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15.7.10

New Left ethos to blame for LA loss of defense work

Essential to understanding the large economic loss from defense contracting changes that appear to be headed Louisiana’s way is that it is not the fault of corporate allocation decisions nor of insufficient political clout, but that it is an inevitability caused by the conscious decision by those presently in charge in Washington to de-emphasize and weaken U.S. defense capabilities.

Former policy-makers can debate all they want about whether the losses of government contracts may idle a Louisiana builder and have another shift operations away from the state, but the reason this debate even can happen is because the Pres. Barack Obama Administration has deemphasized defense expenditures at the expense of American security. In his first two years in office, backed by a compliant Democrat-led Congress, Obama has proposed historic lows in defense expenditures relative to Gross Domestic Product. His budgets also have concentrated on much lower increases in expenditures relative to domestic areas, his trillions of dollars contained in spending bills have hardly been for the military, and costs continue to escalate as a result of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Unfortunately, this fiscal policy ignores reality, given these two wars plus the necessity to catch up after neglect during the 1990s that only begun to get addressed in the first decade of the 21st century. Obama has made wishful thinking a prime part of his defense policy, such as putting together “strategic partnerships” that have allowed Russia to increase its influence and Iran to come within two years obtaining nuclear weapons that can be delivered to the U.S. These are no substitute for U.S. ability to manage its own affairs to meet its own interests.

This destructive thinking emanates from Obama and liberal Democrat’s fundamental belief that the U.S. is a force for evil in the world, at least as currently constituted. They consider the pursuit of U.S. interests independent of the desire of other states (many of whom do actually act in their own interests when helping facilitate or helped by facilitating a decline in U.S. power) as illegitimate, because the U.S. historically has spread a belief system of individualism and free enterprise above and beyond government command and control of society, and has acted to further these and export these ideas to other states.

The New Leftists and their ideological children that control, for now, levers of power in Washington dislike these aspects of our political culture and think that one method to begin their removal from it is by weakening the U.S., which would make it less able to act unilaterally. If achieving this, America would have to meld its interests more to satisfy those that believe in larger, more powerful state apparatuses if not those hostile to freedom and democracy, which in turn would alter the country’s internal system to grant the state more power and privilege over people’s lives (and allow those who control it like themselves to exercise it).

Thereby we see reductions in military spending that trickle down to the situation here in Louisiana. State policy-makers can harangue corporations, court them, or plead to the federal government, but it will make little difference regarding defense jobs in the state until those who blame America first and see its strength in the world as a problem no longer remain in power.

14.7.10

Media template accepts dubious Senate race conjecture

With all due respect, some of my colleagues have not thoroughly thought through the notion that incumbent Sen. David Vitter’s reelection campaign faces any real trouble, and in doing so unwittingly play into the media template that Vitter will have great difficulty, or even lose, that bid.

As recently analyzed, drawing new Republican and independent opposition by the time filing ended last week hardly changes the dynamics that make Vitter’s reelection almost a sure thing. Unfortunately, my colleagues did not seem to catch that piece, as one thinks former Louisiana Supreme Court Justice Chet Traylor can be a major competitor to Vitter for the GOP nomination, buffered by recent personnel turmoil on Vitter’s staff, while another believes state Rep. Ernest Wooton’s entry into the general election disproportionately can harm Vitter.

Both claims are dubious at best. To win a Senate major party nomination, much less an entire campaign, you need a lot of money, planning, and ability to contrast favorably against your opponent to the majority of voters. Traylor indicates part of what got him to enter the contest, after some encouragement he testifies by others, was the incident where a Vitter staffer was revealed to have been accused of holding against her will a woman and inflicting injury on her in 2008 but which only came to light in the past month (along with the coming to light of other past legal run-ins about which Vitter had not known).

This shows that Traylor only recently decided to go for it – which means he won’t have much money and little time (now less than six weeks) to embark on this major effort. Compounding his difficulties is that it’s a contest to see whether statewide even one percent of the voting public know about the problem with Vitter’s staffer or know who Traylor is, who left office about two years ago. It takes months of steady campaigning to build name recognition to be competitive, and Traylor will have about a month with, at this time, few resources to do it. By contrast, 94 percent of the public has an opinion about Vitter, of which 62 percent see him favorably. Given that Vitter and Traylor probably won’t differ much on issues it’s very difficult to see how Tarylor will be competitive for, much less win, the nomination.

(Traylor might be a bit better known in northeast Louisiana, where his district was. But oddly, when interviewed about the contest, Traylor apparently asserted he ran statewide for the seat and mentioned this as a strength of his candidacy. In fact, he was elected out of the Fourth Supreme Court District. Either the reporter completely got it wrong or Traylor is confused which certainly would not commend him as a U.S. Senator, even if a number of them particularly on the liberal side of the aisle do actually seem constantly confused.)

