors such as those put on display at and around these events.

Properly understanding the origins of this behavior seen at these events, which does not mark the behavior of typical black citizens but at the same time is much too disproportionately highly represented in the black community (and victimizes primarily it), provides the appropriate solution for the city to pursue. Unless incredible security measures are taken, such as metal detectors going into the festival area, and heavy, no tolerance policing in the area, given the too-many rotten apples in the basket, safety cannot be guaranteed. Shreveport cannot afford these measures at the expense of increasingly meager resources, and these events cannot go on.

Instead, a new approach for helping the black community needs to begin by using the energy behind the idea for the events to the throwing out of power the elites and their ideas that have created these conditions, and to investigate a more realistic, mature political philosophy that will actually help any community whose leaders and people embrace it.

13.7.05

Area city governments already good at turning taxpayer resources into sludge

The latest woes of Shreveport with Bioset’s default on its sod production contract prompts The Times editorial page to speculate about the value of local government trying to enter the free market. The answer, as a number of recent episodes on both sides of the Red River shows, is emphatically “none.”

A number of elected officials seem enamored with the idea that local government can operate and/or own enterprises typically operated by the private sector, and a review of the past decade or so shows their lack of wisdom on this account:

12.7.05

Shreveport finances headed for withdrawal from gambling fix

In a story first broken by Fax-Net Update, it turns out that the “magic bullet” (or, alternatively, “Field of Dreams” – “build it and they will come”) philosophy of economic development vigorously pursued by Shreveport Mayor Keith Hightower, is starting to come a-cropper. Making matters worse is his simultaneous “Mardi Gras” style – shower constituencies (and especially friends) with money to keep the votes rolling in.

The impending disaster all started in public when, as a period of City Council vote fluidity appeared in efforts to get construction going on the convention center hotel that may have delayed or derailed it, at the very same time councilman Jeff Hogan won a promise to shovel some money to a civic organization in his district and said he was ready to vote for construction to begin.

But when the city started to look for the money to meet the promise, it instead found a rapidly deteriorating financial position, courtesy of declining casino revenues, and informed council members as such. This is because Hightower has had a habit of putting it all on one throw of the dice – casinos, and now the convention center, and it’s gotten worse.

Employment trends don’t lie. In 1998, Hightower’s election, Caddo Parish (of which over 80 percent is Shreveport) had 106,079 jobs with 10,202 of them in the amusement/gambling category, or about 9.6 percent. By 2002, jobs had increased slightly to 109,937 but amusements/gambling jobs had mushroomed to 23,553 or around 21.4 percent of the city’s total. As the years have gone by, the health of the city’s economy depends more and more on gambling.

(By contrast, Bossier Parish numbers, of which Bossier City represents about 60 percent, show a slight 1 percent increase in the proportion of amusement/gambling employment over the same period. But it’s now almost a quarter of the jobs in the parish – the city, whose city council members all were returned to office in this years elections and the outgoing mayor was replaced by his chief lieutenant, has been unable to reduce Bossier City’s even higher level of dependence on the casinos. At least its “riverboat fund” has nearly $30 million in it, even though a small portion of that has been appropriated to balance the city’s budget in recent years.)

The casinos are estimated to dump most (almost 95%) of the estimated $14.086 million going into the Riverfront Development Fund in 2005. Projections are that this amount will be more than 13 percent below anticipated. From the final total, almost $2.6 million was budgeted to be doled out to a number of organizations.

Worse, this problem has been a long time coming, and the city did nothing in the name of prudence. In 2004, civic appropriations were slightly higher than those budgeted for 2005, but total fund expenditures outstripped revenues by over $3 million, over 22 percent, taking the reserve down almost 74 percent. With less than $1.8 million left, that means at current rates the fund will have been depleted totally at the end of this year.

So, just cut back on civic appropriations, then? Not so fast, because much of the fund goes into funding other city operations:

Shreveport uses its Riverfront Development funds to pay debt associated with the new Convention Center and the relocation of City Hall downtown, to provide funds to various community and civic groups, to pay Convention Center pre-opening expenses and for professional services contracts and capital projects. (emphasis added)

In fact, 22 percent, or about $3.5 million (around 1 percent of the total city budget) goes into the general fund, 28 percent, almost $4.5 million, goes to paying the convention center debt (as if having a hotel that can’t pay for itself isn’t enough), and professional services, while professional services (how are the winners of these contracts determined?) eat up about another $2 million.

At this rate, it’ll be lights out in Shreveport (and Bossier City) when Texas expands gambling, perhaps as early as now in a special legislative session. Thus are the wages of ever-expanding government that is unable to expand in any significant way diverse economic development.

11.7.05

Group's idea to change discrimination definition proves faulty

There’s a move afoot to broaden the city of Shreveport’s nondiscrimination practices in hiring and firing to include sexual orientation and “gender identity” (meaning somebody who is of one sex but wishes to physically appear using conventions commonly associated with the other). Doing so would constitute a major departure from the existing philosophy behind the definition of a targeted group and on “discrimination.”

