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16.4.09

Distance from protests indicates calculated Jindal gamble

epublican governors from Texas and South Carolina attended tea party rallies in their states but all Louisiana GOP Gov. Bobby Jindal did was send out an e-mail message alerting supporters of the locations of some around the state, given that he would be travelling much of the day to fundraising events on the East Coast. Even so, this didn’t entirely preclude Jindal from attending such parties, and his obligations were of the type that could have been scheduled at different times. Why the pass?

A couple of considerations may have driven Jindal’s response. First, social networking of this kind on the right tends to be sporadic and unsustained, precisely because of the philosophical divide between conservatives and liberals. Typically, conservatives are too busy earning for their own interests and in the process contributing to society to band together to make demands, while liberals focus on organizing and trying to use collective power to rig the system in favor of their interests instead of eschewing such means to concentrate on individual initiative that can benefit all. In short, ordinarily conservatives tend to forgo intentional joined efforts to wield power whereas liberals see that as part of the struggle inherent in a political system they see there to be utilized to serve their desires, and for Jindal this dependence on activism from the right might be an unstable base on which to position himself as a conservative leader.

Second, Jindal may have estimated that his political future would be negatively affected by indirect association with these events because the mainstream media would do its best to portray them as extremist. No doubt this happened, and if Jindal fancies himself to have a national political career where he calculates winning the political center that haphazardly pays limited attention to politics and mainly through the mainstream media is the eventual key to victory, he may have believed in the tactical necessity of a distant approach.

Time will tell whether Jindal’s hands-off strategy produces results, but he well may have miscalculated if that was his intent. These may not be ordinary times for conservatives which may spur movement politics seen only occasionally on the right. History shows that while the left maintains a constant, simmering rage against American society based on individual autonomy and its economic order founded on free enterprise that it sees as unfair to its wants which facilitates movement politics, the right can be shaken out of its devotion to individual achievement when the basic values supporting that are threatened.

Threats to liberty produced the Reagan Revolution three decades ago, and a counter revolution against Democrats 15 years ago that brought Republicans to power on platforms congruent with the sentiments expressed as tea parties yesterday. Conservative anger that translates into mass political action is difficult to evoke, but when triggered typically produces more substantial and longer-lasting results than the constant liberal whining.

If this discontent is sustained which will take a continued willingness by conservatives to organize and act collectively, as in and around 1980 and 1994, only a few leaders will be able authentically to use political capital from these movements to galvanize and lead them with salutary results for their own political careers. By his inactions, Jindal seems to have disqualified himself from this resource should it grow and develop.

15.4.09

More than ever, LA must align resources to health needs

Part of the belt-tightening of Louisiana government in response to revenue decreases coupled with a semi-inflexible fiscal structure involves cutting reimbursement rates to medical providers by seven percent. This blow can be made easier by reconfiguring state priorities and potentially increasing service delivery with reduced costs.

The typical person probably did not shed too many tears when these rate reductions clipped revenues going to the likes of physicians and nursing homes. In the case of the former, it’s easy to fall back onto the stereotype (sometimes true, sometimes not) that they can afford a reduction in rates (which, to some degree, can get passed along to the private sector and its insurers), and the same is true of nursing homes in Louisiana, where policy for decades has favored over-capacity that puts some people better served at home or in the community into this more-expensive situation (which also can do some cost shifting to help compensate these reductions).

But another segment suffering these cuts has little buffer against them. Direct care agencies are the mainstay of health care waiver programs that focus on community- and home-based care that often is more appropriate to the needs of the infirm or developmentally disabled at reduced cost to the state. Typically, they hire low-wage individuals to perform basic care tasks (although in some situations these tasks in fact can involve some skills beyond basics), and currently as the state expands its provision of these services, in part because of the low wage rates, these providers are having difficulty in finding enough quality employees to meet the demand. And in response to the cuts, with their workers’ salaries at or near minimum wage, they cannot reduce these to save money and with salaries the vast bulk of their expenses, there’s little room to carve out savings in other expenses which these other providers can do, nor can costs be shifted to the private sector since in most cases close to all if not the entirety of these agencies’ business are government contracts.

