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18.8.05

Bring it on! What the Democrat left seems to think of those like me

Imitation is the sincerest flattery, so I thank the author of this note posted at Moon Griffon’s web site, although I’m not sure whether this blog qualifies me as a member of the “right-wing destruction machine” because, as readers know, it focuses on policy and fact, not a “goal of personal ruin through vicious attack politics.”

(However, it doesn’t seem to work the other way. Since I started this blog mere months ago, I am told that more than one disgruntled person with some power in politics has gone complaining to my public university employer, all over postings that often get fewer than 100 hits a day, and a university representative has made certain inappropriate requests regarding modification of material on this university-unrelated blog. But this is a story for another time.)

Even if this note were a forgery it captures perfectly the zeitgeist/kultursmog of establishment political elites in Louisiana, of the indignance that their divine right to rule be questioned. Regardless, if indeed there is some kind of move afoot to create a Democrat/Blanco/Landrieu etc. spin machine on the web designed to “highlight their inconsistencies, or deconstruct their policies and reframe them to our advantage, in our own language … [o]r we point out where they’re engaged in folly or mendacity or just plain old greed or meanness,” it largely will fail, mainly because this strategy totally does not understand what those of us who have raised their ire are trying to do.

For one thing, I use fact and logic in my postings to demonstrate the fundamental errors Democrats have in their guiding political philosophy (if it can be called that) or the conclusions they draw from selective use of information. The Democrat left does not understand this because they cannot bring themselves to admit that their views are, as proven by events, bankrupt, and long since have been replaced by a politics of personal, rather than community, interest, based on the wielding or power rather than doing the right thing. Thus, because they now resort themselves to a strategy of “personal ruin through vicious attack politics” in the absence of any valid ideology, they mistakenly assume all others do as well.

In short, they have disarmed themselves intellectually and thinking, reasoning persons realize this and thus gravitate to the arguments myself and others present. Personally, I welcome any attempt to do what the memo says. I challenge them to find “inconsistencies … folly or mendacity or just plain old greed or meanness” in what I write; I urge them to try to “deconstruct” and “reframe” because, by their self-handicapping, the reasonable person easily sees the vacuity of their arguments. By the very nature of the fundamental differences between views, mine based on truth, reason, and coherence, and theirs, unmitigated emotion without fact or logic to substantiate except the notion that they want to take what they think is theirs from those who have genuinely earned it, they surrender in the battle of ideas.

The memo’s concern for anonymity also is illustrative. I freely admit who I am (indeed, to the endangerment of my career) and what my ideas are. The memo writer recognizes the fraud that his allies’ ideas are and so counsels to keep the identities and agendas of the efforts contributors as secret as possible. This is an obvious admission of the weakness of their arguments.

Finally, while the idea of trying to use humor is a winner, it’s clear the writer does not understand it. The idea of calling their masterminds behind the effort the “Working Group” is itself funny, but surely not in the way he intended. Because, when was the last time you could honestly say the liberal Democrat agenda actually championed the “working man?” These people seek to take more and more of the “working man’s” resources through higher and higher taxes and fees, strive to restrict his liberties more and more through government regulation of the crassest kind, and seek to disempower him through disinformation – the thing I try in my postings to correct. For ultimately, if I tell one side of the story and they tell another, what really burns them up is, by definition, my side is more persuasive. Which is why they must adopt, as the writer urges, this strategy of projecting what they falsely see in their opponents to what they do.

So, let’s bring it on! And to make it easier to distinguish the sides involved, if the defenders of the status quo, the ones how have helped Louisiana into the fiscal, ethically-challenged mess that we are in want to call themselves the “Working Group,” then I’ll gladly take the appellation that they would give to those like me – the “Serfs.” Because that’s how they think of us, here to serve them as they pursue their political careers and any enrichment they see themselves worthy of accruing as a result of that activity – at our expense, of course. This “knighted” and “royal” classes in reality have it all backwards, and, as long as people like me, Moon Griffon, C.B. Forgotston, and others many of whom appear on the left-hand side of this page continue to point out this highly inconvenient fact, they are going to try to distract people from a debate on the issues because, frankly, they think you’re too stupid to know any better.

At present we may be Serfs in Louisiana, but one thing we are not is stupid.

17.8.05

Education "good" news isn't so good, but neither is "bad" news so bad

There’s good news and bad news for Louisiana education, but the bad actually might be good and the good bad.

The good news on the surface is that American College Testing standardized testing composite scores did not go down; in fact, they have inched up over the past few years. Around 85 percent, one of the highest proportions in the country, of Louisiana high school students take this test, mostly because almost all four-year public universities in the state require certain scores for admission and Tuition Opportunity Program for Students scholarships.

The bad news is that at 19.8, this score resides well below the national average of 20.9 (which, worse, itself reflects only minimal ability and also remains unchanged from last year). One could argue that because more Louisiana students take the ACT than in almost any state (save four), marginal students who might not take it in other states (without a TOPS scholarship waved in their face as incentive) are not included in the totals to dilute downward the average score. But, as it turns out, among the states that have the ACT as a requirement for entrance to a public university, only Mississippi scores lower (it being one of the four states where more students take it than Louisiana).

