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31.7.08

Landrieu campaign's attack belies big concern

A not-so-new Zogby Interactive poll puts Republican state Treasurer John Kennedy up by six points over Democrat incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu, with her treading in almost impossible waters to win reelection at 41 percent. It’s been out for over a month but only publicized today in conjunction with the release of other Senate contest polls by Zogby. Yet release of these somewhat stale results drew a swift response from the Landrieu campaign organization which raises a larger question about the viability of her effort.

The critique was a mixture of the valid, invalid, and hypocritical. Most of it concerned that the Zogby effort gathered voluntary Internet responses, rather than random contacts who then volunteered to participate. While the statement was long on criticisms of the Zogby method, it overstated them (to some degree the non-random/voluntarism problem can be mitigated by certain selection methods) and understated problems with its comparison group of random, presumably telephone polls (principally, the growing problem of voluntary nonresponse and non-random sampling due to the proliferation of cell phones as solitary lines for a household).

It also pointed out that Zogby had been paid last year by the Kennedy organization for a campaign, but failed to note that this one was independent. While insinuating that Zogby therefore would bias results to favor Kennedy, it failed to acknowledge the Landrieu campaign was ripe for the same charge with a poll down by a Democrat operative paid for by her campaign in May which showed her with a tremendous lead. Even that one and none yet done have put her over the presumed magical 50 percent line: any incumbent who cannot go over 50 percent conventional wisdom declares her to be in danger.

30.7.08

Despite LA investment success, UAL time bomb ticks on

So the many Louisiana state retirement funds (there are about 20 although the bulk of them are in four) are doing decently in return on investment during these turbulent market times. That’s great, but that’s not the real issue facing these funds.

This of course is the unfunded accrued liability (UAL) built up over decades, supposed to be dealt with by legislation (mandated by the Constitution) that requires there to be no such thing by 2029. That is, assets held by a fund must be expected through predicted investment returns to equal expected pension demands made on them by that date. That is not the case at all among the four largest funds, although the vast bulk of the $10.5 billion deficit lies in just two, the Louisiana State Employees Retirement Fund (a shade over $4 billion) and the Teachers’ Retirement System of Louisiana (a shade under $6 billion).

Statutorily, the state is to pay it off by a certain amount a year but that is subject to appropriation and so far that has fallen way behind. Currently, less than 70 percent of the two’s combined target annual payment is being hit and, worse, only a little more than half of the UAL is being covered by current payroll, meaning that if these rates continue in the few years preceding 2029 the state may be on the hook for billions of dollars of payments.

To compare, let’s say the state’s investments do great, a 10 percent annual return. In these two funds this year, such a return would have sliced only 20 percent off the UAL – and this is not counting the need for the use of those funds to pay current liabilities. In short, only the most sustained, fantastic investment performance could ever help grow the funds out of trouble.

This is why Gov. Bobby Jindal got the Legislature to go along with him in apportioning $60 million of the latest surplus to pay down UAL (this many years out estimated to reduce it by $240 million). And this is why, with talk of a billion dollar surplus ahead for the next fiscal year, they need to do it again and perhaps on a larger scale.

So it’s not really a matter of the citizenry being able to “rest easy.” By all means are upbeat investment reports welcome. But the state can’t afford to distract itself with them from the ticking time bomb that is the UAL, and should stay very concerned.

29.7.08

More sour grapes harvested over needed ethics changes

For many years, critics hounded the Louisiana Ethics Administration Program Board, saying it was an ineffective investigator and adjudicator of ethics standards for candidates and officials both elected and appointed in the state. Sweeping changes were made in the area of ethics over the past year, and suddenly a whole bunch of revisionism is coming down the pike that at its root is a vineyard full of sour grapes and resentment at ending power and privilege.

The latest attempt comes from the former administrator Gray Sexton, who quit last year when it became apparent the new legal standard taking effect shortly would require the holder of the post to work at it full-time and disclose any private clients. He claimed that move was a kind of political payback for his investigations of politicians. This joins assertions of similar motivations made by some of the 10 (out of 11) Board members who resigned in the past couple of months, in the wake of other legal changes that also required stricter financial disclosure from these inexpert political appointees and that the adjudicatory power of it was being passed over to trained civil servants. One longtime opponent of Gov. Bobby Jindal claimed he orchestrated all of this out of pique at receiving a fine for an inadvertent omission in a report which his campaign turned in itself and swiftly took blame. Sexton also criticized the creation of a higher standard for burden of proof to determine guilt of alleged violators.

