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2.7.09

Jindal makes progress with item vetoes, but more remains

Another year, another set of line item vetoes for Gov. Bobby Jindal to cast, and those that he did indicate he’s still selectively serious about priorities in state spending. Last year, Jindal got rid of over 250 items. This year’s (not including all the contingency items in HB 1) number were only a little more than a fifth of that total, in part no doubt because Jindal showed he meant business last year.

HB 881 served as the main vehicle for what are now called “member amendments” (those placed in on request of a legislator for a nongovernmental or local government agency), for which Jindal has stated certain criteria will serve. While a few of the vetoes were technical funding matters from the previous year, on the remainder and those for local governments, Jindal stressed several themes, beginning with they had to be submitted formally which a few were not:

Regional or statewide impact by an NGO. For example, money for Scouts organizations and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts which are centered around small areas of the state were jettisoned. Requests from urban areas, in number of requests and their sizes, particularly were at risk, despite some organizations having affiliations with politically well-connected individuals. Several of these appeared to have multiple grant opportunities from other governments to access.

1.7.09

To LA liberals, divisiveness happens only when they lose

At the conclusion of its 2009 regular session, several legislators complained about how conflict and disagreement, part of the governing process, seemed worse than ever this time out. Despite differences in levels of experience, race, and gender, with one exception, all claiming this for the record have one thing in common: they historically have voted for liberal and populist agendas that were largely swept aside in 2009, and the assertion was a defensive strategy to try to avoid more of the same in the future.

It’s a bit ironic that it should be these individuals would register these as complaints because those who share their political agenda on many occasions, given the slightest opening, blasted Gov. Bobby Jindal and his policies. To them, it seemed perfectly acceptable to hurl insults and insinuations at Jindal’s staff during committee testifying, yet not so if they perceived it to be aimed at them. At the same time, it isn’t so surprising neither because consistency means nothing when it conflicts with a standard ploy out of the playbook of liberal elected officials, nor because charges like this by them are a regularly used tactic.

Two attention-grabbing events tried to shape this impression. One occurred among House members, where leaders of three main factions – the caucuses representing Republicans, Democrats, and blacks – endorsed the statement that the House was “fractured” and “splintered.” The only non-liberal to articulate any of this, state Rep. Jane Smith, for whatever reason said it partially was the fault of communication skills of Speaker Jim Tucker. In the Senate, a farewell speech permitted for delivery by state Sen. Reggie Dupre, resigning to take a local government job, complained of “poisoned partisan” attitudes.

This is a typical liberal strategy when conservatives provide vigorous resistance to liberalism’s policy desires, and especially accessed when conservatism is as successful as it was on many issues in the 2009 regular session. At this level, especially when they are used to being in the majority, liberal politicians define “consensus” as “agreement with liberalism,” while being “divisive” is “too effectively opposing liberalism.” Thus, introducing “partisanship” is code for not kowtowing on the altar of liberalism because they try to define “nonpartisan” as “agreement with liberalism.” Thus, partisanship is “bad” and so is the “divisiveness” that can come with it.

Liberals unaware of the bankruptcy of their ideology as nothing more than an intellectually incoherent and factually unsubstantiated set of emotive statements see the tactic of terming opposition to them as “partisan” or “divisive” as a tool to combat what they see as sinister moves to obstruct the “truth.” More aware and thereby cynical liberals see it as a tool to prevent the thinking and informed from realizing that exact bankruptcy which allows them to continue to exercise power and to enjoy privilege. Regardless of motive, “partisan” and “divisive” they strive to attach negative connotations to in order to discourage the competition of ideas where, in a state such as Louisiana, they know they often will lose.

As mentioned elsewhere, “partisan” and other political conflict in fact are healthy and refreshing aspects of democracy. Of course, Smith and perhaps others probably meant conflict based on personal issues should be tamped down, but from the rhetoric from and actions of many leftist legislators throughout the session, one gets the sense they were objecting to the fact that their ideas, after a certain point, simply were losing out and this offended them, to the point they wanted to push legislation simply to try to embarrass their opponents. Indeed, of those crying out on this issue, many probably do so because they looked for and assumed offense because to them it is offensive that their opponents could win majorities on their issues, and that these victors disregarded their ideas totally – to these losers a sign of disrespect. Again, the irony is rich here for in years past when their agendas were ascendant (and slowing grinding the state into the dirt) they steamrolled over their opponents and ignored their wishes totally, and saw nothing wrong with that.

Tucker and Jindal will bear the majority of complaints because it was their agendas that largely muscled out of the way the inferior ideas of the liberal opposition. No doubt this will become an increasingly vocal theme of the minority as the conservative agenda consolidates and gains further ascendancy in state policy-making. Recognize it as an attempt to try to instill some illegitimacy onto the state’s new direction, a delaying tactic by those who, at the ballot box, in committee rooms, in house chambers, and in the realm of public opinion, are losing the debate and will try anything to forestall or prevent that.

