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23.4.09

Science, not religion, undergirds LA marriage definition

A pair of males who identify themselves as homosexual have sued Louisiana to be given the privilege of entering into marriage. They utterly have no case, but it is instructive to understand why because arguments in favor of this almost always are based upon purely emotional considerations without any intellectual underpinnings.

That much is evident by the language of the suit, which states, “By failing to articulate a legitimate, compelling and secular interest for the restriction on marriage, the state has necessarily established a wholly religious civil institution.” The authors of the suit clearly have not been paying attention: let them now be enlightened.

First, we must understand what is going on here. It is a federal challenge to a state constitutional statute that defines the right to marry in Louisiana exists only between one man and one woman. Further, the U.S. Constitution explicitly defines that only the states have the power to regulate in these kinds of matters. What the plaintiffs try to do to avoid this is instead to connect the Louisiana Constitution’s treatment here back to the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment and the interpretation that government shall neither advance nor inhibit religion, and that this part of the state’s constitution would appear to advance religion because they feel the only reason to have it worded as it is would be because some kind of religious belief undergirds then notion of marriage limited to a single man and single woman.

22.4.09

Unemployment law changes tactic in war against Jindal

Behind the high comedy that passes for argumentation against Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal’s refusal to accept all the federal largesse from the budget-busting spending bill and the attempts to overcome that legislatively lies a political struggle that has little to do with reason and everything to do with the maintenance of power and privilege.

Jindal opted out of receiving around $98 million in expanded unemployment benefit coverage because he said he feared after making the necessary legal changes to allow this it would leave the state and its businesses on the hook to continue to excise this money from the citizenry after the federal subsidies run out. As discussed elsewhere this threat is genuine but a more compelling reason not mentioned by Jindal is altering state law to allow it changes nature of what unemployment insurance is all about, pushing it more into the realm of welfare.

Two bills, HB 610 by Democrat state Rep. Cedric Richmond and HB 615 by Democrat state Rep. Sam Jones, seek to make the legal changes as a method to compel acceptance, notions Jindal has long said would suffer his veto pen. The pair whistles into the wind about how they think they have close to the 70 House votes that could override such an effort, but their bluster safely may be discounted. With not even a majority in the House, Democrats seem highly unlikely to pick up the extra 18 votes they would need from Republicans and independents to win on this, especially as probably at least a few Democrats themselves would not support an override. If nothing else, the history of Louisiana legislative-executive relations shows that when going up against a governor’s veto threat, colleagues tend to get told one thing but when crunch time comes, a significant number of legislators do what the governor wishes.

This does not stop the whining coming from some Democrats, as well as others. (It is disappointing that not only did the Louisiana Association of Non-Profit Organizations allow itself to be used as a political tool in all of this, but also that its contribution to the debate is so intellectually pathetic. One of its officials criticized Jindal’s reason for not accepting funds by liking those who do not get unemployment benefits now because they voluntarily leave employment or choose not to seek it, which these bills would permit, to the “starving” and their needing to be fed. As a public service, I won’t waste your time further explaining the obvious about this.) There are two reasons why they will keep this up.

One is that they hope that Jindal’s de-politicization of the earmark process actually gives them a crack at a two-thirds override majority. Last year, Jindal created a set of guidelines for his use of the line-item veto to be used when legislators stuffed pet projects into the budget and proved unafraid to clip out expenditures that did not meet them. Historically, governors often used political whim to make these kinds of decisions, using them as bargaining chips for legislator support on other measures. In essence, by this change Jindal has disarmed himself somewhat and there may be hope that his voluntary surrender of this tool might create fewer disincentives for legislators to go against the governor on bills like these.

The other gets to the heart of the long-term political strategy of Jindal’s legislative opponents specifically and of Democrats everywhere in general. Simply, they recognize that Jindal is a political threat to them ascendant on the national level. If they can pull off in effect a reversal of Jindal’s policy, this damages Jindal’s political standing and that is a paramount objective of Louisiana Democrats. For this reason alone, the tilting at windmills will continue on this issue.

