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26.1.08

Hiring freeze tactics align to larger strategic goals

Gov. Bobby Jindal has bent, slightly, in his order to freeze hiring of essentially all unfilled positions in state government. The move to allow a blanket waiver for all health care positions in direct contact with patients, after at first saying there would be no blanket waivers, represents only a small tactical shift in a larger strategy.

Some wondered when as one of his first official acts Jindal implemented the freeze by executive order. After all, promises of budget surpluses rung, on top of recent surpluses, so why was it that Jindal seemed so concerned about saving $25 million? There are three reasons why.

First, it was campaign promise of sorts. Jindal had long and loudly complained about an expanding government. Even if most of the recent increase came as a result of recovery monies from outside the state, there still was some government spending growth at a time the state actually had fewer people to service. On top of that, Jindal had expressed annoyance that the state not only continued to keep hundreds of jobs unfilled for years running, but that these open slots got pay raises in 2007. The freeze was a way to make good on this campaign issue.

Second, one of the great con jobs of last year by the Kathleen Blanco Administration and Democrat legislative leadership was the creation of programs and redistribution into them of monies coming from temporary sources (even if technically these funds were classified as eligible for spending on recurring items), as well as their ignoring of the false economy created by recovery spending which resulted in increased but in part temporary revenues. The Jindal Administration recognizes this fully as a ticking time bomb and one way to deal with it is cutting back basically unneeded personnel spending.

Third, the freeze helps Jindal in his quest to reform certain areas of government. For example, the current indigent care system rewards state institutions to be less efficient by dropping a sum of money in their laps rather than tying their rewards to performances on indicators – which is how the non-government sector must work compelled by market forces. Even if only a few million dollars can be pulled from the existing charity system, it reduces its size and frees the money to be used to implement a money-follows-the-person regime that eventually will force the charity system to perform more efficiently.

Jindal was correct that blanket exemptions as a whole would detract from the basic goal of his administration – hinging on another campaign promise – that is tied into the reform idea: it’s not the savings of money that is as important, but that agencies use the opportunity to justify its use as the first step towards a more performance-based attitude reigning in agency budgeting and operation. Jindal and Republicans like House Speaker Jim Tucker have insisted that fat still remains in the state’s spending habits: this exercise can initiate the process of agencies to get thinking in those terms as well.

Nonetheless, the Jindal Administration realized that on the direct provider issue that the nature of the service and the turnover in it made the exemption sensible; otherwise, Commissioner of Administration Angèle Davis would be spending far too much time reviewing exemption requests while agency heads would spend too much time writing them. It does not mean, for those reasons cited, that the Administration’s strategy will change anytime soon.

24.1.08

GOP LA caucus results point to Romney benefitting

Just as at the national political level there are attempts to define victory in Iraq in a way to withdraw U.S. forces without actual victory in place, here in Louisiana a battle rages to declare victory for Republican candidates in the party’s recently-conducted caucuses.

As far as any one candidate goes, the edge seems to be held by Sen. John McCain, a situation trumpeted by a pro-McCain news aggregator website. But in real terms, the victory likely will go to former Gov. Mitt Romney – but “likely” for now for two reasons.

One is that the actual winner – both plurality and majority – of the delegates statewide appears to have been an uncommitted slate termed the “Pro-life/Pro-family” delegation. They seem to have captured a smashing 86 of the 105 slots, while the McCain slate looks to have gotten fewer than 10. (These numbers might change a little as the party is still verifying provisional ballots.) Given these candidate's records of the issues the uncommitted delegates signal are important ot them, it would appear that the bulk of the uncommitted delegates will swing Romney’s way if given that chance, in addition to the handful of Romney delegates by name winning.

The other reason it's not set in stone is because Louisiana Republicans can moot this. The week after the Feb. 9 caucuses comes the state convention where the actual delegates to attend the national convention will be selected. If state GOP voters give any candidate an absolute majority, that candidate gets pledged to him all of the convention delegates apportioned in this manner – 20 delegates. If no candidate does, these and 24 other delegates are up for grabs on Feb. 16. It seems unlikely any candidate will win an absolute majority.

