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28.10.05

Landrieu supports law to subvert federal elections

Sen. Mary Landrieu and Rep. Charlie Melancon stood with practically the entire Congressional Black Caucus and the kook leftist fringe of the Democrats in Congress (including failed presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry) in spouting support for a pair of bad bills, H.R. 3734 and S. 1867 which would facilitate people voting in two states.

Without any Republican support, these bills have no chance of passing, which would allow displaced people registered to vote in Louisiana outside of the normal process to vote in Louisiana federal elections. But is it indicative of the mindsets of Landrieu and Melancon that they would favor an unnecessary law that could subvert democracy.

(And so does Rep. William Jefferson, another co-sponsor, but he remained out of view at this press conference. How discriminatory, how non-inclusive, can Landrieu and her colleagues be? Doesn’t a looter from Louisiana have a right to express his opinion on these bills?)

This legislation is unnecessary because state laws clearly define a process by which a resident out of the parish on election day can vote in Louisiana – an absentee/early voting system designed to minimize the chances of voting fraud. RS 18:1303(4) clearly permits displaced Louisianans the right to vote this way (and the language of RS 18:1306(c)(1) in the use of the word “shall” would permit enough of these ballots to be distributed). The process outlined in RS 18:1307 is incredibly simple – make a request, follow simple instructions to fill out, and mail in.

But from the rhetoric bandied about at the press conference, you would have thought Louisiana was Zanzibar. “The right to vote is all that some people in the Gulf Coast have left,” opined Landrieu, somehow forgetting to explain how without these federal laws who was depriving them of the vote and how it would happen.

More blather from Landrieu: “We took unprecedented steps to protect the voting rights of every Iraqi. We should do the same for the people of the Gulf Coast.” Again, Senator, why don’t you name names so we can prosecute and bring the necessary lawsuits to stop this from happening? Then you might actually be doing your job.

Instead, she advocates passing a national law in an area the Constitution leaves up to the states that essentially is duplicative – does Landrieu, Melancon, and Jefferson deem to insult Louisiana by suggesting its absentee/early voting laws are inadequate? And where’s the money to pay for all of this duplication?

Worse, as lax as the state’s absentee/early voting laws are, these bills would make fraud even easier to accomplish because the state law allows voting only to those who indisputably are state residents. Of displaced people, who knows how many truly intend ever to be Louisiana “residents” again? Or whether the person who claims he is an “evacuee” really is?

We must recognize these bills for what they are – an attempt to subvert elections and the will of the people to choose their own representatives. The House bill sponsor Rep. Artur Davis laid this out perfectly for all to see when he said, “The occasion of a hurricane should not be a de facto redistricting.” Sorry, guy, but the Constitution is clear that only electors resident in a constituency as defined by the state may determine who their federally-elected officials are, not those who might be or never will be residents in the future. Redistricting is a political process, one that his bill attempts to perform unconstitutionally, while choice of residence is influenced by Mother Nature all of the time.

Landrieu, who will run for reelection in 2008 that is covered under the law, was so right when she spoke to us thus: “you basically are impacting your democracy in a way that you don't want to” – by passing unnecessary, expensive laws that subvert democracy. Her support of these bad bills shows that she lives down to her own statement.

27.10.05

Landrieu voices support for stifling economy, helping special interests

Usually, when Louisiana gets ranked last, or close to it, it’s a cause for concern. But there has come an instance where being ranked last in a so-called quality of life indicator is a good thing for the state – but you couldn’t tell from the actions of the state’s senior senator.

This is the last place finish that Louisiana gets in the University of Massachusetts’ Political Economy Research Institute Work Environment Index, in its most recent report. In essence, supposedly Louisiana is the worst state for workers.

But just a few minutes perusal of information about the Institute and the report shows the basis on which it was formulated rests on a hopelessly ignorant view of the economic world. For example, it focuses a major part of its work on the mythical “living wage” concept, the idea behind raising the minimum wage in fact will hurt, not benefit, workers. For a host of reasons, valid economic thought demonstrates that the marketplace will set the appropriate wage level and that artificially inflating it brings suffering to both employers and employees.

This bias carries through in the ideology behind the report. It emphasizes an invalid construct, “workplace fairness.” It assumes that unionization and “prevailing wage” laws are good when in fact unionization enriches a few at the expense of many and prevailing wage laws exacerbate the effect. It also incorporates the bogus notion of “comparable worth,” which argues that differences in men’s and women’s salaries are unnatural and a result of discrimination when, in fact, such differences are natural and healthy for both men and women.