If the cut proves too great in impact, fewer clients will gain access to a waiver program simply because of too little capacity. This not only is a tragedy for those genuinely needing service and for taxpayers that continue to bear the brunt of the institutional bias in state policy, but after a certain point also is not an option because of legal settlements the state has entered into. However, a solution is at hand – one that will not please certain interests, but one necessitated by budget constraints and the dicta that both clients and taxpayers be most appropriately served.

Last year, for one waiver program, the state began a novel intake system where severity of need got first priority. This philosophy may be extended in terms of reimbursement. Regulations may be changed so that a client authorized through Medicaid is designated having a certain level of care required, mandating placement in the lowest possible arena of care. This would mean, for example, for clients without a high degree of medical necessity in care Medicaid would reimburse only in a home- or community-based setting. This would more appropriately align resources to need and in a limited fashion already is being discussed in reference to state-run nursing homes. The real advantage of all this is as taxpayer dollars get more efficiently used, even as a greater proportion of them would go to lower-intensity care solutions, that efficiency would create more of them to raise reimbursement rates for all providers which especially would relieve the worker shortage endemic in direct care agencies. It also probably could expand coverage for those on waiver waiting lists.

Of course, this could lead to much wailing and gnashing of teeth for institutional interests which would see fewer beds utilized and thereby less revenue, even as their rates increased. Even though they actually might be better off in an operating income sense because their variable expenses may go down more than the revenue decrease, some, believing the state gravy train would go on forever, overbuilt and would have to pay off increased excess capacity.

Regardless, policy-makers should resist the entreaties of these powerful interests to maintain what exists because what exists unnecessarily threatens both health care provision and other state services that are beggared by this inefficient use of the people’s resources. In these tough budget times, political courage to make these changes no longer should be optional.

14.4.09

Questions remain about McPherson surrender motives

Democratic state Sen. Joe McPherson halted his exit attempt from his term-limited position by withdrawing from the District 4 Public Service Commission general election runoff, conceding the contest to Republican former Member of Congress Clyde Holloway. But the manner of his departure and his statements concerning it don’t add up.

Often, candidates do have some idea about how to cut their losses even if they make a runoff. Before the primary election even takes place, they will have certain vote targets for themselves and their opponents in mind, and also may include benchmarks for performance in certain key parishes or precincts. Thus, when the results do roll in, within a short period of time they know whether they should opt out of what they perceive to be a decidedly uphill struggle; a quick decision is necessary either to stop wasting time on the campaign or not to waste time dithering and to get on with it.

Which makes McPherson’s passing up the chance very odd in how it happened. Over a week lapsed before he announced his would not continue, eating up over a quarter of the time before the runoff would have happened. It’s difficult to believe that McPherson, who was been in a state elective position for most of around a quarter century, would have not worked out scenarios well in advance of the primary date and then decided quickly.

Ringing even more strangely are his articulated reasons for getting out. He stated “full-time campaigning” would detract too much from other activities in his life, especially in interfering with the beginning of the legislative session which begins five days before the runoff would have happened. He also argued that the dynamics of this election, which would be the only one on the ballot almost everywhere, did not favor him with the expected low turnout.

Oddly, here McPherson seems to imply that he was doing something other than “full-time campaigning” prior to the primary, because we must assume logically that his level of campaigning did not appear to be a problem prior to it, otherwise he would not have entered the race at all. In reality, his campaign seemed pretty serious and consuming so it’s difficult to see that a short runoff campaign would add significantly to his time constraints compared to his previous efforts. Further, the remark about the Legislature rings hollow – in the first week of its meeting, which is the only time of overlap with the campaign, little gets done because of all the initial start-up procedures. At most, he might miss a committee meeting or two and some floor sessions that will do little substantively. Many others have campaigned for much longer during far busier times without such an apparent attack of conscience.

Finally, while Holloway would have been the favorite going into the contest, McPherson’s chances of winning were not close to hopeless, given the dynamics evident in the primary. And the comment about turnout being low was especially curious – because low also was the turnout for the primary where for many precincts it was the only thing on the ballot. In large population centers, in Lake Charles with its municipal elections and in Rapides Parish there was tax item on the ballot these likely spurred primary turnout some. But at worst, turnout in the runoff should have dropped only marginally from its already low level.

