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22.7.10

Traylor stalking horse to weaken Vitter for Democrats?

Now that the cat is out of the bag, the real question is, what exactly motivated former Louisiana Supreme Court Justice Chet Traylor to run in the Republican primary against incumbent Sen. David Vitter?

Traylor said he filed against Vitter at the last minute – with no campaigning to that point and no money raised – because he was encouraged by Republicans and Democrats who felt negatively about Vitter’s character. Three years ago Vitter abruptly apologized for commission of a “serious sin” believed to be linked to a prostitution ring but never confirmed, nor was Vitter ever charged with any crime in connection to the unspecified behavior.

But as the wider world has learned (even as some in northeast Louisiana had known before now), Traylor himself has ethical issues, around a tangled web of romantic relationships with married women and with the settlement of the estate of his late wife who divorced her previous husband, now-state Rep. Noble Ellington, to marry him. That occurred after his election to the state’s highest court, although he ran unopposed for a second term almost a decade after the incident so it never came out as a campaign issue. His wife died about the time he resigned from the court three years later, although now he appears to have a romantic liaison with his stepdaughter and litigation about the estate came after he left the bench.

None of what Traylor has done in these incidents appears illegal and some people may not even consider his actions unethical. Yet Traylor surely knew that this information would come out immediately and that it would sour many people on him who presumably might be looking for an alternative to Vitter because they were uneasy with his moral behavior. Why would you allow all of this sordid detail to be exposed nationally to oppose somebody on whom you had next to no disagreement on substantive issues and also state the main reason you were running because of ethical issues on which you yourself were wide open to criticism and thereby unlikely to win? Nor, given the dynamics, was it ever likely that Traylor had any real shot of winning the nomination even without the publicizing of this history.

Traylor is no political novice who might be excused for not putting all of this together. Unless he’s an extremely unaware and/or quirky individual, only one reasonable explanation presents itself – he has allowed himself to be used as a stalking horse by Democrats for some unknown reason. If so, this represents the last, most desperate gamble by Democrats whose favored candidate Rep. Charlie Melancon trails Vitter badly in polls.

If Traylor has come to some kind of agreement with Democrats to enter the contest to cast as much negativism on Vitter as possible in order to weaken him and give Melancon a boost (or do the unlikely in winning to present an even weaker opponent to Melancon), of course neither he nor leading Democrats ever will admit this (who already are providing restrained cheering about his entry into the race). The only visible clues would come from whoever ends up donating to or assisting Traylor in his campaign, if a lot of typical Democrat heavy hitters give him money or Democrat apparatchiks appear working on his campaign. But even the absence in large part of such individuals does not disprove that a bargain had been struck.

This is just one explanation, but perhaps the most logical given what we know. The only thing known for certain is, given the circumstances, his decision to run at best is bizarre and only can help improve the microscopic victory chances of Melancon.

21.7.10

Big govt regulation also at fault for LA shipyard decline

As noted recently, unwise defense policy by the Pres. Barack Obama Administration precipitated a naval contracting crisis that means Louisiana, unless unlikely events unfold, will lose thousands of jobs in shipbuilding over the next few years. But the actions of Obama to ratchet back unnecessarily naval forces, described more precisely, acted as just the straw that broke the camel’s back, with an interesting parallel to the same rationale that caused the Democrat-run federal government to allow the oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico to turn into a catastrophe.

Also as recently noted, adherence to an ideology that government knows best and that puts special interests over the common good has afflicted the Obama Administration’s response to the crisis. One manifestation of this attitude was the refusal of Obama to waive the Merchant Marine (Jones) Act of 1920, which needlessly delayed cleanup assistance. This same law also played into the dynamics that put the U.S. shipbuilding industry into a delicate position where now loss of government contracts can doom shipyards like Avondale.

After World War II, with tremendous capacity and little competition, U.S. shipyards reigned supremely. But they did not change as did the times. Foreign competition heated up while domestic builders continued to kowtow to union demands, raising costs to build. Further, regulations like the Jones Act created tremendous disincentives for a domestic industry: why build domestic ships when the cost of using them in transport became so high that it is now cheaper is many instances for U.S. industries to transship from a U.S. to foreign port and then back to the U.S., or to use only foreign materials, than to ship U.S. products directly from port to port?

Even as market pressures have reduced the wage differential that the largely-unionized shipyards in the U.S. had to suffer (not without bitter fights in the past), and the U.S. isn’t the only part of the developed world to have experienced shipbuilding decline, that past has put U.S. shipyards in a noncompetitive posture too dependent upon government contracting with few commercial contracts. Ill-advised defense policy then pushes more and more of them out of business.