But it is one that could backfire as it could hand Jindal an opportunity to gain political capital. These bills might actually gain majorities in the Legislature and thereby pass to the governor but if the sponsors have the math wrong in either chamber, they simply tee up the bills for Jindal to swat an easy homerun that adds to his credentials as a reformist conservative battling against big government, a sentiment that brought tens of thousands of Louisianans (although not Jindal) out last week for intense rallies against the very philosophy behind these bills. (What they may try to do if they think they have the numbers is to bring one to a vote in the House but if it doesn’t get better than 70 votes then give instructions not to schedule it in the Senate, to deprive Jindal of this ammunition.)

Expect these bills to be given much publicity by their backers. They may even get out of committee to much fanfare. And then they’ll fade away as part of a tactical adjustment by Democrats in their never-ending war against one of the most dangerous politicians to their power and privilege in America.

21.4.09

Maintain benefits choice to increase education quality

The empire strikes back with HB 156 by state Rep. Harold Ritchie, a bill that would force teachers working in charter schools to be members of the Teachers Retirement System of Louisiana, in an effort to hold onto to its slipping power.

The charge is led by one of the faithful props of the current collectivist public education system in the state, teacher unions. These organizations have opposed bitterly the charter concept from the start because it gives them less control over education in the state and create a more competitive environment that better prices the quality of education delivered to actual performance, interfering with their strategy of ensuring the biggest transfer of taxpayer dollars for the least amount of work from their members.

Union mandarins claim that when charter schools were established (over their objections), there was some kind of understanding that their teachers, who are technically government employees as a charter school is in essence a public school with greater management latitude, would have to be members of the TRSL. Instead, 17 of the 66 current charter schools have had the audacity not to opt in to the system, flexibility this bill would deny.

Advocates of choice on this issue argue the inherent nature of a charter school is the greater freedom in management, of which this decision comprises one part, allowing it to produce superior education. Opponents claim, as one of their leading dunderheads opined, the current arrangement “find[s] ways to undermine teacher benefits or workplace rights.”

The mentality behind such a statement is fascinating and telling. Essentially, the complaint in part is that without enough warm bodies being forced into the system with their wages garnished into it, perhaps (we don’t actually know given market performance or demographics of the future) either benefits will not be as high as they could be, or current contributions will have to rise leading to less take-home pay. Worse, it could actually encourage teachers to want to leave the monopolistic environment that unions can influence for others not so restrictive. Thus, the jackboot of government must come down on those charter schools that offer greater freedom and those teachers wanting to make the uncoerced choice to work in them.

And what “workplace rights” are being violated? The right to be forced to pay into a system you may not wish to be in? Since when did a pension become a “right?” (Ironically, the whole concept of retirement and health benefits offered by employers came about because of another instance of government intervention into markets, wage controls during World War II.) Workers “rights” are advanced most when they can choose among competing employers where one point of differentiation may be whether they must be forced to contribute to a retirement system.

In the end, such a policy decision must be driven by the paramount consideration of educational quality. Charter schools exist because they deliver better on this account than otherwise, and part of their ability to do so comes from the greater decentralization in their governance that this bill would disallow. As always, it’s better to put the imperative of better education ahead of the needs of unions and the rest of the education establishment, which means defeat of this bill.

20.4.09

Ending test requirement steps backwards, results show

Louisiana is evolving into a locus of education achievement that hopefully will not be prematurely ended by legislative action.

The Education Trust, a nonprofit organization which seeks to improve educational quality in America and specifically in closing achievement gaps among different demographic groups, recently released a report showing that Louisiana was the only state to show a significant improvement from 1998 to 2007 in black primary and secondary students’ scores relative to white students at both 4th (English) and 8th (math) grade levels (in part, because white students’ achievement did not increase much meaning only minimal absolute progress over all races occurred). In other words, the performance gap decreased substantially between blacks and whites.

Some doubters emerged concerning these encouraging results. One argument was the 2005 hurricane disaster diasporas scattered the lowest-performing black students, presumably from the lowest-income households, away from the state and also from being concentrated, the theory being a mass of low achievers reinforces the tendency to do poorly in learning. But the fact is other states with similar demographics did not see such success, the gains appeared persistently over the period, not discontinuously after 2005, displacement only affected a portion of black students, and substantial gains also were made in the gap between students from higher- and lower-income families (significantly in the case of 8th grade math).

Much more plausibly, it has been Louisiana’s accountability system, more rigorous than just about anywhere else that has worked with its emphasis on high-stakes testing that in part determines pupil progression and institution of remedial actions concerning schools that do not show sufficient achievement or progress towards it. If schools know they have to get achievement up, and students know they have to learn enough to pass the test to move on, the motivation is there for both to work harder to succeed. Black students, having been lower performers in aggregate, had much more potential growth to be tapped by these measures, and that happened.