30.6.09

LA elected officials must correct Obama on Honduras

Many might be surprised at the intense interest sparked in New Orleans area about the constitutional struggle occurring in Honduras. A little knowledge of the connections between the city and the country might explain and points to actions the region’s national representatives should take on behalf of their constituents.

Few know that for decades New Orleans has served as a prime nexus between Honduras and the U.S. Tens of thousands of metropolitan area residents are of Honduran ancestry, and as many are Hondurans working in international commerce. (It is asserted that New Orleans has the third largest population of Hondurans in the world outside the country itself.) In addition to trade, a significant amount of remittances flow from U.S. citizens or resident aliens of Honduran ancestry to their families in the country. One of the most significant political figures of recent Honduran politics also spent his formative years in New Orleans: Miguel Pastor Mejia, who along with his twin brother and political aide Sebastian graduated from UNO, is the former mayor of the capital Tegucigalpa and was an unsuccessful candidate for his party’s nomination for the presidency in the last election.

The winner of that election from the other major party, Jose Manuel Zelaya Rosales, from the beginning of his term in 2006, began with a vaguely left platform and has steadily moved in that direction since. This has produced a major policy break with Honduras’ past and introduced more tension into its relations with the U.S. than perhaps in history. Zelaya has steadily lead the country towards closer relations with Venezuela and its anti-American leader Hugo Chavez (who, upon meeting Pres. Barack Obama for the first time, helpfully gave him a copy of his latest book haranguing America and reiterated its criticisms of America vocally; Obama offered no resistance or rebuttal) and become more critical of the U.S.

But this is not what started the controversy. Zelaya, barred from running for reelection, wanted to introduce a referendum to amend the constitution do allow him to do so and run for that reelection later this year. The constitution does not permit the president to call referenda on his own but Zelaya got Chavez to ship him the infrastructure and ordered the military (as is its job during elections) to distribute the ballots. The military resisted, Zelaya fired its leaders, and the country’s Supreme Court ruled he had acted illegally. Not to be thwarted, Zelaya had his own supporters violently secured and began to distribute ballots. This sparked large protests across the country. The country’s attorney general ruled that the actions were illegal, and the Court authorized the military to seize Zelaya to prevent further lawbreaking. He was sent into exile while the country’s legislature followed its constitution in the process to remove him and pick his temporary successor.

Despite this, along with many other states including ones that recently historically have been at odds with the U.S. including Cuba and Venezuela, on Obama’s order the U.S. not only has condemned the removal of Zelaya, but also Obama absurdly has denied the action was “legal” and termed it a “coup.” This language was stronger than that he employed when commenting on substantial evidence of fraud that appeared in recent Iranian presidential elections.

However, Obama has not committed to support Zelaya’s return to office as the only solution to end the crisis and here, on behalf of Hondurans in Louisiana who overwhelmingly back the new government, the likes of Sens. David Vitter and Mary Landrieu and Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao need to lobby the White House for it to respect Honduras’ constitutional processes and to resist the temptation to meddle in its internal affairs because it may prefer the politics of the ousted president. Cao, himself a victim of a country that retreated from the rule of law, especially could be valuable in his advice and support to help another state hold onto it.

While established, democracy in Honduras retains some fragility. The U.S. has supported it when it faced much bigger threats, such as in the mid-1980s in democracy’s nascent period when communist backed forces of Nicaragua, Cuba, and the Soviet Union tried to provoke revolution in it. It is incomprehensible why the U.S. today so far seems unwilling to assist Honduras when facing this smaller threat. If the executive branch of the U.S. seems bound to pursue its current unwise policy, it is up to the members of its legislative branch to point this out, strongly in private and respectfully in public, who are most closely connected to the issue – the federal elected officials representing the New Orleans area.

29.6.09

Weak arguments against new laws confirm their wisdom

When somebody gets what he wants in substance and then still expresses unhappiness in the outcome, it’s worth wondering whether that was the issue at all or if instead the real source of the conflict was more personal in nature, even as such inept criticism confirms the wisdom of the very thing being argued against.

The recently completed session of the Louisiana Legislature featured some far-reaching changes in state policy concerning openness of records in the governor’s office. One new measure requires appointees who give a thousand or more bucks in campaign contributions to the elected official who appointed them to report this. Another by all accounts increases overall the amount of information that legally will be made public by the governor’s office.

Yet somehow these changes have made a presumed advocate of more transparency in government, Baton Rouge Advocate Executive Editor Carl Redman, most unhappy. Redman fulminates that the new requirements for appointee reporting will be “burdensome” on “ordinary people” and the new records laws delay release of information he believes was previously available on budgetary matters that he thinks will be mooted because “special interests” still will be able to get information on the budget through informal means, He also chafes at the continuing restriction concerning the “deliberative process,” meaning that decisions made by the governor using input from his advisers during policy-making may be kept confidential. Let’s analyze the validity of these complaints.