While inexact at to claim to know the intent of all the uncommitted delegates, probably enough of them backing Romney will control the convention to decide who gets 44 of the GOP's 47 available. Thus, claims that McCain had the best outcome of all candidates running ring very hollow.

23.1.08

Reform officials must rid state of pest legislation

If anybody unfamiliar with traditional politics in Louisiana needs any instruction into how dysfunctional the situation has been, one need look only at the mess created over pest control in the state’s Department of Agriculture and draw lessons from there on how to change it.

Former commissioner Bob Odom diverted funds dedicated to fighting boll weevils, in part paid for by cotton farmers for that very purpose, to projects that, if they had any connection to agriculture at all, were money-losers to the state as a whole. Now it seems the so-called dedicated funds to the project won’t be enough to cover the expenses needed to maintain progress on the eradication.

The trouble began years ago when Odom first got the state Legislature to pass a law apportioning as much as $12 million a year culled from slot machines at race tracks to fight the pest. Initially, the money went for that purpose but as the program became more successful needing less money to keep progress going, Odom began to find these creative outlets to finance other ventures.

22.1.08

Romney-leaning, not Roemer, LA ticket best for GOP

Within the hour Republicans will gather at statewide caucuses to select delegates to attend in about a month a state convention to pick delegates to the party’s national convention. Not only will this affect the outcome of a GOP nomination for president still very much in flux, but may also shed light into competition and the eventual nominee for the House Sixth District for Congress for the party.

Courtesy of a web site that shills for former Gov. Buddy Roemer, e-mail was sent to drum up support for Sen. John McCain. In the note, Roemer argued that McCain was the only candidate that could defeat front-runner for the Democratic nomination Sen. Hillary Clinton – a highly mistaken notion, given Clinton’s negatives are so high that any GOP nominee would enter the contest at worst even odds against Clinton. In fact, because McCain would discourage the conservative base of the GOP who would be likely to take the attitude that the inevitable failure of a Clinton presidency would strengthen the conservative cause more than the as-inevitable failure of a Clinton-lite (McCain) presidency, McCain would be the least likely of the major Republican candidates to beat her.

Despite his mistaken analysis, Roemer’s endorsement and placement on a ticket to support McCain firmly places him ideologically within the state GOP, reducing his chances of wining nomination for the 6th District seat. With the advent of closed primaries for federal elections, conservatives will have the greatest say in determining Republican nominees (as will liberals for Democrats). Roemer has more recently dismissed rumors that he will run for the seat of resigning Rep. Richard Baker and instead his son Chas (who appears on the McCain ticket as well) has expressed interest in the seat.

The younger Roemer in essence has made the same signal by being on the McCain ticket, reducing his chances of nomination despite his unopposed win for the state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education which was determined by a blanket primary. Therefore, today’s caucus results will be interesting in demonstrating just how realistic moderates’ chances in the GOP are of winning nominations. If this ticket doesn’t win in the Sixth District, it may signal trouble for any Roemer’s ambition

Conservative activists have not let the challenge go unmet. Consultant Charlie Davis (publisher of the PoliticsLA website) has compiled a delegate ticket of staunch conservatives who pledge if no candidate wins the Feb. 9 primary outright to vote for a candidate at the state convention a week later who has solid conservative credential. With the departure of former Sen. Fred Thompson from the contest today, that seems to be a shorthand for support for former Gov. Mitt Romney.

If Republicans want the best shot at winning the White House in November, the most conservative candidate in the field should get their votes. This means the Davis ticket would be the one to cast in favor of this evening.

21.1.08

Shreveport Times irresponsibility could hurt policing

Maybe it’s because it appears to have dropped quite a chunk of change on getting the data for the stories. Or maybe it wanted to make a big splash for the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. Whatever the motivation, the Shreveport Times produced a series on “racial profiling” riddled with muddled thinking, inappropriate insinuation, and harmful public policy prescriptions.

The Times studied traffic citation data and found that black drivers were receiving perhaps twice as many citations – usually for minor offenses – as were white drivers in both Shreveport and Bossier City given population levels. On this alone, it concluded there must be something “troubling” about this outcome, without ever spelling out exactly what that is.