A welcome change in defense philosophy could turn things around, but, absent that, this reality adds another imperative for repeal of the Jones Act. The clock can’t be turned back to restore the industry or to have the Obama Administration act more expeditiously without the Jones Act to have prevented oil slick damage, but ridding us of it going forward at least would stop U.S. taxpayers from subsidizing maritime-related jobs to the tune of nearly $4 million each annually, to give the shipbuilding and carriage industries a chance to get new markets, and to reduce costs to other U.S. manufacturers. Other anti-competitive regulatory regimes must be reviewed and altered with the goal of reviving the U.S. maritime industry in mind.

It’s bad enough that the Democrat-run federal government put its boot on the vulnerable neck of Louisiana first by Obama’s inadequate response to the oil spill, then increasing the pain by his politically-motivated drilling moratorium that serves no useful purpose . Worse now, it increases the pressure still more by policies to cripple more than just the state’s offshore drilling sector. This needs to change before these policies damage the state further.

20.7.10

Without credibility, Advocate opines for smaller govt

One must marvel at the audacity of the editorial page of the Baton Rouge Advocate when it tries to intimate there is any principle at all to its screeds, as a recent example demonstrates.

On this occasion, the editorialist fulminates against the partial solution provided by the recently-enacted HB 1407, a bill that removes the subjective licensure portion for florists. The measure started out to eliminate any licensing requirements at all, just like in every other state, but the compromise that passed just got rid of the subjective portion of the test, as state officials like Sec. of Agriculture Mike Strain successfully argued that portion could increase confidence that florists would avoid spreading plant diseases and the like.

In doing so, a fee form the license was maintained. As no other state does this, there’s a good case to be made we need no such requirement and thereby no such fee – as some have been arguing from a principled perspective for years. But suddenly The Advocate decided, after years of silence, to jump in editorially on the matter, as a defender against big government not only criticizing the fee but also a conservative public law interest group and those in the legislature who, respectively, dropped a law suit and allowed this half-measure to become law.

If by now you’re laughing at the idea of The Advocate claiming to oppose bigger government, preaching that there needs to be faith in markets, go with it, because its editorial page consistently has favored measures that would pump more money into government at the expense of the people betraying a lack of faith in the marketplace justly distributing resources. In dollar terms, the most important and recent example was its support for the so-called “Stelly Plan,” and then its subsequent opposition to its repeal. The idea was touted because it could raise greater revenues for government, but on the backs of the households with greatest productivity – this redistributive aspect being the real reason the political leftism that infuses The Advocate’s editorials preferred this method to grow government.

Another (recent) example has been its consistent support for raising other taxes like “sin” taxes while disparaging the general idea of tax cuts, yet endorsing at the same time other reductions in state spending and even calling the state the “funder of first resort.” It can’t have it both ways: either you genuinely desire smaller government by cutting out its spending or you deny any real interest in that by saying it should get (or retain) more (of the people’s) money. The two are incompatible; principled guardians of the people’s resources and of smaller government would argue for cuts without government’s taking of more of the citizenry’s hard-earned money, and would do it consistently over time and not when it can be an excuse to bash those who actually do believe in this policy.

So readers may be pardoned if they wonder where the consistency has been in the concern for size of government over the years, or if editorial page is changing its stripes for an opportunity to feign any real concern over big government in order to charge with hypocrisy certain interests who consistently have shown that concern. Rather, the real hypocrisy seems to be coming from the editorialists of The Advocate.

19.7.10

Berm outcome can make, break Jindal national fate

Usually in the world of politics, and especially in how it gets reported in the media, events become breathlessly reported in stark contrasts. In reality, almost no events are ever as significant as the chattering classes make them out, if significant at all in the long term. Regardless, one particular response by Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal may develop into a meaningful line on his political résumé going forward.

It was hyperbole to suggest in early 2009 that a competent but stylistically-challenged national address by Jindal ended his hopes attaining high national office (as a point of reference, the keynote speaker at a Democrat National Convention absolutely bombed, yet four years later wound up president – Bill Clinton). Now the panting asserts that the recent oil spill crisis in the Gulf of Mexico has resurrected Jindal’s fortunes and made everybody forget about that televised minute or so following Democrat Pres. Barack Obama.

Of course, this is over the top as well. If Jindal does seek some high office in a couple of years or more time, how he handles this situation largely will be mostly parenthetical to much bigger issues. Still, one decision involving the crisis in particular may take on the aspect of a necessary condition that will end up as a needed platform plank for successful future ambition.

To put it in the parlance of poker, Jindal has gone “all in” with the idea of sand berms to block oil from reaching marshes and other fragile coastline. For something like this to become an issue about Jindal’s governing ability, it must have controversy which comes from some who claim they will be ineffective and/or divert resources from other, more crucial, conservation efforts. Those assertions have been taken up by the political left because of the Obama Administration’s inept handling of the situation, which becomes more starkly apparent the more Jindal strikes the state of Louisiana out on its own. Not only does Obama keep looking worse the better Jindal appears, the Angry Left in particular is upset that Jindal’s national chances continue to improve.