Wooton is said to be able to draw Republican votes and would be an alternative for conservative Republicans. Besides the fact that Wooton likewise has close to zero name recognition statewide, little in the way of campaign funds, and does not even seem to ponder campaigning seriously (remarking that he planned mainly an Internet-based campaign and as a result “I’ve got to learn how to Twitter”), Wooton has not had a conservative voting record in the House (a Louisiana Legislature Log score of 40 this year and averaging about 45 from 2005, where 100 is the most conservative/reform voting) and until a couple of years ago was a Democrat his entire elected career. Plus, he lives in expected Democrat nominee Rep. Charlie Melancon’s district. Thus, it’s just as likely if not more so that he’d take votes from Melancon than from Vitter in the general election.

Despite all of this information, expect to see a spate of stories along these lines (and much less temperate if ill-informed ones) in the media until Vitter does, likely convincingly, win in November. If there’s one political figure less liked by most of the state’s media than Gov. Bobby Jindal, it’s Vitter who knows this and, to some degree like Jindal, makes noncooperation part of his strategy in dealing with them: he knows the media will run with any and every negative narrative about him, so he won’t give them potential ammunition, legitimacy, and relevance by his limiting communication with them. Which infuriates the media all the more because the one thing they loath to think of themselves as and be made is irrelevant.

Most in the media would enjoy a Vitter defeat, so any source information that confirms a template where this could happen is welcomed into dissemination by them. Whether the conclusions drawn from that data stand the test of validity or even use accurate information is another matter.

13.7.10

Beneficial effects of closed primary gone after this fall


It will be a headache for Sec. of State Jay Dardenne’s office to hold a contested Libertarian party primary, but in the end it’s a good thing and one more advantage swept away by the end of closed primaries for federal offices except for the presidency after this election cycle, courtesy of recent legislation.

In the past, secretaries of state have warned when several years ago recognized political parties (due to a relaxation of restrictions) increased beyond the two major parties that logistics would become more complicated by instituting a closed primary. The time has come statewide for the Senate contest, which means extra work in setting up different ballots for three parties instead of two which may tax the space available on the ballot.

But having this extra burden is good. A reason why Louisiana has been stuck with less accountable elected officials which has garnered griping about the quality of governance is that the blanket primary system focuses more attention on the personalities of those running for office because less of it needs be focused on their issue preferences for which party identification stands in. Closed primaries make party identification a more relevant cue and make that cue more meaningful by containing more issue-based information for voters. Having to win a party primary also encourages more discussion about issues by candidates in order to differentiate themselves from opponents with the same label.

12.7.10

Avoid inappropriate science use in spill policy-making

One of the things we get into with my Public Policy and Evaluation course (coming to you through the Internet soon, if you are privileged enough to be enrolled at LSUS, are of senior standing, and having completed a course in research methods) is the role that science takes in the making of policy. Such an understanding has a direct and immediate impact surrounding the ecological disaster that continues to unfold in the Gulf of Mexico, courtesy of an unrestrained blowout well, as the uses scientific inquiry have been used to perpetuate the negative impact of the situation.

Three principles should govern the interaction of science and policy-making. First, science is an input, not the output, in the process. To mistakenly reverse the causation produces folly that comes across loudly and clearly in the question of man-made global warming, where science became perverted to follow a political agenda (which still is not being admitted by the perpetrators).

Second, science is one of many and not automatically the primary input into the process. Many other factors come into play here because we are talking about politics – the reconciling of social differences to produce a way of governing society, presumably in the best way possible. It means there are tradeoffs to reach the desired end state of the majority, where it’s possible that in taking an action that poses a nontrivial and significant chance that environmental degradation would occur becomes justified because of the greater nontrivial and significant chance it will benefit human beings.

Third, uncertainty in science prohibits the transfer of its risk/return ratio to become the defining criterion in evaluating public policy. Science makes an assumption of certainty in theory, but in practice it’s nowhere close because of the limitations of human knowledge. Certain tactics may or may not produce costs and/or benefits of uncertain magnitudes. Therefore, such calculations cannot be the only criteria by which to decide, and unlikely even the most important ones when balanced with human needs.

Applying these to the public policy problem in the Gulf, some scientists – who, to remind of the third principle, have a myopic view about larger concerns that, given the limitations of science, isn’t even a necessarily valid view – worry about how strategies involving sand berms and rock barriers may cause other environmental damage. Others are concerned about whether funds would not be better used for longer-term threats such as coastal erosion, given the low return they see on those strategies – which, to remind, becomes problematic according to the second principle.

It’s not surprising, actually, that the best analogy about the debate over tactics in response comes not from a scientist but an astute observer of politics, Delroy Murdock. The columnist, in a piece expanding upon some of the same observations that recently appeared in this space about the insufficient, even politicized, actions of the Pres. Barack Obama Administration to the crisis, in response to these kinds of concerns, notes “ … if your house is burning down during an electrical storm, go ahead and call 911. Don’t sit there paralyzed in fear because a lightning bolt might electrocute you as you phone the fire department.”