It takes very little in the way of common sense and logic to doubt the seriousness of this interpretation. So Sexton thought there was some vendetta against him culminating in the Gov. Kathleen Blanco era? Maybe, but regardless what’s telling is the supposed leverage being used against him was simple disclosure and a desire to get him to focus his full energies on the job. Why would he consider that so injurious to himself that he had to resign over it (and the Board, who hired him, and he tried to get around that by a contractual arrangement which was scuttled by negative publicity)? Such a reaction on his, made over a year before the law was to go into effect, suggests either he actually didn’t take the job that seriously and was really more interested in his private practice, or that there were aspects about his private work that would have raised eyebrows in relation to his Board work.

28.7.08

Obama-connected group increases LA vote fraud chances

The political left continues to press its campaign to make elections in Louisiana turn out its way by legally questionable means. One prong of the strategy is to flood registrars in key areas with bogus registrations, hoping to overwhelm the system to allow the maximum number to seep through. Another is to rely upon “friendly” officials that wink at the practice and countenance the seepage. The final prong is to challenge and resist by every means possible efforts of diligent officials to prevent these activities from succeeding.

The later is exemplified by Project Vote’s recent complaint that Secretary of State Jay Dardenne is being too stringent is removing registrants that also are registered in other states, claiming the process is too inexact. This is nonsense: officials can drop from voting rolls the names of people who are registered in multiple states, but only after sending the voter two mailings: one giving voters 30 days to show by fax or letter that they are not registered in another state, and a second notice giving the individual 21 days to appear at a parish registrar of voters office to challenge their removal from the rolls. The process complies with federal voter registration laws and has been approved by the U.S. Justice Department under the Voting Rights Act.

Nonetheless, this is typical of Project Vote’s history of frivolous and annoyance lawsuits. By bringing these, at the back end of the process the group wishes to discourage vigilant enforcement of the law. The organization also has a colorful history of lawlessness with its operatives on many occasions at the receiving end of fraud complaints. On voter projects it affiliates with the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), a radical leftist organization with which Sen. Barack Obama began cutting his political eye teeth early in his career and who assisted him in his election campaigns, returning favors of Obama who trained ACORN leaders and assisted Project Vote in its early days.

The presumptive nominee for the Democrats for president will be unable to use the fruits of his past labor to win Louisiana for him as he trails badly in polls statewide. But the “crisis strategy” endorsed by the organization can produce votes for Sen. Mary Landrieu in her reelection bid and for Democrat congressional candidates. And, unfortunately, to a point this strategy has succeeded – the cleanup to the rolls will take effect only after the November elections.

This will make it difficult to counter fraud. Louisiana election law makes it difficult to successfully safeguard the process without a lot of resources applied to the task by interests outside of the government. Parties or candidates would have to have trained poll watchers with superior information at each precinct, also during early voting, in order to have any chance of spotting invalid voting (and the problems in success here are multiplied when absentee voting is involved).

Many believe Landrieu’s extremely close initial senatorial win came courtesy of fraud. It would be a shame if other contests this fall were influenced by illegal activities the prospects of which are enhanced by groups such as the former beneficiary of Obama’s political activity.

27.7.08

Bossier needs flexibility for downscaled Cyber Command

For months we’ve heard excited talk from the local political class about the potential permanent coming of the Air Force’s Cyber Command, a new division of the service that would administratively consolidate functions dealing with cyberwarfare, to join a couple of others at Barksdale Air Force Base. Fueling it has been the establishment of the provisional command there, which in other situations almost always has meant the permanent command locates at that base.

Salivating local boosters on both sides of the river had thrown around figures such as thousands of jobs created and over $100 million in economic impact. In order to land it, local Bossier government has pumped in $50 million, a figure the state has matched plus $7 million, to build the Cyber Innovation Center that would serve as an incubator for businesses connected to the command and this is trumpeted as a shot in the arm of the local economy like none else since … well, Barksdale itself.

But the one thing nobody, at least publicly, seems to be talking about is what if rather than the whole only a part, or even none, of the command’s functions end up at Barksdale?