One thing could explain this delayed reaction: perhaps McPherson did some polling right after the primary and found that the vast bulk of the other defeated candidate in the contest’s primary voters indicated willingness to vote for Holloway in the general election runoff. Otherwise, the story doesn’t ring genuinely. If so, whatever the real reasons may be are irrelevant to the fact he opted out, but nonetheless might be fascinating to know.

13.4.09

LA saves significantly only by changing poverty policy

Admirably, the Baton Rouge Advocate is running a series on poverty policy in Louisiana with an eye towards providing information and perspective on how to better address this issue. However, additionally needed is proper understanding of the issue itself if improved performance, even if marginal, by government can manifest

The single largest error made in this kind of analysis – often by ignorance but for some deliberately a misrepresentation of reality to further a political agenda – is thinking that poverty comes from error within a free market economic system that can be corrected (with the agent of such usually conceptualized as government). This stems from a misunderstanding about basic economics that does not recognize that, in a free market, resources accrue to individuals in proportion to which they contribute to the overall wealth of society. In other words, people who earn more wealth do so because their activities bring greater benefits to society as a whole. Bill Gates may be worth tens of billions of dollars, but that’s because his genius and inspiration created such incredibly useful products which brought far more wealth to the world as whole than he’ll ever collect personally.

Therefore, poverty is a natural condition of free markets, although “poverty” itself is contextually and politically defined. Wherever that defining line is set that separates the poor from non-poor, the fact is that whoever are the poor are there because they do not contribute enough to society to rise above that line. Three reasons can cause this failure to contribute sufficiently.

First, there are some who simply do not have the natural talents and abilities to do so. It could be because of some kind of disability that causes underperformance, or simply just the absence of these qualities to the degree necessary. If we are in the business of defining poverty and then alleviating it in some measure, these are the natural clients of these efforts which we may term the “deserving poor.”

Second, people that do have the talents and abilities may be given perverse incentives through policy that interferes with the marketplace’s equation of contribution equaling reward. All government interference in the market does this, so the policy question is whether the costs of interference in terms of reduced contributions fed into society discouraged by policy are equal to whatever presumed benefit may exist by the intrusion (which has both an economic cost and one in terms of freedoms infringed).

Third, there are people who lack the drive or who demonstrate sub-optimal attitudes in regards to the fundamental exchange of contribution for wealth. They are poor simply because they willingly structure their lives in ways and make voluntary choices that prevent them from exerting enough effort to climb out of poverty. Some do so out of lack of information and desire to critically appraise their situation, while others do so out of calculation because they enjoy shorter-term and less productive behaviors more than those whose rewards are far greater but also longer in term. The second point above feeds into these situations by not shaking the former group out of its torpor and subsidizing the chosen behaviors of the latter.

The problem is poverty policy tends to treat all groups – deserving poor, unreflective poor, and voluntary poor – as the same, when in fact the causes of their poverty are different. The first group argues for government intervention to provide a certain minimal standard of living, while the second are served by policy that does not encourage them to use anti-poverty programs as a crutch to hold back their productivity, while the third must be prevented from using anti-poverty programs as a means of subsidizing preferred lifestyles.

So if Louisiana’s elected officials discuss wiser policy dealing with poverty, in reality they can only tinker with it at the margins because the basic one-size-fits-all philosophy that deemphasizes personal responsibility that fits the needs of the first group (which already practices personal responsibility) but subverts the second and third (which by accident or design do not) is a matter of federal policy. You probably can make the system work a little bit better in a technocratic sense, but in terms of eventual cost savings relative to overall such spending they will be minimal.

There’s not much state officials can do to change this, with federal requirements governing so much of program operation. The best that can be done is requesting waivers where possible to experiment with models emphasizing more personal responsibility. (One promising avenue is something along the lines of Charles Murray’s “The Plan.”) Short of achieving something more substantial than this, behaviors stemming from the way anti-poverty programs currently work will continue to eat up resources while forgoing the creation of additional wealth, and little in the way of additional funds for other uses will appear. Rather, this kind of spending will continue to become a larger and larger burden, eventually becoming a self-perpetuating threat to the entire economic system and political order.