The report even tries to argue, weakly as it turns out, that there is a relationship between its index and economic growth. It states that there is a moderately positive relationship between the index and growth (and is loathe to admit there is none between new business startups and employment growth, but tries to cover itself by stating the states high on the overall index “do not experience slower growth, even while overall conditions for workers in these states are better”).

That, of course, is because two-thirds of their index actually does a passable job of validly measuring economic climate, that which refers to job opportunities and (to a lesser extent) job “quality.” This is demonstrated by removing the “workplace fairness” measure and recomputing relationships among the index, all components, and the measures they choose to use for economic health.

As it is, Louisiana moves up 10 places by removing this component. Removing the “job quality” component (leaving only “job opportunity”) increases the state’s ranking still, to 34th. Most notable, however, is that the three separate components are a strange mix to arbitrarily make an index where each is one-third of the combined index. The job opportunity indicator is actually strongly negatively related to job growth (that is, the less opportunity there is, the more job growth – how does that make any sense?) and least valid of the three, the “fairness” indicator, only is weakly related to economic growth and to neither of the other two.

In short, this is what us social scientists would call an rather unreliable measure, compounded by the arbitrariness of making the total index from equal contributions of each of the three parts. (At the risk of boring you, a reliability test gives a Cronbach’s alpha of .13 – a very unreliable index by the numbers). In other words, garbage in, garbage out – this questionable measure created by this biased group doesn’t really tell us anything.

So, by this, we really cannot argue that Louisiana is the “worst” place for workers. Indeed, face validity would tell us it’s pretty good – right to work provisions (meaning workers cannot be forced into union membership) in the state give greater freedom to workers and lower costs to consumers, among other things. Opposition to this philosophy by the support of Sen. Mary Landrieu of the Davis-Bacon Act shows she would rather protect the interests of a greedy few rather than those of all workers and consumers.

Unfortunately, the recent action by the federal government to terminate the Davis-Bacon waiver in Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita adheres more to the failed ideology of this report than the way the world really works. Regrettably, by artificially inflating wages paid to construction workers, it will hinder Louisiana in its reconstruction and economic recovery, while enriching greedy unions and their members now better able to take unfair advantage of the misery left behind by these disasters.

25.10.05

Stuck on stupid VII: Spend on pork while whining for dollars

Louisiana had the chance at least to attempt to undo the flub committed by the state’s Bond Commission last week, but instead sided with irresponsibility, all the while it leaders moaning about how the federal government is too restrictive with its purse strings.

There were at least two good reasons why the Commission should have reviewed, item by item, its package approval of $45.335 million in borrowing requests (which Treasurer John Kennedy could not even get a second to vote on one by one) that included unneeded reservoirs, sports complexes, livestock barns, civic centers, recreation areas, welcome centers, gyms, and film centers. For one, it would be a show of faith to the federal government that all nonessential spending would be curtailed in the near future until emergency needs are met.

But perhaps more importantly, the roughly $17 million dollars in these projects (which were pushed up from not being scheduled to be spent any time soon; indeed, some amounts weren’t scheduled to be spent at all in the next year) could have been used immediately by the state for reconstruction. It may well be that the federal government is paying 100 percent of this until the end of November, but why not get the process started now and ask for reimbursement in a month?

Kennedy moved today to bring up the package for reconsideration, but instead lost on a motion to adjourn by the panel packed with supporters of Gov. Kathleen Blanco led by her Commissioner of Administration Jerry Luke LeBlanc. The only to join him in resisting adjournment was Department of Culture, Recreation, and Tourism Secretary Angèle Davis whose nominal superior, Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu with Kennedy are considered Blanco’s strongest Democrat challengers for the Governor’s Mansion in 2007.

Yet the hypocrisy was to come when later the Commission approved lending out a good chunk of the money to local governments lent by the federal government to pay for their operations. LeBlanc fumed to the media about how the federal government was unfair in its conditions for use of the money and made the process too difficult.

If so, since some of the local government expenditures were paying employees to assist in reconstruction, why didn’t LeBlanc cut out the nonessential projects approved the previous week and use that money then to lend to local governments to pay for those activities? LeBlanc could have gotten local governments to do more things faster. Instead, he chose to whine about the federal government and to play pork-barrel politics as usual with the state’s resources (Blanco, after all, has to provide a payoff for legislators voting for her higher taxes. And this is the kind of spending she calls “economic development.”)