Yet, at least on the surface, strangely a couple of legislators – black ones, no less – want to get rid of the use of standardized tests for the purposes of pupil progression. HB 179 by state Rep. Charmaine Stiaes and HB 440 by state Rep. Regina Barrow would cancel this key tool that has helped no doubt many of these legislators’ constituents. Coming to grips with mindsets like theirs explains this apparent counterintuitive action.

What has made America an exceptional country that has contributed more to the world’s peace and prosperity than any other in history is no society has placed so much emphasis on meritocracy. Nowhere else does government interfere less in or promote more the translation of achievement into reward, a dynamic that leads to improved life prospects for all in society. But that historic benefit recently has come under attack from Washington with Democrat liberal elites trying to change policy to reflect the discredited notion that “errors” in society and in the economic system somehow “rig” the system in the favor of some that government must “even out” (“share the wealth”) – in other words, “achievement” is illusory and only tangentially related to reward.

True believers in this nonsense see certain groups such as blacks being “unfairly” held back, and this becomes something reflected in things like test scores. Therefore, in their thinking, rather than demand more rigor through a test that is race-neutral that will spur achievement, schools should ease up on “disadvantaged” groups precisely because present society and institutions make them “disadvantaged” in order to compensate.

In reality, the only thing holding anybody back is acceptance of the notion that achievement is unimportant because other things, such as government programs, will still provide benefits. A culture that stresses achievement only can grow and produce success if maintained. It means more and harder work for students and educators, but all concerned will be better off for it. That is the lesson of this report, and bills to undo the process that helps attain higher achievement in learning decidedly represent backwards steps.

19.4.09

Policy changes increasing stakes for PSC membership

As the new tone in Washington puts ideology before science and pushes anti-intellectual policy preferences, it’s heartening that in the environmental debate that a majority of Louisiana’s new Public Service Commission has the temperament to try to protect the state from this, setting up a potential clash with the federal government.

Commissioners Eric Skrmetta, Jimmy Field, and Commissioner-elect Clyde Holloway are to be commended for their open-mindedness and sense of reasoned inquiry in their statements that their policy will be guided without reliance on the alarmist, unsubstantiated hypothesis of man-made climate warming around which there is no convincing proof nor scientific consensus about it (despite the assertions by a spokesman of the heavily politicized, leftist Union of Concerned Scientists, an organization that once championed a nuclear freeze that would have lost the Cold War). By contrast, it is disappointing that Commissioners Lambert Bossiere III and Foster Campbell seem unwilling to educate themselves on the debate (it is shocking for even a politician to be so ignorant as to base his beliefs on this on a media product legally declared propaganda).

However, federal government power may challenge the PSC’s current sensible consensus. Last week the Environmental Protection Agency issued a ruling saying it had the ability to regulate carbon emissions as a dangerous substance (which legally it did not have to do), inviting both a constitutional and political challenge. Regarding the latter, it pertains insofar as to what regulations do emerge which may be more radical (if possible) than present legislation Congress is set to begin debating this week, based squarely upon the man-made climate change myth. In effect, this puts more pressure on the further politicization of the issue with disastrous public policy consequences in terms of economics and liberty.

New regulation regardless of source will put strains on the state that, assuming the PSC majority’s attitude is the consensus beyond just it, would result in a policy tug-of-war on this issue between Louisiana and an increasingly radicalized federal government. Essentially, environmental policy is a matter of the federal government dictating standards to be implemented by states, and if it likes the direction they take to allow decentralization of enforcement to them. Typically, that has produced a principal-agent relationship that has focused on regulating by-products of production of presumed harmful substances (such as mileage standards, levels of emission, etc.) rather than the processes of their production (what mixture of processes can or cannot be done). It does shift the terrain of regulation to include not just state environmental regulatory agencies, but potentially entities such as the PSC.

This means that jurisprudence would hold that, should the irrational tide continue, at best institutions such as the PSC could engage in a protective rear guard action until such time sanity returns in this issue area. Which creates another reason for closer scrutiny of candidates for these jobs and careful weighing of their merits when elections for these positions come around, with an emphasis on candidates who favor objective analysis over fad.