To bring in more pessimism, Louisiana has a significant number of private school enrollees – almost 18.6 percent as opposed to a southern regional average of 8.7 and national average of 10.1 percent. And private school students do score better, driving up the state’s overall average score. This can be inferred because while the state total includes these students, district averages do not. In 2005, only 15 of the 68 districts scored at or above the state average – a mixture of higher- and lower-population districts. Equating all public schools students nationwide would see Louisiana’s average score even lower relative to others.

So, what’s the ostensibly bad news? That dropout rates have surged almost 24 percent in the past two years for which statistics are available, the increase largely driven by black males. Nobody wants to see youngsters leaving school without a diploma or GED as their life chances become significantly worse without education to make for success in today’s increasingly-demanding world.

But, at the same time, consider the fact that dropout numbers, even at this level, are only 34.2 percent of where they were five years ago. This is despite schooling standards increasing throughout the period. Any recent increase could be interpreted as the effect of higher standards putting the bite on more people.

There does seem to be some validity, however, to the complaint that the higher proportion of black males being sent to special education classes who then tend to drop out in higher proportions. This is no accident since in the past couple of decades a cottage industry has spawned which has continued to expand the definition of “disability” from genuine conditions to include those that are more a result of a failure of will and motivation than any real handicap. For example, “emotionally disturbed” now qualifies a student as “disabled;” it’s no accident that in the past three decades, the number of students deemed “disabled” has quadrupled nationally.

Today, these conditions are catered to and less discipline is used in the schools to solve behavioral problems. And why wouldn’t we expect black males to exhibit more of these kinds of problems, being much more likely to come from broken homes and single parents, whose attitudes are shaped by a set of government programs that for so long encouraged poor behavior? With less than a decade of incomplete welfare reform under our belts, it will be many years before schools encounter fewer children not brought up in an environment more conducive to attitudes of achievement and personal responsibility that should ameliorate “emotional disturbance.”

So while the good news about education isn’t as good as we might think, the bad news isn’t so bad. Around this state, I’ll take that and hope we keep aiming even higher.

16.8.05

Louisiana ACLU representative shows bigoted ideological slip

Bigotry against religion lives in Louisiana, so the statements of the state’s American Civil Liberties Union executive Director Joe Cook demonstrate. On camera, he blithely stated, in reference to the organization’s allegations that the Tangipahoa Parish School Board was countenancing support of religious belief that it found unacceptable after a court ruling on the matter,

“They don’t want to abide by the agreement,” said Cook. “They have always crossed the line of separation of church and government… They believe they answer to a higher power, in my opinion… which is the kind of thinking you had with the people who flew airplanes in the buildings in this country and people who did that kind of thing in London.”

(It should be noted that the judge who issued the order, Chief Judge of the Louisiana Eastern District Ginger Berrigan, once was a state ACLU official.)

Cook later attempted damage control by trying to rephrase his sentiments as saying that it’s dangerous to have people who believe they “answer to some higher religious power than the Constitution of the United States of America.” Naturally, these statements do not equate; Tangipahoa Parish School Board members take an oath to obey local law and defend the state and national Constitutions, are elected and execute the duties of their offices in the open and, most importantly, at least I am unaware that any of them affirm that they follow religious practices they interpret as condoning murder.

Cook’s attempt also shows a profound ignorance of the fact that many of the Framers of the Constitution were very religious men and who also declared religious ideas and belief as cornerstones behind the principles of the Constitution. Their words and actions (religious ceremonies were held in the U.S. House chamber for decades, for example) demonstrate that the ideas behind the Constitution had religious origins. In short, to follow the Constitution (as originally written for the most part, not including meanings from outside it imposed on it by court fiat inconsistent with its original intent) is an extension of belief in a higher power, and following the document a requirement of it.

This slip, the outright admission by the representative the leftist ACLU that to it those who believe in God are to be equated with terrorist murderers, is not surprising in that it appears to be an attitude prevalent within the organization, but is in that its leader was careless enough to broadcast it. This is why we must understand that the true ACLU agenda does not concern itself with “rights,” but with a political agenda marked by loathing for those who are different from its members on this issue. It’s now obvious to all that the emperor has no clothes.

If the state’s ACLU is to regain what little credibility it had, its board must fire Cook and then mandate sensitivity training in the area of tolerance for religious believers for itself, its officers, and local chapter board members and officers. If the ACLU does not cleanse itself of this bigotry now, it will merely confirm that it pursues an agenda at odds with the vast majority of Americans, one which mocks their beliefs, an agenda based on hatred which ultimately harms America.

15.8.05

Statistics show to boost Louisiana's population, cut taxes

As more dismal statistics come out demonstrating Louisiana’s lack of allure for living in it, reflected by relative population changes of the state versus others, let us digest upon the following remark:

Elliott Stonecipher, a political pollster and demographer based in Shreveport … said state officials should be trying to find out why people are leaving the state, and they should reshape state economic and taxation policies both to reduce out-migration and to entice people to move in.

As I have argued, (and so have C.B. Forgotston, Moon Griffon, and still others), Stonecipher’s conjecture that tax policy has consequences rings quite true. Given census data and that from the Tax Foundation, this is not difficult to test.

