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11.9.08

Delay helps Landrieu little, but may turn out decisive

It’s true that perhaps the only person who benefitted from Hurricane Gustav was Sen. Mary Landrieu. But just a little bit, even if that little bit might go a long way.

Gustav’s coming did interject a pause into the contest for U.S. Senate in Louisiana as the Democrat aims to hang onto the seat against a formidable challenge by Republican state Treasurer John Kennedy. It’s not so much incumbents who get favored by campaigning forced to cease temporarily, but those who lead those races, and in all cases in all races in the state incumbents, even if narrowly, would appear to be doing that with the probable exception of Rep. Don Cazayoux’s troubled bid for a full term.

As explained previously, those who are behind in contests want campaigning to go on as long as possible, so they (usually challengers where there are no open seats) have more time to catch up. But the only meaningful contests this cycle, except for the two mentioned above, in the state are for open seats so realistic challengers were not only not advantaged by the prospect of extra time but also because no realistic challengers were in a position to take advantage of delays because the nature of their party primaries were uncontested so that the general election still would be held on Nov. 4; only general elections which feature open seats would likely be pushed back to Dec. 6.

The Senate race with no party primary challenges will not be delayed. With Kennedy trailing to a small degree according to the few impartial (and, admittedly, small sampled) polls about the race, having a few days taken away for campaigning won’t help him.

But just as Landrieu got lucky with the involuntary curtailment, Kennedy did with its timing if there was going to have to be a break. Gustav began to dominate attention right when another event would have done the same – first the Democrats’, the then Republicans’ national conventions, especially filled with drama as vice presidential nominees were chosen only on the eves of them. Campaigning for lower-level offices to win the general election usually is ineffective during these two weeks, with so much potential voters’ interests elsewhere politically.

That situation typically lasts a week or two after the conventions as many voters finally begin to pay attention to and to make up their minds about the presidential vote. For most, only after that most important decision will they begin to concentrate on other contests. Thus, if Kennedy had to have suffered campaign postponement, the best time for it to have happened was when campaigning would have been at its least effective anyways, as it did.

So the net boost for Landrieu is small. Still, in a race appearing to be very close, that could be the difference. Luck boosted her into office in her two previous runs and it could play a decisive role yet again to her benefit.

10.9.08

Markets, minimized govt will improve storm response

An opinion column written by John Maginnis presents a largely valid view of the state’s efforts to deal with major storms, in light of the most recent assault by Hurricane Gustav. For the formation of better public policy, however, a few points need re-thinking, expansion, or correction.

The crux of the matter is whether the state ought to be in the paternalistic business of providing emergency shelter. There seems to be general agreement among all policy-makers that it should be and to not would be inconsistent with existing social welfare policy that promotes dependency. As it seems to be settled as a question of broader policy, this reality must be incorporated into more specific policy regarding sheltering evacuees.

More specifically, the most-encompassing policy concern depends upon the expected incidence of hurricanes potentially striking the state. The more the likelihood, the more one could argue for vaster, longer-term, and thereby more expensive solutions. While Maginnis blithely states “Climatologists attribute the increasing size and strength of recent hurricanes to global warming,” he clearly failed to educate himself on the matter. In fact, the last several studies on the topic have come to the opposite conclusion at least on the question of number.

And this of course not only assumes that there is actual global warming going on – and there hasn’t been for a decade – but that it also is mainly man-made, another assumption increasingly being debunked as unproven. As a result, this reduces the necessity for large, dedicated shelters to be built using taxpayer dollars.

More cost effective would appear to be the current plan of renting temporary structures, although here the state must take care. Presently, they are contracted for considerable periods of time including periods of the year they would be highly unlikely to be used for anything. Yet greater efficiencies of taxpayers’ dollars could be wrought and Louisiana would do better to create a program that stays in contact with real estate agents to discover in the spring the availability of large facilities that could be rented for something like July through October.

In pursuing this course, these facilities likely would not provide much in the way of amenities which became a problem in a few shelters because of contractor failures. Still, while they are undesirable such failures are by no means the end of the world and if evacuees have to go outside for toilets and miss taking a shower for a few days – which in the larger scheme of things would leave them, in terms of hygienic convenience, only better off than about 90 percent of the world population – it’s a small price for them to pay for free service and too large of one to burden taxpayers with by providing more luxurious accommodations either temporary or permanent in nature.