The fact is, we know the use of sand berms, rock barriers, and the like will ameliorate the effects of the oil – maybe a lot, maybe only somewhat. We also know that oil getting onto the coast and into ecosystems is going to have a negative impact on many aspects of human existence – perhaps a lot, perhaps only some. Finally, we know that this is happening now in the short term with a certainty of one.

By contrast, potential negative impacts of the use of these tactics are precisely that – potential and highly uncertain that they will occur. That they would occur in the long term further reduces the expected value in their harm – whereas the harm being done by the sheen is certain and much more quantifiable. To not understand this demonstrates a misunderstanding of the necessity of reviewing the entire, big picture that includes human needs and of a proper consideration of genuine risks and rewards. As much as we may distrust politicians, at least a representative democracy holding them accountable to the people does provide great impetus to them to better evaluate in these instances.

More specifically, in the current crisis it’s not good enough to argue that in order to save the coast by not pursuing some strategies you had to destroy it by the neglecting to implement these strategies. One hopes this view has not evolved in violation of the first principle above – opposition to these strategies coming because they were not enacted by the Obama Administration which is suffering politically through its handling of the crisis while Louisiana’s pursuit of them has made Obama appear by contrast to be even more inept. But were that the case neither would that be a surprise either.

11.7.10

Dardenne, Vitter claim statewide office favorite roles

When the dust settled from qualifying for elective office at the end of last week, getting elected as lieutenant governor got a little easier for state Republican Party Chairman Roger Villere and reelected as U.S. Senator got a little harder for incumbent GOP Sen. David Vitter.

State Democrats had hoped a significant candidate would qualify for their party; better, one who could largely self-finance his candidacy. Half a loaf is better than none; state Sen. D.A. “Butch” Gautreaux did take the plunge for the donkeys and will pick up a few votes beyond just having that label. However, at the end of 2009 the term-limited senator had less than $3,000 in the bank and starting a campaign from scratch in a little over two months is not a lot of time to catch up especially when contrary electoral tides are really going to batter the party’s fundraising efforts and stretch its existing resources. This last-second entry was just to save face for the party, and while Gautreaux will get a good 20 percent just because of his label and minor name recognition, chances are he will not make the runoff.

That’s not the scenario for which Villere hoped, the main pure conservative in the contest, because he needs somebody of some quality on the left to pull votes from moderate, fair-weather conservative Sec. of State Jay Dardenne. Even though had no Democrat of any prominence run at all Villere would have had no chance at all, with a weaker main Democrat as the major foil for those two Republicans Dardenne is advantaged, especially as he has in funds outraised all of the other candidates in the race combined. It’s still likely to go to a runoff, but Dardenne probably will lead it and then win it in the general election.

Vitter’s task got a bit tougher, for different reasons, when former state Supreme Court Justice Chet Traylor qualified running as a Republican while state Rep. Ernest Wooton filed as an independent for Vitter’s seat. Although court service produces a political career that obscures ideology, Traylor’s campaigns sounded conservative themes so he would appear to have issue preferences for the national level solidly in line with the majority of Louisiana. However, so does Vitter, so there’s little Traylor can do to distinguish himself from an incumbent who already has put his money where his mouth has been for constituents over almost six years (and six more in the U.S. House prior to that). He’s not going to defeat Vitter in the primary if that’s all he does.

This leaves Traylor’s only tactic as adopting the same strategy as has Vitter major Democrat opponent Rep. Charlie Melancon, to try to paint Vitter as somehow unethical built upon Vitter’s admission three years ago of committing an unspecified, but publicly speculated as sexually-related, “serious sin.” It hasn’t worked for Melancon yet and it’s unlikely to work for Traylor over the next six weeks, especially as he suddenly has to get his name out to voters statewide from almost zero name recognition.

Traylor also is unlikely to have many resources to combat the $5 million that Vitter has bankrolled for reelection (within the month the latest report will come out and should not show much change). He quit the Court midterm to go into private practice and he will not have had much time to raise funds even if he has planned this since the beginning of the year. Still, Traylor will provide some annoyance for Vitter to claim the nomination as he will have to use some reserves to make sure no upset occurs.

He also must contend with Wooton who apparently will not campaign that seriously. At present, Wooton would not change the dynamics of the Senate contest much more than the host of also-rans who also have declared independent or minor party candidacies (one nomination to be decided) who will be there in the general election because Vitter leads so convincingly over Melancon. Also, until a few years ago Wooton was a Democrat and his legislative district is in Melancon’s congressional district, so he may be as likely to draw votes from Melancon as from Vitter with a presumed anti-Washington message.

However, were for some improbable reason the contest should narrow quite a bit, Wooton might play spoiler for Vitter. Thus, Vitter can’t write him off completely and this will mean some extra resources dedicated to keeping Vitter out front even after securing the nomination than if Wooton had not launched his quixotic campaign.

After analysis of who’s in and how they get to the end in statewide elections this fall, Dardenne must be considered a moderate favorite, and Vitter a good favorite to win their respective offices.