But instead of providing a fair and balanced analysis of the issue (the closest it ever came was one quote from my colleague at LSUS who pointed out the many factors that go into decisions made by police about traffic stops and admonished it to “do a little more work” before making any conclusion), instead it made the elementary mistake, intentionally or otherwise, about which I warned my statistics students on many occasions to avoid, treating association as if it were causation.

As an example of this error, suppose you observe that the larger a fire is, the more firemen there are that show up to fight it. As a result, you conclude firemen cause fires: where there are no fires there are no firemen, and the size of the fire grows directly with the number of firemen present. What you have done is erroneously posited a relationship between to things based solely on the evidence that they covary. They are associated, but that does not then imply they must have a causal relationship. Without paying close attention to plausible theory, any causal conclusions are recklessly made.

Causation is demonstrated only when there is theory that most plausibly explains why there must be a relationship and what affects what. On this issue, The Times and a number of “experts” (with the exception of an academician all vocal politically liberal elected officials or activists) used the association of race determining probability of ticketing and grabbed their ideological biases to give an immediate, unreflective, erroneous conclusion (that, again, they are reluctant to state unambiguously no doubt because it would sensitize readers to that bias and lead them to dismiss their argument): blacks are disproportionately ticketed because local police departments refuse to change irredeemably racist institutionalized policies and to punish racist behavior.

This is despite the fact that local departments (including Shreveport’s black police chief) steadfastly maintain that “hard” profiling (with race being the only standard being used to decide whether to make a stop) is forbidden. It is despite the fact that policies are in place to prevent hard profiling (which is dismissed by The Times and the consensus of its interviewed as unsuitable without releasing data to the state). It is despite the fact the departments handle and resolve complaints of this. It is despite the fact that in three crucial ways the analysis failed to explore evidence that could disconfirm their hypothesis.

One was to look at the conviction rates of the offenses cited. That data is not presented but chances are it was pretty high. In other words, legitimate crimes were being committed, but in one sense The Times is nevertheless blaming the police for being too vigilant. Its response probably would be that this shows selective enforcement, or that white motorists committing the same crimes were being given a pass because of either cut-and-dried racist attitudes among the police and/or because they were making race the primary factor in deciding about a traffic stop.

This leads to the second piece of evidence that The Times easily could have (or did?) gather – the race of the citing and/or arresting officer. One would expect that if hard profiling if not racist behavior was going on, you would find white officers ticketing significantly more black offenders than would black officers. Indeed, the data collected by The Times contained the names of the officers; unless the departments objected, it should have been little problem and just taken a few extra hours of coding to put that information into the database, and then analyze whether officer race made a difference in proportion of tickets issued by race.

But The Times didn’t do this. If it couldn’t because of departmental objections, it needed to act responsibly by noting this argument and tempering its own. If it could but didn’t, this was a simple, stupid mistake that greatly detracted from the series. If it could and did but chose not to report the results, it was disingenuous if not outright fraudulent. Even though their editor preaches about how there needs to be “transparency,” The Times appeared not to practice that, nor did it do sufficiently what he counsels the reading audience to do, analyze the numbers.

(Also interesting: The Times has a comment feature on its stories where registered users can leave notes which are moderated. For the stories in this series, the function was disabled – doesn’t seem like they want a whole lot of debate on this despite their editorializing in favor of it.)

This neglected the probable true explanation, the final bit of evidence ignored by The Times, for why we see differences in proportions cited by race is a possibility confirmed by every statistic and study on crime in America: like it or not, unfortunately blacks simply are more likely to commit crime, in almost every category of crime. It may well be that, for example, you have, given relative population, twice as many black motorists being cited for windows too heavily tinted or music played too loud because twice as many engage in that behavior. But, once again, The Times could, and maybe did, excuse itself from entertaining and investigating this notion by blindly believing crime rates are disproportionately higher for blacks because of that old bogeyman racism again – even as what federal government evidence does exists seems to indicate blacks are more likely to operate vehicles unsafely than whites.