The concept of discrimination by government confuses many, as evidenced by the mayor’s spokeswoman Liz Swaine’s reaction that the city charter's Section 14.12 statement that “No person in the classified service or who is an applicant for a position therein shall be appointed, promoted, reduced or removed or in any way favored or discriminated against because of his … sex” means the matter already is settled.

For one thing, government and public policy made by it always discriminates in one form or another. By way of example, federal and state tax laws treat higher- and lower-income people very differently, by taxing the former at a much higher rate. In terms of personal liberties, murderers are discriminated against heavily, with those convicted of it looking at, the very least, long prison terms severely curtailing their liberties, and potentially even state-sanctioned taking of their lives.

Since discrimination is a hallmark of government action, the question becomes, when does it become appropriate? In the former cases, as a people we have decided that these are matters to be defined by our constitutions and lawmakers. Some instances of it, however, are considered so difficult to justify that they are given a very special status requiring very stringent government protections by government from their occurrences.

The charter lists two distinct categories of things for which the city cannot discriminate in its own practices for its classified employees. First are the immutables of race, sex, and national origin. These are characteristics about people over which they have no control – you’re born with certain equipment, and of a certain ethnic background. There exists almost universal agreement today in America that prejudicial treatment should not occur against individuals because of their genes.

But the charter also specifies a category of attitudes and behaviors – religious and political beliefs. As recognized above in the example about behavior that is murderous, government is much more open to discriminating against people on the basis of their behavior as behavior is a choice made by the person with some of those choices being suboptimal to the greater good of society or even that person (such as prostitution). Why are these attitudes, which will translate into certain behaviors (voting, religious observations, etc.), protected as if they were immutable characteristics about people?

This is because these two things have a direct relationship to the activities of government. Obviously, political beliefs matter in a democracy, and religious belief (or lack of it) often plays a strong role in the formation of those political beliefs for the individual. In a system of government where votes matter and where the vote often is formed on the basis of political attitudes, democracy would not work were this kind of discrimination allowed.

Another thing of note is the procedures of the classified personnel system are highly biased in favor of the use of merit to determine personnel decisions. Section 14.7 and following sections would make it difficult not to hire, to demote, not to promote, or to fire employees on non-merit bases.

Understanding these concepts highlights Swain’s confusion, as well as that of the supporters of this change. “Sex” is something people are, while “sexual orientation” is something people choose. That you are “male” or “female” (or, in very rare circumstances, “intersexed”) is a matter of genetics, while who you express sexuality with is a behavioral matter, defined solely by its expression. (Beware the trendy idea that sexual preference is a genetic matter; long ago the idea that there’s a “gay gene” was debunked and the evidence continues to mount against its existence.)

Thus, what the proponents ask is to change the city’s entire philosophy of how defines discrimination so insidious that it bans such activity in its employment practices, vastly expanding “protected” categories to those that involve behavior that have nothing to do with the political process and freedom of political belief and association. This would invite the addition of spurious categories to the protected list and simultaneously cheapen the protections of the existing categories, making the latter more prone to future alteration, and thus watering-down. Such mischief must be avoided, which is why the advocates of this change err in supporting it.

10.7.05

One small step for Louisiana health care savings ...

So much of the practice of medicine in this country has become so regulated that it has taken on the aspects of government ownership (and universality; anyone who argues America need “universal” health care does not know what he is talking about because it already is universal in the U.S.). Unfortunately, that means it becomes less and less efficient in its delivery, at greater and greater waste to taxpayers.

Wheelchair provision to the indigent in Louisiana provides a prime example. Incentives simply were absent to control costs. My own experience confirms this. When my wife got her latest, most powerful wheelchair, the firm we dealt with (through private insurance, not Louisiana Medicaid) promised one set of things but when the delivery was made it lacked some features. To our chagrin, we found the company already had billed the insurer who had paid for things we didn’t get (and consequently, reduced my wife’s lifetime benefits as a result). A couple of years later, we learned from another source that the company owner had been convicted of Medicaid fraud for similar practices.

Most Medicaid wheelchair recipients in Louisiana, because of the state’s archaic laws that push the disabled into nursing homes, are nursing home residents, so the idea of making nursing home monitors of these devices, and in fact paying for them first before they can receive reimbursement, is an outstanding one. Might as well make them work a little harder for the generous reimbursement schedule under which they operate, plus they do get a bonus for each successful reimbursement. More stringent requirements, better monitoring, and the ability to “recycle” chairs alone could save the state millions of dollars that can be plowed into home-based care for the disabled.

This is an example of the efficiencies Louisiana needs to pursue to bring down the cost of health care in the state which runs about $6 billion yearly, or about 30 percent of operating expenses of state government. The resulting savings may only be 0.2 percent of this total but it’s a start. Maybe the federal government prompted this, but now it’s up to state officials to keep looking for greater and more efficiencies.