Redman preferred an alternative to the contribution law, one that made the appointer go back, comb through campaign finance records, match amounts to (perhaps thousands of) appointees, and then file a report every time (maybe every day) such an appointee met the criterion. This of course will take potentially hundreds of man-hours with all of the cross-referencing and appointees involved – Gov. Bobby Jindal, for example, has had well over 10,000 people donate to him since he began his quest for this term in office – and bigger government and taxpayer resources to go along with it. By contrast, as noted previously, upon wondering whether an appointee gave in a sufficiently large amount to his appointer, any citizen under the new law can go online to the Louisiana Ethics Administration Program website, after a couple of clicks type in the appointee’s name, and get the result quickly at no extra cost to the taxpayer because it will be the civic and legal duty of the appointee to include this information on his standard disclosure form.

It would seem then that Redman has different definitions than in the dictionary for “burdensome” and “ordinary people” if he believes his preferred method, which increases the size of government and use of taxpayers’ money, burdens the citizen more than the actual law requires. His lexicon also appears to diverge from the public’s at the mention of “special interests” as well. Regarding the transparency laws, he argues that “really influential lobbyists and special interests are well-connected and will get information through back channels,” but fails to inform one of these is the media themselves. To strengthen their arguments, those privy to information they think helps their causes always will seek media outlets to be complicit in its dissemination, in order to gather public support. So Redman suddenly believes the media will stop doing a job they presumably already do for no real reason? If he argues information will get out, he cannot argue that, if it is relevant to public policy debate, that it will not become public if the media does their job.

While the transparency law, as previously noted, could have been improved at the margins, it is instructive to know that the standards used in drafting the new law are used commonly by other states and widely accepted. A good example, and perhaps one that injured Redman’s pride, is the “deliberative process” standard. Initially, Redman testified in front of a legislative committee against the bill, identifying himself as representing the Louisiana Press Association’s views on the matter, among other things on this very matter. As a result of that and other testimony, the “deliberative process” portion of the bill was altered in consultations with its critics, which gained the acceptance of the LPA for the entire matter. Stubbornly, Redman continued his opposition in the next round of committee testimony, sticking to support of an unworkable alternative, even as Louisiana’s newspapers (tepidly) favored the bill, so he now identified his opposition as his only.

The larger idea of “executive privilege” as it is known in the context of the presidency, has a well-established place both institutional and juridical at the federal level. Many others besides the LPA see this new standard defined in Louisiana law as striking a reasonable balance between the public’s right to now and improving the quality of executive decision-making through the ability to receive candid advice unbiased by its potential to become public. Redman may not, but his argument is not shared by those representing his profession and a great many policy-makers and legal scholars, if not the public as a whole.

Given the inherent implausibility of his assertions, one wonders whether Redman is truly that unaware of them, or if the issue to him isn’t so much openness as it is who is on what side of the issue. One wonders whether such a column would have been written if the governor did not have “Jindal” as a last name, or labeled himself as “Republican.” Regardless, the weak criticism offered by Redman confirms the wisdom of the new laws.

28.6.09

Tale of two senators encourages, amuses NW LA

Many families have a couple of archetypes among their members. One is the wise elder who exhibits good sense in almost all matters to whom others listen and employ or disregard his advice at their own risk. Another is the eccentric, prone to doing or blurting out whatever fool thing comes into his head which sometimes actually makes sense but more often are products of convoluted thinking, paranoia, or just general battiness. Northwest Louisiana’s political family is no exception to this general rule, and these two fellows who have the proud honor of serving Bossier Parish showed us their stuff during the 2009 regular session.

State Sen. Buddy Shaw proved to be the Senate’s only member willing to speak on the floor not once, but twice against bills (one intentional, one voluntarily hijacked) that would reimpose recently lowered taxes that would affect roughly 40 percent of Louisiana taxpaying households. While the thundering sound of other senators breaking their arms patting themselves on the back asserting they were making such a tough decision swept through the chamber, Republican Shaw (whose sentiments appeared to represent only a handful of others, none from this area) reminded them exactly of what they were doing: baiting and switching the people, giving hypocrisy a fresh name.

Much in lower profile than last session when he led the charge to cut tax rates for many taxpayers, while Shaw isn’t always right – his extensive public education background stunts his abilities to understand the vast benefits of school vouchers, for example – he always deserves listening to if not following his advice. And it’s good to know at least somebody in the Senate didn’t let the wimps, several of whom were elected in 2007 singing a very different tune about taxes and integrity, off the hook on this issue.