It’s little wonder that the federal government at this time wants assistance given in the form of loans rather than grants, with this combination of negligence and arrogance. And so the Blanco Administration remains stuck on stupid.

Failing "Field of Dreams" strategy to cost Bossier City residents

As the Soviet Union teetered to oblivion, it provided increasing comic relief by its “explanations” for poor agricultural output. The befuddled communist leadership kept reporting that “bad weather” year after year caused them to fall short of their quotas.

Of course, we knew then and now that it was the collectivist, planned economy behind communism that wasted resources and provided disincentives to produce, as well as robbing people of their economic freedom, that caused these repeated failures. Concerning this, one gets this feeling it’s like déjà vu all over again concerning Bossier City government and the Louisiana Boardwalk outdoor mall.

Only months ago city officials were hyping the project as a key component to turning around the city’s deteriorating finances, which for the previous couple of years had run an operating deficit, forcing the city to dip into its riverfront development fund, where funds go from deals struck with various casinos (after the fund has reached a certain level, then withdrawals may be made, a point long since attained). Now we learn the 2006 budget still is in deficit, to the tune of about $6 million.

Yes, city leaders did trot out the “bad weather” (too hot) explanation and claimed stores were opening behind schedule. Never mind that being too hot would explain little: since the Boardwalk is a mall of sorts, if people wanted the experience but felt deterred because it was hot outside, a good many would realize there’s always the indoor version at Bossier’s Pierre Bossier mall.

As in the case of the Soviet Union, this official explanation masks the true reason: at best the Boardwalk will add little to Bossier City’s economy. Either it will cannibalize existing Bossier businesses, or it will do the same to Shreveport’s which will make jobs held by Bossierites disappear that possibly may reappear at the Boardwalk. It’s never going to have a more than a trivial impact on Bossier City sales and property tax revenues, considering what it will subtract from other Bossier resources.

And it seems now the city is willing to admit it (in a way to try to deflect embarrassment from its elected officials), because the 2006 budget proposal anticipates – you guessed it – tax increases. The city wants to double Emergency Medical Service fees and increase by a third trash disposal fees, in order to partially (about 40 percent) offset the gaming revenues encumbered.

If the city politicians really believed the Boardwalk would deliver (a belief some touted in their reelection campaigns only months ago) what they had promised, why have these fee hikes? Indeed, why have fee hikes at all when the city sits on tens of millions of dollars in the fund that legally could be spent on city services?

Some would argue this money should be saved as a “rainy day” fund which is all well and true, but the city would have more credibility on this matter had it not run out and spent in excess of $40 million on the Boardwalk project. A decent chunk of that would have to be spent on infrastructural improvements, but over half – about $21 million – was spent on the Boardwalk’s parking garage, an item the developer should have paid for.

The Boardwalk and this budget remind us how Bossier City’s elected officials are hung up on shiny baubles like the Boardwalk and are indifferent to allowing the people to keep what they earn. When it comes to something flashy to which they can attach their names, the sky’s the limit in spending. But when it comes to using existing monetary resources to keep their hands out of the people’s pockets, they defer. The “Field of Dreams” economic development strategy (build it and they will come) doesn’t work; what does is creating a reduced-tax environment Bossier City officials now officially have come out against.

Just two things the city should consider before it lightens Bossier City residents’ pocketbooks of $2.2 million – a whole lot of its elected officials lost their jobs over its handling of the building of the CenturyTel Center, and I think city residents still share the view of some years ago of their parish brethren, when they decisively rejected at the ballot box an EMS hike of similar proportions.

24.10.05

MR-GO or not to go: that is the porkbusting question

As more is discovered about how New Orleans’ levees were breached by Hurricane Katrina, the more human error induced by political concerns seems to be the cause – and politics may keep us from realizing the proper solution to deal with the catastrophe’s effects.

Previous to the storm, some experts had argued the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet would amplify a storm surge to amplify its speed and thus scouring power. The outlet serves as shortcut to New Orleans’ port facilities by cutting through the now-disastrously flooded St. Bernard Parish. Evidence is mounting that precisely this happened and triggered the flooding.

Even though policy-makers knew of this scenario, MR-GO was kept open because of the inattention of some and the forceful lobbying by the Port of New Orleans. It appears the Port used MR-GO as a blackmail item of sorts, arguing that since the Industrial Canal couldn’t handle larger vessels, MR-GO had to be there to do that (never mind the Mississippi itself can handle any sized vessel). This gave the Port a rationale to support the Industrial Canal lock project that could supplant the need to use MR-GO when finished.