While those who question the use of the berms no doubt accurately state the risks of their use, as noted previously they inappropriately and poorly integrate that information into public policy-making. Simply, in the short term use of the berms has such a high, certain large payoff that even if they don’t last long they bring more benefits than both their long-term opportunity costs and immediate actual costs.

And that’s the way the public ultimately will judge the effort. Politically, only the most abject failure can cost Jindal now since the federal government gave them its blessing, after initially dragging it out by showing more concern over ephemeral and minor, if not actually nonexistent, environmental issues. Unless the berms crumble without catching any oil, as long as one layer of it washes in and gets cleaned off or safely absorbed, the public will judge the costs worth it.

Thus, this episode of jawboning a reluctant federal government into supporting his plan adjudged as a success stands very likely to create a genuinely lasting and significant asset to Jindal’s political career. He will have fought for and won a nonpartisan public policy victory that brought more benefits than costs on a matter of wide concern. That would become one of the signal accomplishments in a future electorate’s mind – unless the plan does fail completely, in which case it won’t matter since failure, unlike the dodgy address, is something that really would wipe Jindal off the national political map, perhaps forever.

18.7.10

Reason for Bossier paramilitary force needs clarifying

Bizarre political events sometimes come in the category of brazen audacity, such as when the likes of Shreveport City Councilmen Calvin Lester and Joe Shyne, despite their legal woes, pontificate about ethics in government. Or just plain odd, as when Caddo Parish Commissioner John Escude forced himself off the Commission because of a change in residences and districts that made him wait to run again. But then there are the truly monumental head-scratchers that attain such status because it seems so difficult to figure out just exactly from where comes this policy-maker. Bossier Parish Sheriff Larry Deen has given us a classic of this kind.


Deen has implemented “Operation Exodus,” so named he says because it is a departure of the Sheriff’s Office into the area of disaster protection, because it relies upon citizen volunteers armed and uniformed to go out to provide this, and because the crux of it is to allow Bossier Parish to become self-sufficient in a time of great stress as did the Israelites according to the Bible’s Book of Exodus. Charitably, this initiative to train and to supply in order to provide a couple of hundred responders to natural or man-made disasters for enhanced security, costing Deen estimates $4,500 a year, can be called thought-provoking and unconventional.


More critically, it can be termed half-baked and eccentric. Most cynically, it can be implied as a covert attempt to create a paramilitary force with a potentially overbroad mandate that adds little value to disaster response at taxpayer expense.


Events only of less than five years passage show the utility of an auxiliary organization of this nature. Lawlessness that erupted in Orleans Parish shortly after Hurricane Katrina popped the plugs on its levee system certainly demonstrates that tremendous temporary strain on law enforcement resources can have adverse consequences, so a worldview that tries to anticipate and prepare for extreme circumstances should not be discouraged.


Yet one must wonder whether the entity Deen has established truly would be needed and, even more importantly, what are its boundaries. To start, imagine a dire scenario that threatened law and order in the parish, such as widespread flooding, or tremendous tornado damage, or a terrorist attack as intense and locally far-reaching as the horror of Sept. 11, 2001.


First, faced with this there are plenty of manpower resources for the parish to draw upon already. Not only are there the department’s own sworn deputies and reservists, but also local other agencies (Bossier City, Shreveport, and Caddo Parish among the largest) that could supply thousands of sworn officers to help out, unless the tragedy is so incredibly vast that all these areas are affected with problems of their own. In addition, Louisiana’s State Police Troop G is based right on the edge of Bossier City and state police are available to be brought in from elsewhere. Louisiana National Guard installations also are in or near Bossier City with plenty of area Guardsman around dispatched on order by the governor. Finally, under exceptional circumstances federal troops such as those at Barksdale Air Force Base could be mobilized to assist in local law enforcement. A couple of hundred volunteers, even if many have past law enforcement experience and/or receive periodic training, are unlikely to be as high quality and/or as quickly mobilized effectively as these forces.


Second, execution details of the operation seem vague. Is everybody assigned a certain spot? Are the volunteers residences concentrated in places that may make it difficult or unrealistic that they get to locations where they could serve whether pre-assigned? Won’t the same disruptions from the disaster that impede deputies also reduce the effectiveness of this force? How will confusion and conflict between deputies and volunteers be mitigated?


Third, the operational mandate also appears vague and concerning. Under what circumstances do these people become activated? Under what authority are they activated and what powers therefore do they possess when activated? What are their rules of engagement with the citizenry and deputies and other law enforcement agents? Having government arm and direct citizen volunteers invites questions concerning the proper scope and use of government power that potentially could threaten liberty.


Even as Deen proceeds further with this plan, he needs to address these issues. Bossier Parish citizens, if they want good stewardship of taxpayer funds, must receive assurance that this is both feasible and cost effective given the alternative approaches to security in a time of crisis. The citizenry, if they want knowledge that their liberties remain secure, also must have evidence that such a force exerts only proportional and appropriate power. Only by giving answers to these questions can Deen potentially justify his new creation, and inadequate such answers should lead to his disbanding of it.