I corralled three sets of data for each of the states plus the District of Columbia: total state tax burden (including local taxes) in 2005 (in percent, which for most states has changed little over the past few years, Louisiana being an exception), net migration for 2000-2004 (in percent increase), and total population change from 2000-04 (in percent increase). Then I computed two relationships, between 2005 tax rate and population change, and between the rate and net migration. The theory here is that higher tax burdens on residents encourages them to leave and discourages others from coming, which also gets reflected in population changes.

For readers into statistics, here’s what I got: for population change, the Pearson product-moment correlation is -0.22, and for migration it is -0.30 (note: we are looking at the entire population of 51 jurisdictions so significance tests are superfluous). For readers not into statistical analysis, what this means is tax rates are moderately correlated to population and migration; as these rates increase, the rate of population increase and rate of in-migration increase go down.

Ranking 16th in tax burden (10.3%), 44th in population change (+1.05%), and 43rd in in-migration (-1.66%), one can see why Louisiana is where it is on these numbers. Stonecipher has a plea in this regard: “I can't prove that's what's happening. But the state should be doing research to see if that's true. There's an elephant in the room, and nobody wants to acknowledge it.”

Well, I just showed something was there. The state can start its research if it likes, but much better to solve the problem would be some tax cutting at the first opportunity. Gov. Kathleen Blanco seems bent on a special session for teacher pay raises in January; instead, she needs to make it one dedicated to lowering taxes.

14.8.05

Why did Bossier City hand over $21.5 million for little gain?

The good news is Bossier City has taken in around $1.7 million in sales taxes from Bass Pro Shops and the rest of the Louisiana Boardwalk since the former opened. The bad news is, we don’t know how much of that was beggared from the metropolitan economy and Bossier City paid $21.5 million for that privilege.

Since the Boardwalk opened roughly three months ago, it’s my guess, given that Bass Pro Shops generated $852,000 in sales taxes in 2004 that about $1.4 million of the total is attributable to it. Better, probably a few hundred thousand of that represents sales that came from outside the metropolitan area. This means created revenue for the city.

Estimating then that the Boardwalk has contributed $300,000 that means it’s bringing in about $3,500 a day in sales tax revenues. Unfortunately, the large majority of that probably does not come from outside the metropolitan area – that is, there’s really nothing at the Boardwalk that could not be substituted for elsewhere in the area unlike Bass Pro Shops – leaving only the small portion of visitors from outside the area who came expressly to hang at the Boardwalk as the only source of newly “created” sales tax revenue.

However, for the moment let’s ignore the fact that beggaring Shreveport’s economy is harmful to Bossier City (in fact, probably more Bossier workers cross the river to go to their jobs every day than stay on the east side of the Red) and assume that $2,000 a day of that money comes from people who otherwise would not have patronized a Bossier City establishment. Also ignoring investment and interest rate factors, and also eliminating the $20 million Bossier City spent on improving the infrastructure in and around the Boardwalk that means the $21.5 million Bossier City plunked down to give a parking garage to the private sector will take nearly 30 years year to be paid back out of additional sales taxes! (Not being so generous and more realistic with these assumptions potentially adds decades more.)

Which leads to the question, just what was Bossier City’s elected officials smoking when they agreed to this? And another – why didn’t the developers themselves pay for the parking garage whose only benefit is for their sakes?

Or, another way of putting this, the developers were willing to invest $150 million into this project; why not increase that by less than 15 percent by building a parking garage, too? Using another metric, assuming a 30-year note at a high 6 percent interest rate on the $21.5 million, the total interest and principle due each year on that amount equals a shade over 1 percent of the $150 million. This relatively trivial amount the developers couldn’t afford?

Because only if financing a parking garage would make the entire project unprofitable would this justify the developers asking Bossier City to foot the bill on the garage (after already asking he city to do the $20 million in infrastructure improvements). Somehow, I don’t think things played out that way. But if somehow it did, if the developers honestly could go to the city and say, “If you pay for the garage, that’ll push us past the breakeven point and we’ll make money; otherwise, we’re going to walk away,” then the city’s answer should have been, “Fine, come back when you think you can make a profit” because it has a responsibility not to spend so much taxpayer dollars on such a low-yield project.

In short, I seriously doubt the developers would have walked away if they didn’t get their garage, and if they really needed such help, the return on investment was too low for the city to acquiesce. So many more uses cried out for $21.5 million – overpasses, street widenings, paying off arena debt, getting the city budget in balance, or how about a simple lowering of city sales taxes (maybe by creating a fund akin to the destination of riverboat gambling receipts at present where some or all of the interest could supplement city revenues) which probably would do more for stimulating economic development in the city than the Boardwalk will?

Unfortunately, the current crop of city elected officials, which are essentially the same ones which committed to the garage, have shown a marked propensity to be attracted to shiny, big-ticket baubles. It’s a ways until the next city elections although some may run for higher office in the interim, but all need to be asked during their next campaigns about this funding decision in particular. Does ego, naïveté, or something else explain it – because logic and sense sure don’t appear to.