As for the independent public that evacuates itself, the major question is here power provision in the aftermath. With power off in many areas, gas could not be pumped and the ripple effect delayed workers and returners, restocking of necessities in stores, etc. Agriculture Secretary Mike Strain’s idea of having about 400 locations statewide outfitted with generators is a good idea, but only if the program is made voluntary and the state lends the money to operators to buy them. This would ensure that costs get passed along only to likely users down the road, and would steer the generators towards the larger operators that are the most accessible to traffic. That they will be up and running not only in major but also minor emergencies will be incentive enough for operators to get in on this deal.

A final, related issue involves better securing of the power grid. In tandem with the generator approach, a suggestion made by Gov. Bobby Jindal should be pursued to improve the hardiness of the transmission system. However, it should be done by the utilities themselves, and allowed by regulators to pass costs along to ratepayers, who ultimately will be the beneficiaries of this, rather than on the entire state’s taxpayers.

Not to be missed is that these are relatively small glitches in the larger scheme of things, and understood that what the state and local governments did do reduced significantly the potential casualties. Still, market-based solutions with minimized government involvement can make future responses even better.

9.9.08

Caddo Commission throws money at flimsy sob stories

If you’re a Caddo Parish resident, you have to fear for the financial health of the parish if the Caddo Parish Commission treats every spending issue as cavalierly as it did concerning increases in salaries of its justices of the peace and constables by $75 a month.

Yes, it’s not a lot of money relatively speaking – for the 20 of them (10 each) the parish tosses in (on top of the $100 monthly paid by the state) $150 a month or $36,000 a year total, which now will increase by $18,000 a year. But did any of the commissioners (all) who approved this actually do a little research into what these elected officials do and how they are doing it?

Something lost in the seeming mad rush to boost these salaries 50 percent – even if it had been better than a quarter century since the last parish increase – was these are not the only revenues generated by these officials. In fact, for some, the salary is a small portion. Reviewing the sources of funds permitted legally not only demonstrates this, but that many of these are revenues that can be collected at little cost to the official.

8.9.08

Whiners demand more luxurious state-run shelters

Amidst the widespread plaudits specifically Gov. Bobby Jindal and generally state and local officials and nonprofit agencies garnered for their coordinated efforts in the recent hurricane-related evacuations, there have been some criticisms. But the complaints tell more about the complainers than anything else.

In the large state-run shelters in Shreveport, some evacuees were miffed at the lack of amenities, whining about how they had to trundle almost 10 yards to portable toilets that sometimes smelled obnoxious, or how they had to forgo showers for a few days, or suffer through a temporary lack of air conditioning (fortunately, outside temperatures were not very hot). It led some to protest the indignity of not having hot, running water.

Some portion of those in these shelters were in situations where there wasn’t much they could do about it on their own – those disabled through no fault of their own and the elderly meeting the challenges of abilities diminished by age. But this did not describe the large majority of those there.

And the behavior of those who ranted about these conditions illustrates perfectly why they ended up there in the first place. As point of reference, I’ve been subject to evacuation by reason of tropical disturbances five times in my life and the two times I did so (both while living under my parents’ roof) we secured the house and took off. We didn’t wait on government to ferry us someplace, we struck out on our own and lived with our choices. It’s the same option open to these whiners, but they choose, in the decisions they made in their lives, to depend on the state and not themselves.

Chances are the vast majority of the non-infirm who got free rides and accommodations as a result of the evacuation from the state government are entirely used to government handouts and not only expect them, they demand them whether they lift a finger ever to deserve such rewards from Americans who work and who through the goodness of their hearts allow taxes to be levied on them to pay for these others’ lifestyle choices. These ingrates have a better life than some of our troops, for example, who work and sleep in scorching heat, with no bathroom or showers for days on end, and facing lethal force on top it all – any many of them probably make less in regular pay than the abled complainers get from government for doing nothing.

This doesn’t mean government-run shelters shouldn’t try to provide the best they can in a cost-effective manner and not try to improve performance at all times. It does mean that somebody choosing to have his hand out constantly has little room to moan about conditions that the vast majority of the world’s people would be deliriously happy to enjoy. Anything more than some gentle suggestions from them is unwelcome and pathetic.