While it is undesirable that The Times should choose to create an issue out of nothing or at least half-baked, the real damage can come as its insinuations could detract from law enforcement optimally carrying out its job. As summarized in a report about the issue of racial profiling which revealed the ideological politics behind the crusade against it in all forms and gave examples of the harm a prior assumption that racism was behind the use of race in fighting crime, “The anti-profiling crusade thrives on an ignorance of policing and a willful blindness to the demographics of crime,” that threatens to shatter the “commonality between law-abiding inner-city residents and the police.”

In the final analysis, it’s not bad that The Times looked into this issue, it’s that it did so in such an manner, neglecting a complete, thorough, and balanced analysis, that has the hallmarks of wanting to promote an agenda. One argument it made in its series was that the interpretation they supplied to the data when circulated would lead to greater distrust of the police and thus hamper crime fighting, unless police behavior subsequently changed. It was spectacularly irresponsible of The Times to float an easily-detected flawed argument, raising alarms about the results of such an incomplete, if not ideologically-driven investigation that threatens to lead to the outcome it so piously claims to want to prevent.

20.1.08

Paul comes to LA, disappoints on terror issue

The very first time I voted I did so for U.S. Rep. Ron Paul for that office. Tomorrow he comes to a large city near you in Louisiana hunting for votes for the Feb. 9 Republican presidential preference primary – one of the very rare stops by a GOP candidate in the state this cycle. But I will not be voting for him on that date.

Dr. Paul is an excellent candidate for the presidency on many issues. Best among the candidates he understands the necessity of limited government, of smaller government, and of how all in society are better off by cutting taxes and spending. If you wanted one guy in the White House that you could be sure would promote domestic policies to maximize individual liberty and to reduce the chances of government tyranny while making sure those disadvantaged not by their own fault are supported, in this year’s field Paul would be your man.

However, he squanders and utterly defaults on all of this in his mistaken beliefs about the War on Terror. He generally has favored U.S. involvement in Afghanistan but not in Iraq, arguing the latter was impermissible adventurism that does not directly deal with the terrorist threat. Unfortunately, he cannot see that the two are inextricably linked in a larger picture, and the isolationism that he prizes is a luxury the free world no longer can afford.

Many do not understand the source of terrorism as it exists in today’s world. It’s not about who has what land, it’s not about this religion or that, nor about class and economic conflicts. It’s about a small group of people regrettably with power much beyond their numbers who have concluded that certain civilizations and the ideas behind them are incompatible with their own, and for their own survival these rivals must be destroyed.

The fanatics come from pre-modern societies that devalue individual autonomy, that are so rigid and unforgiving in provision of opportunity for individual advancement and self-governance that radical Islam appears to be the only alternative. Paul (and all the Democrat candidates) cannot (or will not) looks past the symptom to understand the disease: it’s not that, as he argues the U.S. “destroyed a regime hated by our direct enemies, the jihadists, and created thousands of new recruits for them,” it’s that they already were there and would have come about anyway and still would hate the U.S. and all free societies precisely because we are free societies.

Thus, for our own protection, the environment from which these opponents of Western civilization must be altered, and this is done in two ways. First, the penalty for this behavior must be increased, and that is part of the reason to intervene in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

Second, and far more importantly, the nature of the environment must become one where individual autonomy, leading to increased ability of the individual to achieve, is prized to dramatically decrease the allure of radical Islam. This is the larger purpose of the war in Iraq – to create conditions where an open society may emerge without its being overthrown by forces that oppose it. Ironically, Paul, who has championed government of this form, seems disinterested in pursuing it elsewhere other than America even if America becomes safer as a result.

Radical Islam has the most to lose to see an Arab state of this nature emerge, for it will lose its exclusive status as alternative to the present, stultifying regimes in the area. A democratic Iraq will act as a benign virus, its success not only greatly reducing the appeal of radical ideology that leads to terrorism in Iraq, but will serve notice to other closed societies that they need to open up as well as their peoples observe such success. This is why it is putting so much effort into preventing the consolidation of this state – which will fail if the U.S. and allies remain resolute.

This will not be easy on America and it will not be cheap. But it is the best, most reliable way to secure freedom for Americans and all others who share in these values – and that probably includes majorities in the Middle East as well. Yet Paul and the Democrat candidates for office do not, or refuse to, see this, and thus this disqualifies them from leading the country at this crucial time in history.