12.4.09

Odd but tatically astute for Jindal to skip PSC endorsement

Now that Gov. Bobby Jindal has broken his maiden as far as endorsements for state offices go – and backed the wrong horse – a new sport around these parts is trying to figure out when he endorses and doesn’t. Unlike his foray into the recent District 16 Senate contest, his motives in the Public Service Commission general election runoff initially seem much clearer, even if seemingly as strange.

In that previous contest, without warning only a few days before the primary he suddenly proclaimed support for candidate Lee Domingue. It made little sense for him to endorse in a contest with all Republicans running with little to be gained by backing one from all sympathetic candidates compatible with his views and so much to lose if his pick did not win, possibly cooling the ardor of the winner about Jindal’s agenda. Domingue made the runoff but lost to Dan Claitor there.

While some suggested that Domingue and apparently his family donating nearly $20,000 to Jindal election efforts, and also nearly $100,000 to political organizations sympathetic to Jindal’s agenda, had something to do with the choice, that didn’t really compute since many other candidates for state offices have donated to Jindal over several years and none of them ever bagged an endorsement from him, as he had promised not to involve himself in endorsing candidates for the November, 2007 round of state elections. In retrospect, the most plausible reason emerged that the Domingue campaign persuaded Jindal, a long-time friend of the candidate, to make the last-minute gesture as they realized their candidate was in electoral trouble and thought the governor’s nod would bail out Domingue.

With the next big contest up, that for Public Service Commission District 4’s open seat, Jindal has remained silent even though one could argue in this one the political returns are greater and the risks lesser than with the Senate contest. Former Member of Congress Republican Clyde Holloway narrowly led term-limited state Sen. Democrat Joe McPherson out of the primary, with former state Rep. Gil Pinac far behind. Holloway is a tried-and-true conservative who, had not David Duke pulled the sheet over so many conservative eyes in 1991, might have gotten himself elected governor, while McPherson personifies populist politics at its worst, railing against fictitious enemies of the people while using the system to advantage interests to which he is connected.

The election will be close. While Pinac ran as a Republican this time after a career in the state House, and a failed state Senate bid in 2007, as a Democrat, there’s no guarantee his short stint in the GOP will disproportionately send votes Holloway’s way. Electoral patterns from the primary suggest that his votes probably will split fairly evenly (assuming there is no disproportionate roll-off in turnout for any primary candidate in the general election runoff).

Here, a Jindal endorsement could make a significant difference in fellow Republican Holloway’s favor. Adding more incentive is that a Jindal winner would regain for him some of the political capital lost on the blown Senate endorsement. Even better, the costs are next to none going against McPherson, who loathes Jindal but even if he wins the PSC as a whole has little influence over the governor’s policy-making agenda. So, unlike the Senate contest, here the potential gains exceed the potential losses which leads one to wonder why, if he were willing to gamble on a high-risk, low-return contest, that Jindal will not make a much safer bet on a higher-return, lower-risk race.

Two factors explain Jindal’s reticence. One is that he did recently get burned and even with the much better risk/return ratio, his depleted political capital with a tough session upcoming and the relative uncertainty of the contest’s outcome means he needs more security of the capital and the overall return on this, even if relatively good considering the risk, in an absolute sense is too low to be astute at this time. The other is that the PSC has little to do with his agenda and so that not only would a friendly face there be able to give him little assistance with it, but also that a hostile one there will be able to harm it little.

Especially when that enemy occupies presently a position where he can do some harm. Not very much as one of 39 state senators and somewhat marginalized under the current regime, but the fact is even the little harm McPherson can do to Jindal’s agenda now is more than the zero harm he can do to it on the PSC later. Even if small, the gains Jindal may get from having McPherson out of the Senate (and better, in his place likely a more sympathetic legislator, perhaps even a Republican) probably exceed any symbolic benefit from a Holloway election – which actually becomes a cost itself should Holloway not win with a Jindal endorsement, a cost not risked absent a Holloway endorsement.

So with the sum of the fate of his agenda and use of his political capital (a fact Holloway appears to realize), Jindal rationally does better with silence. It leads to the odd occurrence where despite Jindal endorsing one Republican against two others he fails to push a Republican against a Democrat, but tactically it is understandable.